Buck Rogers: Vegas in Space

buck rogersWhen digital programmer Felina Redding is kidnapped, Buck and the Earth Defense Directorate get an offer from screen legend Cesar Romero: if they can find her and rescue her, he’ll turn himself in for crimes he’s committed and provide the Earth Defense with schematics on enemy starfighters that will help protect our world.  Buck and temporary sidekick Marla Landers go to Space Vegas to rescue Felina from the villain Velosi before she can be put to death for knowing too much.

When the opening preview began, I left the room to get a drink, because those are a sin anyway.  When I came back, during the opening music (which I love, by the way), I got ready to see what other TV stars I might recognize in the credit sequence.  Jokingly, I said in mock surprise, “Richard Lynch!”  I was being silly since I did not know the name.  Then I saw the man on screen and my second aloud comment was “Oh, Richard Lynch!”  I remember this dude always turning up as a bad guy.  He carries himself with such menace that he’s perfectly cast as the main villain of the piece, even if once or twice it looks like he might crack a smile.  Meanwhile Felina, played by Ana Alicia, conveys genuine terror in his presence.

The show is still milking its origins, coming up with titles right out of a comic book, but where it’s surprising me is in things like continuity.  We’re only 3 stories in and already Buck is talking about previous episodes.  While it’s not mandatory to watch them to understand the context, I was stunned by it.  There is internal logic to the episode as well.  The episode opens with Buck and Wilma doing a simulation and he insists they can’t rely on the computers to do battle.  He explains that the pilots need to use their brains.  Later in the episode, while playing  blackjack (now called “tens and elevens”), no one can understand how he’s able to win, and he goes back to the same notion: people need to be able to think.  It really feels like the author was afraid of the growing reliance on machines that must have been present in 1979.

Possibly the most shocking moment was actually a small moment during a scene where Tangy, an entertainer from the casino, starts hanging out with Buck in the hopes he might take her away from the life she lives.  Buck gets reminiscent of the past, talking about an old friend who he remembers from 500 years ago.  While it’s a brief sequence, it’s played well and Gil Gerard sells the pain of the loss.  He comments, due to the casino game, that he won, but he says it without truly feeling it, realizing that all those he knew are well and truly gone.  Considering this series was never viewed like some of the other SF giants, I am really surprised and impressed to see these things happening.  (Of course, it’s still early in the run and hard to determine if it’s going to continue!)

In the last two stories, I’ve noticed some things that Buck did before other SF series.  I was surprised to see a very Babylon 5-esque messaging system in peoples quarters.  The metal detector at the casino also struck me as ahead of its time, although I’ve subsequently looked up when they started showing up and learned it was 1970, so the writers had nearly 10 years to get that written.  It still felt fresh.

The episode wraps up with the safe return of Felina.   Armot (Romero) gives himself up but the question arises: with so many crimes and so many people killed at his hands, why did he care so much about her.  This was the final moment that I was surprised by; I mean it makes sense in the grand scheme, but this was 1979 and in a series that is typically viewed as B-rate.  She was his daughter and with the sort of life he lived, it was determined that he should leave her and her mother when she was just a child.  Maybe I’m being too generous, but I thought the writing was ahead of its time.

For a series about space, what I feel is really missing is the alien quality.  One ultra-pale woman (who we are told is a man) walking by isn’t enough, but this is still establishing the characters and the background.  I don’t recall if this series had a lot of aliens or not but I sort of hope we get some.  I know of only a few in my memory and I’m looking forward to those, but we’ve a long way to go before that.    ML  

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3 Responses to Buck Rogers: Vegas in Space

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The best bad guy performance by Richard Lynch that I can remember was in Invasion U.S.A. where he played a terrorist leader hunted down by the hero played by Chuck Norris. Interesting how such distinctive actors like Lynch and Cesar Romero (particularly after knowing him as the Joker) should be so easily guest-cast for their time in a show like Buck Rogers. Because these days it’s different for the most part which may consequently make us notice the guest characters more for the characters, rather than famous faces. Even with very special occasions for a famous actor to appear, it can be a most delicately handled role, as it certainly had to be for David Warner on Star Trek TNG and David Suchet in Dr. Who: Knock Knock. But it’s a nice reminder of how appealing it was for famous actors and actresses making their contributions to your favorite franchises when we were kids. Because it was a great way at a young age to appreciate their work even better. Thanks, ML, for your review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that scene where Buck in the casino becomes melancholy as it suddenly hits him just how much he’s lost is well done, and Gil Gerard did a great, subtle job with the material.

    Liked by 1 person

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