SPACEBALL

The Fairest Review I Can Manage

Review by Matthew Wharmby mwharmby@amdragon.com

Written by Glen A. Larson, Frank Lupo and Jeff Freilich

Original Airdate: Mar. 30, 1980

BACKGROUND

This was the first Galactica 1980 episode I ever saw (TVS, the ITV network then covering the southern regions of Britain, aired the show, still under the title 'Battlestar Galactica', in autumn 1984). First off, I'm going to mortify the hardcore by declaring that I'm not as against Galactica 1980 as most. To me, the premise was sound, but was let down by the ever-paternalistic network constraints on what constitutes suitable viewing for the kiddies. Still, to me 'any Galactica is good Galactica' and I regard it as a spinoff, not to be taken too seriously (except by some truly gifted fanfic authors, who have done wonders in unifying the two universes).

I'm not so sure there aren't overtones of colonialism in the Gal '80 concept. If you're a more technologically advanced culture, the last thing you want to do is antagonise or frighten the natives, especially when you need them so desperately, and to get their help you've almost got to abase yourself. I've often felt the same way when I go abroad. Still, this episode didn't do a lot for me, and I suspect it didn't for more than a few others.

THE STORY

Troy and Dillon arrive in their usual field on their turbocycles (and I don't care what anyone else says, those bikes were cool). A viper shimmers into view, and out climbs a Colonial warrior named Lieutenant Nash, who states that he has been ordered by Commander Adama to deliver the viper to the two. Programmed into its computron (by Dr. Zee) are the coordinates of the last known sightings of Xaviar. Nash also offers to look after the children until Troy and Dillon return, but there's a shiftiness about his nature that we don't like (it's the English accent, does it every time!). Nash looks pretty pleased with himself as the viper takes off.

At the UBC broadcasting studios, Brooks is handing out assignments. Jamie draws the task of covering a camp for underprivileged kids run by Billy Ayers, a faded baseball star (and this is where I start to fade myself. Sorry, but as an Englishman, baseball bores the living cr*p from me. I've done my best, I even attended an Angels game at Anaheim Stadium, but it's got nothing on football. I said sorry). Jamie reckons she can kill two birds with one stone by taking the Super Scouts (who are underprivileged kids of a sort, after all) there for a day out. Mr Brooks is none too pleased with the way Jamie has been waltzing off assignment to hang about with these kids, so attaches Hal, a nerdy cameraman with an obvious crush on Jamie, to the project. Brooks also laments that he's no nearer to discovering the nature of the 'terrorists', as he holds up Kent McCord's and Barry van Dyke's studio 8x10s to the camera.

Jamie and the Super ScoutsSomehow, while all this is happening (you'll appreciate my lack of effort in watching the whole tape again) the kids end up in the studio, where they show off their (smug!) superior skills by dismantling a television camera. Its handler goes apeshit at seeing the pieces all over and runs screaming off to Jamie, but when she takes the party down to investigate, the kids have put it all back together again. Aaw. There were some cheap thrills in this show, and this is one of them - and you can't get much cheaper than kids making mugs out of grown-ups. Kids' show this was, and don't they just know it. Meanwhile again, poor Colonel Sydell, the downtrodden representative of the United States Air Force, is having a really bad day. I can't truthfully remember how he comes to figure in this plot, but suffice it to say he wants to catch Troy and Dillon something rotten, as they've buggered up his career and no mistake. The third studio mugshot of the day is Robyn Douglass's, so he decides to blow work off for the day to pay Jamie a visit. The breakout star of this episode is Sydell's pretty secretary (a full Lieutenant in rank! Nice work if you can get it...)

At the baseball camp, Jamie and the kids pull up in a woody wagon with a greater capacity than the Tardis (I know American cars were big back in the day, but thirteen bodies, small as some are, was not a realistic load!) and have a chat with Billy Ayers, who grouses that his Little League operation is going down the pan. He manages a team scheduled for local playoffs, but as luck would have it they've all come down with the flu. Jamie offers up her own kids, but confesses that they don't know the game. Out of shot, they immediately embarrass Jamie when adorable little Starla picks up a baseball and throws it back to the kids who hit it towards her feet. Her gentle throw goes clean over the horizon (and this IS funny, you've got to admit). Dim Hal gets all excited and scrambles to get footage for the six o'clock news (probably the post-live police chase, post-Johnny Mountain wacky weather puff piece), and Jamie's well flustered. She has to let the kids down easily by telling them to hide their skills, and basically behave like 'complete genetic retards' in the anguished words (more or less) of the most redheaded of these galactic stepchildren.

At this point we cut to Troy and Dillon (wondered where those two had got to!) zipping through space in this loaner viper. All they have to do is punch in the coordinates supplied to them by Nash (sounds too easy, doesn't it?) and just like that, the viper conks out (visualised as a truly appalling freeze-frame). You can almost smell the panic through the TV set as they realise they're in deep felgercarb. Their last resort is to contact the Galactica and beg for help, which is our one of just two scenes in this episode to feature Commander Adama. Lorne Greene carries it off well however, standing stoically with chest out and hands behind back, albeit on a dreadful bridge set which is so obviously shoved into the corner of one of Universal's less-favoured soundstages. Adama has no idea what Troy is on about, noting that Lieutenant Nash is 'standing right here beside me', and that they've got into some sort of trap. Conveniently, they then drift out of radio range. Adama dispatches a patrol to find them (which is never heard from again, incidentally!), but Troy and Dillon have got problems. So much 'in trouble' that this scene is actually REPEATED! The continuity supervisor and editor should all be shot, as they've already duped scenes (the infamous 'Since the time of our defeat, the Cylons have not been idle' Dr Zee monologue).

What have you done to that camera???If you've got problems, kids, just go to sleep, and it'll be better in the morning. This message has been brought to you by ABC. To this end, Dillon nods off for a bout of sleep mode, while Troy tries to take the ship apart from the inside (you try that when you can't move your arms higher than your head). To add to this, their air's starting to run out. The best line in this episode stems from this little concern, when Dillon complains 'The air's foul in here.' So much for a children's show - you can't get much more suspect than wondering what happens when two men find themselves in a confined space!

So we've established that Nash is Xaviar - this is explained by Dr Zee's matter-of-fact explanation that 'we are all quite capable of epidermal transformation', i.e. face lifts for all. Without going too deeply into the whys and wherefores of this convenient excuse for Richard Lynch's non-reprisal of the Xaviar role, Jeremy Brett (who, to be fair, is only 99% dreadful) can now pester the kids unknown to Jamie. She thinks he's just another Galactican rube slumming it on Earth, and drags him along to the first innings of the baseball game, which can't be much fun (being evil's hard work, kids!). The ante is upped in that if the Polecats (the none-too-flattering title for these Galactican Dodgers) lose this game, Billy Ayers will go bust, and lose his holding to greedy, nasty developers. Some squabbling on the edge (between the - erm - the fellow who's dressed up like the black Michelin Man - the one Schroeder does in Peanuts when they're playing. That one; and what are probably representatives of the developers) is already taking place.

The next World Series winners?Invariably the Super Scouts come on, and are stuffed off the planet. Made to perform like geeks, they fall behind, to the order of 6-0 or thereabouts. Jamie is cringing - it seems either way you lose with this space rabble. Billy Ayers is looking at a dustbin for his next meal. Under the bleachers, Xaviar rings up Adama and chats almost cordially. All he wants is an amnesty, and the freedom to live wherever and whenever he chooses. Adama's not having it, so Xaviar threatens to slaughter the children, basically for fun. Jamie rumbles him, but is boxed into a corner. And, to really top things off, Colonel Sydell has decided to make a flying visit (so to speak). He'd already dropped by the station, to be informed that he wasn't the only individual interested in directions to the baseball camp (cue 'evil' music). Jamie collars the kids at half-time and reverses her instructions, ordering them to show off all their skills and give these sneering Earth mugs an ass-whupping, Galactican style. The rationale? The press will be swarming all over the winning team, and neither Xaviar nor Sydell will be able to get a look in. Clever girl, our Jamie.

Troy and Dillon take aim at Xaviar in SpaceballAs the Polecats begin hammering the Cougars, Troy and Dillon realise that there's no other way to fix the sabotaged viper but to get out and push. Having managed to get their spacesuits on inside the cockpit, they do just that (and this bit is done fairly well; you can't see the wires. One of the few uses of blue screen in the whole series, and after missing out on proper space action so much for all this Earthbound tripe, you really do welcome it all the more!). The repairs complete, they haul ass back towards Earth, and there ensues the inevitable flying bike matte, which sees its two thousandth or so repetition. Perhaps they mirror-imaged it for a bit of variety, I can't remember.

Xaviar isn't too happy that he's got the next World Series winners on his hands, and shepherds Jamie towards the gym. Sydell joins them there, and the two baddies engage in some truly ridiculous, and alarmingly effete, banter establishing who they are and what the other's problem is. Mercifully, Xaviar ends this by whipping his gun out (so much for non-violence - how the show needed it! Used constructively, of course!). At that moment, Troy and Dillon bust in and Xaviar legs it. They shoot it out for about fifteen seconds, the major casualty being Colonel Sydell, who fancies himself a hero and sprints off after the lads. Xaviar turns on his heel, zeroes in almost casually and puts a round right into his chest. It's only a stunner, but the Air Force man goes down like a sack of wet sand. After that, Our Heroes give up the chase, rather touchingly cradling the out-for-the-count Sydell (isn't that magnanimous? Or unbelievably patronising? You decide).

I said there were funny moments in this cruel show, and the final scene has an absolute corker. Troy and Dillon and Jamie review events, the day is obviously saved for the Great American Pastime as practised by Billy Ayers, and the only thing Jamie can hope for is that the damn kids never take up any other sports! Trouble is, they're standing right over from a basketball court, and once again the ball falls at little Starla's feet. She chucks it over her head, and BOOM! Nothing but net.

Rating - 1 1/2 stars. Not totally atrocious, but falls short of fair.


John's Review

RATING: DUD (no stars)

This is crap. Spaceball is the worst, most hated episode of Galactica 1980. It's silly, stupid, and just plain dumb. Little kids playing baseball??? This is Battlestar Galactica??? Spaceball may be the most inconsequential hour of science fiction ever made. It's certainly an insult to the original series that this bionic version of The Bad News Bears was shot under the Galactica name.

Jeremy Brett assumes the role of Xaviar. Unfortunately, the character never appears again.

Adama says that the ability to alter one's physical appearance is shared by all Colonials. (???)

The baseball announcer says that one of the boys is named Little Frankie Lupo, an obvious in-joke reference to Galactica 1980 producer Frank Lupo.

While writing this episode, Jeff Freilich received a very unusual phone call from Texas. "Every show that I've every worked on has its own group of really obsessive fans. Regardless of the show you work on, there is a group of people who watch the show religiously and know the show better than you do, even if you are the creator of that show. They will read things into your shows that you as the creator or writer would never think about. They see people on your show as being in the real world, whereas you know they're fantasy. I got this call from a man who is very upset because he's been watching the show and he swears that's not how Galacticans talk because he's met them. Because they've actually landed in his yard and he put them up for a few days in his barn. They don't talk like that. He's calling to tell me that in the future there are several expressions Galacticans use that we don't use on the show, that we oughta use if we’re going to be accurate about them. I couldn't believe I was hearing this. I took him seriously because I didn't want to make fun of him. But I could not believe that someone truly believed what he was telling me. And yet, this was a middle-aged man, he must have been at least in his late forties if not early fifties. He was a devotee of the show." Taking him seriously could have been a good idea. Freilich accepted the man's advice and incorporated the expressions into the show. Sadly, Freilich can't recall the specifics of what he added.


Matthew Wharmby's Hilarious Galactica 1980 Episode Reviews

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