Friday, January 06, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Manimal Edition

Back in November I laid into '80s artifact Automan, as well as its purveyor, one Glen A. Larson, promising more looks back at Larson's atrocious output from the era. Well, adding further proof to my longstanding contention that Larson did for science fiction television in the '70s and '80s what the Hindenburg did for airship travel, comes another unfortunate dropping from the early-'80s: Manimal. In case the title doesn't make it clear, it was about a man...who becomes animals. Come on, folks. Keep up.

At this point, my running theory is that Larson came up with his ideas title first, concept later. In fact, I could easily see him dreaming this one up while his feet were resting on the very same ottoman that provided him the inspiration for Automan (which premiered two months later). Manimal starred Brit actor Simon MacCorkindale as the mysterious, debonaire Dr. Jonathan Chase, somehow possessed of the ability to transform into a menagerie of different animals. We're introduced to him via the narration at the tail-end of this awesomely cheese-tastic intro sequence:

How to gloss over the completely unlikely premise of your TV show in two easy steps: 1) Start with a bunch of mystical hugger-mugger about Africa and Tibet. 2) Enlist William Conrad to the do the voiceover.

Of note to nerds, the cast also featured Melody Anderson, whose lasting claim to fame other than this comes from her turn as the love interest in the equally cheese-tastic Dino De Laurentiis production of Flash Gordon (De Laurentiis, by the way, was for sci-fi movies what Larson was for sci-fi TV), and character actor Reni Santoni, best known for playing Dirty Harry's first partner in the '70s, and for peeing on Jerry Seinfeld's couch in the '90s.

In case you're wondering how they pulled off all those transformation effects given '80s effects and '80s budgets, well, I'll let you watch the clip below and draw your own conclusions:

Not one of the finer efforts from the late special effects guru Stan Winston, unfortunately. In an indication that sometimes good taste won out even back then, Manimal premiered on NBC in late September of 1983, and was done-and-gone after eight short episodes, faring no better than the other Larson superhero series that year. That would have been the end of that, except for the fact that it found an amazing afterlife internationally (which doesn't say much for tastes outside the US, I suppose). I saw it for the first time in the late '80s while living overseas, so this thing clearly had a very long tail (no pun intended).

Interestingly, cancellation didn't mean the end for Dr. Jonathan Chase, as MacCorkindale reprised the role in a late-'90s episode of another Larson cheese-fest, Night Man. Ah, but that's going to have to wait for another Nostalgia Theater at some later time. Meanwhile, if you're looking to relive the manic thrill-a-minute excitement of Manimal on DVD, you're out of luck. Despite occasional rumors of an impending release, it seems even its owners at Fox have decided to keep this cat in the bag.


Rai Azlan said...

man you have just made me recall so many thing so many things of my childhood. i still remember how anxiously i used to wait for this tv show, when it started to air in Pakistan in early 90s. and there are so many memories attached to that time.

Zaki said...

I remember that! PTN, right? They aired AUTOMAN around the same time, as I recall...

Usman Khan said...

I could barely contain the wide grin on my face when I saw the cheesy panther transformation. And yes, the channel was NTM! Manimal was the shit back then and I can totally picture a younger version (and the present one admittedly) of being enthralled with the show's premise of a dude becoming all these different animals.
I remember thinking the transformation to the snake was the coolest but now I'm afraid to check on Youtube.

mezba said...

As a young kid I thought the show was pretty cool - it was popular back in Dubai and I was sad to hear it was cancelled. Another series that was big was Zorro and Remington Steele.

mezba said...

I just realized I was also a fan of Automan. LOL. Perhaps the shows that didn't do well were telecast in the Middle East!