There’s a lot of negative things you can say about Man From Atlantis: You can call it stupid, boring, tedious, ignorant, stupid, anti-intellectual, vapid, insulting, infantile, incoherent, poorly written, completely un-thought-out, a waste of time for all involve - and all those criticisms are bang on the money. I’ve made all of them myself, and I’m not taking any of ‘em back. But one thing the show has never been was flat-out embarrassing. Goofy, yes. So embarrassing that you actually feel badly for the actors? No.
Until now, of course.
PLAY BY PLAY
There’s this navy undersea research facility called “Triton.” Suddenly, Pat “Arnold” Morita comes up out of the dive hatch acting like a shrill-voiced five year old, and wearing a costume that can only be described as “Late Elvis Meets Early Kiss.” The naval officers are, understandably, pretty freaked out by this - I mean, you’re a thousand feet down, going about your nebulously-defined duties, living in what can only be assumed to be a Happy Days-Free environment, and the next - zang - Pat Morita has snuck up on you in a costume that’s both kinds of gay, and babbling like Stinky Muldoon on helium. That’s the kinda’ thing that’ll mess you up.
And mess them up it does! Arnold - introducing himself as “Moby” [Write your own joke here] - touches the crewmen, who each are instantly transformed from perfectly normal bad actors into horrifically embarrassing 30-something man-children capering around in an idiotic impression of what adults think kids act like, as portrayed by bad actors. It is so bad it isn’t even funny. That isn't just an expression - "So bad it's not funny" - I mean it literally: It's not funny at all, it's just awful, with no comedy potential whatsoever. I’m assuming each of these men’s wives (if any) filed for divorce the next day, rather than live with the same of it. “Painful to watch” is one thing, but this…this transcends it. I’ve already used “Embarrassing” too many times in this review, but words fail me as to how to adequately describe it.
The navy guys decide to go swimming without dive gear, and instantly drown. The officer in charge - a guy who looks like a cross between Captain Jack from Torchwood and disgraced Illinois governor Blagojevich - comes out, and instantly gets infantilized, but doesn’t go swimming.
Rather than go out and check for themselves, the US Navy decides to send in the Cetacean and its crew. The habitat doesn’t return its hails, so Mark swims over, only to have a gun pulled on him by Cap’n Jack Blaojevich. The gun turns out to be one of those novelty dealies that just has a fake flower pop out of it. He plays several other pranks on Mark before Mark forces him to suit up and swim to the Cetacean. On the sub, he seems hungover, and falls into a deep sleep. They head back to base, with Blago-Jack waking up enough to bemoan the fate of his crew. “Did I kill them?” I dunno. Are you Pat Morita? ‘Cuz he killed them. Or do you mean “Kill them with shame?” In that case, yeah, you did it.
They get to the foundation seabase, and Captain J.B. is fine, but Moby is somehow already there, and the navy guy instantly relapses into a wantwit. Others try to stop him, but they all get kidified as well. Mark tries to capture Moby, but Moby says “No, not you, you’re one of the down there people.” (Land Dwellers, meanwhile, are “Up There people”) Moby and Navy Guy escape, steal a car, and head to the pier. Mark and Elizabeth - who’s looking quite a bit chestier than usual in this episode. They really should shoot her from low angles more often - head to the pier in time to find random idiots capering around. There’s an old sailing ship moored there, and on Moby’s insistence, Captain Rod R. Harkness (Ok, I kind of wish I hadn’t gone with that one, it’s a bit too appropriate for Jack) takes a swan dive off the crow’s nest and sinks like a stone. An unconscious stone. An unconscious bad-acting stone. So there’s not much of a difference, really.
Mark rescues Cap’n Blago, and they take him to a hospital, as he’s in bad shape. I mean, clearly he’s a good enough actor to pretend to be in bad shape, right? So it must be real. Meanwhile, CW makes an appointment with some random general in the pentegon, and heads off with Moby. Of course this is a crappy 1970s show, so the characters naturally assume “Finger on the button” is the literal truth, rather than just a nuclear metaphor, and realize that a bunch of tittering men running around in nickers, sailor suits, with huge oversized lollies would “End all life on earth within three minutes.”
Fortunately, this is just a fake act-break cliffhanger, and all peril is immediately removed when Mark calls ‘em up on the Carphone - which, being the 1970s, they feel the need to explain to the audience. They pronounce it oddly, too: “Car [pause] phone.” Anyway, Mark calls ‘em up and distracts them with the super fun happy family miniature golf course, so they head there instead. Mark apprehends Moby, and takes him to the hospital to see Captain J.B, who’s still in a bad way from the fall and the drowning and the acting lessons. Moby is confused, since “People can’t get hurt when they’re having fun.” Mark points out otherwise - there’s your moral for this episode - and Moby begins to cry for what he did to Captain B.J. (ouch! Again, I wish I hadn’t done that one, either. Entirely too Harkness-like) and the others, and asks to be taken home.
Mark takes him back to Seabase, and lets him leave in the sea.
I hadn’t even know this episode existed until I watched it today, and I’m still a bit dumbfounded by it. It is of such astounding badness that I can’t even begin to conceive of how it was made. My assumption is that they’d seen the ratings, they knew they weren’t coming back for the back nine of the season - hell they might have been cancelled already for all I know - and they just stopped giving a damn. “Cancel my show, will they? Well I’ll show them! I’ll hire Pat Morita and have him utterly humiliate himself, and utterly trash their Tuesday night lineup! I’ll put on the most transcendentally awful thing ever seen on American television, waaaaaaaaaaay worse than the third episode of My Mother The Car!” Sure enough, I can only imagine the masses of American viewers who happened to tune in to this episode were instantly screaming profanity at their televisions and going incontinent with rage. (Which, paradoxically, is actually pretty funny, if you’ve ever been unlucky enough to see it.) Certainly, if the show had a ghost of a chance to making it through the full season up until now, this episode killed it.
Dick Gautier plays “Duke,” the naval officer I’ve dubbed “Captain Jack Blagojevich.” He’s primarily known as a voice actor (He did Serpentor in GI Joe! That’s so cool!), and though he’s had a long and steady career, here he’s ---- you know what? No. I’m not going to criticize him. Actually having done this, lived through it, and had it broadcast over the airwaves is more than punishment enough. I can’t actually be too critical of anyone in this episode because I was drop jawed with shame pretty much from the word go, and on the edge of tears at several points, I felt so bad for them.
I don’t know what to think of Pat Morita. Clearly, he’s responsible for most of the awfulness attendant upon this episode, but it’s not like he wrote it, it’s not like he held me down and forced me to watch it, my eyes locked open, and Beethoven playing in the background. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. But his performance - well, I’m not going to criticize it. I try to commiserate. I try to understand. This isn’t my first barbecue, you know, I’ve seen Pat Morita in some truly awful crap, even if we leave out Happy Days. I know he’d do pretty much any role for a paycheck. I can understand that: He was an Asian actor at a time when people would rather put eyeliner on Victor Buono and *say* he’s Asian (As they did in the first Matt Helm movie http://www.republibot.com/content/movie-review-%E2%80%9C-silencers%E2%80... ) rather than hire a real Asian, a time when they’d rather hire Riccardo Montalban or Michael Ansara to play an Indian than hire a real one. Despite all their nicey-nicey talk about equality and tolerance and blah blah blah, the fact is that Hollywood was amazingly racist for most of its history. So I get how hard it was for an Asian to make enough to support himself and his family, and I get how that means you’ve got to leave your dignity at the door in a lot of roles. You see him in terrible movies like “Night Patrol” as a rape victim, and you think “Well, he’s doing this to keep a roof over his kids’ heads,” and you forgive him for it. You see him in “Do or Die” and you think, “It was just a paycheck, and at least he got to see some hot naked chicks.*” But he’s generally at least good in what he does, you know? Sure, it may be a stupid part, but at least he makes it the best stupid part he can. But here - as Moby - wow. It’s just the most humiliating thing you can possibly imagine a 46-year-old man doing. It’s just…man…I’m just spent. This is unquestionably the low point of his career, and I can’t *not* feel sorry for him. He’s been dead for five years, and I still feel sorry for him.
I find it much harder to forgive Shimon Wincelberg for writing this, however. Shimon was a veteran TV writer who had a lot of genre credits prior to this. He wrote seven episodes of Lost In Space, and they’re really the only good seven episodes of that show. He wrote “Dagger of the Mind” and “The Galileo Seven” for Trek under the name “S Bar-David,” he did a few Wild Wild Wests. I mean, clearly he wasn’t a total hack, and he was a writer who could even manage to get a good story out of a bad show. If ever there was a series that cried out for that ability, it was Man From Atlantis. Alas, he was hepped up on goofballs or whatever when he wrote this turd for ’em.
All that said, this is the best-filmed episode they’ve ever done. Someone on this show finally realized Television is a visual medium, and rather than static shots and boring talking heads and scenic pans, we actually get a ton of camera motion in this one, including several really nice walkthroughs that really show off their expansive sets. The old Foundation Lobby set makes another appearance as we walk through it into the room where the lab used to be, and now there’s an elevator to the seabase, then we walk through that. There’s some really neat shots from the lab, down the hall, into the control room, and vice versa. There’s some really nicely blocked walk-and-talk scenes with Mark in the foreground, and Elizabeth way in the background, on a completely different element of the set doing stuff. They even try to show Elizabeth going into the infirmary on the sub, despite the fact that there’s no place for it in the vehicle, and there’s clearly not a door leading to it, either. Cinematographically, this is the best the show’s ever looked. Credits on ‘70s shows aren’t as detailed as today, so I’ve got no idea who the D.P. was, but he was good. He polished a turd here. Granted, that didn’t make it stop being a turd, but it was at least a really pretty one.
The “Triton” base is actually pretty schwee, too. Essentially a big dome, but clearly not a redress of the Cetacean sets, I have no idea if it was appropriated from a movie, or a set they specially built or what, but it looked impressive and pricey.
Oh, please come back Mister Schubert, all is forgiven!
*- Neither here nor there, but I once met Patty Duffek at a pool party, she was in a ton of those Andy Sidaris movies - including the one Pat Morita was in. I got a picture with her - no one knew who she was - She seemed nice. I’m told she’s a social worker now. Good for her!