Thursday, November 30, 2017

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


In “Hideout,” Star Maidens (1976) takes us back to Earth for the first time in a few episodes.  Adam (Pierre Brice) and Shem (Gareth Thomas) are still on the run from Fulvia (Judy Geeson), and Earth’s police hunt them down.

Adam and Shem hide in an apartment complex, but Adam is captured by authorities. This leaves Shem to befriend a lonely woman, Rose (Corny Collins), who has just suffered a break up with her boyfriend.  Shem heals Rose, providing an example of what a loving, supportive man can be like.  

Rose, in turn, hides Shem from the authorities, demonstrating her love and affection for him.

When Rose is nearly killed by going down a waterfall at a local park, Shem risks exposure to save her life. The police capture him and bring him to the angry Fulvia. But Shem and Rose have shared something beautiful, despite the relationship’s outcome.


I was set, at the start of “Hideout” to slag the episode as a champion time-waster, a return to the early slapstick car chases and “run around” shows at the start of the season. But, as “Hideout” went on and the narrative developed, I began to see how it might function as one of the best episodes, actually, of Star Maidens.

Overall, this cult series functions by showing us mirror dysfunctional images. We see a human male and female from Earth try to contend with Medusa’s matriarchy, in some episodes, specifically those featuring Liz and Rudy.  And then we see a Medusan woman and man, Fulvia and Adam, deal with Earth’s patriarchy in the episodes set here, on our planet.


Both worlds and both situations are imperfect. In fact, both are highly imperfect. “Hideout” therefore functions as this little grace note, this little “carve out,” if you will, of what a strong male/female relationship could look like, on either planet.  

In particular, Shem treats Rose with respect, loyalty and love. He helps her endure during the times she is weak, and he helps her to be strong. Rose responds in kind, housing Shem, trusting Shem, and choosing to help him when she could simply turn him in to the authorities. They develop a perfect symbiosis. 



If you look at the relationship, it is clearly one of give and take, not of set-in-stone matriarchy or patriarchy. Shem and Rose independently take the lead in the relationship when there is a void to be filled; but they do so to heal and fill the deficits of their opposite number. The Shem/Rose relationship is perhaps the only positive male/female relationship we witness in the entirety of Star Maidens.

This fact makes “Hideout” of great significance. There is so much political, sex role maneuvering in the series, between Fulvia and Adam, even on Medusa between Rudy and Octavia. There is absolutely none of that here. This story is simply about two people attempting to be together in a world that is out to destroy them, and their love.

This story features almost no science fiction trappings, but it doesn’t matter. “Hideout” is the episode about the fact that men and women can get along. In a series about the war between the sexes, the commentary it offers is vital.

Next week: “Creatures of the Mind.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation 30th Anniversary Blogging: "The Naked Now" (October 5, 1987)


Stardate: 41209.2

The U.S.S. Enterprise-D under command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) approaches the S.S. Tsiolkovsky, a Starfleet science vessel monitoring a collapsing red giant star.

After an “accident” which seems to kill the entire crew, an away team led by Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) investigates the situation.

What the away team soon finds on the Tsiolkovsky is strange and unsettling. One crew member seems to have intentionally exposed the bridge to the vacuum of space.

Meanwhile, Lt. Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) enters a crew person’s quarters where the temperature has dropped to freezing, and someone died taking a shower with their clothes on.

The away-team returns to the Enterprise and is decontaminated by the transporter, but Geordi begins to show signs of a high fever, and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) worries that the Tsiolkovsky “infection” is spreading.

When Geordi escapes from sickbay, he passes the strange disease – by touch -- to Security Chief Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), who soon grows lusty.

Commander Riker recalls reading about another incident of someone showering fully clothed, and asks Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner) research it. The android finds such an historical example from the Constitution class U.S.S. Enterprise commanded by Captain James T. Kirk, nearly a century earlier. That Enterprise was also investigating a cosmic body (a planet, not a star), undergoing radical gravity shifts.

A ready-made cure is sent to Dr. Crusher via the computer, from the old Enterprise, but it doesn’t work this time.

Tasha infects Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), and then Data, by engaging in sexual contact with him. The android reports being “fully functional.”

Soon, young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) is contaminated by Geordi, and he takes over Engineering using a voice-synthesizer that imitates Captain Picard’s voice. There Wesley erects a force-field around the section and refuses to let others enter. 

Disaster looms, however, as a chunk of the collapsing star approaches the Enterprise, and Engineering is useless…


Star Trek: The Next Generation’s (1987-1994) first season gets off to an extremely shaky start with this first episode after the pilot, an homage to The Original Series (1966-1969) hour, “The Naked Time.” In both episodes, intrepid crew members suffer from an infection that makes them act intoxicated, or drunk, and in the process reveal hidden aspects of their personalities.

In “The Naked Time,” audiences witnesses Mr. Spock’s guilt and shame about not being able to tell his human mother that he loves her. We see Mr. Sulu’s true nature as a mad swashbuckler, unveiled. We even witnessed Captain Kirk’s almost pathological obsession with commanding the Enterprise, and the way that this obsession isolated him from a normal emotional life. And we also learn Nurse Chapel is secretly in love with Mr. Spock.

Here?

In The Next Generation we discover that the three leading females in the series -- Dr. Crusher, Counselor Troi, and Tasha Yar -- all have sex on their brains. 







Crusher’s inhibitions fall and she unbuttons her uniform seductively, telling Captain Picard that she has been denied the “comfort” of a husband for too long. Tasha seeks sexual intercourse from Data. And Counselor Troi interferes with Riker’s attempts to reclaim engineering, babbling that she wants to be “alone” with him, in his mind.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with women characters expressing sexual interest or desire. So let’s get that out of the way.

Women are sexual beings, as men are, and should be able to express that in life and in drama.  However, it is rather alarming that for “The Naked Now” the choice is made to have all the women -- when released from their inhibitions -- express a desire, primarily, for sex.  It’s insulting that there is apparently nothing deeper to explore in these characters, beyond their desire to get it on with the male command crew. It's as if a desire for sex is the end-all and be-all of these three career Starfleet women.

Riker, when drunk, becomes a boring workaholic (“I can’t afford to get this!”). Geordi longs for human sight, even though it is inferior to what his VISOR can provide him. When he is “infected,” he doesn’t long for sex, he longs for a deeper emotional connection to Tasha.



But the women? 

It’s all the desire for sex with the male characters, whether Picard, Riker, or Data. I just must believe that 24th century women, officers aboard the flagship of the Federation, would be more interesting than that. Why are the women all defined by their sexual desire for the male characters? Why can’t one of them be driven by ambition, like Riker, to command a ship?

The final line of the episode is a travesty, too.

Captain Picard notes that the Enterprise shall have a fine crew, if it can “avoid temptation.”  This is certainly a dig against the women officers, who -- when drunk – wanted to have sex with the men, keeping them from accomplishing their necessary life-saving tasks, essentially. The men weren’t grappling with temptation, after all.

That line is wrong for so many reasons. 

First, it is demeaning to the female characters, since they were the ones who acted according to secret physical desires. 

Secondly, it makes no real sense to “avoid” temptation, given that the Enterprise is a ship of families. If there is such physical desire, and it is mutual, why not indulge in romantic relationships? Why not get married and have families?

At the same time The Next Generation attempts to move forward into a world where families can be space explorers, it seems to be mired in the 1960’s parochial notion that one can’t be both an officer and a family man (or woman). This idea reaches its nadir with an upcoming episode, “Haven,” wherein Counselor Troi must choose between being a Starfleet officer and getting married.

Why not simply have both a career and a family, especially in Star Trek’s enlightened future?  This is a notable and embarrassing example of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) not being any more evolved than its predecessor had been, twenty years earlier. It is easier to excuse the original series, being a product of the sixties. By the 1980’s, everyone knew this kind of thinking was backwards.

Thirdly, it is terrible that Captain Picard has to utter this line, coming across as an arrogant prude. Why would he say this at all, knowingly embarrassing his female bridge officers? And secondly, why is he such a shut-down prig? Between his dislike of children and families, his near-constant surrendering of the Enterprise (“Encounter at Farpoint,” and “The Last Outpost”), his hectoring of the crew here, Picard isn’t yet coming across as a very capable or likable captain.

Of course, that changes over time.

Also, it is a terrible shame that “The Naked Now” arrives so early in the series continuity when it is abundantly clear that the (rewritten) script has no idea what character traits Captain Picard may be burying, or hiding from his crew.

He becomes a goofy, skipping lapdog to Dr. Crusher, but no real inner character is revealed. Perhaps, Picard could have revealed how he lives in fear of the day that he knows is inevitably coming; when a child aboard the Enterprise dies because of a choice he made. 

Or perhaps he could have revealed the guilt and shame he feels, every time he looks at Dr. Crusher, because he is attracted to her, but he is also responsible for the death of her husband (clearing the way for a romantic relationship).

But “The Naked Now” lacks that level of depth. 

It lacks it in regards to Wesley Crusher too.



Being drunk for Wesley means acting goofy, and also complaining about adults. No real emotions or deep truths about him are broached. He’s a typical kid. What might he feel, realistically? Resentment towards Captain Picard for the decision that killed his father.

Perhaps, the Enterprise could have been Jack Crusher’s ship? How does Wesley feel living near Picard?  Why give characters this tragic, difficult background if there is no intent to exploit it in the drama?

The way that “The Naked Now” treats Wesley Crusher is actually really terrible, and absolutely did Wil Wheaton no favors with fans. Wesley’s behavior in the episode, and the way it reflects on the command staff, by extension, does no character any favors.

Basically, the untrained genius kid saves the ship with his inventions, while intoxicated.

The entire command crew, with the resources of the Federation flagship to command, look inept by comparison.  Wesley’s brilliance, even under these circumstances makes fans hate him (The Will Robinson Adric Syndrome). But the fact that a wet-behind-the-ears teenager can save the ship, while Riker, Worf (not…even…intoxicated!), Geordi, Picard, Troi, and Crusher can’t do so is a tough one to parse. It doesn’t say much about the quality of Starfleet training in the 24th century.

Also -- let’s get real -- there are over a thousand crew members on the ship. They can’t all be sick.  No one else can help out in a pinch?

This episode also presents the audience with the first in a series of rotating chief engineers. Brooke Bundy plays Lt. Commander Sarah McDougal, an engineer who is outperformed and out-smarted by an untrained civilian teenager. I remember Brooke Bundy fondly from a guest role in Land of the Lost in the 1970’s, and she does just fine in this episode, but McDougal’s potential as a character is destroyed by the way this episode treats the character. The chief engineer of the Enterprise should be the greatest engineer in the fleet. Not an unimaginative officer who can be so easily outmaneuvered. The low point for the character occurs when McDougal notes that something is impossible and Wesley asks her why she can’t just see the answer in her head.

Wesley should just become captain, chief engineer, and CMO, apparently, of this starship Enterprise, if we are to go by the competence of the command staff in “The Naked Now.”



In terms of Star Trek continuity, I am of two minds regarding “The Naked Now.” I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a kick out of hearing the name "James T. Kirk," as part of an official historical record. On the other hand, the audience just got a great Original Series homage in “Encounter at Farpoint,” with a lovely guest appearance by De Forest Kelley, and this is something that shouldn’t be a pattern, as the new characters need development so badly.

The new crew has enough problems, in this episode without reminding viewers of how Captain Kirk handled a similar experience.  “The Naked Now” is, in the final analysis, a deeply inferior copy of a classic, and a poor selection for an early episode.

Still, on it's own, the scene between Tasha and Data is quite wonderful. 

If we don't look at as part of the pattern -- three women pining sexually for the male officers -- and just as a unique character moment between the android and the Security Chief, the scene is amusing, and returns to take on additional resonance in stories such as "Skin of Evil," "Measure of a Man," and "Legacy."  

And indeed, this is one realm where The Next Generation truly excels. Instead of abandoning aspects of the series that don't work well (like the Ferengi, or Q), it returns to the characters and ideas, deepens them, and in the process, redeems them.  The relationship between Data and Tasha, as viewed from a later juncture, in some way, ends up redeeming "The Naked Now."

Next week, from bad to worse: “Code of Honor.”

Monday, November 27, 2017

Memory Bank: Epi-Log Magazine (1990 - 1994)


When I was living away from home at college, at the University of Richmond in the late eighties and early nineties, I would often trek (on foot) from the campus to Dave's Comic's Comic-Book Shop in a nearby shopping center. 

There, I would catch-up on the latest issues of Cinefantastique, Starlog, and this magazine: Epi-Log.

You couldn't miss Epi-Log, because of its distinctive design. The covers always had a bright red logo, surrounded by bright yellow border.  The latest issue would, I recall, literally seem to pop off the shelves, beckoning to me.

I was obsessed, even at ages nineteen and twenty, with cult-television, and more importantly, the cataloging of cult-television history.

Today we have web sites, the IMDB, and other places where we can research episode titles, writers, and casts for TV programs, but in 1990 the best source for all that data was Epi-Log magazine. 

Each issue of the magazine featured several episode guides, and often grouped series together in a kind of specific theme. For example, I seem to recall an issue that compiled most of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson series. There was another issue I loved, that gazed at horror series such as Dark Shadows, and Ghost Story.


Epi-Log was the brainchild of editor-and-chief William Anchor, and his Star Tech Publications. Each issue was sub-titled "The Magazine of Television Science Fiction, Fantasy and Adventure," and more than forty issues were published in all, from the years 1990-1994.

Epi-Log was, for me, nothing less than a miracle. It was generally very well-researched, and it covered obscure TV series with guides that featured air-dates, titles, writers, and plot synopses.  And corrections were often made in revised editions of the magazine.

It's true that I rarely agreed with the publisher's commentary on specific series (he loved Lost in Space, but hated Space:1999), yet each issue provided a wealth of hard-to-find, incredible information.

I found this information especially valuable while I was away at college, and not able to keep up with some TV series that I was fond of, including Beauty and the Beast (1987-1991), War of the Worlds (1987-1990), and Freddy's Nightmares (1988-1990).  With these issues, I could often see what I  had missed.


The last issue of Epi-Log I remember purchasing at Dave's Comics was one covering the first season of Deep Space Nine (1993-1999).

By the time of Star Trek: Voyager's (1995-2001) premiere, Epi-Log magazine was gone, but for me, never forgotten. I still have my collection of issues in my home office, right behind my desk.

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Cabin in the Woods



As the 2012 meta-horror movie Cabin in the Woods reminds us, there is no greater -- or more isolated -- locale for terror than, well, a cabin in the woods.

One of the greatest horror films ever made, The Evil Dead (1983), charted that particular territory brilliantly, but the subject of this blog post involves TV series that utilize the location.


The isolated cabin in the woods is the central battlefield, for example, in the classic The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) episode, “The Invaders,” which involves a lonely woman (Agnes Moorehead) attacked by tiny, malevolent beings. These monstrous invaders turn out to be human astronauts.

A memorable episode of Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (1972-1973) called “Doorway to Death” involves two children taking a mystical doorway from a haunted city apartment in San Francisco to a wintry landscape. There, in the woods -- at a cabin, naturally -- a killer is seen chopping wood with an axe. The doorway is literally, a portal to death.


One of the greatest The X-Files (1993-2002) episodes of its first season, “Darkness Falls,” finds Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Agent Mulder (David Duchovny) trapped in a cabin in the woods in the Pacific Northwest as flesh-eating, prehistoric insects attack. The bugs emerge at night, but are repelled by light. In a suspenseful scene, Mulder and Scully must depend on a single, dangling light bulb, and a faulty generator, to keep them alive.

In Chris Carter’s Millennium (1996-1999), the leader of the Millennium Group played by R.G. Armstrong is seen to be living in a remote cabin in the woods in the early second season episode, “Beware of the Dog.” Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) is sent by the Group to encounter him.



A cabin in the woods has also been a sanctuary, on more than one occasion, for the living, during the zombie apocalypse in AMC’s original series, The Walking Dead (2010 -- ), and of course, Ash vs. The Evil Dead (2015 - ) has revisited the notorious cabin in the woods where all the horror of Sam Raimi’s Deadites first began.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Cabins in the Woods

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Identified by Chris G: Twin Peaks

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Identified by Chris G: Lost

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Identified by Lonestarr357: Ash vs. the Evil Dead.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Far Out Space Nuts (1975): "The Robots of Pod" (September 20, 1975)


In “The Robots of Pod, the third episode of Sid and Marty Krofft’s The Far Out Space Nuts (1975), Barney (Chuck McCann), Junior (Bob Denver) and Honk (Patty Mahoney) are ready to escape from the planet where they have been marooned. They take off, but the lunar lander cannot achieve escape velocity.

As it turns out, this is because Junior has brought his rock collection aboard. Barney throws the rock collection overboard, but also ends up tossing out all the ship’s spare fuel.

An alien woman, Princess Lantana (Eve Bruce) appears and suggests a trade. She will have her minions collect the lost fuel, if the Earthling and Honk retrieve her robot minion control belt.  

That item has fallen into the hands of the evil Mercurial (Earle Doud), in the “forbidden territory of Pod.”

The space nuts agree to those terms and infiltrate a giant subterranean city to steal the control belt.  Doing so will depend on robot disguises…and magnetic boots.





Audiences actually get a new plot this week on this Sid and Marty Krofft program from 1975. For once, an alien villain doesn’t want to take control of Junior. Instead, the Space Nuts team up with an ally to restore a rightful ruler, the princess, to her throne.  

The episode also features some new gags, and an increased focus on slapstick humor. In a shocking turn of events, there are even more than the standard three robot minions on screen at a time, for one scene!

The silliest jokes this week arise, strangely, in a robot cafeteria in Mercurial’s underground city. Disguised as robots, Barney and Junior go through a lunch line, and are served a meal (a crankshaft, some springs, and some ball bearings.)  Naturally, Barney finds the meal unpalatable, but Junior likes the crankshaft (which sounds crunchy).

“The Robots of Pod” is also the first episode in which the interior of the lunar lander is featured, though it appears in the opening credits each week.  The set is good, if cramped, but as I noted last week, really doesn’t compare favorably to the primary set of its Sid and Krofft contemporary, The Lost Saucer (1975).


Next week: “Fantastic Journey.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Challenge of the Super Friends: "Monolith of Evil" (October 14, 1978)


The Legion of Doom travels to the “molten center” of the Earth to locate a legendary “evil” power source that only Solomon Grundy knows about.  The power source -- a monolith – is guarded by a lava monster that is impassable.

The Legion decides to use the Super Friends to help the evil doers acquire the monolith. The Super Friends travel to the “underworld inferno” and fall into the trap.

But it is the legion that has a surprise in store. The monolith is not evil at all. It operates according to the intent of its user.

The Legion of Doom once more tricks the Super Friends into helping them achieve their plans of evil conquest, only to be hoisted by their own petards, in “Monolith of Evil.”



This episode of “Monolith of Evil” has call-backs both to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Intriguingly, no one – villain or hero – bats an eye at the presence of giant, undiscovered monsters in the subterranean world. There might be some scientists out there would be interested in such never-before see species.




In terms of our regular “That’s what you think!” watch, the Riddler gets to say it in “Monolith of Evil.” He says to Superman, “That’s what you think, Stupid Man!” Meanwhile, Robin’s exclamation of the week is “Holy Cut Communications!”


Next Week: “The Giants of Doom.”

The Cult-TV Faces of: Scrubs

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