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.