When Starbuck Had A Penis
by Paul Waldowski
There are three good things that came out of the 70s: Me, Star Wars, and cheesy TV science fiction. This was a time before Richard Hatch was a fat, naked man on an island. This was a time before everyone was moody and depressed about every damned thing. This was a time when Starbuck had a penis.
The two biggest sci-fi shows to emerge in the late 70s were Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Galactica was coolness incarnate, especially if you were a kid. It had a thundering theme song that left no doubt in your mind that Lorne Greene was about to do some epic shit with his ragtag fleet. It was an upbeat march that was both triumphant and hopeful. There's no muted, mournful wail of regret and loss to be found where Lorne Greene treads. When you hear Galactica's theme song, you don't think, "Hmm, I guess I better settle down for an hour of nihilistic romp and drunken regret." Aw hell, no. that's not how we rolled. When the final notes of that theme song were still echoing in your ears, you knew that it was time to strap your ass in, hit the Turbo, and kick some Cylon cans back to their old and busted Base Stars.
Galactica '78 was almost operatic in scope and tone. From Lorne Greene's basso voice intoning deep respect for the Lords of Kobol, to his rock-solid faith in finding Earth, you knew that everything was going to be okay. You see, Galactica gets a lot of crap about their almost immediate partying after humanity was wiped out. I'm sorry, but if I knew Lorne Greene was in charge, I'd cut a little rug myself. It was the 70s. You didn't dwell on the negative vibes; you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and went about your way to a bright, new future. There's an inherent optimism in Galactica that doesn't exist in sci-fi today. These days, everything has to be dark and moody, plus all the characters have to be morally ambiguous people with deep, personal conflicts. That's fine for what it is, but we get enough of that stuff in the real world. Sometimes it's nice to escape to a place where the men are men, the woman wear low-cut dresses and lip gloss, people fly cool spaceships, and Jane Seymour dies.
The one weird thing about Galactica, other than the feathered hair, was the fact that they kept bumping into humans. The Cylons were supposed to have wiped out humanity, leaving only tiny rag-tag fleet to flee the cylon tyranny. The only other place in the galaxy with humans was Earth, yet Galactica regularly found planets with humans running all over the place. There was a Wild West Planet, as well as an almost identical planet called Terra. Neither of these were Earth, but they were habitable, they had functioning human societies, and they were outmatched by Galactica's mighty power. Yet Galactica would always move on at the end of the episode, looking for that shining beacon in the night. If I were Starbuck or Apollo, I think I would've just lied about it. When Adama asks if this is indeed the Earth of legend, I'd just look around, shrug my shoulders and report, "Uh, yeah. Yeah, it's Earth all right. No doubt about it." But heroes didn't lie in the 70s, so they were stuck trying to find that one special planet amongst the teeming multitude of humanity. When they finally did find it, it was really lame and they all had super powers. They also didn't become the gods of ancient legend. Bummer.
The TV kin to Battlestar Galactica was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. There are really only two things you need to know about Buck Rogers, and they were both nestled in the tight confines of Erin Gray's spandex outfit. Oh my god. That woman was so hot that the portion of outer space she occupied at any given moment was always above absolute zero. In fact, if you look at the cosmic background radiation, you can just make out the shapely form of Erin Gray heating up her surrounding space. Millions of years from now, that space will become the hottest galaxy in the universe. Universal expansion will cease and contraction will begin as all the other galaxies begin racing toward the beckoning Erin Gray galaxy.
There was more to Buck Rogers than Erin Gray, but not much. There was Twiggie, or Twinkie, or Twingy, or whatever the hell that little robot bastard's name was. He was voiced by Mel Blanc, who I always wanted to hear say, "Be-de-be-be-de...go fuck yourself, Buck." Buck himself really wasn't all that cool. Here was a guy who got frozen in space and was recovered 400 years later. Everyone he knew and loved was dead. His world was gone, destroyed in a fiery apocalypse. He was in a strange land that he couldn't possibly hope to understand. But he seemed to be pretty cool with it. Hey, it was the 70s. Everyone and everything you knew is gone, but Erin Gray's here and they let you fly a spaceship. I'm down with that.
Buck also got a kick out of spouting his cool 20th Century Earth catch-phrases and watching the resulting confusion wash over the faces of people who were genetically superior to himself. I guess you could say he was like John Crichton's dorky older brother, who was always trying to look hip, but just ended up being so pathetic that you were embarrassed for him. Now that I think of it, Farscape was pretty much Buck Rogers done right. Shit, I never really thought of it that way before. Thanks, FTTW!
I recently tried watching both shows to see if they held up to my childhood memories of them. Galactica held up fairly well. Sure, the hairstyles and outfits are goofy, but the Vipers still looked cool and the stories were fun, lighthearted romps as the the old battlewagon tripped the light fantastic across the stars. Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict still made for a good heroic duo and their acting chops weren't bad at all, considering what they had to work with. The old Cylons were still menacing, even if they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn and moved at a glacial pace. Still, I prefer them over the newer cylons, who are really just mute, mindless robots.
Does Buck Rogers hold up? Not so much. I really couldn't make it through an episode. I mean, there's cheesy, and then there's just bad. The costumes sucked. Well, the ladies evening gowns were quite well designed, especially those worn by hottie space princesses and Erin Gray. The men's outfits were embarassing. If Gil Gerrard gained 16 ounces, his suit would've torn in 16 different places. The spaceships really sucked, which I guess is why we never spent hours trying to draw a perfect Buck Rogers ship. Not like we did with Vipers. In my school, you were considered the shit if you could draw a really cool Viper. Nobody drew Buck Rogers' ship, although I think a few of the older kids traced the lovely outlines of Erin Gray on more than one desktop.
The scripts for Buck Rogers also sucked more than an old-ass space vampire in a lame-ass casino. You can say what you want about Battlestar Galactica, but it was the Sopranos compared to Buck Rogers. I don't know who they got to write the scripts for Buck Rogers, but the episodes played more like a bad episode of Vega$ than anything approaching a serviceable story. The fact that they were in space and in the future always seemed incidental to the plot. The series became more sci-fi oriented in its following seasons, when they finally hopped aboard a spaceship and Buck befriended Hawkman, an honorable warrior whose wife was killed by some bad people. He was like a proto-Dargo. Again, not as cool as Old Squidbeard, but a rough sketch of things to come. I sometimes wonder if the writers for these seasons of Buck Rogers went on to create Spencer: For Hire, as the plots are often eerily similar. Buck, looking quite a bit like Spencer, would say something like, "Hawkman, there's danger ahead. Why don't you go check it out while I sneak around back?" And then Buck would get the girl in the end while the cool guy who did all the work sat there stewing in his sexually frustrated juices. At least Hawk went on to command a space station, surrounded by hotties and considered a prophet by the natives. Hawkman may have been The Fonz's stuntman once or twice.
So there you have my flashback to 70s sci-fi. The production values have improved, the acting is a little bit more natural, but we've lost a lot of that happy-go-lucky attitude and objectification of naturally curvy women that made the 1970s so endearing. It was a time when the good guys didn't torture people, Lorne Greene made the right choices, and people took responsibility for their actions. You sure as hell wouldn't find Apollo blaming the media or the Capricans for the colonial fleet's failure to prevent the Cylon attack, that's for sure. Heroes didn't do that back then. They went on adventures, chasing after lusty, busty women and performing amazing feats of derring-do. For all the realism and nuance present in today's sci-fi, I think I'd rather fly on Lorne Greene's Galactica than the emo ship of drunks held together by Edward James Olmos' shear force of will. Those '78 Galacticans knew how to party.
Paul really does leave his basement. For Cheetos.