Cast: Gil Gerard, Erin Gray, Felix Sila, Mel Blanc, Tim O’Connor, Thom Christopher, Jay Garner, Wilfrid Hyde-White
Genre: Time Travel, Space Opera
First Aired: 1979-1981
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is the epitome of cheese. It’s a glorious, nonsensical world of ham acting, scantily clad women, wobbly sets, model spaceships and robots that are just people in suits. A world where one episode will feature a plot to destroy a city and another will have seven dwarves with psionic powers. There is not a jot of cohesive worldbuilding to be seen amid the sea of glitter and terrible CGI. And yet, in spite of all of this, it has something that’s lacking in so many modern productions. Fun. So, so much fun. Sometimes your laughing with the show, with the cheesy one liners and freeze-frame finishes. Other time syou’re laughing becasue Buck changes height and weight in the middle of a fight as a stunt double takes Gil Herard’s place. Either way, it’s entertaining, and there is nothing wrong with that.
The casting helps tremendously. Gil Gerard is perfectly cast as the fish-out-of-water Rogers, a late 80s astronaut propelled five hundred years into the future. He brings an earnestness to proceedings, and it’s nice to have a character who can be relied on to the right thing. Erin Gray lights up every scene just as much as the increasingly flamboyant costumes she is surrounded by. Mel Blanc – Mr Looney Toons himself – provides dry wit as the voice of Felix Sila’s robot Twiki. The four of them form a reliable core to a show that jumps between genres like nobody’s business. The guest stars are on good form too. Every evil governor and beautiful princess looks and sounds to have stepped right off the pages of a pulp comic. Buster Crabbe even turns up at one point, with all the meta references you’d expect from a meeting of two Bucks, generations apart.
The second series adopts a more serious approach, and I don’t think it works as well. Thom Christopher dons a feathered swimming cap and brings a staggeringa mount of gravitas to the role of Hawk, last of the bird people. It’s almsot like a different show, and some of the fun has disappeared, others remaining and not quite fitting in, but the ending is worth it. The final episode stands up as a quality hour of television even in today’s golden age of drama. It’s a shame the show was cancelled so early, because it had the potential to generate many more classics if allowed to breathe a little longer.
With its two-fisted approach to space adventure, Buck Rogers represents a storytelling style that has all but died out today. It revels in cliche and predictability, throwing ideas into the script and just seeing what they can pull together. A lot of the time the result is a mess, but the result is never not spectacular. To pick a few highlights, we have the SPace Olympics, musical numbers, a full rollerskate dance routine that feels like it will never end. Sometimes there’s a moral to the story, sometimes it’s just happening because it can. This is a show where people just kept saying yes to things.
It’s not the best show ever made. By a lot of measures, it’s not even a good one, but Buck Rogers in the 25th century is undeniably fun, and sometimes that’s all something needs to be.