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The Six Million Dollar Man – The Secret of Bigfoot (part two)

Ha! Well, I wouldn’t have mentioned the neat rotating ice wall from the Universal Studios tour in the previous entry had I remembered this amazing shot, just beautifully photographed, of Andre the Giant carrying Lee Majors through it like a little toy. If you want to make a collage of iconic seventies images, you’d probably want to have this one.

Steve agrees to have his memories of the aliens wiped and Bigfoot returns him home after a somewhat less exciting second part to the story. It’s much more about the strange culture of the aliens than the weird mystery of Bigfoot, who spends the first half of this installment dormant and deactivated. Stefanie Powers has the “show me more of this Earth thing you call kissing” role, and Severn Darden is the leader of the colony, and there’s another alien with allergies, and the rest of them don’t really matter.

I was surprised to learn that this wasn’t actually our son’s favorite Six Million Dollar Man adventure. He clarified that he really, really liked this story, but he says his absolute favorite was “that movie about his first mission, with the missile silo.” Color me surprised, not just because I thought this was much more fun than “Wine, Women and War,” but because he enjoyed the first episode with Jaime so much and was sure he’d go for that one.

Speaking of Jaime, we’ll check in on her again this weekend.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 3.16 – The Secret of Bigfoot (part one)

Forty years later, and “The Secret of Bigfoot” hasn’t lost a lick of its amazing power to thrill six year-olds. In 1976, this took the bionic shows from something that most elementary school kids had at least heard of to something that everybody talked about. In part, that’s because while Bigfoot has always been popular, the beast was never as popular as it was in the seventies. There were comic books, news stories, hokey “documentaries,” B-movies, and toys just like there are today, but with an added buzz that had every kid in America wondering and wishing.

Our son watched Andre the Giant stomping around the California woods in that costume with more energy and nervousness than we may have ever seen, leaving the poor kid babbling like a brook he was so wild about this. He watched those early scenes with just the shadowy form creeping around and attacking the military base camp at night with his eyes wide and making the same complaint that every kid in 1976 must have made: “Oh, I wish they’d show him clearly!” When Bigfoot has the mid-episode brawl with Steve Austin, culminating in the bizarre revelation that he’s a nine-foot tall alien cyborg, he was half-terrified and half-thrilled.

About the brawl: Steve Austin never actually punches anybody in this show, because Universal and ABC were very mindful of showing easily-copied violence in an era where the children’s television censors were watching everything while suffering such awful indigestion. But Steve just slugs Bigfoot right in the stomach and the beast does not flinch at all. I don’t know whether that was Hollywood magic, either. Can you imagine punching Andre the Giant in the stomach and expecting him to flinch?

About the aliens: Stefanie Powers and Severn Darden are among their number, and the entrance to their underground base is the revolving ice tunnel from the Universal Studios train tour with a bunch of blankets thrown over the tracks. It looks terrific, apart from those blankets! Lindsay Wagner has a brief, uncredited cameo as Jaime Sommers, where she phones Oscar as if to say “Hey, don’t forget to watch my show Wednesday night!”

Well, we giggle, because we’re old and jaded and this is, at the end of the day, a silly kid’s show, but man alive, for fifty minutes, it’s the greatest kid’s show ever made. Or, as our son put it, “We watch part two tomorrow night, right?!” God, I hope so. They talked about earthquakes and volcanic vents and an underground nuclear bomb. Part two might even be better than part one.

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The Bionic Woman 1.2 – Welcome Home, Jaime (part two)

It’s not possible, in today’s environment, to watch this episode and not be reminded of the Trumps. I’m not claiming it’s an exact metaphor, but in this story, Carlton Harris, ladykiller that he thinks he is, changes plans once Jaime and Oscar convince him that she’s unhappy with OSI pay and unwilling to work for the government anymore. (A sign of inflation: Jaime balks at the pay Oscar thinks is very, very reasonable for dangerous spy work: $19,000 a year.) He makes Jaime an offer that he thinks she can’t refuse.

The villain’s son, Donald Harris, has just graduated from Harvard Law and is learning first hand about his father’s villainy. He catches Jaime leaving messages for the OSI as she steals some government plans, but just can’t believe that his old man’s really a criminal and has had three agents killed already. The Harrises have a really good, well-acted scene where the young lawyer confronts his industrialist dad about the evidence that he’s left behind which will indict him. It’s almost sad, watching that youthful idealism come crashing into the reality of what Carlton Harris is actually doing, including finding foreign buyers for American military secrets.

Of course, our son is just here for the special effects and explosions, and even though this does veer pretty sharply into “counterfeiters in turtlenecks” territory – Carlton indeed wears a canary yellow turtleneck himself in one scene – the family drama kept my attention while he cheered the bionic stuff.

Also of note: Gordon Jump is here as one of Harris’s industrialist rivals, and ’70s child star Christian Juttner, who we’ve seen a couple of times in this blog, plays one of Jaime’s students.

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The Bionic Woman 1.1 – Welcome Home, Jaime (part one)

I enjoyed springing the surprise that Jaime Sommers got her own show. I told our favorite six year-old critic that we’d be watching some bionic action tonight, and then I told him we would not be watching The Six Million Dollar Man. He watched the pre-credits sequence with a raised eyebrow wondering what was going on.

In the fall of 1975, The Bionic Woman started production and it debuted on ABC the following January. 1976-77 were the golden age of bionics. Now in her own show (it aired Wednesdays while Six remained on Sundays), Jaime moves to Ojai – happily, that blasted doctor stayed behind in Colorado Springs – and takes an apartment above Steve Austin’s parents’ barn at their new ranch. She gets a job teaching a gang of unruly kids – “The Dirty Dozen” – at Ventura AFB, and this first story sees her putting her life and memories together. Meanwhile, Carlton Harris, the villain from that mission she and Steve botched a few months earlier, is getting ready to attack her and get revenge, which seems a bit silly considering how little trouble the bionic agents actually caused him.

This actually kind of reminded me of the original Six pilot movie, because it’s really more of a slow-paced character drama with occasional punctuations of bionic stunts to keep the kids watching. I was pleased that the writer and producer, Kenneth Johnson, decided to give Jaime her memories back, but not her feelings. It is a little heartbreaking when she tells Steve that she knows they were engaged now, but she doesn’t have any love for him yet.

I was less pleased by the surprising reminder of how incredibly touchy everybody was with women in the seventies. Everybody in this show is either embracing or kissing Jaime or putting their hands on her shoulder, even her brand new boss at the military base school. I had a little talk with our son about how that’s not acceptable behavior any longer!

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The Six Million Dollar Man 3.2 – The Return of the Bionic Woman (part two)

The most interesting thing about this story, which, to be honest, I found incredibly boring, is that Steve and Jaime completely fail an assignment. It’s almost like Oscar and Rudy set them up for disaster. Jaime still gets painful flashbacks whenever she looks at Steve, or the town of Ojai, or a tree, or her hand, and they decide that what they really need to do with a woman who lost her legs and an arm and an ear in a skydiving accident is send her on a mission where she needs to jump out of an airplane. Then again, Oscar never considers firing Jaime’s doctor, Michael, despite his constantly acting so amazingly unprofessional that his license to practice medicine should have been revoked.

The second most interesting thing about this story is that it gives Lee Majors’ song “Sweet Jaime” another couple of airings. I’ve grown to appreciate the actor’s skills a little more now that we’re rewatching this. He reminds me of how David Janssen might have played similar scenes as he navigates Steve’s heartbreak, and that’s as genuine a compliment as they come. But Majors wasn’t a singer. I think the only reason that “Sweet Jaime” never showed up on Rhino’s hilarious old Golden Throats collections of actors warbling “rock oddities” tunelessly is that Universal doesn’t seem to have ever released this dopey love song as a single for Rhino to license it. What a shame; the jukeboxes of 1975 America surely demanded it.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 3.1 – The Return of the Bionic Woman (part one)

I’ve picked thirteen episodes to enjoy from the third season of Six and the first season of The Bionic Woman, which originally aired in 1975-76. This year would see Martin E. Brooks become the third actor to play Dr. Rudy Wells and, inevitably, brought back Jaime Sommers, although with an unfortunate difference. This wouldn’t have been a problem had she and Steve not been in love. How do you bring back the lead character’s former fiancee without going forward with the wedding? You give her amnesia.

My wife bristled because, once again, all the menfolk are making Jaime’s decisions for her, but to be fair, she had just wakened from several weeks in a coma without any memory. There’s a notion that bringing back too many of Jaime’s memories will advance the damage to the cells in adjacent parts of her brain, and I don’t know that somebody with only a couple of days’ understanding of the world is really ready to make those kinds of decisions.

Still, while respecting the fact that Lee Majors plays abjectly heartbroken surprisingly well, and that it was Majors and Lindsay Wagner’s undeniable chemistry as bionic lovers that captured the audience’s imagination in ’75, this wouldn’t have even smelled problematic had Jaime been introduced as an independent agent like the Seven Million Dollar Man, Barney, had been. Since Jaime – at this stage – exists only in relation to Steve, Kenneth Johnson really painted himself into a corner. How else do you blamelessly break this couple into two independent, likable leads without amnesia, and keep the audience wondering whether maybe one day they’ll rediscover their love?

This is all, of course, above our son’s head and he would be baffled by the implications. He’s just happy that Jaime is alive, and that she and Steve had a bionic pillow fight in her hospital room.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.20 – The Bionic Woman (part two)

Bless his heart. Our son did better than I feared as Jaime died on the operating table. He squeezed Mommy’s arm very tightly and he was subdued and quiet and very surprised. This certainly wasn’t what he expected. I’m sure it’s not what anybody expected, either. The entire plot about Malachi Throne and the stolen $20 plates is over and done with – as cheaply as possible – by the halfway point of the episode.

The rest of the episode is Jaime’s slow and sad deterioration, with her body rejecting the bionics and Dr. Wells having no idea what’s gone wrong until it’s too late. Guest stars die occasionally in shows like these, and so the overwhelming attachment that the audience had for Lindsey Wagner’s character surprised everybody. We went ahead and spoiled her return for him, since he seemed blue and out of sorts.

We’ll take a few weeks’ break from this show. Jaime Sommers will be back around the end of the month.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 2.19 – The Bionic Woman (part one)

I was a little antsy about how our son’s going to handle the end of this two-part adventure before we sat down. Now I’m a lot antsy. After all, when the producers of The Six Million Dollar Man decided to make a two-part story to let Lee Majors stretch his acting muscles – and, sadly, his singing voice – and break Steve Austin’s heart, they didn’t know that they had a big companion show in the offing.

So obviously, this is all going to turn out okay down the road, but for those of you who don’t know, the original two-parter that introduces Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman, was not intended to launch a franchise. It will end tomorrow night with the character’s death. And our son has never seen a major guest star die before. The only hope I had is that he was going to be a little impatient with all the lovey-dovey stuff this week.

Nope. Not at all. “You’ve never liked the kissy stuff before,” exclaimed Mommy. And he did like it. He was absolutely charmed by Steve and Jaime falling in love and announcing their engagement. Oh, man. Tomorrow’s going to hurt.

Also of note…

* The villain is a counterfeiter played by the great Malachi Throne. He vows revenge on Steve Austin. Our son believes Steve and Jaime will both punch him in the face.

* The episode was written by Kenneth Johnson, and it’s darn near his first screenwriting credit. IMDB credits him with just a couple of episodes of Adam-12 and Griff prior to this. Johnson became Jaime Sommers’ principal writer and went on to become American TV’s go-to guy for sci-fi in the seventies and eighties, developing The Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation, and V, among others.

* I was a little bothered that Steve didn’t explain bionics to Jaime before sending for Dr. Wells to make her a cyborg. She didn’t have any choice in the matter; men made all her decisions. Let’s be honest, though. Few of us would have been bothered had we seen this when it was made, 41 years ago. Times have changed for the better.

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