Friday, September 26, 2014

The Sopranos 1.4: “Meadowlands”

Airdate: 1/31/99

Nephew Christoper, in a neck brace, complains to Tony what ostensibly Uncle Junior did to him, so Tony talks turkey with the man, and ultimately decides to make him “real” boss after Jackie’s death from cancer. Tony also develops feelings for Melfi, and has her followed by a detective, who overzealously pulls her over in a fake DUI stop and beats the dickens out of her boyfriend. Son A.J. unknowingly gets a school bully to back down; he realizes what dad does for a living when Meadow informs him that’s why he won the school fight.

We finally get a watchable episode, at least in terms of plot – but the characters are no more likable and their dialogue still annoyingly quippy. (Ever notice how no one thinks about their words on these kinds of shows?) This is still a problem, particularly with Tony, whose panic attacks and anxiety elicit no sympathy due to his completely feckless behavior (this week, we get to see him staple a guy’s chest with an industrial staple gun). Also in this episode, we see the son, AJ, get into a couple of fights at school (where, apparently there is no adult supervision whatsoever), and then face his bully out on the playground. The bully backs down – not ­because he has learned the error of his pugilistic ways, but because he (apparently) knows what his nemesis’ father does for a living. Once again, the show displays its cynical colors by taking a potentially sweet situation and turning it ugly in all shades of brown, black and blood red.

On the topic of incredulity, why doesn’t Melfi end her role as Tony’s psychiatrist after figuring out it was he who hired the cop to rough up her boyfriend? It makes zero sense for her to continue, knowing her life and well-being could be in danger.

Rating: **

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Sopranos 1.3: “Denial, Anger, Acceptance”

Airdate: 1/24/99

Christopher and Brendan return one of the trucks from the previous episode, but the latter is still not sitting so well with the family. Tony tries to help a Hassidic Jew by teaching his spousally-absive son-in-law a lesson (the boy also tries to cut in on the hotel business – I think – this part is very confusing). He can’t quite crush the spirit of the young Jew, until he decides castration might be the way to go. Meantime Carmela host a fundraiser at the house, but offends her friend, Charmaine, by treating her like a maid, instead of just temporary help. Apparently Charmaine gets her vengeance by confessing to Carmela that she and Tony slept together. And Brendan gets whacked by Junior in the end, in the form of a bullet through the eye.

Once again, the psychiatric sessions are the best part of the show (particularly when a painting incites another one of Tony’s furious walk-out), and the scenes involving the business are incomprehensible and boring, The plot involving the Hassidic Jews and the motel are pretty Anti-Semetic; it’s not just the characters being so – the show romanticizes their behavior, so it also embraces their ignorance. (The scene of the “boys” visiting Jackie, the cancer patient, is particularly ugly, as is Tony’s idea to castrate the Jew when he won’t talk.)

And this time, Meadow, Tony’s daughter joins in – she tries to score some meth from Christopher – now her insolence is matched with criminal behavior, just for good measure. Add to that an ironic crosscutting finale that rips off the “War of the Families” sequence from The Godfather and you just a have a plain old unpleasant time.

Goof: Meadow’s friend references Glassboro Stare College – it hadn’t been called that since 1992, when they renamed it Rowan University.

Rating:  *

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Sopranos 1.2: “46 Long”

Airdate: 1/17/99

Easier to split this and future recaps into separate plotlines, of which there are usually 4 or 5 per episode.

Tony’s nephew and his pal hijack trucks, but those of a line protected by Tony’s uncle. Tony’s pissed; he doesn’t like the friend, Brendan, especially after he botches another hijacking of a truck carrying Italian suits, in which the driver is killed accidentally. Tony’s son’s teacher gets his car stolen, so Tony arranges to have his henchman locate the thieves and get it back. It’s already been carved up for spare parts, so they get a new one, although the teacher does notice the wet paint. Tony’s mom still refuses to go to a retirement center, but after insulting the black live-in assistant and running down her friend with a car, she is forced to go by her doctor. Dr. Mefi warns Tony denying the anger he has for his mother, and her warnings are validated when he beats the daylights out of his strip-bar employee for not knowing how to use the phone, in a classic case of anger displacement.

Sopranos’ second episode is better than its first (it couldn’t be worse), but not by a whole lot. Tony’s neuroses are further explored in a clinical and artistic way, and just like before the scenes with Dr. Melfi are the most interesting ones. Less so, again, are the boring, confusing moments with the mobsters, who are just plain unsavory. One subplot, involving the tracking down of gay car thieves, is disturbingly homophobic; a surprise, given HBO’s well-known status as a gay-friendly network. Tony’s mom continues to be interesting, although her stubbornness is getting less and less appealing – it would help if we get a glimmer of why she’s like this (a la Lost In Yonkers), to assuage some of her prickliness.

Prescription: Explain more, slow down, focus on emotion, verisimilitude.

Rating:  **

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Sopranos 1.1: “The Sopranos”

Airdate: 1/10/99

Tony Soprano has his first session with a pychiatrist named Jennifer Melfi, and we learn it to be a referral by his physician after a panic attack. Guardedly, he tells her his line is in “waste management” and only hints at his involvement with the mob, but she evidently suspects it by laying down the confidentiality ground rules, and he possibility that she might break them to get more out of him. He continues on about his beef with his uncle, preist (and his wife’s shady relationship with him), daughter Meadow, and nephew Christopher, whom he is grooming to be in the family “business.” (We see the two try to rough-up a guy who owes them money, but Tony winds up running him over with his car.) Later in the episode Christopher entraps a Czech guy, ostensibly a member of a rival family in the garbage business, and murders him. He buries the body in a lake, apparently at the suggestion of a dude named “Big Pussy.”

Another thorn in Tony’s side: a proposed hit on a turncoat named “Little Pussy”may jeopardize the Italian restaurant where the hit is supposed to take place. The proprieter, Artie, refuses to accept two airline tickets to close the place, so Tony blows the joint up, hoping that the insurance money will take care of things (not sure how; this is never explained). Nephew Christopher, in the final scene, feels a bit disenfranchised from the business when he claims he never gets due credit. Tony allays his despair, even though he’s a bit concerned over his nephew’s screenwriting aspirations. And Dr. Melfi uncovers the source of Tony’s breakdown when she inteprets the duck family flying away as his longing for a “normal” family of his own, something he decidedly does not have. Final shot: empty pool.

Pilot episode for the famed HBO series has a dynamite first ten minutes… and then goes downhill, fast. Quiet introspective moments, poignant dialogue and the possibility of a genuinely profound character study of Tony Soprano are all dashed in deference to an overplotted, overedited attempt to emulate Martin Scorsese. But Scorsese, at least in his ealy work, knew the importance of breathing room. Sure, he had the 50’s/60’s soundtrack, yes, he had the jolty bursts of violence, and the whirlwind introduction to the ethnic, familial characters. But his films were never fragmented – they were focused, focused with an intensity and intimacy on his characters so that you could identify with them. The Sopranos takes a kitchen sink approach, hoping something will stick. Very little does.

Also, there’s a key error in structure here. The first half of the show is Tony’s therapy session, in which he flashes back to the events leading up to his collapse. But it would have to come from his memory – there can’t be other things – such as his wife’s AK-47 surprise for her daughter, or his nephew’s drug deal hit. Writer/director David Chase is just using this to start telling his story, which continues after the therapy session ended. As such, it’s a bit confusing (and this show sure doesn’t need any help in that department).

Are the good things? Yes – I did enjoy some of Tony’s musings to his therapist about how the “business” has changed, about his parents’ relationship, and about his past in general – always a good side-topic when the subject is melancholia. There’s the symbolism with the pool ducks, and one can interpret that any way he or she pleases. And Tony’s mother Livia, played by Nancy Marchand, is truly believable; she could indeed be anyone’s mother, complete with overcautiousness about everything. There’s a great scene in which they take her to a nursing home, and her fears about going are palpable. But the scenes ends abruptly with Tony’s second attack, and any sort of emotion is cut off. (Near the end, we get a scene in which we assume Tony’s uncle sprung her out, but we’re missing the key connective scene in which her departure from the home is dealt with.) This represents the pattern of “The Sopranos”: any time a moment of depth arises, usually relating to Tony’s inner demons or family, it shuttles to a moment of sheer boredom, usually involving his mafiosos and henchmen.

Why so boring? These scenes are just actors jabbering away their lines at each other; bad enough in a lightweight show, but this is information-heavy dialogue, so they need to be consumed and digested by the viewer to extract meaning. Imagine a film like The Manchurian Candidate in which the pace is twice is fast and the dialogue half as coherent. It wouldn’t be informative, it wouldn’t be effective – and it just wouldn’t be enjoyable.

And neither is “The Sopranos” pilot – the amount of work necessary to follow it is almost never rewarded with any kind of payoff, emotional or dramatic, or clarity to help fit the loose pieces together. Will it get better?  Pleassse, let it get better; we have a long way to go!

Rating:  *

Monday, September 22, 2014

I’m from New Jersey, but…

I’ve never seen The Sopranos. Let me just put that out there before you later discover my residence and wonder why I’ve never seen the show that forever linked the Garden State with organized crime, at least in the mainstream mindset. It premiered in 1999, when I was busy with my (first) career, and I didn’t have HBO. But more than that I wasn’t diggin’, and still don’t, the type of programming the networks started developing in the mid-90s: polished, scene-less, clever-dialogue-heavy shows with lotsa shock value and little emotional connection to the characters.

Prejudging? I don’t think so. I could be wrong, or I could have changed. Or maybe I just wasn’t giving the show, or other shows of its ilk, a fair shake. So here comes the next show of the Rocket: The Sopranos. It ran for six seasons, but bear in mind that cable seasons are much shorter than network ones, so the total episode count is 86. Not a whole lot to set up here, so I’ll skip the lengthy introductions. Suffice to say, here we go! Thinkin’ about clicking to another blog? Fugghetaboutit!!! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Last Word: “Battlestar Galactica”

I’m not going to be too long-winded here: if you’ve been following this blog you already know my general feelings about the series. The series pilot, “Saga of a Star World” just sort of set a negative tone that took half the season to recover from, and by that time most everyone had tuned out (excepting the show’s letter-writing fan base). Add to that clinky-clunky Cylon villains about as formidable as wind-up toy robots, repetitive video-game-style scenes of outer space dogfights between ships, and plotlines recycled from Westerns. war movies and abstract mythology and you get a major disappointment. Only toward the end of the season do we get some relief from this snooze-fast, when more personalized, character-based stories started to emerge.

But my **1/2 star rating (out of four) also includes Galactica 1980, which was a surprise delight for me, thanks primarily to the more simplified, down-to-Earth (pun intended) storylines and campy, whether intentional or not, tone. Two alien dudes, sans any kind of personality and not even trying, travelling via flying motorcycles and turning invisible whenever the need be, are infinitely more entertaining than miles and miles of technospeak and contrived visits to Earth-like planets while trying to get to Earth itself. Averaged out, the rating for both series, along with the pilot as theatrical release, is, as I mentioned, **1/2 stars: not terribly shabby methinks. Of course, it maintained such a cult following for so long after that they rebooted the show in 2004 for the Sci-Fi channel. That, I can assure you, will never get the honor of my keystrokes as I never recognized the turn of the millennium. At least on this blog.

Series Rating:  **1/2

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.10: “The Return of Starbuck”

Airdate: 5/4/80

Dr. Zee, the teenage whiz-kid of the Galactica, tells Adama about his recurring dream, which frames the episode’s following story. During the timeframe of the original series, Starbuck, while on patrol with Boomer, crash lands on a desert planet with a damaged Cylon warrior. Fraught with so much loneliness he actually fixes the Centurion just to have a companion, he soon befriends his would-be enemy, whom he teaches the ways of human behavior. In return “Cy” returns with a female, a pregnant woman named Angela, the self-proclaimed matriarch of a new society. Constantly querying Starbuck of where he’ll be at the time of judgment, he picks up on her inference that he ought to be the spiritual father of her child and may have to sacrifice himself for departure for a new life elsewhere. All this does indeed come o pass (Starbuck ostensibly left to die at the hands of invading Cylons, despite Cy’s last-minute, sacrificial act of heroism), and we finally learn that Dr. Zee has these dreams because he is, in fact, the baby, and Starbuck his “father.”

Series finale feels more like an episode of the original Galactica; I’m guessing writer/producer Glenn Larson figured he’d use the hour of TV time to do the finale that never really happened, at least in terms of Starbuck’s story. It’s not terrible – it actually is nice to see Dirk Benedict reprise his role one last time, and with no one else around to steal his airtime at that. But it sure is an oddball episode, beginning as a variation on the WWII classic Hell in the Pacific, and ending a little too hippy-dippy for my taste (I mean, what is really up with the Angel-a character anyway?).

Well, anyways, that’s the ball game, folks. Series assessment next. This one gets a…

Rating:  ***

Oh, I never mentioned this before, but I have to make this observation: why do three Cylons need to pilot their fighters? I know they’re not people, but it sure must be awfully expensive to replace those two extras when a ship goes down. Okay, maybe there needs to be a co-pilot, but what the hell is that guy in the back doing?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.9: “Space Croppers”

Airdate: 4/27/80

The Cylons destroy the Galactica’s agricultural facility, leading Adama to send Troy and Dillon to earth (again), to begin a farming colony there. They choose land farmed by a Hispanic man named Hector, who’s fighting an uphill battle against a rich, racist land baron who controls the local water supply, and none too fairly you might say. With the help of Galactica’s rain-making abilities, and a group of special scouts, they save the day for Hector. The growers association votes to eliminate all those damned dams, the Galactican colony finds a good home on earth, and Hector’s eldest daughter even gets the hots for Dillon!

Essentially the final episode featuring the series’ regulars, it’s a fun-filled outing that sort of feels more anthological – not unlike Universal’s other sci-fi show, The Incredible Hulk. You could quibble about the show’s flaws (the method they use to make it rain is way overxplained), but it’s hard to dislike something that so has its heart in the right place. Plus extra points for that scout work song the kids sing while planting the fields. And seeing hottie Jamie in those overalls.

BTW, is it me or is it increasingly hard to believe the Cylons still don’t know where earth is, given the almost continuous back-and-forth travelling between it and the Galactica?  And I’m starting to think that Lorne Greene filmed all off his scenes for the series on a soundstage somewhere in one afternoon.

Rating:  ***

Friday, August 8, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.8: “The Night the Cylons Landed, Part 2”

Airdate: 4/20/80

Andromus, the world’s worst party crasher, is still hell-bent on getting to thattransmitter, and his nerves are so frazzled he blasts a microwave oven when its radio waves incapacitate his Cylon companion. Troy and Dillon have to deal with the usual NYC hazards, including Central Park muggers (this was the early 80s after all), in order to thwart their nemeses’ fiendish plans, and it all comes to a head atop a radio tower, where even Wolfman Jack gets into the act.

Two-parter’s conclusion is still fitfully campy, abetted by camp actors Lara Parker (Dark Shadows) and Wolfman Jack, who would be the totally awesome subject of a Halloween-themed TV and movie marathon (check out his IMDB; he’s done more than you think). Race to the finish is actually pretty thrilling, but just what is it with all those disclaimers at the end, telling us the government stopped investigating U.F.O.’s in 1969?

Rating:  ***

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.7: “The Night the Cylons Landed, Part 1”

Airdate: 4/13/80

A Viper patrol strikes and cripples a Cylon ship, where it plummets to earth, about 60 miles north of NYC. Troy and Dillon, believing it to be the Viper, fly cross country from LA, thrawting a hijacking the the process but arousing suspicion of their identities when they land. They just miss the Cylons, who are led by an evil-intentioned human named Andromus, whose devious plan is to find a powerful transmitter with which he can signal back to the Cylons his wherabouts and begin the invasion of earth. Just his luck – they are picked up by some Halloween revelers on their way to a party hosted by the general manager of a radio station. Troy and Dillon are in hot pursuit, but they themselves are pursued by the FBI, Air Force and state police.

Fun opener of a two-parter finally gets the Cylons back in the game, and the show’s tongue-in-cheek tone, of course, arranges it to be Halloween for their would-be dramatic entrance. Odd that the main Cylon villain, Andromus, is another rogue human; don’t these tin men have baddies of their own kind? It’s definitely a hoot, though, to notice how just about everything that happens during Troy and Dillon’s cross-country flight segment would be impossible or improbable in today’s post 9-11 era. Equally is seeing Lara Parker as Vampira in the show’s last scene, anlong with William Daniels as a clown, whose given the show’s best lines of dialogue.

Rating:  ***

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.6: “Spaceball”

Airdate: 3/30/80

The Galactica kids are still “scouts” on earth, but now Xavier has come back from his time travelling excursions to wreak havoc on the present day. For starters, he maroons Troy and Dillon in outer space with a defective Viper, and now he has landed on earth, planning to hold the kids hostage as a bargaining chip for his freedom. The kids have are a bit busy these days; at a baseball camp, under Jamie’s direction, they face off against a rival team, but cannot use their superpowers lest they are discovered as aliens by a Air Force Colonel Sydell (from the previous episode). But Jamie realizes their victory would cause enough media attention to thwart Sydell’s exposure, along with Xavier’s treachery – and she winds up being right. Troy and Dillon repair their ship and land just in time to tie up the loose ends, but Xavier gets away, able to return again to be the series’ recurring villain.

A truly weird episode, even by Galactica standards. Premise #2 is official now (as per the post-opening narration by Adama): the kids will stay on earth as Troy and Dillon just sort of hang around in outer space, making sure they are well cared for on their new planet. Small wonder it got canned after ten shows; viewers were no doubt confused by this point – as was Richard Hatch, as it was the reason he gave for not retuning. And the plot of this episode in particular seems influenced by sources as varied as The Bad News Bears and Marooned, with the lack of cohesion you’d predict. Robyn Douglass is still pretty damned easy on the eyes, though.

Rating:  **

Monday, August 4, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.5: “The Super Scouts, Part 2”

Airdate: 3/23/80

With the feds in hot pursuit, Troy and Dillon try as best they can to keep the scouts under cover, but with three of them gravely ill from toxic consumption, that’s a pretty tall order. The doctor under whose care they are placed is quite suspicious, especially after he detects that the kids have no identifiable blood cells, but he is also quite sympathetic, and helps the aliens in their quest to blow the whistle on the chemical plant owner’s corrupt and deadly dealings. Dr. Zee, meanwhile, hears Dillon’s distress call and flies to earth on a huge “mother ship” to nurse the children, who are still technically alive, back to good health, but with the Cylons still at large the safest place for them is still earth, provided they aren’t trolling around contaminated reservoirs anytime soon.

Pretty good conclusion keeps the environmental message intact. Good supporting performances by the doctor – a dead ringer for David Naughton – and the nurse – a dead ringer for a young Bonnie Hunt (it’s actually Carlene Watkins, who would go on to star in one of my favorite underrated sitcoms, Best of the West). Some silly stuff, particularly near the beginning (e.g. the invisible kids steal the cop cars), reminded me a little too much of a late70s live action Disney film. And while we’re at it, the big “mother ship” landing toward the end is pretty obviously inspired by a particular Steven Spielberg film that was then red-hot. But I still like the tone of campy fun that pervades throughout this show. Still a real hoot.

Rating:  ***

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.4: “The Super Scouts, Part 1”

Airdate: 3/16/80

The Cylon menace continues, and this time it’s the Galactica children who are imperiled. Troy and Dillon get inadvertently assigned the task after the Cylons destroy the children’s’ barge, and so once again they must navigate earth’s unfamiliar culture to assimilate the lil’ tykes for the sake of their safety. Outfitted as scouts, the kids feel great – until one by one they start to come down with a serious illness. Using his cell biopsy device, Troy ascertains the cause of the problem: drinking water from a chemically contaminated pond. Once again, they’re wanted by the authorities once no one can ID their scout troop, and with the help of Jamie they need to avoid discovery  - and expose the chemical plant for their toxic treachery.

Ah, the 70s and early 80s, when you could show environmentalism and ecological awareness running into a political firestorm, like you would today. There was, of course, residual attitudes from the back-to-nature movement of the 60s, but don’t forget the resent industrial disaster at Three Mile Island just a year earlier. It sorta does feel a tad out of place showing up here, where the poisonous waste would affect all children, not just ones from outer space, but with so earnest a cause I wouldn’t dare complain.

I will complain about the front half of this episode, however. When Adama announces that the children will go to earth immediately, why the extra plot thread of the Cylon attack forcing them to go to earth – which is where they’re going anyway? I’ll tell you why – more recycled footage from the original Galactica of vipers launching, going to turbo speed, firing, explosions, the three Cylons inside their ships turning their heads, et cetera, et cetera. Just as boring here as it was there, and it underscores the problem this series continues to have – it can’t step outside its predecessor’s shadow.

And there’s also no continuity from the last episode to this one. Aren’t Troy and Dillon, assisted by Jamie, going back in time to the 1700s to stop Xavier. And why is Jamie back on earth as a reporter? Sounds like some behind-the-scenes troubles with this show are already afoot.

BTW: There’s a clever in-joke in which two California Highway Patrol officers, frustrated at not being able catch Troy and Dillon, wonder if this ever happens “to those two guys on TV.”

Along with Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman, these super scouts officially make the 1970s the decade of the ultra-high jump!

Rating:  ***

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.3: “Galactica Discovers Earth, Part 3”

Airdate: 2/10/80

Dillon destroys the V2 rocket on its test launch, effectively ending the program,and Xavier is taken away to be executed by a German patrol – actually Troy and Jamie in disguise. But before they return to 1980, God bless ‘em, they help a trainload of Jews from being transported to certain death at a concentration camp. Xavier, however, still won’t give up his fiendish agenda of exploiting time travel for power; he escapes from their clutches by using the invisibility potion. Back in the present day, Troy and Dillon bid a tearful adieu to their earthling compadre, but now they’ve got other troubles – like being on the lam for the mayem they caused earlier, and having their spaceship discovered an confiscated by the authorities. They find the little boy to disclose the location of their ships, and there they race not only to get them back and operational but to stop Xavier from doing the same, and then traveling to who knows where. They succeed at the former, not the latter, and back on the Galactica they are briefed by Adama that he has gone back to 1700s America to tamper with the Revolution. Jamie, with her photographic memory of history, is deputized to go along with Troy and Dillon to set history right again.

Conclusion of epic three-part pilot is certainly better than Battlestar Galactica’s, but not quite as good as parts 1 or 2. A few unanswered questions:
  • Troy and Dillion are extra-careful not to kill or hurt anyone while in the 1940s lest they alter history by accident, but aren’t they already doing so with pretty much all their actions? I guess the butterfly effect is not at play here.
  • No one, and I mean no one must know about or see the spaceships that Troy and Dillon make the little boy swear not to talk about – but what about the bus driver that picks him up, and can see the ships in prefect view? This one’s a sign of the times: Troy and Dillon drop by the boys school to get him to reveal the location of their ships. Yeah, right, maybe in 1980. Now, they couldn’t even get in, and if they did, they’d be arrested while the school gets locked down.
  • And there’s really a lot of wasted time toward the end when Xavier goes to visit the professor and tries to convince him that Troy and Dillon are the bad ones, trying to go back in time to disrupt history (what Xavier himself wishes to do). Do we need these scenes, especially since the pro isn’t buying it? Ditto the boring subplot in which Jamie must convince her would-be boss that the Troy and Dillon are not the terrorists the media is painting them as.
But by and large it’s still good-natured, rollicking fun, despite Lorne Greene’s extremely reduced presence as Adama. It’s odd to see the opening credits still using scenes from the original Galactica; it feels like such a different series, and I think it’s time for this one to step out from that series’ shadow.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.2: “Galactica Discovers Earth, Part 2”

Airdate: 2/3/80

Comander Xavier is also on a mission to advance the earth’s technology, but hehas more ruthless motives in mind; for starters, he goes back to 1944 Nazi Germany, not caring that their advancement would result in the destruction of millions (more) innocent lives. Dillon and Troy are recalled to the Galactica immediately (along with Jamie, who blackmails them into including her lest she blab their secrets), and are assigned to back in time to find and arrest Xavier before he can severely alter the course of earth’s history. Posing as Nazi soldiers, the trio, with the help of a real spy the meet along the way, prepare to attend a test of the Germans’ V2 rocket: a frighteningly deadly instrument of war designed with more than a little help by a British turncoat – yup, you guessed it – Xavier.

I’m quite rather enjoying this incarnation of Galactica, though I can’t help harboring a suspicion as to how much foaming at the mouth the series’ purists are doing about it. It certainly is a real hoot watching these gee-whiz time-travelers trying to thwart certain doom by disarming the Nazis from their V2 rickets (reminding me, more than a little, of a similar premise that would come later in the 1981 film The Final Conflict). But it’s also telling of the times: in the 70s, Nazis were used as villains casually (the first two seasons of Wonder Woman) – they were looked upon as WII enemies only, but as holocaust awareness became part of school curricula starting in the late 70s, they also became genocide perpetrators, making them (rightfully) used more sensitively in the media.

The Jamie character is refreshingly strong in this episode – rather than just be a go-along-for-the-ride pretty face, she’s the important font of historical knowledge here – and all without wearing it on her feminist sleeve. The two male leads continue to provide the doofy, innocent fun that strikes just the right tone, and character actor Christopher Stone (future hubby of Dee Wallace) is great as a suspicious spy who winds up helping our time travelers, albeit for different reasons.

Still along for the ride – not getting off yet!!!

Rating:  ***

Friday, July 25, 2014

Galactica 1980 1.1: “Galactica Discovers Earth, Part 1”

Airdate: 1/27/80

The new cast
Following the cancellation of Galactica, hordes of sci-fi fans did what they do when they get pissed off: they wrote letters. A massive epistolary campaign convinced ABC that perhaps the show deserved another shot – so Glenn Larson was again brought on board to hammer out the further adventures of Adama and company. One caviat – the budget had to be slashed – not so easy for a sci-fi series, so Larson tried to retool ratger than resurrect the show. The new Glactica would feature only Adama, Boomer, Starbuck, Apollo and Baltar, who would again play the heavy, this time as a time-travelling gremlin whose intent - to speed up earth’s technology retroactively so as to offer a greater defense against the Cylons – backfires horribly.

ABC greenlit a pilot based on this concept, but neither Richard Hatch nor Dirk Benedict could return to reprise their roles. So the producers decided to set the show 30 years after the original took place, in 1980, with Boxey now a grown man called Troy (Apollo) and a new, more freewheeling guy named Lt. Dillon filling Starbuck’s shoes. Someone caught the temporal flaw in the time frame, however: 30 years plus means that the moon landing transmission at the end of the Galactica’s last episode precluded the modern-day from being 1980, so that was nixed.

Once filming got underway, the network wasn’t so crazy about all this time-travel tomfoolery, so again the writers scrambled to devise a plot that featured Galactica characters on earth, doing things that weren’t too expensive. The pilot that aired was actually shown in three parts simply called “Galactica 1980” (retroactively titled “Galactica discovers Earth”). Shown at 7:00 on Sunday nights, it was only up against the #1 rated show of that entire season, 60 Minutes. This time, the series took an even greater drubbing than its predecessor – evidently, even the letter-writers weren’t tuning in – and it was put out of its misery after only 10 episodes.

But it’s my self-appointed duty to review shows like this for you, so here’s my appraisal of Galactica 1980, beginning with the aforementioned pilot.

Finally! The Galactica reaches earth and Adama is curiously underwhelmed –perhaps he wonders why his entire crew is gone, different or aged ten years. Nah, it’s actually because he may have lured Cylons to their destination, where, based on their receipt of its transmissions, the technology is so primitive they couldn’t possibly withstand an attack from Adama’s sworn enemies. Pompous adolescent Dr. X (who looks like he could be Paul Williams’s son) proposes that they send stealth scouts to the planet and find institutes of learning where they could accelerate the knowledge base. 

Two fighter pilots, Troy (Boxey) and Lt. Dillon are sent to North America to Pacific Tech, but their intrusion over American skies is greeted with warplane fire that nearly ends their mission before it’s begun. But using their gadgets, like flying motorcycles and invisibility potions, they overcome getting locked up, chased by a news crew, and a general unfamiliarity with LA culture circa 1980 to reach their destination – Dr. Mortinson. He is elated when he sees what they did with his formula, but he has to find them first. Mistaken for anti-nuke protesters, they were taken to jail, so he tracks down an aspiring female news anchor named Jamie to locate them. Better hurry, guys, your stealth mission ain’t quite so stealth anymore now that a kid has discovered your viper plane.

As I’m watching this show I’m wondering if this at all satisfied the letter writers crying for the return of the original series. Most likely not, as the tone of this one is far different from its predecessor. It’s far broader, for one thing, and sillier too, forecasting the more whimsical, fanciful sci-fi of the early-80s typified by such fare as The Greatest American Hero and Voyagers! The two new leads, apart from reminding me of the two replacements for Bo and Luke Duke during that one season of The Dukes of Hazzard, don’t at all seem like professional military pilots to me. They play more like standard fish-out-of-water characters, puzzlingly looking about at all the “primitive” tools and devices around them.

But this is not to say it’s bad – I actually found it to be quite fun, something that was missing quite frequently from the original Galactica. It’s fun not only to ride along with the spacemen and their slapadoodle antics but also to see the 1980 culture from a 2014 POV. And I could be wrong but it seems like Jamie (the female reporter) looks a heckofa lot like Mindy from Mork and Mindy – perhaps she’ll fall in love with one o the guys and rip off another series. Who knows, and who cares – I’m along for the ride.

Rating:  ***

Thursday, July 24, 2014

“Battlestar Galactica “ – The Theatrical Release

U.S. Theatrical Release Date: 5/18/79

So after the spacedust settled following Gaactica’s tumultuous first and only season, executive producer Glenn Larson discovered that he was in hole for several million dollars. As preparatory publicity for the series’ premiere, in July of 1978 Universal had theatrically released the pilot movie in Canada, Europe and Australia, where it did some decent business. In March of 1979 Larson put the forthcoming Buck Rogers pilot movie, which he also produced, out in America – again, to healthy box office.

And so, on May 18th, 1979, Larson put the Galactica pilot, “Saga of a Star World,” into American theaters to help recoup some of his financial losses. (This time – no interruptions by President Carter.) Simply titled, Battlestar Galactica, it was indeed profitable, since the main costs this time related to printing and distribution. I suppose thee was also the secret hope that it might reinvigorate interest in the show so that high summer rerun ratings might make ABC brass reconsider their cancellation. They didn’t, but perhaps it led, indirectly, to the green light for Galactica ‘80.

Since the theatrical release is basically the same as the pilot movie, I won’t repeat the plot summary (you can read it here). The only major difference is that Baltar is executed by the Cylons in the theatrical release, and it is retroactively revealed that he is spared in the TV version. But I will share a few observations based on my second viewing of the movie:

I still think that, after a dynamite first third, this overlong episode really gets tedious fast, and I can only imagine that young kids sitting in the theater for well over two hours must have been bored silly. After Adama and the crew avert destruction from the Cylon ruse, anything could’ve happended, but the teleplay pretty much grinds to a shuddering halt. We spend a huge chunk of the movie’s midsection with a lot of garbled dialogue dealing with food contamination aboard the ship. And just where did that other Council of 12 come from anyway? And what of “Sire Uri”? What are his motivations? It’s never clear if he is a Cylon pawn or if he just hates Adama and came up with a bad plan that the Cylons exploited. The other enemy here – the Ovions – are a race of human-feasting bug-like aliens, and they’re definitely creepy (even if their cocoons reminded me of the eerie encasements from the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie), but their belated arrival is too little, too late.

I saw this feature on an individual DVD edition (apart from the series), which, presumably, is the actual theatrical release. I definitely appreciated the widescreen format (not sure if they blew it up from the TV 1.33 ratio or if it was shot 1.85 in the first place). After watching the documentary on the series, however, I found it odd that they didn’t put back the footage the couldn’t use on TV after getting busted by the censors, like Starbuck with his shirt off after fooling around with Casseopia. The “bonus features” are all text, so there’s nothing special here – it’s just a decent stand-alone edition of the Galactica movie version, for better or worse.

So now, on to Galactica 1980 – the second wind for the series. But for network television in the early 80s, those were tumultuous waters indeed.

 Rating:  **  (same as original rating)

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