Automan: Season 1
Scientists have been speculating about the feasibility of time travel for a very long time. While the debate continues in the hollowed hall of quantum physics most of us have a means to revisit the past in our living rooms, a DVD/Blu-ray player. Thanks to some distributors that are in the business of releasing the movies and televisions show that were popular during our formative years of our youth. Undoubtedly much of what we watched fell short of award winning caliber material, but it did fulfill one of the primary goals of the media, they were entertaining. Our opinions are kinder of today’s generation would render, but in retrospect, our consideration of these shows judged through the prism of burgeoning taste and technical limitations inherent of the period. Shout Factory has proven to be among the reliable sources of such memorability. They specialize in television series that have been abandon by the studios retaining the rights and extremely unlikely to be otherwise released on DVD. Many are cult classics forgotten by everyone but a hard-core group of baby boomers fond memories of watching these episodes. Among the rather extensive catalog, I received a rather quirky series that I remember watching. To maintain disclosure is not a teenager during the run of the series, I’d already been married for almost a decade and a rating the birth of our daughter. Still, they were so little science fiction on television back then that an aficionado of the genre tended to watch what was available. The series, ‘Automan,' ran for only one season beginning in 1983. To adequately consider the series must be considered in proper historical context. Just one year before moving was released that was instrumental in igniting a significant change in how movies would be made and appreciated by the audience, ‘Tron.' This was the first movie to use computer-generated effects to such an extensive degree that it overshadowed much of the law’s performances. Computer-generated imaging was such a new aspect of special effects that it was disqualified from the Academy Awards because the Board of Directors felt that it was cheating to use computers. It is admittedly downright campy to a level that rarely seen on television. In retrospect, even performer fans many aspects or cringe worthy, but it is still a lot of fun to watch.
Typical of a series of that era the opening contained a synopsis of the plot suitable as an explanation for first-time viewers. The initial monologue described the efforts of a policeman, Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnaz Jr.) the fight crime the best way he could. Walter is not the most physically imposing man on the force, but his mind was able to conceptualize the technology beyond anything currently available. The subject I captured his scientific curiosity were holograms, a very new idea at the time that was able to create a three-dimensional object using light. The aspect was considered exceptionally far-fetched was that his premise included a caller that given sufficient power the creation of a hologram was possible that would look real and of the power level were sufficient would become real. It would take another five years or so, but this absurd concept would help serve as the basis for something far more acceptable to the fan base, holodeck technology prominently used in Star Trek: the Next Generation. Fundamentally, it would have to be classified as a police procedural albeit one with technology that would not be feasible for the foreseeable future. Tron so incredibly groundbreaking ushering in a new era of the use of imagery and telling the story. Tron was produced by the Walt Disney Company while the series was part of the ABC lineup. That is the ownership of the technology within the ‘House of Mouse.' Among the producers was Donald Kushner, who held the same position for the Tron movie and would later go on to help reduce’ Tron Legacy,' like several other of creative minds working behind the scenes he represented one of the experts in this new visual style.
The after taking on the digitally contoured titular character was Chuck Wagner, who was best known for his participation in game shows such as ‘The Match Game’ and ‘Hollywood Squares.' For those familiar with the television hierarchy of the time this game shows a lesser-known act as comedians or those at the tail end of their careers and living. His main qualification for the role was being handsome in style mostly defined by soap operas, a full head of perfectly coiffed hair and squared jaw. In one respect his lack of acting acumen worked for his interpretation of the role. Not really up to the task of interpreting a character is a multidimensional human being, Mr. Wagner was able to turn that inexperience into a believable construct of a computer is only knowledge and understanding come from his programming. Further emulating the details of Tron, Assisting Automan was a binary construct called ‘Cursor ‘serving the same rudimentary function as ‘bit’ in the movie, although enhanced to the point of being able to insert a rather literal Deus ex machina as needed into the storyline.
A young police officer determined to make a reputation out on the streets where he can gain the respect of his fellow officers and superiors. Walter regretted the fact that Captain E. G. Boyd (Gerald S. O'Loughlin) thought he was unfit for fieldwork and assign them to a computer oriented desktop job. If you cannot come up with the hologram program, you would be unable to stop the type of crimes that mattered. One of the perennial favorites of police procedural is corruption within the ranks of the justice system. It only took the second episode before this familiar theme was visited as Walter and his computer-generated partner takes down the judge who was working with organized criminals. Many of the cases had some degree of technical proficiency in the implementation. An example of this would plan to be still very special paper used to print American currency. In a typical cop show fashion Walter, an officer of exceptionally limited field experience, goes undercover as a dangerous criminal. It should be remembered that Desi Arnaz Jr. was best known for being the son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz than for any actual acting experience. Before this is experience consisted mostly as a regular cast member for a couple of the shows starring and produced by his mother. There was a little glimpse of the future when Walter and Automan have to infiltrate a computer convention. The personal computer revolution had only started a few years before this but the public is just beginning to understand the possibilities of a computer at home. Currently, conventions exhibiting new electronics and computers are among the most popular and influential forces in the industry. One episode does seem to resonate with social importance after leaving 34 years has passed. A corrupt sheriff has been using illegal immigrants as a source of cheap labor. One of the most enjoyable aspects of revisiting shows in so long ago is by examining just how much they got right and wrong about the world as it would develop. The series is exceptionally dated, and as with many releases by Shout Factory targeted to those who remember the show during its initial run, younger audiences might get a kick out of seeing some of the most rudimentary uses of technology that has matured to the incredible contribution made today