Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.21 – Mourning Becomes Matuka

That was really strange, and, sadly, not very good. Marie was surprised to learn we were watching the final episode of Gold Monkey tonight. She thought that the previous one was the final episode, and it certainly felt at the time like it was going out with a bang, but I knew there was one more on the disc.

Wikipedia says that “Mourning Becomes Matuka” was first shown two months after the previous one, in the middle of the summer repeats, so I initially thought that this might be a case like Eerie, Indiana‘s “The Broken Record”, where an episode was skipped – in most of the country anyway – in the original broadcast order and shown later on. There aren’t any continuity issues, but unusually, the episode doesn’t have a single scene in Boragora, so the Monkey Bar set isn’t used, and neither is the part of the backlot where the facade of the hotel was located. Roddy McDowall isn’t in it either. I wonder whether ABC might have asked for an additional episode after they’d already dismantled the Monkey Bar set and McDowall had taken another job*.

Whichever’s the case, last time they tried going out with a bang, but they ended with a whimper. Jake gets blackmailed into acting as Princess Koji’s bodyguard, but after she is murdered – no, there aren’t honestly any continuity issues with her death because she isn’t really dead – he insists on staying on Matuka for the five-day funeral even though his friends are desperate to leave. He can’t tell them the real reason he’s staying – Koji has a document proving that Sarah is a spy – but nor does he take a quiet minute to say “Please trust me, I’ll explain when we’re home.” What’s left is a “hero must do it alone” story that feels very long and not particularly exciting. None of us were impressed, and not even one villain getting dropped in a pond full of black and white stock footage of piranha got our son’s attention. Was Jack the dog the best part? Of course he was. He almost always was.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.20 – A Distant Shout of Thunder

This was a promising episode, but it’s really meatheaded. The problem is that we have a villain with a motivation I can get behind but he’s played with only one note. Lucien is an angry man, native to the islands, who has been agitating against European colonialism for several years. But he doesn’t have lots of support in the community, because the islanders are perfectly happy to have the protection and the benefits of the French government. Lucien fires up his “the gods are angry and demand atonement!” shtick to coincide with Mother Nature having a bad week. Maybe the eclipse, the hailstorm, and the erupting volcano are proof that the god or goddess Pele is mad. Maybe some strange chills and animals acting weird are signs and portents.

One problem is that Jake sees right through this and confronts Lucien with his hypothesis: Lucien is just trying to exploit his dumb neighbors for a political point. The bigger problem is that the show never tells us whether Jake was right. Indeed, Lucien goes to his death in a desperate attempt to satisfy Pele by sacrificing Sarah to the volcano… and then the volcano stops rumbling after Lucien ends up dying himself.

There’s a lot to like, including all the actors looking believably shellshocked by having their set and their backlot given a kick so solid that it looks like a volcano really did go off up the road, and the amusing incorporation of old movie footage – obvious but amusing – showing a much larger Boragora than we’ve ever seen before, all of it being ravaged by high winds and hail. But the villain needed more time and sympathy and a more nuanced portrayal when he wasn’t shouting about atonement. His followers should have included some women among them. Perhaps we’re meant to assume that the women in the region saw through his baloney. At least our son really loved all the volcano stuff, which is the most important part.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.19 – Boragora or Bust

In this morning’s Gold Monkey, an old codger who’s been working a mine for forty years finally finds veins of platinum. Word gets out, and the sleepy little island becomes a boom town. It’s not a bad episode, but it hasn’t really inspired me to write anything. It ends with an explosion and a motorcycle stunt that the kid really loved.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.18 – Naka Jima Kill

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.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.17 – Last Chance Louie

A supporting character, who is an influential figure in the community, is accused of murder. Our hero is certain that he didn’t do it, but the supporting character will not give a satisfactory account of his actions. The hero is sworn to secrecy; he knows certain information that could set the supporting character free, but has not been given permission to reveal it. The supporting character is being tried by a special court as befits a man of his rank and stature, and the evidence that will clear him can be found in another country, so the hero has to make a dangerous trip there to obtain it. I’m talking, of course, about Dorothy L. Sayers’ wonderful 1926 novel Clouds of Witness. And “Last Chance Louie,” I suppose.

I kid, but this is a really entertaining episode, and not just because I said “wait a second” to myself about halfway through it. Roddy McDowall gets center stage and he’s completely amazing. He was such a terrific actor! He says goodbye to some of his friends and it’s really gutpunching. He was great in everything. There are also supporting appearances by familiar faces Henry Darrow and Jay Robinson. Darrow was in everything then, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, and it’s always nice to see Dr. Shrinker having the chance to play a straight role without eating all the scenery. Sadly, Jeff Mackay, who played one of the “Shrinkies” in that show, doesn’t get a scene with him.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.16 – Cooked Goose

There are a couple of things in “Cooked Goose” that I found very interesting, neither of which is the main plot. There are no lost tribes or secret Nazi bases in this one; it’s a kidnapping story with a twist visible from space. The less said about it, the better.

But something elevates this episode into one of the best, and that’s Stephen Collins and Jeff Mackay having a knock-down screaming match about Mackay’s character’s drinking. Admittedly I’m not an expert in 1980s American TV because I avoided as much of it as possible at the time. However, other than Captain Furillo in Hill Street Blues, whose sobriety after years of drinking was such an important plot point that they once ended an episode with him in such despair that he went into a package store, knowing that would be a heartbreaking enough of a cliffhanger to kick the audience in the stomach, I can’t think of a show from the period that’s so unflinching about alcoholism as this. It’s also done incredibly well and incredibly fairly. It’s never played for laughs, and the show never preaches.

Admittedly the other characters are not the support system that Corky needs. They work under the idea that, unless Corky is working, one beer is okay, and maybe two on special occasions. What he needs are people to tell him none whatsoever, but I don’t think anybody has the heart or the sense to make him stop. I like that; these are flawed heroes. Just like they did not have any idea how to handle the situation in “Ape Boy”, I like that this series doesn’t present heroes with all the answers.

So what happens this time is that, the night before they need to fly out to Princess Koji’s island to look into a kidnapping that points to her, Corky’s working on stitching some vital engine part together. There’s an explosion, and Corky’s found unconscious and drunk and the plane’s on fire. He doesn’t remember anything – and since the twist of the kidnapping is visible from space, we know he didn’t pass out with work to be done – and the next morning, Jake is absolutely furious. There’s one rule: no drinking when he’s working. Corky is evasive and incredibly upset with himself. He can’t believe he would fall so far, but he can’t remember anything about the night either. And I really like how Jake is shown to be so believably human as to leap to the obvious conclusion and chew out his friend, letting his temper run wild. It’s a tough, tough scene to watch, but the actors played it beautifully.

It takes days for the friends to make up, and it made for a good opportunity to talk with our son about how to handle disagreements with his own friends. You can’t take actions or words back, and sometimes they hurt. I also added that you shouldn’t drink as much as Corky; the main point is that you shouldn’t throw your friends under the bus like this. It’s a Hollywood family show in the eighties, so of course things work out in the end. The outcome isn’t really in doubt, but the acting’s so good, I did wonder just for a second.

The other thing I found interesting deals with Koji, but this post is running long so I’ll try to come back to it next time she shows up. Until then.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.15 – Force of Habit

Of course, the day after I suggest that Jake might not go around smooching pretty guest stars right in front of Sarah, an old girlfriend, played by pretty guest star Pamela Susan Shoop, shows up in the bar. She’s joined a convent and cut ties from her past and Jake just figures she’s playing one of her old practical jokes and plants one on her in the bar in front of everybody.

The reaction is pretty interesting. One lady screams and everybody else is shocked silent. One fellow lets his cigar fall out of his mouth. Would people be so stunned today if they saw somebody smooch a nun in a bar? I don’t know; I see so few nuns in bars these days that it’s hard to judge.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.14 – High Stakes Lady

That was really entertaining! “High Stakes Lady” doesn’t have the weird, larger-than-life high fantasy that I seem to enjoy most in this world – the idols, volcanoes, lost civilizations – but it does have a really solid plot about a gambler who wraps Jake around her finger. She’s obviously up to no good, and anybody who’d insult Princess Koji to her face with that high-strung bodyguard of hers ready to snap is clearly living dangerously, but I was stumped as to what was going on and how Charles Napier, playing a gambler from Texas who’s not what he seems either, fits in. We know that one of the gamblers at Princess Koji’s casino had somebody killed earlier, but who are these people? Criminals? Spies? Nobody’s telling, and when they do, they’re lying.

I also enjoyed a really nice touch in the pre-credits montage. Like a lot of American programs from the seventies and eighties, Tales of the Gold Monkey doesn’t begin with a short, exciting scene to hook the viewers, but a little showreel of exciting moments from the show you’re about to watch. Most of these shows are all pretty bad about giving away key plot points and explosions and smooches, but this montage ends with what looks sure to be the climax of the episode when a small yacht explodes at sea. That happens halfway through this adventure, with another twenty minutes of twists and surprises to go, and no, Napier’s character isn’t what he seems, either.

The kid mostly enjoyed it as well, apart from a lingering bit of relationship stuff early on. Jake and Sarah have settled into more of a buddies friendship, which is what you’d expect from an action show in 1982-83; it leaves the hero free to smooch pretty guest stars when the female lead isn’t around. But the pretty guest star this week starts moving in on her mark right from the get-go, under Sarah’s nose, and she naturally gets both jealous and annoyed that Jake is being such a sucker for a cute blonde. So the kid grumbled about Sarah being angry, but at the end of the show, cap in hand, Jake treats Sarah to a reconciliation lunch and an explanation, and, hopefully, an understanding that if he’s going to go smooching pretty guest stars, he can do it someplace other than Boragora.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.13 – God Save the Queen

Throughout this silly blog’s life, I’ve been incredibly amused by oddball coincidences in actors or plots showing up where I can make a connection. Last night, I was so thrilled by something my wife and I saw that I wanted to write one of my very sporadic “What We’re Not Watching” posts, and mentioned that Roy Dotrice had played Simon Carne / Klimo in a very fun 1971 episode of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Twelve years – and one evening on the sofa – later, and here’s Dotrice again, playing the villain in an episode of Tales of the Gold Monkey.

This one was a ton better than episode twelve. Dotrice has planted bombs on a cruise ship, demanding some jewels, but it turns out that the Duke of Windsor – the former King Edward VIII – is on board as well. Surely the criminal who put together this meticulously planned operation would know that, right? Also on board, a young duchess played by Kathryn Leigh Scott. She had been the token American in several British programs in the 1970s – Thriller, Space: 1999, the BBC’s Dial M for Murder anthology – so at least she’d had the opportunity to pick up a passable accent, which is more than can be said for some of the “jolly ‘oliday wiv yooo”s coming from the fellows playing deckhands.

The kid enjoyed it, apart from the obligatory good long smooch between Scott and Stephen Collins, and afterward we explained why the Duke of Windsor had said that he used to be king, because that seems like the sort of job a fellow has for life. Apart from misremembering and calling him VII instead of VIII, I think I got it mostly right, although I probably know even less about British royal family shenanigans than I do any other subject on the planet. Some other royal abdicated something recently and moved to Canada or Boise or someplace. I didn’t think we threw all that tea in Boston Harbor to give a flip about who royals can marry, but apparently lots of Americans are crazy interested, if the magazines in the grocery store checkout aisle are any indication.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.12 – Ape Boy

And now back to the South Pacific, 1938, or ABC Television, 1983, whichever pleases you, for the second half of Tales of Jake Cutter’s Awesome Dog. In this morning’s episode, they broke out that great big set from the pilot movie, along with redressed versions of the ape costumes – these don’t have the nail-like teeth of the ones we saw first time around – for a story about a kid raised by apes. I do enjoy the idea that the South Pacific in this show is honeycombed with islands full of lost tribes and cargo cults and intelligent apes and volcanoes. It’s not really set in our past, but a mythical never-never land of ideas from fiction. This one comes from Edgar Rice Burroughs, but the flaw in this script is simple: this kid’s not in charge of his own destiny. He’s at the mercy of people who are looking for him, and our heroes – believably enough – have no idea how to manage this situation. None of us particularly cared for it, but I’m sure there are better ones ahead.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.11 – The Sultan of Swat

It’s Tales of the Red Herring this week, as nobody’s telling the truth and at least one man isn’t what he seems. This story is an interesting change of pace, although not a light one. A teenage girl has been killed on the island, and Louie, in his role of the local magistrate, has to act in the interest of blind justice while his friends insist that the prime suspect can’t be the killer. This would be a retired baseball star whose career Jake – himself a former player for a AA team in Duluth – has followed for years. It doesn’t turn into much of a mystery, because there aren’t many suspects, but a race to find the missing, and innocent, home run king before he gets strung up by an angry mob.

That’s all from Bora-Gora for now, but we’ll be back for the second half of Tales of the Gold Monkey in May. Stay tuned!