Buck Rogers 1.7 – The Plot to Kill a City (part two)

I’m impressed. That was a very solid story. I might quibble and grumble about the show playing it safe and not making the future seem very different from 1979, but that was every bit as entertaining as any other science fiction show could have managed in the seventies, and our son loved it. He was much more focused and still tonight than he was with the first episode.

Obviously it’s early hours, and for all I know the rest of this program is as dopey, dated, and disco as its godawful pilot was, but I didn’t dislike any of that. I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but I’ve always agreed with the generally bad reputation that Buck Rogers has, which is probably thanks to that godawful pilot. Even though nothing happens in this story that will be very unpredictable to grownup viewers, it’s done with style and talent and a lot of charm. I hope other episodes are half this good.

Actually, there is just one watched-from-the-future disappointment. Of the three main villains, two of them are killed off quite unceremoniously, and one escapes. I believe she is never seen or heard from again. That’s no way to start a rogues gallery! I like recurring enemies.

Joining the cast this week, it’s James McEachin as an engineer blackmailed into helping the villains. We’ve seen McEachin a couple of times before in this blog – in Universal shows, in fact – but I want to pause this time and note what a good actor he is, with such an expressive voice. McEachin was the star of Tenafly, one of the forgotten NBC Mystery Movies of the seventies. I’ve been aggravated for decades that only about half of those movie series, led, of course, by Columbo, ever got a second life in syndication or home video. I’d love for someone to release Tenafly, McCoy, Cool Million, Faraday & Company and the others.

Buck Rogers 1.6 – The Plot to Kill a City (part one)

And here we have Batvillain # 3, the great Frank Gorshin, classing up the joint as Kellogg, leader of a gang of secretive intergalactic assassins called the Legion of Death. Since most of the killers don’t know what each other looks like, Buck is able to infiltrate their ranks as a heavy called Argus in order to learn the Legion’s plan to destroy New Chicago. But there’s somebody on the planet who does know what Argus looks like, a barhopping cutie played by Markie Post. Can she be trusted to keep Buck’s secret?

I like the way each installment expands the limited world of the future that the pilot showed us. By this point, there seems to be several hundred inhabited planets and space stations. It’s a universe with lots of passenger transport and privately-owned spaceships. Travel in the 25th Century seems to be incredibly cheap, though overall it’s not a very radical conceptualization of what the future might be like. It’s really just 1970s America, but with “Tau Ceti” instead of “Toledo.” There are always customs desks at the spaceports, and taverns, and hotels, and buying attractive people drinks hasn’t changed on any planet in five hundred years.

And I think it works really well. This is a family show and not meant to be too challenging. Writer Alan Brennert fills this adventure with superpowered aliens and backstabbing and double-dealing and quick escapes and it’s all perfectly entertaining, even if none of the alien cultures that we’ve met so far are actually all that alien. Part one ends with Buck’s cover being blown, kind of inevitably, and our son’s pretty anxious to see what will happen next. He particularly enjoyed the telekinetic tricks pulled by one of the assassins, especially when Buck pulls a gun on the villain and the guy just blinks it ten feet in the air.