Old School Classics

For those times when you just can’t endure getting hooked on another HBO series or watching a well-worn Seinfeld episode, check out these kitsch classics.  You may have to suspend your disbelief, but it will be worth it.

The Avengers (1961 – 69)

Not to be confused with grown men running around in capes and tights, this UK classic revolves around British agent John Steed.  Originally the sidekick of Ian Hendry’s David Keel, Steed became the lead after Hendry left after the first season to focus on a movie career.  The re-vamped format became the template – Steed first partnered with Cathy Gale, then Emma Peel (best known era in the United States), then finally with Tara King.

In a time of Cold War spies and double agents, Patrick Macnee’s Steed exudes an old-school touch of the aristocrat.  Debonair and stylish, Steed plays off well with each partner: Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale character was virtually unheard of – a strong female (and judo expert!) who was Steed’s equal; Diana Rigg’s Mrs. Peel was young, hip, yet highly educated; and Canadian Linda Thorson’s Tara King was young, modern, yet very skilled.

What made the show were the out-of-the-box plot lines and the ‘diabolical masterminds’ the Avengers encountered each week.  The bad guys ranged from the comical to the bizarre to the downright frightening.

Some episodes stretched the boundaries of the believable, but for an entertaining escape to a time when we knew who the bad guys were, the Avengers fits perfectly.

Best Avengers site:  http://theavengers.tv/forever/

Space: 1999 (1975-77)

Based on a premise that is scientifically implausible (check your critical thinking at the door), this mid-70’s sci-fi classic centres around a catastrophic nuclear explosion which hurls the moon, and the 311 inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha, off into the distant reaches of space.

Touted as the first syndicated television show to cost $1 million per episode, it’s obvious to the viewer where that money went: special effects. 

It’s best to break down each of the two seasons individually.

Season one can at times become slow and dialogue-heavy, however it features some good insight into the metaphysical and the unknown.  The Alphans experience a wide range of strange experiences in their journey, and while much of the science used in the episodes has become dated, the first series stands up as thought-provoking and, if nothing else, interesting.

In season two, American producer Fred Freiberger was brought in to spice up the show for the US audience.  Gone was the intellectual theme, replaced by glitz, more action, and story lines which bordered on the ridiculous. 

If season one was a 2001-style show, season two felt like little more than a Saturday morning live-action kid’s show.

As a sometimes mindless escape from the mundane, Space: 1999 is a good addition to your collection.  And the Eagle is still the coolest spaceship in sci-fi history.

Best Space: 1999 site: http://catacombs.space1999.net/

The Prisoner (1967-68)

Another UK series from the 1960’s, Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner focuses on an agent who, after he resigns, finds himself held prisoner in a mysterious coastal village where everyone is known by a number. 

Refusing the designation ‘Number Six’, the lead character repeatedly attempts to escape all the while trying to learn the secrets of the ‘prison’, and the identity of Number 2, who runs the joint.  Meanwhile, his captors seek to learn the reason for Number Six’s resignation – which is never revealed.

What I love about the protagonist is his stubborn refusal to relinquish his individuality and liberty in favour of becoming ‘a number’ - something today’s younger generation isn’t familiar with.

Who are allies?  Who is the enemy?  Is what is happening real?

Smart and stylish, The Prisoner ran for an intentionally-limited 17 episodes but is credited for influencing scores of shows that followed.

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