February 12, 2011

Automan, episode 4: "Ships in the Night"


"Auto! This is crazy!"

"No, it's fun, it's torrid, it's leeeeembo. It's ME!"

"Auto, you can't do this!"

"But Walter, this is the tropics. Pungent smells of the jungle. Steamy women with erotic desires. By the way, Walter, what is an erotic desire?"


Let me see if I've got this right... In the Caribbean nation of San Cristobal, a white dude in a suit named Sawyer (Scott Marlowe) uses a beautiful banker named Liang Lu (France Nuyen) to lure in other white dudes in suits who are on their last dregs of blown fortunes - business deals gone wrong, scams that backfired, etc. - and promises to double what money they have left if they'll help him smuggle cocaine across the border. But, when he gets them in the air on his plane, he instead just pitches them out the side into shark infested waters. And helping him cover it all up is the corrupt police captain Romano (Cesare Danova), who likes to buy fancy cars for his mistresses.

It's an interesting, if a little convoluted, notion, and is mainly there so we can explore the exotic locale and toss Walter out of an airplane, but it still sells well enough for me. And I like how it gets our supporting cast involved when Curtis and Roxanne head down to the nation with the cover of another potential investor and his secretary. Curtis usually fumbles into action only to be swiftly knocked out, but here we get to see just how capable of a cop he is as he works his way through the layers of the organization, even sweet talking Liang before things go wrong and he ends up kidnapped again. However, this is one occasion where the kidnap works, because it turns out Sawyer, under a different alias, was a conman Curtis helped put away some years back. Nice twist, and great scene as the two are surprised to find themselves in each others' company once again.

Which brings us to Auto and Walter, who decide to assign themselves as Curtis's backup when they discover that what's left of the missing people he's investigating have been washing up on shorelines. Again, they've fully dismissed the notion of Automan losing his powers in daylight, and he still has no issue crossing from one country to another, but they did keep his weakness in the form of a midnight island ceremony where everybody flashes every light on the island. His increasing distress at his diminishing powers while surrounded by bad guys, not to mention his fear at what those baddies will do when he disappears and Walter is left alone and unprotected, is fantastic. It's a great piece of acting from Wagner, as are his electric wooing of Liang (Auto's first kiss!) and yet another moment of him getting caught up in the excitement of a party, doing an impossible limbo and once again ripping off his jacked to reveal his polygons to the crowd.

And I mentioned Curtis, but let's take a moment to sing some more praises of Heather McNair as Roxanne. Again, she knows the secret of Automan and is not only shocked to see him suddenly show up in the middle of her and Curtis's undercover op, but I love her exasperation when she realizes just how little control Walter really has over his creation. There are moments where she's as caught up in the awe and whimsy as everyone else, but I like that she still has her doubts. And I love her rolling her eyes as she's forced to listen through a door as Automan lays it on thick with Liang.

I only really have two problems with this episode. 1) It's hard to take the bad guys seriously when the dirty police chief has to use a comical pair of goons that make a bit of repeatedly driving through signs and chicken coops in their pursuit of the AutoCar; and then we get to Sawyer's muscle, which comes in the form of Woody, a blond dude in a mullet and polo shirt. Oh so threatening. 2) When I first heard their toe-tapping, hip-shaking island carnival music, it really got me in the mood. But then it kept playing, and playing, and playing. I swear, half the episode is the same ten seconds of music on an eternal loop.

But it's a good episode. The chemistry of the main cast is still strong and they're settling into their roles well. I love how they're unafraid to take us and Automan out into the world for bigger international plots. The writing itself is a delight, with unexpected plot twists and snappy dialogue ("Like fertilizer, credit is no good if you don't spread it around"). And did I mention the part about Walter being tossed out of an airplane? Fantastic sequence.


Dear readers, I’m going to say something to you that I’ve never said to any of my ex-girlfriends: I was wrong... sorta.

I’ve spent the last three weeks ripping Automan a new USB port about its plots, but watching this week’s episode made me realize that the plots so far are actually pretty decent... just not for this show.

The basic problem with Automan is that you have this fantastical premise about a sentient hologram with these extraordinary powers, and he spends his time fighting crimes more suitable for Barnaby Jones or Hart to Hart. If you’re going to have a “super” hero, you need to have “super” villains and stakes to match.

This week is a prime example. Struggling business men are being lured to a Caribbean island with promises of a quick turn around on their investments. When the con man gets their cash, he dumps them into the ocean. Not bad, but why in God’s name do you need a super-powerful crime fighting hologram to stop this nefarious plot? Real flesh and blood law enforcement officers stop these types of villains every day.

Automan needs bigger stakes, longer odds, and a larger stage. Grounding a show like this in “reality” totally defeats the purpose. I’m not saying it has to be taken to the absurd, but what about a villain who doesn’t look like he gets winded just looking at a set of stairs.

This episode is much like the episodes that proceeded it. I was glad they found a way to work 80’s hot Roxanne and rumpled Lieutenant Curtis into the story. Walter and Automan engage in their typical hijinks, the highlight of which is an admittedly silly car chase with a pair of bumbling local policemen. And the inconsistencies in Automan’s powers crop up once again.

There’s a scene near the beginning when a merge of Auto and Walter would’ve made sense and, instead, Automan disappears and lets Walter take the rap. And Automan spends a great deal of the episode operating during the daytime, when power usage is supposedly at its peak, but later on, he’s forced to shut down because of a conveniently timed “Festival of Lights”. This type of thing bothers me less than it does Noel, but I do appreciate it when they make rules and then stick to them.

Within the context of the show thus far, it’s a middling episode. I appreciate that they do attempt to get Walter and Auto out of the city every now and then, and that Curtis and (particularly) Roxanne were given something to do, but when your villain’s main henchman looks like Woody from Cheers, it’s just hard to feel as if the outcome is ever in any real doubt.

I’m going to end this week’s review by wishing all of you lovers out there a happy Valentine’s Day. And if you’re currently single, give craigslist a try. Only one in three people who post personal ads there are actually serial killers looking to lure you to an abandoned warehouse. Beat those odds, eHarmony.

White Guys Conspiring Around a Pool Count: 3

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1 comment:

NoelCT said...

I very much do agree with you, Tony, that Automan's amazing abilities are kinda being wasted on white collar thugs that Deputy Barney Fife could take down with out even realizing it. But I've still been very impressed with how the last couple episodes have been executed.

You're spot on about Auto's merge. There was no excuse for the way he left Walter hanging when the police attacked them at the landing strip.