"Tell me, does that collar require recharging?"
"No. But I do."
Oh, look. More rich white people fighting over money! Yay!
Our story this week is pure tinsel town trash, with love affairs, Hollywood scandal, and more deep kisses than you can fling a Cursor at. Our story opens with the murder of a scathing Hollywood gossip columnist. The lead suspect, and topic of his last few articles, is Veronica Everly (Michelle Phillips), a slithery actress who has no problem shouting threats against a person's life in the middle of a public street. In reality, though, the culprits are pretty typical for Automan goons: bland dudes in suits who use movies to smuggle drugs and launder cash. The only noteworthy aspect of these guys is that their ringleader, Michael Hagedorn, is Ed Lauter, who continues to be a prolific and instantly recognizable character actor to this day.
Surprisingly, everyone gets in on the action this week. We'll get to Automan in a second, but this is the third episode now where we've seen lovable computer geek Walter Nebicher take down a goon with a hidden load of martial arts kickass. He's done roundhouse kicks in the past, but here he actually springs off the side of a car into a spinning midair kick. I love that he can totally handle his own as a street cop, but I always thought Automan was meant to be a compensation for physical shortcomings. Either way, it's badass.
And then we get Lt. Curtis and Capt. Boyd who end the episode by declaring they're getting a little old for this. Curtis is kidnapped again, that's nothing new, but they do it in very impressive fashion this time by plowing into his car once, twice, third time's a charm with a massive garbage truck before leading him away at gunpoint. Sure, he breaks loose only to go down quickly with his usual glass jaw, but he gets to make up for it by disarming a couple thugs with hysterical flail kicks. A trained martial artist he is not. And Boyd, geez the man's a trooper. He leads one sting where he runs in before backup arrives and takes a bullet to the arm, then, while his arm is still bloody and the bullet has likely not been removed, he charges into a second warehouse where the thugs knock him to the floor and kick the shit out of him. How he became Captain with such blundering tactics is beyond me, but you have to give the man credit for getting back up again.
The only character let out of the action, as usual, is Roxanne. I know this is the 80s, and she's the "pretty girl cop", but she's been shown to be sharp and resourceful, and I'm really surprised at how little we've seen of her in the field. With a few exceptions, the extent of her role is being harassed by Cursor and rolling her eyes at Wally whenever Auto shows up.
So let's get to the main feature of this program, our holographic sentinel of justice and good hair. In this episode, Automan is instantly smitten with Veronica Everly when she's brought in for questioning, which wins him an invite to see the making of her latest film down on the studio lot. As you can guess, it's not long before Auto is suddenly acting in the film in a very prominent role. Because Hollywood totally works that way. Anyway, the main thrust of the plot is that, should they be unable to finish the movie by a certain time, Hagedorn looses a buttload of money which screws out investors and deals and makes him a dead man. So it's Automan to the rescue as he turns into a total diva to slow down production. He flubs his lines, takes elaborate lunches, wonders why he doesn't get a "motorhome", arrives late due to oversleeping, insists that lighting be reset to "improve" the stagings of scenes. And then he unleashes full chaos as Cursor creates a raging storm of wind, snow, and lightning inside the studio, set to "Ride of the Valkyries". For all the random plotting and uninteresting villains that bring the episode down, these sequences make it instant gold as Chuck Wagner delivers all the douchiness with his smiling sincerity.
So, in the end, not one of the better episodes. But when you cut Automan loose and let him have some fun, its hard not to experience a little of your own.
Jump the shark. Nuke the fridge. Fail. Pick your meme and slap it on this week’s episode. It’s the day the music died.
So, bye, bye, Mr. Automan guy
You went to the well once more but found it was dry
And those network execs in their shirts and ties
Singin' "This’ll be the day that you die.
This’ll be the day that you die."
I’ve grown fond of this show and its characters over the last two months, so it pains me to say that this episode marks the low point of the series thus far. It’s as if everyone involved knows the show is doomed, particularly the ones writing the checks.
Remember the globe trotting from the first half of the series? Gone. Remember the high speed chases in the AutoCar, the super sleek AutoCopter, or the amazing AutoPlane? Gone, gone, gone. It feels like belt tightening. Even setting most of the action in a movie studio seems done to keep from having to shoot on location.
And, worst of all, the cast seem to be going through the motions in this one, their trademark energy and snappy exchanges replaced by shrugs of indifference. The story is beyond tepid, with only fleeting glimpses at the humor we’ve come to enjoy from Wagner’s hologram-out-of-water character.
Maybe because we’re getting down to the end of the series I’m reading too much into this, but I don’t think so. Everything about this episode screams "dead man walking".
A list of thoughts, random but organized in a list of sorts.
- Former The Mammas & The Pappas singer Michelle Phillips is wasted in a role that seems set up for something much larger but is quickly abandoned and forgotten.
- Seriously, when did Walter learn Kung-Fu? I like that he’s never been portrayed as a weakling, but in each of the last few episodes, he’s been Kato to Automan’s Green Hornet.
- I’m really disappointed that they haven’t figured out what to do with 80s hot Roxanne Caldwell. Is she Walter’s love interest or isn’t she? She’s the only person besides Walter who knows who (or what) Automan truly is, but they haven’t managed to weave that into the story in a way that makes her a central character.
White Guys Conspiring Around a Pool Count: Holding at 4.
- Automan, episode 1
- Automan, episode 2 "Stayling Alive While Running a High Flashdance Fever"
- Automan, episode 3 "The Great Pretender"
- Automan, episode 4 "Ships in the Night"
- Automan, episode 5 "Unreasonable Facsimile"
- Automan, episode 6 "Flashes and Ashes"
- Automan, episode 7 "The Biggest Game in Town"
- Automan, episode 8 "Renegade Run"
- Automan, episode 9 "Murder MTV"
- Automan, episode 11 "Zippers"
- Automan, episode 12 "Death by Design"
- Automan, episode 13 "Club Ten"
- Automan merchandise
- Automan pilot novelization
- Automan, final thoughts