Saturday, September 02, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "Don Quixote" (December 11, 1976)

This week’s episode of the Filmation 1970s series Ark II, called “Don Quixote,” follows roughly the same outline as the episode “Robin Hood.” 

Only here, the crew of the titular vehicle encounters literary and mythic personalities who are not merry men, but rather based on Cervantes’ The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605). 

Specifically, Jonah, Ruth, Samuel and Adam cross paths with two post-apocalyptic personalities who knowingly have cast themselves as the chivalrous Quixote and his loyal squire, Sancho.

The conflict of the week occurs when this (confused) new age Quixote sees Jonah not as a hero, but as his most dangerous nemesis, the Black Knight himself.  Thus Quixote seeks to interfere with Jonah’s mission to detonate two un-exploded pre-apocalypse bombs in an ancient battle area. 

Adding some comic relief to the episode, Quixote also sees the talking chimpanzee, Adam, as a damsel he can protect and love, Lady Marguerite. 

Finally, Quixote is recruited to the Ark II’s noble cause when the crew contextualizes the un-exploded bomb as a “serpent” the knight must defeat in combat.  Quixote actually proves helpful too, during the climax, because his metal knight’s armor can help to limit the range and power of an explosion, if one should occur.

Played more lightly than “Omega,” and “Robot,” and without the sharp social commentary of “The Cryogenic Man,” this installment of the Saturday morning series wouldn’t rank among the show’s best.  

Nor is it the worst, however. 

The final message of “Don Quixote is something akin to “use your imagination, but also see things through the eyes of others.”  That’s appropriately didactic for children. Yet it’s probably even more commendable that Ark II would name-check Don Quixote in the first place, no doubt causing a spate of little ones to ask their parents about the character and his story, or perhaps even visit a nearby library to find out even more about him. 

I must say, I appreciate the fact that over its run, Ark II has showcased a very literary, cerebral bent, alluding to Scripture, Dickens, the Robin Hood legends and Cervantes.  That’s an unexpected (adult) pleasure of revisiting the Saturday morning series today.

Next week, the final Ark II episode: “Orkus.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos "Now You See 'Em, Now You Don't."

In ‘Now You See ‘Em, Now you Don’t,” the Bugaloos attempt to work Sparky (Billy Barty) into a new song. The result is “Gna Gna Gna Gna Gna.”

Peter Platter is so impressed with the composition that he decides to work the Bugaloos -- with Sparky --into his upcoming telethon show.

Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye) gets winds of Sparky’s new sound, and wants to steal it for herself.  To do so, she forges adoption papers, and takes Sparky as her own son. 

Sparky is moved from Tranquility Forest to the Juke Box, and then forced to sing with Benita.

The Bugaloos team up with an absent-minded professor/magician, who has developed a magic wand that can create invisibility. 

All the Bugaloos are rendered invisible, so that they can infiltrate Benita’s home, and bring Sparky home.

Last week, a beauty contest. This week, a telethon. And Benita Bizarre is once again up to no good.  

So, in other words, it’s business as usual in Tranquility Forest in this installment of The Bugaloos.

One thing to note: I’ve enjoyed most of the songs on the series, thus far.  

This week’s song, “Gna, Gna, Gna, Gna, Gna” is the ear-rattling exception.

Here it is in its entirety:

My son watched this episode with me, and he will, to torture me, break out into this song periodically.  

I love that kid. 

But not the song.

One point of interest this week is that The Bugaloos, while a fantasy, has largely adhered to its own universe and rules of Physics. This week, however, a magician can turn people invisible, which is a clear break from the standard format.

Still, the break in format sets up another instance of the format: the last minute rescue of a Bugaloo (or Sparky) from Benita Bizarre’s juke box.  That pretty much happens every week.

Next week: “Help Wanted – Firefly.”

Friday, September 01, 2017

Tribute 2017: Richard Anderson (1926 - 2017)

A beloved figure in science fiction film and television has passed away. 

The press is now reporting the death of Richard Anderson, a man beloved by my Generation (X) for his performances as Oscar Goldman -- the kindly head of the O.S.I. -- on The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978), and The Bionic Woman (1976-1978).  

At the height of distrust of government in America, because of the Watergate Scandal, Anderson's Oscar Goldman painted a picture of incorruptibility, decency, and competence.

Richard Anderson was heralded in the seventies as the first actor to play the same role in two series running at the same time. Memorably, Oscar Goldman was so ubiquitous a presence on seventies TV that Anderson's character was released as a Kenner action figure -- with exploding briefcase! -- in the Kenner Six Million Dollar Man toy line.

Yet Richard Anderson was much more than Oscar Goldman. He appeared in the beloved science fiction movie that introduced the world to Robby the Robot: Forbidden Planet (1956).  Opposite Leslie Nielsen and Warren Stevens, his scenes mostly saw him working on the bridge of the cruiser C-57D.

Richard Anderson also starred as the villain, an immortal man craving more life, in the second Kolchak TV movie of the early 1970's, 1973's The Night Strangler.

Throughout his long and impressive acting career, Mr. Anderson appeared on just about every important genre series of the '60s and '80s, from Mission: Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to Knight Rider and Airwolf.

Mr. Anderson contributed enormously to cult-film and television. His presence will be greatly missed. My deepest condolences go out to his family and loved ones at this time.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Cult-TV Blogging: Star Maidens (1976), "The Proton Storm"

This week on Star Maidens, in a script penned by John Lucarotti (who wrote several fine episodes of the original Doctor Who in the 1960’s), the Earthling Liz (Liza Harrow) and her (male) assistant Rudy are held hostage by Octavia pending the release of Shem and Adam on Earth.

Fulvia (Judy Geeson) is unhappy when a deal can't be reached with the fugitives from Medusa and Earth's Dr. Evans (Derek Farr), but Octavia terminates the mission, and decides it is time to return home.

"What can you expect of a planet ruled by men?" she asks. I love how dismissive and terse Octavia is in her dealings with our planet. And yes, I have seen men speak about women in precisely this fashion, on more than one occasion.

Held hostage, Liz and Rudy get their first (involuntary) peek at the advanced world of Medusa. Once there, the Earthlings are promptly separated and Liz is treated like royalty while Rudy is relegated to the barracks in the men's quarters.  Rudy opines that he doesn’t know how long he can take it, forced to be submissive to women overlords.

"You mustn't concern yourself over a mere male," Fulvia suggests to Liz. "To love a man is to give him power over you. And he will only abuse that." 

Again, this remark seems a perfect “crack’d mirror” example for the kind of things men tell each other about women.

Rudy discovers that the men's quarters are pretty rudimentary, and that the servants spend most of their time playing an extra-terrestrial variation of chess. They seem to do so, however, by telepathy, since the pieces move about the board without ever being touched.  The script makes nothing of this development. It isn’t even commented upon.

 "The rules are simple," explains Octavia of the chess variation -- without cracking the slightest hint of a smile -- "The Queen is never captured." 

Rudy also learns that men once ruled on Medusa, during an epoch that Fulvia refers to as the planet's Dark Ages. Back then, there was nothing "but wars, violence, and greed."

Since women took over the planet, Medusa has -- by contrast -- seen centuries of peace and social and technological progress. This is a powerful argument for female rule, given the high technology and achievements of Medusa, especially in comparison with the warring, primitive Earth of 1976 that we see in the series

While Rudy and Liz learn the ways of Medusa, on Earth Shem and Adam state their conditions for returning home. Shem wants a full pardon from Octavia and his old job as mechanic back (aim high, brother!), while Adam wants no less than equal rights and equal opportunities, a request which Octavia finds "rebellious.”

Hoping to reunite with Adam, her former domestic, on Earth, Fulvia steals the space yacht Nemesis and plots a trajectory back to Earth, but a severe proton storm is directly on her course, somewhere between "Jupiter and Uranus". The storm is raging at "destruction point," but Fulvia decides they'll just have to "ride it out.”

I probably don’t need to point it out, but Fulvia’s self-destructive behavior is that of someone who has clearly fallen in love. Fulvia can warn Liz about love all she likes. But in terms of Adam, she has clearly not taken her own advice. She loves him so much that she risks her own death to see him again.

From Earth, Shem helps Fulvia safely navigate the deadly proton storm. But when Fulvia lands on Earth, Adam still can't bring himself to forgive his mistress, and he runs off alone into the woods.  This is the first indication in the series that Adam carries affectionate feelings for Fulvia.  He is unable to deal with his emotions, and rather than confront them, he runs off like a child.

Again, this act seems to confirm the Medusan interpretation of men as children that must be cared for. And again, this is often an attitude held by the patriarchs here on Earth.  More ‘crack’d mirror’ commentary, and it’s all to the good. 

As opposed to the last episode of Star Maidens I watched ("Nightmare Cannon"), this one isn't overtly high camp, and is played rather seriously and emotionally.

I've noticed that matters always seem to pick up dramatically on Medusa, whereas most of the material occurring on Earth just seems haphazard, or poorly conceived.

For instance, why is Dr. Evans -- an egghead scientist -- negotiating with alien leaders? Wouldn't the British government like to be in on that action?  

How about the UN? Or the U.S.? 

First contact with advanced aliens seems a matter of import that would not be left to local police, or a well-meaning (but inept) astronomer.  Also, spaceships from Medusa are regularly invading the airspace of Britain now, and with no response from the air force?

Social commentary is all good, especially when it is as funny as Star Maidens makes it, but this series also needs some grounding in reality.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Requiem for Methuselah" (February 14, 1969)

Stardate: 5843.7

The Enterprise is afflicted with a “raging epidemic” of Rigellian Fever, a disease with effects similar to the Bubonic Plague. Three crewmen are already dead, and twenty three sick.

Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) needs to create an anti-toxin using Ryetelan, a substance that must be mined on a planetary surface. Fortunately, a world is located that contains this needed substance. 

Upon beaming down to collect it, however, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy are attacked by a hovering robot, M4, which is controlled by a less-than-friendly stranger who claims to own the planet, Flint (James Daly).

After being warned to leave the planet, Kirk describes the effects of Rigellian Fever, and Flint allows the party to stay, assigning M4 the task of mining and refining the Ryetalan. 

Meanwhile, the landing party is welcome at his palatial home.  There, Spock is impressed by Flint’s collection of antique items (including a rare Shakespeare first folio, and an original waltz by Johannes Brahms).

Captain Kirk, however, is more intrigued by Flint’s beautiful and highly-intelligent young ward, Rayna (Louise Sorel). They develop romantic feelings for one another, which was Flint’s plan all along.

As is soon revealed, Flint is an immortal man, known in different times as Solomon, Merlin, Da Vinci, and Brahms -- and Rayna is an android he has constructed to be his mate through the ages.  Kirk was to be her teacher in matters of human emotions, and love. But Rayna cannot bear to hurt either Kirk, or Flint, and a tragedy occurs…

“Requiem for Methuselah” has shown up on more than one reader top 20 Star Trek lists, as I look at them in preparation for posting next week.  I appreciate that many fans and critics see value in it.

I find "Requiem for Methuselah" a mediocre episode of Star Trek (1966-1969), but one enlivened and even made bearable a beautiful, even poetic ending that brings into clarity, again, the friendship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Before the beautiful (and emotional ending), the episode depicts a thoroughly unbelievable love story for Kirk.

Kirk has fallen in love before on the series, notably in “City on the Edge of Forever,” and (while not quite himself), in “The Paradise Syndrome.” We can easily understand why he falls in love in both cases, and also how he remains the man that he is: a leader and a figure of duty.  In “City on the Edge of Forever,” Kirk gives up his love, Edith, because of his strong sense of duty. In “The Paradise Syndrome,” Kirk is restored to his senses after Miramanee is fatally injured, and must say goodbye to her too.

In neither case did Captain Kirk descend into self-pitying hysterics, or beg his would-be-lover to come back to the Enterprise with him.  Here, that’s exactly what he does. “Come with me. I offer you happiness,” Kirk says.

There must be no part of the Kirk we know who thinks this arrangement could possibly work. This is not The Next Generation era with families aboard Starfleet vessels. Rayna can't go with him, except as a passenger bound for a starbase or colony.  Is he contemplating resigning his command?

It’s a totally unbelievable, unrealistic moment for the character. As I said, we have seen Kirk in love, and he isn’t this guy. Kirk absolutely knows that as captain of the Enterprise, he cannot afford such a distraction as Rayna.  His words in “The Naked Time” made it clear that the only woman that he has time for, as captain, is named Enterprise. Kirk may be lonely, but he acts here in a contrived way suitable only for, well, a Valentine's Day episode of Star Trek (see: the episode's original air date).

Now he’s begging Rayna to come back to the Enterprise? So he can give up command (his first, best destiny?)  

It’s just not believable in the slightest. Kirk never begged Edith to come back with him. (And had she tried, she might have lived, let's face it. She was functionally dead in that timeline. In the 23rd century, she could have had a life, if the Guardian permitted it.)

Worse, William Shatner “acts” Kirk’s desperation and histrionics in a way strangely similar to his performances in “The Enterprise Incident” (when he is pretending to be mad), and “Turnabout Intruder” (when Kirk has been replaced by someone who is, genuinely, mad). Because of this choice, the captain doesn’t seem like the captain we know at all, but rather someone we can’t recognize as the man of duty and command.  This fellow is unrealistic, impractical, and self-pitying (“You used me! I can’t love her…but I do love her.”)

The impressive coda, which I noted above, attempts to repair some of the damage wrought by the episode, by Kirk’s notation that “we put on a pretty poor show.” But it’s not enough.

Scotty didn’t act like Scotty during his love affair in “The Lights of Zetar, and Kirk doesn’t really act like Kirk in “Requiem for Methuselah.”  

When Spock gets his turn at a love story in the third season, in “All Our Yesterdays,” at least there is a reason that he acts out of character (he is thrust to the distant past, and sympathetically acts like the Vulcans of that time period; as a barbarian).

This re-watch has proven to me that Star Trek in the third season is much stronger than many fans, writers, and historians have suggested. However, I will say that the preponderance of romantic stories (ostensibly to draw in female viewers) does not serve the series particularly well. I would pick “Requiem for Methuselah” as the worst of the bunch because the writing (and acting) is so out-of-character for Kirk. 

Other aspects of the episode are confusing too.

I understand why McCoy should oversee the refining of the Ryetalan on the planet, but certainly he isn’t needed to mine it? A team of crew-people should have beam down with the tools necessary. All they need to find the substance is a tricorder, right?  But then, when McCoy is actually needed, he doesn’t oversee the refining of the Ryetalan, and precious time is lost.

Also, I must confess that I find the scene in which Flint shrinks the Enterprise to the size of an AMT model kit (!) and Kirk looks in through the view screen to see the crew frozen, hopelessly campy by today’s standards.  With a few notable exceptions, Star Trek generally avoids this type of silliness.

Lastly, what exactly is Flint's plan? To have Kirk awaken Rayna's emotions and then take over, in his stead?  This is an immortal man who must be well-acquainted with human nature. He should have taken an alternate strategy.  Flint should have let Kirk and Rayna have a fling, and then let Kirk leave the planet, as he would have, in short order. He could then comfort Rayna, and eventually present himself as alternative.

In 6,000 years Flint has never learned a lick of patience?

Beyond these issues, however, I must clearly acknowledge the impact or influence this episode has had on film and television. The concept of an android who feels strong emotions, and then short-circuits, is a veritable trope of the format at this point. 

We have seen it on Space: 1999 (1975-1977) in “One Moment of Humanity,” in The Fantastic Journey (1977) in “Beyond the Mountain” and, quite touchingly, in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s (1987-1994) “The Offspring.” 

That’s only one arena where “Requiem for Methuselah” has been an inspiration. The story of a lonely immortal, marching through history in isolation is, frankly, the very bread and butter of the Highlander franchise, both on film and in television.

But my highest praise for the episode involves the coda.

First, I will acknowledge that I find it absolutely impossible to believe that Kirk spirals into a depression over Rayna, given that he did no such thing over Edith Keeler or Miramanee. I wonder, did Spock need to make him forget them too?

However, given the script, I believe that the final scene is an excellent one. Kirk falls asleep in his quarters, while Bones and Spock stand at his door. McCoy then speaks with Spock about the utter irrationality of love. He discusses the things "love can drive a man to do.”  He then says he is sorrier for Spock than he is for Kirk, because while Kirk may feel pain, Spock will never understand love.

Then, after McCoy leaves, Spock proves that he absolutely understands the nature of love. 

He walks to his friend in pain, and conducts a mind-meld, telling Kirk to “forget.”  This is, simply, an act of love, a beautiful act from a man who professes not to understand human emotion. Spock sees his friend in pain, and he takes away that pain.

The set-up of the episode and the performance of the love story are inelegant at best, but the last five minutes of “Requiem for Methuselah” find Star Trek at its finest, showcasing the unique chemistry of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triangle.

Next week is my Star Trek anniversary celebration! 

Please make sure to send me a list of your top-twenty Star Trek episodes (with explanation for your choices!) at as soon as possible.  I'll post them all week long!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Cult-TV Theme Watch: My Enemy, My Ally

What does it mean when I write about “my enemy, my ally?

Two committed enemies are forced to work together to extract themselves from a difficult, life-threatening spot despite their extreme differences.

You may have seen this dramatic idea played out, large scale -- human pilot against alien Drac -- in Wolfgang Peterson's epic film, Enemy Mine (1985). But a similar tale has also been a staple of sci-fi TV programs across the decades.

This "My Enemy/My Ally" narrative conceit proved especially popular during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Perhaps it was a coded reflection of the Global Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, a conflict that separated the world into two intractable sides, and ideologies.

Since many cult TV programs are geared explicitly towards the idea of imagining and presenting a better, more positive future -- pointing towards the evolution and growth of our species -- this explanation certainly makes abundant sense.

Episodes of the "My Enemy/My Ally" variety often suggest that -- once thrown together into a life-threatening scenario -- enemies can find a common bond if only they leave their pre-existing, hostile, cultural beliefs behind.

The notion is that understanding and trust are seeds that can grow inside people over time, and even blossom into peaceful co-existence, tolerance and hopefully, real friendship. In the era of mutually assured destruction, it was powerful for sci-fi television to suggest that -- just by being thrown together into a common danger with our mortal enemies -- we could prevent nuclear annihilation.

By personally knowing our enemy, we could make a better choice...for the planet.

Gazing back across the decades, you can see several examples of this My Enemy/My Ally story template.

For instance, in the year 1970, an episode of the jingoistic (but utterly brilliant...) Gerry Anderson series U.F.O. saw S.H.A.D.O. astronaut Paul Foster and an alien pilot work together to survive on the desolate lunar surface following a battle, in the installment called "Survival." Different ideologies/different agenda, but a mutual, positive purpose outside the political confines of a larger war-between-the-planets.

Then, in 1974, a first season episode of the Krofft Saturday morning TV series Land of the Lost found a Sleestak named S'latch and human protagonist Rick Marshall (Spencer Milligan) trapped in a deep, smoky pit inside the Lost City.

Again, these two opposing individuals had to learn to trust, and to work together, to escape...before the Sleestak God made them lunch. When S'latch was wounded during an escape attempt, Rick Marshall rescued the Sleestak from the pit, and earned the creature's loyalty and friendship.

The same year saw an intelligent simian of future Earth, General Urko (Mark Lenard) team up with a human astronaut from the past, Peter Burke (James Naughton) in the Planet of the Apes series episode “The Trap.

Likewise, in "The Return of Starbuck," an episode of Galactica: 1980 from May of '80, Lt. Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and a Cylon enemy crash-landed on a barren planet after (another) pitched space battle. A lonely Starbuck re-programmed "Cy" to become an ally, and they kept each other company for a time...until Cy gave his life to save his human friend from further Cylon troops.

As late as November of 1989, Star Trek: The Next Generation took a stab at this "My Enemy/My Ally"-fashioned narrative.

In "The Enemy," Engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) became trapped on an inhospitable world, Galorndon Core, with only a zealous Romulan soldier for company. The sub-plot of two enemies finding understanding on the isolated planet was artfully balanced against a story of Worf refusing to give aid to an injured, dying Romulan aboard the Enterprise. On the surface: enemies helping one another, their mutual existences threatened. On the Enterprise (and inside the "culture war" between the Federation and the Romulans...), one man/Klingon just couldn't let go of the hate-filled past.

But on the planet, hate was forgotten, at least briefly.

The Cult-TV Faces of: My Enemy, My Ally

Identified by Hugh: Lost in Space.

Identified by SFF: UFO: "Survival."

Identified by Will Perez: Mission Impossible.

Identified by Hugh: Planet of the Apes: "The Trap."

Identified by Hugh: Land of the Lost.

Identified by Hugh: Jason of Star Command.

Identified by Hugh: Galactica 1980; "The Return of Starbuck."

Identified by Hugh: Buck Rogers "Time of the Hawk."

Identified by Hugh: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Enemy."

Identified by Hugh: DS9.

Identified by Hugh: The X-Files.

Identified by Hugh: The Walking Dead.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tribute: Tobe Hooper (1943-2017)

I am deeply saddened this morning to report the death of horror film director, and icon, Tobe Hooper (1943 - 2017).

For me, Hooper is indisputably one of the five most significant auteurs of modern horror cinema (1970's to present)  alongside the likes of Wes Craven, John Carpenter, George Romero, and David Cronenberg.  

Now, Craven, Romero, and Hooper have all left this mortal coil.

But Tobe Hooper, in particular, has always broken my heart, because -- even up until weeks before his death -- the director was never given the credit he deserved by either the industry or some film writers, and fans. 

The "Steven Spielberg directed Poltergeist [1982])" meme always held back his reputation, I feel, unfairly. 

Some of the evidence to support the assertion that Hooper didn't direct Poltergeist are the result of misinterpretation of photos, or the mistaken belief that Hooper never directed a movie as strong as the 1982 horror film, so he couldn't have been responsible for it.

Yet Hooper also directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), Salem's Lot (1978), The Funhouse (1981), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II (1986) and the cult-hit Lifeforce (1985).  A case can be made for the brilliance of any or all those pictures.

A tribute to a deceased artist is likely not the best or most appropriate place to re-litigate an old, ugly matter, however.

Rather, it is a place to appreciate the artistry of a maestro. And that is exactly what I feel Hooper was: a master.  

His horror films always felt dangerous; always felt edgy, and Hooper's understanding of film grammar was second to none. Unappreciated by the industry, and by film writers in his life, I hope these people will seriously, upon his passing, make an effort to re-evaluate his work, and consider Hooper's place in film and horror history.

I will end this tribute with a few short words that capture perfectly the nature of Hooper's underappreciated cinematic genius. 

These words are from L.M Kit Carson (Film Comment: "Saw Thru," July/August 1986, pages 9-12).

"Hooper was a new deal - simply this; no deal. Hooper was a scare-director who was methodically unsafe, who the audience (You) finally just couldn't trust...He'd go too far, then go farther...and go farther again, and kick it again...then get in an extra kick, then it's over...then one more kick...No deal, friend."

Or as I like to say, just watch the final act of Poltergeist. No deal, friend.

So here's to the great Tobe Hooper, the "no deal" horror director whose films terrified and inspired a generation of movie-goers.