Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Tracking Time Trax

Dale Midkiff as supercop-from-the-future Darien Lambert on TV's Time Trax
The early '90s saw an explosion of syndicated sci-fi fare that was put into development, I'm fairly certain, as a reaction to the stratospheric success enjoyed by Star Trek: The Next Generation, which garnered the kind of ratings off network that many broadcast shows would have killed for. However, while Next Gen benefited from the audience loyalty (and comparatively high budget) that came as a natural perk of being part of that storied franchise, not all other offerings fared nearly as well. One such example is Time Trax.

Co-created by Harve Bennett, who produced four of the classic Trek crew's film adventures (including the best one), Time Trax was the premiere offering from the Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN), a jury-rigged "fifth network" that offered blocks of syndicated shows to local stations (we'll talk about another of their skeins, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, one of these days). The premise was simple: One hundred years in the future, hardened criminals use a time machine to escape into the past, and police officer Darien Lambert (Dale Midkiff) is sent back to recapture them. Check out the first season's intro for the full skinny:

Now, if you're getting a distinct Timecop vibe from that, you're not alone, but Time Trax actually premiered in January of '93 (just a few months before another time travel series ended its run), beating the underrated Van Damme movie (now there's a weird phrase...) to the screen by more than a year. Although, in an odd bit of sci-fi serendipity, actress Mia Sara (Sloane from Ferris Bueller) plays the doomed love interest in both Trax and 'cop. I mentioned budgets above, and you can tell how lo-fi this thing was by the fact that our hero is armed with a keychain and a credit, I mean, a laser gun and a supercomputer. Yeah, that's the ticket! It's kind of brilliant, actually.

Time Trax became something of a cult success in its day, though I'm not sure how much of a compliment that really is, as a "cult" could just as well be five really dedicated fans. Regardless, the audience wasn't there to keep the show afloat for more than two seasons and 44 episodes. After Trax ended its run in late '94, Midkiff (who did time in the genre trenches earlier as the lead in Pet Semetary) would join the ensemble of a different cult show, CBS 1998 adaptation of The Magnficent Seven (which I previously discussed at some length).

Although there wasn't much in the way of merchandising to tie-in with Time Trax, interestingly enough, as I was doing research for this piece I found out that there was actually a video game released for the Super Nintendo platform (remember that?) in early '94, during the show's second season. I couldn't believe such a thing existed, so naturally I had to track it down myself a la Darien Lambert, and yep, it's a real thing. Watch the intro below...and dig the crazy MIDI version of Gary McDonald's theme music!

Weird. Anyway, while Time Trax is more of a forgotten curiosity today then anything else, it's apparently retained enough of that cult audience to warrant a release on DVD via Warner Bros.' manufacture-on-demand service. The first season hit the platter format in October of last year, and the second season just became available a few weeks ago. It's been nearly twenty years since I saw an episode, so I can't say I'd recommend picking it up, but if you can find it cheap, I'd assume there are worse ways to kill some time.

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