I’m starting to think the titles tell us all we need to know; they certainly give away enough to know which episodes are going to be real yawn-fests. Space Rockers opens with a new low in what SF writers thought music of the future would look like and it’s distinctly 1970 glam rock. The premise is that the villain of the week, Lars Mangros, is going to use music with a hidden signal to manipulate everyone universally to help overthrow the galactic government and become the new leader. Buck sums it up well: “the devil made me do it”. Can he stop them? Well, duh… of course he can!
This episode aired in February of 1980, so it was still a product of the 70’s and it shows in every way conceivable. Throughout the series, Buck sports shirts with such a deep cut V in them and no t-shirt, that his shirt might look like it sported a small carpet. Another product of the time is the villains. Lars is played by Jerry Orbach, probably best known for his role in Law and Order. I don’t know him from that directly, but the superb Resident Alien where Alan Tudyk emulates him to learn human speech. “I’ve got news for you Cosette!” His henchman is played by Richard Moll, best known for Bull in Night Court. Moll is also used to playing bad guys and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen him being over-the-top. I had one other surprise actor make an appearance that made me smile: Rambeau is played by Jesse D. Goins who I instantly recognized even under all his glam rock glitter from another childhood favorite of mine, The Greatest American Hero.
Even though this episode irked me, probably because the music of the rock group Andromeda is laced with a sound that makes everyone go insane, including this listener, I have to say I think there was a message here. Early on, Dr. Huer is complaining about the music, but Buck says that music was often a source of hope and inspiration in his time. I mean, that’s not even 5 minutes of good message to be laced into 45 additional minutes of tedium, but at least you have to give it credit for trying.
One major oversight is that the Lars sends the lovely Joanna in to Buck with the intent of activating the music which will cause her to go nuts and attack him. Thing is, why wouldn’t Buck be similarly affected? He never seems to be bothered by the music. Don’t tell me he’s immune; that makes no sense. Then there’s the waste disposal chutes that Twiki says are too small for a man to fit through but we’re shown the doorway: they are maybe 4-5 feet tall. Twiki stands without a problem but Buck is equipped with what must be a modern day thing called “knees”. You know, you can find them on the front of your legs: they allow you to do a special move called “bending”. So what was the issue with Buck going where Twiki didn’t want to? He certainly fit!
And let’s spend a few minutes having a laugh about formulaic TV from this era. The Incredible Hulk and The A-Team both did this: they’d put the hero in an early version of an Escape Room. The hero would have to figure out how to escape before the bad guy won the day. In the case of The A-Team, that meant they’d be locked in a room with every tool known to man. In The Incredible Hulk, it was right after whooping Banner that they’d lock him in so a big green guy could smash his way out. (And no one ever pieced it together. People were not that smart in the 70s and 80s I guess.) In Buck Rogers, Buck has previously used reflective necklaces, and now he gets to use a musical keyboard to create a loud noise which, as we all know, destroys locks.
I started this show with much higher hopes than I have now. I think one critical thing that’s gone wrong is that, these feel more like the other shows I mentioned, just with a space setting. You could easily translate most of these to a standard earth-based story with very little tweaking. I sort of expect the old logo of Stephen J. Cannell to appear at the end of each episode. With only two more episodes to go for season one, I’m interested to see if they were holding out the best for last. It did get renewed for a second season, after all. ML
Interesting to finally look back on this episode as the first time I saw Jerry Orbach and compare it to how Law & Order, his recurring Murder She Wrote role as P.I. Harry McGraw, and movies like Dirty Dancing and F/X have earned him great acclaim. Because Mangros can be a cardboard villain, even with the realism of how the abuse of music can become deadly, as I also learned from an episode of Quincy M.E. Kate Bush’s Experiment IV music video is the most profound lesson for me on how the power of sound can be used as a dangerous weapon. As for how 70s and 80s shows may now easily be seen as unrealistic when it comes to escape scenes, even with profoundly serious exceptions like Thriller’s Kiss Me And Die, perhaps several shows like Buck Rogers, The Incredible Hulk and The A-Team could have often convinced audiences to suspend their disbelief. But in light of all the harsh realities in our world today, we should all certainly be a lot smarter now. Thank you, ML, for your review.
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