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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 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 New, Original Wonder Woman (1975)

Well, if Lynda Carter is untying Lyle Waggoner from another fine mess he’s gotten himself into, we must be watching Wonder Woman. Conventional wisdom has it that the first season of this show, the one on ABC that was set during World War Two, was pretty good before it devolved into yet another seventies super-agent series later on. However, this very dopey pilot movie isn’t really all that encouraging.

It could have been a lot worse. ABC had been interested in doing a Wonder Woman series for almost a decade. In 1967, with Batman beginning its tailspin, the network asked that show’s producer, William Dozier, for a very short test film. The result, with Linda Harrison as Wonder Woman, is allegedly a comedy but is the least funny thing ever taped. In 1973, Cathy Lee Crosby starred in a pilot which is notable – if that’s the right word – for having a Steve Trevor, played by Kaz Garas, who’s more interesting than the title character.

Finally, Douglas S. Cramer’s company got the go-ahead and he picked Stanley Ralph Ross to write a script that actually acknowledged an existing comic book character. It’s actually a perfectly acceptable pilot script, and both Carter and Waggoner play their roles fabulously. Unfortunately, they’re the only actors in this misbegotten seventy-five minutes who got the memo that this was an action drama. They underplay their characters and are perfectly watchable. Everybody else in the movie thinks this is an episode of Batman and they keep mugging at the camera, and delivering their lines as if they’re jokes.

And it’s a great cast, too, which is what makes this so darn painful. Kenneth Mars is the main Nazi, with Henry Gibson as his subordinate, who’s secretly a spy for the Americans. Red Buttons, Stella Stevens, and Severn Darden are Nazi spies working in the US. Everybody’s being comedy bad guys, but the script isn’t written to be funny. On the non-villain front, Cloris Leachman plays Paradise Island’s Queen Hippolyta as though there are one or two people in Burbank who couldn’t see or hear her. Both the roles of Hippolyta and General Blankenship, played here by John Randolph, would be recast when the series began a few months later.

Our son was mostly interested in the fight scenes, of course. We gave him a quick history lesson last night to get him prepped for the wartime setting, and explained that this was a time where everybody was spying on each other, and there were lots of bad guys posing as good guys. Surprisingly, though, the thing that confused him the most was a theatrical agent, played by Buttons, offering to hire Wonder Woman and do her bullets-and-bracelets trick onstage. When Buttons’ character turns out to be a spy, it feels for all the world like they already had one actor booked and didn’t want to pay a second.

Actually, I’ll tell you the strangest thing about this script: it spends the whole thing establishing Henry Gibson as the Allies’ man in Germany and he gets completely dropped after this. I cheated and looked ahead down Gibson’s insanely long list of credits, and while he did return to Wonder Woman for a week, that was once the show relocated to the present day and got lousy.

I’m really hopeful that the rest of the wartime series is better than this. It had a very odd network run; ABC ordered thirteen episodes after this pilot did well. They ran the first two as specials at the tail end of the 1975-76 season, and then the remaining eleven in 1976-77. ABC then canceled it, and CBS picked it up and brought it to the present day in a pair of 24-episode seasons.

I certainly remember enjoying the wartime Wonder Woman the most. Fingers crossed that it won’t let us down!

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The Ghost Busters 1.11 – Jekyll & Hyde – Together, for the First Time!

Daniel got the biggest laugh in weeks when Dr. Jekyll, invisible, steals Spencer’s hat. The crew were barely trying. The string is visible from space, in every shot. It didn’t matter. If you’re four, the sight of that hat dancing around the set is a work of pure comedy genius.

If you’re older than four, the main draw of Ghost Busters, of course, is the chemistry between Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch, who are just so incredibly entertaining and silly together. But the secondary draw must be the guest stars, and the incredibly clever and unexpected casting choices. Joe E. Ross, who plays Hyde as a caveman, is a fairly inspired choice, since he had actually played a caveman in Sherwood Schwartz’s poorly-regarded sitcom flop It’s About Time eight years previously… although it’s not all that likely that any of The Ghost Busters‘ young audience would be expected to know that. I wondered how many times in the episode Ross would make his “Oooh! Oooh!” noise. Three.

But the really stunning surprise is Severn Darden playing Dr. Jekyll. He really did have an incredibly varied and full career, with all sorts of roles in comedies and dramas, but he is probably best remembered as one of the original Second City players; in fact he appears to have been only one of three to bridge the gap between the mid-1950s Compass Players, which featured Stiller and Meara, and Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and the first Second City group in 1959. He and Ross seem to have a lot of fun clashing their personalities – Jekyll erudite and snobby, Hyde thoughtless and stupid – and while the material is certainly no challenge to either actor, it looks as though they had fun.

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