SF Obscure- Star Trek:The Animated Series

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So, I decided to watch Star Trek: The Animated Series. I’d seen a few episodes here and there, but decided a full rewatch was in order. It premiered in 1973, and I am not sure how often it’s been in syndication. For a while, it seemed to disappear, but it’s on Netflix now.

I watched some of it with my daughter-who grew up with far more sophisticated animation. So her observations were ‘why do all the faces look the same?’ and ‘ why do their mouths just move up and down like that?’ She also noted that there are only about four pieces of music used over and over.  And there is a separate animated series theme rather than the classic Alexander Courage theme. 

Still, even if you’re not watching it with snarky offspring, the animated series was enjoyable. The animated series is meant to be a continuation of the original series. It was to appeal to all ages. Some of the more romantic themes in TOS are dropped, but it never became a ‘kiddie’ show. It’s solid Trek for the most part.

 The original crew is back -minus Chekov. He’s replaced by  Arex(voiced by James Doohan), a tripedal alien and another feline officer, M’Ress (Voice by Majel Barrett).  Because of Nimoy’s intervention Nichelle Nichols and George Take-originally cut-were asked back for voice overs. Walter Koenig was also cut, but did write a script for one episode.There is also the appearance of the first Enterprise captain, Robert April and his wife, Sarah,  the doctor on the first Enterprise. The animated series gave them the chance to have more alien looking aliens that were not possible with special effects at the time of TOS. There are some neat ones introduced; a few goofy ones (“Bem”) and at least three feline aliens. Someone much really love cats.

 And it gives more screen time to other characters-Uhura gets more command time and away missions; and Sulu actually uses his weapons expertise. It’s not all Kirk-Spock-Bones.  Most are solid, old style TOS episodes with powerful godlike beings who are really just advanced aliens; science saves the day; reflections on the goals of the Federation, etc. There’s a goofy Tribbles/Klingon one (“More Tribbles, More Trouble”), and a few silly science (“The Counterclock Incident”).  The episode “The Slavers” was written by Larry Niven is a crossover from his Ringworld universe.  I particularly liked this episode’s use of Uhura-Sulu-Spock; rather than the usual Kirk and Spock. The animated series is debatable canon, but there are recurring characters from TOS.  The episode “Yesteryear”  was clearly mined for used in the 2009 movie and in Enterprise’s season four Vulcan episode arc.  And there is also a pre-cursor to the holodeck. (“The Practical Joker”) Oh, and apparently, a giant clone Spock is still out there. You’ll have to find that episode on your own.

I had a great time watching this.

SF Obscure Movie: Krull

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Krull is a 1983 British-American science fiction and fantasy film starring Ken Marshall (who played Eddington on DS9. Eddington was an excellent returning character) and Lysette Anthony. It’s a cult favorite-and I understand why because it is entertaining despite not really making any sense if you think too deeply about it.

It starts with Princess Lyssa who is to be married to Prince Colwyn as part of an alliance to unite their two kingdoms to defeat the Beast. The Beast has conquered lots of worlds with his army and teleporting Black Fortress. Princess Lyssa had the most enormous hair I have ever seen on a human character. Prince Colwyn has the tightest pants I’ve seen on anyone expected to do that much running in a movie.

Anyhow, the Beast and his army attack during the wedding ceremony. Lyssa is kidnapped. Everyone else is killed except for Colwyn and an old healer/wiseman named Ynyr.

Ynyr tells Colwyn he must get a five pointed throwing weapon called the Glaive which can destroy the beast. Colwyn retrieves the Glaive and is determined to save Princess Lyssa. On the way they gather some companions: A wizard named Ergo; a group of bandits who decided to follow Colwyn (Liam Neeson?!) ; and a cyclops named Rell. Rell is the remnant of a race who made some sort of deal with the Beast and were cursed to be cyclops. Rell was one of my favorite characters, even with the questionable budget costuming.

There are screenshots of Lyssa and her hair, and a giant eye. Oh, and they have to visit the Emerald Seer to tell them how to find the Black Fortress to kill the beast; but the beast’s hand magically rises up to crush their magic crystal (I think that’s what happened).  Then they go to the lair of the Crystal Spider where an enchantress, Ynyr’s old lover, is exiled. She has a magic hourglass that keeps her alive and tells them how to find the Black Fortress.  They find out the Black Fortress and go to rescue Lyssa and kill the beast.  The beast is wounded by the Glaive, but doesn’t die until Lyssa and Colwyn finish their wedding ceremony. Their combined love ( I guess??) gives them the power they need to really kill the Beast.

Like I said, Krull is enjoyable if you don’t think too hard. You have to accept the basic premise that invading aliens capable of interstellar travel are somehow incapable of traveling around on land by any means other than horseback. You have to accept the people put up a decent fight with swords against alien technology and laser weapons. It’s meant to be a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. And it does have its moments despite these shortcomings. On my B-grade movie list, I put it above Flash Gordon. A little goofier than Battle Beyond the Stars, but the pacing is better and the actors get into their roles for the most part.

SF Obscure: Flash Gordon (1980)

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For my next venture into B -movies and cult favorites, I decided to sit and watch Flash Gordon. I recently saw Bohemian Rhapsody. Clearly they couldn’t cover everything and purists felt as it there was much left out to protect Freddie Mercury’s image. I didn’t mind that actually. To often, I feel like all celeb movies do is try to show us everything that was wrong rather than let us enjoy what we love about things.

But, I must say, they make no mention of Queen’s contribution to Flash Gordon.

First, The Flash Gordon theme song is an ear worm that won’t go away for days. Second, I feel a lot more forgiving towards Battle Beyond the Stars now.

Flash Gordon was a comic strip created in 1934 and had all manner of serials, early movies, etc. There was a 1996 TV series I vaguely remember and a 2006 TV series which I do remember. It wasn’t terribly remarkable-but to be fair- I’m not a Flash Gordon fan. It’s never  been a character I followed much, so there wasn’t much emotional investment. I realize it’s place in pop culture but that’s about it.

Let’s get to the movie summary (which is apparently close to the original serial):

Space Supervillian Ming the Merciless is going to destroy earth by causing natural disasters. A football player named “Flash” Gordon is traveling on a plane with a travel agent named Dale Arden. The plane is hit by a meteorite, falling into the lab of Dr. Hans Zarkov who is building a spacecraft because he believes in a coming alien invasion. Through convenient plot devices, Flash Gordon and Dale Arden end up traveling another galaxy  with him. They are taken prisoner by Ming the Merciless and paraded in front of a group of colorfully dressed aliens with bizarre headpieces. Ming’s daughter Princess Aura decides she likes Flash, but has a thing going with Timothy Dalton aka Prince Barin. There is a lot of glitter and orange. Flash fights off a bunch of aliens with football moves, but is captured and sentenced to death. Dr. Zarkov is captured for mind experiements. Dale is dressed up in a tacky dress to join Ming’s harem. Flash is executed, but it is faked and Aura frees him.

This is where I got a bit confused. Aura is taking Flash to Prince Barin. Flash communicates telepathically with a machine on Aura’s spaceship to let Dale know he’s alive and will rescue her. Another group of people steal Zarkov’ s memories. Aura and Dale are chased by the Hawkmen (another group of aliens). The arrive at Prince Barin’s land, but then Flash and Barin fight each other. The Hawkmen capture all of them, but they escape. And there’s a lightning shield that does something but they have to destroy it. Then Barin and Aura will work with the Hawkmen to overthrow Ming the Merciless.

And there are Lizard Men because there must be in any B-grade SF movie.

Battle Beyond the Stars did have a clear narrative. It may have been clumsy in its delivery but I could watch the movie in one sitting because I felt like it was going somewhere. Flash Gordon was filled with running and yelling and bright colors and weapons and no real direction. I got impatient and had to stop midway and pick it up later. I think they film makers were trying for a parody of SF or some comedy, but it never quite fit. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was watching. If I had to choose, I’d rather watch Battle again.

If you have any good cult or B-movie suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I think Krull might be up soon:)

SF Obscure Movie: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

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This is a 1980 film which was billed as The Magnificent Seven in space; which is The Seven Samurai in a western setting. This film stars Richard Thomas (The Waltons)  and featured the late George Peppard (The A-Team) and the late, great Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven, The Man from U.N.C.L.E) The music was done by James Horner and features James Cameron’s earlier SF effects work.

Summary: The planet of Akir (one of those one culture, one town planets) is threatened by a psycho warlord named Sador of the Mamori  and his mutant army, who will destroy the planet. Since the people of Akir follow the “teachings of the Varda”- they are committed to non-violence. Basically, no one knows how to fight. And Sador has a secret planet destroying weapon. (Yep. They were trying to capitalize on a certain other franchise) One young man Shad, is sent to go and find mercenaries to fight Sador. He has a ship with an AI named Nell- who is probably more interesting than a lot of the characters. His first stop is a space station to find Doctor Hephaestus, who was an old friend of an Akir leader. The only people on the station are  Doctor Hephaestus  and his daughter Nanelia and a host of androids. The Doctor has become a cyborg due to life extension and is stuck in a giant container. So, not much help. Nanelia eventually agrees to help Shad and escapes.

I won’t go through the whole list but Nanelia and Shad manage to recruit some other mercenaries: A guy who trades weapons, smokes cigars, and watches lots of westerns. (George Peppard right before the A-Team) A group of clones with a hive mind and very fake third eyes glued to their foreheads. Some lizard alien. A space Valkyrie. And a hired killer, played by Robert Vaughn, who is actually one of the better and far more convincing characters and you kind of wonder how and why he got roped into this film.

Actually, the concept isn’t a bad one. Battle Beyond the Stars does have its moments, but it is very much a B movie. And in light of 2019, a very, very B movie. Cheap special effects can be overlooked; but the costumes have a giggle factor difficult to ignore. Lots of robes. Glued on extra eyeballs. Stiff, plastic lizard head. The Valkyrie had on some type of breast baring halter top  and looks like an erotic amazon bird creature.

There are a few decent actors, but the script doesn’t give them much to work with. The supporting actors are not exactly top quality. Lots of stiff delivery and staring into…space? The camera? Cue cards? The aliens,-“forms”- as they are called all seem kind of slapdash. As if the writers took lots of old SF movie alien tropes and sort of threw it together. I think that’s part of what makes it so B-movie. There is no consistent look or style. Just lots of random names and goofy costumes.

The real problem, though, is the pacing. Or rather a lack of pacing. The hero meanders through space for a while, picking up aliens, but there is not sense of fear or danger. Even the climax doesn’t feel climatic. You just have background mood music and a hero who rarely changes his facial expressions.

And that’s what really does me in. You can have budget effects and costuming as long a you have top notch actors and a good script. This movie does not have those things.  But it does have a goofy charm; and hey, it did well on its release and clearly has its fans. As long as it makes someone happy, I guess it’s all worth it.

SF Obscure: Nowhere Man

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Nowhere Man was a suspense series starring Bruce Greenwood as a man who finds his entire life erased. It aired on UPN from 1995-1996.

 

Thomas Veil (Bruce Greenwood) is an up and coming photojournalist on the verge of success with the help of his best friend and supportive spouse. After an exhibition of his work, Tom takes his wife out for a romantic dinner. He gets up to go to the men’s room-but when he returns his wife is not there. Tom sees another couple sitting at their table. He asks the host about his wife, but the host has no recollection of either of them. At first he thinks it a practical joke then get increasingly hostile and is ushered from the restaurant. When Tom Veil returns home, he finds his wife there-married to someone else, and having no idea who he is. Tom follows her by hiding in her car. She confesses that she does know him but must play along because ‘they’ are watching.

Thomas Veil’s life has been erased. His friends don’t know him and his identity seems to be erased from all record. He figures out that the people responsible for his erasure negatives of a photograph he took of rebels being hanged by  US soldiers in South America. Someone wants the negatives to erase all the evidence. Veil believes it’s part of a coverup of government activities.  He tries to identify the military unit involved using evidence from the photos, yet, each step takes him  deeper into a an ever, menacing conspiracy.  He follows a trail of clues with lead him to several other anomalies: one town controlled by  subliminal programming; another town in which people are being abducted by UFO’s;  yet another  town comprised entirely of people who’ve been erased like Tom.  Veil himself is often captured, tracked, and subject to further experiments.

It’s definitely a conspiracy theory show-not really SF but deals with many of the themes common in dark conspiracy TV. Brainwashing, subliminal messaging, government surveillance, government cover-ups. It’s a really good show with lots of action and plenty to think about. Bruce Greenwood is great and most of the guest cast and supporting actors do a good job. The strength of the show is that it gives away just enough information each episode to keep you interested, but always adds on new avenues for Thomas Veil to pursue. It’s engaging.

It was cancelled after one season. There is a conclusion of sorts, but I couldn’t help feeling like there was so much more to explore. Anyway, worth the watch.

SF Obscure: Cosmic Slop

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Cosmic Slop was a 1994 TV anthology series on HBO featuring three short black science fiction movies. (I have also seen the broadcast date listed as 1995.) It features three short “Space Traders” based on the Derrick Bell short story; “The First Commandment” and “Tang”. It’s kind of a Twilight Zone vibe with George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic during the intros. (It’s as bizarre in the way only George Clinton can be.)

Space Traders is probably the most well known mainly for its political satire, star studded cast, and is the strongest to of the three. Robert Guillame plays Golightly, a black conservative cabinet member, who is asked to join the President’s discussion of a trade agreement. Aliens have come to Earth and offered gold, technological advances, etc to the US if it will turn over all of its black people to the aliens. A national referendum is held to decide the fate of the US black population. There is a resistance movement let by civil rights pioneers as well as another attempt by corporations to use advertising to swing the vote. It is a deep, thought-provoking discussion confronting the political realities of black life in the US. At times its distressing to watch; at other times its almost over the top satire. If there is one criticism, I think its that some actors seem to go with a dramatic interpretation of their roles and others go for broad parody which makes it a bit uneven. Robert Guillame keeps it all together because he’s a fantastic actor. It’s definitely worth watching.

The First Commandment focuses on a catholic priest  and a statue of the Virgin Mary that comes to life. This is a commentary on the cultural conflict within the church-being European in origin; yet largely third world in its parishioners and its traditions that incorporate tradition African beliefs. (Vodun). It’s interesting especially if you know something about religious rites, transatlantic slave trade and religion; otherwise it may not have as strong of an impact.

Tang, based on a story by Chester Himes, involves a couple in an abusive relationship and a mysterious package left at their door. It touches on the complex issues of racism and misogyny. It’s hard to watch, although the actors are brilliant. Chi McBride playing an unpleasant character was a shocker-I don’t usually see him in these type of roles.

*Thanks to author PJ Dean for telling me about Cosmic Slop. She write futuristic/SFR as well as multicultural historical romances. Check out her work.

(https://pjdeanwriter.weebly.com)

**It’s taken a while to post. I have been watching the new Lost in Space. Will take some time to see how I feel about it. They’ve cast a Captain Pike for the next season of Star Trek Discovery. Infinity War left me emotionally spent. I will go see the Solo movie. I might regret it, but I will go. Because.

***Nothing to do with SF but I love the Peaky Blinders.

SF Obscure: Hard Time on Planet Earth/Chaos on the Bridge

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Hard Time on Planet Earth was an American series broadcast for 13 episodes in 1989 starring Martin Kove. An elite alien military officer is sentenced to earth as his penalty for rebellion. He is given human form-much weaker than his older form-and sent to Earth to improve his violent behavior. (Or maybe curb his violent instincts or learn about goodness, it all gets a bit murky.) Anyway, he’s banished to Earth with an AI system called Control to monitor him. He’s given the name Jesse. Control  is a giant, floating mechanical eye. Jesse has to help people in need to get back into the Ruling Council’s favor.

Hard Time on Planet Earth is an adventure-of-the-week type of show. Jesse has to learn to survive on Earth. Most of the information he and Control rely on comes from television shows, so its not entirely accurate. There’s a heavy dose of comedy with commentary on modern (1989) consumer America.  In one episode he steals money from an ATM then turns himself in when he finds out its a crime. In another, he goes to Disneyworld. In yet another, Jesse joins the US Army. Along the way, he meets new people and becomes involved in their daily lives. The also spend a lot of time trying to think up ways to hid an giant floating AI eyeball.

Critics trashed it. It didn’t get much of an audience which is why it was canceled so quickly. Watching it again, it’s not nearly as bad as I remembered it. The floating eyeball is still dreadful; but some of the episodes are kind of charming and its has sort of a goofy but endearing element to it. There were actually quite a few well-known writers. Micheal Piller of Star Trek fame wrote a few episodes.  I won’t lie and pretend like it’s a hidden classic. Thirteen episodes pretty much covered the possibilities  of the “alien super soldiers in human bodies with floating eyeball partner” genre.

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I also got a chance to see Chaos on the Bridge on Netflix. It covers the backstory of the making of Star Trek: The Next Generation and all the controversy that surrounded it. The infighting. The studio conflicts. The fans who were sure it was the end of the franchise. (Sound familiar) It’s only about a hour and worth the watch. If you haven’t already, watch it along with The Captains, which are William Shatner’s interviews with all the  actors who played captains in Star Trek, how they felt the role impacted their lives and careers.  (Sir Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, Avery Brooks, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine) or if you prefer, Picard, Janeway, Sisko, Archer, and Kirk 2.0. It’s a Shatner production and very Shatner-centered, but still a lot of fun.

I plan to see Black Panther when it premieres in Japan this weekend. And apparently a reboot of Lost in Space is coming to Netflix. I’m not sure if it’ll be on Netflix Asia, but I might give it a watch.

SF Obscure: Planet of the Apes TV

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So, I hope everyone had a pleasant holiday season. It was mostly time for family friendly viewing although I did get to see the Black Mirror Episode, Callisto, and Star Trek: Discovery is back for its second half. I love Discovery. This month also marks the 25th anniversary of Deep Space Nine-one of my favorite series of all time and my personal favorite Trek. And the 40th anniversary of Blake’s 7-another of my favorites. Big Finish has released an anniversary audio adventure, which is on my order wishlist.I cannot wait. I love the Blake’s 7 audio series.

Anyway, I saw the DVD release for the latest new Planet of the Apes. I haven’t watched the newer ones because…. it just never really happened, but it reminded me of the original franchise and a faint memory of a TV show or an animated show. Turns out there was both a live action TV show and an animated show.

The live action TV series has two new astronauts stranded on future/parallel earth.  In this version, there are human villages-not quite as primitive as the original movies movies-ruled over by Apes as governors and guards. The two astronauts are assisted by another Ape who believes humans are capable of more. It’s a run of the mill action adventure with the planet of the apes spin. Entertaining, but not outstanding. It was, unfortunately, an expensive show and cancelled after 14 episodes.

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The animated series (RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES) was launched in 1975. It follows three astronauts ( one a woman this time) who land on earth in the year 3900 or so. Time travel is an accepted theory. In this version, the Ape future is a bit more sophisticated. Rather than the world created with more of an ape-like style, we have cars, apartments, airplanes. Humans can be hunted as sport or kept as pets.They do have a decree-that if humans are discovered to have language and sophisticated reasoning ability they are to be wiped out. I found it to be more engaging than the live action, if only because the themes were closer to the original. The assembly line animation with the old style block face templates is not my favorite, but getting past that, it’s a fairly good show.

SF Obscure: Alien Nation TV Movies

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I did a post long ago on ALIEN NATION. If you haven’t seen ALIEN NATION watch it before you read. 🙂 It focuses on a group of aliens, the Newcomers, whose slave ship crashes on Earth and they become part of the population of L.A. It’s a combination of SF and crime drama. The episodes follow two detectives, Matthew Sikes(human) and George Francisco(Newcomer) as they navigate the human and Newcomer (Tenctonese) worlds. The series only lasted one season, but there were a series of TV movies to continue the story.

DARK HORIZON begins where the series leaves off. George’s wife Susan and his daughter Emily are attacked with a engineered virus to exterminate Newcomers. All of the cast is back. Cathy, the Newcomer nurse, is a doctor now. (Newcomers adapt and learn quickly). Matt and George have to find a cure for the virus as well as deal with a Tenctonese agent, Ahpossno, sent by the Overseers, to reinslave them. It’s a good show. The two parallel plots are well paced and engaging-although the Overseer Agent plot takes over if only because the character of Ahpossno is engaging. I also liked the richer exploration of Tenctonese culture explaining its matriarchal origins and life before their enslavement.

BODY AND SOUL follows George and Matt as they investigate what appears to be a hybrid human-Tenctonese child. Because the Tenctonese are bred for adaptability, this may be the beginnings of a new race. This episode also explores the beginnings of Matt and Cathy’s sexual relationship and differing attitudes towards sexuality. It fairly heavy on the social commentary about sexuality and politics, but I think it does the job nicely while keeping and engaging plot.

MILLENNIUM follows George and Matt as they investigate a Tenctonese influenced cult that George’s son Buck falls in with. It’s entertaining, but lacks some of the strong social themes that gave the previous two its impact. Also, the characters of Buck and Emily, George’s kids, never seem to have a consistency to them. I am not sure if its the characters or the writing but their personalities seem to change with the plot, which makes their adventures less convincing. Still, it has its moments and the cult leader, Jennifer, really steals the spotlight.

THE ENEMY WITHIN focuses on a group of Tenctonese called the Eenos who are discriminated against and treated as untouchable. They were forced to do the worse jobs of waste extraction and sometimes survived on carcasses. As a result, other Tenctonese refuse to accept them. The movie begins with an escaped Eeno girl left to die as other Tenctonese refuse to help. Matt is shocked at George’s open bigotry; and George has to confront his discomfort with his slave past. As a subplot, George is asked help father a child. Among the Tenctonese, two males are needed to impregnate a female. George’s wife, Susan, deals with her own feelings of jealousy as human and Tenctonese value systems clash within her. This is a return to Alien Nation’s social themes and a stronger movie than the previous one.

THE UDARA LEGACY is the last of the TV movies. It focuses on a resistance movement of sleeper agents among the Tenctonese. It is the most action SF of all of the movies. There is more screen time given to Emily Francisco and a continuation of some to the relationship of Matt and Cathy. Like the third movie, it moves away from the social themes and as a result, is not as interesting. Alien Nation can get preachy, but it does that well and is most effective in that element. This is still not a bad TV movie, but not my favorite.

 

Well, it’s almost time for the holidays. I haven’t had time to do much TV watching, thought I did get to see BLADE RUNNER 2049 (twice) and THE LAST JEDI. And a few mysteries here and there. (ENDEAVOUR!!) I’m looking forward to BRIGHT- a Netflix series starring Will Smith with elves. I am a fan of anything with elves, pretty much. And the holidays are always the season for my Lord Of the Rings Marathon.

Happy Holidays!

SF Obscure: The Visitor

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The Visitor was a 1997-1998 series starring John Corbett. If you don’t know the series, you probably know John Corbett from lots of dramas, particularly if you’re of a certain generation. (Northern Exposure, Sex in the City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The Visitor lasted one season for 13 episodes. ( I have seen it listed as two seasons-unsure of how it was broadcast.)

Anyway, John Corbett stars as Adam McAuthur, a WWI pilot who went missing in the Bermuda Triangle. It turns out he was abducted by aliens and returns 50 years later. Adam hasn’t ages and now possesses special powers. Anyhow, Adam has been returned to Earth as a part of a mission to save humanities future. It’s premise is similar to the 4400.

In the pilot, The Visitor is similar to 4400’s human drama themes. The Alien ship crashes and Adam is on the run. He’s helped by a single mom and her son whom become attached to him as he reintegrates to the modern world. Adam uses his special powers and tells us all about how aliens want humans to reach our full potential; love one another; we’re all connected etc etc.  (It reminded me of the 1982 series The Phoenix, with Judson Scott. Anyone else remember that?)

The next episodes become more focused on a larger mission for Adam to seek out special people who will influence history to some mysterious end. It’s still feel good, but with a wider focus. It morphs yet again as a parallel plot line of ramps up with Adam pursued by government agencies. This is full on X-Files copy with hidden conspiracies; nefarious secret groups meeting in hushed voices and casting long shadows in vaulted rooms; classified documents stumbled upon and dossiers tossed importantly across desks; and, of course, black helicopters.

I liked the individual episodes well enough but I did feel as if the series couldn’t decide what kind of show it wanted to be. Family drama SF light? Conspiracy action show? A bit of both? There was a really neat Halloween/ War of the Worlds episode. Even though I was reasonably entertained by the episodes, I understood why it was cancelled. I don’t think all series need a story arc- but I do feel, especially in SF, series need a distinctive style or focus. The Visitor didn’t quite get there for me.