Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Slaves" (September 18, 1976)



In “The Slaves,” the Ark II team catches wind of a nearby village using slavery, a “miserable and immoral practice,” and Jonah sets out to observe.  

Unfortunately, he is captured by the forces of Baron Vargas (Michael Kermoyan), a tyrant who deploys magic tricks to keep the slaves from attempting escape, banding together, or asserting their rights.

In particular, Baron Vargas has convinced many of his exhausted slaves that he possesses the power to turn people into mindless animals.  The people, having no education or experience with such things, cower in fear.  One man, Gideon, has even become an informant for Vargas, because he believes his sister has been transformed into an animal.


When Jonah stands up to Vargas, the devious Baron stages a fire and light show in which he appears to transform Jonah into a rooster.  In truth, Jonah is simply put in prison, abducted in a cloud of smoke, out of the eyes of the crowd. 

Seeing the deception for what it is, Ruth and Samuel at the Ark II decide to out-magic the evil magician.  They rescue Jonah, and assert their own technological magic to free the slaves.  

In “The Slaves,” written by David Dworski, the audience gets to see a bit more of the grand Ark II’s interesting capabilities.  In this case, the vehicle projects a force field beam; one that is able to make it look like Jonah is actually walking on air.  The force field beam looks dangerous, like a laser, but like all of the Ark II’s devices is entirely defensive in nature. 


Other than that touch, this episode, directed by Hollingsworth Morse, hammers home the worthy point that fear stems from ignorance, and that knowledge can overcome ignorance, and thus fear.  

The villager slaves are all superstitious and terrified, but Jonah and his team pull back the curtain, to use a Wizard of Oz metaphor, to reveal the truth about the manipulative Vargas.  It’s a worthwhile point, especially because so many tyrants in today’s world use ignorant beliefs (usually of a religious nature) to hold back their populations. 

Watching this episode of Ark II, I understood, perhaps for the first time, what’s missing from the series format: a sense of how Ruth, Jonah and Samuel are educated and trained, and what kind of organization, specifically they hail from.  What are their skill-sets?  How did they become trained?   How were they chosen for these assignments?

It would have been great if the makers of Ark II had provided a bit more detail about these adventurers, and why they became involved with the Ark II mission, and what skills, precisely, they bring to the table.  It would have been neat to get an episode where they check back in at home base, as well. I'd love to see the society they hail from, and what it is like.


I also got to wondering, perhaps because this episode is a little dull: is Ark II the only vehicle in the fleet?  Is there also an Ark III or Ark IV out there, patrolling a different area of the post-apocalyptic terrain?

Of course, I realize that this Filmation series was designed for children.  But the episodes create an interesting enough world that as a viewer, you want to know more about the characters, their backgrounds, and the world they inhabit.  This is truly a series that would benefit from an intelligent remake:  You could take the core series concept, the characters, the production design and the world-view and then spin out new details about all of them, significantly deepening the Ark II-iverse.

Next week: “The Balloon.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Lidsville: "The Great Brain Robbery"


In “The Great Brain Robbery,” Mark (Butch Patrick) and Weenie (Billie Hayes) decide to fly away from Lidsville (and back to the real world), using a magic carpet. 

After they depart, however, Hoo-doo (Charles Nelson Reilly) unveils his brainwash machine, and plans to transform all the Good Hats into obedient slaves. The Bad Hats set the machine to the wrong dial, however, and the Good Hats become argumentative.

Hoo-Doo realizes that this is a fantastic turn of events, and he plans to use the Good Hats as an army to stage a coup against the Imperial Wizard.

Mark and Weenie crash  on the magic carpet during a storm, and discover what Hoo-Doo is up to. Now they must free their friends from Hoo-doo’s control.



This episode of Lidsville (1971-1973) focuses on the intriguing notion, that Hoo-doo is more than a buffoon, and actually a very real danger to the world of hats.  Sure he's a clown, but with power, he's incredibly dangerous.

For example, in this story Hoodoo attempts to raise an army for a very specific purpose: to attack and over-take the Imperial Wizard’s palace.  

This is a much more ambitious and power-hungry plan than we have seen before. He compares himself to Napoleon and (amusingly) notes that soon “Charlton Heston will be begging to play my life…in color.”

Also, we get a sense, in this episode of the world’s geography. While planning his conquest, Hoo-Doo says “Today, Lidsville, tomorrow Coatsville…then on to Shirtville…”

To the best of my memory, “The Great Brain Robbery” is the only episode of Lidsville that explores Hoo-Doo’s specific plans for world domination.  In the past, he has seemed content to terrorize the Good Hats and collect back taxes. This development makes him more of a sadistic bureaucrat than a world conqueror. But here, we see differently.

Otherwise, this story brings back the magic carpet we saw some episodes back (“Fly Now, Vacuum Later”), and uses it as a vehicle of escape for Mark and Weenie.  Of course, according to the rigid series formula, these characters can’t actually escape. So the carpet hits a storm in the sky, and the duo crashes back on the ground.

Stories like this always raise questions for me, though admittedly they may not have for the original audience of young children.  

Some of those questions include: why not try the magic carpet again at another time?  Or, for that matter, why doesn’t Hoo-Doo try the brain wash machine on another occasion?

Next week, the final Lidsville episode: “Mommy Hoo-Doo.”


Friday, June 23, 2017

Cult-TV Flashback: Knight Rider (1982 - 1986): "Goliath" (Parts I and II)


Knight Rider…a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Michael Knight, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law.”

-Knight Rider’s opening narration.


In Knight Rider’s (1982 – 1986) two-part episode, “Goliath,” Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) challenges a villain who has the same face: Garthe Knight (also played Hasselhoff). 

The evil Knight, is son of the Knight Foundation’s philanthropist, Wilton, and in cahoots with his mother, Elizabeth (Barbara Rush) on a secret mission.

Specifically, Garthe and Elizabeth hope to steal the plans for K.I.T.T.’s “molecular bonded shell plating,” the very aspect of the advanced car that makes him so impervious to damage and attack. 

The evil duo plots to build a new vehicle, a giant, 22 ton semi-truck called “Goliath,” and -- once it is equipped with the shell plating -- penetrate a top secret base in the desert, one that possess dangerous missiles.

Michael and K.I.T.T. attempt to stop Garthe and his plans, but Garthe feels that Michael is a “living, breathing insult” to his existence, and plots to destroy him.

K.I.T.T. battles Goliath in a dangerous and ill-fated first engagement, but comes back strong for a second time…even as Garthe and Michael go head to head…




You just have to love a series in which cars and people alike possess evil doppelgangers or twins.  

Earlier in the week, I reviewed one of the episodes featuring K.I.T.T.'s nasty twin, K.A.R.R., but today I remember this epic two-parter, which establishes the goatee-wearing Garthe Knight as Michael’s “antithesis,” his twisted, evil reflection.

In the case of “Goliath,” there’s actually a good reason why Michael so closely resembles Garthe.  Garthe is the son of Wilton Knight and has been spending time in prison…three life sentences to be precise.  Michael’s face, you my recall, was reconstructed by the Knight Foundation in the pilot episode. We learn in this episode that the model for that surgery was…Garthe.  


That’s a good explanation, and it doesn’t rate as terribly unbelievable. Since Michael has Wilton’s last name, it makes sense, in some way, that he would also have the face of his benefactor’s beloved (if wayward…) son too. Michael is the son that Wilton wanted; Garthe is the one that he ended up with.

“Goliath” is structured so that a major battle recurs.  

At the end of part one, K.I.T.T. and Goliath play chicken, headed straight for one another on a desert road.  K.I.T.T. gets struck by heavily armored truck, and is damaged badly. “I’m afraid we zigged when we should have zagged,” he reports to Michael.  

Echoing the earlier confrontation, the finale of the second part features a rematch between the two vehicles (and their crack’d mirror drivers).  In this case, of course, K.I.T.T. is triumphant, utilizing a laser to pinpoint Goliath’s weak spot. The results of the duels (in both cases) are not unexpected, and yet they are well-orchestrated, and surprisingly suspenseful. I remember film and critics of the 1970s and 1980s complaining endlessly about the ubiquitous nature of car chases and car crashes back in the day, but today these clashes are welcome. For one thing, there's no C.G.I. And for another the stunts are beautifully executed and filmed.

Rationally,  of course, the audience knows Michael and K.I.T.T. will eventually carry the day, and yet when K.I.T.T. is knocked over on his side and left for dead in the desert, you feel it in your gut.

Just a car? No…he’s a driver (and a kid’s…) best friend.

The most intriguing moment of the whole two-part episode occurs following K.I.T.T.’s injury. He makes a heart-felt query to Michael: “Do you think it is possible I could cease to exist?” 

We  thus see the self-aware vehicle (personality) reckoning with the idea of his own mortality, and what that could mean.

The Garthe vs. Michael rivalry in "Goliath" is handled with flair, and good stunt doubles for the most part.  As Garthe, Hasselhoff actually seems to stand taller, and similarly, is a snazzier dresser.  Perhaps it’s just that director Winrich Kolbe picks good angles to show-case the villain, often featuring him in motion, or capturing his action from a slightly lowered (and therefore more imposing) angle.

I watched Knight Rider regularly when I was twelve and thirteen years old, so my affection for it is nostalgic (it brings back good memories), but also technical: I love K.I.T.T.  The best stories, I always felt, where those in which K.I.T.T. and Michael had to go up against a vehicle that rival ed K.I.T.T.’s strength.  Hence my focus this week on K.A.R.R. and Goliath. 

I’m pleased to say that today, “Goliath” retains its entertainment value, and comes off as…very well-assembled.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Planet of the Apes TV Series Blogging: "The Horse Race" (November 8, 1974)



 In “The Horse Race,” General Urko (Mark Lenard) continues to operate an illicit operation under Zaius's nose. 

Specifically, Urko has been terrorizing local ape prefects via a gambling operation. He challenges these apes of means to a horse race, and then takes half-of-their-wealth, legally, when they lose against his fast horse.

Now, Prefect Barlow (John Hoyt) is the next in line to be conned into a losing horse race, at least until Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) proves that he is the one jockey who can defeat Urko’s horse. 

Unfortunately, it is illegal for humans to ride horses on the planet of the apes.

At the same time that this crisis unfolds, Galen is stung by a scorpion, and a local blacksmith’s (Morgan Woodward) son must ride a horse to retrieve the necessary medicine.  

Unfortunately, he is captured, and scheduled for execution for his transgression.

Barlow makes a deal with Urko: if his horse wins, the boy will go free…


After last week’s clever and allegorical story about race hatred ("The Deception"), Planet of the Apes (1974) falls back to Earth with the potboiler, “The Horse Race.”  

Basically, this short-lived TV series has two modes of operation. One mode tells a story, and also -- at the same time -- makes a point or offers commentary about race relations.  

The other type of story is basically a time-waster in which humans outsmart the talking apes with their superiority.  "The Horse Race" is the latter type.


Here, for example, a human being, Alan Virdon, proves that he is the best jockey around, so as to win a horse race, and stick it to Urko. 

The problem, of course, is that Virdon is an astronaut, not a jockey, and he no doubt boasts less experience than Urko’s best jockey…who runs this con for a living, basically.  

But this story demands that the “superior” humans defeat the apes, and that’s precisely what occurs here. It’s not only predictable, it’s insipid.  Are we such insecure beings that we must believe a person of our time and place must be superior to all others, even if they have superior experience and abilities?  The same notion of 20th century “American Exceptionalism” infects Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981), as I frequently point out.

Here, matters are made even worse in terms of the episode's believability. 

Virdon is thrown from his steed just before the race starts, and lands in mud.  The mud successfully obscures his identity so that Urko can’t recognize him as a fugitive astronaut during the race. Uh-huh.  
It might have been preferable for Urko simply not to recognize Virdon since, as he has said before that all humans look alike to him.  At least then, Virdon’s disguise wouldn’t have been random, or a matter of coincidence, and the series would have continued to study bigotry.  This way, it's just dumb luck that Urko fails to recognize the astronaut.


But more to the point, is it at all realistic that the human astronauts should continue to put themselves in such high jeopardy for strangers?  

It’s a regurgitation of The Fugitive’s format here, but in this case, matters are truly life and death.  Why would Virdon risk being discovered?

As usual, the series is well-cast, with John Hoyt and Morgan Woodward both fashioning memorable characters in "The Horse Race." But the script (by Booker Bradshaw and David P. Lewis) is largely undistinguished.  I don’t think the question is ever answered here: why do we need to see this story?  How does it contribute to the overall narrative and character development?


The only answer I come up with involves Urko. This episode proves that he’s corrupt as well as a racist. Yet, alas, this doesn’t jibe well with upcoming stories. 

In “The Tyrant,” the human fugitives and Galen go to General Urko in hopes that he will fairly arbitrate a dispute with a corrupt gorilla named Aboro. Why should they expect, after the events of this episode, that Urko would ever treat them fairly?

Although “The Horse Race” was reportedly Ron Harper’s favorite episode of the series, his sentiment is not shared by this author. In fact, I suspect that it is potboiler episodes like this one -- stories that do nothing to move the overall narrative forward -- that alienated prime time audiences in the mid-1970’s.

Next week, a better show arrives: “The Interrogation.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Action Figures of the Week: Stargate (1994 Hasbro)


Who would have guessed that a relatively-unsuccessful genre film released during the Christmas holiday of 1994 would evolve into one of the most popular sci-fi TV franchises of the new millennium? 

I'm speaking, of course, about Stargate (1994). The big-budget film, -- which starred Kurt Russell, James Spader and Jaye Davidson (the She Male from The Crying Game ) -- was only a modest success during its original theatrical run...but spawned a TV franchise that ran over a decade, and included at least three titles.

In 1994, Hasbro released a whole line of toys related to the original movie.

The box art work implored would-be buyers to "Travel through the STARGATE and discover a distant galaxy where a doorway to adventure unlocks the mysteries of another world!"


Among the Stargate toys released by Hasbro were an "all terrain cruiser" (replete with "shooting alien blaster!") that Kurt Russell could pilot. 

I get a kick out of the box art work, in which Russell is driving this military dune-buggy with one hand while simultaneously firing an uzi with the other hand (and wearing a beret!) 

This cruiser also came complete with two communication antennas, roll bars (w/missile launcher), an "armor-plated body," and a "video cam recorder." It also had "all-terrain sand dune tires." 

Another interesting Stargate toy was the Mastadge, an alien "beast of burden" (like a cross between a camel and a woolly mammoth.) This happy-go-lucky guy came complete with a "shooting catapult launcher."

Also, this toy was equipped with a "removable shepherd's saddle" and a "customized mastadge transport sled." 

A card on the back of the box provided more mega-Mastadgy-type data, informing us that Mastadges "serve the villagers of Nagada," and that they are "loyal animals capable of withstanding the brutal sandstorms of planet Abydos. They can each reach speeds of up to 35 mph over the planet's desert landscape, making them an excellent form of transportation."

A third toy was the "winged glider" (which I don't own, alas...) but which was sold with "firing missile launchers."



In toto, Hasbro produced eight action figures to go with these toys: Archaeologist Daniel Jackson (Spader), Colonel O'Neil (Russell), Ra (Ruler of Abydos), Palace Guard Horus, Anubis, Attack Pilot Horus, Lt. Kawalsky and Skaara.

Also, on the back of the toy boxes were these funny little questions which could only be answered if you decoded the hieroglyphs. One such question: "In which country are the pyramids located?"

Young buyers were enticed to "collect all 8 figure cards to complete the hieroglyphic alphabet."


Video Game of the Week: Stargate (Sega Genesis; 1994)


Board Game of the Week: Stargate SG-1 (Fleet Games)


Model Kits of the Week: Stargate (1994)



Trading Cards of the Week; Stargate (1994)



Theme Song of the Week: Stargate SG-1 (1997 - 2007)