Bigfoot and Wildboy, and Other Rare TV Shows for Sci-Fi Geeks and Action-Adventure Junkies
Televison Sci-Fi and Action-Adventure
They say that everything old is new again. Nowhere is that more true than in television. In recent years, we've seen updates and remakes of familiar sci-fi and action-adventure shows from a generation ago - The Bionic Woman, Knight Rider, etc. - but few have lived up to their predecessors.
With that in mind, I thought I'd take a look at some similar series - many of which may have been overlooked or underappreciated when they aired - that nevertheless embodied a certain originality and the ability to fascinate. If you've never heard of them (and I suspect many of you will not have), they may be worth a checking out the next time you're wondering what to get from Netflix (or if you're looking for a novel item to add to your collection).
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
The character of Wlliam "Buck" Rogers was actually created in the 1920s, so there was something of a ready-made audience for this series. Rogers is a NASA astronaut on a shuttle mission in 1987 when a life-support malfuntion causes him to be cryogenically frozen for 500 years. He awakens to a new world where space travel is common and Earth has been rebuilt following a devasting nuclear war.
Rogers' adjustment to the 25th Century is aided by a robot named Twiki; a sentient disk-shaped computer named Dr. Theopolis, whichis worn around Twiki's neck; and Col. Wilma Deering, who was something of a love interest. Making a nice, complete love triangle was Princess Ardala, who in addition to wanting to conquer Earth also wanted Buck as her love-slave.
Riding on the tail of Star Wars' colossal worldwide success, the two-hour pilot was actually first released as a moderately-successful theatrical film. The series ran for two seasons - not particularly long in retrospect, but a lifetime in comparison to most sci-fi shows.
The Man from Atlantis
Everyone else will always recognize him as Bobby Ewing from the megahit series Dallas, but in my mind Patrick Duffy will forever be Mark Harris, the amnesiac with webbed fingers and toes believed to be the sole survivor of the lost city of Atlantis.
First shown as a quartet of made-for-TV movies, the Man from Atlantis airings experienced enough success for the development of a full television series. In addition to the ability to breathe underwater (after all, he is from Atlantis), the lead character also had various other abilities, including super strength. All in all, it was a nice escape from reality - if only once every week.
Bigfoot and Wildboy
This was always an odd concept in my mind: in the Pacific Northwest, the legendary Bigfoot finds and raises an orphan child, who becomes known as Wildboy. To this day I often wonder what studio exec gave this show the green light.
However, the show was a Saturday-morning product that came from Sid and Marty Krofft, who - with a long history of hits under their belts (PufnStuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Land of the Lost and more) - could essentially do whatever the heck they wanted. Plus, it wasn't really a bad show (althugh I still laugh at the intro).
As a boy, Dr. Jonathan Chase - while traveling with his missionary father to remote corners of the globe - learned and mastered the extraordinary ability to transform himself into animal he chose. As an adult, he used those abilities to help the police solve crimes.
This is the setting for Manimal. As I recall, the lead character typically transformed himself into either a panther, a hawk or a snake. (I personally don't remember him taking on any other shapes, but it was 30 years ago so cut me some slack.) Still it was an interesting show while it lasted.
On a side note, someone told me than one of those late-night comedy host (maybe Jimmy Kimmel, or Conan O'brien) had a Manimal coffe mug or glass that they kept on their desk.
In The Phoenix, an extraterrestrial is found in a sarcophagus in South America and awakens in the modern times. Although actually ancient, this alien - Bennu of the Golden Light - actually looks like a young man. He has various powers, including telepathy, telekinesis and and clairvoyance. Much of his power and abilities appear to be derived from the sun
The series centers around Bennu's search for Mira, his female companion who came to Earth with him 40,000 years ago. Although Bennu is awake, Mira - shown occasionally in flashes - still appears to be in some type of suspended animation, as Bennu was before being discovered. Opposed to Bennu in his search is another alien who happens to be from the same planet. But whereas bennu's powers come from the sun, the evil alien gets his from the moon.
If you blinked, you would have missed this show. It wasn't really a bad series, but couldn't find an audience and ended up being cancelled after a few episodes.
This one starred Desi Arnaz, Jr. (yes, Little Ricky! Lucy and Ricky's boy!) as a police officer who was also a genius commuter programmer. He creates a highly sophisticated computer program to help fight crime - so sophisticated in fact that it's able to take on human form (with a body made up of glowing blue circuitry) in the real world.
In the real world, Automan took on the name "Otto Mann" and would be assisted by a flashing light named Cursor, which could draw any object and make it exist in the real world. Moreover, Automan could "merge" with Little Ricky's character, allowing them to share knowledge and skills.
It was a neat little series, and probably a little ahead of it's time in concept - although you'll probably laugh at what was considered a high-tech computer back then. (But you'll have to remember, this was at the dawn of the age of the personal computer; Apple hadn't even done their acclaimed 1984 commercial when the show began airing.) You can find a picture of the main characters here: Automan. (I'm doing 30 hubs in 30 days and I'm well behind, so I don't have time to get bogged down in copyright infringement and fair use issues that might relate to posting the pic here.)
The Powers of Matthew Star
To other kids in his high school, Matthew Star is a typical teenager: he has homework to do, there's a pretty girl he likes, there are bullies to contend with, and so on. However, Matt's real issues stem from other facts: he's actually an alien prince, sent here to hide him from his enemies until his powers - including telekinesis, telepathy and transmutation - are strong enough for him to liberate his people from their conquerors.
He is accompanied by a guardian from his world (played by the incomparable Lou Gossett, Jr.), who is charged with protecting him at all costs. Needless to say, their enemies have been hunting for the young prince and have tracked him to Earth. In addition to avoiding evil aliens, Matthew and his guardian also find themselves "recruited" to perform dangerous missions for the U.S. government, which has discovered exactly who and what they are.
All in all, this was a pretty good series (despite only lasting a single season). However, anyone watching would have been completely perplexed by the last episode that aired, in which the plot seem to be completely rearranged, there were new characters with prominent roles (while old characters simply disappeared), and even the lead charcater's name was changed from "Matthew" to "David". As it turns out, that last episode was actually the previously-unaired original pilot for the show, which was initially called The Powers of David Star. (We always here about pilots and whatnot, so this was a good way to see how the final product sometimes ends up completely different from what was initially conceived.)
In retrospect, there have actually been some pretty awesome sci-fi/action-adventure series that made their way onto television. Few of them lasted a particularly long time, but it was great to see something different on television that occasionally fired up your imagination. Thus, I'm glad that shows like these occasionally get the green light (although I'm still surprised when it happens.)