Look up Space: 1999 and the first few words on Wikipedia is “…a British Science-fiction television programme that ran for two series from 1975 to 1977.” Look up Buck Rogers and you’ll find, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is an American science fiction adventure television series … between September 1979 and April 1981…” These are basically contemporary shows but from two very different parts of the world and there are some observations that I’m sure we could make into a comedy skit. Space: 1999 was thought-provoking but lacked a warm cast. Koenig is obnoxious, for one, and Helena is about as stiff as a surf board but not as much fun. Notably, the cast rarely was seen in anything but their uniforms, with rare exception. Cut to this side of the pond and the stories are as cliched and pulpy as you can imagine right down to the titles of the individual episode, but the cast is really fun to watch. Humorously, the cast is rarely seen wearing uniforms. Wilma wears skin tight clothes frequently and women walk around in bikini’s at every opportunity; that tends to be the uniform for some of them. You’re not getting thought-provoking stuff like Black Sun but you get characters who are really fun to watch, in more ways than one. And hey, it’s not just the women who are on display. Gil Gerard (Buck) usually has a shirt on that exposes his chest hair and a V that goes right down to the belly button! I don’t know which side of the pond has the better model for television. Maybe they both have their place. (Sort of like savory and sweet; sometimes you want one, sometimes the other!) Heck, even Twiki gets in on the action with a golden droid named Tina whose default noise is “bootie, bootie, bootie”. Yeah… let’s leave it at that.
In this week’s episode, Miss Cosmos feels like she’s being watched. Well, duh. She wanders the Cruise Ship to the Stars in her bikini top and side-slit dress for all to admire. She is, after all, a genetically modified life form to be, literally, the perfect woman. So there’s a bad guy, Jay Davin, on board who wants to steal her genetic secrets. (This sounds like a euphemism, doesn’t it?) Enter superpowered Sabrina, who is much prettier than Miss Cosmos and, did I mention, she has powers to boot. She’s going to help the main bad guy achieve his goal. But hold on a sec… Since this is an American series, I’m looking at this from the American part of my psyche ok? Miss Cosmos is about as deep as a kiddie pool. Sabrina isn’t just a superpowered villain, she’s also a sweet young lady when not in Sabrina form. You see, she’s a bit Jekyll and Hyde. Her Jekyll side is a super-sweet blonde haired, blue eyed beauty named Alison Michaels (played by Kimberly Beck). When she unknowingly transforms into her Hyde, she’s Sabrina (played by Trisha Noble); a dark eyed beauty with a mane of lovely brown hair. In other words, Jay Davin gets two for the price of one, but thinks Miss Cosmos is the prize? What makes Miss Cosmos the target of the show? Personally, I’d be far happier letting her get on with walking around with her vacant expression while I got to know the more interesting person!
Weirdly, this episode feels like it took a lot of its influences from Star Trek. The plot seemed like it would work very well in an episode of TOS, with Kirk wooing each of the women he could. By contrast, however, Buck is a gentleman and takes advantage of exactly no one. I am stunned to read myself typing this, but Buck is a better captain by a long shot. (I still admire Kirk though; he’ll always be my first Captain!) Even the sound effects and the incidental music seemed to be lifted from Star Trek. Admittedly, if you’re going to copy someone or something, I guess it pays to target the greats!
Overall, this episode did little for me. Well, actually it might have done one big thing: it really made me want to go on a cruise again. I used to go on one every couple years but that was over a decade ago now and I am missing it. While the sets are a bit cheesy looking, there’s no doubt that they knew what a cruise ship was about and captured some of that fairly well. Not sure about the torture chamber where they can splice your cells, but as no one has ever valued mine that highly, I may just never have made it into those rooms! Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20 and seeing the disco dancing scene has again made me grateful that I never danced. The sequence is horribly dated and deeply embarrassing. (Especially the Saturday Night Fever moves where one hand has to stay on a table while the other “John Travolta’s” it the whole time! Ouch…) Another embarrassing scene is when Buck wants to help Alison and instead of having her accompany him to see his doctor friend, he says “stay here” which instantly told me she’d be changing! Good lord, Buck! And honestly as villains go, Jay Devlin is less interesting than most shoelaces. The only reason to watch is Allison/Sabrina really!
The crazy thing is, even the weak episodes have an enjoyment factor that has impressed me. Not one of these has left me questioning the reason people might have tuned in and I can’t recall looking at the clock once, trying to figure out how much longer until the end. Gerard is incredibly charismatic as Buck and it is a good looking cast across the board, although Erin Gray’s hair was a sight to behold, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Twiki has actually grown on me immensely where his once moderately annoying me-dee-me-dee-me-dee has become a source of merriment and his Mel-Blanc-provided voice seems to always say something that makes me laugh, even when learning to play poker. I wouldn’t use this episode as a great example of the series, but it’s still miles more enjoyable than some of the real slogs we got from Space: 1999. That might answer my question earlier in this article but I’m not sold yet. I want at least one strong winner from this show before I make an assessment! ML
This was certainly an interesting sci-fi take on DID. Trying to understand how it came about in the first place, especially how Buck was able to figure it out, is all the more interesting now, given how much more complex this kind of sci-fi can be today. Thankfully this should still be one of the most enjoyable Buck Rogers episodes for me because its powerful message on our struggles for identity, which sci-fi has often made the best use of. Seeing Wilma lose her fight with Sabrina is still rather depressing though. Thanks, ML, for your review.
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