Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Most Special Agent!


As far as I can tell I've wrapped up my multi-year exploration of the Gerry Anderson TV shows. It's been a weird and wonderful trip for the most part, as I've moved beyond my boyhood fascination with Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Stingray to examine not only Space:1999 and UFO (two shows I also watched on the tube) but also Thunderbirds, Fireball XL-5, and Supecar. There was one pure "Supermarionation" show left and despite it looking decidedly sleepy I rolled the dice and picked up Joe 90. Overall I'm glad I did.

(Joe 90 in BIG RAT)
This is show which has some significant flaws but there's enough of the Anderson studio magic to make it worthwhile. Joe 90 is in fact a nine-year old boy named Joe McClaine who becomes the subject of his scientist Dad's experiments in brain manipulation. Sounds pretty gruesome put that way, but in some significant ways this is a gruesome show. The setting is the early 21st Century and the world is united under a single sprawling government and policed to some extent by W.I.N. (World Intelligence Network) who are represented in the series by Agent Sam Loover and Commander Shane Weston. Using a trippy device dubbed BIG RAT (Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record And Transfer) to transfer the brain patterns of one human into the brain of another Doctor Ian McClaine attempts to move science ahead. Instead his son gets fixed for the affair and after that becomes a double agent, often called a "Most Special Agent" because who would believe a nine year old was a deadly secret agent. Lots of high tech hijinks ensue and we have a show.

(Sam Loover, Dr. McClaine and Joe)
But it's a pretty sleepy show and after the first several episodes the special nature of Joe gets lost a lot. Why he's called "Joe 90" is open to debate but it's a name Gerry Anderson cottoned to. Joe saves people from deadly scenarios (Thunderbirds) fights deadly foreign agents (Captain Scarlet) and jets around in a nifty futuristic car of his Dad's design which looks like nothing else on the road and flies to boot (Supercar). In fact of all the shows this late 60's show resembles to me was Supercar, though seeming to add more sophisticated characterization with more human-like puppets. Sadly they end up having less character than the zany cartoonish Supercar characters and prove in the end to be less compelling.

(The Jet-Air Car)
Captain Scarlet looked similar but was driven by a heavy dark atmosphere and a high-tech continued threat which gave it an epic quality. Joe 90 is more episodic and the danger while often lethal feels less robust. Joe does in fact shoot and kill a few folks along the way, something I imagine would raise some hackles these days. Some have suggested this is a boy's fantasy and I'm good with that as a general premise, but it doesn't make the show any better for being correctly identified. This one falls into the near-miss category for me, full of some interesting spectacle from time to time, but laboring under some rather dull lead characters.

Still and all it was diverting and even a weaker Anderson show is still a cut above many others.

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5 comments:

  1. So are you going to cover the GoLords series as well?

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    1. Never heard of the GoLords. Had to look it up and it is pretty funny. Thanks.

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  2. Or "The Secret Service", which followed Joe 90 (and lasted a mere 13 episodes)?

    One problem I always had with this show was his dad's flying car....no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't convince myself that it was capable of flying. It was such an ungainly shape (unlike, say, Supercar)...I know, I know, a small point, but when you're a youngster these things matter!

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    1. If it ever becomes available here. When I looked it up the series on dvds which could play in my region. As for the car, I totally get your point, with all the absurdities we chew down, it's those little points which can hang us up.

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  3. I occasionally watched it back in the day and have had the DVD box set for a few years now, but still haven't watched any episodes. When I was a kid I liked the theme music, but never really got into the show. Maybe it was because it was about a 9 year old boy who spoke like a girl. Whatever, it didn't really grab me.

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