Wednesday, October 08, 2008

CULT TV BLOGGING: Quark Round-up!

First, I want to apologize for the scarcity of posts this week. I have been felled by a bad cold (and my wife Kathryn has it worse.) We haven't been doing much besides taking care of little Joel (who turns two tomorrow!) and trying to get some sleep.

But, in the last week or so, I have - at least - managed to catch-up on watching Quark episodes! That's not only because I enjoy the 1977 sci-fi/comedy series very much, but because at 25-minutes an episode, it's about the only production I can stay awake through before the medicine kicks in...

In fact, the medicine is kicking in right now. So beware of any strange typos or turns-of-phrase. I mean, I might end this post by calling you "my fellow prisoners" or something equally odd.

Okay, we last left Captain Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) and his strange crew in "May the Source Be With You," a Star Wars parody featuring Henry (Killer Kane) Silva as the Gorgon leader. Remember the crew? Ficus: emotionless Vegeton and Mr. Spock parody; Gene/Jean: the transmute (possessed of male and female chromosomes); The Bettys (gorgeous but argumentative clones); and Andy the cowardly (and cussing robot).

Episode # 3: "The Old and the Beautiful:" Another clever parody of Star Trek, this episode involves Quark suddenly and inexplicably aging after his exposure to a strange virus. Yes, it's "The Deadly Years" (or if you're a TNG fan, "Unnatural Selection") all over again. What remains so rewarding about Quark, however, is that it doesn't merely skim the surface of Star Trek parody; it goes deep. For instance, Quark here struggles to retain command of his ship as he becomes much the same way that Kirk did in "The Deadly Years." He even must engage with a Zorgan battleship (as Old Kirk had to deal with the Romulans when Commodore Stocker took a detour through the Neutral Zone).

At the same time it parodies "The Deadly Years," Quark pokes fun at another classic third season Trek called "Elaan of Troyius." There, as you might recall, Captain Kirk ended up romancing a hot alien princess after succumbing to her "irresistible" tears. In the end, Kirk escaped the heretofore inescapable trap of a Dohlman's Tears because he boasted a greater love: his love for the starship Enterprise. In "The Old and the Beautiful," Quark is assigned to romance an alien princess too, one who is so uh, frisky, in bed that the very act of love-making could kill a healthy, strapping 22- year old man. Let alone a 72 year old man.

In the end, Quark - ergh - comes through, and takes one for the team. And by doing so, sees his youth and vitality restored.

Episode 4: "The Good, The Bad and The Ficus": In this parody of "The Enemy Within" and "Mirror, Mirror" (two of the all time great Star Treks), Quark and his crew are duplicated by an accidental journey through a black hole. The only problem: their duplicates are thoroughly and relentlessly evil. In fact, the Evil Quark launches a campaign of terror throughout the known worlds by sneaking up on Confederation spaceships and blowing them to smithereens when they open their garbage hatches. Back on Perma One, a jingoistic military man is convinced Quark has gone rogue, and plots to kill him. The final battle -- in shades of "Arena" -- involves Quark staging a duel with his evil "self" on a planet surface.

Episode # 5: "Goodbye, Polumbus": Another parody of yet another great Trek, this time season one's "Shore Leave." Here, Quark and his crew are assigned to investigate a planet (Polumbus) that no one has ever returned from. It's a world where all your dreams and fantasies miraculously come true. Ficus romances a hot mathematician (and they flirt through algebraic equations...), Gene/Jean conjures up his childhood comic-book superhero idol, and Quark imagines a lost love from his Academy days (just like Kirk conjured up Ruth.) The episode's title is a riff on the classic 1969 Richard Benjamin film, Goodbye, Columbus.

Episodes 6 & 7: "All the Emperor's Quasi-Norms" (Part I and Part II): All right, this episode had Kathryn and me in stitches. Maybe it was the cold medicine kicking in, or maybe it's just really that funny. This two-part episode of Quark is a dedicated parody of Flash Gordon as Zorgon the Malevolent (think: Ming the Merciless) captures Quark's ship and forces Quark on a quest to recover the mysterious "It" (a stone from the distant planet called "Poo-Poo.") On the asteroid Rhombar, Quark joins up with "The Baron of the Forest People" (think Prince Barin) to recover the stone and defeat Zorgon.

Meanwhile, Zorgon's daughter, the Empress Libido (Joan Van Ark) has fallen in love with the unemotional Ficus. In a scene that comes right out of Star Trek's "The Cloud Minders," Ficus explains how, precisely, an emotionless Vegeton mates. In this case the act is called "pollination" and involves two Vegetons on their backs making silly noises...while waiting for a bee to drop by.

There's a jab here at Star Wars' trash compactor scene too, but the funniest moment involves Quark's false sense of security after he has obtained "It," which turns out to be nothing but a useless rock. Quark keeps putting himself in extreme danger because he believes he's protected by "It", and in fact it's all just blind happenstance that he survives. Unfortunately for Quark, Ficus points out that the rock is useless just as Quark is entering hand-to-hand combat with Zorgon's champion, the evil Cycloid.

Episode # 8: "Vanessa 38-24-36:" In this comedic version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and also the Star Trek episode "The Ultimate Computer," Quark and his crew are rendered obsolete by a new supercomputer called Vanessa. When Vanessa endangers Quark on a space walk and nearly causes a space collision, Quark realizes it's time to pull the plug. Small problem: there's no plug.

This episode -- and the series itself -- ends with Vanessa finally defeated,floating through outer space singing "Born Free." It's not exactly the HAL 9000 singing Daisy; but you get the point.

So: my honest assessment of Quark? The humor is somewhat dated. (But hey, I'm somewhat dated.) The series is simultaneously corny and addictive as hell. The laugh track is distracting at first, and some of the jokes are so hokey, you sort of cringe. But then -- if you give yourself over (and if you have a working knowledge of the source material being parodied...) -- the series becomes strangely and unexpectedly involving. By the end of the last episode, I was cracking up at every stupid joke the robot Andy made. I don't usually like lowbrow humor, but there's a moment in "The Good, The Bad and The Ficus" wherein Andy the Robot telephones his evil counterpart and they have nasty words. Andy ends up passing gas during the conversation. The rest of the crew joins Andy at the telescreen, and Andy -- moving away -- warns them they may not want to stand there. God help me, that moment cracked me up.

Andy the Flatulent Robot -- Bender couldn't have done it better. Richard Benjamin is also great on this show, playing a man of Kirk's optimism but with none of Kirk's intelligence, agility or heroism. And Richard Kelton is an absolute revelation as Ficus, my favorite character. He is Mr. Spock, of course, made a million times more loquacious and annoying. And where Spock did in fact possess emotion (and occasionally surrender to sentiment), Ficus is absolutely brutal with his disinterest and lack of human understanding.

So yeah, it was a kick to see Quark again (after thirty years!) I just wish there were more episodes to enjoy. In particular, the last three episodes of Quark were really great. To use more Trek terminology, Quark truly seemed to be finding its "space legs" when it got canceled.

Okay, now I must sleep.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:17 PM

    Hope you and Kathryn feel much better soon! Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOEL! Good luck with the terrible two's everyone:-)