Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Fantastic Journey (1977)

The Fantastic Journey
Stars: Jared Martin, Ike Eisenmann
1977
10 episodes

Timing is everything – or so I’ve heard. Take the case of The Fantastic Journey, a short-lived TV series that ended its 10-episode journey on NBC in June, 1977. Which was little less than a month after the release of a movie once known, in a galaxy far, far away, simply as Star Wars (it was a simpler time). Close Encounters of the Third Kind made its debut at the end of the same year and Star Trek reappeared in an animated version a few years earlier. The original Star Trek series went off the air a decade earlier but was gaining momentum in syndication and the first Star Trek movie was only two years away.

So one might argue that The Fantastic Journey failed, at least in part, due to an accident of timing. If you look at some of the SF-themed drek that was churned out in the post-Star Wars years you might concede that they have a point. Not that the late Seventies and early Eighties had a monopoly on SF-themed drek, mind you.

I grew up in the Seventies but I don't remember the show from back when. Looking back at it from the vantage point of four decades later I had to cringe at the sheer Seventies-ness of it all. But even setting all that aside I arrived at the tentative conclusion that The Fantastic Journey was just not very good. Perhaps it has something to do with the sheer goofiness and incomprehensibility of its basic premise. I don't claim to be the sharpest tool in the shed but I get by. And yet after watching an episode of the show and reading through numerous summaries I still can't quite pin down exactly what the premise of The Fantastic Journey is.

Its starts with a boat trip, apparently, in the Caribbean. Which is, of course, reputed to be the site of the Bermuda Triangle. Which, as I recall, was quite a popular topic back in the Seventies. Well, as the show would have us believe, it's a place of strange green clouds and a weird island, where our castaways are shipwrecked. So Gilligan's Island in the Bermuda Triangle - if you're looking for the elevator pitch.

This is where it gets tricky - at least for me. Apparently, the island contains a number of different time zones and is full of people from the past, present, and future. And so the only way to get back to your own time is to go through various invisible gateways through the different zones until you wind up in a place called Evoland. Your results may vary but none of this makes a speck of sense to me.

Of Note:
The big name on the marquee here is Roddy McDowall, best known to genre fans for his roles in the original Planet of the Apes movies and the spin-off series.
Executive producer Bruce Lansbury, brother to Angela Lansbury, also produced episodes of The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, Wonder Woman, Knight Rider, and Murder, She Wrote.
Story editing on several episodes and an episode written by D.C. Fontana, who had her hand in a number of well-regarded Star Trek TOS episodes and went on to work on the animated Star Trek series and a few TNG and DS9 episodes.
Notable guest stars included Gerald McRaney, Joan Collins, Cheryl Ladd and John Saxon.

Observed: (???)
I watched an episode maybe a year or two ago. It wasn't so memorable that I could pick it out from a list of episode summaries. I guess that says something.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Phoenix (1982)

The Phoenix
Stars: Judson Scott, Richard Lynch, E. G. Marshall
1982
5 episodes

In Short: Kung Fu meets Chariots of the Gods

Long ago, in a remote corner of the world, ancient astronauts landed from a distant planet with a gift for mankind: The Phoenix. For a thousand years, he has waited, suspended in time. Now, he is awakened to complete his mission. He searches for his partner, Mira, for only she knows his ultimate assignment on Earth. Dependent on the sun for his strength and survival, endowed with a superior intelligence, he has fully developed the powers of the human mind. Relentlessly pursued by those who seek to control him, he must stay free. The Phoenix.

I'm not sure what more I can say that that overlong, somewhat clunky opening voice-over to The Phoenix didn't cover but I'll give it a shot. The gift for mankind, The Phoenix, is also known as Bennu of the Golden Light, who has various special powers and, as noted above, is looking for his companion, Mira. The alien villain in all of this is Yago, who serves as one of Bennu's adversaries. Justin Preminger (played by Richard Lynch) is his human adversary, a government agent who's out to get Bennu, for reasons I'm not clear on. On the flipside, there's a scientist, Dr. Ward Frazier (E. G. Marshall), who is on his side. That's about the size of things. I suspect that not much of a story arc played out in the 90-minute pilot and four hour-long episodes but there you have it.

Of Note:
A pilot and four episodes aired. Four more episodes were written but never produced.
Scott best known acting role is probably Joachim, right hand man to Khan Noonien Singh, in the 1982 film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Observed: (1/2) In Search of Mira
Back in the day the TV show Kung Fu made a great impact on me. I haven't seen it for about forty years now and I'm not sure if I want to find out whether it holds up. Which is a bit beside the point, which is that there's a lot about The Phoenix that reminds me of Kung Fu.

I'll also say that while I try to embark on each of these reviews with an open mind, I wasn't expecting much from The Phoenix. As Wikipedia puts it, "The plot revolved around an ancient extraterrestrial named Bennu of the Golden Light, who is discovered in a sarcophagus in Peru and awakened in the 20th Century." Which was a description that didn't inspire much confidence. But in summary, I'd say that while the episode wasn't that bad it also wasn't anything to write home about.

The thrust of the thing is that Bennu finds himself in New Mexico, where he has run afoul of various baddies, including the aforementioned government agent who is out to get him. But he also comes across a kindly rancher who lives with his (young, single, attractive) daughter and they take him in for a time. Before it's all said and done Bennu and his benefactors have dealt with the baddies, with Bennu displaying some of his special alien powers along the way. For a time it looks like he might not escape the clutches of those who were out to get him but of course he does.

All of which played out pretty much like a standard good vs. bad adventure type plot with a bit of alien whimsy thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the most notable thing about Bennu is how he tended to resemble Qwai Chang Caine, David Carradine's character in Kung Fu. A character who mostly conducted himself like a pacifist, who was slow to anger (if he ever got there at all) and who only displayed his formidable ass whipping skills when circumstances became dire. Which seemed to be at least once per show, but I digress.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Probe (1988)

Probe
Stars: Parker Stevenson, Ashley Crow
1988
7 episodes

In Short: Smarty-pants guy with an attitude solves offbeat crimes.

Austin James has brains, a photographic memory, and Serendip, a corporation he founded to work on scientific development. He works and lives in a large space he calls the Batcave. But the one things he lacks is people skills. Several secretaries have been through the wringer already but the current one, Mickey Castle, is able to tolerate his brusque manner and serves more or less as his Watson, assisting him in solving crimes and figuring out mysteries that have technological and scientific leanings, with a touch of the Fortean thrown in for good measure.

One of the main selling points of Probe was that it was created by Isaac Asimov and William Link. Asimov, of course, was the fabulously prolific writer on 1,001 topics, including mysteries, but who was probably best known for his science fiction. Surprisingly, given the fact that he was so prolific he's not credited with writing any of the seven episodes of the show. Link had a stellar track record in the TV racket as the co-creator of various series, most notably Columbo, Mannix, Ellery Queen, and Murder, She Wrote. Also on board, Parker Stevenson, as James. Viewers of my generation would have known him best as Frank Hardy, who co-starred with Shaun Cassidy in a TV version of The Hardy Boys (1977-79).

Of Note:
Of the listed guest stars, the only name I recognized was that of Michael Constantine, who appeared in the episode I screened.
Aired Thursday nights at 8:00 on ABC, in the same time slot as The Cosby Show.
Original title - Isaac Asimov's Probe.
Asimov's participation was limited, in part, by the fact that he did not like to fly.
Here's a newspaper article about the show, from back in the day.

Observed: (1/6) Plan 10 From Outer Space
The focus here is on a popular science fiction writer, perhaps not totally coincidental, given the Asimov connection. Michael Constantine plays the role in a performance that could rightly be called over the top - and then some. Seems that an alien named Pretzel 14 actually dictates all of his books and manifests itself in electrical outbursts that make for colorful viewing, although the effects do come across as a bit cheesy.

I don't suppose I need to worry about spoiling things so I'll reveal that the events that lead up to Constantine's death don't actually have anything to do with aliens after all but have a lot to do with plain old human greed.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Joe Namath Show (1969)

The Joe Namath Show
Stars: Joe Namath, Dick Schaap
1969
13 episodes

In Short: Broadway Joe does a talk show.

My grasp of sports history is fair but not exceptional. So I'll cautiously reckon that while Joe Namath was hardly the first celebrity sports figure that he was something of a game changer, to borrow some lingo from the world of sport.

I won't go too deeply into this - you can go look it up. But I'll summarize by saying that Namath was a charismatic quarterback and something of a party animal, who scored big in Super Bowl III by leading a team of underdogs to a very unexpected victory. His popularity soared to the point where his celebrity tended to outshine his humble origins as a footballer.

Over the years Namath turned up in numerous TV commercials and guest shots in TV shows, with a smattering of movie roles thrown in for good measure. In 1978, he starred in The Waverly Wonders, a short-lived TV show. It was his second such effort, with The Joe Namath Show making a short run on daytime TV about a decade earlier.

Namath's other talk show hosting credits were somewhat more formidable. In the late Sixties and Seventies, he was one of the legions who filled for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. His hosting duties on The Joe Namath Show were shared with Dick Schaap, a well-known sportswriter of the day and the co-author of Namath's book, I Can't Wait Until Tomorrow...'Cause I Get Better-Looking Every Day.

Guests were pretty much evenly divided between the sports and entertainment world and ran the gamut from Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays to Truman Capote and Woody Allen. And another footballer whose sports career would later be eclipsed, in an even more spectacular fashion - O.J. Simpson.

Of Note:
Schaap also co-wrote the 1968 best-seller, Instant Replay, with Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers, who made an appearance on the talk show.
Guests from the sports world included Howard Cosell, Peggy Fleming, Jerry Kramer, and Tom Seaver.
Guests from the entertainment world included Paul Anka, Ann-Margret, Jimmy Breslin, and fellow talk show host, Dick Cavett.

Observed: (1/2)
I didn't have access to the second episode of the show in its entirety but what I saw was enough. Guest stars included a rather restrained Muhammad Ali and George Segal, who was much more lively. At this point in his career, Dick Schaap didn't seem to really have what it took to be a talk show host. Namath is a little more animated and comes off somewhat better but he's kind of clunky too.

Ali is about as low-key as you'll see him and things go south when Segal comes on to do his turn. For whatever reason both guests are still on set, between the hosts, and Namath has to talk past Ali to speak to Segal. Ali shuts down at some point and later reveals that it was due to his discomfort over the discussion of nudity in Segal's upcoming movie. Namath, who was something of a playboy, seems to take exception to Ali taking exception to this and things take a decidedly uncomfortable turn.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (1972-73)

Ghost Story/Circle of Fear
Host: Sebastian Cabot
1972-73
23 episodes

In Short: Things that go bump in the night.

William Castle is best known for a series of low budget horror movies (The Tingler, 13 Ghosts, etc.) that each featured a nifty gimmick (buzzers in the theater seats, skeletons flying around the theater) that would enhance their publicity value. Castle is not so well known as creator and producer of the 1972-73 TV anthology series, Ghost Story/Circle of Fear or as the producer of Rosemary's Baby (1968).

Anthology shows dealing with fantastic, macabre and supernatural topics were hardly a new thing by the time 1972 rolled around. Some of the more notable ones to grace American televisions by that time included Alfred Hitchcock Presents - later The Alfred Hitchcock Hour - which aired from 1955-1965. Boris Karloff was the host for Thriller (1960–62), and the Outer Limits controlled transmission from 1963-1965. Last and definitely not least were a pair of shows developed and hosted by Rod Serling. Of course, there's The Twilight Zone (1959-64), arguably one of most high-profile anthology shows ever. The lesser of these two was Night Gallery (1969-73), which was still airing by the time Ghost Story began its short run.

Sebastian Cabot, best known to American viewers at the time as Mr. French, on the sitcom Family Affair, took on the hosting duties for the first part of this show's run, when it was called Ghost Story. He played a hotel owner name Winston Essex, who did a not so mysterious disappearing act after 13 episodes. It was at this point that ratings were found to be floundering and the name and premise were tweaked a bit. Circle of Fear would be host-free and would feature a less overt focus on the supernatural (and an opening that seemed to me to recall that of Night Gallery). The revamped version hung in for another nine episodes and then it too disappeared.

Of Note:
Brought to you by NBC. Among the big-name writers here, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch. Among the big-name stars, Hal Linden, Jodie Foster, Angie Dickinson, Jason Robards, Patricia Neal, Janet Leigh, Martin Sheen, and David Soul.

Observed: (1/16) "Earth, Air, Fire and Water"
I realize that it’s a bit of an iffy proposition to review an anthology series based on my usual practice of screening one episode. Writers, directors and stars didn't necessarily stick around for multiple episodes so the quality could vary widely.

From the latter incarnation of the show - the Circle of Fear episodes, comes one that's probably most notable for being written by Harlan Ellison and D. C. Fontana. He, of course, is the infamously opinionated and rather talented writer and she, probably best known as a writer on Star Trek, particularly the first series.

In this episode, a group of young artists set up a space to create and sell their wares and everything seems to be going well. Until someone finds a damned trunk full of odd bottles full of strangely colored liquids. At which point everyone begins to go off the rails. It's not a particularly fresh or exciting premise but with the right approach something interesting might have been made of it. Alas, this didn't happen. It unspools at a decidedly deliberate pace and rather predictably too.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Voyagers! (1982-83)

Voyagers!
Starts: Jon-Erik Hexum, Meeno Peluce
1982-83
20 episodes

In Short: Time's repairmen.

I've never found time travel to be a particularly interesting topic. That's not a value judgment but merely an opinion. I'm also not a fan of Dr. Who but I gather that it's one of the first TV shows were time travel played a somewhat integral role. Following that there was The Time Tunnel (1966–67), one of Irwin Allen's big four of Sixties SF TV shows - the others were Lost In Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Land of the Giants. It's a show that has a certain cheesy charm, like most of Allen's shows. But it would be stretching the truth quite a bit to say that it was any good.

A decade and a half later came Voyagers! (love that enthusiasm), who voyage through time, traveling to problem spots and making things right again. Don't bother analyzing this aspect of the show because it doesn't seem to have been very carefully or logically thought out. The unlikely duo here is comprised of Jon-Erik Hexum as Phineas Bogg (get it?), a dashing sort of fellow who seems often to become entangled with a member of the opposite sex, regardless of which time period he finds himself in. Meeno Peluce, as Jeffrey Jones, is the younger member of the duo and the brains of the outfit. He's quite well schooled on all matters historical - perhaps a bit too much - and is presumably on hand to attract the demographic that also found some appeal in the likes of Menudo, Scott Baio, and Ralph Macchio.

Turns out that Bogg is one of a number of Voyagers doing the time repair thing. Early on in the series he comes across the recently orphaned Jones and the two pair up for a season's worth of time travel antics. What it boils down to is that the pair consult their Omni, a handheld gizmo that flashes green when things are going well with the time flow and red when there's a problem. It's not clear (at least it wasn't to me) how the actual time travel component works but visually we see out to heroes sort of flying, more or less Superman style, through a star field until they arrive at their destination. In the episode I watched, they fell from the sky into a chicken coop and another time on to an awning. I suspect similar gimmicks were used each time they landed in a new time period but I can't say so for sure.

Of Note:
Over the course of the series Bogg and Jones meet many of the big names of history, from Buffalo Bill and the Wright brothers to Spartacus and the baby Moses. Surprisingly, Hitler is nowhere to be seen. Stars of note included Ed Begley Jr. (Wilbur Wright) and Jonathan Frakes (Charles Lindbergh). Beverly Hills 90210 star Shannen Doherty has a small role in an episode, as does Luke Perry, who appears in an uncredited role. His role in this show apparently made an impact on Peluce, who later became a high school history teacher for a time. For a show that only aired for 20 episodes more than three decades ago, Voyagers! seems to still have an avid fan base. Here's a good fan site.

Observed: (1/19)
"Barriers of Sound" was the next to the last of the 20 episodes of the series. As it opens, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the future general and American president, is being born and it's not going well. Our heroes drop in (to a chicken coop - haw!) and wonder why the Eisenhowers can't just pick up a phone and call a doctor. Apparently, this thread of time has no telephones and so it's back in time a bit to Boston in the time of Alexander Graham Bell. He's a teacher at a deaf school and is not actively working on the telephone at the time. Bogg and Jones need to fix this and for some reason they also need to get him hooked up with one of his former students. Complications arise when the rakish Bogg takes a fancy to her.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Bailey's Comets (1973-75)

Bailey's Comets
Stars: Carl Esser, Karen Smith
1973-75
16 episodes

In Short: Around the world on roller skates.

I haven't run the numbers but methinks roller skating and its rock 'em, sock 'em offshoot - roller derby - have seen a considerable decline since their heyday, whenever that was. Nowadays roller derby is making something of a comeback but at the time Bailey's Comets aired the sport was being represented on the big screen by two big budget Hollywood movies - Kansas City Bomber (1972) and Rollerball (1975). On the small screen Bailey's Comets aired a total of 16 episodes, each of which were made up of two shorter segments.

In the annals of cartoondom plenty of strange stuff has come down the pike over the years, but Bailey's Comets has to be right up there with the strangest of them all. Roller skating is the theme here and apparently the six team members that make up Bailey's Comets (headed by one Barnaby Bailey) are a roller derby team, although in the episodes I watched I didn't recall seeing much rough stuff.

The gimmick here is a simple one - more than a dozen teams of skaters skate forth to assorted and sundry points around the globe, trying to win a prize of...are you ready for this - a million dollars! Which was the standard unimaginably large sum of money when I was growing up and one that sounded a lot more impressive back then.

Of course, with that kind of dough at stake, it should come as no surprise that the contest is a pretty fierce one. There are more than a dozen other teams vying for the prize and they span a pretty wide range, from The Roller Bears (bears) and The Broomer Girls (witches) to The Ramblin' Rivets (robots) and The Cosmic Rays (aliens). The race takes the teams to such far flung locations as Transylvania, Loch Ness, the Gobi Desert and the Sargasso Sea, just to name a few

It's pretty silly stuff, as one might guess, unreeling at a frenetic pace that didn't do much for me all these years past my peak cartoon watching years. I'm not sure how I missed it back then but I suspect it might have been more appealing for me back in the day that it is now.

Observed: ???
Once again I haven't done my due diligence - as they say - and so I've forgotten exactly which episodes I watched. There were two and one had something to do with one of the Comets being enticed and distracted by a farmer's daughter, with the goal of throwing him off his game - or something like that.

I used the word "frenetic" once and I'll use it again. Nowadays I found the frantic pace to be a bit tiring. There are plenty of wacky gadgets trotted out along the way and a whole lot of scheming among the various teams to gain advantage and I couldn't help feeling that I was watching an amped up, animated version of the movie, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).