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)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.24: “The Hand of God”

Airdate: 4/29/79

At the Galactica’s highest point, the transmission tower, Apollo picks up somevery faint radio signals. He believes they could be from Earth, so he and a Viper patrol fly to the outer reaches of the solar system he believes they originated from. Suddenly, they discover a Cylon base star instead; Adama, after being told they were undiscovered by Cylons, uses the opportunity to plan a direct assault on his sworn enemy, forever wiping them out and never having to be on the run again. Apollo goes one better – if he can infiltrate and destroy the base star scanners, their missions will have a heightened chance of success. How will he know where they are? Adama negotiates a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Baltar: information in exchange for his freedom if they are successful. And yes, they are; after nearly being mistaken for Cylons (they used Baltar’s fighter), they return home to a hero’s welcome. But Apollo still doesn’t believe the claims that those radio transmissions were a lure from the Cylons. He’ll never know if he’s right, but we do; after he and Starbuck depart we hear the unmistakable sounds of the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

And, so we bid adieu to Starbuck, Apollo and the rest, not due to Cylon treachery but rather…. Fred Silverman, head of ABC programming at ABC (it was one of his last acts before migrating to his disastrous tenure at NBC). The series would continue in a last ditch attempt at resurrection in Galactica 1980, but hey, c’mon – that was like the sci-fi equivalent of After MASH, and no Jamie Farr.

Well, it’s probably fitting that the show returns to the wretched excess that hampered the success of the first half of the season, if not completely satisfying. And plot-wise, we’re really looking at a rip-off of the second half of Star Wars (the heros infiltrate the “base star” (not Death Star) to deactivate some hardware, as a prelude to all-out assault on the base star itself, leading to its complete destruction (but not that of the Cylons completely).

But I must say that the writers do an admirable job of giving closure to the show while still leaving it open-ended. The twist-ending does just that, and offers hope that at least the weary Galactica is getting that much closer to its intended destination. In the month that elapsed since the previous episode, it was known that the series had been cancelled, but I wonder of the writers knew that when penning this episode. (They at least knew it was the season finale.)

Rating:  ***

(No series assessment yet; I’m also including the Galactica theatrical release (next) and the aforementioned Galactica 1980, so just hold your horses. You know what a completist I am.

PS: The box set I’m viewing features hours of extras, but they’re mainly deleted and alternate scenes. Who cares? There was a reason they were cut out in the first place. But there’s a few nifty mini-documentaries, the best of them, “Remembering Galactica” (featured on the last disc), is quite illuminating. We learn that the show started as a mini-series, then was immediately ordered as a regular series, putting everyone, especially the writers, under the gun to put out weekly material – fast! And Anne Lockhart (Sheba) shares a couple of great memories - she and Laurette Sprang giving spandex wedgies to Dirk and Richard, clad in those godawful Triad outfits – and having to keep a straight face as Patrick McNee utters to her the line, “You’ll always be safe as long as I’m inside of you.” Needless to say, Standards and Practices never let that one over the 70s airwaves. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.23: “Take the Celestra”

Airdate: 4/1/79

At an awards ceremony for Kronus, the commander of a fleet spacecraft called the Celestra, Starbuck recognizes an old flame – Aurora, a beautiful Celestea crew member who now appears to be part of a mutiny. It seems she and a few others are a bit resentful of Kronus’s overly authoritarian ways. Starbuck turns her and her cohorts in, escorting them on a shuttle along with Kronus (who needs to be there for their hearing), but now the empty ship is a prime target for another disgruntled crew member, Charka. This dude has far more treasonous motives in mind, and now Starbuck, Apollo and Kronus need to get aboard the hijacked ship and take out the garbage. With help from Aurora’s gang (in exchamge for a fair trial), they seize the ship and overcome its captors, but not before Kronus is mortally wounded – and now his awards ceremony is succeeded by his funeral.

Meh episode really phones everything in – even the Starbuck/Aurora plotline is awfully soapy (though she sure looks good). Kronus is a hard-nosed Phillip Baker-Hall type character that has the potential for furnishing of a Caine Mutiny updating, but that goes pretty much nowhere once the good mutineers are captured and the bad are on the Celestra most of the time. Overall pretty lifeliess, so much so that it’s hard to write any more.

Rating:  **

Friday, July 18, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.22: “Experiment In Terra”

Airdate: 3/18/79

Apollo gets abducted by the shiny bright spacecraft from the “War of the Gods”episode; his presence there is explained by a old man in white – he needs the young pilot to go to Terra under an assumed name (and body), where he can lend some invaluable assistance to a rebel faction fighting oppression by the Eastern Alliance. His ID: Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones fan on the writing staff?), a man whose checkered past includes a troubled relationship with a girl named Brenda. Of course Brenda shows up, and Apollo is understandably confused by her ire. But getting back to business, he discovers, after an imprisonment by Terra’s government, that the planet’s president is a corrupt bureaucrat trying to stifle the voices warning of an EE assault. With Starbuck’s assistance, he gets the Galactica to shoot down all the nuclear missiles fired by both warring sides, prompting the EE to consider negotiations.

Interesting, moderately successful drama is a hodgepodge of different ideas. Apollo’s story on Terra is a pretty direct copy of Heaven Ca Wait, a huge hit movie from the previous year – producer Donald Belisario would later use the different-body inhabitation concept for his 80s’ series Quantum Leap. And the notion of an unwinnable nuclear war was of course the salient conundrum of the Cold War, but give the show major props for forecasting the Reagan-era Star-Wars technology as the Galactica manages to (improbably) shoot down all the missiles fired between Terra and the EE. All in all it does hold one’s attention, and I give it an extra half-star for the performance of Melody (Flash Gordon) Anderson. Gotta love her.

Rating:  ***

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.21: “Baltar’s Escape”

Airdate: 3/11/79

The Council, overruling Adama’s admonitions, decides to offer the olive branch to the Eastern Alliance prisoners (from the previous episode), and propose a peace treaty. In fact, they strip Adama of his command by removing the state of emergency; not good when Baltar uses the opportunity to hijack the prison shuttle, taking the EE Commandants and the Nomen (from episode 1.17) with him, along with shuttle pilots Boomer and Sheba as hostages. It quickly turns into a game of strategy and brinksmanship, culminating in Apollo’s successful plan of thwarting Baltar’s escape using defective Cylons, and making sure all prisoners are back, or will be back, in the brig where they belong.

All the baddies from the series thus far are here except the Cylons (only two are featured, and they’re incapacitated). Guess what? I hardly missed them – just going to show that the producers are finally realizing, as I did from the very beginning, that a bunch of chrome plated robots doth not a villain make. Too bad – had they figured this out from the get go we might have had Season 2. In fact, the most frightening do-badders here are probably the Nomen: their brutish faces are perfectly matched by tough-as-nails demeanor. In some scenes, they hardly have any dialogue, making them all the more nefarious.

And there appear to be some hawkish sub-themes going on. The “council” blindly welcomes peace negotiations with enemies clearly thirsting for blood, with Adama and the Galactica crew the only ones realizing it. Of course, the council’s appeasement policy backfires, guns start blazing pretty soon. Hard to believe Vietnam-weary audiences were on board with this. Well, we were only a year away from Reagan.

Rating:  **1/2

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.19 and 1.20: “Greetings From Earth”

Airdate: 2/25/79

A drifting spacecraft is brought aboard the Galactica, where Apollo and the others discover its occupants to be a family of humans asleep in suspended animation. Suspecting that their ship may be programmed in a course toward Earth, Adama considers waking them, but the doctor warns that such an action could kill such life forms unused to a different environment. All agree to let sleeping humans lie, but the impatient council decides to risk their lives by opening their tubes. All this bickering is for naught; the male human, Michael, wakes up by himself, and when he approaches some nasty Galactica security officers, he is greeted with hostility. Apollo, outraged at the treatment and curious as to the visitors’ planned destination, arranges a “military action” whereby he, Starbuck and Cassiopeia escort Michael and the others toward their planned course of action – to the chagrin of the war mongers ready for a fight.

They follow the humans to their home planet, Paradeem; Apollo is more than a bit perturbed that Michael has destroyed their homing beacon, and sort of wonders why. All is answered when it is revealed that these humans are actually from the planet Terra, and are at war with an oppressive empire known as the Eastern Alliance, which had destroyed most of Paradeem. An EE commandant is hot on the trail of our heroes, and they have a face-off amid the ruins of an abandoned city. Michael’s companion, Sarah, is held hostage (she, incidentally, is not Michael’s wife, and in fact hates anyone having to do with the “science” that killed her dad; she sort of has the hots for Apollo, but of course it’s unrequited), but that doesn’t deter our Galactican heroes from TCBing, and bringing those Alliance guys to justice.

Double-length episode need only be single, as the first half of this bloated story is just the bickering back and forth on whether or not to remove the humans from hibernation, and then what to do with them after they awaken. Second half isn’t much better: the “Eastern Alliance” is just a group of black-clad, German-accented overactors that are clearly supposed to be Nazis (even their name suggests it), and there’s some political allegory toward the end that makes subtle references to the Eastern-bloc Communism.

If I only had a brain...
Quite frankly, there’s only one real reason to see this – wait, make that two. It’s two wisecracking androids that caretake Michael’s home – Hector and Vector, played by Ray Bolger and Bobby Van, respectively, As you can well imagine, they play the robots as if they were a vaudevillian act, and they do it well, too. It’s clearly a nod (or rip-off, depending) to R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars, but here it’s just crazy to see old-time movie stars doing their shtick in a sci-fi series. Maybe surreal is a better word. Well, kids, that’s what the 70s were all about.

And speaking of, this episode got a bit of a ratings boost when it first aired. ABC put it on an hour earlier, at 7:00 PM (Sunday night prime time started an hour earlier; and ABC’s slot, with no Disney or 60 Minutes, was pretty much empty realty). But immediately following, at 9, was the conclusion (part 7) of Roots: The Next Generations, and leading in to this was a Neilson gold mine. But the series was already cancelled by this time.

Rating:  **1/2

Friday, July 11, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.18: “Murder on the Rising Star”

Airdate: 2/18/79

Starbuck gets into a squabble with a Triad opponent named Ortega, but when the latter is found dead the chief suspect is, of course, Starbuck. The “opposer” (prosecutor) urges the accused to plead self-defense to get a lighter sentence, but Starbuck refuses to accept any guilt for something he didn’t do. Apollo, acting as his defense, must do some quick research to get his friend off the hook, and that involves getting the skinny on potential Ortega-hating murderers. One of them is a dude named Karibdis, and vis a vis a casino dealer he learns that the man had bribed officers to get off the ill-fated planet of Caprica (which the Cylons destroyed), and has reason to be the murderer of Ortega, who’s blackmailing Karibdis with the knowledge of his true identity. Apollo lures him into a trap, involving the nefarious but integral Baltar, and gets him to confess everything over a radio transmission that Starbuck’s tribunal can hear – and use to exonerate the damned-lucky lieutenant.

The Wrong Man gets updated, and Galactica continues its winning streak with another suspenseful variation on a classic plotline (even though you'll easily realize who the real killer is as soon as you see him). Script is artfully designed to build everything up last minute to its relief-inducing climax, and even former baddie Baltar gets something else to do besides sit in the brig twiddling his thumbs. We’re finally free (it seems) of those endless, and boring, dogfights with the Cylons, and for that matter, the Cylons themselves, who I always thought were pretty weak villains.

Triad has definitely got to be the gayest game invented – say I’m wrong after you see that dance the men do before the ball gets lobbed into play. For that matter, does anyone else notice how strikingly similar this is to Rollerball? Somebody copied.

Rating:  ***

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.17: “The Man With Nine Lives”

Airdate: 1/28/79

Fred Astaire guest stars as Chameleon (pronounced Sham-elon), an elderly gent on the leisure ship The Rising Star. There he takes a liking to Starbuck (and is beguiled by his failed gambling system), and, after much discussion, discovers that he may very well be the young lieutenant’s dad (he was orphaned as a child). One hitch: it seems like the old man is on the run from the Borellians, a trio of nasty folk who look like pissed-off cavemen, and perhaps that is indeed why he’s pulling the father bit, as it’s allowing him safe passage on the Galactica. Things come to a head when predators meet prey, but wily Chameleon manages to thwart them using one of the Viper’s laser cannons. He fesses up to the ruse, and a heartbroken Starbuck accepts his apology – except Casseopia, who was running he genetic testing, gets a positive match. Chameleon gets her to lie that it was negative; he doesn’t want Starbuck giving everything up for a “worthless old man” such as himself.

Another winner - but, by this time, with only six episodes left, the ratings-challenged series’ fate had already been sealed. Give the show points not just for featuring a terrific vehicle for another veteran performer (is the show turning into The Love Boat?), but for pretty accurately predicting the future science of DNA testing. First half of episode features the series’ best writing s far; it starts getting thicker toward the end, but on balance it’s pretty solid science fiction. Twist at the end is as poignant as it is unexpected – and adds a new name to Galactica’s family tree.

Rating:  ***

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.16: “War of the Gods, Part 2”

Airdate: 1/21/79

"Hope you guessed my name."
Count Iblis continues to arouse suspicions with his supernatural powers andeerie mind-controlling abilities (even though he has handed Baltar over to the Galactica). Things get a little too crazy when he manages to coerce many members of the essential crew to attend an hours-long, bacchanalian soiree, oblivious to the ship’s red alert when it appears an enemy in nigh. Starbuck and Apollo decide to go from whence the Count came: his incinerated ship. There they discover the mystery man’s true identity – none other than Satan himself. Sheba is disbelieving, and nearly falls once again to his hypnotic charms; a frustrated Iblis instead kills Apollo, but it looks like he has committed a big cosmic no-no. He disappears, and Sheba and Starback enter an ethereal, heaven-like dimension where their intents to sacrifice themselves for Apollo, along with the Count’s misdeed, allow the “deceased” starpilot to return to life.

Well, when you run out of threatening villains, you might as well start going for the big guns. Macnee again shines in his role by underplaying the Prince of Darkness, and it’s fun to see the madman’s identity slowly being revealed (you’ll figure it out long before the Galactica crew does). This time, there seem to be a few Hitler comparisons, as the Council almost elects the Count to a leadership position, oblivious to the true evil he secretly possesses (only Adama is suspicious). The best episode of Galactica thus far.

Rating:  ***

Monday, July 7, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.15: “War of the Gods, Part 1”

Airdate: 1/14/79

Crazy white flashes of light blind and seem to abduct several Viper pilots, while on the Galactica a rousing game of “Triad” is in progress (sort of a futuristic-looking version of racquetball). Apollo, Starbuck and Sheba go to investigate the Viper situation and land on an eerily-lit planet where they find the lone survivor of some kind of spaceship crash – an elder, regally-dressed man named Count Iblis. The dude is uber-mysterious, having something of a seductive effect on women while ostensibly having no heartbeat or set of vital signs. He claims to have supernatural powers, too, and when they crew takes him to see the peons of the fleet, he wows them with the promise of multiplying their food (which he makes good on). Even skeptical Adama seems won-over when Iblis offers to lead them to their long-sought destination of Earth, and to prove his trustworthiness, he even does he impossible  - an arrangement of a truce between Adama and the Cylons, led by Baltar!

Moderately interesting tale, with the standout being Patrick Macnee’s performance as the enigmatic Iblis, a character arousing as much dread as he does mystery. Crew members compare him to God but there’s just as much Moses and Jesus symbolism going on here (in keeping with Glen Larson’s penchant for Judeo-Christian iconography). Slow but at least not dopey, as has been the case with recent episodes. And BTW: those Triad outfits worn by Starbuck, Boomer and Apollo are just about the gayest looking clothes you’ll ever see.

Rating:  **1/2

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.14: “Fire In Space”

Airdate: 12/17/78

This can't be good
A fleet of Cylon kamikazes fly their fighters directly at the Galactica, setting major fires to her bridge, landing bay, and just outside the rejuvenation center, where Boomer, Boxey, Athena and several others are trapped inside. Commander Adama is severely wounded, while Tigh and Apollo brainstorm ways to put the fire out before it reaches the ship’s fuel cells: an event which would pretty much spell the end of Galactica, and I don’t mean cancellation. All’s well that ends well when those imperiled are rescued (thanks, in no small part to Muffy), and Apollo and Starbuck successfully go outside the ship to damage part of it, successfully putting out the remaining fire due to lack of oxygen.

The Towering Inferno, Galactica-style. And just as laden with barbecued scenery, stuntmen… and performances. No suspense as we all know the titular spacecraft will emerge fully restored and operational, but there is some fun in figuring out just what the hell Apollo’s plan to put out the landing bay fire with Viper rockets is all about – and once you understand it, you sure as hell won’t believe it!

Rating: **

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.13: “The Living Legend, Part 2”

Airdate: 12/3/78

Headstrong Cain persists in attacking the Cylons with both barrels blazing –after Baltar and the Cylons are turned away from a initial colonial attack, they prepare for retaliation. Adama maintains his stance that he, as protectorate of a civilian fleet, need only divert the enemy base at Gomorray long enough to steal their fuel, but Cain sees this as a perfect opportunity for attack. They reach a compromise – Adama allows Cain to sail the Pegasus past the Cylons to divert them, but he, last minute decides to fly directly at them, hitting Baltar’s base star point blank with everything he’s got. The Galactica, which now has Sheba and all the other “nonessentials” from the Pegasus, sail off safely – and we never find out, hrough Starbuck and Apoolo’s report, if Cain’s ship survived the assault or not.

After a rousing part one of the story, the conclusion is a huge letdown, hampered by tediously repetitive and soulless dialogue, and a cop-out ending that completely erradicates any kind of antiwar message that Part One may have sought to develop. Most of the time we get more explosions and more talking heads, blathering endlessly on about what Cain plans to do (we get it after the first hour), why he’s wrong and, ultimately, why he might have been right. Let’s get some new writers on this show – fast; oops, I forget, this was 35 years ago. Never mind.

Rating: **

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