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Jack of All Trades is like a gourmet meal for goofballs.  If you took a dash of Wild Wild West, add a dash of Get Smart on top, and a garnish of F Troop, and a helping of Moonlighting… that’s what you’d get.”
–Bruce Campbell

Back when I started this website, one of the first articles I wrote was about The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., headlined by cult hero Bruce Campbell.  The series is one of my favorites, and the show got an unfortunate early demise despite its wild adventure and comedy mix.  There’s a reason the article for it was called “Just under over-the-top”, as it described perfectly the fun tone and presentation.  But Bruce Campbell has done much more in his career, and there’s one other show he later did which fits on this site.  The show is called Jack of All Trades… and it abandons all pretense of being UNDER over-the-top.  Here, there’s no longer any subtlety involved… and in this case, that’s a good thing.

In the 2000 series Jack of All Trades, we meet Jack Stiles (Bruce Campbell), an entertaining rogue if ever there was one.  A former spy (or “secret agent”, before the term was popularized), he worked for the early US Government during the Revolutionary War, and was now entrusted with preventing the formerly allied French from gaining a foothold in a slowly building America.  Despite their differences (and there are many), he teams with a British agent, the lovely Emilia Rothschild (Angela Dotchin), and they establish themselves on the tiny East Indies island of Palau Palau, hoping to fight the enemy French from within their own colony.

In order to fool the French,  Jack pretends to be the manservant of the regal Rothschild, while Emilia takes on the bearing of a respected member of society’s elite (and supposedly on the side of the governing French).  She and Jack are really there to spy on their mutual French enemies and foil their plans for world domination.  And while there’s an obvious attraction to each other, neither is used to taking any orders from someone else, and both sexual tension and friction are played in equal measure amidst the rollicking adventure.

Croque

To help with fighting the French, Jack also takes on the alias of the legendary Daring Dragoon, a supposed local legend and masked hero.  Using both covers as Emilia’s attaché and the local populace’s fascination with the “reappearance” of the Dragoon, Jack and Emilia embark upon their true mission:  opposing the brother of Napoleon, Governor Croque (Stuart Devenie),  and Croque’s personal lackey, Captain Brogard (Stephen Papps).  Our heroic pair then proceeds to foil various plans and schemes of others, including many historical figures like Bonaparte himself.  In reality, Emilia is often Jack’s assistant instead of the public portrayal as his superior, and she’s also rather adept at mechanical invention, coming up with various devices to foil villainous plots along with the swashbuckling of Jack’s Daring Dragoon.

Brogard

Captain Brogard:  “So, we meet again, Mister Fancy Sword and his flowing cape.”

Jack (as the Dragoon):  “Give me some credit, will ya?  You know how hard it is to wear this thing and still look dashing?”


the Daring Dragoon

Between the Zorro-like pastiche of the Dragoon, the deus ex machina of some of Emilia’s machines, and the general lack of historical accuracy given in the production of the series, there’s no two ways about it:  Jack of All Trades was designed purely as an action romp, complete with cartoon character villains and plot holes big enough to drive war cannons through.  But that certainly didn’t stop the show from being entertaining, and that was the whole point.

From the opening, you knew this show was different.  The rousing theme song features a large cast, clever lyrics, explosions, dancing pirates (even one with a peg leg, on a table no less), and a talking parrot.  Subtlety be damned, this was in-your-face joyful fun.  It did such a fine job of setting the scene and demonstrating the style of the series, it was nominated for an Emmy!  Jack of All Trades was no place for sensitive drama or introspective scripting, and the theme alone let everyone see just what they were in for.

And the show delivered on that promise, at least most of the time.  There is some good role reversal going on between Jack and Emilia and the roles they have to play for the French leaders in order to keep their true identities hidden, and whenever Jack dons the garb of the Daring Dragoon Bruce Campbell simply shines.  Stories included numerous French attempts at conquest with Napoleon Bonaparte, a meeting with explorers Lewis and Clark, and faking the death of one of the principals to clear the name of the Dragoon.  And just when you thought the show couldn’t get any crazier, they broke out the Marquis De Sade, and a sex-game based triathlon ran in pseudo-fetish costume (or at least as “costumed” as television could get in the year 2000).

Governor Croque: “The Marquis de Sade is my second cousin, twice-removed.”
Jack Stiles: “I can see why you removed him.”

Trying to be true to the actual setting of 1800 was a lost cause, and even became a running gag at times.  Canada was constantly mistakenly(?) mentioned as being under French control instead of British, and historical characters visited Palau Palau even though their own “real” timelines never had them near the place (or even alive at the time).  Jack of All Trades was never designed for the remotest attention to detail or reality, it was simply designed as silly, fun entertainment.  And that’s just the way Bruce Campbell wanted it.

“I have a good time.  It’s one of the reasons I took Jack of All Trades.  It’s like a guarantee that I will have fun every day .”
–Bruce Campbell

Modern audiences might know Campbell from his current run as sidekick/mentor Sam Axe on the USA series Burn Notice.  He’s played the part since 2007, which is easily the longest running regular gig he’s had in television, although he’s known for many others.  He was an occasional guest (and fan favorite) as Autolycus on both Hercules:  The Legendary Journeys and sister series Xena:  Warrior Princess, both of which were shooting in New Zealand before and after his stint in Jack of All Trades.  I’ve mentioned his star turn in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. previously. He’s also had a movie career which includes the cult favorite Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies, cool zombie pictures that became influences on the current television hit The Walking Dead.

Campbell is a successful bestselling author, with tongue firmly in cheek, writing the semi-autobiographical tomes Make Love!  The Bruce Campbell Way and (making fun of his chiseled good looks) If Chins Could Kill:  Confessions of a B-Movie Actor.  He knows his niche, and while he’s possessed of great dramatic skills when they’re necessary (a stunning two-part Homicide:  Life on the Street comes to mind), his personality and desire seems to be more in line with poking fun, both at himself and others, with the characters he plays.

He’s also become associated with good friend Sam Raimi, a producer of film and television who has used Bruce in many of his vehicles (as listed above), but considers Campbell his “good luck charm” and will find small roles for him in various films.  Whether he’s a wrestling ring announcer or a French waiter, or his part ended up on the cutting room floor, Raimi wouldn’t make a film without him.

Fortunately, the aims of Jack of All Trades dovetailed with Raimi’s needs, and the series was shot utilizing some of the resources Raimi had already set up for Hercules and Xena in New Zealand.  The monetary exchange rate was excellent at the time, and a production which would cost millions of dollars in Hollywood only cost a bit over half of that down under.  An added plus was locations and scenery that simply wasn’t available in California, especially when you’re trying to replicate (even inaccurately) a South Sea island like Palau Palau.  The only real problem was time… but not in the way you might think.

Cleopatra 2525

When Jack of All Trades premiered, it was paired with a futuristic series called Cleopatra 2525, and sold as a set known as the “Back-to-Back Action Pack”.  It was also sold as only a 30-mintue program, with Cleopatra 2525 filling the other half of the hour.  Once you remove the necessary commercials (as they pay for the production), and the elaborate opening credits and any end credit sequence (required by various unions, no matter how they’ve been shrunk on modern-day shows), you’re left with an actual available running time of only about 20 minutes per episode, if you’re lucky.

That may be enough for a typical situation comedy, with a modest plot set primarily in a living room or office.  It becomes a terrible burden, however, when trying to make a period show set on a South Sea island, with multiple characters foiling elaborate schemes, plus character relationships and secret identities, not to mention trying to add action/adventure qualities with an over-the-top comedic tone.  Jack of All Trades really tried to be exactly that:  a show which presented all types of things to all people, in the name of entertainment.  But ultimately it couldn’t do everything it had hoped, primarily because of the time constraints.

But at least it had fun trying.  And perhaps “fun” is the one quality most important in any show, for viewers, cast, and crew.  And, as the opening credits sang, if you didn’t know that… you don’t know Jack.

All about the fun

BRUCE CAMPBELL (Jack Stiles) and his career are detailed in the article itself, but mention should be made of his recent trip overseas to visit US troops during the recent Iraqi conflict, and of his brother Don’s involvement.  Don has almost 30 years of experience in the military, and the brothers support each other in their endeavors.  Bruce has appeared at multiple sites in support of the troops, and Don has helped with some of the military-related roles Bruce has played over the years.  Entertainment takes many forms, and is especially valued by those whose hard work helps make us free to enjoy those moments.

AMANDA DOTCHIN (Emilia Rothschild) is a native of New Zealand, and her career has been primarily down under.  She’s best known there for the Lawless series of TV-movies, where won awards for her portrayal of a private investigator.  She left the acting business a few years ago and moved to Great Britain, where she now makes a living in the fashion industry.

STEWART DEVENIE (Governor Croque) is another New Zealand actor, and a favorite of director Peter Jackson.  He’s had an extensive theatre career as both an actor and director, and taught acting at the New Zealand Drama School.  He also founded the Playfair Ltd. theatre company, based in Auckland.

STEPHEN PAPPS (Captain Brogard) also appeared in both Hercules:  The Legendary Journeys and Xena:  Warrior Princess before joining Jack of All Trades.  Continuing his acting in Australia and New Zealand, he was seen in America most recently guesting on Legend of the Seeker (which filmed, like Hercules and Xena, in New Zealand).

Jack of All Trades has been released on DVD (although there aren’t any extras included), so you can enjoy all the fun and adventure for yourself.  Bruce Campbell has his own site, of course, full of information about his previous projects, his current stint on Burn Notice, and upcoming appearances at various conventions around the country.  He may be a self-confessed “B-movie” actor, but many would love to have his career, his fans, and his popularity.  On his site, just as in Jack of All Trades, you can see why.

No matter what the Hollywood power structure might believe as a business, for viewers television will always be primarily an entertainment medium.  One which is invited into our homes, as a part of our everyday lives, to bring us both dramatic and humorous moments to make our existence more interesting or, at the very least, provide an outlet for escape.  Depending upon the scene and the episode, Jack of All Trades did this well, with likable characters and humor, in a setting and style seldom found on most programs.

Much of the credit has to go to Bruce Campbell, for although he’s a self-proclaimed B-list actor, he’s been a welcome part of many productions, and his executive producer credits on both Jack of All Trades and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. meant his trademark humor was more than evident.  It only proves that, even though he plays a supporting role on the current Burn Notice, when the series was tapped for a special TV-movie, it focused upon his character and his backstory before the show continuity began.

Campbell may not be a star in the strictest Hollywood sense, but for those who appreciate his humor and dedication, he’s one of the brightest stars in both television and movies.  He doesn’t have to master Hollywood, especially when he can become popular on his own terms.  To those who love his work, he’s already a Jack of All Trades, and a master of entertainment.

Vital Stats

22 half-hour episodes — none unaired — available on DVD
Syndicated
First aired episode:  January 22, 2000
Final aired episode:  December 2, 2000
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Perhaps, but not likely.  Since the series was syndicated, it aired at various different times on different stations who bought the rights.  It also was known to flip-flop with Cleopatra 2525 at times, occasionally airing before it, and occasionally airing after.

(By the way, this didn’t fit in the article, but I found a picture that’s the very definition of “cult hero”:  Here’s Bruce Campbell, wearing Clan Campbell tartan dress, posing with Conor Macleod’s Highlander broadsword, in front of statues of Robert the Bruce and William “Braveheart” Wallace, at Edinbrugh Castle in Scotland.)

Thanks to the HeroChan website for this!

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“A fascinating subject, the Bermuda Triangle is like the ‘open sesame’.  It was there as a doorway into an infinite number of stories that had to do with the imagination more than anything.”
–Executive Producer Bruce Lansbury

There have been many ships and planes “lost” in what is known as “the Bermuda Triangle,” a mysterious area of the Caribbean just south of the US, with unexplained phenomena and unusual happenings.  At least, that’s the way it was back in the ’70’s, when imaginations ran wild with ideas of various people being transported to who knows where, or even who knows when.  While it was always a wonder about where they ended up, one show in the ’70’s decided to use those concepts to tell stories about all sorts of possible destinations.  On this show, it was all about The Fantastic Journey.

The (ultimate) cast of The Fantastic Journey

The Fantastic Journey aired 10 episodes on NBC beginning in 1976.  The initial pilot concerned a small group of scientists exploring the questions of the Bermuda Triangle, and becoming part of the unknown themselves when their sailing vessel is swallowed up by a mysterious green cloud (and you KNOW it’s mysterious because it’s GREEN, such easy television shorthand that it got used in a similar show a decade later).  The passengers awaken on an island, shipwrecked, unable to contact the mainland, and wondering how to survive.

Included are Dr. Fred Walters (Carl Franklin), a doctor just graduated out of school, who was acting as the medical advisor for the group.  He is joined by young Scott Jordan (Ike Eisenmann), the son of the scientist in charge of the expedition, and a history buff whose inquisitive nature sometimes causes problems.

These two meet up with Varian (Jared Martin), who first appears to them as an Arawak Indian, but he’s actually in disguise.  While the island they’re on apparently is somewhere in the 16th century, complete with renegade pirates, Varian is actually from the year 2260, and is just as stranded as Dr. Walters and Scott.  A pacifist by nature and belief, he uses a “Sonic Energizer” to focus his thoughts and do everything from heal injuries to open locked doors and create explosions.  (Think of Doctor Who‘s “sonic screwdriver”, except it looks like a fancy tuning fork.)

While there were others who survived the wreck, they didn’t survive the pilot, as some characters (including Scott’s father) were “lucky” enough to be sent home, as the initial episode was “adjusted” to eliminate them, leaving only Varian, Dr. Walters and Scott.

“The original idea was to go both directions in time.  In the pilot we had gone back in time.  NBC didn’t like that.  They said the past was boring and that we should only go forward in time.  But we couldn’t go out and shoot another pilot.  They decided to find some way to shoot some new footage about the future and insert it.  Also, the pilot was two hours long and they wanted to show it in an hour-and-a-half time slot as an extra-long episode to kick off the series.  So all these things were going on.”
–Jared Martin

Varian becomes the de facto leader of the small band, and he tells them the island they’re on houses many different times and places, all at once, and their way home lies somewhere in a place called “Evoland” many “time zones” away.  Their first journey after the pilot leads them away from the 16th century into a place called Atlantium, where they gain another traveler (or, really, two).

Liana and Varian

Liana (Katie Saylor) is a woman with an unusual heritage, said to be the daughter of an extraterrestrial mother who joined with her human father.  Deceptively strong due to her mixed parentage, she also possesses increased mental abilities, including telepathic skills.  She utilizes these with her pet, Sil-el, who appears to us as a cat (but quite possibly could be something more).  Liana doesn’t trust the new government of Atlantium (nor should she, honestly), so she decides to join Varian and company on her own search for home.

Varian, Dr.Willoway, and guest Joan Collins in the episode "Turnabout"

The next stop of the group, in the third episode, picks up another member for their journey.  Dr. Jonathan Willoway (Roddy McDowall) is a scientist from the 1960’s, but years ahead in pure scientific knowledge.  Trapped in a world of androids, he sees the group as a way to avoid his confinement and, although he has few skills to get along with other humans, he becomes a reluctant addition to the party.

At least initially, Willoway inhabits the “villain” role in stories, due to his selfishness and inability to relate to the others.  While at first this plays more like the comedic Dr. Smith of Lost in Space, McDowall’s talents (and some extensive script work) create a much more likable character in later episodes.  While there are still opposing views in place (Varian’s pacifist nature, Scott’s inquisitiveness, Liana’s non-human values), the group goes on together for the good of all.

“When I first brought it to the network, they kept trying to hammer it into a science fiction mold.  It was originally called The Incredible Island where all things could happen and did, you know, and it was a place where you could tell all kinds of stories, just as Serling did in Twilight Zone.  And basically we ended up doing that.  We didn’t do sci-fi at all. I leaned towards science fantasy, which permits you to a broader range of story and it pushes the imagination a little more than pure science fiction.  Science fiction tends to become the victim of rules and regulations and what has been done before and a categorization process.  That happens in science fiction.  Science fantasy allows you to express yourself in any way you want to as long as it opens the mind.”
–Bruce Lansbury

The world of Atlantium

It also makes telling stories much easier when you don’t have pesky rules around to get in the way.  Lansbury’s original idea was much more based in historical settings, although futuristic ones were possible.  As a history buff, Scott was going to be one of the sources for information, as was Dr. Walters for his medical knowledge.  But in a purely science fiction/fantasy premise, characters with advanced ideas were needed, especially when their explanations could be adjusted for story purposes; hence, the addition of Liana and Dr. Willoway to the group.

All those changes would suppose the series was about the characters themselves.  Perhaps that would have been more true if The Fantastic Journey had lasted longer than a mere 10 episodes.  But initially, the series was about the amazing places the group would discover as they made their way towards Evoland and, possibly, a way home.  It was not about significant character growth.

“The difference between doing something like this and doing a contemporary show is that everybody knows the whole typical format, the whole set; they know the stereotypes — they know everything — whereas, when you’re talking about something futurist, that’s fantasy.  You have to create that atmosphere for them.  You’ve got to make them believe that place.  More than anything else, they’ve got to get a feel of the place that you’re talking about.”
–Carl Franklin

There’s a good reason the show’s title is The Fantastic Journey.  It’s really about all the places they went, and the cultures they encountered.  While I admit freely that I may have been a bit disparaging of this series at one time (especially when I discussed a similar series, Otherworld), more recently I’ve discovered something that’s true about many shows:  different shows balance character and context in vastly different ways.  Two shows (like The Fantastic Journey and Otherworld in this example) might be very similar in premise, but they can be light years apart in execution.  And while I may like one over the other, for reasons of personal preference, they can both be successful at what they wanted to do.  I came to see The Fantastic Journey in a new, better light, simply because I realized it wasn’t about the characters, and my desires for their growth.  It really was about the journey… and showing the journey is exactly what the show set out to do.

A "women's liberation" story in scantily clad costumes. Of course. Welcome to the '70's.

The world encountered might be one filled with only children, or an examination of violence among a society of pacifists, or the old SF saw about a world run by only women and the idea of “male liberation.”  Each world was used to portray, through both the world itself and the reaction of our “outsider” characters, different points of view in a dramatic context.  And although the 1970’s view of “right” often prevailed, there’s enough shown from the more futuristic characters to see that there might be better ways to approach things than what existed in the past.

Because of this emphasis on message over character, individual advancement and growth of the regulars became pushed to the background, to the detriment of some very good actors.  But hopefully the actors knew that going in, simply because the stated premise of the show wasn’t about them, but what they encountered.  If it was just about the characters, Lansbury and company might have just kept the original cast from the pilot and gone on from there, but they didn’t.  They assembled points of view instead.

“Coming out of the pilot, we dropped two characters and acquired two more.  We acquired a girl from Atlantium and we acquired Dr. Willoway.  They were to balance a cast with Ike Eisenmann’s character and the black doctor, and it worked out in Varian who was a musician who healed with music.  And he was a very popular character incidentally.  But basically it was looking for a balance that would give us stories that went in every direction.  We always had a villain, so that you saw the darker side of human nature, and the better side of human nature hopefully always prevailed.  We overcame that dark side and looked to a future which was brighter.”
–Bruce Lansbury

There’s a balance on most shows between “character” and “situation,” and each show on television weighs that balance differently.  Some shows lean heavily toward the “character” side of the equation, and that’s where I believed Otherworld thrived, even when their premise and the “civilization of the week” ideas of The Fantastic Journey held much in common.  But I’ve since realized both shows succeed on their own merits, simply because The Fantastic Journey, even in its title, set out to be about the trip and not the people involved.  I criticized the show for having characters as ciphers, merely to set out different points of view for each society they met… and yet, since that was the actual goal, the creators and actors really did do their jobs admirably.  In my limited view, I just thought, initially, that it should be a different job.

But I was wrong.  Even the labors involved in the recasting (which took three episodes of the series to accomplish) showed that the producers were more interested in exploring the ideas inherent in the portrayed societies than in our characters’ growth.  Their character reactions were interesting, certainly, but served a wider canvas than just the effects upon their person.   The commentary on each society was designed to show the characters from our own time a new and sometimes better place.  That commentary also meant to show the “future” characters that those from our time might actually have gotten something right, something they may have lost in their attempts at enlightenment.  We current-day humans may not have all the answers, but we’ve got a few good ideas, and we’re willing to both teach and learn from the future.

And I’m willing to learn, too.  It’s all part of The Fantastic Journey.

In a search for answers to the Bermuda Triangle, Dr. Walters and Scott found an entire world full of ideas, choices, and discoveries to experience, and others joined them in their travels searching for their own solutions.  And while The Fantastic Journey was about those larger notions, the most important one was ultimately finding their way back, utilizing the differences and strengths of each other to help in their own travels.  And together, through all these wonderful experiences, they might actually find their way home, and learn something along the way.

CARL FRANKLIN (Dr. Fred Walters) was a guest star on many shows in the ’80’s, most notably as a recurring character chasing The A-Team.  He’s focused primarily on directing since the early ’90’s, most recently with an episode of Falling Skies this past season.  As a director and screenwriter, he (and the film) won multiple awards for Devil in a Blue Dress, a film noir set in the late ’40’s featuring Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle.

IKE EISENMANN (Scott Jordan) is well-known to genre fans as Cadet Peter Preston in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and made his mark starring in the original Disney films Escape from Witch Mountain and the sequel Return to Witch Mountain.  In later years, he worked in post-production roles on many animated and live-action projects, both becoming a sound engineer and lending his voice to occasional characters.

JARED MARTIN (Varian) first came to prominence in The Fantastic Journey, but he’d appeared in many series previously, including The Rookies, Night Gallery, and Columbo.  He’s best known to the public at large for his recurring role as “Dusty” Farlow on Dallas, and was one of the leading fan suspects for the famous “Who shot J.R.?” plot (even though the producers hadn’t considered him at the time!)  He starred in the television version of War of the Worlds, and later created the Big Picture Alliance, helping introduce inner city youth in Philadelphia to filmmaking and production, a task he was heavily involved with for the next 15 years.

KATIE SAYLOR (Liana) had appeared on Police Story and Cannon prior to her role on The Fantastic Journey.  She unfortunately became severely ill during production of the series, forcing her to bow out of the final two episodes, and her recovery apparently took approximately a year.  She retired from the acting business as a result of her health issues, and reportedly passed away due to cancer in 1991.

RODDY McDOWALL (Dr. Jonathan Willoway) was featured on this site for his lead role on the televised version of Planet of the Apes, portraying a similar character to the ones he’d played in the original feature film series.  Popular and well-mannered, he’s remembered as one of Hollywood’s last real gentleman stars, and his collection of early film and television memorabilia now is kept by the Motion Picture Academy (the people who give out the Oscars).  Willoway was actually written specifically to interest McDowall in the part, as the producers wanted him to join their series… and after reading the script, he did!

The Fantastic Journey is unavailable as a commercial DVD, so the bootleg route is the only reasonable way to see them all.  The opening is available on YouTube, as are a few episodes (in chunks, of course).  The show itself is well-remembered by many, even though it lasted a relatively short time, and there’s a great fan site here with information on the series stars, episodes, and a few articles published during the original run.

Ready for the next journey

“For the near future, at any rate, I think the future of science fiction will be in the movies, not on TV., which is sad.  The people who most need to be educated are the ones who don’t go to films, who sit at home, turn on the TV set, and absorb anything that comes their way.”
–Jared Martin, on the demise of The Fantastic Journey

Oddly enough, the above quote comes from Martin in early April of 1977, not quite two months before the original Star Wars opened in movie theaters and Hollywood (and science fiction) were changed forever.  Perhaps if The Fantastic Journey had held on a bit longer, it might have been part of the fans’ journey as well, towards a new and different world for both the series and for science fiction and fantasy in general.  An unexpected enlightenment waited just a bit farther down the road.

And maybe that is the ultimate purpose of any journey, whether it’s one of a televised nature or a personal one.  Those that feel the goal is the nebulous idea of “enlightenment” sometimes forget that it’s not really a goal per se.  Enlightenment is never really fully achieved, but it’s the path taken to get there that brings us home, full of fresh ideas and wonder.  And that’s what all the characters in The Fantastic Journey were really after, once you look at it that way.  All any of them wanted was their own version of enlightenment, their own way home.

Vital Stats

10 episodes — none unaired (although a rumored 11th script, Romulus, is apparently out there)
NBC Network
First aired episode:  February 3, 1977 (90-minute pilot)
Final aired episode:  June 17, 1977 (airing two months after the regular run of the series ended in April)
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, the series normal timeslot was Thursdays at 8/7, up against hits The Waltons and Welcome Back, Kotter.  The journey to ratings success was troublesome to begin with.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

For those of you who know me, or who have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that two of my favorite shows are The Middleman (which I wrote about here) and Doctor Who (which my good friend Jeremy tackled on this site previously).  So it was with great surprise recently that I discovered a “professional” version of “fan fiction” (another article for anyone interested) written by the creator of The Middleman, Javier Grillo-Marxuach. 

He wrote the following as a gift to fans of The Middleman this Christmas, and he has graciously allowed me to repost it here.  Read, enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday season… and if you’re interested in some of his other projects, then by all means, please check out his own website, The Grillo-Marxuach Design Bureau, full of his work on shows like Lost (and all the way back to Dark Skies), and comics like The Middleman and The Flash.  Happy holidays, and may they be filled with wonder and fun….

SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
8:00 a.m.

“Fudgety-Bow-Wow, Dubbie!”

The Big Green Cheese’s language was extra-salty today, but Wendy Watson couldn’t muster the gumption for a witty rejoinder for two distinct reasons.  Reason number one?  Two adamantine thoughts currently raging like an electrical storm in her brain:

Wendy Watson, Middleman-in-training

Thought number one: an intense calculation of the tangled path of clues and conspiracies that had led her to this present, and precarious situation.  The winding and dangerous intrigue of the past few days included but was not limited to: a. the kidnapping of a genetically-enhanced, superintelligent dolphin from a children’s waterpark in Dubuque, b. the sudden manifestation in a Bhutanese monastery of the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness – an alien entity comprised pure hatred expressed as a small pool of malodorous brown bioluminescent ooze and c. the HEYDAR’s discovery of a not inconsiderably large rift in the fabric of space and time emanating from this location.

Thought number two: a certain yearning for her aunt Margarita’s Ropa Vieja, a thick and vinegary Caribbean stew of meat, peppers, and onions whose preparation inevitably filled the house with a. a delicious and savory aroma and b. the irresistible strains of Miguel Bosé’s signature 1980‘s hit single Amante Bandido.

Thought number two always intruded into Wendy’s mind during moments of extreme danger… and may have been the key contributing factor to her trademark serenity in the face of overwhelming odds.

Reason number two for Wendy Watson’s lack of a witty rejoinder?  She was – indeed – experiencing a moment of extreme danger when she heard the voice of her employer: hanging upside-down, her legs magnetically shackled to a shining steel girder over the Coliseum-like lair of yet another egomaniacal-male-chauvinist-pig-supervillain who was probably neither breastfed as a baby nor picked for the football team as a child…

…and beneath her, an army of somewhat comical salt-and-pepper-shaker-shaped robots… all sporting plunger-shaped manipulator arms and lethal gunsticks… all crying out the same word with shrill and excruciating homogeneity:

“EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NATE! EXTERMINATE!”

The Middleman and Wendy
in
THE WIBBLY-WOBBLY, TIMEY-WIMEY, JIGGERY-POKERY

The Middleman

While The Middleman’s wide stance and arms-akimbo gave him the necessary heroic demeanor as he leaped from a sparkling Tesla coil onto the ramp leading to the current supervillain’s coliseum-like lair, the truth of the matter is that he had very little idea as to what expected him on the other side…

…aside from an appropriately grandiose architectural enclosure, a doomsday device of unfathomably Byzantine construction, a robotic army, and a sidekick in peril.

“What is that thing beneath you, Dubbie?”

In spite of the distracting thoughts and blood rushing to her head, Wendy somehow gathered the strength to turn to her boss and give him the lowdown:

“While you were fighting the Tesla-powered mechanical octopus -”

“You mean defeating the Tesla-powered mechanical octopus,” corrected The Middleman with a tooth-gleaming smile to complement his usual meticulous exactitude.

“- I discovered that Kanimang Kang has gathered the necessary elements to open the Cinderellica!”

“Sweet singing mice!  Not the Cinderellica!” Declared the Middleman – but no sooner had he made his distress clear that a Jumbotron (because, after all, what coliseum could ever be complete without one) flared into light and motion on the far wall of the coliseum…

“My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity!”

“Shoulder of Orion!” Snarled The Middleman, recognizing immediately the face of his arch-nemesis, “it’s Kanimang Kang!”

…and indeed, across the screen blazed the dark-lensed-Shuron-Sidewinder-bespectacled visage of Kanimang Kang: head of the Federated Agents of Tyranny, Betrayal and Oppression’s Yoke, dressed in his signature beige Mao suit and sporting his trademark Ronald Reagan coif.

Manservant Neville, member of F.A.T.B.O.Y.

Behind Kanimang Kang snivelled the gorilla-suit-and-necktie-clad, twin Tommy gun-carrying form of Manservant Neville: the often-believed-to-be-dead-at-birth older evil twin brother and namesake of a business leader once renowned as the greatest new technology visionary in the world!

“Ha-ha!” chortled Manservant Neville, “Middleham’s about to hear a monlogue!”

“Indeed, Manservant Neville,” declaimed Kanimang Kang, “how else will our enemy know what he gave his life to fail to stop.”

Instead of marshaling the final ember of a consciousness about to black out to execute the most epic eye roll in the history of contempt, Wendy simply blurted out the following –

“They are using the hyper-intelligent dolphin to perform the ongoing calculations that keep open the rift in time and space, with which they punched out a window to the planet Necros, through which they teleported the salt-and-pepper shaker dudes, whose combined weapons will blast open the Cinderellica, inside which is trapped the M.P.T.I.T.U. – “

“The Most Powerful Thing In The Universe,” confirmed The Middleman as Wendy drew a tortured breath to finish briefing her employer:

“ – which they will corrupt through exposure to the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness into a weapon of unspeakable power!”

Her last thought before passing out? “Amazing, what a girl can learn while the boss is out defeating a Tesla-powered mechanical octopus.”

“Oh, phooey,” came The Middleman’s response.

“Damn you, sidecar!” Shouted Kanimang Kang – clenched fists shaking with the impotent frustration – his once-magnificent rant now sanctioned with extreme prejudice: double-tapped execution-style in the back of its metaphorical spine by the lethal weapon of brevity.

Having now duly cursed his opponents – and been vexingly deprived of a gordian explication of his nefarious scheme – Kanimang Kang exchanged befuddled looks with his sidekick.  After a vaguely dispirited shrug, Kanimang Kang casually reached over to his control panel and flicked the tin toggle that engaged the nuclear-fusion reactor powering the brobdingnagian clockwork holding shut the gargantuan bellows maintaining the seal on the dauntingly large hatch of the sarcophagus containing the Cinderellica.

“KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANG!” cried out The Middleman.

And while the unveiling of the Cinderellica – entombed in all of its transparent, slipper-shaped, crystalline vastness from the Beginning of Time Immemorial beneath what was now Kanimang Kag’s Coliseum-like lair – may sound like so bombastic and operatic-in-magnitude a process as to take hours to complete, in truth, it took a mere fraction of a second.

The shattering of the foot-formed glass crypt by the fire of the thousand gunsticks mounted on the salt-and-pepper shaker cyborgs took no longer.

Neither did the corruption of the M.P.T.I.T.U. by the dark thoughts and tortured soul of the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness.

By the time The Middleman reached for his utility belt, the hybrid life force resulting from the corruption of the M.P.T.I.T.U. by the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness had long-ago decided it was better off without the stewardship of Kanimang Kang, Manservant Neville, the legions of F.A.T.B.O.Y. and the salt-and-pepper shakers, and all had been smitten in a series of lightning strikes punctuated by a. eruptions of bimechanical offal (in the case of the salt-and-pepper shaker dudes) and b. far messier eruptions of purely biological offal (in the case of the humans).

By the time The Middleman fired his grappling gun and was halfway through his arc over the ball of light and dread where the salt-and-pepper-shaker dudes had once stood – hoping to make the final, desperate act of his life the simultaneous rescue of his sidekick and dropping of a Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon (so named for it’s Y-shaped form-factor) into the opening maw of the Cinderellica, the fate of the world had already been signed, sealed and delivered.

The Middleman’s final desperate act of self-sacrifice was to have been in vain.

Had he not heard – over the clamor of exploding cyborgs and henchmen – an aural phenomenon he had many years ago vowed to never forget… an echoing, pulsating mechanical howl best described as the animal husbanding of the arooga-horn from a Ford Model-A and a 1930’s Parisian hotel elevator inside one of the vacuum tubes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop circa 1963.

AROOGA-THUMP…AROOGA-THUMP…AROOGA-THUMP!

By the time The Middleman’s swashbuckling trajectory had taken him to the spot where Wendy Watson hanged unconscious – but before he was able to flip the switch arming the Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon – both he and his sidekick were in a different place altogether.

Inside the cobalt blue police call box which had inexplicably materialized over the late Kanimang Kang’s Coliseum-like lair and briefly hovered in space before vanishing with a final echoing AROOGA-THUMP!

"bigger on the inside"

MIDDLEMAN H.Q.
MERE MOMENTS LATER

The journey back to Middleman HQ took a mere flick of a fly’s wing, but that was enough time for Wendy – even in her groggy state – to exhaust every possible variation, innuendo and entendre – both double and single – about the “box being bigger on the inside.”

As The Middleman punched his way out through the front door of what was clearly a ship designed to travel through time and relative dimensions in space, all that was left were his ongoing protestations:

“Who are you?  What have you done with him?”

The jolly young chap who followed him out seemed deeply unconcerned with The Middleman’s flaring anger:

“AAAH! Middleman headquarters – I can practically smell the history!”

Wendy Watson – holding up the rear as usual – could not help but check out her savior’s tight, hipstery jeans, the ever-so-rumpled tweed blazer, the peeking collar of his Paul Smith shirt, and – of course – the finely-sculpted mane of hair partially hidden by the viking helmet.

This man looked no different from the legions of cute artist wannabees who served her lattes at the Java Applet coffee house a block away from her surprisingly spacious yet unrealistically affordable loft on a daily basis… yet he had not only just saved her – and the boss’ life… he also seemed strangely familiar.

“But I am him, Clarence – you just have to look a bit closer… or we could just skip the pleasantries and go about saving the planet as you know it.”

The Middleman had already made his decision on that score – he spun on his boots, simultaneously unholstering the B.T.R.S. scanner, which responded to his touch with its signature “BORP!”

sonic screwdrivers are cool

At the same time, their jolly savior reached into his jacket and pulled out a device similar in size to a compact bicycle pump…

… with a little blinky thing on the end, and a room-filling trill.

The two heroes stood off for a moment, each of their signature devices making its own unique and annoying noise – borp/trill-borp/trill-borp/trill – until a numinous cloud appeared in the space between them: a magical apparition of smoke and technology manifesting a series of images…

…a white-haired grand-dad, a coot in a fur coat and a Moe Howard hairdo, a dashing lothario with an aquiline nose and a sweeping crest of hair, a floppy-fedora-wearing hippy wrapped in an impossibly long scarf, a nordic youth with a celery buttoniere, a wide-faced and imperious rake in an impossibly tasteless coat, a heavy-browed gentleman under a Panama hat, a dewy-eyed pre-Raphaelite, a leather-clad geordie straight out of the Red Riding Trilogy, and – finally – a dapper, bespectacled mod.

“Caves of Androzani!” hissed The Middleman as he stood down, “you can turn off the slide show…I get it.”

“I don’t – ” chimed in Wendy Watson – intending her voice to snap, but the courage snatched from her conviction by the undeniable cuteness of the hipster sexgod standing before her…

“- and I would appreciate it if someone – anyone – could tell me what just happened.”

“What just happened,” tattoed the hipster sexgod as he turned to face her, a cute little bowtie framing his Easter Island face and massive yet strangely sensual nose, “is that your Dirk Squarejaw employer is put off that I conveniently stopped him from giving up his life in absolute vain!”

“That is NOT true,” countered The Middleman, “I was just about to -”

“To what?  Try to stop the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe with a mere firecracker?”

Hipster sexgod draped himself on the central console, crossing his legs as he tucked his signature device into his jacket before adding that:

“You G.I. Joes are all the same, thinking that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with the careful application of high explosives.”

“I don’t care if you are the man I knew – you are NOT the man I knew,” retorted The Middleman without any seeming awareness of – or desire to reconcile – the contradiction in his words, as his mind was busy background processing a way to salvage this debacle – “now God knows what Kanimang Kang has brought about!”

“Hey, boss, how about you give skinny-jeans a break… the man did save our lives.”

Before The Middleman could explain himself, a familiar voice filled the room…

“You cheeba-suckers really pinched a loaf in the hay this time!”

Wendy Watson buried her face in her hands.  Though by now she was completely used to Ida’s ongoing accusations of drug addiction, incompetence – and her endless wellspring of euphemisms for defecating on the bed – this was not anyone’s idea of a good first impression.

“Oh great,” croaked Ida with weary familiarity as she bustled by the blue box and the mysterious guest, giving neither a second glance, “it’s you.”

“Hello, Ida,” intoned hipster sexgod with an unsettlingly casual tone, “you remain as sweet as apple cider.”

"THAT was a doctor"

“Oh, shut the front door,” exasperated the cranky android, “you looked a lot better with the capes and the kung-fu and the white hair and the puffy shirts and the crushed velvet smoking jackets and the criminally age-inappropriate companion… now THAT was a doctor.”

Wendy turned to hipster sexgod, “wait a minute – wait – you’re a doctor?”

“I. Am. The Doctor.” Declared hipster sexgod, fixing his bowtie.

“Whats with the viking helmet?” rasped Ida, plugging herself to the HEYDAR.

“I wear a viking helmet now,” shrugged The Doctor.

“Viking helmets are cool,” colluded Wendy Watson.

“Well hang on to your helmet, motherhumpers, ‘cause this world is about to end, no thanks to any of you donnie-pumpers.”

With a flare of a mechanical nostril, Ida activated the many screens of the HEYDAR…

… and all of them depicted horrible scenes of destruction across the planet!

Big Ben in ruins.

The Washington Monument a pile of rubble.

The White House a cinder.

Hoover dam underwater.

The Eiffel Tower melted.

Detroit strangely unchanged.

“Sweet mother of Roland Emmerich!”

"Time Tsunami" Coming in 2018

The Middleman rubbed his temples as The Doctor restrained himself from quipping that he served as an uncredited technical advisor on the august film-maker’s disaster epic Time Tsunami (coming to theaters July of 2018) out of respect for his American friend’s intense distress over the devastation roiling before them.

What else could he do? It was exactly this profound sense of empathy – this uniquely human quality of caring for the lives of others – that kept bringing The Doctor back to Earth to recruit his traveling companions.

“Well, it’s a good thing we have a time machine at our disposal, now, tell me, Ida… just how is Guy Goddard?”

“Don’t get me started,” eye-rolled Ida, “how’s Captain Jack?”

“Don’t get me started,” The Doctor threw up his hands, “I mean, really.”

“This is no time to mince around reminiscing about past exploits,” barked The Middleman, “we have a bad man running around with the M.P.T.I.T.U., how do we stop him?”

“You Americans – so concerned with structure and the proper order of things… I could have sworn you just took a dramatic pause for a commercial break!”

“My boss does have a point,” peace-brokered Wendy Watson, “there is a bad man and an army of salt-shaker-thingys -”

“Daleks,” corrected The Doctor, “the very reason I chose to pop in when I did… right after my sixth regeneration materialized in a puff of improbability inside my TARDIS to warn me that a rift had opened above the battle of Necros – and rather insolently informed me that it was up to me to find out the disposition of the Daleks who were teleported from the fray… and almost gave me a black eye. I was a violent sort back then.”

“Right.  Daleks,” concluded Wendy Watson, trying to disguise that she was completely unmoored by all of this new information.

“We do not have to worry about the Daleks, love… or your arch-nemesis Kanimang Kang,” purred The Doctor as he leaned closer to Wendy Watson’s confusion-and-annoyance-streaked face… a state of mind compounded by her heart’s fluttering in a way she had not felt since young Tyler Ford had been packed off to Greenland a few months ago.

“See,” continued The Doctor, his tone soothing, “they were destroyed when the Vitrioplasmoid Conscience merged with the M.P.T.I.T.U.”

“I never met a deus ex machina I didn’t like,” nodded The Middleman, stroking the five o’clock shadow on his chiseled chin.

“Right there with you, dear boy,” chirped The Doctor.

Ida, in all her glory

“Hey!”

Ida.  About to spoil the party.  She excelled at that.

“Don’t know if this has occurred to you hoolies… but just because the bad guys are all croaked doesn’t mean we still don’t have to figure out a way to destroy a little something that just happens to go by the name ‘The Most Powerful Thing In The Universe’!”

“I’m working on it,” whispered The Doctor as The Middleman stepped up, shaking his finger – one of his trademark contingency plans clockworking its way through the sharp corners of his methodical brain:

“The M.P.T.I.T.U. is not de facto an evil being, it is merely powerful.  Kanimang Kang knew this, which is why he used the Vitrioplasmic Consciousness to corrupt it into a force of unspeakable power.”

“So,” jumped in Wendy Watson, if we can get in there before the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness compels the M.P.T.I.T.U. to destroy the world… but after the Daleks are destroyed…”

“We will only have the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe to contend with – as opposed to the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe AND your arch-nemesis AND all of his minions AND an army of genocidal hybrid life-forms!”

The Doctor was almost giddy – but it was not long-lived…

“But how… howhowhowhow… do we turn the M.P.T.I.T.U. back to the side of good after it has already been exposed to a life form of pure, all-corrupting evil?”

Not quite a Buddha Fish, I don't think...

“Will a Buddha Fish do the trick?” Quizzed The Middleman.

“A Buddha Fish?” The Doctor repeated, his tone mocking as he made a John Cleese-like silly walk straight into The Middleman’s personal space before making a wildly exaggerated show of his turning-away-aggravation:

“A Buddha Fish?  You might as well ask for the thirteenth regeneration of Rassilon!”

The Doctor’s tone then turned to a pensive whisper as he spun his back on Wendy Watson, Ida, and The Middleman – cradling his ample chin in the palm of his hand…

“It might take me some time to figure this one out… perhaps the three of you should come with me aboard the TARDIS and flee the coming devastation… have some adventures…”

…his features then darkened with a brooding romanticism that made Wendy Watson want to jump his bones immediately.

“…and have all of your lives devastated by sheer measure of your contact with me.”

“I have a Buddha Fish in the Middlevault,” offered The Middleman, his broad shoulders pulling back as he broke into a determined stride across the main hub of Middleman H.Q.

“Why don’t I just go ahead and get that,” he added, “and then we can go right on over and save the world.”

“You do NOT have a Buddha Fish!” Exclaimed The Doctor.

“Wah-wah-wah!” Interjected Ida, “you watch that attitude when the Jolly Green Giant’s on a roll!”

“Actually, I do have one, and it’s a funny story how…see, your first… uh… regeneration? Incarnation? Anyway, some other version of you borrows it from me six years from now and then loses it in a simultaneous competitive chess match against sixty-seven Grand Masters of the Clotharian Rebel Fleet… of course, that only turns out to be a distraction tactic to keep their best military strategists busy while Wendy and I stop Extreme Aldwyn from invading the planet…”

High... Maximum... EXTREME Aldwyn

“Extreme Aldwyn? You mean ‘High’ – I mean ‘Maximum Aldwyn’.”

“No, Dubbie, I mean Extreme Aldwyn, he got… uh gets… will have a promotion…”

“I hate that guy!”

“…anyway, six years ago, The Doctor came back and we went on a grand adventure to get back the Buddha Fish from the Clotharian Grand Masters – then in exile and working as towel boys at the pleasure hive of Eroticon 6 – the end result of which was that he, uh – the then-Doctor -”

“The first Doctor,” came the Eleventh Doctor’s definition.

“Right – the first Doctor entrusted the Buddha Fish to me for safekeeping in the Middlevault… only back then, he was a kindly old grandfather-type, as opposed to the beatnik you see before you.”

“Weirdly, that made absolute sense,” said Wendy Watson, her head not spinning at all.

“You know, Dubbie,” The Middleman said in his most “the more you know” tone, “everything that’s happening to us right now is exactly the reason why The Middlelore explicitly forbids this kind of timey-wimey, higglety-pigglety, jiggery-pokery.”

“Timey-wimey, higglety-pigglety jiggery-pokery?”

The Doctor rolled the words in his mouth as if taking them for a test drive, “I’m not sure I like the sound of that…”

“Anyone want to come up with a plan to stop the deaths of billions of people?” Shrieked Ida from her desk.

“Right. I take my TARDIS,” schemed The Doctor, successfully concealing his growing and unnatural dread of the unpleasant, superannuated female android, “land at the exact point in space and time and then find a way to safely deliver the Buddha Fish into the maelstrom of death and destruction – thus ending the M.P.T.I.T.U.’s reign of terror.  Neither one of you can do it, of course, as I’d rather you not come face to face with yourselves in an alternate timeline… but otherwise, this is a cracking good plan!”

“As much as I live to volunteer for the ultimate sacrifice,” began The Middleman –

“ – and he does,” finished Wendy.

“The risk of a time paradox resulting from my meeting myself – even in the recent past – is just too frag-warbling high.”

“Really?” Head-tilted Wendy Watson, “I always wanted to walk up to myself and say ‘I’m YOU… from THE FUTURE!’”

“Sorry dubbie – but if you – or I – were to cause a fabric of space-time-unraveling paradox after all we’ve been through… well, that would just be a flipsy-flopsy.”

“Oh stop beating around the burning bush, ya pansies, I have a combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis and a full complement of defensive shielding: let me at ‘em and I’ll save the freakin’ planet, seeing as none of you have the cojones to man-up and take the plunge!”

The Middleman, Wendy Watson and their honored guest all exchanged glances, and then:

“Let’s wax this duck!”

“Allons-y!”

“Oh, brother.”

MIDDLEMAN H.Q.
THREE AND A HALF SECONDS LATER

As The Doctor cut a high-spirited jog to the Middlevault, and Ida slumped at her desk – folding the final origami of this iteration of her existence, knowing that O2STK would immediately send down an identical model – a new Ida with an even more visually assaulting dress and all of her memories – and wondering how she got stuck with this rat-bastard bunch of panty waists for heroes – Wendy Watson quietly buttoned her boss at the mouth of the corridor leading out of the Main Hub.

“What’s a Buddha Fish?”

“Well, Dubbie… The Buddha Fish is a unique organism bred by the High Transuniversal Lamas of Samadhilon 5. It acts like an ichtyo-psychic lens, focusing all the good will of the universe into a single unified grain of consciousness. Any sentient being that comes into contact with the Buddha Fish immediately gives up all ambitions and material concerns in exchange for a life of quiet contemplation without any expectation of outcome.”

“OK. And – uh – who’s the guy in the viking helmet?”

“The Doctor? Oh… he’s the last of Time Lords of Gallifrey.”

“Strangely,” shrugged Wendy Watson, “that makes complete and total sense.”

The Doctor popped his head back into the Main Hub:

“How would you feel about ‘wibbly-wobbly’ instead of ‘higglety-pigglety’?”

SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
8:03 A.M.

The details of how Ida was delivered into the glowing jaws of death and architectural carnage by the timely manifestation of the TARDIS are – frankly – tedious and academic.

Suffice it to say that The Doctor arrived just in the nick of – well, he got there the at the exact and appropriate moment.

He then pushed a crotchety old woman out the door to his time ship (because even he knew that – deep down inside – she was not a crotchety old woman, but a combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis wrapped up in the burlap-like skin, hideous house dress, and loud costume jewelry of a crotchety old woman… which may have been why he had by then grown so afraid of her… or maybe it was merely that she was just. so. mean.).

All the way down, the crotchety old woman shouted the following words…

“COME GET SOME YA PRIMORDIAL SCUM!”

At the moment the crotchety old woman’s outer layer of skin, combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis, and, lastly, her awful frock, melted in the sweltering heat of the supermassive outer layer of the M.P.T.I.T.U./Vitrioplasmoid Conscience hybrid – revealing the most-exalted form of the Buddha Fish – the erstwhile Kanimang Kang’s lair, as well as all of his plans for world domination, vanished swiftly in a puff of inner peace and kindness toward all beings.

The TARDIS then vanished… its distinctive AROOGA-THUMP noise signifying to all that the plan had come together, the day belonged to the forces of good, and all was right with the world.

THE ILLEGAL SUBLET WENDY WATSON SHARES WITH HER EQUALLY PHOTOGENIC ROOMMATE
10:30 P.M.

The genius brains behind O2STK may have manufactured the latest-generation Middlemobile with an obsidian coat of the Mikheyev/Smirnov/Wolfenstein automotive finish (a type of paint designed to capture runaway solar neutrinos and use their free and clean energy to run the electric engine underneath the hood without polluting the environment)… but they also gave The Middleman’s conveyance the adequately muscular body of a 1967 Pontiac GTO and a speed-responsive sound-and-vibration mechanism that gave the car the appropriate road feel and vulpine thunder of a true American Muscle Car.

The Middlemobile, then, idled noisily outside of Wendy Watson’s loft.

Inside, The Middleman and Wendy Watson congratulated one another on a job well done… though neither of them truly – or entirely – understood how exactly the Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon had succeeded in destroying the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe… especially after its melding with the Vitrioplasmic Consciousness had rendered it into an absolutely destructive force of ultimate evil.

But The Middleman never met a Deus Ex Machina he didn’t like… and Wendy Watson was starting to see the wisdom behind his philosophy.

Kanimang Kang – or at least this latest holder of the mantle of Kanimang Kang – was gone. Manservant Neville was once again presumed dead. Most importantly, Kanimang Kang’s Rube Goldberg device of death was no more.

Schlepping the dolphin back to Dubuque had been a chore, but it certainly beat the living meatballs-and-tomato-sauce out of being killed.

As the freight elevator door to the hallway leading to her bizarrely spacious yet annoyingly affordable loft opened, Wendy Watson looked ahead to see the familiar shape of Noser… no doubt once again seeking refuge in the hallway from the depredations of his roommate, Anvil.

“Yo, Wendy Watson.”

Noser’s voice was sweet and welcoming.

“Hey Noser,” replied Wendy Watson, “how you doing?”

“I’m breathing, Wendy Watson, but it’s become a chore.”

“Now that I’ve seen The Doctor, don’t call me anymore.”

Noser smiled as Wendy Watson pushed open the door to her loft.

WENDY WATSON’S BEDROOM/ART SPACE
11:45 P.M.

While the hard work of this – or, really, any – day in the service of O2STK generally insured a good night’s sleep, Wendy Watson found herself unable to summon the sandman, and thus busied herself with a new painting…

…of a man with a distinctive nose, pronounced brow, geometric jaw and a cascade of shiny brown hair. The portrait took shape quickly, the man’s image calling to her with the vivid urgency of a relevant memory; even though nothing in her past indicated the intersection of this man’s life with hers.

The colors followed quickly: the saturated earth tones of his Paul Smith shirt and the dark burgundy bow-tie popping against the warm inner glow of his pale, but not even remotely pasty skin.

Wendy Watson painted furiously but precisely: her every brush stroke capturing the elusive character of a man she had never met but was sure she knew… a moment in a time she was certain had never happened but felt as alive in her mind’s eye as any remembrance…

…and when the painting was done:

“That’s my imaginary friend!”

Lacey.

“What?”

“How do you know what he looks like, dub-dub?”

Wendy Watson swiveled her stool to see her equally photogenic roommate – still in the fatigues and beret she habitually wore to her Occupy Wall Street protest… and, thankfully, bereft of the swelling and redness she often brought home as a result of the sustained pepper spray attacks from the local police.

“What are you doing home?” Asked Wendy Watson.

“Oh,” she shrugged, “it got a little ripe inside the tent again, so we’re all going home to shower in shifts… how do you know what my imaginary friend looks like?”

Wendy Watson swiveled back and forth between Lacey and her newest work of art – head spinning:

“This is your imaginary friend? The guy who showed up in the fireplace of Doctor Barbara Thornfield M.D., Ph.D.’s mansion all those times and kept you entertained with wild stories of time travel?”

“Yes, dub-dub, that’s him!”

“Your imaginary friend was a time traveling hipster sexgod?”

“No – it was nothing like that – I mean, yeah, I thought he was cute and all… but he was just an imaginary friend.”

Lacey’s voice took on a faraway tone as she completed her thought:

“I know that now.”

“Wait a minute – now you know that?”

“Oh, dub-dub… it’s not like Doctor Barbara Thornfield M.D. Ph.D. didn’t already have me work all of this out with a team of psychotherapists when I was a tween… anyway, the last time I saw my imaginary friend… I was twelve: he promised he would come get me on the day of my graduation from art school…”

“You mean our graduation? And you never told me?”

“Like I said… I’d already worked this whole thing out with a team of mental health professionals.”

“Weird,” replied Wendy Watson, “I just thought I was painting one of the new baristas over at the Java Applet… I think that’s where I saw this guy anyway… he does look so strangely familiar.”

“Yeah,” Lacey replied dreamily, “must be a coincidence… and I have a world that needs to be saved, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go shower…”

Lacey turned to walk down the spiral staircase, but not before having a final look at her best friend’s work.

“If you ever do see that guy? And it turns out he isn’t just a cute barista, but a time traveling adventurer from parts unknown?”

“Yeah, Lacey?”

“Tell him I’m over him.”

CHESTERTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
GRADUATION DAY
TWO YEARS EARLIER

The passage of time had only made Lacey Thornfield’s intelligence and inner strength brighter.

As she walked across the dais to collect her diploma – her cap and gown hand-painted with Guy DeBord slogans – The Doctor knew that she would make for a brilliant companion: the sort of beacon of innocent compassion that he direly needed to remind himself of what was truly important… of the simple truths that a creature of his 953 years could so easily forget.

The TARDIS would keep for a few hours undetected in the scenery shop of the school’s theater building. All The Doctor had to do was wait until she was alone, make eye contact, and the magic would return… off they would go…

…but The Doctor’s thoughts needle-slipped to a halt with the intrusion into his mindscape of a sound he had not even thought about for almost a decade and a half.

A harmonic resonance years-ago dismissed as no longer relevant to his existence.

The Eye of Harmony.

Opening.

Could it be?

The Doctor rushed back into the TARDIS – bounding through corridors and mezzanines, peeling back layer after layer of trans-dimensional architecture to reach a remote and neglected room: a piece of his own mythology he had long since discarded as no longer relevant to his day-to-day existence…

…and there, in the echoing chamber, the Eye glared up at him… and a numinous cloud of smoke and technology manifested over the storm at the center of the black hole that powered his ship.

At the center of the cloud?

A strapping man in an Eisenhower jacket – clear-eyed, full-hearted, and sporting that can’t-lose look so common of heroic human males; all of them always endearingly unaware of the vastness of space and time.

The man in the Eisenhower jacked seemed familiar – maybe from a long-forgotten episode of a past regeneration.

“Do to her what you did to Sarah Jane,” said the man in a flat, affectless mid-western American voice, “ and you will have me to answer to.”

And with that, he was gone.

CHESTERTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
THEATER ARTS BUILDING
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER

Now perched on a scaffold, The Doctor watched Lacey Thornfield – this time through a window high atop the shop.

She bounded across the quad, carefree, with a group of friends – among them a dark-haired beauty with a focused and determined look in her coffee-colored eyes.

The Doctor trained his eyes on Lacey Thornfield’s friend for a moment… and her visage transported him to time he was certain had not yet happened, but which felt as alive in his mind’s eye as any remembrance.

He knew what he had to do.

Bowing his head, The Doctor climbed off the scaffold and returned to the TARDIS.

On the quad below, Lacey Thornfield fell behind her friends, slowing down to a walk for a moment to look up at the theater arts building.

For a moment, she could have sworn she heard the “arooga-thump” that always accompanied the appearance of her childhood imaginary friend… the one her mother paid an army of psychotherapists to dispel back when she was twelve…

…but the sound soon dissipated into nothingness, and Lacey Thornfield looked ahead to see Wendy Watson, beckoning.

Lacey Thornfield broke back into a run and joined her friends in celebration. The future was wide open.

Again, thanks to Javier Grillo-Marxauch for permission to repost his terrific story here.  For those of you who want to know about all the many geek references in this story, here’s a link to an accompanying post detailing all the wonderful, wacky, and just plan fun things contained and referenced within.  I hope you enjoyed this story, and I’ll be back in a week or two with more remembrances of long-forgotten short-run shows here on Friday @ 8/7 Central.  –Tim R.

Hank:  “Are you saying we’re small time?”
Britt:  “If we grow two sizes we might actually be small-time.”
Hank:  “What if we’re actually big time, and just didn’t realize it?”

–Best friends Hank Dalworth and Britt Pollack in Terriers

Britt and Hank, hanging loose while they can....

In my opinion, one of the best shows to come out of cable television over the last couple years is Terriers, which aired on the FX Network in 2010.  It sadly didn’t last, but for thirteen wonderful episodes it was one of the most unpredictable dramas viewers could possibly experience, with terrific characters and unique storylines that, like the namesake animals of the series title, grabbed ahold of you and never let go.

Terriers is primarily a buddy comedy with dramatic elements, telling the story of two down-but-not-quite-out best friends and their adventures as private investigators (unlicensed, naturally).  Hank Dalworth (Donal Logue) is an ex-cop, drummed out of the force some years back with a dishonorable discharge brought on by his (then) obsessive drinking.  While he’s now on the wagon (barely), he’s still trying to scrape together a livelihood and get back in the good graces of his ex-wife Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn).  She’s already met someone new after their divorce a year ago, but he’s hanging on, to the point where (after falling into some unexpected cash) he puts a down payment on their old house, because he still wants to life that life.

Katie and Britt

His best buddy is Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James), a former thief who’s also trying to make a better life after living on the wrong side of the tracks, but his previous skills come in handy when trying to make ends meet with Hank.  Britt has a girlfriend, Katie Nichols (Laura Allen), who wants to settle down and have a baby at some point, but Britt’s fear of commitment and free-wheeling ways don’t mesh with a traditional idea of home and family.  This is especially true when he and Hank stumble upon an old friend who turns up murdered, and a conspiracy much larger than these two small-time buddies ever thought they’d be involved in.

Hank's former partner, Det. Gustafson

They do have a couple of allies, although their “friends” are also knowledgeable enough about both of them to be wary.  Hank’s former police partner Det. Mark Gustafson (Rockmond Dunbar) would love to trust Hank, but sometimes believes the best way to handle his old friend is to lock him up for his own protection, especially with the trouble he keeps finding himself in.  And lawyer Maggie Lefferts (Jamie Denbo) is trying to keep Hank and Britt out of the lock-up and throw a bone to the boys occasionally, hiring them to do some of the legwork she can’t do (because she’s going to give birth any day now, and the boys don’t mind getting roughed up anyway, as long as they give as good as they get).

So, in between odd jobs of retrieving pets caught in a messy custody battle and figuring out how to get a house loan with no “actual” job, Hank and Britt end up on the edges of a major conspiracy.  It seems to involve a rich land speculator named Lindus and his plans for a new economic development, and that leads to a sex scandal, possible carcinogens in the land, and stolen drugs in Mexico (among other things).  Hank and Britt could, at many different junctures, just cut and run, lick their wounds, and save themselves an awful lot of pain and trouble.  But despite their lack of money, lack of judgment, and (occasional) lack of common sense, they share one characteristic with the dogs mentioned in the title:  like Terriers, they’re loyal to a fault, and they will do their very best (and then some) to take care of their friends.

“I’m going to destroy you, Lindus.  I could have walked away from this thing an hour ago eating shit, and Jesus knows I’ve eaten enough in my life.  But you killed my friend, so I’m going to destroy you.  And I just wanted you to know that.”
–Hank Dolworth

So begins a very twisted tale full of unexpected moments of laughter and even more unpredictable plots.  At one point, Hank and Britt end up having to help developer Lindus… by stealing a quarter of a million dollars from him!  (He actually ASKS them to, and is willing to give them a percentage!)  It makes sense in the progression of the plot, but that’s the amazing thing about Terriers.  This happens during the thirteen episodes that you wouldn’t even dream of in most television series, but the plot twists occur organically out of the story and characterizations, so that even the outrageous becomes acceptable, to the point where the viewer can’t really imagine any other way.  And neither can Hank and Britt, as sometimes their best laid plans turn into their next nightmare, and sometimes their nightmares turn into gold anyway.

Tell me again... how are we gonna do this?

Characters designed as heroes are commonplace on television.  Even characters who don’t want to be heroes end up that way.  But in Terriers, we follow Hank and Britt as they try to overcome their worst enemies:  themselves.  And we cheer their successes… but we also understand their defeats.  Few of us could ever be heroes on television, no matter what we wish.  But far too many of us have been burdened with untenable choices, and while they may be a bit magnified as far as the stakes on Terriers, those lives are still far closer to our everyday existence than found on typical cop/lawyer/medical dramas.

Plus, there’s a definite friendship and camaraderie between Hank and Britt, and with all the regulars on the show.  You can tell there’s a part of Gretchen that would still love Hank, if only he’d become the man she knows is inside him.  Katie loves Britt, and accepts his past, but is a bit unsure of what the future holds with a man so reluctant to take the next step.  Det. Gustafson remembers what Hank used to be, and still stands up for him even when Hank himself falls, and lawyer Maggie sees something more in these two than just a handout, and is willing to help where she can.  But while Hank and Britt try to move forward, they won’t be able to without letting go of their pasts.  And the one thing about Terriers is that they never let go.

“Well, we saved her.  Now who’s gonna rescue our asses?”
–Britt, after helping a friend to safety

Hank couldn’t let go of his ex-wife.  Britt couldn’t let go of his single “freedom”.  Neither could toe the line long enough to find a reasonable job, let alone be successful at it.  But when they saw a need to help someone they cared about, they did something.  And if that something led to more, then that trail got followed too, no matter where it led or how far in over-their-heads they got.  Because that’s who they were and what they did.  And whether it led to a Mexican drug cartel, a multi-million dollar conspiracy cover-up, or just making sure a friend’s daughter was safe from trouble, they did it.  And occasionally, they fell into some badly needed cash along the way.

What they didn’t fall into, unfortunately, was ratings.  Anyone who ever actually saw the show seemed to love it.  It was a critical darling, making many reviewers Top 10 lists for the season, and even drawing some early Emmy buzz, especially for Logue as Hank.  But it aired on cable, on the less-watched FX Network, and the early advertising (and the name Terriers) did the show no favors.  Airing at Wednesdays at 10/9 Central and premiering against more high-powered and better-promoted offerings on traditional networks, a great many people never even knew it was on, and others thought it was a show about dogs.  Add to that its adult subject matter and realistic language issues and the family audience was out immediately.  Quite simply, viewers in any quantity just missed it completely.

“I can’t blame an audience. I’ve never in my life watched a TV show in its first season.  I always have to wait several seasons for someone to say, ‘You have to see this.’  That’s how I discovered The Wire and The Shield.  I don’t know the secret to getting people to watch a show in its first season.”
–Creator Ted Griffin

It’s that kind of world these days.  Networks have been so callous with new shows, yanking them off so quickly, that some series don’t even last more than a couple of episodes.  And viewers have had their collective hearts broken enough times that many shows don’t even get sampled, let alone have people find time to watch consistently.  Add to that the troubles of accurately measuring viewers, and the multiple ways for shows to be seen online and time-shifted with DVRs, and viewing numbers simply aren’t what they used to be, and eyeballs aren’t being consistently counted anyway.  Terriers was a perfect storm of ineffective promotion, a minor cable network provider, and a changing audience.  While that doesn’t stop a great series from existing, it does stop one from continuing.

The end? Or a new beginning?

Although stars Donal Logue and real-life best friend Michael Raymond-James embarked on a cross-country promotional tour for the show, the numbers just weren’t there.  The “Never Let Go” attitude was clear from all involved, from Creator to Stars to crew and more.  Fans and critics were passionate about the show, but even if the show had earned twice the ratings, it still would have been the lowest-rated series on the FX Network.  And yet, FX Network tried long and hard to make the series work for them.

Even in cancellation, Terriers was different.  Most shows just fade away, with networks sometimes not even admitting the stoppage of production.  Knowing the small but intense number of people who dearly loved Terriers, FX President John Landgraf took the unprecedented move of having a half-hour press call to announce the demise of the show, and to take questions from critics and other reporters about its end.  While he lamented the cancellation, and called Terriers a credit to the FX Network, even he was a bit baffled about the lack of audience numbers:

“I don’t think there’s anybody to blame.  We wish that there was a perfect intersection between all that is good and all that is successful, but the reality is that there’s a very poor correlation between creative success and commercial success.”
–John Landgraf, President of FX Network

Even the network was heartbroken about the ending of Terriers, let alone all the others involved.  One producer said,  “This is both the most painful and painless cancellation, because you really like the show and hate to see it go, but it was such a great time.”  If you get to watch Terriers, you’ll find that those sentiments weren’t just true for the production of the show, but for the viewing of it as well.  Once you find Terriers, you will have something in common with Hank and Britt.  You’ll never let go.

Give us one more chance. Just one more....

DONAL LOGUE (Hank Dolworth) has starred in many series, including Grounded for Life (which ran 5 years), The Knights of Prosperity, and Life (each of which only ran one short-but-critically-acclaimed season).  He’s also a writer and producer, creating the independent film Tennis, Anyone?, and will be seen in a new ABC pilot (and prospective series) for next season from Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry called Hallelujah.

MICHAEL JAMES-RAYMOND (Britt Pollack) is best friends with Donal Logue in real life, which contributed significantly to their on-screen chemistry.  He’s gone from California in Terriers to Louisiana as a recurring member in True Blood (even though he had never even heard of the books upon which it is based when he got the job).

KIMBERLY QUINN (Gretchen Dolworth) has guested on Ned and Stacey, Suddenly Susan, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Without a Trace, and The Secret Life of an American Teenager.  She’s appeared in multiple episodes of Two and a Half Men and House, and has also been seen in numerous commercials over the past decade.

LAURA ALLEN (Katie Nichols) is best known to genre fans as part of the original cast of The 4400, playing Lily Tyler.  She later was a regular on the series Dirt, and has guested on Criminal Minds and Grey’s Anatomy.  She was also featured with an amazing cast in the movie Mona Lisa Smile, playing a student at Wellesley College, which she graduated from in real life.

ROCKMOND DUNBAR (Detective Mark Gustafson) has been in many series, starting as a recurring character on Earth 2 and Girlfriends.  Lead roles in Soul Food and the medical drama Heartland followed, with his role a “C-Note” in Prison Break being his most famous part.  Most recently, he’s remained on the FX Network, joining the cast of Sons of Anarchy.

JAMIE DENBO (Maggie Lefferts) specializes in comedy, and was a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade troupe out of New York.  Her appearances on television include numerous sketches on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, multiple roles in Reno 911! and Children’s Hospital, and recurring parts in Suburgatory, Weeds, and Brothers.  She starred in the short-lived series Happy Hour, and recently sold a script for a movie called Best Buds, which actress Natalie Portman is reportedly going to produce and star in.

Surprisingly for this modern era, Terriers has yet to receive a DVD release, although FX has claimed that the very small original audience is to blame, and that they just can’t make money off the projected sales.  There is hope, however, as the show has recently been made available through Netflix Instant, for those who have access to the service, and episodes are also available for purchase and download at iTunes and Amazon.  Since it was a critical darling, there are many news websites which talk about its short run and unfortunate demise, using it as a case study in poor marketing, unfortunate scheduling, and just plain bad luck (series star Donal Logue injured his shoulder/arm during the pilot, and it is basically unusable during much of the series… but he’s such a good actor and the production worked around it so well, it’s almost unnoticeable unless you’re actively looking for it).

Battered and broken, but still ready to go

“We don’t want to stop making this show…”
–Donal Logue

I don’t want to stop watching, either, and others have felt the same way.  But the thirteen produced episodes do complete a story, and while another season was plotted out to some degree, there’s an ending there if you do choose to find it and watch.  While Terriers is not for youngsters, it is for those viewers who like character-based drama and comedy, and plots you won’t find on any other show.  I find, after going back and reading again what I’ve written above, that it’s difficult to really express how good Terriers actually is, and I can only hope that those with Netflix access can stream the show and discover Hank and Britt, and their constant struggle to find their own versions of happiness.

If I learned nothing else from watching Terriers, it was that the circumstances don’t matter.  Yes, they may bring you down, and the choices people make are sometimes not the easiest or the best.  But when push comes to shove, I’d like to have Hank and Britt on my side.  And even though there may be stumbles every so often, and an occasional fall… I know that they’ll do what they can to be there, loyal to a fault.  Because once you have a friendship like that… you never let go.

Vital Stats

13 hour-long episodes — none unaired
FX Network
First aired episode:  September 8, 2010
Final aired episode:  December 1, 2010
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, Wednesday nights at 10/9.  But hey, so few people found it (Terriers averaged less than a million viewers per episode) that it may as well have aired in the middle of the night.  But it was still worth it.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“Most writers don’t know how to write for us.  They either think we’re The Waltons or Father Knows Best.”
–Ronny Cox

Especially during the holidays, life can get a little crazy.  Things to do, people to see, errands to run, and coordinating schedules and trying to be everywhere at once just emphasizes our hurried lifestyles these days.  The more commercialized aspects of gift-giving (and gift shopping) remind us of the harried nature of life.  Of course, for many these days, it’s just adding crazy on top of crazy, in a life already going at a breakneck speed.  Sometimes, a person just has to put a stop to it all, and find a place to slow down and discover a simpler way.

Hollywood is no different, except that the pace there is almost always on fast-forward, and holidays add even more stress and complication to life in the fast lane.  And yet, there’s always a desire for many to find a way to return to a simpler existence, to slow down the rat race and find a different path.  Of course, sometimes people are just forced to deal with the craziness, no matter how simple they want their lives to be.  Two different shows dealt with these ideas, each in their own manner.  But they both came to the same conclusion.

The first was the 1974 CBS series Apple’s Way.  From The Waltons creator Earl Hamner, Apple’s Way told the story of George Apple (Ronny Cox), the father of a family of six, who moved his brood from the hectic pace of Los Angeles back to Appleton, Iowa, the small town he grew up in.  Founded by his ancestors (hence the Appleton moniker), it promised a much more relaxed way of life for the architect and his family… if only they could get used to it.

George’s wife Barbara reluctantly went along with this move, although she wasn’t initially sold on the whole idea of uprooting her family and moving to what they considered “the middle of nowhere”.  But she loved George, and knew the surroundings would likely be good for the kids (whether they believed it or not).  So the family packed up and went to live in a converted old grist mill, complete with waterwheel and “old mill pond”  (because, of course, that’s Hollywood’s idea of “small town”, even in the ’70’s).

While George and Barbara got used to the more rustic surroundings, the kids had their own problems.  Accustomed to a life where friends are just around the corner and things to do are more plentiful, the adjustment to rural Iowa from big-city Los Angeles was more than a bit of culture shock.  But slowly, older teen Paul (Vincent Van Patten), sister Cathy (Patti Cohoon), and youngsters Steven (Eric Olson) and Patricia (Frannie Michel for the first thirteen episodes, Kristie McNichol thereafter) learned to love their new existence.  Dealing with their enthusiastic father, however, was still a problem.

“Earl calls him ‘a slightly berserk good Samaritan.’  He can’t help getting into other people’s problems, even when he’s not wanted.”
–Ronny Cox

George was a “true believer”, and had faith in numerous people and causes.  This obstinate refusal to back down over any situation rubbed some the wrong way, and made the family’s assimilation into the community a sometimes prickly proposition.  Whether he was standing up for a losing basketball coach or defending an ancient tree’s existence, his activism in various causes occasionally embarrassed his family, but his devotion usually was worthwhile.

Created by Earl Hamner, the man behind the successful CBS series The Waltons, Apple’s Way was hoped by CBS to be a more modern-day adaptation of the same family-style drama, although the first season of thirteen episodes played a bit more like a fish-out-of-water comedy.  Major retooling was done before its second season, with the actress playing the youngest girl replaced by Kristie McNichol (as she spelled it then).  Of course, McNichol later went on to play in a different modern-day drama, Family, for many years.

The grist mill set was built on the old Columbia back lot, and was later retooled into the house seen in numerous episodes of Fantasy Island.  Ultimately, the facade was torn down, and ironically it was replaced by the Walton homestead, moved to its new location when its previous site was sold off by the studio.  But the simplicity remained, even if just as a memory.

The problem portrayed in Apple’s Way is about trying to fit your old life into your new one.  While change is the one constant in life, change as radical as living a new life in such extremely different surroundings causes much greater problems along the way, and sometimes teaches some very different lessons.  And while there are obviously times when you’re the student, there are other times when you’re the teacher.

“That’s an important reason Aaron’s Way is such an intriguing series concept.  It deals with a family, which has been living in the old world, suddenly being thrust into a modern-day environment.  Obviously, there’s a lot of conflict there.”
–Merlin Olsen

Sarah and Aaron Miller

Just as George Apple had those moments of culture conflict in Apple’s Way, there was another man who faced many of the same challenges, only in reverse.  In the 1988 NBC series Aaron’s Way, patriarch Aaron Miller (Merlin Olsen) led his Pennsylvania Amish family westward to California, and a winery where his son Noah had once lived.  Although Noah had given up his family’s Amish ways, Aaron had kept in contact with him, until the young man’s death in a surfing accident.  At the funeral, Aaron learns that his son had been living with a woman, and that she was pregnant with their offspring… his grandchild.  In order to support what he feels are his son’s obligations, he moves his Amish family to the winery, where there are gentle clashes in society and style.

Aaron’s wife Sarah (Belinda Montgomery) and their kids are just as confused as the family in Apple’s Way was, but in reverse.  Their simple life and unassuming ways clash, sometimes a bit more sharply, with those of the denizens of California and their supposedly “superior” lifestyle.  But soon-to-be-mother Susannah (Kathleen York) is grateful for their presence, no matter what her more cynical parent Connie (Jessica Walter) may feel about Aaron’s family.  And both families have to deal with Susannah’s brother Mickey (Christopher Gartin), who develops a crush on one of the Miller daughters.

Like Apple’s Way, this was a series that tried to turn a successful “period” piece into a more modern-day one.  Merlin Olsen had been a winning addition to Little House on the Prairie, which led to his starring in Father Murphy for two seasons.   In 1988, NBC needed a companion piece to Michael Landon’s new series, Highway to Heaven, and thus believed Olsen would again be a worthy place to start.  Both shows had a more relaxed presence than many of their television counterparts at the time, and Olsen was a good fit for that style of show.

“For all the technical errors, I think the emotional honesty is there.”
–Creator/Executive Producer William Blinn

Unfortunately, not only did the Millers not fit in (nor were they really expected to, as far as the show was concerned), they also didn’t find any love from either viewers or critics.  Comparatively few watched the show, and those former Amish who saw it disliked its portrayal of the religious community, and rightly so.  This was, unfortunately, Hollywood’s version of Amish, which is occasionally composed more with misunderstanding than sympathy and, as such, didn’t ring true despite the best efforts of some involved.  And so, the lengthy journey the Miller family had undertaken to California ended much sooner than had been anticipated.

Ironically, the cancellation likely simplified Merlin Olsen’s real life, as at the time he was also on NBC’s top team of NFL broadcasters.  The former all-Pro lineman-turned-television analyst was traveling to football games each weekend in the fall, while rushing back to film Aaron’s Way during the week.  Juggling scripts and football programs, not to mention airplane flights and promotional appearances for both NBC entities, made for an extremely hectic life, plus kept Olsen away from his own family (with three growing children).  His family was the primary reason he agreed to perform in Aaron’s Way in the first place, as he felt there were no quality shows on that reached a wide range of ages.

“I like the fact that, at a time when there is very little television that we can sit down and watch together as families, this is the kind of show that really asks people to question what is happening in this world and asks people to look at values.  What is right?  It’s the kind of show that can be very productive in terms of doing something positive instead of instilling an urge to violence in our kids and our adults, as well.”
–Merlin Olsen

In both Apple’s Way and Aaron’s Way, there’s a germ of an idea that apparently Hollywood liked, even though it didn’t really express it well.  There is virtue in a less hectic life, and a pace where time and conscience allows for values which aren’t always found in the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown.  And while it is likely that those involved in green-lighting both series may have admired the sentiment, the presentation wasn’t really consistent with understanding the principles involved.  A simpler life, in a simpler place, doesn’t mean any lack of understanding or knowledge of the ways of the world.  It just means a choice made to savor the moments, to not get caught up in the day-to-day, and to celebrate all those things some people seem to take for granted.  While the simple life isn’t always simple, it is often much better.

(With so many biographies in two large-cast shows, I’ll just list the more well-known personalities here.)

Apple’s Way:

RONNY COX (George Apple) has a long career in television and movies, first making a huge splash in the film Deliverance, and appearing in the original Robocop.  In addition to being mentioned previously on this site for his role on Cop Rock, he’s starred in Sweet Justice and The Agency, as well as featured and recurring roles in Star Trek:  The Next Generation, Stargate SG-1, St. Elsewhere, and The Starter Wife.  His first love is singing, and he’s carved out a pretty good career as a folk/country singer, appearing all over the country, and selling numerous CDs of his songs.

FRANCES LEE McCAIN (Barbara Apple) was featured in many movie roles, including as Marty McFly’s (future) grandmother in Back to the Future, and roles in Patch Adams, Stand by Me, Gremlins, and the original version of Footloose.  A stage actress by preference, she’s also appeared on Broadway, making her debut in Woody Allen’s first stage play, Play It Again, Sam.

VINCENT VAN PATTEN (Paul Apple) is, of course, from an acting family.  His father, Dick, is famous for starring in Eight is Enough, and his brothers James and Nels have also appeared in various television shows and movies.  In addition to his acting, Vincent was also a world-ranked tennis professional (as high as 41st in the world at one point), and he’s also written The Picasso Flop, a mystery set in the world of high-stakes poker.

KRISTIE McNICHOL (Patricia Apple, 2nd season) was extremely young when she joined Apple’s Way, but she went on a year later to star in Family (where she earned two Emmys for Best Supporting Actress) and the comedy Empty Nest.  (She also changed the spelling of her name to Kristy, just in case anyone thinks I’ve got it wrong up above… that’s the way it reads in the credits of Apple’s Way).  Tired of the Hollywood scene (shades of George Apple!), she left the acting profession, although she still teaches drama occasionally.

Aaron’s Way:

MERLIN OLSEN (Aaron Miller) was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, thanks to his stellar 15-year career with the (then) Los Angeles Rams.  He became one of the top NFL broadcasters soon thereafter and, thanks to his relationship with NBC, he also signed on as Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie.  His “gentle giant” demeanor led to a lead role in Father Murphy a few years later, and then the part of Aaron Miller on Aaron’s Way.  He was a spokesman for FTD Florists, and also hosted numerous telethons for the Children’s Miracle Network.  He passed in 2010 at the age of 69.

BELINDA MONTGOMERY (Sarah Miller) has also made these pages for her role years earlier on Man From Atlantis.  In addition to recurring roles on Miami Vice and guest shots on many other television series, she’s best known as the patient mom of Doogie Howser, M.D.  An avid painter, she currently spends much of her time working with her art, some of which has been shown at various studios throughout North America (and available at her website).

KATHLEEN YORK (Susannah Lo Verde) is a woman of many talents, as she starred in Vengeance Unlimited and had recurring roles in The West Wing and Desperate Housewives.  As a writer, she’s sold scripts to many Hollywood studios, including Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Fox.  As a singer/songwriter, she’s known as Bird York (her nickname), and her music has been featured on multiple CDs and in movies like Crash and TV shows like House and CSI:  NY.

JESSICA WALTER (Connie Lo Verde) has had a long and memorable career on television, known to many as the matriarch of the Bluth family on Arrested Development.  While her first television role was back in The Naked City in 1962 as a child actress, she later starred in Amy Prentiss (as a rotating part of The NBC Mystery Movie), Bare Essence, and was the voice of Fran in Dinosaurs.  Currently, she appears on TVLand’s new series Retired at 35.

CHRISTOPHER GARTIN (Mickey Lo Verde) was a regular on the sitcom Buddies before becoming a part of another memorable one-season show, M.A.N.T.I.S.  He appeared in Baywatch, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Desperate Housewives, and The Mentalist.  He’s also appeared in multiple episodes of True Blood, and the Lifetime series Side Order of Life.

Not a lot exists online for either of these shows.  Neither has come out commercially on DVD, although bootlegs can be found.  Apple’s Way did get the full tie-in treatment (as was popular in the ’70’s), including a novelization and even a lunchbox with the characters pictured on the side.  Although Apple’s Way was a small part of its history, interested parties can find much more information about many Screen Gems and Columbia television series filmed on their backlot at The Unofficial Columbia Ranch Site, full of pictures and stories about the many locations built there.  Due to its shorter run, there’s almost nothing out there for Aaron’s Way in detail.  And maybe that’s proper, as the world of the Amish in general isn’t one for publicity in the first place.  The ways of the world, both complex and simple, will continue….

There are so many different people in this world, and just as many different ideas on how life should be lived.  What is right for some isn’t right for others.  While a great number of us find satisfaction in the lives we lead, George Apple and Aaron Miller both sought a new way to seek their own happiness, far different from the lives they used to have.  Culture shock was a given, but they both had an ideal which they tried to achieve, despite the obstacles found in their way.

The ways of the world are sometimes our own obstacles, but they can be overcome.  The worst thing anyone can do is just accept what is, instead of striving for what can be.  Those who chart their own path create their own happiness, and don’t wait for others to provide it.  A simpler life can be a better one, for those who have the courage and the patience to seek it out, and the consistency to live it despite the pressures of modern society.  Like both Apple’s Way and Aaron’s Way, there’s a way for each of us, if we can “simply” find it.

Vital Stats

Apple’s Way

28 episodes aired — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  February 10, 1974
Final aired episode:  January 12,1975
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No.  It aired in the “family” slot of Sunday nights at 7:30/6:30 Central, back in the days when networks started the night early and gave the last half hour of prime time back to local stations.

Aaron’s Way

A two-hour premiere and 12 hour-long episodes — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  March 9, 1988
Final aired episode:  May 25, 1988
Aired Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Again, no.  It ran into Growing Pains when it was a Top 10 show on Wednesdays @ 8/7 Central.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“People would paint this as teenagers in tinfoil hats.  That’s not what this is.  These are educated professionals.”
–Clarke Ingrahm, one of the founders of the movement to save Jericho

Some people on the edges of society become “Survival Nuts”; the type that believe Armageddon is just around the corner.  They have their shelters already outfitted with weaponry and non-perishable food to last through what they perceive is coming, their own idea of “the end of the world”.  Now, while most TV shows have nothing to do with this, at least one well-remembered short-lived series didn’t just portray “the end of the world,” but showed dramatically what actually might happen afterwards.

In the 2006 CBS series Jericho, the residents of a small town in Kansas have to face the unthinkable:  a nuclear detonation has occurred in Denver, and although the explosion is far enough away to preserve the town, their existence is now changed forever.  Slowly, they learn that many other locations in the United States have been devastated as well, and now they must discover how to survive in a place where supplies are limited, and where order has turned into chaos.  They and their fellow residents are suddenly showing, in their reactions to the crisis, whether they are going help each other, or decide it’s now “every man for himself”.

Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich) has previously been someone who believes in the “every man for himself” principle.  He left the small town of Jericho, Kansas a few years before, leaving his family behind (as well as his troublesome youth).  On the fateful day of the explosion (or is it an attack?), he’s visiting for the first time in ages, but all he seems to want is an advance on his family inheritance and as little “connection” with them as possible.  Of course, the radical events in the country around him suddenly change all that, and now he’s back in Jericho with no other place to go.

Eric and Johnston

He decides, reluctantly, to help rebuild both his family and his town, thanks to his stalwart mom Gail (Pamela Reed) and his stoic father Johnston (Gerald McRainey).  Johnston is the current mayor of Jericho, and recruits his prodigal son into helping organize the town, attempting to provide for their well-being in the aftermath.  Jake is reunited with his brother Eric (Kenneth Mitchell), and also with an old flame, the newly married Emily Sullivan (Ashley Scott).  Emily’s new husband is missing, and possibly dead in the attacks, so Jake has to confront the possibility of rekindled feelings and reconciliation.  Everything is uncertain, as the world has suddenly changed.

Mimi and Stanley, with Jake

The rest of the town is uncertain as well, particularly about how it will survive.  Johnston has a rival in Gray Anderson (Michael Gaston), who has different ideas about how the town should be run in this “new world”, and Gray soon opposes him as leader of the community.  At the time of the attack, a visitor from Washington D.C., Mimi Clark (Alicia Coppola), was in town to foreclose upon the land belonging to local farmer Stanley Richmond (Brad Beyer) and his deaf sister Bonnie (Shoshannah Stern).  With foreclosure now meaningless and the goal of survival more important, a relationship ultimately develops between the young farmer and his former adversary, much to the dismay of the sister.

Elementary school teacher Heather Lisinski (Sprague Grayden) is most concerned, initially, with the children of Jericho, and she starts to develop feelings for Jake after he saves one of her charges.  But after she herself is injured, she ends up in a military hospital where she finds out about far more of what is going on in the outside world than most of Jericho is aware of.  One of the older students, Dale Turner (Eric Knudsen), decides that “the ends justify the means”, and becomes a valuable (if ethically shady) member of the community, with the resources to gain many of the items needed by the community (such as medicine and food).  But you may not want to know exactly what he did to acquire them, or who you’d have to thank….

Lastly, there’s new resident Robert Hawkins (Lennie James) and his family, who says they are from St. Louis.  He seems to be an expert in many technical areas, supposedly from training he received as a police officer there after 9/11.  He becomes a friend to Jake, although his background and motives still seem a mystery, even to his family.  Oh, and there’s a few other things…. he’s got hidden military skills, a link to a satellite dish, and a nuclear bomb, like the ones used to blow up Denver, Washington D.C., and assorted other places in the country…..

“We’re trying very hard to create a landscape that the audience can put themselves into and say, ‘Wow, what would I do?  How would I survive?  How would I react in that situation?’  We realize that we’re asking the audience to take a huge leap with us in that there’s this massive attack.”
–Carol Barbee, Executive Producer of Jericho

The stories of these many residents intersect, as each tries to figure out exactly how life will continue in their new situation, and their first problems (after basic survival) concern what is going on in the world around them.  Contact is made with a nearby larger town, New Bern, and while it is initially peaceful and beneficial for both locales, conflict soon ensues.  At the end of the initial season’s worth of shows, a cliffhanger ending presents both cities on the brink of a pitched battle to defend what is left of their way of life.  After the nuclear blast and surviving the imagined “end of the world”, is this new threat going to signal the true final outcome of the town of Jericho?

Well, yes, according to CBS.  Despite a good start, the series was canceled, likely due to a significant scheduled hiatus in the middle of the season.  Many previous viewers thought the series had ALREADY been given a pink slip, and didn’t find it again the following spring when it returned for the second half of its season.  Ratings dipped, and just like the explosion in Denver, Jericho paid the price despite not being at fault.

“We consistently held 8 or 9 million viewers, even going up against [Fox’s American Idol], so everyone was really surprised and shocked that we were canceled.  You have to move on and let go, but you see all this fan support and you keep that tiny bit of hope in your heart.”
–actor Brad Beyer

“Nuts!”
–Jake, responding to New Bern’s demand of surrender

In that final cliffhanger ending episode, Jake is confronted by the leader of the invading town.  Echoing the response of General Anthony McAluffe at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, Jake’s response to the question of surrender was the same as General McAluffe’s:  “Nuts!”  Both were faced with insurmountable odds, and yet believed in their cause so completely that they were willing to make a stand… and succeed.

The resolve of Jericho fans was also hardened upon news of the cancellation, and a campaign was soon mounted to hopefully change the minds of executives at CBS. In this case, as a way to gain the studio’s notice, fans decided to send in something other than letters and e-mails to make their point.  Just as Jake had referred to General McAluffe, they wanted something identifiable as part of the defense of Jericho.  They literally sent in “nuts”.

Packets of peanuts, cans and jars, and boxes and bags of assorted kinds, all containing nuts, were received by CBS over the next few weeks and months.  They were inundated by the stuff, so much that individuals were hired just to help the overloaded staff with them.  In all, it is said that 20 TONS of various types of nuts were sent in support of Jericho‘s renewal.  On one day alone (May 29 of that year), over 10,000 pounds of nuts were received at the CBS New York offices!

While campaigns to save cancelled shows have been tried in the past, most have not been successful.  Television is still a business in the end, and many times a show that had ended simply has too many hurdles to leap in order to return in the first place.  Sets have been dismantled, cast and crew members have scattered to new projects, and a show already has the stigma of “failure” in the television world to fight.  For business reasons alone, it’s harder to effectively “re-mount” a production than it is to start something else fresh.  But this show had the unique combination of fervent audience base, heroes who believed in the show at the network, a large percentage of nearby location shooting (which meant, in this case, that important exterior sets still existed), and a staff, both on-screen and behind the camera, who wanted to continue telling the unique stories only possible on Jericho.

Thanks to quick work on the part of the fans, the network, the production company, and all the rest involved, Jericho did not face yet another ending, but was renewed for seven episodes as a mid-season replacement.  But the renewal didn’t come without a warning to those who were ready to celebrate their success.

“You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard.  In success, there is the potential for more.  But, for there to be more Jericho, we will need more viewers.  A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show.  But that community needs to grow.  It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available.  We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity, and volume you have displayed in recent weeks.”
–Nina Tassler,  CBS Entertainment President, announcing the renewal of Jericho

Oh, yeah, and they also asked people to please stop sending nuts.  Fans being fans, they didn’t, but in gratitude, sent care packages of MORE nuts to various food banks and charities instead.  CBS followed suit, and donated what they had received to other organizations, including one which sends various care packages overseas to military men and women stationed far from home.  In a definite win-win situation, fans benefited, charities benefited, CBS got some well-needed good publicity for listening to the fans, and everyone was eager for what was to come.

A seven-episode second season debuted that next February, resolving the cliffhanger ending and, although the critical reviews were generally positive, Jericho still didn’t find enough of an audience for it to survive.  A comic book version followed (commonly referred to as “Season 3”), and rumors of a revival or sequel movie on cable persist, but the televised story of what happens after “the end of the world” finished after two hard-fought seasons for survival.  And 20 TONS of nuts.

SKEET ULRICH (Jake Green) was a regular in Miracles before he landed in Jericho, and was also the star of Law and Order:  LA before the show was rebooted and his character was eliminated.  His stage name “Skeet” comes from his first nickname as a little-league baseball player, when he was known as “Skeeter”.

PAMELA REED (Gail Green) starred in the HBO spoof on elections called Tanner ’88, and in the short-lived comedies Grand and The Home Court.  She has a recurring part on Parks and Recreation as the lead character’s mother, and her best known movie role was as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s partner in Kindergarten Cop.

GERALD McRAINEY (Johnston Green) has been a lead in two very successful series, Simon & Simon and Major Dad.  He’s also had featured roles in Women’s Murder Club, Promised Land, Deadwood, Undercovers, and currently on Fairly Legal.  He also appeared multiple times on Designing Women, playing the ex-husband of Delta Burke’s character, and the two hit it off so well that he later married Burke in real life.

KENNETH MITCHELL (Eric Green) first was seen as a recurring character on Showtime’s quirky series Leap Year, before appearing on many episodes of Odyssey 5.  After Jericho, he had an occasional part on Ghost Whisperer.  Most recently seen in episodes of Castle and The Mentalist, he’s an avid horseman, and he also has a degree in architecture.

ASHLEY SCOTT (Emily Sullivan) is familiar to genre fans, having appeared in Dark Angel and as one of the three leads in the television series adapted from the comic Birds of Prey.  Originally a fashion model before taking up acting, she was featured in both 2005 and 2008 in Maxim Magazine on their annual list of the world’s hottest women.

MICHAEL GASTON (Gray Anderson) is a popular TV actor, and has been a regular in Deadline, Blind Justice, The Mentalist for one season, Terriers, and currently on the CBS hit Unforgettable.  He was also featured in story arcs on The Sopranos and Prison Break.  Prior to his television work, he’s appeared in live theatre both on- and off-Broadway.

ALICIA COPPOLA (Mimi Clark) got a soap opera start on Another World, before moving to prime-time guest spots in shows like Sports Night, Star Trek: Voyager, Crossing Jordan, and CSI.   She portrayed a naval lawyer in multiple episodes of both JAG and NCIS, and was a regular in Cold Feet, Bull, and American Dreams.

BRAD BEYER (Stanley Richmond) originally took an acting class for non-theatre majors in college, before one of his instructors told him he should think about acting as a profession.  He was seen in numerous episodes of Third Watch, and is a regular on the upcoming January 2012 ABC series entitled G.C.B.

SHOSHANNAH STERN (Bonnie Richmond) had to learn English as a second language, as she was born into a deaf family, and the primary language in their home was American Sign Language.  She’s learned English and lip-reading proficiently, and works as an actress with no special interpreter.  Her recurring role on the short-run series Threat Matrix was specifically written for her, and incorporated many of her unique abilities, and she also had a featured part on the Showtime series Weeds.

SPRAGUE GRAYDEN (Heather Lisinski) was a regular on the FOX series John Doe, and also had significant parts on Six Feet Under, Joan of Arcadia, and Over There.  She was the female lead in the recent Paranormal Activity horror franchise, and also had appearances on Sons of Anarchy and 24.

ERIK KNUDSEN (Dale Turner) has appeared in primarily Canadian productions, although audiences in American may have caught him in episodes of Flashpoint or the movies Saw II and horror/parody movie Scream 4.  Genre fans would find him as part of the cast of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (and yes, I’m biased, but this is a fantastic film… go see it!!!!)

LENNIE JAMES (Robert Hawkins) is actually British, although you’d never know it from his speech patterns on Jericho.  Much of his work has been in Britain, including appearances on many BBC dramas and radio plays.  In America, he was featured in the AMC remake of The Prisoner, and also on AMC’s The Walking Dead.  He is also an award-winning playwright, with his works having been featured on the BBC as televised stage productions.

Even after Jericho “ended” the second time, it was still too strong to die.  The CW Network (also owned by CBS) reran the show in place of its quickly canceled series Valentine during the 2008-2009 season, showing the entire 29-episode run.  CBS also tried at one point to work out a deal with the Comcast cable network, similar to the one which kept Friday Night Lights in production with initial airings exclusive to Dish Satellite before their network broadcasts, but that fell through.  Fans can, however, still relive memories of what does exist.

Both seasons one and two of Jericho are available on DVD, with plenty of extras.  The first season is streamable for those with Netflix access, and the entire second season is available with commentary on the CBS.com site.  The “third season” comic has been combined into a trade paperback edition, with a story created by those involved with the series, so it is a genuine continuation of the televised events on the show.  A decent website concerning the thoughts of some involved in the “Nuts” campaign is found here, and there’s a wiki concerning the events, characters, and settings of the show found here.

This was the iconic image of the show, from one of its first scenes.  The idea of a series about what happens after an apocalyptic event like a nuclear bomb explosion was enough to gain the interest of many.  A fervent following for the show wanted to see even more, and although the audience was ultimately too small for Jericho to become a hit, they were active, well-organized, and discovered a way, like the citizens of Jericho they watched each week, to try and save something they believed was important.

Those fans weren’t “tinfoil hat” crazy, they just found a battle they believed worth fighting, even when the odds were terribly against them.  In the case of Jericho, “Survival Nuts” meant something far different from someone barricaded in a fallout shelter with a year’s supply of canned goods and weapons.  It meant a way to keep telling stories of people, both heroic and not, and how they faced what many consider “the end of the world”.  Only those fans refused to see an end.  Just like the residents of Jericho.

Vital Stats

29 episodes — all available on DVD — none unaired
CBS Network
First aired episode:  September 20, 2006
Final aired episode:  March 25, 2008
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  No, it aired originally on Tuesday nights, and although it got bumped a bit on the schedule, the biggest problem was a three-month hiatus during its first season.  Sadly, on television, there is an “end of the world”.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

“We’re trying, as we go along, to deal with what war is about.  We’re looking at how our guys, as soldiers, see the war.  They’re not really involved in the big happenings or decisions, but they get their orders and go about obeying them.”
–Glen Morgan, Co-Creator of Space: Above and Beyond

Mankind has always been a species of conflict.  Wars have been fought for the noblest of reasons, and for the least worthy as well.  But there’s a great deal of science fiction, both literary and televised, which posits a future where mankind has put aside its conflicts and joined together in a journey to the stars.  A journey into Space: Above and Beyond.

Of course, since the essence of good storytelling is the drama of conflict, the obvious antagonists for a united planet are those we discover elsewhere.  But just because there’s an external threat doesn’t mean that the only conflict has to be “us vs. them”.  Sometimes, the best drama is found in discovering exactly how people will react when faced with something that threatens their very existence and the way of life they believe in.  Will they find courage?  Will they hide behind others?  Or will they simply discover their own essence along the way?  The people you never thought worthy might just be the wild cards you need to survive.

In the 1995 FOX series Space: Above and Beyond, viewers follow the members of the Fighting 58th Squadron of the US Marine Corps Space Aviator Calvary.  In the year 2063, a united Earth has begun to colonize outside our own solar system, thanks to the discovery of predictable “wormholes” in space that let humanity travel great distances despite the lack of faster-than-light engines.  When one of the colony ships is attacked by a previously unknown race, the Fighting 58th and their fellow “Space Marines” must protect both Earth and its colonies, and try to battle the unknown enemy.

Nicknamed the “Chigs”, these aliens, and their fights with our humans, form the backdrop for stories of heroism and doubt, bravery and cowardice.  1st Lt. Nathan West (Morgan Weisser) was slated to be one of the crew of the attacked colony ship, where he and his beloved girlfriend were planning to start a new world together, literally.  At the last minute, he was replaced on the mission, and decided to enlist with the Marines and pursue his only way to rejoin her.  His motivation is purely for her, and when he has the chance to find her again, he goes AWOL for a brief time.  While his initial priorities are not with his squadron, he soon learns to have their backs… just as they have his.

“Everyone–Grab the ass of the person to your right!  Well now, isn’t that beautiful.  Do you feel it?  His ass is yours!  Her ass is yours, and yours is theirs.  You may fly in individual rockets, but you are a squadron!  You are a team!  And if you risk your ass, you risk the team.  You people have been here six weeks now, and you still do not know how to work together!  Well, you WILL learn to work together, or that fatty clump of flesh in your hand will be blown to the far corners of the universe–And yours will be right behind it!!!”
–Gunnery Sargeant Frank Bougus, instructor for the early training of the 58th

Capt. Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke) is the leader of the squadron.  While a youngster, she watched as her parents were killed by “Silicates”, an early version of Artificial Intelligence that rebelled against humanity (in a conflict known as the “metal wars”).  Wanting to prove herself and driven by her past, she joins up to face her fears, and to (hopefully) become a member of the “Avenging Angels”, the best squad in the Marines… until that group is decimated in the first major Chig battle.  Now, she’s got nothing but inexperienced people hoping to turn into soldiers, literally a set of “wild cards” that she hopes will be ready when called upon… but can she trust them with her life?

Because of the “Silicates”, mankind has a negative impression of any “non-human” creations, including the newer, more advanced “in vitros”.  Biologically human, they were created rather than “born”, and their version of an umbilical cord is located in the back of their neck.  Seen by some as second-class citizens, their own fight for recognition as “normal” is what led to Nathan West’s bumping off the colony flight… and the addition to their squadron of 1st Lt. Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland).  Nicknamed “tanks”, Hawkes and his fellow “in vitros” are essentially “born” at age 18, and while their emotional growth is limited at best, their physiology is stronger and more durable than most humans.  While some in the military see them as “disposable” pieces to be sent in to make the way for the “real” humans, the 58th (after a rough start) begin to see him as one of their own instead of just cannon fodder.

1st Lt. Paul Wang (Joel de la Fuente) probably has the farthest to go to become a soldier, as early on his most endearing trait is being a screw-up.  But when he’s captured and subjected to torture, he has to make a choice with consequences for the rest of his life.  1st Lt. Vanessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman) is his closest friend on the squad, and she’s also their tech expert.  After leaving another relationship behind, she’s looking for a fresh start with the Marines, and may finally have found a group of people where she belongs… if they can all just stay alive.

Their commanding officer is Lt. Col. T.C. McQueen (James Morrison), formerly the leader of the “Avenging Angels” and the only survivor of their run-in with the Chigs.  He’s an “in vitro” as well, and while he understands the feelings some have for his kind, he also knows the military, and sometimes men and women are ordered to lay down their lives for their comrades in arms.  He realizes that those decisions have absolutely nothing to do with who you’ve been or how you were born.

“Courage.  Honor.  Dedication.  Sacrifice.  These are just the words they used to get you here.  Now the only word that means a damn to you is Life.  Yours.  Your buddy’s.  The one certainty in war is that, in an hour, maybe two, you’ll either still be alive, or you’ll be dead.”
–McQueen’s opening speech to the 58th, his new command

The military is a completely different life from that which the rest of us lead.  Personal identity is often subsumed in the quest for preparedness and the immediate obeying of orders, with no questions asked.  The job of a soldier is to do what he is told, and not to question those who outrank him or her.  Many believe that the military is wrong in eliminating, at least initially, that which makes each of us unique.  But the goal is not to eliminate the person, it is simply to eliminate the doubt, not just in each other but in each person themselves.

There is duty, honor, and tradition in the service, but those things are earned, and earned with the hard work of all.  It’s a long and difficult road to travel, even in the best of times.  And the universe presented in Space: Above and Beyond was far from ideal for all its soldiers.  Racism reared its ugly head in the perception of both the alien Chigs (about which we knew very little) and the “in vitros” (which were simply a different type of human).  Situations were faced by the crew with little or no information, and sometimes misinformation (which was even worse).  And yet, one of the most important questions is asked by one of the characters in the pilot episode, one which every soldier has to answer to his own satisfaction.  We all have something to live for.  But for soldiers, the question is also “What would you die for?”

Ready to battle. But for what?

Most people never even think about such a thing.  I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve never had to realistically face death in my life.  Injury, yes, multiple times.  Emotional pain and sorrow I wouldn’t wish on anyone else, of course.  But to come to terms with a person’s own death is something beyond my ken.  And yet, a soldier has to ask themselves that question every day, and come up with an answer that allows them to keep going, to work and endure a harder life than most can imagine, especially during wartime, and still be expected to be as human as the rest of us.

The amazing part is that most succeed, and come home to us all safe and sound.  Some suffer, and some valiantly end up sacrificed so that the rest of us can go on, never having to even ask the question of ourselves.  But we should all be thankful for their service, both in peace and in war, for making it safe enough for the fellow humans to, hopefully, continue to strive for ourselves and those we love in other ways.  Someone has to make the choice so many others do not, and for those people we should be more than grateful.

The stories of Space: Above and Beyond were set in a future with spaceships and aliens, but at the series core was an examination of what it takes to be a soldier, to answer those questions no one else in society really dares to ask, and to find a way to live through the worst.  Just like the title of the “Avenging Angels”, the men and women of the 58th got a nickname for their group as well.  It was, as you’ve likely already guessed, “Wild Cards”, due to their unpredictability and their own natures.  And, even though it was never explicitly stated for all of them, the name was probably also due to their own answers to the question  “What would you die for?”  They each had an answer for themselves, and that was part of their journey as Marines.  Capt. Shane Vansen said it best:

“Even if we are trained to die, we have got to believe that we’re going to live.”

The Fighting 58th were well and truly “Wild Cards” to the end.

MORGAN WEISSER (Nathan West) guested in numerous series, including The X-Files, Quantum Leap, Alias, and NCIS.  Born to an acting family, his father started multiple theatre groups in Los Angeles, and Morgan has been active on both the television screen, in movies, and on stage.

KRISTEN CLOKE (Shane Vansen) appeared on numerous episodes of Millennium, plus was seen on Quantum Leap, The X-Files, Felicity, and Men of a Certain Age.  She gained more than most out of Space: Above and Beyond, as she became happily married to producer/creator Glen Morgan after the series, and they’ve produced two children, along with her two step-children.

RODNEY ROWLAND (Cooper Hawkes) started out as a fashion model before a colleague convinced him to try acting, and Space: Above and Beyond was one of his first roles.  He also appeared on The X-Files (sensing a pattern here?) and was a regular on Pensacola: Wings of Gold.  He’s most recently been a recurring character Veronica Mars and Weeds, both under his preferred name of Rod Rowland.

JOEL de la FUENTE (Paul Wang) starred in 100 Centre Street and High Incident, and has been featured in ER, All My Children, and Canterbury’s Law.  He’s best known these days for his recurring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, on which he’s appeared occasionally for almost a decade.

LANEI CHAPMAN (Vanessa Damphousse) had already found her way into “space” previously, having appeared as an Ensign four times on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Other roles included series such as The Pretender, Judging Amy, Grey’s Anatomy, and Cold Case.  She’s changed her name slightly, so that her more recent roles list her as “Lanai” instead of “Lanei”.

JAMES MORRISON (T.C. McQueen) was ALSO on Quantum Leap, Millennium, and The X-Files (I told you there was a pattern here…) in addition to recurring roles in HawthoRNe, Private Practice, and 24.  A many of almost too many talents, he’s a singer/songwriter, has written and directed award-winning stage plays, produced short films which have appeared in numerous festivals internationally, and is a certified yoga instructor (and still teaching both yoga and theatre currently).

“Had it been created in this era of cable channels and websites dedicated to science fiction, I wonder if it would have run for a hundred episodes.”
–Jesse Alexander, Producer and Writer on such series as Alias, Lost, and Heroes, when asked about Space: Above and Beyond a decade later.

The complete DVD set for Space: Above and Beyond was released in 2005, and although it contains no extras, you can still get all the series episodes, unedited, including the amazing finale.  While the majority of the show is not found easily on the internet (as rights holders have been cleaning up youTube lately), the two-hour pilot (in hour episode form) can be streamed here.  Although they haven’t been updated in a while, some of the best fan sites for the show are located here and here, and lots of information can be found about the adventures of the Fighting 58th.  A number of novelizations were written based on episodes of the series, six in total, and there is also a small private company that makes custom resin model kits of many of the spaceships seen in the series, available for purchase.

“These characters are always facing what may happen in the last minutes of their lives.  What do you say to the last face you may see before you die?  What are you thinking at that moment?  These characters experience those feelings a great deal on [Space: Above and Beyond], and facing them together, over and over again, makes them very close.  So, it’s in those moments that everyone’s true colors are revealed.”
–Kristen Cloke

Some disagree on the necessity of war, and rightfully so.  There are unjust wars, and unjust reasons for fighting them.  But even if the true goal of humanity is peace, there are still those individuals who would prefer power over justice, and their own way for all over allowing people to choose their own path.  When all else fails, these people must be confronted, for the good of the rest of us.  Thankfully, there are those who believe that justice and choice are worthwhile values to be protected, even at the cost of their own lives, so that others can continue to live without threat of fear or oppression.  While we can’t always agree on any particular fight, we must all surely give thanks for those who are willing to stand up, not for themselves, but for their loved ones, and for people they’ve never even met, in order to protect the ability to freely live.  And the amazing thing is, most are willing to protect even those who disagree with them, just because it is the individual’s “right to choose” they are defending and not the actual choice.

While I wish this piece could have been posted a week ago on Veterans Day, it was these thoughts throughout that week that led me to Space: Above and Beyond and the ideas in this article.  Veterans Day is a time to reflect, in whatever way appropriate, on what those who choose to serve have done, and what they continue to do.  No single individual is perfect, and mistakes are made by the humans involved, both in real life and in the depictions of them on television.  But that doesn’t make the idea any less proper, or any less worth the time and effort (and yes, sometimes sacrifice) those men and women make for all of us.  Space: Above and Beyond may have only been a science-fiction television show, but it dramatized the type of people we all desperately need to be real.  Because without them, we’d have already lost.

Vital Stats

A two-hour pilot and 22 hour-long episodes — none unaired — all on DVD
FOX Network
First aired episode:  September 24, 1995
Final aired episode:  June 2, 1996
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Not initially.  The show premiered on Sunday nights, but was promised a spring slot at Friday 8/7 Central for a steady run… which was promptly pre-empted by FOX anyway.  Although it did well there, the Fighting 58th had already lost the war for viewers.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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