As I’ve said before, I’m really not all that familiar with American TV of the eighties. I went from Saturday morning shows to monster movies to Doctor Who and then to whatever British programming our PBS stations picked up and missed the likes of The A-Team and Simon & Simon and Magnum PI entirely. I’ve never seen a minute of Riptide or Scarecrow & Mrs. King or Moonlighting. Maybe two episodes of Remington Steele.
Thanks to Marie, I’ve seen more of MacGyver than any American drama of the period, except for Hill Street Blues, which I came to in repeats in college. Around the same time, I picked up a fondness for drama and cop shows from the sixties and seventies thanks to A&E, which used to screen all kinds of interesting stuff, from Banacek to City of Angels, and of course the brilliant Columbo, but the TV of the eighties is largely a foreign country.
I’m a little more familiar with movies from the period, thanks to HBO, so I’ve seen several mainstream films from the day, and, as a young teenager who liked cute girls, quite a few dumb sex comedies. I’ve actually never seen Porky’s, but I saw a whole lot of the movies that came in its wake: Fast Times, the one with Betsy Russell, Just One of the Guys, that one with Betsy Russell a few more times, Up the Creek, and I don’t remember the name, but Betsy Russell was in it, and I was thirteen or fifteen and I remember her riding that horse really well.
And what I’m getting from my teenage memories, and from watching Tales of the Gold Monkey and rewatching Flash Gordon for the blog is that the eighties were a very, very weird time for depictions of sexuality in the media. It was a time when girls were constantly told that good girls were not supposed to like sex. Sex was, unless you were married or had swapped a promise ring or whatever, for bad girls. There was an additional thing in Flash Gordon that bothered me: Ming and his daughter, while played by actors from Sweden and Italy, were “yellow peril” baddies in the old comics and serials with sexual designs on our white heroes. And Princess Koji in Monkey is played by an actress from Panama, Marta Dubois, but the character is from Japan. And Koji is constantly taking her clothes off in this show. It’s 8 pm ABC 1983 nudity, but this is something like the fifth time in eighteen episodes that she’s had her servants get her ready for a bath in front of Stephen Collins.
Meanwhile, Dale Arden in Flash accepts the hero’s remarkably chaste proposal of marriage. He suggests telling their kids about their wild adventure and that’s what makes her swoon. Sarah in Gold Monkey is no better; her face twists all out of joint whenever Koji tells her underlings to take her and whoever else away so that she can have a few words with Jake… in private. That’s because she knows Jake’s about to see some boobs. In the previous episode, a traveling salesman has brought some naughty playing cards to Boragora. Now, I don’t know what naughty playing cards actually looked like in 1938, but what the program showed us was remarkably tame, and Sarah is so outraged that she loses the ability to form coherent sentences. Good girls don’t like sex.
This episode might have been okay, but geez, did they ever drop the ball. Kim Cattrall guest stars as Sarah’s old college roommate from Vassar, and she brings out the absolute worst in Sarah. The character is always shown as stuck up and grouchy, but now she’s jealous and whiny. When Cattrall’s character explains that she had regularly dated a professor at Vassar, at the same time that Koji has Jake stay behind for a striptease, that divide – everybody is having sex and having more fun than me! – shows up again. Good girls don’t like sex. What the hell, 1980s?
That’s not even the most dated thing about the episode. The ostensibly female newsreel camera operator traveling with Cattrall’s journalist character is actually a male assassin, a master of disguise who fools everybody, especially Corky, who is sweet on her and is relieved they didn’t kiss, which is, sadly, not an unexpected reaction from either a character in 1938 or a production in 1983. There is absolutely no reason whatever why this character shouldn’t have been a woman, except to get a quick cheap laugh at the comic sidekick who nearly kissed a guy. The following year, one of those dumb sex comedies from the period, Bachelor Party, also went with a cheap laugh at the comic sidekick who nearly kissed a guy. What an obnoxious decade.