Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mission: Unfashionable

Today I watched both the last episode of the original Mission: Impossible TV series, followed by the first episode of its late 80s revival. The original series ended on March 30, 1973; the revival premiered on October 23, 1988. Watching the two episodes back to back was an interesting exercise in observing how the show's formula remained the same while all the aesthetics had evolved dramatically.

While watching the finale of the first series, I noted with some amusement the loud home decor and fashions that so typified the era. One of the bad guys wore a shocking ensemble comprised of loud white, red and green pants, a pink fishnet tank top, brown leather coat and porn-star mustache. He worked in an apartment with truly regrettable wood paneling and a bright orange shag carpet.

The revival's premiere, on the other hand, featured far more spartan aesthetics; the men all wore professional-looking business suits, and decor was muted, angular, less cozy and more stark. The contrast was striking.

The producers, however, clearly enjoyed the original series and did their best to respect it. They brought back Peter Graves to reprise the role of Impossible Missions Force team leader Jim Phelps, hired Phil Morris, son of Greg Morris, to play the son of his father's character, kept Bob Johnson as the always unseen voice who provided Jim with the mission of the week, and they even rehired Lalo Schifrin to update the iconic music. So perhaps it's no surprise that they also kept the so-called "dossier scene," in which Phelps selects which agents are to be used for the current mission. Of course, instead of a paper dossier Phelps as in the original, in the revival Phelps used a high-tech (for the time) computer and wall screen to choose the team. The apartment colour scheme, though, remains the same: black, white and silver, though the furnishings and decor reflect 80s style rather than that of the 60s or 70s.

The first few episodes of the revival series were remakes of scripts from the original series; the revival initially began as an effort to create new content for the 1989-90 television season despite a writer's strike. But the strike ended sooner than anticipated, allowing the show to truly pick up where the original had left off, though with big 80s hair, fancier computers, blander clothes (except perhaps on the women), CDs and a lot more neon.

I watched the revival on and off while attending university, but I don't remember the series well enough to render final judgement. I do find it interesting that on DVD the picture quality of the original series far outshines that of the revival; I can only assume that the revival was shot, or at least edited, on video rather than film. It remains entertaining.


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