Disco, Disco Buck

Part 1?

I can’t be sure yet.

Because, how incomprehensibly strange it all is.

Do you know I’d forgotten all about this episode of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century?

It’s called “Flight Of The War Witch”, and if I recall the content of Ed’s old Starlog mags correctly, they spent real money on it.

Or anyway, what to them was real money; these were tightly-budgeted shows, after all.

Hmm…

So maybe it’s finally time to reevaluate the Buck Rogers show. Was it cheap crap? Oh, absolutely; no question about it. The final product of the first wave of Star Wars knock-offs made for TV (at least, the final one that belonged in anything like an “A” grade classification), it made Battlestar Galactica look hip and glossy, earnest and honest, exciting and original. Boasting many of the most ill-conceived excuses for SF stories I’ve ever seen, at its worst it looked like a bloated high school play: unserious and overserious at the same time; hackneyed; inexpert; apathetic; dumb. A loose clutch of tired cliches, silly mood music, and anticlimaxes lifted from…well, from just about everything past Six Million Dollar Man’s third season, it essentially took Steve Austin, put him in the disco on the Love Boat with Bigfoot, Knight Rider, and the Man From Atlantis, and then dropped the whole thing on Supertrain before blowing it up with war-surplus photon torpedoes.

And yet…

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but in a way it was not unfaithful to the Buck Rogers strips it took its name from. These, after all, were always more about meaningless episodic adventure, and Buck saving Wilma, than they were about Bob Shaw’s “wee thinky bits”, though the strip certainly started off a bit stronger than it finished…and many of the authentic Buck Rogers elements were in fact present in this little corner of the Glen A. Larsonverse, disco-ed up even as they were.

Boy, were they disco-ed up. Sheesh.

But watching it now is a lot different from watching it when it originally aired. Then, the strong start of the title sequence (sweet, sweet William Conrad narration), and the man-out-of-time allure, produced high hopes that were rather quickly decomposed into feelings of disgust and betrayal. You got the strong feeling that, despite the presence of several professional SF B-movie people (did I say several? I meant dozens upon dozens), who were probably (in some key cases, indubitably) all very big Buck Rogers fans when they were young, that the show was being bossed by someone who’d looked up “science fiction show” in a dictionary, but halfway through the definition figured that it’d be hard to insult the intelligence of people who liked crap like that, so why keep reading? Well, that’s how it seemed, at the time: it was all a bit insulting, really. Disturbingly like a Rob Liefeld comic, in a way…

And yet…

Watching it now, I’m astonished at the sheer…what should one call it? The sheer pluckiness of the actors. There is Gil Gerard being asked to say some of the most unselfconsciously dumbass things anybody’s ever said on TV ever, there’s Erin Gray being asked to do very little more than have touchably soft hair, and to this day I’m not sure what the hell Tim O’Connor’s character was supposed to be doing for a living, besides huffing and puffing and saying “Buck” and “Dr. Theopolis” over and over again all day.

And yet, you know…it’s Tim O’Connor, right?

And as far as model-slash-actresses went…you know, damned if Erin wasn’t in there slugging.

And Gil Gerard somehow — somehow! — kind of managed to connect with his material, enough so that somehow — SOMEHOW, damn it! — he didn’t look completely lost in it. And I tell you, watch this show if you don’t believe that was a Herculean task. Who, in the mind of Glen A. Larson, was Buck Rogers supposed to be, anyway? A pinch of Steve Austin, a dash of Captain Kirk, a couple of teaspoons of James Bond, a sprinkle of Sheriff Andy Taylor, a few drops of Isaac the bartender, and just the faintest suggestion, perhaps, of Jim Rockford? Or was it Miles Monroe? Jesus Christ, I’m telling you, the thing was a mess from the beginning, and man did it get worse over time. Herculean task, ha. If anything ever needed a river redirected into it, it was this show.

And yet…

Here we are at “Flight Of The War Witch”, and it’s pretty obvious that this was the result of someone’s big Orson Welles/Ed Wood moment. If it’s crap, what can be done with it? What’s the best it could possibly get? Because let’s do that, by God! And now, quick, before there’s no more time left!

Well, they did it.

It was a two-parter.

Everyone got a speech.

Tim O’Connor got a speech.

Henry Silva got a speech…kind of.

Twiki even sort of got a speech.

Erin Gray got a speech!

Man, this show was cheap. I think if I just say “Disco Space Olympics” to you, that should about bring you up to speed. Yes, we got a long. long way from Jack Palance doing his best Dr. Doom impression in the pilot…I’m telling you. It never really rose to those heights again. I call them “heights”. You don’t know, seriously. We had some space vampires on this show. Mistakes were made.

Still, if they did it today…it’d probably be worse. As I’ve had occasion to note before, there’s something about the primitive clap-trappery of this kind of junk SF that’s oddly endearing. I mean just look at poor Gil Gerard, there. Unlike his fellow space-thespians, the poor bastard gets stuck in every single scene…and yet he goes at it quite manfully. Does he try to rescue the young defector couple from the Disco Space Olympics? Yes…yes, he does, and without so much as the twitch of an eyebrow to betray his disquiet at the astro-boxing or the orbital electro-luge. Does he always have a plan, based on good old twentieth-century American fisticuffs and “going with the flow”? Yes…unfortunately yes. He always does.

But would we have John Crichton in the Uncharted Territories, if not for Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century?

I would like to be able to say to all of these put-upon performers that no, we wouldn’t. And I even think that it might, might just possibly, be true that we wouldn’t.

Though I could be accused of stretching a point, there.

Tell you what, I feel like bloody Buck Rogers, watching this. It’s crazy. This is like being right back in my parents’ basement, sitting in front of the old colour TV with the UHF dial and the thirteen channels. I can barely believe how much I remember of this awful, awful show. I don’t know what I’m going to do when Hawk and Dr. Goodfellow make the scene. Probably pitch a fit. I’ve already seen far too much of Princess Disco Evening Wear in the last week or so to be confident that my mind is anything like as stable as it was in, say, late March of this year. I’m looking at Tigerman, I’m looking at Kane: I’m feeling their anguish.

I’m looking at the hated Dr. Theopolis, and thinking Dr. Theopolis, c’est moi: I, too, am hung helplessly around the neck of an inexplicably wisecracking robot, even more inexplicably voiced by Mel Blanc. Biddi biddi biddi, all aboard for Anaheim, Azuza, and KOOK-a-monga…what? What’s that you’re saying, Twiki?

Twiki, I can’t understand you…

For God’s sake, Twiki, where are you taking me?

Who are you, really?

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10 responses to “Disco, Disco Buck

  1. Gotta admit, though…first chance I get, I’m gonna say something like “say, this program’s not too bad…reminds me of something we had back in the twentieth century, called “The X-Files”…”

    Biddi biddi biddi…twenty-three skidoo, BbbbUCK!

  2. Oh dear, sweet 1970’s TV with Erin Grey in Spandex and Lynda Carter Wonder Woman hot-pants.

    :-)

    ~P~
    P-TOR

  3. Plok,

    Your description of that episode as “Disco Olympics” (while dead-on – yes, I can picture it all in my head again, crystal clear – even 30 years later) reminded me of something I’ve often thought:

    “Battle of the Network Stars” would have been MUCH better if all the actors were competing while wearing their show costumes; WHATEVER they may be. AND Stay in CHARACTER!

    Imagine “The SHAT” as Captain Kirk (or was he TJ Hooker by then) battling it out with Burt Ward as Robin and Gil Gerard in his white Disco spaceman suit.

    How AWESOME would THAT have been?!

    Or better yet; The crew of the USS ENTERPRISE against the crew of THE LOVE BOAT.

    FONZIE and the Cunningham family against the Waltons.
    Richie Cunningham against John Boy Walton?

    The Happy Days “teens” against the SWEATHOGS.
    Imagine the Wisconsin white-bread “malt shop” kids against the Bronx “gang-hood” kids?
    How bizarre would it have been to see Ralph Malph and Potzie Webber go up against Boom-Boom Washington & Juan Epstein?
    Fonzie against Vinnie Barberino?
    Richie Cunningham head to head with HORSESHACK?!?

    And STILL have that famous foot race between
    Gabe Kaplan (in suit and tie – with optional briefcase) going head to head with Robert Conrad (in full “Bah-Bah Black Sheep” uniform), and STILL kicking his ass in a race – much to the chagrin of the uber-competitive Mr. Conrad.

    Oh LORD, WHY didn’t THAT ever happen?!?

    Laverne, Shirley, Lenny & Squiggie toe-to-toe with the cast of NEWHART?

    And to top it all off;

    ERIN GREY in disco-space mama glitter-suit against LYNDA CARTER as Wonder Woman and Yvonne Craig as Batgirl and ANY of Charlie’s Angels in a running race (all bouncy, bouncy and the like). They could have played it back in SLO-MO for the wonderment of the home viewer and the reaping of Neilson Ratings.

    C’MON! It would be a license to print money!

    And to add an educational, classy bent to it all;
    Alan Napier (as Alfred Pennyworth) against other aging stars (like Tim O’Connor) in competitive “thinking games”.

    To add some comedy and livelihood to the septigenarian games, they could be given color commentary by “TWIKKI” and John Schuck as “Yo-Yo/Hymie” or the Lost in Space Robot.

    Damn!

    With all the game show/reality crap that’s on NOW, that would be a viable alternative.
    Hell, they’ve brought back AMERICAN GLADIATORS haven’t they?
    Why not BATTLE of the NETWORK STARS?

    The cast of CSI (any of the assorted CSI versions) against LAW & ORDER (any of the assorted L&O versions).

    Two & a Half Men vs Will & Grace.

    The O.C. vs Gossip Girl.

    Just do it the way I suggest; IN COSTUME and IN CHARACTER.
    GUARANTEED # 1 show.

    If the networks don’t want to spend actual MONEY on the salaries for “stars”, then they could go the route of the “reality show star”…

    …which would make it all even more surreal!

    SURVIVOR vs BIG BROTHER HOUSE.

    BIGGEST LOSER vs “Next Top American Model”

    Oh freakin’ sweet jeebus!

    Send me the royalty checks and we’ve got a deal.

    ~P~
    P-TOR

  4. YEah everyone talks about Erin Gray in spandex… but the show had two things going for it.
    1)THE GREATEST TV SHOW OPENING SEQUENCE OF ALL TIME!!!

    2)Erin Gray in spandex.

  5. Actually, I kind of want to know who did the music for the opening, because it’s just so made to order, so “gimme a C, a bouncy C…”

    By which I don’t mean anything bad, just that you can see what kind of job was asked for, there. Note the juxtaposition of the horns and the guitar…with, of course, the awesome “countdown” stuff at the beginning, so primally what the show should’ve striven much harder to be about

    It’s an admirable piece of work in many ways, but more clearly a straight commission than I think any other SF show theme of its time.

    Note also how much Erin Gray (in spandex, natch) looks like Wilma Deering does in her first appearance in the strips.

    It’s weird; somebody cared about this enough to get something on the ball, from time to time. And then you get Love Boat plots.

    Oh, and P-Tor…Christ, you’re right, how in the hell did they miss that?!? That’s like when Saturday Night Live missed doing a Star Trek sketch with Clinton as Kirk and Gore as Spock: inconceivable.

    As soon as you mentioned Law & Order, I realized I would watch such a thing now. Oh, now we’re into the retro material, TV…!

  6. Also worthy of note: the music over the closing credits, with a better version of the oft re-used “Seventies Space Explosion” motif — all guitar, this time, in the mode of prime time made-for-TV romance movies…

    Weird, wild stuff.

  7. Ahh, Logan’s Run. I don’t remember the opening!

    Maybe I blocked it out.

    Now if I only I could block this out: via Sleestak, the thankfully-stillborn Buck Rogers theatrical release title sequence, oh my GOD!

    I say “stillborn” — but something about it definitely seems familiar. Anyway if nothing else it proves my “straight commission” theory false, false, false…clearly what we were dealing with in the show was a retool, possibly by someone completely different from the original (yecch) composer.

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