A little while ago, I put a piece up on The Retro Network called Nearly Forgotten TV Shows where I took a look at five old TV shows that are about to pass from the memory of most folks. I really liked shining the light on those classics, so I thought I would do a few more. These are all shows that I enjoyed back in the day, and think you should check out too. So here are three more nearly forgotten TV shows.
Tales of the Gold Monkey
1982 – 1983
Like any true success, Raiders of the Lost Ark was frequently imitated. Tales of the Gold Monkey was frequently lumped in with the ‘Raiders’ clones but it had actually been dreamt up by creator Donald Bellisario two years before Spielberg’s film came out. It was initially rejected by network executives, who thought no one would care for a show set in the 1930s. However, Tales was quickly snapped up by ABC once Raiders of the Lost Ark proved audiences would respond to a period adventure.
The show was set on the fictional Pacific island of Boragora in 1938. The protagonist was Jake Cutter, a dashing cargo pilot who provided the only inter-island transportation via his plan,e the Grumman Goose. Cutter’s best friends were Corky, his often-drunk mechanic, and Jack, a one-eyed terrier who could communicate with his owner (one bark for ‘no’, two for ‘yes’).
Cutter lived in a room over the Monkey Bar, the island’s central hub of activity. This little waterhole/meeting place/brawl epicenter was owned by Bon Chance Louis, a roguish French magistrate who did a lot of shady business behind closed doors. Also working at the Monkey Bar was Sarah, a torch singer who was secretly an American spy. Our man Jake, her would-be suitor, was the only one who knew her secret. Princess Koji maintained a trading ship fleet on a nearby island, Matuka, with the help of her main henchman Todo. The cast was rounded out by Reverend Tenboom, a German spy masquerading as a Dutch holy man.
Plotlines on the show usually stemmed from Jake’s line of work. Although he was a cargo pilot, Jake would frequently end up using his plane to search for missing people or recover stolen goods. Tying these stories together was the search for the mystical object mentioned in the show’s title, an idol made of an alloy that was supposedly heat-resistant. Also, there were a large number of German and Japanese spies around the island chain that Jake would have frequent run-ins with.
The show was canceled in July of 1983 after 21 episodes (including the two-hour pilot). Audiences gave up on the Indiana Jones-ish glut of TV programming (including Bring ‘em Back Alive and The Quest), and all were canceled within one season. Donald Bellisario recovered nicely, however, going on to create shows like Airwolf and Quantum Leap.
1987 – 1988
But OHARA was one, albeit briefly, in this so-so show that starred familiar Asian-American character actor Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, and the original Arnold on Happy Days).
When the show debuted in January 1987 on ABC, the lead character (no first name, and pronounced oh-HARR-ah) was an LA police lieutenant with a list of quirks a mile long. He didn’t drive a car. He meditated a lot and was prone to speaking in zen-like epigrams. And he never used a gun — though if pressed he could use some pretty fancy martial arts moves in the line of duty. In many ways Ohara was more-or-less a hipper, slightly more Americanized version of Morita’s Mr. Miyagi character, here recast as a cop.
But the show wasn’t gelling, so the network began tinkering. A few episodes in, there was a format change: Ohara became a fed. He also gained a partner, shed some of his more obvious ‘quirky’ mannerisms, and started carrying a weapon.
But the public still wasn’t buying, so in February of 1988, there was yet another format overhaul and Ohara and his new partner quit the feds to become genuine, full-fledged P.I.s.
Finally, when it finally became apparent that nobody was watching this version of Ohara either, there was one last really massive format change — the show was canceled.
It was no big loss. Morita’s a good actor, and the initial conception of the Ohara character was interesting, but the show’s actual plots and scripts were pretty bland. Then when the character was continually reworked to become more ‘conventional’, the show lost whatever slight spark it once had. By the time of the P.I. episodes, Ohara was just another standard-issue mystery show featuring a decent lead actor and not much else.
1994 – 1995
The ’60s had Batman, the ’70s had The Incredible Hulk, and the ’80s had The Greatest American Hero, but heroes in tights were tough to come by on 90’s prime time television. Thankfully, there was M.A.N.T.I.S., an action-packed show featuring a modern-day superhero complete with suit and secret identity. And as a nod to the socially-conscious ’90s, this superhero also happened to be African-American. This distinction, along with the show’s blend of sci-fi and thrills, helped make it one of the more distinguished recent entries in the live-action superhero hall of fame.
The hour-long M.A.N.T.I.S. adventures focused on Dr. Miles Hawkins, a gifted physician who suffered a terrible setback when he was shot and paralyzed from the waist down during a riot. The plucky doctor triumphed over this disability by creating a mechanical exoskeleton that allowed him to walk once more. The suit also gave him superhuman levels of strength and agility, newfound abilities that Hawkins used to fight crime. To keep his private life safe, the doc assumed a secret identity, M.A.N.T.I.S., which was an acronym for the suit itself: Mechanically Augmented Neuro-Transmitter Interactive System.
The M.A.N.T.I.S. suit did most of the heavy work, but even superheroes need a few good buddies to turn to in a pinch. Dr. Hawkins had John Stonebrake, his former college roommate and current scientific partner, and Taylor Savidge, a young bike messenger who became Hawkins’ assistant. Other characters included Lt. Leora Maxwell, a lovely but tough officer on the Port Columbia Police Department, and Lynette, Hawkins’ faithful housekeeper. On the side of evil, our man M.A.N.T.I.S. faced a formidable and resourceful archenemy in Solomon Box.
Each episode of M.A.N.T.I.S. combined action and sci-fi elements to create a powerhouse show overflowing with high-tech thrills. With a wide-open world of stories to tell, the show could have Hawkins squaring off against a renegade naval captain who terrorized Port Columbia with his band of pirates one week, then have him tangling with an evil magician and his mind-control machine the next. All this action was dished out in a colorful, comic book style that seemed especially appropriate when one considered the resumes of the show’s creators: Darkman director Sam Raimi and Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm.
M.A.N.T.I.S. only lasted one season, but it managed to acquire a cult following before the end of its run. The mech-suited crimefighter also gained new fans through reruns on cable’s Sci-Fi Channel. Today, M.A.N.T.I.S. is remembered fondly by sci-fi fans for providing plenty of cool action and also blazing a new, more racially-inclusive path for the television superhero genre.