Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Buck Rogers in the Cheese Motherlode

 Periodically I search the Tubi TV app on my Roku for Rifftrax movies because they actually have some newer ones than are on the official Rifftrax app.  Which kind of annoys me that the app I pay for has less than a free app, but I digress.  One night as I was poking around, I saw that Tubi TV had the old Buck Rogers show from the 70s and so for the hell of it I decided to watch it.

I think part of my motivation was a couple months before I'd watched the South Park where they parodied that show when Cartman freezes himself to get a Nintendo Wii and winds up in the 25th Century.  And also back in the 90s I played the Buck Rogers video game that was like the Dungeons & Dragons games like Champions of Krynn only instead of magic and swords you had laser guns and rocket launchers.  It was kind of a fun game but they don't have it on like the D&D games.

So anyway, from reading the Wikipedia, Buck Rogers first appeared in the late 20s in a few pulp stories called Armageddon 2491 or something like that.  It inspired imitators like Flash Gordon, and about 50 years later was probably part of the inspiration for George Lucas in making Star Wars.  But after the success of Star Wars, they decided to update Buck Rogers for the 70s.  The premise for the show is given in the opening credits:  in 1987 (lol) Captain Buck Rogers is flying a probe into space when something goes wrong and he's frozen only to be revived 504 years later in the year 2491.

The opening 2-part episode has him being revived by the evil Draconian Empire, who want to use Buck as sort of a Trojan Horse to get inside Earth's defense shield and take over the planet.  So they implant something in him and send him back into space for Earth's defenders to intercept him and bring him down.  He's taken to the capital of "New Chicago" and meets its leader Dr. Huer, the commander of Earth's space fleet Colonel Wilma Deering, and a robot "drone" named Twikki that carries around a computer known as Dr. Theopolis.  And then there's the whole thing where Buck has to get used to the future, is thought to be a spy, and then proves himself in helping Deering and the rest of Earth's defenders drive off the Draconians.  Also according to the Wikipedia page, the first two-part episode was released in movie theaters and was successful enough for NBC to order a full season.

The whole thing is pretty cheesy from the clothes, hair, disco-y soundtrack, and "future" technology that looks very dated by now.  Like the original Battlestar Galactica that aired in that same time period, the models and lasers for the space battles aren't completely awful but not exactly Industrial Light & Magic caliber.  Probably the most awful thing was the theme song at the end with some terrible lounge singer caterwauling.  

For no reason except maybe boredom I watched some more episodes.  It doesn't really get much better in terms of acting, clothes, or special effects, though at least they made the end theme song an instrumental.  And yet as stupid and silly as it was, it was also kind of fun.  I think in part because the show didn't really take itself seriously with dad jokes and cartoon sound effects.  Like the old Star Trek they'd end a lot of episodes on some corny joke, freeze frame, and go to the credits.  It's almost impossible, especially by today's standards, to take it seriously.  Most of the time there was a lot more Saturday morning feeling to the writing, acting, and so on than prime time drama.

By modern standards it would be getting cancelled on social media because there are no black, Asian, or other minority main characters.  Homosexuality really isn't mentioned at all.  Other than when she's wearing her flight suit, Erin Gray is always in some shiny, tight-fitting thing when she's supposed to be a colonel and head of their defense forces.  The evil Princess Ardala wears even less than that, usually just a shiny bikini and cape.  It's definitely failing the Bechdel Test.

The second season does one of those annoying soft reboots with no warning or setup.  Suddenly Buck and Deering are on a ship called the Searcher and Dr. Huer and Dr. Theopolis are gone, replaced by a couple of guys named Asimov (lol) and Goodfellow.  And Twiki the robot has a different voice for half the season.  The whole thing is basically just an off-brand Star Trek like The Orville is off-brand Star Trek TNG.  It's pretty lame and in the next entry I'll go more into that.  

The second season ends with a pretty normal episode.  An alien fugitive is on board the Searcher and so an alien warship keeps making the temperature really hot or cold to try to make them surrender.  Ultimately Buck finds out that the aliens all wear masks because they all look the same--like a young Brad Pitt, which seems pretty awesome if you ask me.  So they don't kill the fugitive and the Searcher is let go.  Hooray!

I'm not sure why but they never really tried to hook up Buck and Wilma.  Especially in the second season you'd think maybe they'd get desperate enough to do that, but they don't.  I suppose that would really ruin Buck's discount Captain Kirk vibe of wooing all the alien women he comes across.  But why are you hitting on alien babes when you have Erin Gray in skintight jumpsuits and stuff right there all the time?  It defies logic.

Overall Gil Gerard does an OK job of playing the titular Buck given the often cheesy material and even cheesier wardrobe.  In the first season just about all of his outfits are open in the middle to show off the chest hair on his dad bod.  Fortunately in the second season he zips up a bit more.  Most of the time I thought of him as a combo of Lee Majors and Nathan Fillion, though another idea might be a beefier, hairier Luke Wilson.  His name always sounds like he should be playing for the Montreal Canadiens.  Checking the IMDB page he really didn't do anything else of note.

Fun Facts:  They had some decent guest stars including Jamie Lee Curtis, Jack Palance, Roddy MacDowall, Peter Graves, Gary Coleman, Jerry Orbach, William Sylvester of 2001, and Batman '66 villains Cesar Romero, Julie Newmar, and Frank Gorshin.  Then-unknowns Markie Post, Richard Moll, and Dennis Haysbert also appeared in episodes.  Mark Lenard, who played Spock's father Sarek in Star Trek shows and movies, plays an ambassador for a race of people who can take their robot heads off in a two-part episode.  In the first season Twiki the robot was voiced by Mel Blanc, who voiced a lot of cartoons in the old days like pretty much all the Looney Tunes and Barney Rubble.  Buster Crabbe, who played Buck Rogers in the old serials, appears in one episode as a pilot brought out of retirement to help save the day.  Tony Cox, who played the evil elf/robber in Bad Santa plays one of a group of midget aliens who wreak havoc in a second season episode.

A few times when they were at space ports there would be jokey announcements.  One announced the arrival of Adam Strange from Alpha Centauri; Adam Strange is a DC Comics character most recently in the miniseries Strange Adventures by Tom King.  Another asked Christopher Pike to report to Veteran Affairs; Pike was the original captain of the Enterprise on Star Trek who will soon be in a new Discovery spin-off series on Paramount+.  Speaking of Trek, in one episode the bad guys sabotage a matter-anti-matter reactor.  An alien whose planet was ravaged by radiation goes into the reactor to stop it from blowing up like what Spock did in Wrath of Khan a couple years later, only the alien used his ability to turn intangible to survive.

A Fun Fact I posted on Facebook already:  Buck Rogers the comic strip was published by the Dille family in the 30s and they continued to control the property until about 2020.  In the 80s, grandson Flint Dille wrote a lot of Transformers and GI JOE cartoon episodes that I watched.  The Dille family's control of the property reminded me of Harmony Gold's control of Robotech in that they jealously guarded it for decades while at the same time seeming to be too incompetent to actually DO anything with said property.  A recent court case breaking their control means that someone might finally be able to make a serious attempt to get Buck and Wilma back on big or small screens.  Not that most people (including me) would really care at this point.

Something that's probably just a weird coincidence:  The character is named Captain Buck Rogers.  Captain America is Captain Steve Rogers and his sidekick was named Bucky.  Buck Rogers was notably frozen for about 500 years and woke up a man out of time.  In the 60s (and then in 2011) Steve Rogers was frozen for decades and woke up a man out of time.  Weird, isn't it?


  1. I still like the design of the Earth fighters...and still have a little diecast Matchbox one somewhere in a box, complete with little pop out wings

    Another fun fact...the network canceled BSG in favor of Buck Rogers because they could make it cheaper since the other show didn't really take off like Star Wars did

  2. Buck Rogers is so cheesy it's more like a comedy. Yes, that is a weird. It makes me wonder if it's really a coincidence.



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