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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Galactica 1980

While we await the return of the new Battlestar Galactica I thought it would be nice to take a look back at one of the landmarks in television history… Galactica 1980. The original Glen Larson series was canceled after only one season, even though it had huge ratings it was just too damn expensive. A massive letter writing campaign made the execs at ABC and Universal rethink the cancellation (And yet we couldn’t save Firefly?) and so they decided to bring the show back, but with a few changes (i.e. less money spent). Having the series spend at least 95% of it’s time on Earth saved them a bundle but with Cylons missing from most the episodes (reduced to glorified cameos in most) it really makes for a poor spin-off. On the plus side Galactica 1980 is damn fun to watch as it is simply one of the goofiest things I’ve ever seen aired on Network television (this from a guy who watched Manimal and Automan), and that kind of entertainment value is pure gold in my book.

“The great ship Galactica, our home for these many years. We've endured the wilderness of space, and now we near the end of our journey: We have at last found Earth.”

The first three episode story arc is entitled “Galactica Discovers Earth” and takes place thirty years after the original series had ended (main reason for this being that Dirk Benedict wasn’t available and Richard Hatch wanted nothing to do with the project), and starts with the Colonial Fleet finally reaching Earth. Things unfortunately are not as good as Commander Adama (Lorne Green) had hoped as he finds out from Dr. Zee (Robbie Rist who played cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch), resident boy genius aboard the Galactica, that Earth isn’t advanced enough to help defeat the Cylons (Adama is shown stock footage of our movies and television shows as proof of this), and worse yet it appears that the Cylons have been sneakily following the fleet these last few years. So basically the Galactica lead the Cylon Empire to the last humans in the universe. Way to go Adama.
Dr. Zee shows video of Cylon raiders attacking footage from 1974’s Earthquake to an assembled group of the fleet’s top personal, this includes Lieutenant Dillon (Barry Van Dyke), Captain Troy (Kent McCord playing a grown up Boxey), and Commander Xavier (Richard Lynch), but lucky for us the images shown are just a simulation of what would happen if the Galactica was land in a 70s disaster movie. So their big plan is to have the fleet veer off away from Earth before the Cylons figure out that it was the original target, while several groups would fly down to Earth (equipped with cloaking devices and flying motorbikes) to visit several different countries and secretly help the scientific communities so that some day they will be ready to fight off the Cylons. Dillon and Troy get the United States as their goal and their first mission is to contact renowned scientist Doctor Mortinson (Robert Reed), and the first step in doing this is to rip-off The Day the Earth Stood Still by barging into the Doctor’s lab, fix the formula he had been working on for three years, and then leave.
Meanwhile back on the Galactica Commander Xavier is not happy with the current plan and tries to convince Adama that he himself should lead a team back in time and accelerate Earth’s technological advancement so that when the Cylons do arrive the Earth will be ready for them. Though time travel is possible (like everything else on this show it was invented by super whiz kid Dr. Zee) it has never been tested and the dangers of meddling with the past is too much for Adama and he refuses to support the plan. Xavier of course just goes ahead and steals a ship equipped with time warp capabilities (apparently untested and dangerous doesn't mean you shouldn't equip all your ships with it). Dillon and Troy are quickly recalled from their original mission and are sent after Xavier, now teamed up with local Los Angeles reporter Jamie Hamilton (Robyn Douglass) the trio must travel back to 1940’s Germany to stop Xavier from helping the Nazis with their rocket program. Of course our heroes thwart Xavier’s dastardly plan, but even so Xavier manages to escape through time at the last minute. Adama later informs the trio that Xavier has headed back to the 18th Century America to muck around with the Revolutionary War. Jamie agrees to continue to help the Galactica group in their attempts to stop Xavier.
Unfortunately the Network wasn’t to keen on the time travel aspect of the show and the producers were asked to jettison that idea. So the threat of Xavier altering time was abandoned and left completely unresolved. One can only hope that Richard Lynch is still out there somewhere, somewhen doing his best to make our world a better place.

Super Scouts” is two part story that deals with Troy and Dillon being forced to land a shuttle full of Galactican children on Earth. Dr. Zee (now being played by James Patrick Stuart) thinks that with the Cylon threat growing daily it’s best to get all the Galactican children safely to Earth and quietly integrate them into society. Aboard one of the Colonial ships Troy and Dillon are schooling the kids about Earth culture when it comes under Cylon attack, and they are forced to head to Earth ahead of schedule. The kids are delighted to find that with Earth’s gravity being less than what they were use to on board their ships that they can now leap thirty feet in the air (That Troy and Dillon never used this ability in the first three episodes is a bit odd and proof that the writers were thrown for a bit of a loop when the time travel story line was abandoned). They quickly disguise the group as boy scouts but unfortunately three of the kids drink from a nearby lake and get very sick as the local chemical plant is dumping their toxic waste into it. Yes, why have a battle through time against a madman bent on world domination when instead you can battle corporate irresponsibility and greed. Much more exciting. Also introduced in the “reboot” of the season is Air force officer Colonel Sydell (Allen Miller) who is charged with investigating UFOs and hounds our rag-tag bunch. I assumed he was intended to be the Inspector Gerard of the series but strangely he only lasted one more episode. Also introduced in this episode is a Super Flying Saucer that, no surprise here, was also invented by Dr. Zee.

Spaceball” (Mel Brooks not involved) This episode has Troy and Dillon being lured away on special mission by the evil Xavier, who has apparently returned to the present (no explanation is given as to what he may have done while back in time), and is now disguised as Captain Nash (Jeremy Brett of Sherlock Holmes fame). Xavier plans on kidnapping the children to use as bargaining chips in his bid to remove his now outlaw status. Troy and Dillon find themselves floating dead in space in a Viper sabotaged by Xavier, and with their oxygen supply slowly diminishing. Meanwhile Jamie does her best to handle the twelve kids dropped in her laps while also avoiding the investigating Colonel Sydell who is sure those kids are extraterrestrial. The episode ends with a climatic little league game with the kids using their extra strength to defeat their opponents (thus the "clever" episode title) as Troy and Dillon arrive in the nick of time to run off Xavier. Unfortunately Colonel Sydell gets a laser blast in the gut from Xavier during the fight, and is replaced in the next episode by Colonel Briggs (Mark Peter Richman). I guess Barry Morse was busy.

The Night the Cylons Landed” In this two parter a highly advanced Cylon scout ship crash lands outside New York City on Halloween night. Aboard the ship are Cylons that can pass for human (though inside they are still all wires and hoses), one of these new models and a classic centurion survive the crash and seek out way to send a transmission to the Cylon armada to alert their brethren that the lost colony of humans has been found. Troy and Dillon take a commercial jet to intercept the invaders and while on route end up thwarting a hi-jacking. Upon arriving in New York the two spend as much time dodging Colonel Briggs’ dragnet as they do tracking down the Cylons. Meanwhile the Cylons crash a Halloween party, kidnap Wolfman Jack, and force him to take them to the radio transmitter atop the World Trade Center. Of course once again our heroes arrive in just the nick of time to shoot it out with the bad guys. This is the last episode to feature the government trying to track down and I must mention the wonderful disclaimer that follows each of the episodes that includes the Air Force, “The United States Air Force stopped investigating UFOs in 1969. After 22 years they found no evidence of extra-terrestrially visits and no threat to national security.” Well, that’s a relief.

Space Croppers” Cylon Raiders attack the fleet, especially targeting the Agro Ships, in the attempt to force the Galactica to lead them to Earth as the Colonial fleet will be quickly out of food. Troy and Dillon partner up with a down and out Latino farmer who is being oppressed by Rich White Man (Dana Elcar), who rules the local Grower’s Association with an iron hand, and who also has dammed up the river to prevent water getting to those people he feels are beneath him. The Super Scouts return, and with reporter Jamie tagging along, they use their powers, along with Galactica’s superior technology, to plow the fields and plant the seed in record time. Then the Galactica Super Flying Saucer creates and seed clouds with super nutrients that grow them a crop over night. The episode ends with the Rich White Man losing his stranglehold on the valley. This was certainly the lamest of the series.

The Return of Starbuck” This episode begins with Dr. Zee stating, “Adama, I had a dream.” And it’s from that we get the best episode of the series (and I'd say better than anything we saw in the original series) as Dr. Zee tells of his dream about a great warrior named Starbuck. So we finally find out what happened to Starbuck in what is basically an interesting remake of Hell in the Pacific. Starbuck’s ship, damaged in combat, crashes on a desolate planet marooning him as the fleet dares not return to find him with the Cylons so close on their heels. At first he believes himself to be all alone, but then he finds the remains of a crashed Cylon Raider and his loneliness (three days of being alone is enough to crack Starbuck) causes him to repair one of the “dead” Cylons. After he convinces the Cylon not to kill him the two become a nice "odd couple" as they bicker and argue about what it is to be a Cylon opposed to being a human, and a bond begins to form between them. One night the Cylon realizes that his companionship is not enough and that Starbuck needs a woman, so he goes off to find him one…and he does. This episode is so good I dare not spoil any more of it.
Dirk Benedict (as a favor to Glen Larson) returned in what was basically a last ditch effort to prevent cancellation. Alas it failed and many questions have been left unanswered. The dialogue in this episode reaches levels brilliance never achieved before as the Cylon, named Cy by Starbuck, develops quite the sense of humor, and reminded me a lot of Marvin the depressed robot from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Aside from the farming episode I found myself really enjoying this show immensely, well worth the $25 bucks I paid for it, and I can heartily recommend it to any fans of good campy fun. The one thing that may annoy viewers (even more than the introduction of the Super Scouts) is the character of Dr. Zee who mainly sits in a chair and bosses Adama around. Worse is that Adama, at times, seems like a doddering old man waiting for Matlock to come on. Overall the acting is what you typically get from an 80s show of this genre and the highlights really come from the cameos. The effects are low grade and laughable, and you could make a drinking game with every time they use the exact same shot of the flying motorbikes taking off over the city, but all said and done this show is a great way to kill ten hours.

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