Michael Bergeron
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DVD Slight Return: Manimal edition

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People are talking about the latest televised series, like Mr. Robot or Ash vs. Evil Dead. Dude, I am still trying to catch up with the last remains of classic television, and it’s not always pretty.

Just to keep a perspective on things let’s consider how marketers are always trying to convince you that television, which in the new millennium consists of broadcast, streaming, cable and disc, is by and large better than cinema. Never gonna happen. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that restaurants were trying to tell the public that $20 was the new $10. For those old enough to recall watching the Silver Age of T.V. just keep repeating 50 is the new 30.tumblr_movprrfvxH1rs4t21o3_400

Manimal: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, 10/11) occupies a space where television went from being pleonastic and bad to just being bad. Although on an upbeat note Manimal is so bad that it’s good. Manimal comes from the mind of producer Glen Larson who at one time or another played a part in shows like Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider, Magnum P.I. Manimal revolves around the son of an African explorer who stumbles on the secret of shape shifting from a human to an animal. Get it – Manimal.

The effects are cheesy but then they are part of the charm of early 1980s television, along with the perfunctory percussive style soundtrack that brings drums and synthesizers to the foreground. Here’s the thing: the way Manimal is shot emphasizes the point-of-view of the animal be it eagle, hawk, panther, snake, horse and even the sneaky housecat. We see the bird turn its head and then we see the shot from its perspective, ditto the panther. Lots of close-up animals faces and reaction shots make the plot unwind in a logical manner.

Larson has another one-season series also out this week that followed Manimal titled Automan. The show had a Tron trope but instead of a man going into a computer it has a computer that becomes a man. Automan stars Desi Arnaz, Jr. as a police computer expert who creates a holographic crime fighting program that exists in the physical world. Kid’s stuff. At least Manimal has camp possibilities and, of course, lots of cool animals in every ep.Manimal

Manimal consists of eight episodes although the first ep runs feature length. On a side note, Larson in an extra interview notes how the debut ep ran against the episode of Dallas where they reveal who shot JR. Suave Simon MacCorkingdale uses his animal transformation skills to help the New York Police solve crimes. Sexy police detective Melody Anderson (Flash Gordon, Dead and Buried) discovers Manimal’s secret and joins him in solving crimes.

The first show has Manimal taking to the skies to track an arms deal going down in the park. One of the baddies is Ursula Andress. Manimal tracks her to a swanky apartment and MacCorkingdale changes into a fluffy white cat to gain entrance. We cut to Andress leaving the shower in a skimpy robe. We cut to Manimal the cat leaping into her lap. We cut to the cat with its head inside her robe nuzzling Andress’s breast. For a brief moment Manimal had this discriminating viewer seeing the light where montage and eukaryotic behavior merge.Contest-Time-Win-The-Great-American-Dream-Machine-On-DVD-The-Classic-Series-That-Paved-The-Way-For-Chevy-Chase-Albert-Brooks-Charles-Grodin-And-More-3

On a slightly more serious note, The Great American Dream Machine (10/27, S’MORE Entertainment) was a short-lived PBS show that offered a variety of comic skits, serious documentary featurettes, video essays by the likes of Andy Rooney, Marshall Efron, and Studs Turkel, and even literary figures like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. reading a chapter of Slaughterhouse Five.

While the press kit labels The Great American Dream Machine (1971-1972) as television’s original satirical variety show that moniker would be better represented by The Ernie Kovacs Show (1961), That Was the Week That Was (BBC, 1962 and the American spinoff 1964), and even Laugh-In and its imitators. Monty Python (1969) wasn’t seen domestically on television until 1974 (1970 in Canada).

34abd56b90c2000ceafbb683019c567d3a96fb0c68b1e0dcb950527b77337d6bYet there’s a solemn side to TGADM that demands respect. You won’t always be programmed to laugh like, say, Saturday Night Live. You will have the pleasure of watching an intelligent show that feels equal satisfaction in presenting its audience Evel Knievel (misspelled on the packaging as Evil), Albert Brooks, Penny Marshall, and Mel Tormé practically back to back. The set consists of nearly 13 hours of material on four discs.

— Michael Bergeron