Monday, February 23, 2015

Bionic Nostalgia - The Six Million Dollar Man

Esquire TV (formerly the much missed G4 channel) has been showing old reruns of "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman," shows that while I haven't seen since the 1970s, were huge parts of my childhood, like Evel Knievel, Planet of the Apes, or SSP Racers.

Begun as three made for TV movies of the week, "The Six Million Dollar Man" was very loosely based on the book Cyborg by Martin Caidin. The book and its three sequels were much more serious, adult, and more science fiction-oriented. Much had been changed, but when I read the book sometime in the mid-seventies as a pre-teen I still enjoyed it. The telemovies were wildly successful leading almost immediately into the TV series, which ran for five years, with one spin-off, "The Bionic Woman," and at least three other attempted spin-offs. There were toys, lunchboxes, and all the other paraphernalia one might expect a phenomenon.

The premise was pretty simple. Lee Majors played Colonel Steve Austin, an astronaut and test pilot who was involved in a body crushing accident that left him without the use of an eye, an arm and both legs. Secret government organization OSI offered to rebuild him, "make him better than he was before," with bionics. Now, it's real and is something that happens (although sans super strength and telescopic vision), but then this kind of technology was pure science fiction. In exchange for saving his life, Steve agrees to go on missions for the ominous Office of Scientific Intelligence. It was average spy fare for the most part, and invariably you waited through the boring stuff to see Austin kick some butt at the end, just like "Kung Fu."

Looking back, I remember Kenneth Johnson's ("Incredible Hulk," "V," "Alien Nation") name on the series, but I had forgotten that Glen A. Larsen ("Battlestar Galactica") and Harve Bennett (responsible for the best of the "Star Trek" films Wrath of Khan) were involved as well. The show had a very small cast, usually only Majors, Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman, sometimes Dr. Rudy Wells (played by various actors), and dozens of nameless bad guys who Austin would throw around during fight scenes. Yep, keep it simple.

In hindsight, it is only just okay television, with only the big event episodes standing out. When Steve faced the Robot, played by John Saxon, made by the scientist who would later create the Fembots who pestered the Bionic Woman, was one big event. Or when it was discovered there was another bionic man, a Seven Million Dollar Man, who turned out to be not just a jerk, but later a criminal. Or, at the height of 1970s Bigfoot and Alien fever, the appearance of Sasquatch, played by wrestler Andre the Giant, and later Ted Cassidy. There was even a renegade Venus Probe that fought our hero more than once.

The Robot (weirdly called Maskatron), Sasquatch, and the Venus Probe from above all got action figures in the playsets, it should be noted. Both the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman had action figures from Kenner. There also had the Fembots, Oscar Goldman, vehicles, and lots of mission or fashion outfits. Like Evel Knievel, these were toys that kids of a certain age had to have. I never did though. Evel was my jam.

The episodes I've seen on Esquire are, as I said, only ordinary, but full of nostalgia. I remember "The Six Million Dollar Man" fondly though, despite the season Majors sported a bad mustache. It was the first thing I watched on my first TV, a tiny black and white set, and watching the show that Sunday night was just the best. Simple things are good. More to come.

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