Buck Rogers #9: Cosmic Whiz Kid

"Even if the Genesians don't pay up, you can make a fortune selling my brains to the highest bidder. So don't give me any of that Dr. Doom jive."

WHAT'S UP, BUCK?: Buck must rescue a child genius from kidnappers.

REVIEW: As the story goes, Gary Coleman was a big science-fiction and comic book fan and asked to be on an episode of Buck Rogers, so NBC (which aired Diff'rent Strokes and Buck) pushed hard to make it happen. And so we have a boy genius from the 20th Century (so Coleman could do his usual patter) who froze himself and wound up president of a planet 500 years later. It's not clear if he was "bounced around" from planet to planet as a popsicle or if the cryogenic process he invented back in the 1990s made him unaging or what, but I guess it's the former. He's a 10 year old, but one this planet trusts to run things. He also makes for a very portable hostage, so professional kidnapper Zale is going to ransom him. That's your set-up.

We are in an Alan Brennart story, so the 25th Century is on its way to having a Legion of Super-Heroes in the 30th. Again he introduces humanish aliens who have super-powers. An informant who can read minds. A very small assassin with mega strength. And young President Fox makes a number of comic book references. Because of the guest-star (who apparently could only be spared two days to work on this, it doesn't show), this pretty much has to be a comedy episode, but they keep it lively. Your mileage will vary on the sitcom acting and reliance on zingers, but it's not objectionable or entirely out of keeping with the series to date, but I won't blame you for groaning on occasion.

Having the head writers do this one in what I can only imagine was a rush means there's lots of pleasant continuity. Buck is supposed to meet with Tangie (from The Plot to Kill a City) for vacation, but gets forcibly pressed (take a drink!) into the service of Fox's bodyguard Lt. Dia because she's heard of his rescue of Jamie Lee Curtis recently. (Can I say though that this isn't the first time Buck's broken a date without ever calling the woman, or feeling bad about spending time with another lady instead - he makes plans with Dia at the close of this episode with no thought to poor Tangie.) Dia feels she has to do this because the Terran government ignored her pleas for lack of a treaty between their worlds, but they still send Wilma on the downlow. The two heroes are almost working at cross-purposes, not knowing the other is after the same thing.

But strangely, the real hero is Coleman. Not to say the guy guarding him is too smart (he just watches swirling patterns on TV all day), but Fox sonics him unconscious, breaks out, sends himself through the mail, and meets up with Wilma without help from Buck. In fact, he and Wilma then rescue Buck and Dia who have gotten themselves caught trying to break HIM out. Buck and Dia still get to jump fences and sweep the leg (Gerard's stunt double gets a good work-out at least). Wilma's subplot has her deal with a robot manager who thinks very little of humans, so little that he lets her hack the system because it confirms his bias against humanity. I don't even understand why computers are lording it over humans doing menial sewer monitoring tasks when having a computer do that would be much more efficient. This is a Judge Dredd bit, and to me the weakest part of the story because the plot becomes subservient to the need for comedy.

SPACE DISCO: When Buck picks his own music, it's not disco despite the dance scene in the pilot, it's Three Dog Night's "Shambala" (1973), so he's more into boogie rock from when he would have been a kid (he left the 20th Century in 1987, so would have been a teenager in the early 70s).

STAR GAZING:
Well, obviously, Gary Coleman was a big sitcom star as Diff'rent Strokes was on the air, but so was Ray Walston (Zale) who had been My Favorite Martian opposite Bill Bixby in the 60s. Earl Boen (the telepath) is a very recognizable character actor, and it's especially amusing that he played the psychologist in the Terminator films, given there's a self-described "Terminator" in this episode. Blaxploitation fans will recognize Albert Popwell (Koren) from the Cleopatra Jones movies, among other places - he had a big television guest star career otherwise and appeared as different characters in several Dirty Harry pictures.

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE:
Though they at least don't use the wide shot with the distinctive desert topology, the already twice-used spaceport from The Plot to Kill a City is back as the service hub Wilma infiltrates. Coleman got to wear his costume in an episode of Diff'rent Strokes. Many of the villain's henchmen wear modified Colonial Warrior costumes from Galactica. The gas masks worn by the two henchmen that enter the elevator to kidnap Fox are the same used on that show as well.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Could have been much worse given the circumstances.

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