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Posts Tagged ‘Buck Rogers’

I Like Lycra

January 23rd, 2008 No comments

Another Hulu excerpt, this time from the ultimate ’80s cheese whiz, Buck Rogers. It’s the infamous “Space Vampire” episode in which Buck and Wilma encounter a vampire…in space! He’s actually a alien called the Vorvon and he kinda looks like Nosferatu with severe cranial inflammation, but he’s not what makes this episode memorable.

No, that would be this scene, in which Erin Gray (who absolutely rocked a spandex spacesuit) chewed the scenery like few ever have when portraying a Vorvon-possessed Wilma.

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Future Cheese

December 13th, 2004 No comments

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the new DVD boxed set of the 1979 TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I have a great deal of fondness for Buck, even though I’ll be the first to admit it’s a colossal brick of disco-era, space cheese.

The late ’70s were, of course, the Era of Star Wars. All forms of mass media were trying to capitalize on the teeming masses of Force-happy kids looking for their next interstellar fix. In the days before CGI, however, it wasn’t cheap or easy to mount a half-decent, special-effects fest. Eager, young space cadets had to take what they could get.

Buck Rogers was in many ways the perfect TV show for a teenage boy. It was less “serious” than the previous season’s disappointment Battlestar Galactica, and emphasized the core cliches of pulp sci-fi: ray guns, dogfighting spaceships, robots, supervillains and (perhaps most importantly to my 15-year-old self) scantily-clad women.

In this version of the 1928 novel by Philip Francis Nowlan, Buck is an American astronaut from the far-flung year of 1987 who is flash-frozen aboard his deep space probe, only to be thawed out 500 years later by a passing Draconian battle cruiser on its way to invade the Earth. Buck’s piloting expertise is of great value in the 25th Century, as Earth’s defense forces have allowed their combat reflexes to atrophy from overreliance on computer assistance. Plus, apparently he’s a steaming hunk of beefcake.

Now, I am not a good judge of these things, but it’s hard for me to accept actor Gil Gerard circa 1979 as “the most genetically perfect human male,” as he was promoted by the luscious, devilish Draconian Princess Ardala. He’s beefy and hairy enough, but nothing one wouldn’t have seen on any number of TV shows at the time. Yet the ladies all have their sights firmly set on him, even though he inexplicably has little time not only for the sexually predatory Ardala, but for her equally gorgeous, good girl counterpart, Colonel Wilma Deering. (Deering was played by Erin Gray, whose ability to fill a skin-tight flightsuit is legendary amongst geeks of a certain age.)

Over the course of a season, Buck saved the Earth from peril on numerous occasions, and met up with an amazing number of guest stars familiar to genre fans. I’m going to list them here because it’s really quite impressive casting: Henry Silva (The Manchurian Candidate), Roddy McDowell (Planet of the Apes), Buster Crabbe (the original Buck Rogers serial), Jack Palance (countless sci-fi bad guys), Richard Lynch (various Galactica villains), Cesar Romero (Batman), Markie Post (Night Court), Frank Gorshin (Batman again), Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No), Peter Graves (Mission: Impossible), Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Jay Robinson (Dr. Shrinker), Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian), Michael Ansara (Kang the Klingon from Star Trek), Dorothy Stratten (Galaxina, not to mention Playboy Playmate of the Year), Tamara Dobson (Jason of Star Command), Anne Lockhart (Sheba from Battlestar Galactica), Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000), Judy Landers (B.J. and the Bear), Richard Moll (Night Court), Vera Miles (Psycho), Sam Jaffe (The Day the Earth Stood Still), Sam Haig (Jason of Star Command) and Julie Newmar (Batman yet again). (Mark Lenard, Spock’s dad from Star Trek, was the only notable guest star of the second season.) I almost forgot to mention Gary Coleman (Diff’rent Strokes), if only because I would love to forget Gary Coleman. Even back in 1979 I thought the network was pandering by including the popular child star.

That first season involved numerous behind-the-scenes fights between Gerard, who wanted a more serious science-fiction show centered squarely around him, and the writers, who’d been instructed to create a light-hearted adventure romp. The result was that a lot of the jokes were tossed out by Gerard (only to be reassigned to the wise-ass robot Twiki), and that Colonel Deering spent an awful lot of time standing around, looking pensive.

An abbreviated second season gave Gerard more of what he wanted, and less of what the audience wanted. It was a Star Trek retread set aboard the Searcher, an implausibly defenseless exploratory vessel in search of the lost tribes of Earth. Despite the desire to produce a more believable show, the second season featured a race that aged backwards and a man who could remove his own head.

Ultimately, everybody lost when the series was cancelled midway through that second year. Gerard made a variety of TV appearances during the next couple of decades, and now plies the sci-fi convention circuit, looking corpulent and not at all unlike my dad. Gray went on to the comedy Silver Spoons, but now works just a few booths down from Gerard in the autograph-selling area. (She is, however, still quite gorgeous after all these years.)

Watching the show again after all these years has been a blast, though there are certainly times when I have to quietly roll my eyes (such as Twiki’s line “I gave him a tweak-y he’ll never forget”). It’s most fun when it embraces its silliness, though there are several mildly poignant moments featuring the man 500 years out of his time, and the lonely princess who consoles herself by gazing upon her mirror image superimposed amongst the stars. (It’s notable that those scenes were scripted by the self-same writers that Gerard drove from the show.)

I’m about two-thirds of the way through the first season, which means that I’m only a few episodes from “Space Rockers”. You see, it’s about a plot to plant a subliminal signal inside the next concert at Musicworld and cause a galaxy-wide youth riot… Really. Look, it was 1979. And I was fifteen.

Sigh…one does have to overlook a lot when one tries to go home again.