After a week devoted to Star Trek (1966-1969) and another devoted to Space: 1999 (1975-1977), I focus this week on another of my favorite space TV series from childhood: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981).
People will tell you it is a cheesy show -- and it is -- but it was once state-of-the-art. And even today, the series is a lot of fun.
In other words, this is a futuristic Rip Van Winkle Story. Programs such as Farscape (1999 - 2004), and even Andromeda (2001 - 2005) are developments, in some senses of the format. They focus on a human hurled into a different time, or even region of space.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is the late Glen A. Larson's second science fiction "opus." It premiered on NBC scarcely a year after Battlestar Galactica bowed on ABC.
At the time it aired, the 1979 Buck Rogers series was considered a hip updating of a classic character that kept all the character names from earlier incarnations, but veered into tongue-and-cheek, humorous settings.
So going back to that way of 20th century life is the saving grace of the future? Examined closely, this premise doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense.
On Buck Rogers, there was no continuing alien menace, although Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley), Kane (Michael Ansara) and the Draconians showed up occasionally.
In the early episode "Planet of the Slave Girls," mercenary ships transformed into Draconian marauders - a noticeably different design - from shot-to-shot. In the same episode, a shuttle on the distant world Vistula launched skyward and passed the matte painting of New Chicago (on Earth), a matte painting that was used EVERY SINGLE WEEK to depict Directorate headquarters. This was the kind of goof that occurred repeatedly.
Crichton was a smart-ass robot who looked as though he had been designed out of spare parts. Dr. Goodfellow, played by the charming Wilfrid Hyde-White, came across as senile instead of charming, and Admiral Asimov (played by Jay Garner) was an abrasive personality undermined by story exigencies. Asimov was commander of the Searcher, but Buck was the star of the show, so Asimov by needs had to be ineffectual. Rogers always had to jump in to save the day and so Asimov just seemed...inept.
Today, Buck Rogers is more influential than some viewers may realize.
If the 1970's Buck Rogers remains truly disowned by any particular subset of fans, it would have to be the die-hard, long-time, adult Rogers fan of the day, who felt that this version just didn't stack up or show adequate respect to an American legend. That's not really a fair assessment, I suggest. In the first year at least, Buck Rogers attempted the same swashbuckling sense of fun seen in the Crabbe serials, only updated for the more freewheeling 1970's.
I've added some new reviews this year, ("Vegas in Space," "Return of the Fighting 69th," "The Dorian Secret") and added other new posts as well.