Heat Vision and Jack #1: Pilot

"My friend Jack says the universe is infinite. He says you could travel forever and never reach the edge. I say the edge is where you find it."
Well, after 12 episodes, The X-Files have failed to grab me. I mean, there's just so much droning dialog I can take, especially when it can be summarized as "This stuff is true." "No it's isn't." "Is too." "Is not." Note the lack of any exclamation points in those sentences. So I'm changing tack mid-stream, because I've found a show I want to follow to its logical end. Hope you'll agree.

THE SITUATION: Solar-smart astronaut Jack Austin and his roommate-merged-with-a-motorcycle Heat Vision fight an alien who's turning people into dust, while being tracked by NASA's ruthless Ron Silver. Origins are recounted, and Jack sleeps with the pretty town sheriff.

REVIEW: Let's take a minute to admire this show's pedigree. Directed (and introduced) by Ben Stiller, and written by Community's Dan Harmon and Scud the Disposable Assassin's Rob Schrab, it stars Jack Black as Jack, Owen Wilson as Heat Vision's voice, and Ron Silver as himself! Now THAT'S star power. Heat Vision and Jack is essentially a throwback to the kind of high concept genre shows that were all over TV in the 70s and 80s. Things like the Six Million Dollar Man, Manimal, Automan, and presumably other shows with the word "Man" in their titles. The mash-up is pretty crazy. An astronaut who flew too close to the sun and now gains super-intelligence when the sun is up, teamed up with a motorbike animated by the soul of his best friend, both on the run à la The Fugitive/The Incredible Hulk from NASA's cold-blooded killer, Ron Silver playing a hyper-competent, superstrong version of himself, and finding adventure on the road, adventure like this one where an alien radio transmission possesses a fry cook and makes him take a pirate-themed strip club hostage... Am I going too fast for you?

The show's DNA is important. Schrab at the typewriter means it's all a crazy comic book. Harmon shows the same skill he put to good use on Community by angering his network overlords referencing all sorts of classic TV tropes for comic effect. Jack's powers come to him anime style. Stiller turns up as an 80s "streeter" commenting on the action with all the naturalism of a cartoon dog. Title cards remind us the show will be back after these messages, and are put under the end credits. The grandma's house is TV-huge, so Heat Vision knowingly comments that she must've been rich. HV&J knows where it's coming from - there's a scene where they watch a classic Davros/Daleks episode of Doctor Who - and probably didn't realize where it was going. You need only look at the resolution to see how freaking INFLUENTIAL the program was: The alien is recorded onto a tape and disabled. Sound familiar, modern audiences? That's right, it's how the Doctor deals with a similar alien in The Idiot's Lantern. Doctor Who stole that climax from this very show. And plenty more besides, I'm sure. I've only watched the first episode; what other gems might I discover across what is sure to be a number of seasons (actually haven't checked yet).

Ok look, while my enthusiasm knows no bounds here, I will admit the show has some weaknesses. First and foremost, I don't know how the saucier humor played. Jack Black is rather restrained and not very "metal", but there are still vulgar sex and dope jokes. The sheriff, played by Christine Taylor (who would go on to marry Stiller), is a nice addition to the cast, but appears to be a one-off. I just realized she wasn't even given a name. It's probably part of the retro TV tropes HV&J is trying to check off a list that the female lead is disposable, usually in distress, and quick to bed, but it hasn't aged well. I hope she returns later in the season and becomes more if a Charlie's Angel type. But these are minor problems that are part of the overall "joke". The show still has rocking tunes, funny gags, and cool action. It's a complete, exciting action story told in a compact 30 minutes. I can't wait to see a different horizon every week (or day, as the blog flies).

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER... FOR REAL: The show was made for Fox, so obviously, it'll run a long, long time. Fox has a great track record with genre shows. Link to the Pilot.

REWATCHABILITY: High Enough for Your Brain to Bake - Huge fun, especially if you were a TV-watching kid in the 70s and 80s like I was.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic show; I can't think of a single episode that didn't deliver. Not many shows can run from beginning to end without any discernible dip in quality.

Randal said...

I can't recall what they did with the Ron Silver character after Ron Silver died, but now that I think about it, Ron Silver probably faked Ron Silver's death so Ron Silver could continue his mission.

Unknown said...

I'd nearly forgotten about this! Time for some binge watching!


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