Friday, March 29, 2013

Looking Back at 'Logan's Run' (1977-78)



(The following is a segment from a memoir writing project I'm playing with. Hope you like it. Share your own recollections of 1970s Sci-Fi TV shows in the comments.)

Logan 5, Jessica 6 and Rem (Wikipedia)
A spin-off of the 1976 movie that starred Michael York and Jenny Agutter, the Logan’s Run TV series suffered from the common practice of dumbing down scifi to try to appeal to mass audiences and to make the show more “kid friendly.”  The series starred Gregory Harrison and Heather Menzies in softer, less sexualized versions of the characters played by York and Agutter, Logan 5 and Jessica 6, with supporting actors Donald Moffat as the android Rem and Randy Powell as Francis 7, Logan’s former best friend, fellow Sandman, and now relentless pursuer.


Carousel (Ebay image)
In the post-nuclear holocaust world of the 23rd Century, Logan is a Sandman; Sandmen are a sort of police force that patrols the City of Domes, where the last humans known to be alive chose to live a hedonistic existence in what looks like an upscale shopping mall, and then give up their lives at age 30 (age 21 in the original novel).  The populace believes they will be reincarnated via the “Carousel” ceremony, but they are simply killed to make room for new test-tube babies.  Sandmen track and kill any citizens who try to escape rebirth by running, i.e., “runners.”

(The series recycled many of the movie’s special effects, including the Carousel sequence, but exchanged the spectacular image of exploding bodies used in the film for a freeze-frame and a “crystallizing” effect.  Probably to keep little kids from trying to blow up their friends at home, which seemed to be the prevailing thought process at TV studios.)

In the film, Logan is placed undercover by the ruling computer to infiltrate a subversive group that is seeking to escape the city for some mythical “Sanctuary” where they can live out their lives in peace.  He gets Jessica to help him, and the two make it through a series of adventures to the ruins of Washington, D.C.  There, they meet an old man and Logan realizes there’s no reason to continue supporting the old ways of the City of Domes. He decides to return there, overthrow the computer ruler, and set the people free from Carousel.

The series wanders from the film’s plot, however, almost as soon as it begins.  Logan is already questioning the rite of rebirth, and he runs with Jessica.  Francis is taken before a secret council of old men and told he can join their number if he successfully brings Logan back for re-education.  It is never really made clear why Francis — not to mention all the other Sandmen dispatched into the outside world — would want to prop up the City of Domes when it’s obvious that there are many other survivors and civilizations in the outside world, which appears to be fully recovered from the war, and they no longer have a reason to die young.

So we once again have the familiar “Fugitive” structure for our episodes:  Innocent of any crime, our hero is on the run from relentless pursuit, meeting new people each week that need help, and then being forced to move on just one step ahead of the long arm of the law.  But rather than a search for proof of innocence, we have innocents searching for a place they can belong and experiencing true freedom — not the false freedom of consumerism and hedonism in exchange for giving up their personal power to a faceless authority — for the first time in their lives.

Logan and Jessica in the film (Screened.com)
I didn’t see the movie in theaters (I was 12 when it was in theaters), catching it only after it had been “Edited for Television” in advance of the series premiere.  And somehow, I rarely caught an episode of this series all the way through in its original run, and never at my own home.  The night of the premiere (Sept. 16, 1977) I was at Grandma and Pawpaw Massey’s house.  The grownups were playing canasta in the dining room, and about the time the pilot got to its secondary story, they took a break to come into the family room to talk; they started making jokes about the show, and I came to realize it was not as good as I was willing to believe.  It was like the Penguin running for Mayor, all over again — though it didn’t stop me from drawing pictures of Logan’s Sandman gun and trying to make a wooden version in my shop class.

Screen capture from 'Captured' (ShareTV.org)
I was at my friend Troy Gandy’s home for the third episode (“Capture,” broadcast Sept. 30, 1977), in which our heroes (and Francis) are hunted by the guy who was the young hot-head gunslinger wannabe from the original Magnificent Seven feature, (Horst Buchholz, bringing some presence to the screen).  Troy was eight months older than me, born in December 1963.  His brother, Robert, was a couple of years older than the both of us.  Troy and Robert fought constantly, either mouthing off at each other, or literally fist-fighting, which was a family dynamic I was not familiar with.  The night of this episode, Robert had picked at Troy until he lost his temper and lunged at his older brother.  They threw each other around the living room, overturning tables and chairs, scattering snacks on the floor.  I just stayed out of the way.

Looking back, I wonder how much of that activity was play-acting, like a TV wrestling match.  I couldn’t tell.  I also wonder how much of it was prompted by sheer boredom after the brothers discovered this was what I wanted to watch on TV.  When we all saw headlights on the driveway, a sudden calm hit the room.  The boys separated, a whirlwind of cleaning occurred, and by the time their mother came in the door, the place was back in the shape it had been in before the fight.  The three of us, sitting on the couch together, eating potato chips and watching Logan’s Run.

I thought about this and other times at the Gandy home a few years ago, when I learned that Troy had taken his own life.

And I realized that Troy and Robert, in their sibling conflict, had mirrored the dynamic of Logan and Francis in that very episode:  One former friend — a brother in almost every way — hunting and fighting the other until a common enemy appeared to force them to work together, at least until their next opportunity to struggle for dominance.  In the theater of my memory, I would have to cast Troy as Logan, as he was only trying to maintain his freedom and his sense of self that night.

I guess that makes me either Rem or Jessica in that scenario; I’ll go with the dispassionate and pacifistic Rem, if it’s all the same to you.  I don’t look that good in short skirts.

On Halloween of that year, I was again at the Gandy house for the only boy-girl party I was ever invited to during my middle- and high school years.  A game of spin-the-bottle was happening on the back porch, and the girl I liked (one of Troy’s cousins) didn’t want to participate.  Moreover, when the bottle pointed at me early in the game, the girl who should have kissed me begged off, lying to the crowd that we were cousins and it wouldn’t be right; I didn’t dispute her.

Screen grab from 'Half Life' (SnowCrest.net)
Instead I went inside to get some snacks, and discovered the TV was on in the living room.  No one was watching it.  Logan’s Run was playing (“Half Life” written by Shimon Wincelberg, broadcast Oct. 31, 1977).  I just stood there, watching Jessica 6 being duplicated, which is a familiar enough idea in sci-fi TV.  Except her personality was being split between the two bodies, so that one Jessica was good and the other evil.  Anyone who had seen Star Trek (specifically “The Enemy Within” episode) knew that we need both expressions of our personality to make us whole, and that people can’t go on as half-people.  (This episode also features a very young Kim Cattrall.)

I heard laughter outside and somewhat reluctantly left Jessica to seek out the party again.  This might have been when I began to recognize that real people didn’t hold as much allure to me as the ones on TV, or maybe I just told myself that because no one wanted to play spin the bottle with me.  Strangely, my situation again mirrored the very episode that was broadcast that night, except that I was the outcast whose personality didn’t conform to the accepted group, and no amount of video effects would make me right for them.

Screen grab of 'The Crypt' (OVGuide.com)
A week later, I saw the next episode from start to finish at my friend Chuck’s house.  Chuck and I had known each other since before we were born.  That is, our fathers and mothers had been in school together and were close friends; our mothers were pregnant within a couple months of each other, and we had playdates from a very early age.  The only real fist fight I ever had in middle school was against Chuck, and we both ended up getting paddled by the principal.  (I remember sitting in the office and Chuck telling me, "You were punching and crying at the same time. That scared the crap out of me.")  Probably one of the first times I ever slept over at a friend’s house, it was at Chuck’s.  He never had quite the same fascination with scifi that I did, though, so it wasn’t surprising that I sat and watched “The Crypt” episode (Nov. 7, 1977) more or less on my own.

Taken from a story by Harlan Ellison, who would later be one of my favorite authors, “The Crypt” concerned a group of people in suspended animation, endangered by earthquakes and stalked by one of their own.  I watched it while sitting on the wood floor in the living room.  Chuck was off somewhere else.  His mother, Elizabeth, was sitting on a chair drawing; later, she showed me the sketch she had done of me as I concentrated on the show.  It embarrassed me to know she had been watching me, but also made me feel special.  She was an English and Literature teacher, and as I grew up and started trying to write fiction, she would be one of my first readers and encouragers.

DVD box set (TheWickedLocal.com)
Recently, I purchased the box set of Logan’s Run from the Warner Archive Collection (WBshop.com) and enjoyed seeing the 14 episode series from the beginning.  Watching the fourth outing, “The Innocent,” I turned to my wife and muttered, “This show did not deserve to live.”  However, there were many bright moments:  “The Crypt” holds up, as does “Man Out of Time,” written by scifi author David Gerrold (most famous in the genre for writing the Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”), who was unhappy with changes to the script and used a pseudonym, “Noah Ward” (as in “no award”) in the credits.  The latter concerned a time traveler who is trying to forestall a nuclear war, but learns that his success at jaunting into the future precipitated the first strike; Logan and his friends have to decide if the traveler should be allowed to return to his own time, even if his success means that their world — and by extension, each of them — might be wiped from history.

I appreciated, even in ’77,  the bravery and earnestness of Logan, the optimism and innocence (girl-next-door and yet Farrah Fawcett-like hotness) of Jessica.  And the lead actors (particularly Donald Moffat) are always fun to watch; you can see they recognized the limitations they were faced with each week and were determined to rise above.

The show was often preempted by the network (only 11 episodes were ever shown on the West Coast during the initial broadcast, according to Internet sources), and it ended its run on Feb. 6, 1978, with “Stargate,” a story written by comic book legend Dennis O’Neil, that failed to bring a conclusion to Logan’s search for Sanctuary.

Thirty-odd years later, I have a daughter named Jessica Heather (and it wasn’t until I began writing this segment that I realized she shares names with the character and the actress); our family lives in a gated community called Sanctuary Beach, where I have taken issue with the runners (at least the ones who trespass into the neighborhood and let their dogs run off-leash).

I have become a Sandman, but I still don’t have a working pistol.
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