Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Do You Remember...

Pointless nostalgia time. Have you ever remembered something so vaguely that you’re not even sure it really happened? I don’t mean repressed memories or drug induced hallucinations, I’m talking about something more important that that. Old TV shows. These days we’re so bombarded with pop culture. Virtually every device we own spews it out in one form or another, until we’re drowning in a cacophony of noise. We had to invent things like TiVo just to sort through it all and pull out the good bits, otherwise they might just fly right by unnoticed. And anything that goes unnoticed for more than four seconds gets canceled and disappears from our consciousness like it never existed. But once in a while we catch a fleeting glimpse of something out of the corner of our eye, and then it disappears and we’re left wondering if we really saw it, like it was Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. Well, I’ve decided to delve into my own personal repertoire of mythical monster sightings and pull out a few to share with you all. And yes, I have confirmed that each one of these shows really existed and I didn’t just make them up, despite how ridiculous some of them may sound.

“Space Rangers”, 1993, 13 Episodes

This show featured a rugged, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants space cowboy captain, a fat cyborg with a taste for Motown, a woman from a female dominated society who shares her name with a circus freak, an alien ninja who has to wear a “pacifier” around his neck to keep from killing everyone, and Clint Howard. I’ll let you decide which of those things is the strangest (I’m going with Clint Howard). They flew around and had various adventures on the frontiers of explored space, keeping the peace, teaching alien women to love, the usual stuff.

My favorite character was Doc, the fat cyborg (I think he was the engineer). I’ve always had a fascination with cyborgs, they can be heroic (The Bionic Six) or tragic (Robocop) or horrifying (The Borg). But rarely are they fat, sarcastic, cigar-chomping grizzled old ground pounders who’ve been around so long that the galaxy is littered with their discarded limbs. Doc always looked like he was held together with bailing wire and duct tape. At one point he had to pull his artificial heart out and bang on it to get it started again. Overweight, out of shape, barely functioning, but still he flies around in space and kicks series amounts of ass. This guy’s balls must have been huge, on whatever alien planet he happened to leave them behind on.

“Island City”, 1994, Pilot

Island City was a two hour pilot movie that never got picked up. The premise is this: A drug is invented that stops people from aging, everyone takes it, it turns ninety percent of the Earth’s population into cavemen, and the other ten percent have to band together in fortress cities just to survive. It starred Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman, as the city’s commander, and Will & Grace’s Eric McCormack as Greg 23, a genetically engineered soldier who, while brilliant, wasn’t coordinated enough to walk and chew gum at the same time. You think you don’t get along with your siblings, imagine having 22 genetically defective identical brothers who all hate you. Thanksgiving must be rough.

The most notable thing about the show however is the different colored crystals that all the characters wear on their chest. You see, even though all the survivors of this Armageddon didn’t turn into recessives (the afore-mentioned cavemen) they still all took the anti-aging drug, so they are still all carriers. Therefore breeding is strictly regulated to make sure that they don’t make any more baby cavemen, so you’re only allowed to bump uglies with people with the same colored crystal as you. This makes the bar scene on Island City a surprisingly easy place to pickup a date. “Hey baby, I’m green and you’re green, so our children won’t be hideously deformed monsters. Can I buy you a Zima?”

And did I mention that one of the characters is a half human, half caveman product of rape? That’s fun, right? I can’t imagine why this show didn’t get picked up.

“Star Command”, 1996, Pilot

I once read somewhere that the creators of Red Dwarf had the idea to fill the pilot of the show with big named stars, tricking the audience into thinking that this would be the cast of the show, only to kill them off two thirds of the way through and revealing the true stars of the show, the slob and the prick. Of course, it’s hard to get big name stars to agree to be on a show where they are almost immediately killed off, but the 1996 pilot/movie Star Command did exactly that. Chad Everett and Morgan Fairchild play two officers in the space navy who take a group of six ensigns on a training mission, and then are almost immediately killed. This leaves the six ensigns alone to defend themselves from their enemies and embark on a mission to prevent a war. This ragtag group of young space cadets have to learn to work together and be a crew without their superiors there to guide them, all alone against the harsh universe, these plucky underdogs come through in the end and prove their metal. Oh, except for one of them who turns out to be a real prick and the others decide to kill him, but then he commits suicide. But other than that, heartwarming and inspirational. Truly.

Also, just to note my pervious point, the memory of this show was so hazy that it took me nearly an hour to find it on IMDB because I kept misremembering the cast and the title. I thought it was called Space Command and the only cast member I remembered correctly was Morgan Fairchild. I thought the Chad Everett part was played by Charlton Heston, and I thought two of the ensigns were Wil Wheaton and Clea Duvall. Apparently when my brain doesn’t have the proper information, it just makes stuff up that’s close. Stupid brain.

“Kindred: The Embraced”, 1996, 8 Episodes

Based on the RPG “Vampire: The Masquerade”, Kindred was a show about warring vampire clans in modern day San Francisco, and the Prince of the city, Julian Luna, who tried to keep order among them. The show focused on five clans, leaving out many others from the RPG and causing gamers everywhere to wet themselves. “You mean our exceedingly complicated clan system isn’t being strictly observed for this television show? How dare they?!” Calm down fanboy, just be glad they made the show in the first place. These days when the average person hears RPG, the think ‘Rocket Propelled Grenade’, not ‘Role Playing Game’.

Of the five clans that Julian oversees, the heads of which, called Primogens, include his lover, his sire, his best friend, and his bodyguard. The Primogen of the fifth clan, the Brujah, naturally feels left out. So he tried to have Julian killed with help from his lover, Stacy Haiduk of Superboy and SeaQuest fame, who’s pissed at Julian because he’s been making time with this human reporter. So Julian has the Brujah Primogen killed, and the Brujah retaliate by turning Julian’s “niece”, his last human descendant. Julian’s niece and his bodyguard then have this whole Romeo and Juliet thing going, because they’re in love but their clans are sworn enemies. Confused yet? No wonder they don’t make shows out of role playing games anymore. The show also starred C. Thomas Howell in one of his few non-blackface roles.

This one I’ve actually rewatched recently, which is why I remember the story so well. It was pretty good I thought, it managed to do something different with the vampire genre. It was part crime drama, part supernatural thriller, part political drama, and part soap opera. Unfortunately the show’s star, Mark Frankel, died in a motorcycle accident and the show was canceled, otherwise I think it could have been a hit.

In the intervening years the whole vampire genre has gone from dark, brooding and violent to teen angsty vampires who go to high school and sparkle in the sunlight. It’s a fucking tragedy.

“Perversions of Science”, 1997, 10 Episodes

Imagine “The Twilight Zone” meets “Tales From the Crypt” meets softcore porn. This was a show that aired late at night on HBO after all, so a certain amount of boobs were expected. Wil Wheaton did make an appearance in this one, I’m sure of it. He played a crewmember on a space station that ended up killing his crew in an emergency that turned out to be a drill. There was also an episode where a man got a sex change to become a woman, and then went back in time and had sex with himself. You get the idea of the formula:

Sci-Fi Premise + Twilight Zone Twist Ending + Gratuitous Sex and Nudity = Fun!

They tried this premise again recently on network TV, minus the nudity of course, with a show called “Masters of Science Fiction”. They took short stories by well known authors, got a couple real stars to make appearances, and fun was had by all. They made six episodes, only four of them aired. I don’t get it. It seems like every few years there’s this hardon to recapture the Twilight Zone magic from the 50’s, but they can never get it done. In the case of these two shows, they were well done, the premises were original, there just didn’t seem to be an audience for it. Although in the case of “Masters”, it was never really given a fair chance.

It seems like no matter how big science fiction gets, the networks still treat it like it’s some small niche market. Then they put a show in a shitty time slot, don’t promote it, and when the ratings fail they say “See, nobody watches this science fiction stuff.” Even the Sci-Fi Channel is getting away from the science fiction image by renaming themselves SyFy and showing wrestling. What is the point of that? Does everything on TV have to have the broadest appeal possible? The answer of course is yes, that’s how they make money, but they’re shooting themselves in the foot. You can never please everybody with a single show, and by trying all you end up doing is pleasing nobody.

What do you think, Sirs? What’s the most obscure, short-lived TV show that you can remember?


  1. What, no mention of Street Hawk? Or is that not obscure enough?


  2. Street Hawk is so obscure that I forgot about it. In the 80's there was a whole sub-genre of shows that I like to call "It's like Knight Rider, only with a motorcycle/train/helicopter/speedboat/moped/etc..."

    Here are a few more honorable mentions:

    "Super Force", 1990
    Basically a poor man's Iron Man on a motorcycle. Or perhaps, a rich man's Street Hawk.

    "Deadly Games", 1995
    One of another genre that I call "Shows from UPN's first season that aren't Voyager". This one had a video game that came to life, Christopher Lloyd as the bad guy, and many cameos by Star Trek alumni.

    "Thunder in Paradise", 1994
    This one was basically Knight Rider with a boat and Hulk Hogan. Back in the 90's, when wrestlers got too old to wrestle, the made crappy TV shows. Now they make crappy movies and/or run for office. It was a simpler time back then.

  3. There was only one other super-vehicle show besides Knight Rider that's worth mentioning, really. Airwolf. It's a rip-off of Blue Thunder (which debuted like, a year or two before), but it had the advantage of not looking like it was welded together in shop class.

    Also, it had a hero named Stringfellow Hawke! It probably lasted a season past its shelf life on the strength of that alone.

    Hmmm... how many fanfics of Knight Rider vs. Airwolf are out there? I care enough to ask, but not enough to google...


    P.S. I totally forgot to mention on the last blog, but Third Warp Nacelle goes to the top of my list for Possible Rock Band Names.