Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Revisiting Buck Rogers

Over the last couple of weeks I've been making my way through the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century DVD set that I picked up 11 years ago. 11 YEARS AGO? And I thought my book backlog was bad.

In any event, revisiting a show that I first watched as a 10-to-12-year old has been entertaining. Even as a kid I knew the show was, on some level, derivative, unpolished and badly written, but I still enjoyed it because, hey...spaceships, aliens, scantily-clad space princesses, Erin Gray as Wilma Deering. Whatever the show's faults, the producer knew their audience: young boys (and hopefully a few girls inspired by Erin Gray's steely performance of the first season).

Like Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers presents a potentially interesting central conceit marred by lacklustre writing. The setup is simple but poignant: frozen in time for 500 years, astronaut Buck Rogers wakes up in the late 25th century to an Earth still recovering from a nuclear holocaust (one that happened, as it turned out, just after Buck left earth).

The pilot and a handful of episodes touch on Buck's sense of loss; unique in the world, this is a man who has truly lost everything in a way no one else ever could: not just a loved one, but all his loved ones; not just a country and a culture, but an entire civilization and all its complexity. (In a second season episode we discover that the Pyramids, Chichen Itza and Mount Rushmore are the only human artifacts to have survived to the 25th century.) Aside from a handful of scenes, though, the dramatic potential of Buck's displacement is virtually ignored in favour of pretty standard space villainy.

Were I to reinvent the series, I'd spend a lot more time exploring what a post-nuclear holocaust world would look like after 500 years of healing, and how Buck adapts. I'd probably ignore outer space entirely, relying instead on experts to come up with the sorts of real-world challenges such a society might face. I imagine everything would change, from manufacturing to agriculture to relationship customs to art. The art would be fascinating, one would think. You could even borrow an idea from the second season of Buck Rogers, in which the format changes to a more Star Trek-like exploration show; just keep the setting on Earth and have Buck and Wilma take on an HMS Beagle-style scouting expedition, roaming the world to catalogue mutant life and castoff pockets of survivors, not to mention any remaining valuable resources.

(As a kid I stopped watching Buck Rogers early in the second season, right after the Mark-Lenard-removes-his-head episode. Aside from the sarcastic new robot Chricton, season two really doesn't have much to recommend it.)

With Twin Peaks and The X-Files coming back to TV, it's not too far-fetched to imagine Buck Rogers might come back. It might even be good this time around. 

1 comment:

Totty said...

Well, at least the timeliness of your backlog makes mine look positively current, but I am not nearly so effective at watching mine so I suspect I'll fall behind you in time.