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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 1.1 – 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 3.9 – The Bionic Criminal

Monte Markham returned for a second outing as the other bionic man, now renamed Barney Hiller without in-story comment, in this pretty entertaining story by Peter Allan Fields and Richard Carr. This was the fourth of seven episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man that Carr wrote or co-wrote; he’d been writing for westerns and other dramas since the early 1950s. Among his credits is a first season Batman story for the Riddler.

Our son enjoyed this one more than Barney’s original appearance, which surprised me. It is a good story: Barney agrees to be reactivated for 48 hours in an experiment to see whether bionic powers can be turned off and on again in case of national emergencies, but is blackmailed by a former OSI scientist, played by Donald Moffat, into robbing banks. We know Moffat as Rem in Logan’s Run already, and I am pleasantly amused that we got to see one of his bionic appearances alongside our screenings of Run.

But while this episode does have another slow-motion bionic fistfight, which pleased our son, it’s nowhere as destructive and entertaining as the one in Barney’s first appearance. The deciding factor, it turns out, is a long scene where Barney tries to resume his career as a race car driver. A fast car put this one over the top. Six year-olds!

Two other thoughts strike me: there’s an incredibly long flashback with several clips to Barney’s initial outing. It seems really strange to devote almost four minutes to an in-story memory. This episode is one of the few we’ve seen that does not have a pre-title sequence at all, where a “Previously on…” recap might normally go. I wonder why they decided to build a nearly four minute flashback into the narrative instead of just cutting something shorter together before the opening credits.

But the really unusual surprise is that Alan Openheimer returns in this story as Dr. Wells. By chance, this morning’s viewing comes just as a couple of Doctor Who fans – there will always be a couple of Doctor Who fans to make you roll your eyes and sadly say “there are these couple of Doctor Who fans…” – are outraged and upset that the powers that be have recast the role of the First Doctor for a team-up episode. Apparently, every other recasting in all of television and film is acceptable, but because each Doctor is special and magical and sacred, and the show invented the concept of regeneration, then if any Doctor now or in the future were to meet an old version in a team-up, then they should only use one of the last few Doctors, and honorably retire the ones played by actors who have died.

So in The Six Million Dollar Man, we’ve got a character who’s been played by Martin Balsam, then Alan Oppenheimer, then Martin E. Brooks, then Oppenheimer again, and Brooks will take back over the next time Dr. Wells is seen. The world kept turning. But David Bradley playing the First Doctor is some kind of sacrilege despite William Hartnell being dead since 1975. It’s a fictional character in a popular drama, not a blessed holy relic, you know.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 3.6 – The Deadly Test

I must have picked this episode because Tim O’Connor’s in it. He’s the top-billed guest star, but he’s not actually in it much. It’s set at a USAF test pilot school with airmen from all around the country. Erik Estrada plays a major from the nation of Kutan, who doesn’t get along with a pilot from Israel. One of them is being targeted by a criminal scientist with a device that makes planes crash. Our son enjoyed all the footage of jets more than the grown-ups enjoyed anything.

Proving that you can start with something small and dull and turn it into a very impressive career, this appears to be the first screen credit for James D. Parriott, who would go on to write some more Bionic-universe episodes at the start of a very long career. He would later create Forever Knight and join the production staff of Grey’s Anatomy for a while. He’s currently one of the producers of Amazon’s spy comedy Patriot.

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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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