RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “CW Hyde” (Season 2, Episode 9)

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Before we begin, I’d like to explain something. “Retrospeculative TV” was intended to be a once-weekly feature, but, seeing as it started in the winter doldrums at the start of the year, there really wasn’t enough new material on TV to cover, so we thought we’d pad things out a bit (read: “Entirely too much”) by doing it on two days a week until the season picked up again. Owing to my rather bad math skills, I didn’t quite realize that 17 episodes translated into four months and one week. Duh. Even now, I had to use a calculator to figure that out. I’m not the shiniest penny in the fountain when it comes to math.

Anyway, I wanted to take this opportunity to reassure you that once our Man From Atlantis coverage ends - three weeks from now - Retrospeculative TV will become a once-a-week feature, as it was intended.

INTRODUCTION

Mormon Bishop and TV Producer Glenn Larson is often referred to in the TV biz as “Glenn Larceny,” since he openly steals ideas to throw into his shows. Take the original Battlestar Galactica: There were only seventeen stories told in it’s one season, one of which was a ripoff of Shane, another was a ripoff of Patton, another was a ripoff of The Towering Inferno, another was a ripoff of The Guns of Navarone, and there were others. Larson wasn’t the first to do this, though he was more brazen about it than most, but I think the granddaddy of ‘em all was Irwin Allen, who never met a public domain story he couldn’t shoehorn into one of his hacky shows, nor a piece of stock footage he wouldn’t grab.

Neither of these guys were in any way connected with “Man From Atlantis,” but you wouldn’t know it to watch the series. They ripped of Romeo and Juliet, for Pete’s sake! And this week we’ve got “The Strange Occurrence of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

PLAY BY PLAY

Elizabeth is playing with a plexiglass coffee dispenser that’s supposed to look all scientific, but really just looks like a plexiglass coffee dispenser. “The enzyme in here would cause anyone exposed to it to have extreme personality changes!” she says in a way that you just know the entire episode will turn on. Sure enough, CW instantly comes in - with a coffee cup - and immediately sits it on the table directly beneath the spigot of Elizabeth’s fake-looking science thingy. Something drips into his coffee cup, but no one notices.

CW informs them that the Navy lost a MacGuffin device 3500 meters down, and the Cetacean goes out to recover it.

In his office, CW drinks coffee, and his hands go hairy, and his scalp feels all itchy. Must be espresso. Normally bald, he goes to look at himself in the bathroom mirror and discovers to his surprise that he’s now wearing one of William Shatner’s old wigs. Specifically, the one from the episode when they make Kirk look like a Romulan. Yeah, the eyebrows are a bit bushy, but - and this is freaky - CW suddenly looks like William Shatner.

I don’t mean “He looks a bit like Shatner.” I mean he’s Shatner’s freakin’ twin. He looks exactly like him! If Bill was busy, or just antisocial, you could send Alan Fudge (The actor who plays CW) to Star Trek conventions, and no one would ever know. It’s amazing! After decades of making fun of Shatner for remaining in the baldness closet when he’s not really fooling anyone, I suddenly get what his insane insistence about having a full head of hair at 78 years old is all about. If he didn’t have hair, he’d be the spitting image of Alan Fudge.

Now, I’m not saying Alan Fudge is ugly, or even TV-ugly, he’s a handsome enough guy, obviously - nice laugh, easy smile, no visible scars - but he’s clearly not a leading man. But you slap a wig on him, and suddenly - zango - he could *easily* hold down an episode!

Which is convenient, since this entire episode revolves around him.

Now that he’s hirsute and evil, CW steals all the money from the office present fund (One of the Foundation employees is getting married), and goes immediately to a brothel. It looks exactly like something out of a western, with red velvet walls, ornate brass fixtures, and a great big bar with a very wide picture behind it. Did whorehouses *Ever* look like that?

Anyway, CW gets some surprisingly badass lines (“You say this is good? Because I’d hate to have to disagree with you…” and “I already know all I need to about you, and you’re never going to know anything about me, so why drag this out longer than we need to?”). My personal favorite:

CW: It must be a slow night.
Hooker: [Seductively] It could be shaping up to be a long evening…
CW: Yeah, but not for you. Bartender, send champagne over to that girl on the far side of the room.

In this and other ways, he scares the hell out of Herb Tarlic, the bartender, then heads over to the hooker in the corner. Turns out she’s the private rental of a “Mister Calendar,” a mob boss. Calendar walks in on CW schmoozing his bought-and-paid-for floozy, and threatens to kill him, but CW isn’t intimidated at all, and manages to intimidate the guy into nervous laughter. As he’s leaving, the floozy sneaks him the key to her room.

One commercial and a jumpcut later, we find CW - again bald - in bed in the floozy’s swanky Miss Kitty-styled digs, having evidently had a long night of screaming dinosaur sex, given how impressed the floozy is. She has sex for a living, so presumably she knows how to distinguish between the bushleague amateurs and the more advanced people willing to pay for sex. She wants to go again, but as CW is his bumbling nervous self again, he quickly leaves. In his rush, he left behind his money and a piece of paper with his name and employer on it (Which, as I understand it, is the standard practice for prostitutes in California. Without it they can’t bill your insurance provider for services rendered. This is one of yet another ways Obama’s healthcare plan will devastate our nation’s economy.)

Back at the office, he sneaks money back into the present fund, and feels sorry for himself before realizing that, you know, there’s really not a lot of actors who can pull off that whole ’bald’ thing - Michael Ansara, Ed Harris, Yul Brenner - and he really did a lot of fun with that prostitute last night, so, hey, the hell with running a major government-funded scientific research facility with occasional secret national security missions! He wants hair! He wants sex with Michelle Carey! http://www.sixtiescinema.com/blog/uploaded_images/michelecarey04a-786028... Well who the heck wouldn’t? So he swigs down some of his coffee (Cleverly hidden in a mouthwash bottle) and before you can say “primitive special effects,” he’s hirsute again.

Meanwhile, the Man From Atlantis - this is a show about the Man From Atlantis, remember? - is off recovering the MacGuffin for the government. He brings it back.

By this time, Mr. Calendar has figured out that CW is a high muckety-muck at a secret government whangdoodle, and he wants in on that action. CW comes a’courtin for the floozy, and then notices his knuckles aren’t hairy anymore, but thank God he’s still got Shatner’s wig! The formula is wearing off. He covers for this by saying he wants to sell the MacGuffin to the mob, and they accept this and let him leave, rather than killing him.

The next day, back at the Foundation, CW immediately fesses up to Mark about his sex addiction, and the whole “Mister Hyde” thing, but he insists neither of them tell Elizabeth about it because, y’know, she’s a chick and she’ll get all preachy ‘70s over the objectification of women - well, hell, isn’t that the point of hookers? Objectification?

The hoods show up, and threaten to kill and/or maim all of them, unless they (By which they mean CW) give them (By which they mean Calendar) the dingus (By which I mean the Black Box recovered from a secret Navy robot that I’ve more-or-less ignored in this synopsis. CW refuses, so they threaten to drown Mark hulks out on ‘em (Well, he doesn’t turn big and green, but he does throw a lot of people around while not wearing a shirt, so pretty much it’s the same basic idea), and then hits Calendar in the face with the Jekyll-and-Hyde formula, which suddenly turns him from a bloodthirsty cosa nostra into a Caspar Milquetoast guy. He immediately calls off his goons, and discusses re-joining the seminary as they leave.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Yeah. Wow. I realize I’ve said a lot of times already that they’re just not taking their show seriously, but it bears repeating. Some people have decried the series as something that started out with a lot of potential that just turned into a stupid kid’s show. I’m not sure that’s true. Name a kid’s show that includes hookers, mob bosses threatening to cut off women’s fingers, and references to group sex? I mean, I know it was the ‘70s, but come on! I’ve watched fifteen episodes now, and I have no idea who this show was aimed at, nor do I believe for an instant that the producers did either.

The basic concept was pretty clearly something like “Let’s get a bunch of behind-the-scenes Star Trek guys, and do an underwater version of Star Trek.” I’m assuming they *didn’t* want to do the fourth season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which is what some people said they ended up with. I think that’s not fair. Granted, Voyage’s quality descended rapidly, but it was never as consistently terrible as this show is. “Man From Atlantis” is more like what Voyage would have ended up like had it stayed on the air a few years longer. This is like sixth season Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, had such a thing been allowed to exist. Mercifully, it wasn‘t.

But whatever the original concept was, the plot erosion set in almost instantly. There are basically only three kinds of SF shows: Earth-based, Space-based, and Sea-based. Anthologies could theoretically be a fourth kind, but in practice they tend to be almost entirely earth-based. Of these, Sea-based are the most limited because whereas in a space-based show you have the whole of creation to play in, on sub-shows, you pretty much have only so much ocean, and frankly, the ocean is pretty boring. More importantly: most people don’t know jack about space. You can say there’s a planet where happy laughing unicorns play in the chocolate-sauce swamps at the foot of a gummy-based mountain that looks just like Gene Roddenberry’s ass, and people will believe such a thing could exist because - and I can’t state this clearly enough - they don’t know crap about it. On the other hand, if you say there’s an *ISLAND* of unicorns and chocolate and giant gummy-Roddenberry hinders, they’re going to know damn well that such a thing doesn’t exist, not even in Japan, which is, by most accounts, pretty freaky.

SF stories have to seem plausible, after all, and since people in general don’t know crap about space, the plausibility is limited only by the writer’s imaginations. Conversely, most people do know a thing or three about the ocean, so they can’t just make it up as they go along. They have to either constrain themselves to espionage, or realistic oceanographic things. This show has absolutely no interest in either of those, but they haven’t even remotely come up with a substitute.

This episode is the first - and only - to more-or-less dispense with the sea stuff entirely. Sure, there’s a B-plot about recovering the dingus, but that’s just padding, it only takes up about eight minutes of screen time, and could have happened entirely offscreen without it affecting the episode at all. It’s also the only episode to have an A-plot revolve around someone other than Mark, and the second one to feature CW heavily. It’s interesting that Elizabeth never got her own episode. She started out so strong in the first movie, she was still pretty good in the next two, but she’s virtually forgotten as a character in the series.

There’s a new character playing a very prominent part in this episode: “Sarah,” CW’s secretary. She is cute as hell, perky without seeming dumb, and provides a rather sunny presence throughout. She’s played by Pamela Solow, whom longtime masochistic readers of this column might recall as having played “Jane” way back in “Man From Atlantis IV: The Island Of Shirtless Beefy Guys.” She was playing a different character then, and I didn’t like her at all. In this, however, she’s the best thing going. She’s also got the one genuinely funny line in an episode that tries too hard to be funny:

The hoods are dragging Mark off to drown him. Sarah knows this will have no effect, in fact it’ll make him stronger, but she feigns concern, wailing “Oh, Mark!” like she thinks he’s going to die, but with a big goofy smile on her face while she says it. Sight gag, I guess.

Miss Solow was, of course, the producer’s daughter, but based on this appearance I really would have liked to have seen more of her. Alas, this was the end of her short career. She looked kind of like a young Pat Tallman, but I can’t find any pictures of her online, so instead I’ll just give you some more pictures of Michelle Carey http://www.fanpix.net/picture-gallery/303/461303-michele-carey-picture.htm and http://www.fanpix.net/picture-gallery/309/461309-michele-carey-picture.htm and http://www.fanpix.net/picture-gallery/311/461311-michele-carey-picture.htm and http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_OQmEa5OKyOI/R843duMm4rI/AAAAAAAACac/oaXW_lvlOG... In keeping with the aquatic “Man From Atlantis” theme, I’ve limited myself to bathing suit shots.

Of course the Jekyll-and-Hyde plot is a hoary old cliché, but, eh, it kept me from having to watch more Pat Morita episodes, more incompetent sea journeys, and more rewrites of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s departures from form like this one that emphasize just how bad the form is they’re departing from.

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