January 29, 2011

Automan, episode 2: "Staying Alive While Running a High Flashdance Fever"


"Informants are about as reliable as computers."

"You're not against computers, Captain. It's just that you're uncomfortable around things that are... well..."

"Go ahead, say it. 'Complicated.' I don't like electric razors, either."

White dudes in suits who look like accountants. For some reason, the producers of this show think those are the types that make for the most threatening of criminal. I don't know what it is. Their sneering moustache? Their peering glasses? Their insidiously well-groomed hair? I mean, look at this dude and let me know if he leaves you quaking in your boots:

This guy is one of several similarly nonthreatening threats who have used their casino to move mob funds around so that it looks like the most ball-breaking law abider of a judge is really a dirty rat in the hopes that he'll go down and take a number of pending cases off the table with him. It's not a bad plot, and the revelation of the setup makes for a decent twist half-way through the episode, but the judge is never built up as enough of a character for us to get invested, there's a twist involving his secretary that has more of a setup than is needed for a part that abruptly cuts short, and these bad guys carry less menace than a Jehovah's Witness.

And I'm still having a lot of problems with the thoughtless inconsistency of Automan's powers. The AutoChopper looks cool, but why does he need it when he has the AutoPlane? Probably because it was cheaper to get some aerial shots of a dressed up helicopter than put together additional composite effects of the plane model, but still. And we already know Automan loses his powers when people turn on their toasters in the morning, but he has no problem going to Vegas, where they probably use up even more power lighting the whole city at night? They try to explain this one with the casinos having isolated generators, but the same amount of power is being used, so why would that improve things? And, finally, Auto has no problem creating holograms of such power that they become physically real, but a simple little bolt of electricity used to momentarily stun a goon requires him to use up all his reserves? That one doesn't even begin to make sense, especially since we saw him tase a pair of goons earlier in the episode with no problem.

But you know what? I don't care. Why? Because, as I'm sure you can tell from the awesome extended title of the episode, this story brings Automan to a disco. Sure, the music is obvious house band renditions of Michael Jackson and the Bee Gees, and Chuck Wagner is a tall, stiff white guy trying to look like a good dancer before cutting to a wide shot of a real dancer in a bad wig... but it's fun! I had a smile plastered on my face the entire time as Automan was gradually swept up in the moment and started stripping away his polyester suit to reveal the glowing polygons beneath. And I spat out a huge laugh when Walter walked into the room, froze into a stupor at what he saw, and breathed out "Oh. My. God."

The relationship between these two is what really makes the show. Automan has amazing abilities, but there are limitations in his knowledge and programing, meaning Walter can't just sit back and let his creation do all the heavy lifting. And there's an additional unpredictability factor to keep Walter on his toes in that Automan is starting to go around his programming. I wouldn't go so far as to say he's become self aware, since that's a far heavier philosophical concept than they'd ever explore here, but there's multiple times where Automan takes the initiative, like when he experiments with altering his own image, or heading off to Vegas on his own. And, though it ends on a laugh and is never followed up on, there's even a profound moment where he confronts his creator about his limitations:

"You programmed me to fit in socially. Or should I say misprogrammed."

"Misprogrammed? Did I hear the word misprogrammed?"

"Walter, you don't know what helpless is until you find yourself out there, all alone, with no information whatsoever."

"What kind of information? You're the greatest detective who ever lived. Maybe the greatest brain."

"Really? What's my sign?"


"Miss Fowler said she was a Virgo and it seemed very important to her to know what I was, and I didn't know what she was talking about. What do I tell people when they ask me that? What am I?"

"Tell them you're an Apple II!"

Eighty percent of this episode is forgettable fluff, but those remaining twenty shine brighter than Cursor peering down the cleavage of a buxom blonde bartender. Or brighter than Cursor drawing glowing dollar signs over a convertible full of hookers or.... damn, Cursor is a horny little pixel. He must have a major case of blue binaries.


"Do you dance?"

"Have you ever seen John Travolta dance?"


"Then you've seen me."

Break out the 8-tracks, score some coke, and put on your boogie shoes, because this week we're going dancin', dancin', dancin'!

"Staying Alive While Running a High Flashdance Fever" represents a Scott Bakula Jump from the pilot episode. Rarely have I seen a show hit its stride so quickly. The plot is still your basic 80s trifle, but they've got the formula down to a "t" and the actors wear their roles like a second skin.

There are some interesting plot twists and double crosses in this episode, but really, it's all just an excuse to get Automan and Walter to Vegas.

Chuck Wagner is pure sexual white chocolate. Yeah, I went there. He totally owns in this episode. Having been fed all of the movies in the episode's title by Walter, Auto sets off for Vegas in his Tony Manero suit. What follows gave me some of the deepest belly laughs I've had in a long time.

The sight of Wagner - and his skilled but sometimes unconvincing dance-double - disco dancing to the Faux-Gees (the episode features a slew of then-contemporary hit songs performed by unknown artists) is more exquisite than being the bed in a fluffy bunny orgy.

But just as Batman needs Robin (unless you're Christopher Nolan), Jordan needed Pippen, and the New Bohemians need Edie Brickell, Wagner needs Arnaz and his bag of fluster to truly shine. Arnaz is often the one who throws the pass that Wagner dunks. They're a great team and the sole reason this episode shines like it does.

Last week, I flirted with a "What worked/What didn't work" end format. This week, because the disco music has me feeling capricious, I'm going to try out a "Random Thoughts" approach... and then I'm going to snort some blow and have unprotected sex with a stranger. Disco fevah!

  • All of the bad guys in this episode look like they just came out of a meeting of the Oxnard Optimist Club.
  • Mary Crosby’s new name is Foxylicious.
  • Even though they don’t feature the original artists performing the songs, the inclusion of pop music really gives this episode some snap.
  • I’m retroactively titling this episode "Saturday White Fever".

The bottom line:

The plot is thin and the drama is virtually non-existent, but you know what? Sometimes fun is enough.

White guys in suits conspiring around a swimming pool count: Holding at 1

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