Two Western series, rewatched in full

KUNG FU‘s ratings slipped during S2 which gives me the feeling the show-runners were putting some extra effort into S3 (though it didn’t help). We have several episodes set entirely in China (Besieged and The Devil’s Champion) and some where Caine’s facing unambiguously supernatural forces (The Devil’s Champion again, one that absolutely fascinated me as a kid). There’s also the introduction of a running foe, a cult of Chinese assassins dedicated to hunting Caine down for killing the emperor’s son.Most importantly, we get the resolution to Caine’s quest as he tracks down his brother Danny (and Danny’s son), and gets embroiled in that ne’er do well’s feud with gambling czar Leslie Nielsen (the kind of serious role he was known for before Police Squad! established him as a comedian). I felt a little disappointed Caine just left his family behind to go on wandering, though it’s not out of character (as the episode Thief of Chendo shows, being a wandering defender of the helpless was what he dreamed of as a kid in the monastery. A good finish to a good series (unless, as I’ve noted before, you find the yellowface aspect a dealbreaker); followed by a good movie in 1986 (I plan to rewatch that one eventually) and a forgettable present day-set series, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. “Both roads, the right and the left, must have an end — and when you reach that end, you will know your destiny.”

The fourth and final season of WILD, WILD WEST picks up from the disappointing S3, though it still isn’t up to the first two years. The good episodes are really good, including Night of the Avaricious Actuary, the Phantom of the Opera riff Night of the Diva and the very Sherlockian Night of the Bleak Island but there’s way too many bland episodes as well. There are, as usual, some good guest villains, including Harold Gould in Avaricious Actuay and Jo Van Fleet in Night of the Tycoons.

There’s not much Artemus: Ross Martin had a heart attack midway through shooting (there was serious fear he’d die or be too weak to keep performing) so the show fills in with several Artemus substitutes, most frequently Charles Aidman as Jeremy Pike. They only show that Ross Martin brought something to the role that his pinch-hitters didn’t have (my favorite is probably Alan Hale Jr. in Night of the Sabatini Death, which ends with a Gilligan’s Island joke). There’s only one Michael Dunn appearance, in The Night of Miguelito’s Revenge. I suspect Tycho, the mastermind in Night of the Raven was a possible replacement if the series had gotten to S5 (super-genius, world-beating ambitions, physically peculiar — in his case, a giant head stuffed with brains).

Minor changes include that Jim smokes cigars frequently (I don’t remember that as much in earlier seasons) and there are a lot more black faces — minor roles, but it seems like a lot more episodes than previous seasons have black bartenders, dance-hall girls or government messengers. One change that had me scratching my head is that they de-emphasize the eye candy aspect, which has been part of the series since the sexist first season (and was normal for most action/adventure shows back in those days). Some episodes (e.g. Night of the Janus) have no pretty girl at all — not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s a surprising choice.

This show had two sequels that were also pilots for a reboot series, More Wild, Wild West and Wild, Wild, West Revisited. As my DVD set of the series includes them, I’ll have them for review soon. And I shall probably watch the widely panned big-screen version with Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Brannagh soon enough.

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One response to “Two Western series, rewatched in full

  1. Pingback: Georgia, the Wild West, Idaho and Barcelona: movies | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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