Ark II 1.4 – The Slaves

The guest star in tonight’s episode of Ark II was Michael Kermoyan, who was principally an actor from stage and theater. He was best known for playing either the king or the kralahome in many performances of The King and I, even taking over from Yul Brenner during Brenner’s vacation from the role in the 1977-78 Broadway revival. Playing the villain, Baron Vargas, in this episode was almost like auditioning for his big TV part in the next season, when he’d play the evil Dr. Strange in 1977’s Mystery Island serial, which Hanna-Barbera made for CBS.

And as the villain, he gave Daniel one of his first genuine shocks in a while. Baron Vargas keeps a small group of superstitious slaves under his thumb via some telegraphed-to-any-adults-watchingly obvious fake magic. He warns Jonah that he will turn him into a chicken, and hocus-pocus, alakazam, with a trap door and a blast of smoke, Jonah is replaced by a chicken. “I don’t want to watch this,” Daniel grumbled and crawled into Mommy’s lap. “I’m pretty sure it’s just a trick,” she assured him.

Ark II 1.3 – The Tank

Another big name guest star – for the time this was made – shows up in this episode of Ark II. Leading the band of farmers who hate machinery is an older man played by Marshall Thompson. He had starred in the film Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion and its TV spinoff, Daktari, which aired for four seasons on CBS. We also noticed Christopher Stafford Nelson, who had earlier played one of the teens-in-trouble from the first season of Shazam!.

Since this was kind of a slow runaround of a story, I’d like to note how, once upon a time, information about Ark II was almost comically scarce. It was a show that VHS tape traders like I was in the 1980s were curious to see, but nobody had copies of it and, more importantly, nobody had any solid information about it.

Looking back from today’s world, this was a laughable situation. Today, not only can you easily order a DVD with all fifteen episodes – although, as it’s out of print, it won’t be cheap – but you can learn there are fifteen episodes. Wikipedia and IMDB have that covered, although the actual airdates remain in question, as is frequently the case for 1970s Saturday morning shows. But in the late 1980s, even knowing that there were fifteen episodes was difficult.

In the days before Wikipedia and IMDB, there were two primary sources for information about old shows with a small audience like this: terrible magazines printed on cheap newsprint, and terrible books published by McFarland & Company, which never seemed to employ editors. (As I mentioned last year, one publisher released a book which contained a listing for a totally fake TV show.)

So throughout the 1980s, people were self- or vanity- or McFarland-publishing magazines and books called The Best of Sci-Fi TV or The Complete Guide to Saturday Morning Programming in the 1970s or The Absolutely Complete Guide to Everything That Was Ever on TV, 1974-76, Honestly, Formatted on my Mom’s Typewriter, and you also had people putting out program guides for SF conventions – the best-remembered of these was the 1986 Baycon Viewer’s Guide to Japanese Animation which was written and compiled by Toren Smith and photocopied by a thousand people – and, lastly, you had people trying their hand at desktop publishing to make their tape trading lists look more professional. In that case, I often saw traders formatting their lists like this:

STAR TREK (79 episodes, CBS 1966-69)
…followed by a list of all 79 they had, plus an alternate version of the pilot, and blooper reel, and so on. Then at the back, they’d have their want list, and it would say:

ARK II (24 episodes, CBS 1976-77)
…but that couldn’t be right, because somebody else’s magazine said there were only thirteen episodes.

Then you’d check some book and it would claim there were 66 episodes of Ark II and it ran from 1976-79. So you’d actually mail the dude a letter to ask about it and he’d write back a month later to say that they made 22 episodes for each of three seasons: one on Saturday morning and two on Sunday morning. That made sense. I did remember that CBS continued to air it on Sundays. Of course, it turned out that the Sunday screenings were all repeats, but I didn’t learn that until long after some other book – definitely a McFarland – saw that one dude’s claim of 66 episodes and raised it to 88, to which I replied “How in the sam hill are there more episodes of Ark II than there are of Star Trek?!”

For a few years, my trade lists’s want section had the following entry:

ARK II (CBS, 1970s, 13/15/22/24/66/88 episodes, any wanted)

One day down the line, I finally got the opportunity to trade for some Ark II and did not bite. More on that another day.

Note: I’m absolutely certain that McFarland & Company, today, publishes only the finest and most accurate books, and none of them claim that Filmation made 88 episodes of something when they only made fifteen, and nor do they claim that Sid and Marty Krofft made a show called Cha-Ka and Wolf Boy when they did not.

Ark II 1.2 – The Rule

In its second week, Ark II pulled out another big guest star. On the right in the picture above, that’s Philip Abbott, who played Arthur Ward for ten seasons on The FBI. This week he plays the head of a community bound by a stupid law. Also in the cast this week is Kenneth O’Brien, who never had a big part, but he sure had lots of them in the 1970s.

Bearing in mind that I mentioned Logan’s Run in passing last week, this community’s fool rule is that sick, elderly, and disabled people are cast out, no questions asked. It all gets resolved – and I was very impressed that it doesn’t get resolved by our heroes preaching like you might expect from a Saturday morning show, but by standing back and providing some support for a plan to win over the village’s stuffed shirts.

Our son was confused about what “cast out” meant, so Marie explained it. He didn’t pause for very long at all before expressing a fear that we might one day do that to him. Poor worried kid! Otherwise he really enjoys this show.

Ark II 1.1 – The Flies

In 1976, as Shazam! and Isis began their third and second seasons, CBS bought another half-hour drama from Filmation to air alongside them. Like its companion programs, Ark II was awfully earnest and mostly a humor-free zone, but its first episode surprised me by being rather more intelligent than most Saturday morning programming.

The show starred Terry Lester, who died in 2003, as Jonah, with Jean Marie Hon and Jose Flores as his companion scientists. It’s set in the 25th Century, as the Earth recovers from an ecological disaster that has left only pockets of tribes arguing with each other. There was a tendency in ’70s science fiction to depict the remnants of civilization as clinical and run by scientists, and everybody on the outside as nomadic savages. See also Logan’s Run or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for some other examples.

I don’t believe that we ever see Jonah, Ruth, and Samuel – oh, and their talking chimpanzee, called Adam – reporting back to their scientific bosses. They ride around the southern California wasteland in the Ark II, a mammoth mobile laboratory, a six-wheeled RV thing. It looks similar enough for some people to confuse it with the Landmaster in Damnation Alley, but that was made a year later by another company. The Ark II was broken down after this show ended and its parts used in other Filmation productions.

In the first episode, the Ark II team get involved in a land squabble between a gang of kids (“the flies”) led by Jonathan Harris as a flim-flam man named Fagin, and a tribe of warlords led by Malachi Throne. Things get worse when Jonah lets Fagin know that among the trash he’s collected are some canisters of poison gas.

It’s not thrilling, seat-of-your-pants entertainment by any means, but it’s a very well-made show with two excellent guest stars and a likable lead cast. Daniel really enjoyed it, although he confessed at the end that I managed to confuse him by saying “it’s a show set in the future.” That’s all that I told him, and he filled in the blanks to conclude that it would be about two kids who use a time machine to go to the future! I’m looking forward to seeing what will come next. I saw some of this show as a kid, when it was repeated by CBS on Sunday mornings in 1978 or so, and didn’t see any of it again until I bought this DVD in 2007 and watched the first four episodes. There’s a lot for me to rediscover and my son’s intrigued as well.