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The year is 1987 and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. Aboard this small starship a lone astronaut, Captain William Buck Rogers. In a freak mishap Ranger 3 and its pilot are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support system and returns Buck Rogers back to Earth 500 years later. Forced to readjust to a new world and its people who blame his generation for a nuclear holocaust which left the earth a radioactive wasteland. Buck is soon enlisted to help save the Earth from an alien threat, working with Colonel Wilma Deering and a robot-droid known as Twiki. They, roam space and planets to welcome back the lost and dispossessed.
Buck Rogers is one of those cult TV shows of a bygone era that is hard to believe actually happened. And ripped off Star Wars.
This Blu-ray set brings it home just how far the world in general has came. While it is undeniable that this is campy fun there are elements that are cringeworthy now and in some ways bring about unintentional humour.
There’s the sexist comments to the female characters (who are usually in very little or skin tight clothing), the questionable casting of actors of certain races in less than flattering roles and the outdated even by the standards of the time jokes that are ill advised more than funny.
A prime example is the pint sized actor Gary Coleman appearing in one episode as ‘the president’. While it is a kick, retro wise, to see that kid from Diff’rent Strokes cracking funnies with Buck, some of it is racially loaded. Jive talking throughout all his scenes he quips several times about stuff happening in culture during the time that the show was made (because, of course, it is set 500 years into the future and they had Gary do what he did best) that touches upon him being African American. There is also an episode in season two when Buck approaches a gang of tall black men. He tells them they’d make a great basketball team.
Anyway, those wanting to know how delightfully trashy and retro the show has aged in the decades since it was first aired won’t be let down. Even this reviewer was excited to see Buck and the crew again, having seen it air on BBC Two in the mid-1990s when I was 10 years old. Buck Rogers originally aired 1979-1981. This time the bright, loud and fashion police worthy costumes are in all their naff glory thanks to a rather impressive HD transfer. This also means some of the sets look more feeble and you can definitely see the wires during some elaborate SFX sequences.
The first season in this set, which is also the longest, is the campiest of the two by miles. From Bucks cheesy chat up lines to the sometimes eyebrow raising outfits that hug every millimetre of his anatomy make Gil Gerard the centre of attention in every scene. Some of the women look as if they belong in a softcore porno rather than battling aliens and the ‘robots’ consist of shiny tinfoil and flashing lights. The plots of some episodes try to be serioua but always manage to end on Buck and his friends having a big laugh at one of his terrible puns.
Season two is where things get a little more serious and treat sci-fi with a little more respect. Buck has a slightly more sensible look (well, a haircut and he wears less tight clothing) and he isn’t seen skirt chasing as much as before. Here everyone harks on about how brave and inspirational he is. The show is also aided by the entry of Hawk, a human/bird hybrid character played 100% straight by Thom Christopher. Originally he comes in as a foe to Buck but the pair quickly develop a ‘opposites attract’ friendship. Christopher is great as the serious Hawk, although come the end of season two he merely appears to be Buck’s errand boy.
Some episodes would have guest stars and the number of known names that pop up is impressive. There’s Sid Haig, Cesar Romero, Richard Lynch, Roddy McDowall, Julie Newmar and dozens more.
The show may have its faults but it is entertaining and a very retro blast from the past.