Tuesday, March 6, 2018

BJ and The Bear S3 E1: BJ & The Seven Lady Truckers

Originally aired on January 13, 1981
Directed by Christian I. Nyby II
Written by Michael Sloan

BJ is back! So is his best friend Bear. But, there's something else going on.

Remember the credits in the first two seasons? Lots of shots of the rig, B.J., Bear (a bit of Janet Julian) and traveling the highways and byways of America. And the important part: "Starring Greg Evigan." That was the sum total of the regular cast credits.

Go find a copy of the Season Three credits. When you've watched them, come on back.

All right. The first thing to notice is that the rig goes from highways and byways to Los Angeles very quickly. I live in Los Angeles. It gets pretty dull seeing LA as the starring location in a TV show. Yes, I know that most of BJ and the Bear is shot in and around LA. But, it's trying Not to be LA. The credits imply that things are going to be more LA-centric in this season. Second, and this is the big one...  "Starring Greg Evigan"...  and how many other people? Eight?! What the (pardon my French) hell?

I'm one of the Seven Lady Truckers
Do I look like the annoying one?

Season one had Lobo and his gang showing up several times but never enough for the opening credits. Season two had the Country Comfort gang but intermittently. These new credits are packed with people we've never seen before on the show. (And they're the same length as the old credits so everyone appears pretty fast, which is kind of amusing.) What is going on? Is this the same show that finished its last season about six months ago?

Guess what this drunk is going to do with his booze?

Well, it is and it isn't. Both this show and Lobo had passed their peak ratings-wise by time the summer hiatus hit. So, the network performed a "soft reboot" on both shows. I haven't seen Lobo but I know they moved him from Orly to Atlanta and gave him a sassy secretary, played by Nell Carter. I have no clue if this worked or not. (And, I don't mean just ratings-wise. It obviously didn't. I'm more interested in whether or not it improved the show.) For BJ, well...  let me give you some plot here and then I'll give you my thoughts on this new format.

Oh, the episode is a 2-hour one, by the way.

How long is this episode?

In the beginning, we learn that BJ and Bear have been working for a group of 7 daredevil carnival women. They travel the country from carnival to carnival doing their show. BJ hauls all their stuff around. We very quickly (I mean, very quickly) meet the 7 women. There's the annoying one, the one who likes gambling, Judy Landers as Stacks, the twins, the African American woman and the one I don't remember. Then, even quicker, some guy from a trucking company offers to buy BJ's rig. BJ says no. The guy steals the rig. BJ tries to stop him but he fails. They find the rig in a field and all the gals' equipment is gone. The cop who takes the statements implies that BJ had something to do with the theft. (The accusation comes out of nowhere and is completely unfounded. But, everyone seems to believe it.) The partnership between BJ and the gals ends acrimoniously.

We're two of the Seven Lady Truckers.

Several months pass...  (I think.)

Definitely one of the Seven Lady Truckers

BJ is going to visit a friend who owns a trucking company in LA. The twins work for this guy. Along with another woman who may have been the seventh woman. I'm still confused. Very quickly, that same trucking company jerk shows up and runs down the friend. BJ agrees to look after the trucking company while his friend is laid up. They need to do a big haul for some company and BJ needs seven truckers...  Do you see where this is going? He recruits the ladies and they haul!

Am I one of the Seven Lady Truckers?

Meanwhile, the new Lobo, Sgt. Rutherford Grant is in charge of some sort of task force (called SCAT) to do something or other related to crime. But, mainly, Grant's a crook. His second in command is the guy who semi-accused BJ earlier. BJ falls afoul of Grant and suddenly has a new nemesis.

 SCAT! The Program They All Laughed At!
That ain't Lobo, Jackson.

In the end, BJ agrees to run the trucking company with the seven ladies. And, one of the ladies declares that BJ has a family whether he wants one or not.*

And, Bear is in there somewhere.

There's a lot to unpack with this episode. But, unlike the show's TV movie 2-hour episode, which is fresh, fun and exciting, this one is all retread, especially of last season's opening 2-parter. Now, I know that one of the joys of this show is the familiarity of it. It ran out of new ideas about 8 episodes in but the Evigan Charm and the wanderlust spirit made it great. That isn't really evident here. The episode spends a very long time setting up this new premise, which, frankly, isn't that great.

Bear is not so thrilled with this episode

I hesitate to make this review a list of negatives but I see a lot of problems here:

1) The seven ladies are pretty bland. The annoying lady is aggressively annoying. Every time she opens her mouth, I rolled my eyes. Ms. Lander's is gorgeous but she's nothing but eye candy. The twins are (dare I say it) indistinguishable. And the other ones? Yeah, I just don't know. There isn't enough character among these seven characters for two characters. Let alone 3 or 4. My hope is that they will become more developed as the season goes along but I'm not holding my breath.

How come there are only five of us?
Is BJ one of the Seven Lady Truckers?

2) A problem arises with these gals. One of the defining characteristics of the previous season is that BJ arrives somewhere and gets in an adventure with a woman that he has a bit of a romance with. (I've asked the question before: Is the show about a guy who gets in adventures that generally involve him hooking up with a lady? Or is the show about a trucker's romances that generally involve some kind of adventure?) It is implied that he will Not be having romances with these seven ladies. OK. That's fine. But, that erases a significant portion of what the show gets up to on a regular basis. So, they do something weird. When BJ's rig is stolen, BJ gives chase. But, not with one of the seven gals. He steals a car with a just married bride in it and goes after his rig. And, he flirts with the bride and she flirts with him. In a regular episode, this would be fine. But here, after we see him spending time with 7 attractive women, it reveals up a format issue: If we're not going to have him romance the seven ladies, how do we get the requisite episodic romance into the episodes? Well, you introduce More Women into into the show. Which means that the average episode will have 8 new female characters running around. That seems incredibly cumbersome. It's a major fault in the new premise. We'll see if it continues.

I don't think she's one of the Seven Lady Truckers

3) Grant is pretty dull. He's Lobo without the Akins charm. He sure ain't Slim Pickens. He's a generic crooked LA cop who, it's promised, is going to be in Every Episode this season. I'm getting tired just thinking about it.

The trifecta for this season

4) Who structured this thing? As I mentioned, it quickly introduces us to the seven women. So, quickly, that I didn't know who any of them were when the opening sequence ended. And that trucking jerk appears out of nowhere and so quickly. Do trucking companies really work like this? And that jump of several months isn't really signposted. It just kind of happens. The seven gals get on a bus. Then, BJ is in his rig listening to a female DJ. We learn that the DJ is one of the seven gals and that she's a very popular DJ. BJ wonders what they're up to...  and we realize that we've jumped ahead months, if not longer. The whole thing is very awkwardly put together. And...

 I'm the Evil Trucking Guy
I'm BJ's friend. Watch me get hit by a car

5) There are so many characters! Not just the main 9 (Main 9!). But, the other cop and the trucking company guy and BJ's friend and some lady who may be the seventh trucker but might not be and all the people that BJ works with to arrange the haul...  and Holy Crap! People just keep appearing and appearing. And, probably, about 60% of them are surplus to requirements.

The stunting is great, regardless

I'll stop there. There are plenty of other problems. But, I have to say: As a reboot of a once popular show, this doesn't bode well.** Bad plotting, nondescript characters, moments of general incoherence and less Evigan than we're used to. I'm not sure whose idea all this was but (for this episode at least) it's a bad one. I don't want BJ to have a "family." I liked his pals at Country Comfort that he saw on and off. I foresee the next episode involving BJ doing a lot of paperwork for the company.

 Now he's got a family!
Stacks & Bear! An Item!

Why remove the wanderlust spirit? Why take a show about trucking and travelling the country and make it about a guy running a trucking company? Maybe the remaining 13 episodes will explain why they felt like this was the way to go. Probably, it won't.

Still annoying even with the hat

Oh, and Bear is in here somewhere.

I may had some problems with this episode
but I have no problems with this screenshot

* That reminds me of the Sixth Doctor's closing line in The Twin Dilemma Part 4. Take that as you will.

** I actually might not call these complaints, but "misgivings." All these things could be corrected or altered over the remaining 13 episodes.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bionic Bigfoot!

(Follow this link to find all the great articles in this blogathon. Enjoy!)

Bionics and Bigfoot. Does it get any better?

It's the mid-1970s. The Six Million Dollar Man is in his third season. The Bionic Woman is in her first. Both shows are Top 10 in the Nielsen Ratings. Woman is at #4 and Man is at #9. Everything is healthy and fine there. They are pop culture phenomena. (Cracked Mazagine seemed particularly enamored.)

Meanwhile, Bigfoot (along with many other cryptozoological/ UFO-related topics) had somehow entered the pop culture sphere also. Man, did we love Bigfoot. From movies to speculative TV shows to books to, I don't know, where there Bigfoot sleeping bags? Bigfoot slippers? Bigfoot's House of Pancakes? I bet there were. The big guy was everywhere.

 There's your Nightmare Fuel

With the Bionic folks, I think it was the near-magic of the bionics themselves coupled with the endless charisma of the two leads that made it so huge in the minds of kids and grown ups who think like kids (i.e. me). With Bigfoot, it's the sheer mystery of the big guy. Is he real? Is he a hoax? If so many people have seen him, why do we not have absolute proof? Plus, there are the locations. I love the woods. I'm a woods man. (Also a leg man but that's for another blog.) So, all the shots of the majesty of the Pacific Northwest always thrills me. The 1976 film Sasquatch is 90-odd minutes of people wandering through woods and, basically, encountering nothing. But, I can watch that film every Sunday afternoon because I adore (Adore!) those woods. Heck, I have that film on Blu-Ray for Heaven's Sake.

What I'm trying to say is that the things that made them pop culture popular are diametrically opposed.

So, of course, they met.

And, of course, Bigfoot is completely explained.

Bigfoot is a sort of bionic cyborg android kind of thing working for aliens who live in San Angelo, CA.  His purpose is to kidnap people for the aliens so they can study humanity.

 Things just got weird in Bionic Town


From February 1, 1976 to October 9, 1977, four episodes of Man and one episode of Woman told the story of Sasquatch and The Aliens and their adventures with the Bionic Gang. (I would have watched a Filmation cartoon called The Bionic Gang.) The episodes are: The Secret of Bigfoot, aired on February 1, 1976. The Secret of Bigfoot Part 2, aired on February 4, 1976. The Return of Bigfoot, aired on September 19, 1976. Over on The Bionic Woman, we got The Return of Bigfoot, Part 2, aired on September 22, 1976. And, back to The Six Million Dollar Man for the final episode: Bigfoot V, aired on October 9, 1977. The first four episodes are written by the great Kenneth Johnson. The fifth one was written by Gregory S. Dinallo.

 Better than a bear hug any day

I'm going to go through the five episodes, one by one. I'm going to try to keep the focus on Bigfoot as much as I can. And yes, even though this is a Villain/ Monster-related blogathon, I realize that Bigfoot is actually neither, except when he goes a little nutty.

This begins as you might expect and then begins to get all twisty-turny, especially when the rotating ice tunnel thing from Universal Studios turns up. A couple of scientists are planting sensors along a fault line in a forest on the West Coast...  when something big and hairy seems to attack them. Steve Austin, Oscar Goldman and a bunch of the OSI gang* are there too, worried about a possible large earthquake occurring.

He's hoping to see Maxwell Smart in there

When they learn that the scientists have vanished, Steve goes into the woods looking for them....  and he gets attacked by the big and hairy thing: Bigfoot. (Played by Andre the Giant.) As the two of them brawl, strange shadowy figures watch them and are very impressed at the fact that Steve, like Bigfoot, seems to have some bionics. Bigfoot's arm comes off. So, the big guy is called back to the alien colony, which is in some caves. Steve gives chase and then things go screwy.

Yes, we are an advanced alien civilization from many light years away
And, yes, we do watch The Six Million Dollar Man.
We like your Lee Majors very much.

We meet those aforementioned aliens. And they do a very thorough examination of Steve and his bionics. What's amazing about these initial scenes with the aliens is 1) Stefanie Powers is gorgeous. (Well, maybe that's just a fact but I still feel amazement.) 2) they have some of the silliest alien names ever. But, unlike, say, the names of the Slitheen on Doctor Who, which are supposed to be silly, these, I think, are serious silly names. Shalon, Apploy and Faler are just three of them. They're kind of tough to say as well, if that makes sense. 3) Stefanie Powers (as Shalon) delivers more technobabble than you've ever heard before. Here are a few of the terms she uses:

Cellical Attachement
Opticon Scolometer
Nyosynthetics (their version of bionics)
Visual Macrodamics
and my absolute favorite...
Intramuscular Caladentic Response

After a time, you just kind of tune it out but if you choose to tune it in...  it's some screwball chatter.

"Bafflegab, my dear. I've never heard such baffelgab in all my lives."

I love every bit of this frame

Of course, the aliens are super advanced with a wonder drug that cures everything and something called a TLC. That's a Time Line Converter. It's a little device that allows them to slow down or speed up their personal timeline, which means (when they speed it up) that they can move without being seen.

They're fun.

 Ramp up the Gravitic Pulmonary Reticulater and then Cram It!

Bigfoot spends most of the rest of this episode being repaired. Jaime Sommers shows up in a brief scene on the phone with Oscar, which seems to imply that she might show up in Part 2 but is really there to pad the episode out (per the Kenny Johnson commentary). The episode ends with OSI planning to detonate a nuclear device on the fault line to trigger a smaller earthquake that will stop the larger earthquake. (Sounds like Science to me.) Of course, the device will devastate the aliens' cave if it goes off...

 Pretty standard in a Bionic Bigfoot fight

The episode starts off Bigfoot-heavy. He's glimpsed, per every other Bigfoot-related entertainment of the day, briefly and then there's a POV attack! The fight with Steve is awesome. Yes, it is all in slow mo (and that may become a liability later) but it's fun. Come on! Bigfoot fights The Six Million Dollar Man! What's not to love? Once he heads into the cave though, it's all about the amoral aliens. So, I'll hop ahead to.

There's a lot that goes on in this episode. Suffice it to say, it all culminates in the "Will the nuclear device go off or won't it? Will the aliens stop it or won't they? And, will Steve fight Bigfoot again?" I won't spoil everything for you. But, I will say that Sasquatch (which is what the aliens call him) and Steve do brawl. However, in the end, the two of them team up to save the day and everything is all right. Oh, and they wipe Steve's mind so he doesn't remember any of it.

Steve's so tiny!

Look, Bigfoot's great in this. Yes, he's not in it nearly enough. Once they reveal "The Secret," there's a lot more of Steve flirting with Shalon than there is anything else. But, look at him. That is an awesome Bigfoot. One of the troubles with Bigfoot movies is that the creature generally ends up being a bit of a letdown. (Night of the Demon, anyone?) But here, they went whole hog. He looks brilliant. And, he's super scary early on. Well, actually, he kind of remains scary even when we know he's a good sort of Sasquatch. That's how cool the makeup/ suit is. I do wish there was more Bigfoot in this but maybe the next two parter will rectify that.

Bigfoot's Gone Bad! He's stealing all sorts of jewels and equipment and stuff in general from various Top Secret locations. And, the government thinks Steve Austin did it! Why? Because bionics were involved. So, it must be Steve, right? Makes sense to me. Steve heads back to the Alien Caves and the rotating ice tunnel to clear his name.

 I am NOT interested in any Wheat Thins, Duncan

Well, The Alien Gang** is still there. But, a man named Nedlick (?) has gone rogue with some buddies. They've caused a radiation leak at the caves, which has exhausted the aliens' supply of their wonder drug apart from one vial that Shalon has. And yes, Nedlick is manipulating Sasquatch to commit crimes by saying that Shalon's life is threatened. (It's not but the Sasquatch doesn't know that.)

 I'm Fabulous!!!!

Nedlick is played by John Saxon in a glorious purple outfit with an ascot. Saxon Goes Camp! Unfortunately, whatever Nedlick and his pals are up to kept eluding me. Either I'm dumb or it's confusing or both. Just keep this in mind: they're the bad guys. They're using Sasquatch. They're going to cause a volcano to erupt. Keep your focus on the brawling and Sandy Duncan as Gillian. (She's an alien and she got that name?)

 Oh boy. This isn't going to go well

This part ends with an epic brawl between Steve and the Sasqutach***. Sadly, Steve gets his butt handed to him in this one. The episode ends with the bad guys threatening the West Coast and Steve close to death! Luckily, we've got an ace in the hole.

The Bionic Woman

Jamie shows up! Hooray! And she heads to the Aliens' cave to try to get some of their wonder drug. Shalon gives up the last of her stash and Steve is saved! But, not before, Jamie fights Sasquatch in a really great scene with lots of boulders being thrown around and Nedlick saying "Attack, Sasquatch! Attack!" over and over. Jamie is captured by the baddies. Steve gets better...  and it all ends with volcanoes erupting and Sasquatch being freed from Nedlick's control...  and a very entertaining scene where The Bionic Gang beats the dooty out of the bad guys. It's very satisfying.

 Jaime up a tree!

The aliens leave in the end. Everyone says their goodbyes. And Jamie hugs Bigfoot. Does it get better?

This is Super Sweet

The thieving Bigfoot in these episodes is a scary delight. I mean, it's bad enough that someone's stealing your stuff. But, when it turns out to be a 7/8 foot tall hairy monster-type that makes the thieving even worse and, in some ways, better. Adding Jamie to the mix is great. She's so charming. Her fight with Bigfoot is kickass and her smashing through the rock wall of her cell is so good. I wish these three had hung out more! Nedlick is a pretty good villain. (Hey, it's John Saxon.)

 Logan's Run called. We're all too old.

The one drawback (and I don't consider the fact that I couldn't figure out what the heck the bad guys were up to as a drawback) is that the slow mo fighting did begin to wear me down a bit. Maybe my tolerance for slow mo fighting isn't what it once was? Regardless, I took a day off before I watched...

The Six Million Dollar Man

An anthropologist and her two guides activate some sort of sonic device that wakes up the sleeping Sasquatch. He's hooked into some sort of gizmo and he is pissed. He begins to rampage around. Steve and Dr. Rudy Wells show up to find out 1) why the big guy is acting like this and 2) what he's still doing on Earth. Those questions are answered quite well. The episode turns out to go quite sweet and poignant in the end. I didn't realize that Sasquatch was going to have an arc across the episodes but this closes it out and brings the whole Bigfoot issue full circle. I AM NOT going to ruin it here because it surprised me.

 Things are going funky in Bigfootville

The tricky thing with this episode is all the other stuff around Bigfoot. The anthropologist causes the problem with her equipment but that's an accident. In some respects, her meddling brings Steve and Sasquatch together one last time, which is nice. But, boy, it causes Sasquatch a lot of pain and Steve a lot of trouble. The issue is that her plot-line about wanting to catch Bigfoot is pretty useless. And, the other subplot about the two guides trying to capture Bigfoot is even more useless. So the Bigfoot and Steve stuff is great but everything else is sub-par and, frankly, dull. I didn't need aliens, TLCs, volcanic eruptions, nuclear devices, Stefanie Powers, rotating ice tunnels and John Saxon in an ascot. But, I would have liked more than what we were given. It's like the musical numbers and romantic scenes in A Night At The Opera. They get in the way. And, we know that these clowns are NOT going to get Bigfoot in the end so that makes it even more pointless.

But, that's an unfortunate element to the end of the Bionic Bigfoot saga.

 Yes, we're ineffectual, pointless characters.
Why do you ask?

And, in the end, he will become what we thought he was all along.

 The saga closes...

I grew up with these two TV shows but I never watched them. I started about two years ago, slowly working my way through both of them. They're a good time. One of the things I was looking forward to when I started was reaching these episodes as I do love Bigfoot so. And, they're good to very good episodes. Bigfoot has less to do than I thought he would (especially in Secret). And, as I mentioned, he's not a villain or a monster. In the end, he turns out to be a good guy. A good, giant, hairy fellow who, for possibly the first time in his life, has a friend. That's not where I expected this blogathon entry to end at but I'm glad it did.

 ...just as it should

*I would probably watch a Saturday morning cartoon called The OSI Gang.

**I might watch this one. It sounds far too generic and could involve people immigrating from one country to another, which is not as fun as UFO-related hi-jinks.

***You can bet your behind I'm watching a show (or movie) called Steve & The Sasquatch.