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Monday, May 16, 2016

Making TV a much cozier place for sci-fi fans, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century had its television premiere on 09/20/1979. As part of the Star Wars aftershock, Buck could be said to have been a cash-in of the times, as producer Glen Larson was well known for porting over the premises of successful films to the small tube. However, that Buck dates back to the 1920s and has been part of the sci-fi collective since its creation muddles the merits of this accusation. The same can’t be said for the producer’s bigger sci-fi show, Battlestar Galactica, a show I prefer to Buck, but in hindsight realize is not as much brainless fun as Buck. All in all, Buck was an enjoyable hour of nonsensical science fiction, cranked out by the Universal Studios production machine with no claims to being anything more than what it delivered.

Each episode followed a similar formula: Buck (played to perfection by actor Gil Gerard) meets a beautiful woman in a fix and rises to the occasion to rescue said woman. It being the late ‘70s, any kind of sexual relationship between Buck and these women was ambiguous. Sometimes these damsels in distress had boyfriends or fianc├ęs and Buck was merely helping the young lovers overcome whatever it was that was keeping them apart. Other times it seemed as if Buck was together with the women, with the stress on the word “seemed.” Buck’s connection with women was further complicated by the ambiguous relationship he shared with show regular Lt. Wilma Deering (the wonderful Erin Grey). It was never clear what was going on between these two. At some points their relationship was sibling-like, at others lover-like, and at its weirdest it was Wilma coming on to Buck with Buck responding to her advances with a dismissive, “That’s nice.”

When Buck went into re-runs in the 1980s I would watch it with Geoff Notkin, the bass player of my then band “Proper iD”. (Geoff tells me he hosts space science shows of his own, such as Meteorite Men and some other stuff that we don’t get in Japan (where I live now) so I’ll have to take his word for it). The two of us being sci-fi fans, we would gather in my room (as a band, we lived together in a large band house) and watch Buck re-runs.

One day, one of us noticed something odd about the show. For arguments sake, I’ll credit Geoff with the discovery since it’s not something that’s going to be written on either of our tombstones.

Following an episode, our conversation went something like this:

Geoff: Have you ever noticed how at the end of each episode of Buck it freezes on a shot of his smiling face?

Norman: You sure? I mean, yeah, this episode did do that, but all of them? That would be too weird.

Geoff: Seems to me they all do.

Norman: Well, let’s put it to the test with next week’s episode.

Sure enough, next week’s episode ended with the same kind of bizarro head-and-shoulders shot of Buck smiling like he’d just hit the lottery while high on Nitrous Oxide. As each re-run proved Geoff right, the two of us would prepare ourselves for that final, glorious freeze frame, striking our own versions of Buck’s maxed out whatever-it-was-I-dreamed-of-getting-in-life-I-just-got-in-spades smile.

And so, I submit to the global cyber community an analysis of the final shot of each episode in the first season of Buck Rogers. Not included is the pilot episode / theatrical release, “Awakening,” because it didn’t follow the same weekly constraints of the show. Also not included is the second season of Buck because, alas, they changed the format and ruined all the things that made Buck the awesome hour of TV it was.

Without further ado:

 












Episode: (1,03 & 1,04) Planet of the Slave Girls
Obviously, being an early episode, it hadn't yet occurred to the creators of the series that each episode must end with a medium close-up of Captain William "Buck" Rogers smiling in cornball bliss. In this episode's final shot, while Buck is smiling in cornball bliss, he is sharing the final frame with co-star Erin Grey and guest star David Groh, otherwise known as Rhoda's husband. Thus preventing us from really feeling the power of Buck's frozen smile. Rating: 2 out of 5














Episode: (1,05) Vegas in Space
The show, still in its infancy, hadn't yet hit on its winning formula as, for some odd reason, we only get a profile shot of Buck. It seems that with Wilma in the last shot of this episode and in the one from the previous episode, the producers were thinking of treading a more Wilma / Buck balance. Fortunately, this was the last of that and Wilma never appeared in another all-important final freeze frame. Rating: 2 out of 5 (It would be a 1, but Wilma's a dear, especially when wearing blue spandex.)














Episode: (1,06) The Plot to Kill a City, Part 1
Getting there... While this is a perfect medium close-up of Buck, he isn't smiling like a spoiled kid on Christmas morning. This can be explained, however. The Plot to Kill a City was a two-parter and as a two-parter it was required to end on a cliffhanger. This means Buck has to be in a predicament strong enough for audiences to remember to tune in the following week, which translates to no wacky Buck smile at episode's end. Rating: 1 out of 5














Episode: (1,07)  The Plot to Kill a City, Part 2
We have arrived! Although Buck's head is turned to the right a bit more than I'd like, here we have the very first instance of what I call "Smilin' Freeze Frame Buck". He's also sporting a kind of vest outfit similar to the one seen by Han Solo in Star Wars, giving it an of-the-times look. And lots of chest hair. A rat's nest of chest hair. Rating: 3 out of 5














Episode: (1,08) Return of the Fighting 69th
Again, while not exactly centered and not exactly the kind of smile I like to see on Buck's face at the end of an episode - the kind of smile that will keep me going until the next episode - we do have a shot of a happy Buck, chest hair, and a near color reversal of the vest / shirt seen in the previous episode. Rating: 2.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,09) Unchained Woman
Because Jamie Lee Curtis was a big star at the time, it's natural that the producers would let her share the all-important final freeze frame with Buck. Guess it can't be helped. And Buck's seen in a profile shot here. And it's kind of too dark to really get that "You are so cool, Buck" feeling. Still, he's sitting next to Jamie Lee and that's kind of right on. Rating: 2 out of 5














Episode: (1,10) Planet of the Amazon Women
This is more like it. We have a good, near centered Buck, which I approve. However, it's more an ironic smile than an actual, "Oh my God, I'm Buck Rogers and you're not" kind of smile. But he is in uniform and that's neat. Rating: 4 out of 5














Episode: (1,11) Cosmic Wiz Kid
Here we are again in the situation where a star, this time Gary Coleman of that Diff'rent Strokes TV show (featuring the goddess Dana Plato), carried enough weight to warrant he be seen beside Buck in the final freeze frame. At least Buck has a good smile going. And they are touching. Rating: 3 out of 5














Episode: (1,12) Escape from Wedded Bliss
This one would be perfect if it weren't for the crummy lighting on Buck. Also, Buck's smile is more like a snicker. And his shirt seems a bit too much off-the-Sears-rack to really give it a sci-fi feel. Same thing with that lamp behind him. What's up with that? Rating: 2.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,13) Cruise Ship to the Stars
Who can forget Dorothy Stratten, the starlet shot down before her time? It is entirely far-out that she graced an episode of Buck. But as a final freeze frame this one is a little ill-conceived. Still, the background is cool and Buck looks like he's having a good time, although a bit more of a "Holy crap, I'm sitting next to Dorothy Stratten!" grin would be more appropriate. Rating: 3.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,14) Space Vampire
This one is weird. Good points first: We got Buck almost dead center. Always a good way to end an episode. But it's a spooky episode, somewhat horrific, and it took all the ingenuity of the writing staff to make it end on a high note. So, considering that, while Buck's non-toothy smile doesn't give up the goods, it does fit the episode. Rating: 2.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,15) Happy Birthday, Buck
This one has a lot going for it: A great my-dentist-is-better-than-your-dentist smile and a full Buck head shot. However, the frame suffers from blur as it was caught in mid-movement. What the hell? Rating: 2 out of 5














Episode: (1,16) A Blast for Buck
Now this is one fantastic ending freeze frame! While not only a solid, "Until next week, broheims" smile, Buck is holding a bottle. An honest to God glass bottle! And check out that blue background. Blue lends itself well to sci-fi, at least it did in the '70s and '80s. Not really sure what happened to the yellow in Glen Larson's title. It's all faded and not that strong radioactive banana yellow in other episodes. Rating: 4 out of 5














Episode: (1,17) Ardala Returns
Now we're getting somewhere! We have Buck giving his best thinned out upper-lip smile, wide collar against ugly vest, and a slightly unfocused background. A little blue behind him would have made this one perfect. Rating: 4 out of 5














Episode: (1,18) Twiki is Missing
This one... It had all the makings of perfection, but where is the smile?!? Goddamnit, Buck! Where is the smile that launched a thousand Starfighters, Buck? The fact that it has blue in the back gives it a point up. Rating: 2.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,19) Olympiad
This one rocks...almost. We have a great shot of Buck, smiling away like he just made the last train with a second to spare. And there is mandatory blue in the background. However, the shot is too high and someone's arm and shoulder are sharing precious screen space with what is supposed to be Buck's moment. Rating: 3 out of 5














Episode: (1,20) A Dream of Jennifer
Ah, perfection thy name is "Smilin' Freeze Frame Buck"! We have the blue, we have an outfit that looks futuristic, and we have Buck displaying his piano key smile like tomorrow will never come. Rating: 4.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,21) Space Rockers
This is the kind of final frame that makes any Buck fan take to their feet, throw their fist up in the air, and scream, "All hail the mighty Buck!" Its slightly low angle gives us the full glory of Buck's uninhibited smile. And look at all that gnarly chest hair! Buck is so happy and confident that he doesn't even care if you like chest hair or not. Man, I wish I was Buck (minus the chest hair). Rating: 5 out of 5














Episode: (1,122) Buck's Duel to the Death
This one is more a causal smile than an actual the-forces-of the-universe-congeled-to-make-my-awesomeness smile. But it's solid all around. Strong smile, square jaw, some blue in the back. The series really knew what it was about at this point. Rating: 5 out of 5














Episode: (1,23) Flight of the War Witch
Sadly, the final episode of the first season ends with a mixed bag of a freeze frame. It's a perfectly framed shot of Buck, but the lighting isn't happening. And Buck's smile has a tinge of insanity. I suspect actor Gil Gerard was getting a bit worn out from a season of smiles by this point. Rating: 3 out of 5

(This page is dedicated to my buddies Geoff Notkin for being a good Buck pal and artist Bob Eggleton for being super cool and buying me the Buck DVD box set several years back. Oh, yeah, and Lach, because he was there timing ear touches with Princess Ardala.)