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SF&F Television

PostPosted: Tuesday, 05 May 2009, 9:02 pm
by DavidTate
Eric's post on Sapphire and Steel got me to thinking about other television SF I have seen, good and bad. Here are a few random thoughts on older shows and specials.

The Prisoner (1968). 17 unforgettable episodes; Patrick McGoohan at the peak of his powers. A government agent resigns; he is immediately kidnapped, and awakens in a strange Village, where he is asked -- subtly and unsubtly -- why he resigned. Has he been taken by his former enemies, or his former employers? Or some umbrella organization encompassing both? Uneven and occasionally surreal, this series broke the mold for television drama, and made possible many things we now take for granted. I'm particularly partial to the episodes "A, B, and C" and "The Schizoid Man", though "Chimes of Big Ben" and "Living in Harmony" are also awfully good.

The People (1972). A surprisingly faithful adaptation of Zenna Henderson's series of short stories about the pious alien who find themselves stranded in the American frontier. William Shatner and Kim Darby, of all people. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola (!?)

The Lathe of Heaven (1980). A very faithful adaptation of my favorite Ursula Le Guin novel. The first "made for television" movie to debut on PBS. Allegedly, it was blocked from rebroadcast for 20 years because of a brief scene where the main character plays the record "A Little Help From My Friends", which led to a copyright problem.

Kolchak, the Night Stalker (1974-75). Darren McGavin as "investigative reporter" Carl Kolchak, whose tabloid-fodder stories of monster and aliens are actually true. McGavin was perfect as the sleazy freelancer who nevertheless keeps stumbling into real wierdness. Simon Oakland was pretty good as his editor.

The Immortal (1970-71). I was too young at the time to really make a critical evaluation, but my parents loved it too. Ben Richards is the man whose blood can cure anything -- but there's only one him, and Powerful Men are trying to catch and cage him.

Anyone else have anything to say about these, or any other old SF TV series?

Re: SF&F Television

PostPosted: Saturday, 08 August 2009, 11:45 pm
by owlcroft
Another long-delayed response (you see, David, I am taking your advice to participate more):

The only two of those I've seen are The Prisoner (probably the best TV specfic ever) and some of The Immortal, which was, sad to say, just another fugitive (or Fugitive) series.

I no longer remember if I am repeating myself here, but other older shows of merit (to list those of little merit would be quite a task) include, alphabetically:

The Avengers: is this specficTV? I like the categroy name, coined by I know not whom, spy-fi: and this is it.

Captain Video: yes, a certain cheese quota (special-effects budget $25/week, literally)--but underneath, remarkably solid and curiously adult plotting, characterization, and scripting (not surprising considering the who's-who of sf writers who at various times worked on the show).

Doctor Who ["classic"]: what more can one say? Quintessential British dry humor disguised as action/adventure.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: ditto above, save no disguise.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: more spy-fi. At its best, an American Dr. Who; at its less than best, either too serious or too far OTT.

Max Headroom: something that shouldn't have been anything but banal, but somehow caught lightning in a bottle; a strong cast and excellent production values (that is, mood, atmosphere) helped a lot.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: I choke up with laughter just thinking about it.

Night Gallery: spotty but often good.

The Outer Limits [original series]: probably cheesy by today's standards, but--perhaps, like Sapphire and Steel, aided by low production budgets--often highly atmospheric (dark) and exciting.

The Prisoner: repeated here for completeness.

Sapphire and Steel: ditto.

Science Fiction Theatre: variable, but often surprisignly good--frequently adaptions of semi-classic short stories.

The Twilight Zone: sometimes sloppy, but often remarkably moving.

Ultraman: Japanese high camp: uproarious (and clearly self-conscious, or as we say today "bi-modal").

The Wild Wild West: yet more spy-fi, with the added fillip of being set in the mythical "old west". The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in a cowboy hat.

Wizards and Warriors: superlative: what a shame CBS strangled it in its cradle.

Xena: I only saw a few bits and pieces here and there, but it looked pretty amusing.

Oh, and let's not forget the 1935 Gene Autry serial "The Phantom Empire": singing cowboy beats up on super-science soldiers in Roman togas on horseback who come up on elevators from an underground city. How can anyone improve on that?

Re: SF&F Television

PostPosted: Thursday, 13 August 2009, 10:48 pm
by DavidTate
I had forgotten Max Headroom -- thanks for reminding me. I caught the first episode (pilot) totally by chance, and was completely riveted. I fear that the later uses the title character was put to may have erased the memory of the original excellent drama.

It is impossible to have grown up when I did without loving The Avengers and having an incurable crush on Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peel.

Emma: "I've always rather fancied myself in a brass bed..."
Steed: "So have I." <she does a double-take> "Fancied myself, I mean."

I gather the creators of the show were stunned when much of their audience didn't realize it was a spoof. Oh, well.

I was also a huge fan of The Wild Wild West. Not being made of hero stuff, I fantasized about being Artemus Gordon.

It occurs to me that what The Avengers and The Wild Wild West have in common is that they were both recently made into appallingly bad films by people who apparently loved them to death, somewhat literally. Let's hope they leave The Prisoner alone. (I heard a rumor the other day that they're making a new movie version of Harvey, as if the old one weren't good enough. What do you want to bet they cast Tom Hanks? Grump, grump...)

Re: SF&F Television

PostPosted: Saturday, 29 August 2009, 11:58 am
by DavidTate
DavidTate wrote:Emma: "I've always rather fancied myself in a brass bed..."
Steed: "So have I." <she does a double-take> "Fancied myself, I mean."

Actually, that's not my favorite line. My favorite is:

Villain: I could make an honest woman of you.
Emma: I prefer to try to live it down, thanks.