Thursday, August 04, 2016

Man from Atlantis: "C.W. Hyde" (December 13, 1977)

C.W. (Alan Fudge) accidentally spills a strange formula in his morning coffee, and turns into a hairy brute, a Mr. Hyde-type creature. 

Almost immediately, he steals money, jeopardizes the institute, and comes on to a gangster boss’s lovely girlfriend.

After Mark (Patrick Duffy) and Elizabeth (Belinda J. Montgomery) contend with an underwater probe that has been programmed to self-destruct, they must extricate C.W. from the mess he has made for himself…

One can only wonder what was going on behind-the-scenes of Man from Atlantis about mid-way through its first season. 

In a matter of weeks, Mark Harris travels to the Old West, and into the play Romeo and Juliet. And here his boss, Alan Fudge’s C.W. Crawford, relives the famous Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde scenario.  

This was supposed to be a series about an amnesiac water breather exploring the ocean and going in search of his past and background. 

Instead, it has become a weird and often incoherent fantasy series.

The episode’s set-up is unforgivably crude too. Mark and Elizabeth are working on a strange formula in their lab at the Foundation for Oceanic Research, when C.W. blunders in and puts his full coffee cup right underneath the spigot for the device containing that formula. Naturally, it drips in, contaminating the drink, and nobody notices.

Again, I can only presume a terrible rush during production and a choking desperation to get anything filmed…anything at all.  But off-the-mark (pardon the pun...) stories like this truly undercut the series, and the dignity of a great cult-TV character: Mark Harris.  

He deserves better than to be landed in stories like this; ones that don’t play to his strengths or heroic journey.

It would be one thing to do an episode like “C.W. Hyde” if C.W. had been anything more than a very minor character at this point in series history. Richard Anderson’s Oscar Goldman became -- through years of meaningful appearances -- a beloved character on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman

In this episode, Elizabeth notes how C.W. is the “world’s most reliable man,” and so forth; and that his behavior here is so strange.  Yet we have no frame of reference to support her comments.  We don’t know whether C.W. is a hot-head or a calm, or much of anything at all.  He’s been given so little screen-time that this episode doesn’t play as particularly effective, or even interesting.

The episode grows even more risible when the same Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde formula gets poured on the gangster, Lou (Val Avery) and it turns him not into a monster, but into a good person instead.  

All in all, this is like something you expect to see in a thirty-minute cartoon, not a fully articulated, prime time science fiction TV series.

Now, you might claim that this was a children's show, but that is clearly not the case. Man from Atlantis is a prime-time network series, and it features man adult themes.  For example, in this story, C.W. exhibits heightened sexual confidence and beds a gangster's girl.  There are scenes of them in her hotel bedroom, before and after sex.

So as much as we might want to write this series off as "kids vid," neither history nor the particulars of this episode bear out that explanation.

Next episode: “Scavenger Hunt.”

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