Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Misfits of Science --
TV's X-Men Before TV's X-Men

Mighty Mutants: (L-R) Mark Thomas Miller, Courteney Cox, Kevin Peter Hall, Dean Paul Martin
When I look at old timey artifacts here in Nostalgia Theater, they generally fall into one of two broad categories: shows that were embarrassing to watch then and have only gotten more so in the interim, and shows that clearly went before their time because they were so far ahead of their time. Misfits of Science falls into the latter category, a short-lived superhero skein that aired too briefly on NBC in late 1985 and early '86, but sadly disappeared from the airwaves before it ever really had a chance to make its mark.

The brainchild of late NBC head Brandon Tartikoff, and produced by James Parriott (Forever Knight), Misfits starred Dean Paul Martin (son of crooner Dino) as Dr. Billy Hayes, a researcher in "human anomalies" (read: mutants) who assembles and leads the titular team, which is comprised of his colleague Elvin Lincoln (Kevin Peter Hall, who would later play the title creature in Predator), a seven-foot giant who can shrink to a few inches, "Johnny B" Bukowski (Mark Thomas Miller), a rock musician who can exude electricity, and Gloria Dinallo (Courteney Cox, in one of her earliest roles), a teenager with telekinetic abilities. Here's the intro:

Gotta love that theme song. Such the perfect '80s artifact. The whole show is like that, actually, and it's not a bad thing at all.

This was essentially a media adaptation of Marvel's X-Men before the cash cow value of that brand became plain. Indeed, the folks at Marvel clearly had a pretty good idea what was up, as an Ice Man-like character is present in the pilot, but disappeared afterwards, presumably because the comic book folks started making some unpleasant noise. And while Heroes did the "real world superhero" thing on TV just a few years ago, it was draped in so much portent and pretense that it lost a lot of what makes the genre fun.

Misfits, on the other hand, brought the fun while generally avoiding the cheese factor of other '80s made-for-TV heroes like Automan and Manimal. It had a strong concept, an engaging and likable lead in Martin (who died tragically in a flying accident shortly after the show ended), and the rest of the cast (which included a pre-Willie Tanner Max Wright) had great chemistry. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with these cult-type shows, the audience wasn't there, and Misfits of Science disappeared from the air after a too-brief 16 episodes (including the double-length pilot), with a 17th not even airing.

I caught the show a few years later, in fall '87, when it aired on rotation in Saudi Arabia (back-to-back with A-Team reruns, as I recall), but it's remained almost entirely off-the-grid stateside since its initial network run, save for a brief replay in the early '90s as part of the "Sci-Fi Series Collection" that Sci-Fi Channel used to showcase cancelled sci-fi shows (back when it aired sci-fi). They haven't even bothered with a home video release here, but it is available via an official German DVD release. Not sure what that's about, but there you go. Hopefully they do put it out on platter at some point. It really does deserve to be uncovered. In the meantime, you can watch part one of the pilot movie below:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just watched the full pilot on YouTube, someone just posted in September!! It's the full deal!! I think I might still have some episodes on VHS in the basement, now lol! I love the Misfits of Science!