Two nights ago, the episode of Xena that we watched had a really cheesy and corny ending with our heroines talking about how they’re lost without each other. The kid gagged, and, in that kid way, refused to stop talking about how corny it was. He asked Marie and me whether we’d ever seen an ending as corny as that. That’s not the sort of list either of us make, so we couldn’t answer.
But then I remembered. Ah yes, “The Rules of Luton” on Space: 1999. It ends, as much TV in the seventies did, with people smiling and cracking a joke, this one coming at the end of fifty minutes of our heroes being on the receiving end of three pissed off telepathic trees and forced to reenact the plot of the Star Trek episode “Arena.” Space: 1999 was always stupid, but the second season, when they tried to be as much like Trek as the law would allow as they boldly went where no moon had gone before, was really, really stupid. And then that episode ended with Martin Landau yukking about picking flowers.
(To drive home the point, when I say telepathic trees, I’m not kidding. This wasn’t stuffing Stanley Adams into a carrot costume, this was a photo of three trees with a actor’s voiceover.)
My story told, I thought that would be the end of Space: 1999 around these parts, but yesterday, something wild happened. The “how does this thing make any money” streaming channel Tubi TV announced it had acquired Dr. Slump. We live in an age of wonders. I opened up Tubi, saw that Arale-chan ain’t there yet, but lo and behold, there is 1999. So I called down the kid to show him the trees and the ending, which was stupid, but less corny and less freeze-frame-smiling than I remembered it, and the kid had two things to say. He wanted a toy of the Eagle transporter, and the title sequence was awesome. Correct, in fairness, on both counts.
But then I said “That title sequence is good, but the first season title sequence is iconic. Check this out.” And his brain exploded. He demanded that we watch the first episode.
I tried to say “Son, I’m telling you, this show is really stupid,” and what he said was conveyed quite silently and I heard it very loudly. What he said was “Old man, stop it. I just saw explosions and cool spaceships and rocking guitar and fast editing and people screaming and the moon being BLOWN OUT OF EARTH’S ORBIT and you are to STOP AT ONCE showing me girls with swords in New Zealand and GIVE ME EXPLODING MOON SPACESHIP ACTION IMMEDIATELY.”
So I said we’d have time Thursday afternoon. And here we are.
He really liked it and wants to see more. Which is reasonable; I enjoyed this from time to time when I was a kid, too. But the first episode is very slow, even by 1999 standards. It’s a long, long investigation into the strange deaths of several astronauts, and none of it is too scientifically ridiculous for a while. The cast is kind of solid: season one features Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Barry Morse as the three leads. Morse is as awesome as he always was, just a terrific, watchable actor in anything. Prentis Hancock, Zienia Merton, and Nick Tate are the first season’s B-team. Guest stars this time include Roy Dotrice, Philip Madoc (for a single scene), and Shane Rimmer. I was saying just last month how Rimmer could usually be heard, uncredited, in shows from the period, and here he is without a credit today.
The explosions are well up to the impossibly high standards of Gerry Anderson’s visual effects wizards, the design is very good, and it’s all just so slow and lifeless and, most of all, dumb. But the space disaster business genuinely pleased the kid and he wants to see more. He might really, really start liking it when weirdo aliens show up. I’ll make sure all the lights are out when we get to the big tentacled thing that everybody remembers in “Dragon’s Domain.”