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Monday, September 26, 2016

Beyond Westworld (1980) – Review

Basing a television show on a successful movie has almost become common place now, but at the time of Beyond Westworld not only was it uncommon but they were also basing their series after one successful movie and one dud. What were they thinking? Only five episodes were ever produced, and only three of those saw air, solidifying this show’s position as a notorious “Crash and Burn” series. With HBO's reimagining airing now I thought it’d be nice to take a look back and see what caused this show to be cancelled so damn fast.


Beyond Westworld was basically a sequel to Westworld while completely ignoring the events of the theatrical sequel Futureworld, though some thematic elements taken from it. Where Delos became the evil corporation in Futureworld for this series it’s now the heroic company trying to stop a disgruntled employee from taking over the world. This is why a company needs a good HR department to cut these kind of problems in the nub.

Note: In this series there is no reference to Medieval World, Roman World or Futureworld yet according to a poster in the Delos Company office the movie Westworld apparently exists.


"What do you mean Yul Brynner isn't returning my calls?

Turns out the computer virus that we were told caused the robots to go crazy in Westworld was not caused by computer programs designing their own software and going nuts, but in fact it was all planned and orchestrated by one man, Simon Quaid (James Wainwright), a robotics designer who believed that the robots they were creating should be used for the benefit of mankind and not as theme park attractions. (It's never made clear if he put any of this in the company's suggestion box) This resulted in Quaid turning the robots lose on the park guests, causing death and destruction, and then he escaped with a couple hundred more robots for his own nefarious purposes.


And we can assume his headquarters is in a volcano lair.

The head of Delos, and former boss of Quaid, is Joseph Oppenheimer (William Jordan), who is clearly named after J. Robert Oppenheimer the father of the atomic bomb, a man most known for the famous quote. “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” So this television show attempted to equate the creation of nuclear weapons with this dudes theme park robots.  In better hands this may have worked but the results here don’t quite meet that goal. Now Joseph Oppenheimer is not the star of this show, he’s more the Oscar Goldman type from The Six Million Dollar Man, the lead character is Delos security expert and top trouble shooter John Moore (Jim McMullan). He’s teamed up with Laura Garvey (Judith Chapman) to track down Quaid and put an end to the robot threat.


John Moore vows to check under every woman’s shirt.

In the pilot episode they learn that Quaid has managed to get one of his robot duplicates aboard a U.S. nuclear submarine and so Moore and Garvey are sent to discover what member of the crew is the robot, and to find out what Quaid’s plan is. The show’s biggest problem rears its head right in the very first episode; these duplicates are robots and not the genetically perfect clones that we saw in Futureworld, so discovering who is and who is not a robot should be relatively easy. If a fridge magnet sticks to the forehead of person’s forehead they are most likely a robot. Now in the last episode “Takeover” a blood sample was used to confirm someone wasn’t a robot, but in that case it turned out that Quaid had stuck a computer control chip into the poor dude’s head. This was the one and only time in the five episodes that our heroes thought to medically check out a suspect.  For top gun trouble shooters they aren't all that bright.


Could this man be a robot?

The show’s basic structure becomes Delos learning about Quaid taking an interest in something; whether it be an oil company, a football team, a supply of uranium, or a stock car race, and then sending Moore and Pamela Williams (Connie Sellecca), who replaced Judith Chapman after the pilot, to go undercover and investigate any robot shenanigans. Now this sounds like a sensible formula for an adventure/mystery show except for one small thing; Quaid is on a first name basis with both Moore and Williams, and thus he knows what they look like. Pamela even worked for Quaid before transferring to security work. So these two idiots go undercover to find out who could be a robot, all while the robot they are supposedly hunting for are completely aware of who's the goodguys are. Or heroes don’t even bring weapons to combat these killer robots, but instead have to learn each particular robot’s weakness.


This one’s Achilles heel is a letter opener to the gut.

That some robots are incapacitated by water while others have weak eyes or access ports was clearly set up to add some variety to the show, and give our heroes something to figure out instead of just simply blowing them away with an EMP pulse or something, but it makes Quaid about the dumbest mad scientist to ever walk the Earth. One of the robots becomes incapacitated when Moore takes of its sunglasses; that’s not a weakness that’s an incredibly bad design flaw. Quaid also succumbs to the standard super villain shtick where he has the heroes in his clutches and then leaves him alone so he can escape the apparent deathtrap, but Quaid goes one step further in the cocky egomaniacal villain mode; in the pilot he captures Moore, has him placed in a straitjacket that doubles as a lie detector and torture device, then after interrogating him he releases a robot rattlesnake to kill Moore. What is beyond the pale of stupidity is that before leaving Quaid he bloody well removes Moore’s straitjacket!  Is he all about fair play and a man bound fighting a snake just isn’t cricket? Later he gets the Professor from Gilligan’s Island to help come up with even dumber plans.


“You’d be amazed at what I can build with just bamboo and coconuts.”

Simon Quaid could have made for an interesting villain; his motivation is to save mankind from itself by placing robots in all positions of power, with him a silent puppeteer controlling the world’s strings, seems reasonable in a evil crackpot way, but instead we get a white collar criminal with delusions of grandeur. None of his plots seem all that impressive; getting a hold of a fuel efficient car engine doesn’t seem all the dastardly, but his inability to pull off even the simplest job left me confident that if up against Inspector Gadget Penny’s help would not be required to take him out.


Have you seen my white cat?

But the real failure for this show isn’t the moronic plots or incompetent villains, it’s the fact that John Moore is colossally boring as a hero. I’m surprised that the robots he’s up against didn’t just self-terminate to escape his incessant droning. Connie Sellecca seems to be having a good time, and she is a delight in most of her scenes, but Jim McMullan looks to be sleepwalking through most of his, and with the apparent desire to put us to sleep as well. Steve Austin or Michael Knight he is not.


He’s wearing a sweater vest for Christ sake.

Beyond Westworld being cancelled was inevitable, that they aired three of them before pulling the plug is the real puzzler here, but I guess in the early 80s there wasn’t as much competition out there. The repetitive nature of the concept “find robot and pull his plug” would have been tough to sustain for a full season, let alone a multiple season run, so it’s best that this show died in the crib. Let’s hope that HBO has a better idea for making a Westworld spin-off work.

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