Tuesday, December 4, 2018

BJ and the Bear Series Recap

BJ and the Bear was the perfect mélange of pop culture elements that the end of the 1970s were offering us. (Whether they were the best elements or not is your call.) Good looking truckers with chimps listening to soft rock (and sometimes disco) travelling the country helping people out, romancing pretty ladies and fighting (mostly) crooked law enforcement. The initial TV movie The Foundlings is very well done. Possibly one of the absolute best things that Glen A. Larson was ever involved in. Then, there was the series. 3 seasons of BJ McKay and his best friend Bear. My individual reviews cover pretty much everything I had to say. I just wanted to do a final recap before we put the boys to bed.
Love it

Season 1 is quite wonderful. It starts off with the return of BJ's nemesis Sheriff Lobo. He comes back two more times, with the final episode of the season being a backdoor pilot for his show. Throughout the rest of the season, we get variations on the basic formula. Some serious, some silly, some rednecky, one of them scary-ish. This block of episodes isn't perfect but it is very good. A few of the problems I can think of: Never Give A Trucker An Even Break is over-complicated. There are too many things going on for its own good. Crackers peaks with the Ferris Wheel rescue about halfway through. The rest of the episode is bland in comparison. A Coffin With A View is lots of fun but no one bothered to write the final third or so, which is unfortunate. Apart from these small peeves and maybe a couple other things, the season works very nicely. This is a world worthy of continued exploration.
Those were the days

Season 2 is the only full season of the show. It has its definite high points. But, it also shows that the formula of the show already is wearing a bit thin. The producers may have known this, which could be why they introduced Country Comfort. A truck stop with semi-regular characters that don't appear in every episode but show up every once in a while. It's not tying BJ down. It's giving him some friends. I think it works. (Janet Julian, ahoy!) However, they get rid of it about halfway through the season for whatever reason. The episodes themselves are an uneven lot, as many hour-long shows of this time where. (It was a rare show from around now, like say The Rockford Files, that could come up with extended, consistent runs of excellent episodes.) The opening two-parter introduces a ton of characters, brand new police nemeses and a whole slew of plots and subplots. It's all a bit much. I like some of it but there are parts that I find confusing bordering on incoherent.
Gosh, remember that...
Whatever happened to Michael Arkin?

Then, there are quite a few wonderful episodes. The Christmas episode. Cain's Son-In-Law. The Run For The Money three part crossover. (That has a slew of characters and lots of plots and subplots but gets it right.) The two fun episodes with the lady detectives. And others. (Check out the reviews to see what I liked and didn't.) The season gave us not only Country Comfort and the detectives but Pogo Lil in two episodes. Not particularly good episodes but still...  Then, there were the rather non-descript episodes like the one with the elephant or the dull Fly A Wild Horse. Then, there's BJ and the Witch. I've said my peace there, though. Overall the season is worth watching. But, by the end, when BJ goes on vacation, even he seems to be saying "This format/ formula is pretty much worn out."
When it's time to change...

So, Season 3 gives it a change. Unfortunately, not the best of changes. They took the best parts of Country Comfort, put it in a boring disco and an office and grounded the show. If you want to talk too many characters, this is the season to go to. It all could have worked though. All it took was one of the writers to step up to the plate and write and episode that declared "This is how this new format should work. This is how we make it good." But, no one seemed really interested in doing that. Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe the cancellation writing was on the wall. Maybe nobody liked the format. The season isn't a bad one but it isn't stellar. It feels rather tired with only a few moments here and there that perk up.

Thank you, guys.

And that, my friends, is BJ and the Bear. All my thoughts on it. I'm worn out. Is it a good show? Certainly. Is it a great show? Well...  at times. At moments. But, I think such a conglomeration of topical pop culture elements isn't really something that goes for "great." I feel "entertaining" is what they were after. Is this show entertaining? It sure is. It becomes less entertaining as it goes along but never fully abandons its remit. Although, some of the core elements are looking Pop Culture Stale by 1981. I'd say check out The Foundlings. It's very, very good. Give the first season a try. From the second season on, you may want to pick and chose. You may try watching it in tandem with Lobo. That might do something.

I think you should give the show a shot. It's made me happy and I hope you all have enjoyed the reviews. If this were an episode of the show, Bear would suddenly appear at my computer dressed like me and there'd be a freeze frame.

Let's pretend that has happened. Freeze...  frame....      Now.

Monday, December 3, 2018

BJ and the Bear Season 3 Recap

Most of what I have to say about the episodes is, obviously, in the reviews. I just wanted to make a quick pass over the whole season before we wrap up the show in full.

Returning for its third season to falling ratings, the show gave itself (or was told to from on high) a "soft reboot." No more was this going to be Route 66 with a guy, a chimp and a truck. This was going to be like most shows. It would have a static main setting and then branch out from there. The added addition here was the 9 (!) new supporting cast members with 8 (!) of them featured in the opening credits. Seven lady truckers who are working with B.J. Plus, Grant and Stieger, the final batch of crooked cops that B.J. would come up against. The opening credits that now cram in all these characters is initially jarring. Who the heck are all these people? We had all the Country Comfort gang in the previous season but none of them were in the opening credits. That must mean that this new gang is going to be important. Let's see how they handle all of these people and the new set-up.

Unfortunately, the answer to how they handle it is: They have no idea. The initial 2 hour episode, which should set this new world up nicely, is structured awkwardly. I described it in-depth in the review but I'll mention it again here. The episode begins with BJ working for these seven women at a carnival. Someone steals B.J.'s rig. All their equipment is stolen. The group breaks up. That's the first, I forget, 20 minutes or so. Then, B.J.'s friend, who runs a trucking company, is incapacitated by the same guy who stole BJ's rig. So, BJ takes over the company and has to hire the seven gals to help him with a big haul. So, we initially meet the gals. They separate. Then, BJ has to bring them all back together again. It's very cumbersome and doesn't actually help us differentiate the gals all that much. In fact, it makes for a pretty monotonous episode, sadly.

The rest of the season is pretty hit and miss. The writers seem to have no idea how to use all of the new characters at once. The few times they try, like in Seven Lady Captives, ends up with them becoming sort of a faceless mass of people in distress. It works better when 2 or 3 of them are focused on, along with BJ. The twins seem like they may be a main focus but they fade as the season goes along. It's really Callie and Stacks who get the bulk of the stuff to do. Stacks is charming. Callie, apart from a few moments, is annoying. Not who I would have chosen. The other three gals really don't register much. Grant's daughter comes into play in relation to Grant. (And the few episodes without Grant are kind of a relief.) One of the gals was a DJ and the other rode a motorcycle. I've even forgotten their names now. (They're in the reviews, generally.) It just feels as if the idea to change the format was made and no one really liked it or knew what to do with it. Or maybe they just knew the show was going out so they didn't try. Apart from a few episodes (like Blond In A Gilded Cell, Who is BJ?S.T.U.N.T. and Detective Finger, I Presume?), it sadly doesn't work.

The other big "Oops!" in the new set-up is the producers forgetting that one of the standard draws of each episode was the romance that BJ would have with a lady he met along the way. Luckily, there are seven new female supporting leads. But, it becomes clear in the second episode that they're not going to have BJ fool around with his employees. So, in order to satisfy the "BJ and a lady" thing, they'll have to bring in ANOTHER lady for those episodes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's too much in a season that already has too much in it.

The season does get better as it goes. And, Grant getting arrested at the end of the series promises that maybe things might be different if it had come back for more. But then, I have to ask myself: If they are getting this format down and they did come back, is it one that I wanted to keep watching? I like to think they'd get it right after a time and my answer would be "Yes." But, I love the first season too much. And I think the second season has so much great stuff in it. Having BJ settle down is a mistake. Maybe the fourth season would have seen him hit the road again. I don't know. The frustrating thing is simply this: why change the format if no one seems to know or care how to make it work? The strikes in the summer of 1980 gave them extra time to work out something great. This isn't, say, Galactica 1980 bad by any stretch. At least three or four of these episodes rank near the best of BJ and the Bear. Unfortunately, some of the others are on the bottom.

I'm running myself in circles here. They tried something. It got cancelled before we saw if it really worked. Personally, even if it did, it wasn't a format I was enamored with. (And, hey, where did B.J.'s friend go? I thought BJ was just taking over temporarily.) I'd like to say I'd have stuck around because I like BJ, Bear and Stacks. And the general format change itself isn't really that different. There's still beautiful ladies, car chases, action, "comedy," and all the BJ and the Bear stuff that I love. It's kind of shackled now by this format. I would have loved the show to go on for ten more years. But, it ends here. The least of the seasons but not without some charms. Not enough Bear, though.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

BJ AND THE BEAR S3 E14: The Two Million Dollar Hustle

 One last time!

Originally aired on May 9, 1981
Directed by David G. Phinney
Teleplay by Tom Sawyer and Robert L. McCullough & Michael Halperin
Story by Tom Sawyer

Grant frames Samantha, Angie and Stacks for a 2 million dollar bank robbery. BJ gradually uncovers that there is an investigation about to occur at SCAT and Grant may get in trouble. So, Grant, with the help of some strippers he has under his thumb, committed the robbery and is planning on running away with the money. BJ enlists the help of Lt. Steiger to help him stop Grant for one final time.

That's a whole lot of set-up for about two minutes of show
And yet, Stacks

I know that BJ and the Bear was one of the shows that the Moral Majority had the biggest problem with. This might be the episode they were thinking of. Lots of women in bikinis, strippers and a woman in lingerie near the end who actually tops all the other women that have been in every episode of this show in terms of "Holy Moley!" The whole time that this pulchritude is going on the episode is trying to make itself feel like it is the Last Episode. It is and it mostly succeeds.

It's a little tough to see...
But, the gals are watching themselves run by

This is one of those TV shows where the bad guy keeps getting away with it even when the good guy always wins. Lobo never got in more than a little trouble when he was on the show. Wiley and the Fox never got in trouble. But, surprisingly, Grant - SPOILER!!! - gets caught in the end. The final chase for BJ and his rig is against the small plane that Grant is trying to escape in. When he gets caught, definitively, it is a weird moment. It's not the sort of thing that happens in this show and, because this is the last episode, it is appreciated. I wonder if the strange writer credit has something to do with this. Maybe Tom wrote the original script with Grant getting away. Then, seeing the writing on the wall, Mike and Bob re-wrote it to bring that plotline to a conclusion. If the show had continued, Steiger could have taken Grant's place. Maybe? Maybe.
 Sassy stripper
Sad stripper

The episode itself is a decent ending to the series. It has a feeling of darkness to it that hasn't been here for a while. The stripper that Grant recruits has a definite sadness to her. Grant's exploiting of her comes of as maybe the sleaziest thing in the show since The Foundlings. Almost. The shot of her face as she takes off her top is significant in some way. I'm not sure exactly how but I know it is. Also, Cindy has a very final conversation with her father, Grant, which I found rather sad.. And, the fact that they can't get the gals out of jail (even with the help of Callie's Uncle Barney who's a lawyer) is a little disheartening. No one good has ever been in jail as long as the gals are here.
 Uncle Barney!
(Backdoor pilot for The Uncle Barney Show?)
Hey, its Deke!*

That's not to say that this is all doom and gloom. There are several scenes where Steiger and BJ set about making Grant look like the jackass that he really is. There's a bar where they rig everyone to pretend like Grant is a regular lush there. (I believe it is "Dino's Lounge.") Then, there's the WOW! lady at the motel who claims her and Grant meet up three times a week. It's a decent plan. It's slightly over-complicating things, though. I never fully understood exactly what they were up to as they simply catch Grant running away in the end. I almost feel like the "discredit Grant" plotline was meant to be written out of the final script but someone forgot.
Oh hell! It's Angry BJ

With all the Grant and Steiger stuff mixed with the scenes between Callie and her uncle, BJ and Bear almost get left behind. But, they get some good moments. Angry BJ going to see the stripper is a good scene. (Although, it leaves one with the feeling that she's just traded one person who will use her for another.) There's also a mobster who Grant stole from in here. (Grant's plan is more complicated than I've let on but we'll be all right.) He sends goons after BJ. BJ gets in one last brawl with the goons. Then, he confronts the mobster in a cool scene. As the curtain closes, these moments are almost wistful.

Good Gravy! 

But, yeah, this last episode is kind of more concerned with everyone else and leaves BJ and Bear behind a bit. Technically, with the new format, this is probably where they should have gone with it. Putting BJ in the position of a character like The Virginian. He's omni-present but he isn't always physically present. That could have been the route for the show to go. There are so many lead characters, after all. Granted, this isn't the show I would have been terribly interested in watching but they gave it a shot here.

One last chase
Car v. Plane

And so, BJ and the Bear ends. In a very different place than where it began. But, BJ is still heroic and hunky. Bear is still goofy. The rig is still awesome. Sometimes they still do trucking stuff! But, the new format never quite gelled as it should have. So, possibly, this was as good a place as any to leave Mr McKay and his best friend, Bear. They'll keep having adventures and having good times. We just won't be able to enjoy them anymore. It's sad. But, all good things....

Sto lat!

Goodbye, BJ. Goodbye, Bear. You were thoroughly enjoyed.
Steiger got the final freeze frame?


Saturday, November 3, 2018

BJ AND THE BEAR S3 E13: Detective Finger, I Presume?

Originally aired on May 2, 1981
Directed by Gil Bettman
Written by Robert L. McCullough

Two people break into BJ's office and steal a painting valued at $400,000. (BJ was delivering it to a SF museum the next day.) There have been a series of burglaries in the area and they seem to tie-in to an all women's gym called The Globe Gym. Cindy and Stacks go undercover at the gym. They learn that the owner, Stella Lemke, with the help of a Capt. Dryer, frame the women and make them commit burglaries. But, don't worry Detective Finger is on the case!
 I haven't been the same since Mary left me
Det. Lt. Finger, The Last of the American Hoboes?

Finally, a cop who isn't crooked! Well, technically, Cain wasn't crooked but he sure wasn't a good time. Detective Finger initially appears to be the same as every other cop on the show. He doesn't believe BJ. He thinks the painting (if it even exists) and BJ are involved in some sort of insurance fraud. He's a douchenozzle. But, as the episode goes on, he believes BJ more and more. And, in the end, they're actually friends, which was a surprise but also very nice to see. As the series draws to a close, I like the thought that they've brought in a cop who can be BJ and the Gals ally, if need be.
That extra is having the best time ever

Speaking of cops, I think I see Officer Norberg undercover at The Globe Gym. It's Peter Lupus, everyone! He gets to be big and menacing. He has a pretty good fight with BJ that starts with him throwing a dumbbell at him. (No, I don't mean Officer Perkins.) I always like seeing him and I always forget he was in Muscle Beach Party.
There's a joke about "going undercover" here
Frankly, it's eluding me & I'm OK with that

This is the episode where it is officially stated that Grant is "the top cop in the state." I don't know what that says about California law enforcement but that doesn't sound good for anyone. How on Earth does he get that high up? He's not like Lobo who does crooked stuff in a small town. He's the "top cop" in one of the most populated and largest states in the US. Holy Moley! SCAT is a lot bigger than I thought.
SCAT Officer McKay!

Cindy and Stacks going undercover is a nice thread. Stacks is constantly worried. Cindy is a tough gal. I missed her. Let me say it again: They really haven't figured out what the heck they're doing with all these gals. The twins are here but do nothing but look great in short shorts. Angie and Samantha are nowhere in sight. (I think. I don't remember them being here.) Callie is here, as always. But this episode is an odd one for her. BJ spends most of his time kind of flirting with her and wanting to dance with her and...  Normally, she annoys him. What happened? My guess is that Linda McCullough, who plays Callie, is related to the person who wrote this episode. And the writer has very strong thoughts about his relative getting the best attention from the star of the show. I could be all wrong though.
BJ NEEDS to dance with Callie!

The episode isn't as good as the previous two. It lacks the excitement of S.T.U.N.T. It lacks the crazy, propulsive oddness of Who is BJ? It's pretty much what I imagine would be a standard episode of the show if it had kept going with this format. BJ comes up against the cops. A few of the gals participate. BJ does better detective work than the police. Grant gets involved somehow. In the end, everything is OK if not better than before. One interesting thing: I couldn't really see this episode working as a 1st or 2nd season show. There's too much involvement from the gals for that. Hope looms.
Look. The director lingered on this shot
I'm just a writer looking for good screenshots.
Talk to Gil!

Where the episode wins is in the undercover stuff and Detective Finger. Cindy and Stacks do some gymnastics, which is cool. Detective Finger goes undercover as a hobo at one point, which wins all the awards for awesome in my book. Plus, again, he actually listens to BJ in the end. Thank God! I'm not 100% sure why they make him and his partner Sgt. Williams so incompetent when they're trying to foil a liquor store robbery but hey this is "action comedy BJ and the Bear." There's your action and there's your comedy.

Grant Meets Finger!

It's not a great episode. But, if this is where the show was moving towards, it's not a bad one. They still haven't cracked the format they created for the show. But, it feels like they might be getting near it. Unfortunately, the next episode is the last one. I know. It makes me sad too. It's been a long journey. I'll see you there.
 I liked this ending
And I loved this ending

Friday, November 2, 2018

BJ AND THE BEAR S3 E12: Who is BJ?

Originally aired on April 25, 1981
Directed by Peter Crane
Written by Michael Sloan

During a storm, BJ crashes his rig in the middle of nowhere. He passes out in the dark, in the rain, with a very worried Bear nearby. The next morning, a Carny Girl named Gypsy finds BJ's body at the Port Of Call in Los Angeles. He has a nasty head wound. He is wrapped in fishing net and he has been crammed in among a bunch of junk. And, he has lost his memory. Plus, an oil heiress named Sarah MacKenzie has been kidnapped. Plus, Grant has some drug-related chicanery going on with Gypsy's boss, Jonah. And, the seven lady truckers are trying desperately to find BJ. And, there's a lot of stuff going on in this episode.

 This looks normal to me.

Michael Sloan continues to bring The Good back to the show again. I really enjoyed this episode. The mystery behind what happened to BJ is a pretty sharp one. On a second viewing, it seemed fairly obvious but the first time through it had me wondering. There is a LOT happening here and I actually forgot to mention that two guys are trying to kill BJ throughout. It has something to do with the space in time between BJ passing out after the accident and being found by the ocean. The goons are presented in a sort of competent/ incompetent way. They look like they should be good at what they do but they put Their Goof on a lot. (Check out the bumper car fight where the BJ theme is incorporated into the fight music.)

It's nice to have an episode that brings in most of the seven lady truckers in a decent manner. (The twins are nowhere to be seen.) It really seems like they decided that Stacks and Callie would be the main ones but it's nice to see the DJ gal being utilized. (Is that Angie? I think it is. At this point, does it matter if I remember the others?) There are some nice scenes of them on the Santa Monica Pier trying to find BJ. A scene where several of them go to Grant demanding he tell them what he's done with BJ. (I like Grant's reply that he doesn't actually spend all his days trying to nab BJ.) And, a great scene where they find BJ and he doesn't know them. Good stuff. It shows that, yes, this premise for the show could have amounted to something.
I don't dislike this shot.
It is Angie!
Grant has some interesting stuff here. He is mixed in with Gypsy's boss (uncle?) Joshua. They are distributing drugs. Grant is really nasty in this episode. When Steiger mentions the missing heiress, Grant says "that girl's probably already dead." SCAT is kind of a gross place. Does it actually accomplish something? There's some nice plotting here where Grant meets the amnesiac BJ and gets him involved in a shipment of drugs being sent out. He plans on nabbing a sick BJ for drug running. How can BJ escape? (SPOILER: He does.)

Grant...  He's evil but he makes great coffee.

The episode, at first viewing, is a typical, entertaining episode of early 1980s television. It has a fast pace. It does some interesting things in its plot and its fun. It gives us everything we need from a show like this. But, on a second viewing, I noticed two things that, I don't think, are negatives. But, they're slightly weird. That is: 1) the way the story is told and 2) Gypsy.

This scene was a bit of a heartbreaker

You read that I got lost in the plotting of this. There is A LOT happening here. In fact, possibly too much. The kidnapping plot is almost shoehorned in. The first time I watched it it was sort of in the background and I didn't realize it was going to amount to anything. I should have known better. The bit about Amnesiac BJ was taking all my attention.* Plus, there were goons. And Grant. And the Gals. It was all a bit much. The drawback of all this incident is that the amnesia storyline never quite develops. It's just a plot point in an episode. It's a way to delay BJ saving the day. It's interesting certainly and it's nice when BJ returns to us. However, I felt like it may have had more weight if it had had more time to put BJ into this new world. The carny life we see on the Santa Monica Pier isn't really developed at all. Maybe this should have been a 90 minute episode?

Hello! I am One Crazy Broad.

Then, there's Gypsy. She's a Carny Gal. No parents. Working at the Santa Monica Pier. But, she also seems kind of...  touched. Watch her first scene. She sees BJ wrapped in a net and crammed in amongst a bunch of junk. His eyes are closed. She says, "Hey, are you OK?" Then, she touches his head wound. Really? Then, it takes her forever to suggest they go to a hospital. Then, she lies about knowing him to the gals. She does all this, it seems, to keep BJ in her life. I think the implication is that she's lonely and having BJ there is nice. But, isn't this weird? Watch her in this episode. She seems completely disconnected from reality. Is this a Carny Girl thing? And then, in the end, she says maybe she should have never helped BJ because then she wouldn't be so sad about losing him when his memory came back. I don't understand this character at all. She seems completely screwball to me. Maybe that's her charm.

Chill out with some fighting fun

In the end, though, this is a quick, fun, well-mounted episode. It's weird story moments are balanced out by giving BJ amnesia. Bear doesn't do much. No one else apart from BJ and Gypsy and Grant actually do much. But, the show is still working. Unfortunately, check the air date. There's about a month in between this episode and the last one. That doesn't bode well. And, sadly, we only have two more episodes. But, I believe we will go out on a high.
Hooray for the gals!
P.S.: Did they ever call BJ the "Milwaukee Kid?" Or did they make that up for this episode?
"I know him. Wasn't he on 'Battle of the Network Stars'?"

*Having said that, I don't know that "Amnesiac" is the right word. He remembers things fairly quickly. It just takes him some time to get to the moment when he remembers himself. That's during a lovely scene on the bumper cars where he sees Bear and beats up the goons. Loved that scene.