In the 1980s, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg turned a mutual love of the cliffhanging theatrical serials of their youth into a series of adventures for a handsome world-traveling archaeologist named Indiana Jones. Three Indiana Jones films were produced between 1981 and 1989, forging a legendary status for Harrison Ford’s character that was on a par with the likes of Zorro, The Lone Ranger, and Tarzan. In 1992, Lucas, clearly a fan of reversing chronology in storytelling, brought Indy to the small screen in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, an adventure series that would serve as a prequel to his three movies.
In the last of the film series, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, River Phoenix played young Indy, which may have been the genesis for the TV series. On the small screen, Phoenix’s (and Ford’s) shoes were filled by Sean Patrick Flannery (as the teenaged Indy) and Cory Carrier (the kid Indy). The stories spanned from Indy’s childhood travels with his father (who was on, what seemed, one continuous Medieval studies lecture tour) to the solo journeys of his youth and even into World War I.
Every episode began with a 93-year-old Indy, a gray-haired professor, talking about one of his old childhood adventures—and oh, there were a lot of them. Indy met (in no chronological order whatsoever) Lawrence of Arabia, Pablo Picasso, Pancho Villa, and Sigmund Freud; he competed against a young Ernest Hemmingway for the affections of a girl, listened to scholar T.E. Lawrence, was nursed back to health by Albert Schweitzer and went on safari with Teddy Roosevelt. Just think of what his autograph collection could have been…
This must have been a show that wanderlusty actors and TV tradesmen were clamoring to be a part of—it was shot on location all over Europe, Africa, and Asia. There was action, comedy, and romance, and amidst all of that, the show somehow managed to maintain a decent amount of historical accuracy, which isn’t exactly a TV priority.
Thirty-two episodes were filmed in two separate productions for ABC between 1992 and 1993. Unfortunately, these exciting versions of history lessons were terrifically expensive to shoot, and although the series had built a loyal cadre of die-hard fans, its popularity never lived up to the standard set by the films. ABC canceled the show after only a year of production, but you can still see all of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles on DVD available through Amazon.
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