Friday, September 23, 2011

Nostalgia Theater: Starman Edition

We bring back "Nostalgia Theater" this week after a layover of nearly half a year with this little-seen, mostly-forgotten curio from the mid '80s. Starman was a TV series that aired on ABC during the 1986-1987 season, based on the 1984 John Carpenter film of the same name (and not the DC Comics character, also of the same name). The movie, about an alien being who's lost on Earth and trying to find his way back to his homeworld, was clearly an attempt by Carpenter to "do" E.T., which had set the box office alight two years prior -- but with Jeff Bridges instead of a crinkly animatronic puppet as the titular character.

Roadtripping toward his pickup site with the widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) -- whose late husband he's assumed the shape of by replicating the DNA in a lock of his hair -- while evading the authorities, the Starman learns what it means to be human, forms a romantic bond with Hayden, and eventually leaves Earth (but not before leaving her with a *ahem* special present). In my opinion, it's a perfectly forgettable movie that hasn't retained much significance beyond the fact that it earned Bridges his first "Best Actor" Oscar nom.

At the time, though, it clearly made enough of a mark to prompt the development of this TV sequel, which is where I came in, having seen the show long before I knew a movie existed. Jumping ahead fifteen years (though, y'know, not really), the series picks up with the Starman returning to Earth and assuming the form of deceased journalist Paul Forrester (Robert Hays, best known for his comedic turns in the two Airplane! flicks, but doing a very nice job with the fish-out-of-water thing). Reuniting with the now-teenaged son (Christopher Barnes) conceived at the close of the film, the two set out to track down the missing Jenny while evading the authorities that nip at their heels.

As you can tell from the above description (and the above video -- don't you love opening credit sequences that actually contain exposition...and music?), this was yet another in the long line of "quest shows" that includes The Fugitive, The Incredible Hulk, and Kung Fu as part of its lineage. It's for this reason perhaps that the series never quite caught on, coming and going after 22 episodes. Interestingly, the basic premise -- a stranger from the stars returning to Earth and adapting to human peculiarities while evading the feds -- was lifted liberally by Independence Day creators Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin for their 1997 Fox series The Visitor, starring John Corbett, itself axed after thirteen installments.

Also of note, Starman stars Hays and Barnes (who also played Greg in the two Brady Bunch features) would share another connection many years later thanks to tenures voicing Marvel superheroes Iron Man (previously discusssed here) and Spider-Man, respectively, in the mid-'90s (even teaming up in an episode of the latter's show). As far as Starman goes, while the show has been almost completely forgotten today, and despite its formulaic setup, it had enough heart in its premise that it's worthy of another look. While there's no home video release in the offing, this is a show that's ripe for rediscovery, and I have to think it would find a fairly receptive audience were it made available.

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