Tag Archives: kenneth johnson

The Bionic Woman 2.14 – Doomsday is Tomorrow (part two)

Well, the most important thing is that our son enjoyed the second episode more than he did the first. “I LOVED that episode,” he said, before adding “but part one was…” and he stuck out his tongue. The peanut gallery has spoken.

The second most important thing is that “Doomsday is Tomorrow” really entertained me as well. You could argue there’s a disagreeable cop-out near the end, but there are also a lot of completely unexpected twists and turns. Pretty much the whole thing is Lindsay Wagner stomping through some big industrial complex – I dunno where this was filmed, but if Disney showed up a year later to make the second Witch Mountain movie, I wouldn’t be surprised – arguing with the disembodied voice of ALEX 7000, pledging that the next round of defenses will surely kill her, so she should stop now. And yet Wagner is so good, and the plot keeps throwing surprises at us as ALEX improvises new ways to stop her, that this never feels like a low-budget way to do two episodes with a small cast. It feels like the end of the world.

Kenneth O’Brien has a whole lot less to do in the second part than I had thought, and Lew Ayres is only here briefly, having recorded his messages of doom to humanity before he died in part one. This is as close to a solo turn for a program’s protagonist as it got in the seventies, and it’s a genuine pleasure. I’m very glad that I picked this one.

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The Bionic Woman 2.13 – Doomsday is Tomorrow (part one)

He’s enjoyed the last few things that we’ve watched despite some worrying monsters and menace, but our son didn’t like part one of this story at all. I thought it was surprisingly good, miles better than that business with the police academy. “Doomsday is Tomorrow” was written, produced, and directed by Kenneth Johnson, and concerns a dying scientist and his seventies evil supercomputer triggering a Dr. Strangelove-style doomsday device, which will destroy all life on earth six hours after anybody, anywhere, ever triggers a nuclear device in the atmosphere.

The trouble is that just as soon as he reveals his threat and proves to a team of international scientists that he’s not bluffing, some middle eastern nogoodniks from Nosuchlandia decide this is a plot by the superpowers to stop their hydrogen bomb program and start a countdown. Jaime, teamed with a Soviet agent and electronics expert, has to race against time to penetrate more than six miles of artillery, lasers, and a minefield – that’s the second minefield we watched today! – to get back to the complex.

The problem with our son is that while, as a six year-old, he certainly loves lasers and explosions, he really, really didn’t like seeing Jaime so close to danger. He was so worried about her as she ran through the artillery barrage that it colored everything else!

Meanwhile, I did want to note that the scientist is played by Lew Ayres, who was a guest star in everything in the sixties and seventies, especially everything that Universal made. I remember him as a Nazi hunter working on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig in an early Route 66. Jaime’s unplanned partner is played by Kenneth O’Brien, another regular guest star actor of the day, and who we saw a year ago in an episode of Ark II. The evil supercomputer, ALEX, is voiced by Guerin Barry. Looks like two years later, he’d play another computer voice in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It was the seventies. Computers only spoke with men’s voices then, but things eventually changed didn’t they, Siri?

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The Bionic Woman 2.1 – The Return of Bigfoot (part two)

Happily, our son wasn’t horrified by tonight’s conclusion to this epic two-parter. How could he be? Jaime plays defense against Bigfoot in her two fights much more effectively than Steve does, and doesn’t get thrown like a rag doll against any power converters with exploding sparks everywhere. From the evidence provided by this show, the main strategy one should employ when fighting cyborg sasquatches is to fight them outside. Indoors, you get clobbered.

I tease, but this silly story is a downright masterpiece in writing for under-tens. It has Bigfoot and it has an erupting volcano. Our son was a little leery when we got started, and was really worried about Jaime at first, but then he realized that the villains had moved their headquarters underneath an inactive volcano. He’s savvy enough to realize that in adventure fiction, volcanoes rarely remain inactive for long.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 4.1 – The Return of Bigfoot (part one)

The pre-credits scene revealed that Bigfoot was back, and things looked good. Our son glowed. “He caused so much destruction last time! Don’t you remember all that destruction that he caused?!” But before the hour was up, things would fall apart.

So, famously, the 1976-77 season of the Bionic series opened with a very celebrated crossover, the seventies ABC equivalent of the annual Arrowverse get-together on the CW. The aliens who control Bigfoot have had an uprising, and a gang of them have stolen both the Sasquatch and their wonder drug, and are now pilfering top secret facilities to get the parts they need to build a force field. One of the aliens restores Steve’s memory, he tries to stop Bigfoot alone, fails, finally tells his co-stars, including Jaime, what’s going on, nobody believes him, and he makes another attempt as they go for the last isotope they need.

And Steve Austin gets his ass handed to him. It is a beatdown to remember.

But first, let’s look at just how forward-looking Kenneth Johnson’s story is. This episode is more than just simply crossing over the two shows with the extremely popular Bigfoot. It’s done with some really impressive guest casting. Severn Darden and Stefanie Powers are back from the first Bigfoot story, and they’ve brought Sandy Duncan along as a newly-introduced alien, and the leader of the villains is that omnipresent baddie of seventies teevee, John Saxon. That’s a great cast, and everybody is working hard to sell this silliness. I love the way that the plot of the story is simplicity itself, but explaining all this stuff about hidden aliens and time-dilation devices and Bigfoot is so convoluted and ridiculous that Steve looks completely crazy telling his friends about it. I really like Lindsay Wagner’s acting in this scene; her life is already unbelievable, but this tall tale is pushing it.

Our son was enjoying it even more than I was until that second fight. Again, you have to consider the time and the audience. Television superheroes suffer a lot worse these days with all sorts of blood and bruising, but for a seventies show, in the eyes of a six year old, this is horrifying. Bigfoot’s been amped up by John Saxon, and Steve doesn’t have a prayer. Andre the Giant did not return to the role; Ted Cassidy plays Bigfoot this time out, and he just makes mincemeat of our hero. It finally ends with Steve’s bionic legs being crushed underneath some huge thing or other, which made even me gasp, and that’s with me knowing the grievous injury that we’re going to see Jaime suffer in a few days’ time.

Our son couldn’t bear to watch. He left the room completely with his security blanket, and came back shaking. He was a mess. He curled up on the couch as Dr. Wells gave Steve less than 24 hours to live, and Steve whispered instructions to Jaime, to get help from the aliens. We did our best to assure him that Jaime will save the day. Man, I hope so…

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The Bionic Woman 1.14 – The Ghosthunter

I wonder how the producers of this show decided what would be acceptable fantasy elements and what would be outlandish enough to make the characters question it. Bionics, robots, space aliens, psychic powers, those are all okay and understandable, but ghosts? Admittedly, by this point in the two shows, it’s Steve who has seen all the really bizarre stuff, but if there is a ghost in Essexville, Massachusetts haunting a descendant of a woman who was executed in nearby Salem, are you honestly going to tell me it’s that much more wild than those aliens with the toxic skin who crashed on Earth?

This isn’t a bad story at all. It’s the first season finale, written and directed by the show’s producer, Kenneth Johnson, and it looks like an end-of-season cheapie, with only four guest speaking parts, but it’s well-made and effective. Especially so for our son, who, for the first time in ages, got really upset by the frights. About a half an hour after we finished watching it, he started weeping because he was “freaked out” and didn’t want to get ready for bed!

But before the frights, he was absolutely outraged by another moment. Jaime and her boyfriend-of-the-week take a canoe into the lake for some grown-up time away from the boyfriend’s daughter, who looks to be about twelve or so. He suggests that she take a nap. Our son didn’t appreciate that at all. “You should never leave a kid alone! Never!” he shouted. We don’t even joke about going in to pay for our gasoline without him. I almost told him that forty years ago, parents did leave their kids alone like that, but I decided against it. The world’s insane enough now without letting him know what degenerates we were in the seventies.

We’ll be taking a short break from the two Bionic series, but will resume with seasons four and two at the end of the month!

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The Six Million Dollar Man 3.17 – 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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