Buck Rogers #13: Happy Birthday, Buck

"He's in better shape than men half his age." "There ARE not men half his age."

WHAT'S UP, BUCK?: A matter transmuter's plans to kill Dr. Huer mess up Buck's birthday plans.

REVIEW: Second episode in a row where Buck is generally glum (is this what Gil Gerard wanted to do when he asked for less comedy?), this time because his birthday's coming up and he still hasn't integrated. He's putting up landscapes, wants nothing of windows that would just show him a gleaming futuristic city, and is still openly dismissive of programmed life. To tell you the truth, I'd be far more leery of how much mind probing happens in the 25th Century. He doesn't seem to mind even when his own mind is read (back in Vegas in Space), but the people of this society think nothing of having their craniums searched (as in Escape from Wedded Bliss, among others), implanted with information (as per the Johnny Mnemonic courier Raylyn here), and this episode even shows us a psychiatrist's office where people are plugged into mind scanners and talk away (in PUBLIC) about their problems. Said psychiatrist even has the equipment to extract information, and even reprogram brains. But sure Buck, focus on the samey-samey weather. Like the show isn't shot in Los Angeles...

But he has good friends and they decide to throw him a surprise party with all the 20th-Century trimmings. A lot of humor goes into the planning, thankfully, with Dr. Huer thinking it's all quite undignified (I love his line about not wanting to be murdered in a party hat), but also being sneaky around Buck, turning a planning meeting into a conversation about his dry and already dying replacement plant from the previous episode. Wilma rattles off a list of Buck's friends and they're all women, most of which we've seen before on the show. It would have been great to actually see them at the party, but that wouldn't have been reasonable. And the villain, sensitive to light, is almost defeated by a 534-candle birthday cake, so there's that.

Ah yes, the villain. Traeger could have been a member of the Legion of Death. From being imprisoned on a planet of matter transmuters, he also developed this ability from breathing the air and drinking the water, a proper comic book reasoning for super powers. Comics pro Martin Pasko (who did a lot of work for DC Comics including a lot of 70s Superman) wrote the episode, so it's very Brennertian. Traeger's motivation is also out of a comic book, REVENGE on Huer for having sent him on a mission from which he never returned. He's fine as a ranting villain, but he eventually falls on his own hand and turns himself into silicon. As far as super-powers go, that seems like a design flaw. His escape from his alien jail is also notable for being pursued by a Planet of the Apes extra on ships the production didn't want to build so added in post-production as video games effects. That stargate sequence looks like something you would have played at an arcade.

Traeger's plan requires him to extract Huer's schedule from Raylyn's subconscious as she's supposed to be delivering it to security forces in New Detroit (so it's fun to see another city - Detroit is right on the lake and prefers colorful walls to white ones). He blackmails a renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Bayliss, who happens to live in New Detroit, into helping him, and this is where the episode really starts to break down. Tamara Dobson who plays her is very stiff, uncomfortable with the SF dialog, and well, a bad actress. Her expressions are over the top, her speech halting where there aren't any commas, and she goes from against helping Traeger to sadistically figuring out how to do it in a split second. In other words, the performance is inconsistent. It's not all in the acting either. I don't know why a well-to-do psychiatrist would have a couple of loyal goons working for her, or where she got the Mission Impossible masks, or in fact why a psych office would paint its walls aggro-red. Nobody was thinking too hard when it came to this character. But this part of the plot has tepid action scenes, guards just watching kidnappers run away with a woman in their arms and not giving chase, and super agent Raylyn being very bad at her job. Even Traeger's send-off feels anticlimactic. Take me back to the surprise party, please. The epilogue, with the opening of gifts we never see (hey, I'm curious), is actually kind of sweet.

SPACE DISCO: Wilma and Huer were going to see a holographic dance troop, but Buck didn't feel like going. Traeger's disguise includes a ridiculously massive fro. The restaurant of course has that disco vibe, which Buck's deep "V" vest certainly adds to. What, no medallion?

STAR GAZING: Morgan Brittany (Raylyn) had her big break in Gypsy as one of Natalie Wood's sisters, but she's mostly known as a soap star, having been a regular on Dallas, starting not long after this. She had been offered the role of Athena on Battlestar Galactica, but had turned it down. Tamara Dobson (Dr. Bayliss) was Cleopatra Jones and Samantha on Jason of Star Command.

The choice of Buck's birth date sends us back to the comic strip, which also premiered on a January 7th. Coincidentally, that's also Erin Gray's birthday. Maybe that's why Wilma's happy to have the party even if Buck doesn't show up. (The episode aired that week, January 10th, 1980.)

A by the numbers and undercooked plot, but it can't quite smother the fun of surprise party.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, this was a very "comic book" story, but like you said, what would we expect with Marty Pasko writing it? Raylyn did show a bit of spunk when the goons first attacked her (she was kicking their asses at first), but after that she was just the hot girl in jeopardy.

Mike W.


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