Tuesday, March 17, 2015

B.J. And the Bear S1 E4: Deadly Cargo

Originally aired on March 17, 1979
Written by Michael Sloan
Directed by Cliff Bole

The second episode in a row written by Michael Sloan. Unlike A Coffin With A View, however, Deadly Cargo has an ending. It seems written all the way to its conclusion, rather than 3/4s written and the rest thrown together. And, in one of the idiosyncratic elements that I love about this show, this episode starts with a rather serious story segueing into wacky chimp-related slapstick followed by crazy car stunts. At this moment, BJ and the Bear can do anything.

Playing cards with humans is pretty funny
I'm playing cards with a chimp

Elizabeth Chambers is nervous. She has stolen a vile of a deadly virus from the research lab where she works. Her plan is to take it to a Senate investigation on biological warfare in Washington D.C. and expose her bosses. Complication arise. She is seen leaving the laboratories. They're after her! So, she makes up a story about needing to get to a sister's wedding and fools B.J. into hauling her and her car to the nation's capital. Complications continue to arise.

Tense Vial Theft

This is quite a lovely episode for its first half. It starts with B.J. cheering up a kid in a diner. The kid broke one of his dad's expensive bottles of wine. B.J. tells him a story. (The kid catches on to the fact that it's going to be meaningful.) And, the kid ends up OK. When Elizabeth, Bear and B.J. are travelling, before B.J. knows about the virus, they do a lot of chatting. Elizabeth mostly lies and babbles. But, B.J. talks about his parents in Milwaukee. He doesn't sound close to them. He has no siblings. We learn quite a bit about B.J. here and it is welcome. (Some of this info will be contradicted in the next season. Let's enjoy what we have here and now.)

Travel is lovely

Then, the wacky starts! And, yes, it is Bear-related. B.J. and Elizabeth are in a diner. Bear takes her purse, with vial inside, and...  hides in the back of a police car, which drives away. Bear has the vial of deadly virus in the purse in the back of the police car. And, from here on, the episode (regardless of the deadliness of the virus) becomes a heck of a lot of fun.

Bear begins The Wacky

Not sure how the deadly virus thing suddenly became slapstick magic but it happened. (And, thank goodness, Cliff Bole directed. He's best known for The X-Files episode Bad Blood, which is a fantastic, funny episode of that show, written by the Mighty Vince Gilligan.) B.J. and Elizabeth chase down the cop car. And they get the purse and Bear back...  but the vial is still in the back seat! So, our heroes have to go to the lot with all the cop cars... and then B.J. accidentally steals the car...  What I'm saying is that it snowballs from the simple act of a chimp stealing a purse to a wild ride in a stolen police car through the streets of Washington D.C.

 Bear contemplates his Life as a Chimp

This has been mostly plot description because it is simply one of those fun episodes of late-1970s television. Good looking people, chimps, shenanigans, car chases, emotional interludes, a little character development...  that's entertainment. The closing scenes inter-cutting between the Committee meeting and the stolen police car speeding through shot after shot is quite exciting. (Yes, at one point, B.J. gets the police car to go up on two wheels for a very long period of time. It's awesome.) The tension in the first half comes from the slowly mounting build of the Womanhunt, of which B.J. knows nothing. Then the shift to Good Times happens.


At the same moments that the awesome is happening, those darn popular songs  keep playing on the soundtrack, in diegetic and non-diegetic fashion. One of these songs is "My Life" by Billy Joel. That was a song that used to put me in depressive heaves. It was the melody mixed with the soft rock arrangements and those keyboards...  I always wanted to jump off something during the song. Well, this episode beings with B.J. cruising to a sound-alike singing the tune. My thoughts on the song have not improved. In fact, almost every song in BJ and the Bear is one that puts me in a melancholy state for some reason. It was a product of its time, definitely. And it is the main element of the show I have to fight against to keep watching. It's an interesting struggle and there will be episodes when I won't make it. Luckily, this time around, Deadly Cargo transcends its soft rock base to make around 50 minutes of fantastic television with a chimp.

 Evil Jerk

 B.J., don't open that vial!

That sounds like the end of a review to me. Next week, we get even deeper into everything that was Pop Culture Important in 1979 (PCI79) with an episode that shares its title with an episode of The Incredible Hulk from a year earlier. There are motorcycle stunts and parachutes!

Warning: Poignancy!

3 second until freeze frame...

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