Saturday, August 19, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult TV Blogging: Ark II: "Robin Hood" (November 6, 1976)

This week, Ark II takes a step down in interest and excitement from “The Robot” and “Omega,” the two previous series entries.  Here, the titular vehicle and its crew enter Sector 25 to investigate reports of “hunger and widespread unrest.”

The team soon discovers that a group of outlaws have modeled themselves on the mythical Robin Hood and are fighting in Sector 25 an evil tyrant named Lord Leslie.  At first, Jonah is amused by the strange conflict and personalities the Ark II encounters.  He puts up a force field barrier between opposing armies during one battle.  But then, Lord Leslie captures the Ark II and Jonah’s crew is taken hostage.

While hoping to convince Robin and his merry men that “robbery isn’t the answer and neither is violence,” Jonah nonetheless requires their assistance if he is to retrieve the ark and its personnel.  

Fortunately, Jonah also has help – of a sort, anyway – from inside the Ark II.  The intelligent chimpanzee Adam has been taking driving lessons and, in a slapstick comedy scene, takes the craft on a wild joy ride, all the while firing lasers and even doing an embarrassed face palm.

Soon Jonah reclaims the Ark and the local villagers reject Lord Lesley.  Now Robin and his men will have to build a better society together, and Jonah marvels at how difficult it is to “keep the Lord Leslies of the world at bay.”

“Robin Hood” is a weird and borderline amusing episode of Ark II.  The idea of post-apocalyptic people taking on the characteristics of a hero from literature doesn’t seem that farfetched given other examples of this genre, like Star Trek’s “A Piece of the Action,” which saw an alien culture model itself on a book about the Chicago Mobs of the 1920s. 

But one of the more interesting and bizarre images to come out of Ark II is certainly “Robin Hood’s” visual of Lord Leslie’s flamboyantly-dressed minions riding trikes in the desert. It’s like The Road Warrior meets the Crusades…in the Planet of the Apes Forbidden Zone.

Also, this is also the only episode (at least thus far) to devolve into out and out slapstick humor, as Adam drives the Ark II into danger.  It’s a unique experience to watch the huge Ark moving erratically, knocking things over, and otherwise proving a real road hazard.  By the same token, these scenes reveal just how difficult it is to maneuver this unwieldy (but gorgeous…) cult-tv vehicle.  The Ark II is huge, and doesn’t look like it corners very well…

Next week: “The Cryogenic Man."

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos: "Lady, You Don't Look Eighty" (October 24, 1970)

In “Lady, You Don’t Look Eighty,” Joy (Caroline Ellis) is upset because it is October 12, and her friends have apparently forgotten that it is her birthday.

In truth, they are planning a surprise party.  The boys also trick Sparky (Billy Barty) into believing that Joy is actually an old woman who is eighty years old.  They also claim they are seventy years old!

Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye) overhears this practical joke, and believes that the Bugaloos have discovered a fountain of youth. She wants it for herself, and captures Sparky. She will make a trade: the firefly for the elixir of youth.

The Bugaloos make a fake elixir of honey and water, and then, to demonstrate that it works, pretend to be old, themselves.

It’s pretty much business as usual on The Bugaloos (1970-1971) for this installment. The Bugaloos have something that Benita Bizarre thinks she wants -- this time the Fountain of Youth -- and captures one of the gang (Sparky) to get it.  To rescue their friend, the Bugaloos must get in disguise, and outsmart their nemesis.

One intriguing element about “Lady, You Don’t Look Eighty” is that it is established, as it was in the series’ second episode, that Joy is responsible for household chores in the forest.  Here, she is understandably grumpy about the division of labor. The boys don’t have to chip in?

Even in 1970, in an enchanted forest, the patriarchy was in firm control, apparently.

But this episode shows Joy acting crankily about having to clean up after everyone and the boys respond by calling her “granny,” and saying that she sounds old. Nice.  Yet not one of them lifts a finger to help her.

The song of the week? “Older Woman!”  That’s adding insult to injury, I would say.

Next week: "Benita the Beautiful."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cult-TV Blogging: Star Maidens (1976): "Nemesis"

The second episode of the 1970s war-of-the-sexes space opera Star Maidens opens with the thought: "space holds no fury like a female planet scorned."

The question regarding such a comment, of course, is intent. Is this series poking fun at such anti-woman proverbs? Or does Star Maidens take such commentary seriously, and reflect it in its space-age premise of a female dominated planet?

Given the other humorous aspects of the episode, I would suggest the former interpretation. At some, hopefully intentional level, Star Maidens seems to recognize the humor in applying broad, sexist language to a “futuristic” science fiction epic.  The premise finds a rigidly, unthinking patriarchy (Earth) confronting a rigidly, unthinking matriarchy (Medusa).

Our silly conceits about sex are, ultimately, reflected by Medusa’s silly conceits about them. Can’t we all just get along?

This second episode of the 1976 series involves the Medusan pursuit ship Nemesis following Adam and Shem to Earth.

The two escaped "domestics" have fled their space-age parachute (a giant bubble of sorts) and head across the English countryside looking for food. The men are happy to be "free at last," (they actually speak those famous words) and walking around on a world where no woman can "command them." 

They soon encounter a cow pasture and see cows decide to eat the grass too. This doesn't speak well of their intelligence, but further enhances the idea that Star Maidens is something of a comedy, with a strong fish-out-of-water component.

Later, Adam and Shem happen across a farm and find apples to eat, but not before a little Earth girl chases them off the grounds. They flee the property by jumping over a tall brick wall in a single bound, pointing to the fact that Medusa and Earth have different gravity, and idea later repeated on Galactica: 1980. This scene is actually quite funny, as it involves, again, Shem’s ingrained fear regarding women. He is terrified when the young human threatens to tell her mother that the stranger has stolen an apple. Shem veritable cowers in fear at the thought, and one can’t help but laugh at his terror.

The women from Medusa -- Fulvia (Judy Geeson) and Octavia (Christiane Kruger) -- land on Earth and meet with Liz (Lisa Harrow) and Professor Evans (Derek Farr). The Medusan women demand the return of Adam and Shem, and bark orders at the local police chief. When he tries to explain what is happening, Octavia curtly tells him to "be quiet."

In the same sequence, Octavia utilizes superior Medusan weaponry to immobilize another police officer. Their weaponry is a kind of "paralysis" or "freeze ray," which is the equivalent of turning a person to stone and thus the perfect weapon for a citizen of a world called Medusa (after the character in Greek myth).

More genuinely humorous is the device that Fulvia uses to track down Adam. It's called a "man finder,” and it hunts down a man by his "scent." The theory being that each man possesses his own specific scent. Apparently, men wander off quite a bit on Medusa, and their overlords need to wrangle them…

The episode culminates with Adam and Shem riding around dirt roads in a computer-controlled police car, and sending the earthbound police on a merry chase. It all happens to the tune of a groovy seventies musical score. It's like Doctor Who meets Smokey and the Bandit.

It's pretty clear from this second installment of the series that Star Maidens has descended fully into tongue-in-cheek humor in record time. I could mention again the moment wherein the none-too-bright man-folk from Medusa sample grass along with generous cows. Or the moment wherein the Nemesis ship lands in a wide-open field, two gorgeous alien women disembark and none of the gathered earth people bat an eye, gasp, or react with surprise or shock. 

Nope. A conversation immediately begins about the Medusans wanting their men back. It's like a conversation officials from two countries might have over the subject of extradition. But officials from two planets?

And the scene in which the caped, futuristic women from Medusa enter a police station and start issuing's more of the same. It plays as comedy.

Still, since (according to Fulvia in this episode...) "most of outer space is very boring," I guess I can be grateful that Star Maidens is as entertaining as it is. However, “Nemesis” does not set one foot on advanced Medusa, and that means the earthbound action is, almost by default, less interesting than it might be otherwise.

Next week: "Nightmare Cannon."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Mattel Edition)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Corgi Edition)

Comic-Book of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Gold Key)

Coloring Book of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Colorforms

Board Game of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Milton Bradley)

Lunch Box of the Week: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "That Which Survives" (January 24, 1969)

Stardate: Unknown

The U.S.S. Enterprise investigates a strange “ghost planet” which possesses unusual geological properties.

After Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley), Mr. Sulu (George Takei) and Lt. D’Amato (Arthur Batanides) beam down to the planet’s surface, a devastating earthquake strikes.

At the same time, the Enterprise is hurled 990.7 light years away, with Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in command.

Behind the unusual mystery is a lovely siren, Losira (Lee Meriwether), a woman whose touch can kill.

Losira is able to appear both on the distant Enterprise, and the planet surface, and she brings death to Enterprise crew at both locations.

While Spock and Scotty (James Doohan) struggle to get the Enterprise back to the planet with all due haste, Kirk and his party struggle to survive Losira’s murder attempts. 

As Kirk soon learns, Losira is a Kalandan, or a more accurately, a simulation of a long-dead Kalandan commander; one programmed by a computer to protect this distant, long-forgotten outpost of the Empire. Her people died out after creating an artificial planet, one that gave rise to a terrible disease

“That Which Survives,” like “Plato’s Stepchildren,” seemed to be on near constant-rotation on WPIX, Channel 11 out of New York City, in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I was first becoming acquainted with the series as a young man. 

I remember one occasion when the station actually aired "That Which Survives" two Saturdays in a row, in a 6:00 pm time slot. I was not a happy camper. I wanted to see different Trek episodes; not the same episode twice in two weeks.

Still, “That Which Survives” isn’t a terrible episode by any means, though nor is it often considered a great one. Overall, it’s a solid entry in the third season, for certain, and one buttressed by some fine qualities, notably a guest cast that sees the return of Booker Bradshaw’s Dr. M’Benga, and the introduction of memorable characters played by Arthur Batanides, Naomi Pollock and, of course, Lee Meriwether.

The episode is cast perfectly, and there is some considerable suspense in the last act (with Sulu injured, and the Enterprise on the verge of destruction.)

Also, “That Which Survives” features some remarkable special effects, particularly Losira’s unusual de-materialization process.  The character seems to flatten out, and contract "down" into a line, before vanishing all-together.

I also appreciate the purple color palette of the episode, seen in Losira’s wardrobe and the alien planet's sky/horizon. If one thinks of the color purple representing mystery, or, possibly ambition, the color scheme fits in thematically with a story of a “ghost” alien race that engineered its own destruction.

But I suppose I enjoy the episode “That Which Survives” in particular for how it fits in with the Trek chronology or history, at least on a speculative level.

In broad strokes, I see the development of the human race as one of technological thresholds/challenges that are met, and overcome. We develop fire. We develop gunpowder. We develop nukes. We develop FTL drives.

And then?

We develop the ability to create and recreate planets.  

In “Return to Tomorrow,” for example, Sargon spoke of a crisis in his civilization beyond the nuclear age. I wonder if this mysterious crisis involved technology akin to what we encounter here, in “That Which Survives,” among the Kalandans. These aliens created, essentially, a world; but the creation of that world saw the rise of a disease that killed him.

We know that Starfleet faces similar challenges in the Genesis incident of the movies, striving for the ability to create a planet, but seeing unintended side effects caused by proto-matter.

Does this mean that Starfleet and the Federation have passed the threshold that felled the Kalandans and Sargon’s people?

If so, I wonder what the next challenge is…

Clearly, not all humanoid civilizations survive each of the thresholds I named above. We come back to, again and again in Star Trek, a race between technological development and human development. 

If technology changes or advances too fast, humankind might destroy itself.

Losira is a fascinating personification of this very struggle.

In real life, she was an ethical, stable, responsible commander who safeguarded her people. Losira clearly took her duties and responsibilities seriously.

Her computer avatar -- designed, apparently to recapture something of her personality -- is, by contrast, programmed to murder.  Clearly, the “human” part of that program feels regret, guilt, and shame at her actions.  Kirk is able to exploit this part of the program to survive as long as he can.

Thus Losira is a representation of dangerous technology at the same time her “human” qualities endure, and carry meaning and fight for supremacy with "the machine."  She “survives” beyond technology, in a sense, even if her world, and people do not do so.  

“That Which Survives” may not fare better in the memory, or among fans, simply because it doesn’t feature any “trademarks” we associate with Star Trek. There are no Klingons and no creatures, so-to-speak. Plus, Kirk and Spock spend the majority of the episode far apart from one another, unable to interact meaningfully. 

On the Enterprise, however, Spock gets some great, deadpan funny lines, and on the planet, Kirk is the strong leader and curious explorer we root for. Scotty comes across powerfully in this episode too, which adds to the subtext about human and technological development.  

Scotty, who is as human as they come, is also "in synch" with the technology he loves: the Enterprise's engines.

In the final analysis, "That Which Survives" "endures. This is a solid show, even if it is not a beloved one.

Next week: “The Lights of Zetar.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tell Me Your Favorite/Best Star Trek Episode Choices!

Hi everybody,

Star Trek's (1966-1969) 51st anniversary (September 8) is just a little less than a month away, and as readers here know, I have been working since 2016 to review every episode of the original series as part of the half-century celebration. 

I am deep in a retrospective of the third season at this point, and anticipate being done with the series reviews by mid-October (just in time to celebrate TNG's 30th anniversary!)

But to celebrate Star Trek's anniversary this year, I am asking for your help and participation.  

If you are interested in joining the fun, I will post your top twenty episode choices here on the blog the week of 9/4 - 9/8/17.

The rules are simple:

I need to know your name to put on the post header. (Like, John Muir's Top 20 Star Trek episodes).

Then just rank your favorite or "best" 20 Star Trek episodes (ascending order, 20 - 1). No movies. No animated episodes. No spin-off episodes. Just the original series, please.

And then, the icing on the cake: write an explanation (as short as one sentence, or as long as you desire), explaining the reasons behind your choice.

Send me your top/favorite list by Wednesday 8/30/17, so I can start putting the following week together here on the blog!

I have spent a lot of time writing about Star Trek since 2016, and now I want to know more about what you think, and share your favorites with the rest of the readership.  

So please, join me!

Also, a final note: as I contribute my own list, I see that many of my choices go against conventional wisdom, or tradition.  

So please, feel no responsibility  or obligation to make your list conform with previous fan lists, or conventional likes. Tell the world what you like! 

Your reasons can be about nostalgia, quality, continuity, humor...anything that floats your boat. 

Send your top 20 Star Trek episodes list to:  

I'll post reader lists in the order I receive them! (But start getting them to me as soon as you can, and no later than August 30th, please.).

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Jekyll and Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson's 1866 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the key foundations or texts of the modern horror genre. The story concerns the duality of human nature, according to some, as the respectable Jekyll becomes the dark brutal Mr. Hyde.  

Others scholars the work as a study of how the unconscious mind can manifest its darkest desires; creating a personality of its own in the process.

The Jekyll-Hyde story is irresistible for cult-TV programming for a few reasons.  First, it exposes the under-side or dark-side of regular characters. 

On a more practical level, the Jekyll/Hyde duality allows a series actor to show a dark, violent side with no need for guest casting.  So the actor gets to show his or her chops, and at little expense to the production.

One of the most famous Jekyll-Hyde stories in cult-TV history comes from Star Trek (1966-1969). Here, in the episode "The Enemy Within," a transporter malfunction splits Captain Kirk (William Shatner) into two distinct personalities. One is good; the other is evil.  Although the evil Captain Kirk is a temper-prone, alcohol-guzzling rapist, it is also discovered in the course of the episode that his "dark" qualities help Kirk be the remarkable leader that he is.

Kenneth Johnson's The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982) is a series-long paean to the Jekyll/Hyde duality. 

Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) must rigorously control his anger and rage, lest the monster from the Id -- the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) -- manifest. The series examines, in many ways, how human beings must control their emotions, or see a dark side emerge.

The "Jekyll/Hyde" being has also been a monster-of-the-week on many occasions. In Filmation's Saturday Morning TV series, The Ghost Busters (1975), the ghosts of Jekyll and Hyde manifest in a local grave yard. Here Jekyll (Severn Darden) is a gentleman, but Hyde is a cave-man, even down to his wardrobe of furs.  He is not evil so much as he is primitive, which is an interesting take on this duality.

In the TV series Man from Atlantis (1977), Mark Harris's (Patrick Duffy) superior -- 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 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.  Here, the Mr. Hyde being gives C.W. the confidence that he doesn't typically manifest.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) offers a female spin on the classic story. In this tale, Buck (Gil Gerard) -- in "Cruise Ship to the Stars" -- must protect the genetically perfect Miss Cosmos (Dorothy Stratten) from a pair of thieves, unaware that one of his opponents is a dangerous “transmute.” Sometimes, the would-be-thief is the meek, gentle Allison (Kimberly Beck) and sometimes she is the avaricious, incredibly powerful Sabrina (Trisha Noble).  Here, the Hyde character is associated with material avarice and human vice.

Other cult-TV series, such as Penny Dreadful (2014-2016), have featured the good doctor -- and his alter ego -- adapting the characters and situations of the novella to a serialized format.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde

Identified by Hugh: Star Trek: "The Enemy Within."

Identified by Hugh: Rod Serling's Night Gallery.

Identified by Hugh: The Ghost Busters (Filmation)

Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who: "Planet of Evil."

Identified by Hugh: Man from Atlantis: "C.W. Hyde."

Identified by Hugh: Space:1999.

Identified by Hugh: The Incredible Hulk

Identified by Hugh: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: "Cruise Ship to the Stars."

Identified by SGB: Star Trek: Voyager.

Identified by Hugh: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Identified by Chris G: Smallville.

Identified by Hugh: Jekyll and Hyde. 

Identified by Hugh: Do No Harm.

Identified by Hugh: Penny Dreadful