I was eight the year Buck Rogers came to television. I remember it fondly. Season 2 began just after my tenth birthday. A bit of an extra gap for the time period, but it looks like it appeared as a mid-season replacement.
I’ve been doing a middle-age rewatch of the show for a while, and as I type this, I have two episodes left in the second season. I’ll probably finish it by the end of the long weekend, and I have thoughts.
Season 1 is filled with 1970s cheesy SF goodness. Action, sound effects, bright colours, disco music whenever they could get away with it, and the beginnings of some villains who weren’t always villains and a little redemption here and there for villains who’d just fallen in with a bad crowd. It’s the story of a man five hundred years out of time trying to adapt to having lost everything he ever knew while at the same time figuring out the century around him and making a new family. Once he let himself understand there was no going back and he should stop feeling sorry for himself, he did a lot of that by going on missions to help people. Yes, those people were mostly beautiful women, but remember it was the 1970s. Costumes aside, the beautiful women he was enlisted to help were characters in their own right. A little simplistic—it was the 1970s—but they more than just damsels in distress.
Season 2… I have to side with Gil Gerard and Erin Gray. It was disappointing in so many ways. There’s plenty been written on the subject, and more as time goes on. I doubt I’m saying anything new, but for my viewing the problems all come down to the writing.
- The new producer tried to turn the show into his version of Star Trek but he didn’t want to spend any money on the writers. Or actors (he basically had to be talked into even keeping Erin Gray around by absolutely everyone connected with the show). In an effort to save money, it seems like he hired a group of 14 or 15-year-old sexually repressed boys from the 1960s who couldn’t stay awake in class to do most of the script work.
- Plots were weak, actions didn’t always make sense, and no attempt was made to do more than have a happy ending. The technobabble couldn’t even bother to be consistent, much less the layout of the ship.
- You could tell whether Wilma was going to be a character or scenery as soon as you saw her costume in the opening scene. And scenery outnumbered character by about 4 to 1. The sailor suit came with high heels, but only for her if you have a look at any background women in the cast that week. If she was wearing that, she wasn’t going to pass the Sexy Lamp Test. When she was a character, she got a smaller role than she should have. When she was scenery, her job was to look pretty and press a few buttons.
- Buck stopped being the man out of time and was instantly turned into a hyper-competent pulp-style hero who could do anything, fly anything, fix anything. The fact that all of the technology was 500 years beyond him didn’t signify. He was just that good. The only thing that made him stand out from any other human as a character was that he occasionally used a bit of slang from his era. Buck became a caricature.
- Hawk was such wasted potential. Thom Christopher was amazing with the crap he was given, bringing a gravitas to every line he spoke and adjusting his body mechanics just enough to make the idea that he was from a non-human evolutionary line believable. His performance was so good that you generally didn’t even notice the feather helmet they passed off as his hair.
- Dr. Goodfellow. Wilfrid Hyde-White is always entertaining, but his character was pretty much only there for laughs. See also Kryten, although he was far less amusing.
- Did budget cuts get Twiki’s voice recast for half of the short season? The official line was that Mel Blanc was ill for the first half of shooting. Either way, it was jarring. And Twiki became less a sidekick and more scenery. His role as occasional relevant comic relief had to be split between Goodfellow and Kryten, so he had a lot less screen time.
Overall, as well as for most of the individual episodes, season 2 was a huge disappointment. The audience seemed to feel that way at the time. Ratings plummeted. The show got cancelled.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but this is where I’m landing.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.by