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Thursday, April 27, 2006

CATHODE RAY HELL: THE WORST OF AMERICAN FANTASTIC TELEVISION PART 1

I promised a couple of my friends in the UK that I’d come up with a list of some of the very worst that American television had to offer in the field of sci-fi/fantasy/horror. I’m willing to bet that most of these never made it to the UK (with very good reason!) but I swear that all of these existed and I have personally borne witness to each and every one.

Most of these aired as regular series but a lot of them also went out as part of the pretty much dead genre of the network-funded made-for-TV movies and believe me some of them were staggeringly awful. If you can think of any I missed, please feel free to add comments. And so, without further ado, I bring you…

BAD AMERICAN FANTASTIC TELEVISION: THE NEVER-ENDING CORNUCOPIA OF CATHODE RAY CRAP!

THE MAN FROM ATLANTIS-Before Patrick Duffy found fame as Bobby Ewing on “Dallas,” he was a web-fingered amphibian hero who may or may not have been from Atlantis (we never found out since he suffered from amnesia). After two mediocre TV movies “The Man From Atlantis” graduated to a full-fledged series in which our hero teamed up with a bunch of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” rejects and fought crime and alien invasions in the deep seas. The sets on this show rivaled “Doctor Who” during its leanest moments but unfortunately didn’t have the scripts to save it. This show was boring to the point of narcolepsy and faded after half a season, but not before spawning an equally bad Marvel Comics series.

THE PHOENIX-Starring that tanned, blonde bohunk who was the most prominent of Khan’s men in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, this was about a benevolent — and dull — alien who used his powers to dazzle proto-new agers and help the innocent for about five weeks before the network pulled the plug.

SPORT BILLY-For those of us who despise sports, this animated show was like a hot poker up the asshole as personally administered by the Devil himself. For some reason, Zeus decides that kids on Earth need a child demigod to come down from Olympus and teach them about good sportsmanship so he sends the impossibly annoying title character. I only saw this once because a friend told me that it was the worst thing he had ever seen, and it just goes to prove that crap marches on since this show has been eclipsed in awfulness many times over since it first aired back in the early 1980’s.

THE IMMORTAL-A guy finds out that he has a rare blood type that renders him immortal and spends the rest of the short-lived series trying to stay ahead of the evil scientists who want to more or less dissect him. During the course of his journey he helps out those in need, giving blood transfusions that instantly cure the ailing. Every single episode.

LUCAN-The adventures of a young man who was raised by wolves and his odyssey in search of his real parents. Basically a wandering hero scenario, the only unique thing about this was the fact that Lucan’s lupine upbringing gave him wolf-like powers for no apparent reason which lead to lots of sequences of him sniffing about and growling at people before he got into ultra-pathetic fistfights; too bad they never had him mount other males in a display of dominance. This came from a TV movie and as a series lasted for less than half a season.

LOGAN’S RUN-A rock-bottom cheap series chronicling the further adventures of Logan and Jessica — now accompanied by a fey android named Rem — in a devastated future world that looked a lot like off-roads areas of Southern California. Every week — until a swift cancellation — the trio drove around in a hovercraft/van that wouldn’t even have passed muster in a bad B&W serial like THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES, encountering “far-flung” future oddballs who dressed in polyester and shower curtains. If you excised the sci-fi elements this would be indistinguishable from any other low budget show that had a couple of guys driving around aimlessly in their cool car solving crimes and helping the innocent. Of note today only because it starred Gregory Harrison before his role on “Trapper John M.D.”

PLANET OF THE APES-See the above entry, swap the hovercraft/van for sneaking around on foot and hiding in the bushes, and add Roddy McDowell in chimp makeup yet again. Two interchangeable astronauts crash land near Ape City and get into watered-down variants on the scenarios found in the feature films. Died a quick death and bored the living hell out of “Apes” fans from coast to coast. Occasionally turns up on syndicated television with two episodes edited together in a sorry attempt to pass itself off as an actual feature. In a stunning example of flogging a dead horse, this was actually followed up with an equally bad animated series.

THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR-A young alien prince is sent from his embattled home world to Earth so he can master his powers and eventually return to save his planet from would-be conquerors. Aided by his mentor (pre-Oscar Louis Gossett Jr.), Matthew uses his powers to help the innocent, blahblahblah. Cancelled quicker than it would take you to go to the fridge for a fresh beer.

GALACTICA 1980-As if the original “Battlestar Galactica” wasn’t bad enough, this cheapjack series plumbed new depths of the moronic by having the Galactica finally make it to the Earth and opt to observe rather than contaminate the Earth with their advanced technology. So what we’re left with is a couple of blow-dried shitheads on flying motorcycles running around doing things that would have seemed pitiful even on “CHiPs.” No more space battles, no more exotic alien worlds; none of the few things that were good about the parent series, therefore an utter waste of time. No joke, this show looked like a test-run for “The A-Team,” which isn’t all that surprising since that was also forced upon the public by one Glen A. Larson, the creator of this turd. Cancelled in the blink of an eye, this show has dated to the point of being physically painful to sit through nowadays. Avoid like lemonade made at Chernobyl.

HOLMES & YOYO-In this alleged sitcom a detective is assigned a new partner, a bumbler in the Gilligan mold named Yoyonovich (Yoyo for short), who happens to be a robot. Laughter did not ensue and the series died after a month or so.

VOYAGERS-Following the adventures of two time travelers whose job it was to fix temporal glitches in history, this one season wonder was painfully juvenile and is now remembered solely as the starring vehicle of John Eric Hexum, the guy who accidentally killed himself on the set of a low-budget movie by firing a blank round directly into his temple. His co-star, Meeno Peluce, was one of the all-time most annoying and treacly child actors ever and he now languishes in well-earned obscurity. The only reason I ever saw this was thanks to the girls who lived on my hall during my second year of college who never missed it because of the Hexum eye-candy, and it never hurts to take a look at what the girls are into. Well, almost never…

STRUCK BY LIGHTNING-Cancelled almost immediately, this was a sitcom about what if the Frankenstein monster was revived today (1980), a question that no one asked and no one stayed tuned to see answered.

SMALL WONDER-At the top of the list of most people’s Top Ten Worst Television Series In The History Of The Universe, this Cthulhu-level atrocity followed the purportedly humorous antics of V.I.C.K.I., an emotionless, allegedly cute robot fashioned to look like a dark-haired little girl in a pink dress. Inexplicably running for nearly a decade in syndication (much like that equally atrocious Auschwitz of non-comedy “Momma’s Family”) at all hours of the day and night, words cannot adequately communicate just how terrible this show was. Much like the Mi Lai massacre you just had to be there. There is nothing sadder than unfunny comedy since when comedy fails there is absolutely no entertainment to be garnered from it; at least if a horror film blows you might be able to find humor in it (HALLOWEEN VI-THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MEYERS is a textbook example of this point) and not feel utterly robbed of the short amount of time wasted in your existence. Every second spent on “Small Wonder” amounts to grand larceny on a cosmic scale and will make you want to kick your own mother right in the box for being so cruel as to bring you into a world that could create such crap.

PROJECT UFO-A pitiful attempt to cash in on the success CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, this snooze-a-rama weekly delved into the files of “Project Bluebook” and took the viewer on a low budget tour of U.F.O. sightings and investigations headed up by two actors portraying Air Force operatives with less emotion than that expressed by your toothbrush. If you actually got a good look at one of the bogeys they invariably were composed from various sundries found around the studio on any given day, most memorably a Millennium Falcon model kit which had been inverted, spray-painted gold and covered with discarded Kodak film canisters. Cancelled with blinding swiftness, which was odd since NBC was running some of the most infamously bad programming on the air at the time (such as “Pink Lady and Jeff,” “B.J and the Bear,” “The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo,” “CPO Sharkey,” “Supertrai”n and a plethora of other intelligence-leechers).

THE CLONE MASTER (TV MOVIE)-A boring white guy (Art Hindle) clones multiple, equally boring duplicates of himself for reasons that were far too dull to go into.

THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN NEMO-Jose Ferrer as Captain Nemo returns from who-knows-where in the late 1970’s and proceeds to do not much of anything worth mentioning.

WONDER WOMAN (TV MOVIE)-This aired the year before Linda Carter boosted the sale of Kleenex and featured Cathy Lee Crosby as a blonde version of the Amazon heroine. Bearing no resemblance whatsoever to anything that you know about the legendary comic book character, Crosby runs around in chic couture in pursuit of villain Ricardo Montalban. It’s very, VERY bad but I have to admit that I like it a lot. And the coolest thing about the story is that Montalban’s villain views his relentless chasing by Wonder Woman as sort of a mating dance between equals, and when he’s lead away in cuffs at the end he looks at her and says — in that smooth-ass voice of his — “Won-dair Woo-mon, I luff you.”

THE GEMINI MAN-Thanks to an underwater accident involving radioactive waste and scientific logic that would make Ed Wood cringe, a scuba diver gains the power of invisibility which can be controlled by a wristwatch (???). He immediately becomes a secret agent and goes on a series of run-of-the-mill mid-‘70’s adventures that captured the imagination of absolutely no one. Cancelled after maybe five installments. And what the hell did that title have to do with anything?

CITY BENEATH THE SEA (TV MOVIE)-Irwin (“Lost In Space”) Allen strikes again with this festival of stock footage from “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Dealing with an underwater city of the future, an attempted gold heist, a giant underwater kelp monster and a physician who happens to be able to breathe underwater, this is one colossal mess that was intended to serve as the pilot for a series that never happened.

THE HIGHWAYMAN-I only saw one episode of this attempted ROAD WARRIOR rip-off and as near as I can determine it had something to do with two leather-clad guys (one of whom was that annoying Aussie battery pitchman and Popeye lookalike “Jacko”) cruising the post-apocalyptic highways in an eighteen-wheeler and handing out justice when needed. The one that I saw was so low budget that it may as well have been a blank screen, and featured the heroes traveling back in time to the 1980’s so they could spend a half hour showing an eighteen-wheeler driving down the LA freeway in regular traffic. Whoa, dazzling! Cancelled after around four episodes.

THE DARKROOM-A weak descendant of “The Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery,” this was hosted by James Coburn who would be seen developing strange pictures in his darkroom and then telling us the not-so-scary tales contained. The only story I remember liking had to do with a scientist who had developed a headset that allowed him to hear and understand the whisperings of the plants in his lab. He hauls his skeptical wife into the lab and forces her to listen to the plants, which confirm her suspicions about her husband’s infidelities with his lab assistant. She then whips out a pistol and plugs the stupid bastard. Very swiftly cancelled.

MANIMAL-A guy can shapeshift into all sorts of animals to fight crime, but can’t hold the audience’s attention enough to avoid lightning-swift cancellation.

AUTOMAN-See the above entry and substitute the shapeshifting guy with a sentient computer-generated hero who can turn into a car.

MISFITS OF SCIENCE-Sort of a really, REALLY feeble version of the Fantastic Four only minus costumes, cool gadgets, aliens, monsters and anything else that made the FF rock so hard. The four sorry heroes drove around in an ice cream truck (no, really!!!) and fought the usual assortment of low budget bad guys before falling into the maw of cancellation. Remembered now solely for being the launching pad for the unwelcome TV series career of Courtney (“Friends”) Cox.

CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER-HEROES and LEGENDS OF THE SUPER-HEROES (TV SPECIALS)-These two live-action landmarks of just how bad television can be featured nearly all of the prominent DC Comics heroes doing schtick comedy that would have embarrassed even the most shameless of Borscht Belt comedians, and as if that weren’t agonizing enough Adam West and Burt Ward reprised their roles as the Caped Crusaders in a move that actually made their fans embarrassed for them. The first special dealt with the heroes fighting the villains during sketches best described as anti-comedy, and the second show was the now-infamous super-hero “roast,” in which the DC villains insulted the heroes with jokes that were about as funny as a children’s AIDS ward. But the moment that really sent this into the stratosphere of crap was the insult monologue delivered by perhaps the most offensive black character ever seen on television, namely “Ghetto Man,” a pimped-out super-mack in purple-lame bellbottoms and enormous platform shoes. These are often found in bootlegged form at conventions, so be forewarned. They’re not funny, they’re not clever and they’re certainly not entertaining. If you choose to sit through these you will live to regret every second.

THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL-So bad that it is worthy of a ten page article all its own, this was cranked out to appease fans who were drooling in anticipation of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and it managed to please none but the dangerously insane STAR WARS loons. Aired only once during the Thanksgiving holiday of 1979, this two-hour atrocity has since earned a well-deserved place of dubious honor in the annals of TV infamy not just for its shameless, bald-faced attempt to milk a rabid fan base, but also for the fact that it is just plain kicked-in-the-balls-with-a-titanium-ski-boot bad. The plot, such as it is, centers on Chewbacca’s family anxiously awaiting his return home to celebrate “Life Day,” a nebulously defined holiday that apparently blends Thanksgiving and Christmas. Chewie’s family consists of his wife Mala, son Lumpy and aged patriarch Itchy. There are lengthy sequences of them communicating in the signature Wookie growls, moans and warbles, all without benefit of subtitles or entertainment value. Endless awful “comedy” and musical sequences happen and one by one all of the heroes from the movie finally show up (after lots of stock footage of space dogfights that anyone who was a kid in the late 1970’s had seen many times after May 25, 1977), with Harrison Ford so clearly not wanting to be involved that he seems ready to tell the audience to go fuck itself with an apple corer, and Carrie Fisher looking so stoned that I’d bet good money that she didn’t even know where she was. The only good sequence in the entire show is an outstanding animated sequence by Canada’s vastly underrated Nelvana animation studio, a sequence that introduces bounty hunter Boba Fett. Another perennial found at the dealer’s tables at sci-fi conventions, this show is nearly unwatchable, even for the unprecedentedly high kitsch factor, so beware!

THE GREEN HORNET-Despite my love of all things Bruce Lee related, I would like to go on record and state that this show was utterly unwatchable when Bruce wasn’t putting his foot through some baddie’s skull. There was only one good episode and that featured Bruce versus Mako (the sorcerer from CONAN THE BARBARIAN) in a fairly tame fight to the death. Dead after less than twenty episodes.

THE CHARMINGS-A truly terrible sitcom about all of the classic fairytale characters falling under a witch’s spell and waking up in modern day Los Angeles circa 1992. It followed the utterly run-of-the-mill domestic escapades of Snow White and her husband, Prince Charming and was cancelled after less than a month. The only real gag on this show was that the Charmings and all of the other fairytale folk were the neighborhood weirdoes, what with wearing their period costumes all the time in modern LA; in all other respects it was a totally average show.

WOOPS!-The Fox network has absolutely no qualms about foisting utter shit upon the unsuspecting American public and “Woops!” just may be the absolute nadir of their output. How’s this for a series concept: World War Three breaks out and wipes out the entire human race except for about seven people who each represent a certain facet of human nature. They all just happen to be located within range of the house that will be the one location for the entire short-lived run and they promptly get down to the business of post-holocaust survival. If done right, that could have been a decent setup for a very tense drama, but “Woops!” was a sitcom and each episode was meant to teach some sort of moral to the gobsmacked viewer. The survivors had to contend with potent narcotic berries (the anti-drug story), giant arachnids, a giant turkey (the Thanksgiving episode) and other such stupidity before the show was quickly (and mercifully) cancelled. And with everyone else in the world being radioactive ash, there was pretty much no chance of mixing things up with guest stars or new characters. The one episode I wish I had on tape was the Christmas episode, which featured the only other survivor of the nuclear war, namely Santa Claus. At the same time both horrifying and hilarious, you haven’t lived until you see Santa recount being safe in his toyshop as the bombs fell and how he ignored the pleas of his wife, the elves and his reindeer for shelter from the atomic fire. He was too terrified to let them in and as he tells the story he pretty much has a nervous breakdown. At the end he flies off in search of people with whom to share the Christmas spirit. Merry Christmas, kiddies! My then-roommate Mark and I watched this show each week in sheer disbelief and Mark is the only other person I know who ever witnessed this train wreck. If I’m not mistaken, “Woops!” was axed after approximately eight episodes.

THE NEW PEOPLE-When a jet liner crash lands on an uncharted island in the late-1960’s, the teen survivors (in garish “mod” outfits) find an abandoned fully furnished city that was apparently built but never used for nuclear bomb testing and promptly decide to start their own society. A new utopian society free of all of the hang-ups of the Establishment, man! A society where blacks and whites, guys and chicks, hippies and straights can all integrate and do their own thing, man! And then nothing interesting happened, man! And it was quickly cancelled, man! Bummer, man…

TO BE CONTINUED

7 comments:

Jared said...

I am going to have to defend some of the shows from my youth. Man from Atlantis, Lucan , Logan's Run, and Gemini Man. Not that I think they were really any good but TV in the mid 70's was not like it is today. There were no sci-fantasy shows on at all except for these. So I liked them when I was eleven and was not happy when they were cancelled.
And I stand by the fact that Galactica 1980 was far less boring than Battlestar Galatica.
Ironically I like none of the sci-fantasy shows that are on today when they can be found all over the much larger dial.

Jared said...

What was the name of that show from the eighties that had a family that traveled to alternate words? They were looking to get back there own.On one alternate world the kids (a boy and a girl) became pop stars by singing Beatles songs.

Rob Markowitz said...

I believe it was called "Otherworld". They were just stuck on one alternate world on the run from some military guy. Kinda like the Hulk TV show but only slightly less boring.

Terence said...

I'm glad you remember Woops! because somebody should . . . only thing they could do worse is make a musical.

How about Wizards and Warriors for your list? Did you blink and miss it?

Anonymous said...

In the show "Lucan", remember...his eyes turned red, too, when he got mad.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the show that almost brought down NBC in the late 70's (already known as "the Turkey Network" in a snide homage to it's peacock symbol).
The monstrous "Supertrain!".

Bartok said...

Hello, the Charmings lasted two seasons and was in the late 80s not circa 1992. The Magic Mirror and the Evil Queen stole the show every episode --- hilarious. It was cancelled after ABC put it up against the Cosby show