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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.11 – The Peeping Blonde

My wife somehow spent the 1970s and 1980s totally oblivious to contemporary culture. As a child, she was a voracious reader of authors who had been dead for decades if not centuries, she taught herself more about science than most physicists learn in a lifetime, and she would watch thirty year-old Bugs Bunny cartoons when they were repeated on Saturday mornings, but otherwise I have yet to find any evidence that she had any idea what the rest of the planet was enjoying until she chanced upon an episode of MacGyver, of all things, in 1985.

With this in mind, tonight we watched another episode of The Six Million Dollar Man with Farrah Fawcett. She plays a different character in this episode, a reporter called Victoria Webster. She catches some film footage of Steve in action, and, pursuing a story, demands that Steve and Oscar spill the beans. Meanwhile, her desperate boss sees Steve as a different sort of meal ticket.

After we watch something with our son, we often talk about the bigger picture behind what we’ve seen. My wife wanted to talk about how important and how brave reporters are, to risk their lives to confront people in power. That’s a big thing, of course, though I found it almost tone-deaf that a TV show would, just four months after President Nixon resigned, have a top government agent coldly demanding that a news reporter sit on a story. We’re definitely on the side of the press and the media.

But I wasn’t going to talk about the thankless job of the press. I wanted to point out that Farrah Fawcett’s hairstyle was arguably the most popular in the 1970s, and that something like a quarter of the nation’s women were known to feather their hair to the sides the way that Farrah did. And my wife had absolutely no idea that Farrah Fawcett was responsible for popularizing that style. No idea at all. She says she always hated that look and now, forty years later, at last knows who to blame for it.

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Logan’s Run (1976)

A case might be made that our son, who has only turned six recently, might be too young to appreciate or understand Logan’s Run, and maybe I should have held off on showing him this. However, we’ll be watching Star Wars in a couple of weeks, and I wanted him to have a little idea of what American science fiction films were like before George Lucas showed up and kiddified everything.

He’s far too young to grasp the cerebral likes of 2001, Westworld, or The Andromeda Strain, and while Planet of the Apes is on the agenda for later this year, I still worry that film’s going to scare him quite a bit. So I decided that Logan’s Run, despite the worrying premise of early death and fleeting glimpses of nudity, would serve as our example. It also led to a much more kid-friendly TV series the following year, and so I decided we’d watch that as well, so look out for that next month.

So the techno-future of Logan’s Run is all lights and computers and travel capsules and escalators in shopping malls under a big dome. It’s a PG film of the seventies, so much of the discussion of pleasure is left understated, but this is a world where the people play with abandon and sleep together without repercussions. They’re under the thumbs of the Sandmen, who wear black and there are quite a few more of them than you’d expect standing around in the background. The Sandmen take their orders from a sultry-voiced evil supercomputer. People are promised the possibility of renewal – reincarnation, basically – after their lastday, and a garish and totally over-the-top death ceremony called Carrousel. People don’t question the system, and people don’t ask what’s outside the domed city.

The film stars Michael York as Logan 5, a Sandman who has been given a deep undercover assignment to find the secret exit to Sanctuary which Runners – people who make a bid for freedom before their lastday – have been using. He realizes that Jessica, a girl that he recently met while looking for some free evening company who is played by Jenny Agutter, wears an ankh symbol affiliated with the Sanctuary movement.

This level of detail went a little over our kid’s head. We did have to pause early on, because the first half-hour is a little talkier than our six year-old wanted to handle, and so we had to tell him to quit kicking his legs around and pay attention, and if he had questions, actually ask us instead of ignoring the movie until some shooting started. He improved, but in fairness, the action quotient did, too.

Logan is so deep undercover that the other Sandmen don’t know about his mission. He’s forced to become a Runner himself and make his way through the strangely complicated way out of the city that the underground resistance movement guards. Unfortunately, the network of Runners have made their own jobs so difficult that none of them know that they’ve been sending Runners to their deaths at the hands of a demented robot who has killed hundreds and hundreds of people. Until Logan shows up, nobody has been armed and able to defend themselves from it.

The robot, Box, is played by Roscoe Lee Browne, and I don’t mind telling you that when I first saw this movie on HBO around 1979 or so, Box really gave me the creeps. He’s not around for long – educated guessers have figured that the Box scene, and an earlier one in their run in which Logan and Jessica get separated in a steam room orgy, were both ruthlessly edited down to remove as much nudity as possible so the movie would get a PG rating – but Box is one of those creations that every kid of the seventies remembers. Until Star Wars made them safe, robots were often very menacing.

The movie is flawed in places and certainly dated, but there’s really a lot to like. I enjoyed how the music is all disco synthesizers and Jean-Michel Jarre electronics inside the city, but is played by a traditional orchestra once our heroes get outside. I like how the lasers used in the New You clinic are surgical things that cut you with solid beams of light, and not zap guns. I enjoyed Farrah Fawcett and Peter Ustinov, and I especially liked that the writers didn’t make Ustinov’s character, the old man that they meet outside the dome, the wise fellow who can explain everything. The old man is just as baffled by the world as Logan and Jessica, but he understands a tiny bit about how families can work in a society where kids aren’t born in tanks and raised by computers. And Richard Jordan, who plays the Sandman who believes Logan has betrayed the system, is an entertaining villain, but heaven knows how a guy who’s never seen the outside world before is able to track our heroes on an overnight excursion.

Actually, the real flaw in the film is its need to make Logan the savior of the story and individual cause of the city’s explosive downfall instead of the protagonist who got out and began getting the outside world ready for people leaving the dome. Things should have been set into motion by having Jordan’s character call for as much backup as possible once he found all of the bodies that Box had frozen, and then let a large company of Sandmen see the sun for themselves.

The writer seems to have painted himself into a corner by the path they took, which means there’s no real way out except for explosions and destruction literally driving the population outside. This means that the sultry-voiced evil supercomputer has to do that “Does not compute… SELF-DESTRUCT!” thing that evil supercomputers often did around the seventies. No wonder all of our generation’s parents were terrified when we gave them their first hand-me-down PCs. They spent more than a decade waiting for the darn things to blow up in movies.

I’m grousing a lot over a generally entertaining movie that has our son curious to see its retelling as a weekly show, but the ending is massively silly, and I love the way all the people fleeing the dome just show up at the top of some stairs. None of this army of extras has any urgency, none of them move like “our entire world is blowing up,” they just show up and say “check out Peter Ustinov and his old man hair.” It’s a good setup, an interesting dystopian utopia, full of good actors, and one deeply goofy ending. Maybe the show will do it better?

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The Six Million Dollar Man 1.8 – The Rescue of Athena One

Of course I picked this episode for us to watch because of the impressive and very busy mission control set. Nah, it’s because Farrah Fawcett, who was then married to Lee Majors, plays Major Kelly Wood, America’s first woman astronaut. An accident in space cripples her ship, Athena One, and seriously injures her co-pilot, so Steve flies up to meet them at Skylab – remember Skylab?! – to perform surgery. But then Major Wood has to fly everyone home because Steve’s bionics start to fail.

The episode was written by D.C. Fontana, and we were very impressed with the attention to detail and accuracy in this rescue mission. The only fanciful part of the story concerns the bionics and their failure, which is because they aren’t shielded against the radiation in space. Everything else is very slow and laborious, including space walks and long, deliberate movements in zero-gravity, as indeed a rescue in space would certainly be in 1974. We enjoyed comparing the events of this episode with some of the installments of the original Thunderbirds, such as “Sun Probe.”

Another thing we talked about was a little wordplay that confused our son. To nobody’s surprise, Steve rescues Major Wood from a near-miss accident and reveals his super powers early on. Steve does that a lot with pretty ladies. Later, when Athena One has docked with Skylab and Wood learns that she cannot open her hatch, she and Steve, talking over the radio, land on the words “can opener” to describe his bionics. The flashbacks didn’t clarify to our overly literal kid why they would say that. We had to pause the episode to explain in more detail because he was so baffled.

Honestly this was an entertaining little hour. It’s certainly slow, but I think that’s an honest and fair trade for a story that really shouldn’t have been told at breakneck speed. Dr. Science was pleased, which doesn’t often happen when we’re watching silly sci-fi teevee.

Looking ahead, I see that Major Wood will be back in season four of this series, but before we get to that episode, we’ll see Farrah Fawcett in a couple of other roles later this month. She was kind of in demand in the mid-seventies.

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