Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Insomnia TV: Syndicated 90's Adventure Shows

I don't know why I think about this stuff...

Between say, '95 and 2004, there were a whole bunch of syndicated adventure shows on television, usually in weird timeslots on weekends. Some were quite good: Babylon 5, Star Trek Deep Space 9, Hercules The Legendary Journeys, Xena Warrior Princess; some were okay: The Adventures of Sinbad, Highlander, Forever Knight, Poltergeist The Legacy; some were surprisingly popular: Stargate SG:1, Earth: Final Conflict, Relic Hunter; some were just disappointing: Conan, Mike Hammer Private Eye, Adventure Inc.; and some were godawful: Space Precinct, Starhunter, Sheena, Tarzan The Epic Adventures.

During that span of time, I was single and kept odd hours. I saw a lot of late night TV, and managed to at least sample most of the shows above.

Here's my thoughts on some of them.

The Adventures of Sinbad ran two seasons, and was the most creatively successful of the Hercules imitators. It starred Zen Gessner (who has also appeared in most of the Farrely Brothers movies - apparently, he's their brother-in-law), a good looking, charming lead. It was shot in South Africa, had good production values and solid CGI monsters (better than the ones on other shows).

In the first season, they managed to capture the light, swashbuckling tone of the Hercules series, and it was a surprisingly fun show. However, in the second, they made the ill-advised decision to "darken" the show, probably because the darker Xena was doing so well in the ratings. It killed the show. The first season is on DVD in Canada. I plan to get it one of these days.

Conan ran for one full season, and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger's pal Rolf Moeller as a "kinder, gentler" Conan. He was teamed up with a handful of companions (including Kramer's dwarf pal, Danny Woodburn from Seinfeld) and they wandered the Hyborian landscape (actually, Puerto Villarta, Mexico) fighting evil in the form of Jeremy Kemp's wizard, Hissa Zul.

Really poor production values really killed this show, along with bad writing. The extras' costumes looked like they were made for a high school play, and every time our heroes came to a village, the buildings looked so badly constructed that you couldn't imagine anyone actually living in them – a stiff breeze would knock them down. The CGI monsters were about of the same quality of those on Hercules.

Surprisingly, it was Woodburn that kept the show watchable – he managed to imbue his character with great dignity and warmth, even when it wasn't there in the scripts. Jeremy Kemp – a fine British actor – was just terrible here; one gets the impression they shot his entire season's scenes in one afternoon, and he just read off the cue cards. Moeller was a physically adequate Conan, and no worse of an actor than Schwarzenegger when he played the role. Had the part been written better, I think he could have been quite good.

The show did have an odd mix of guest stars, though (I'm sure they were just doing it for a paid weekend in Puerto Villarta): Mickey Rooney, Mariette Hartley, Sam Jones, Robert Culp, and Paul LeMat all made appearances.

That said, I still kinda like it (in a guilty pleasure way) and have the series on DVD.

Mike Hammer, Private Eye had Stacy Keach reprising his 80's TV role, this time with a new, younger Velda (the stunning Shannon Whirry) and a young, pretty-boy assistant (Shane Conrad). The budget was microscopic – the show was shot in Ventura, California, although still set in New York. This means you never saw Keach walking the mean streets of Manhattan, and when they did shoot exteriors, there were often palm trees poking into the corners of the frame.

Like the two 80’s series and TV movies, this syndicated series mines a lot of humor out of playing Hammer as a 40’s-50’s kind of guy a bit out of step with the modern era. This series deals with Internet crimes and similar 90s plots, but, oddly, Hammer’s a bit rougher and more violent here than in the previous series. I’m guessing that’s because it was syndicated, and didn’t have to deal with network censors. The writing’s not too bad, either – not great, mind you, but most of the stories are tough and fairly clever.

Not bad viewing though, for 2 a.m., and like Conan, I own the DVDs.

3 comments:

Ethan C. said...

Man, I miss Shannon Whirry. Whatever happened to her? She had a theatrical background, so she could act, and she was (naturally) beautful.

-Ethan

universal swordsman said...

You forgot to mention one of my favorites from the period
The Queen of Swords.
The "Queen of Swords" aired for one season (22 episodes, from October, 2000 to May, 2001. It was a syndicated action/ adventure series with the premise of "What if Zorro were a woman?"

Christopher Mills said...

Never saw Queen of Swords, although there was a billboard advertising it just down the street from my apartment in Boca Raton...