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Buck Rogers 1.23 and 1.24 – Flight of the War Witch

Well, now that is how you do a season finale. It’s the sort of thing that we expect now, but I don’t believe was all that common in 1980: a good chunk of location filming, including a big all-terrain vehicle, and a pile of guest stars. Not only are Pamela Hensley and Michael Ansara back as Ardala and Kane, but we’ve got two new enemies played by Julie Newmar and Sid Haig, along with Sam Jaffe and Vera Miles as the peace-loving people who need our heroes’ help.

Look, I’m predisposed to like anything with Newmar, for obvious reasons. Add Sid Haig as her second-in-command and I’m not going to say anything bad about it even if it was lousy. But this was really entertaining! I do feel there was one very dated missed opportunity, but this was huge fun and I enjoyed it almost as much as our son did. He had a blast. All the regulars get a chance to shine, and Twiki gets to have an ongoing war of nerves with some R2-D2 cash-in. Our kid will be imitating Twiki’s growl about that other robot having the brain of a can opener for days.

I was quite surprised by what he didn’t like. As regular readers know, he can’t stand Princess Ardala. Here, the Draconians are forced into an uneasy treaty with the Earthmen to battle the War Witch Zarina and her battalion. But Ardala’s just gotta Ardala and she tries to have a woman-to-woman talk with Zarina to sell out everybody and split… with Buck, of course. Zarina is not even remotely impressed. She calmly, firmly, quietly puts Ardala in her place and calls her a spoiled child and has her guards drag her away.

Our son was so shocked that he found himself on Ardala’s side and broke out his finger blasters to start “shooting” Zarina. She’s a villain so evil that she’s reduced his previous most-hated-villain into a shrieking tantrum. “You hate her even more than Ardala?” I asked. “Yes! She’s WORSE!”

Ardala’s deterioration over her four appearances isn’t all that surprising, but she’s really treated like a man-hungry comedy foil this time out. This reaches its nadir in a scene that the Neanderthal in me kind of loved, but I think they’d play it a lot differently today. She’s in a cell with Buck and another fellow and they trick the guards in, because this always works on television, and the two fellows beat up the guards while Ardala hides under the bed and trips them by their ankles. The part I liked came when she asks how she can help now the four dudes are clobbered, and Buck says “You can take their clothes off,” and Ardala’s all about that.

Sure, it was funny, and Pamela Hensley, as you see, has a delightfully devilish look in her eyes as she gets down to the task. But you know what would have been even funnier? Ardala should have beaten up the four dudes by herself and told Buck and his pal to undress them. That would have been a fabulous revelation: that the Emperor Draco raised his daughters to be the meanest fighters in the galaxy, but this one’s just happier being a sex kitten.

That wraps up Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for us. There was another season I’m not interested in, but life’s too short. Our kid definitely enjoyed it more than I did, but this story was very good, and so were “The Plot to Kill a City”, which was downright excellent, and “Cosmic Whiz Kid”. And they were all better than that terrible pilot movie!

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MacGyver 1.17 – To Be a Man

This show was pretty tedious to begin with. Since Terry Nation’s name vanished from the opening credits around episode 13, it’s been a chore. Sid Haig and Persis Khambatta are in this one, and Haig dies twenty minutes into it. There are some explosions in this one. Our son was happy. Maybe the next one will be better.

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MacGyver 1.3 – Thief of Budapest

So I picked this episode because Terry Nation wrote part of it, and because both Michael Constantine and Sid Haig – yes, two Electra Woman villains – are in it. I did not realize that The Italian Job is also in it.

This is all kinds of shameless. As soon as I saw the red, white, and blue Minis that MacGyver and his Hungarian chums would be using for their getaway, I said “Oh, cute, The Italian Job,” expecting a winking little in-joke. I wasn’t expecting a good five minutes of footage culled from the movie! The entire climax is old footage and the actors in the studio in front of rear screen projection. And as for the footage, if southern California didn’t look anything like Hungary already, 1969 Turin doesn’t look a blessed thing like 1985 Budapest either.

Still, our favorite six year-old critic has not yet seen The Italian Job, and he thought this was one of the most fun car chases ever. “Oh my goodness, they’re on top of a building!” he shouted at one point. He concluded by letting us know that this was so insane that they need to invent a new word to tell you how insane this is.

Did they do this on MacGyver regularly? I’d kind of prefer for our son to see the original feature ahead of either a case where an old movie gets cannibalized or a parody, which is why I intend to show him The Maltese Falcon a couple of weeks before we watch that Terry Nation-written episode of The Avengers that spoofed it. I guess I should confirm with my wife that there aren’t any episodes where MacGyver goes looking for a Big W, huh?

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Jason of Star Command 2.12 – Battle for Freedom

This was an interesting surprise. I’ve mentioned before that Saturday morning shows typically didn’t have a planned “final episode” as we’d know them today, but Jason of Star Command comes closer than just about any of its peers. We get a positive bonanza of special effects with a bunch of brand new good guy spaceships – all “unmanned drones,” of course – and Dragos is banished to another dimension where he can either never be seen again if the show wasn’t renewed or brought back if it was, and Professor Parsafoot gets a new sweetheart, played by Udana Power.

Our son absolutely loved it. He had aliens to jeer, and explosions in space to wow, and he got to sneer “ha-ha!” as Dragos fades from the universe, swearing vengeance. What’s not to like?

As it was, the show was not renewed, since CBS figured that they could edit the first season’s 16 chapters into eight half-hours and they had a twenty episode package to rerun in the 1980-81 TV season. And so that brought an end to Filmation’s time producing live-action television. They focused exclusively on animation for the next decade, including the popular Blackstar and He-Man / She-Ra cartoons, and a little-remembered Shazam! cartoon that was a whole lot more faithful to the original funnybooks than their live-action show had been.

(Well, I say “exclusively,” but Shazam! was paired with an Archie-like superhero comedy called Hero High in an hour package with the tortuous name of The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!, and that had these deeply dopey live-action musical segments… oh, just see for yourself.)

Anyway, Jason was Craig Littler’s last starring role, but he was a regular face in guest star parts for the next twenty years when he wasn’t the face of Gorton’s Seafood in commercials. Charlie Dell is also still in the business, and shows up in small parts in all sorts of big movies, including Liar Liar and Fight Club. John Russell and Tamara Dobson have sadly passed away. Dobson left the business in the eighties but was still being interviewed about Cleopatra Jones for decades; Russell, a veteran of TV and movie westerns, was still finding cowboys and tough guys to play until the end of his life.

And Sid Haig… well, the man’s a legend. IMDB says he’s got six more movies awaiting release, and he’s a regular on the sci-fi and horror autograph/con circuit. His career slowed in the early 1990s, but then Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie, aficionados of the grindhouse horror and exploitation films where he appeared so regularly in the seventies, revived his career with grisly, modern takes on those sorts of films. House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects brought him a huge new fanbase and, as low-budget horror films took off again eleven or twelve years ago, he started getting more job offers than he had for many years.

I may really dislike these sorts of movies, but I sure do like Sid Haig. Maybe somewhere down the road a ways, our favorite five year-old critic will be a teenager, and he and his no-good teenager friends will watch something like Kill Bill. “Hey,” he’ll shout, “that’s Dragos!”

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Jason of Star Command 2.11 – Mimi’s Secret

Interesting… I had assumed that the second season of Jason of Star Command was made up of four three-part adventures, but “Little Girl Lost” and “Mimi’s Secret” seem to be a two-parter, with nothing really to carry over into the final episode, which we’ll see this weekend. The strange Mimi doll, as it turns out, isn’t actually alive, but it’s a semi-sentient tracking device to home in on the missing scientist. That’s not as creepy as it appeared last time.

And speaking of weird assumptions… I’ve written previously, especially in regard to Ark II, about how information about some of these old kid shows was a little iffy in the pre-internet days. Some magazines and books just gave out information, like episode guides, that was flat out wrong.

With that in mind, I swore that I remember copying down an episode list to this show many, many years ago that contained an episode called “The Adventures of Peepo and W1K1,” but there’s not an episode by that name in this set. So I dug around my shelves and found it, hidden away in a 1991 book by Jeff Lenburg called The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons.

In the listing for Tarzan and the Super 7, which was the anthology home of Jason‘s first season, there’s an episode list for the first sixteen chapters, and thirteen of them are incorrect. For example, it says that the ninth chapter was called “The Adventures of Peepo and Wicky (sic),” when it was actually entitled “Peepo’s Last Chance.” Perhaps one of Lenburg’s sources provided him with pre-production information, before the episodes were completed and the titles finalized? Or maybe some joker just made stuff up and pranked Lenburg? Whatever the case, the misinformation didn’t creep out too much; I’ve only found the incorrect titles on just one site, the Big Cartoon Database. But this is a good reminder of those weird days when research was shaky and mistakes were easy to publish, whether by accident or design.

Anyway, this episode was the last for the evil Queen Medusa, played by Francine York, who made for a pretty entertaining recurring villain. Dragos didn’t have much of anything to do this time, but maybe he’ll go out with a bang in the finale? Stay tuned!

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Jason of Star Command 2.10 – Little Girl Lost

You may well wonder why I picked an image of a knockoff Raggedy Ann doll to illustrate an episode that features both a thirty foot-tall ape monster and the return of Francine York as Medusa. That’s because the doll, Mimi, surprised the heck out of me about three minutes into the show by coming to life and looking around. Amazingly, nothing more was done with this plot development this week as Jason and his friends, rescuing a little girl called Heidi, get chased around by the monster and Medusa. Then, right at the end, the doll raises its head and looks around as everybody heads back to Star Command. Neat little cliffhanger, honestly.

Obviously, I think the doll was this episode’s high point, but our son was floored by the big monster. It wasn’t quite scary enough to send him behind the sofa, but it did have him hiding his head behind his mother’s back. So call that a medium-level fright!

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Jason of Star Command 2.9 – Phantom Force

In this episode, we learn that Samantha’s instincts about mothering are pretty bad, but when it comes to random guesses between one real planet and four fake ones, she’s dead on target. She unwittingly brings a hologram of Dragos on board Star Command. The villain is disguised as a little kid, and is played by David Comfort, a popular child actor of the time.

The highlight came when the kid revealed himself as Dragos, prompting our son to bellow “Oh, come on! Seriously?!” We’re not sure whether that was his suspended disbelief crumbling, or if he just couldn’t take one more headache in everybody’s bad day.

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Jason of Star Command 2.8 – Face to Face

There’s a charming bit in this episode when Jason says that all these caves look familiar. They’re the same caves that he and the Space Academy students have been walking around in for three seasons now. This one, however, has that lovely feature of walls that close in, which is the greatest thing ever when you’re a kid.

“Face to Face” threatens to be one of sci-fi TV’s many “Arena”/”Rules of Luton” stories, with our hero battling an alien enemy. But since seventies Saturday morning rules about violence would make that really, really dull, they quickly have to work together to survive since the planet they’re on is alive and wants to kill both of them. Our son enjoyed this story, and I got to be a good dad and remind him about the importance of working together. Much older than five, he’d see that as pretty cheesy, but it works for now.

BONUS MATERIAL! Sid Haig’s Dragos is barely in this episode, but this great actor gets the spotlight over at Comfort TV this week, with a look at some of his most memorable TV guest appearances. Go check it out!

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