Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Fabulous Films
Science fiction has a very rich history in television’s annals. Looking back through the medium’s rich history, it is easy to find any number of series that have left their mark on that history. Those series include the likes of Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Star Trek, and so many others. While there are plenty of important, influential sci-fi series that have come and gone over the decades, there are just as many that sadly have come and gone without so much as a glance. Some of those series deserved to be cut short. Others, such as ABC’s short-lived series Automan, never really got the chance that they rightly deserved for one reason or another. Automan never really got a fighting chance because at the time of its original broadcast (1983 – 1984) there was little to nothing on television like it at the time. This includes other sci-fi series. It was at its core a series about an artificial intelligence that was also something of a superhero. On another level, it was also a buddy comedy of sorts. It only lasted for a total of thirteen episodes, though only twelve of those thirteen episodes ever actually made it to air. That is until recently. Thanks to the people at Shout! Factory and Fabulous Films, Automan has finally been given a new life in the four-disc DVD box set Automan: The Complete Series. Whether or not audiences are familiar with the short-lived series, they will agree in watching it that it was a series well ahead of its time and that this new box set is a welcome return for the series. The show’s writing (including its stories, character development, and dialogue) shows this. The work of the show’s cast is just as important to note of its overall presentation. Last but hardly least of note that makes this set worth the watch among sci-fi fans is its bonus material. All three elements are equally important to the whole of Automan: The Complete Series’ presentation. Altogether they make this series set one that every sci-fi fan will want to see and should see at least once if not more.
Automan is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated sci-fi series in the genre’s rich history on television. It only lasted a total of twelve episodes in its run from December 1983 to April 1984. Looking at other series (including other sci-fi series) on television at the time, there was little if anything like it on television at the time. So it is safe to say that it was ahead of its time. That is likely why it was cut short in its initial run. Thanks to Shout! Factory and Fabulous Films, though it has now been introduced to a whole new generation of audiences in the new box set Automan: The Complete Series. And those audiences that give this series a chance will find that there is plenty to like about it beginning with its writing. The writing behind Automan is the core of its presentation. This includes not only the stories that were crafted for the series but also the show’s dialogue and it character development. The episodes are, in all fairness, standard fare. The series premiere sees Walter and Automan globe hopping to stop an international crime ring and solve a kidnapping case in the process. Later in the series’ run Walter and Automan have to clear one of Walter’s partners in “Flashes and Ashes.” There is also a murder mystery to be solved in “Murder, Take One” when a former movie star is suspected of killing a gossip columnist. A crooked studio head is involved in the mystery, too. There’s even a standard story in which Walter and Automan have to stop a counterfeiter in “The Great Pretender.” These are just a few of the episodes that are featured through the course of the series. While they are standard fare that doesn’t take anything away from any of them or those not noted here. As a matter of fact the execution of each episode will keep viewers of any age fully engaged. There’s just a certain camp about the writing that is entirely 80s. And it makes each episode so fun. It’s just one aspect of the show’s writing that makes the writing stand out, too. The dialogue that is incorporated into each of the series’ episodes is just as worth noting as the stories.
The stories that were crafted for Automan are in themselves a collective prime example of the importance of the series’ writing. While the stories are by and large standard fare, there is still a certain campiness about the stories that makes them and their execution engaging and entertaining all at once. As important of an element as that is within the bigger picture of the series’ writing, it is just one part of the writing that makes the writing in whole so important to the series. The dialogue that is incorporated into each episode is just as important to note as the stories themselves. That is especially the case with Walter and Automan. Automan’s innocent defiance of Walter even as an artificial intelligence makes for plenty of laughs throughout the series. He happily declares in one episode that Walter is basically level-headed and would understand him going out even thought he was told to not go out. It’s not the only time that he makes such a declaration either. Walter’s surprised reactions to Automan’s abilities early on are even more example of the dialogue’s place in the show’s writing. Perhaps most interesting of the dialogue that is used in this show is that for all of his superhuman abilities and knowledge the writers never have him use any of the standard, pompous lines that were far too common among action heroes on TV and film in that era. Rather, he comes across more like Data, from Star Trek: The Next Generation with his constant curiosity and straight forward demeanor. It is just one more way in which the show’s dialogue proves to be just as important to the show’s writing as the stories themselves. And it is not the last example of the writing’s importance. The character development within the series is just as important to note as the stories and the show’s dialogue.
The stories that were crafted for Automan and the show’s dialogue are both important parts of the show’s writing in their own way. As important as both elements are to the whole of the writing they are only part of what makes the writing so important to the series. The character development within the series is just as important as the writing and dialogue. Audiences will note that as the series progresses, Walter actually becomes more welcoming of Automan taking part in the cases that he is working. There is also a growing friendship between the pair that becomes increasingly obvious in each episode. It starts off as an odd couple friendship. But then grows to become a real friendship that is centered not only on their pair’s drive to solve crimes but in their own differences. Audiences will love seeing Walter play both the straight man and the comic relief in one while Automan is the innocent yet still confident figure. The juxtaposition of the two totally different personality types makes for plenty of entertainment in each episode. Together with the dialogue incorporated into the show and the work put into crafting each episode’s story the character development within each script rounds out the ways in which the series’ writing displays its importance to the whole of the show. Of course the writing behind Automan is just one part of what makes the series well worth the watch by any sci-fi fan in its new DVD release. The work of the show’s cast is just as important to the show as its writing.
The writing that went into Automan clearly shows in each of its separate elements exactly why it is so important to the show. From each episode’s story to the dialogue within each episode to the very development of the characters (specifically Walter and Automan) the writing proves quite integral to the series. Of course the work of the show’s cast in interpreting the writers’ scripts is just as important to the series as the writing itself. Both Desi Arnaz, Jr. and co-star Chuck Wagner impress in their interpretations of the show’s scripts. Being a superhuman figure of sorts, it would have been so easy for Wagner to put on more of an air of superiority to Arnaz’s Walter. Yet he doesn’t go that route at any point. Rather, he takes the knowledge of Automan’s superiority and instead gives him a sense of humility and almost alien interest in everything. Yet he does still maintain a certain sense of confidence throughout each episode. That mix of confidence and innocent curiosity about the human world makes Wagner’s portrayal perfect with each episode. And when set against Arnaz the two make a pair that is so sorely missing from today’s television offerings. Speaking of Arnaz, he is just as entertaining as Walter Nebicher. His portrayal of the high-strung cop makes for plenty of laughs especially as Walter tries to keep Automan’s identity secret in so many different situations. That nervous energy set against Automan’s cooler, more collected demeanor is a wonderful juxtaposition of personalities. That applies both as the duo tries to solve the given cases and even when just the two are together on screen in general scenes. Taking all of this into consideration it can be said even more so that Arnaz and Wagner’s work in interpreting the series’ scripts is just as important to its presentation as the scripts. OF course even that is still not the do all end all for this first-time release. The bonus material that is included within the box set rounds out the box’s presentation.
The writing and acting behind Automan collectively does quite a bit in showing why this classic sci-fi action series was so far ahead of its time in its original run. As important as both elements are to the show, they are not all that makes it worth the watch in its new DVD box set release. The bonus material that is included in the set is just as important to its presentation as those noted elements. The standard cast and crew bios are there as are other little extras. At the heart of the bonus content is the near hour-long documentary “Calling Automan – The Auto Feature.” Audiences learn through the forty-two minute documentary plenty of interesting tidbits about the series. Most notably audiences learn that it might not have been ratings that doomed the show but the costs to produce the show. There is also an interesting little piece about star Chuck Wagner’s professional training in musical comedy and its influence in some of the bits incorporated into the show. And Wagner even admits that in auditioning for the part of Automan, he was worried he wouldn’t get it because of the other men auditioning for the role. Wagner explains how the look of the other candidates made him wonder if he had a chance at the role. As if that isn’t enough for audiences, Wagner and Arnaz jokingly discuss the car that Automan used in the show and how little the pair actually used it because it was such an exotic car. The duo reveals that most of the car scenes were actually shot with the pair in a scaled up model of the car’s interior on a sound stage. These are just a few of the items covered in “Calling Automan – The Auto Feature.” There is far more for audiences to discover for themselves over the course of the behind-the-scenes featurette. Those other extras combined with everything noted here shows in whole why “Calling Automan – The Auto Feature” is so important to the whole of Automan: The Complete Series. Those revelations add even more depth to the stories presented in each of the series’ episodes and to the show’s writing in whole. It adds just as much appreciation for the work of the series’ cast, too. All things considered Automan: The Complete Series’ shows in whole to be one of the most surprisingly enjoyable sci-fi series sets to be released this year. It proves to be one that actually deserves a reboot and unless or until that happens, one that every sci-fi fan should have in his or her own home DVD library.
Automan: The Complete Series is one of the most surprisingly enjoyable box sets for grown-ups to be released this year. The thirteen-episode series is one that even being more than three decades old is still one that every sci-fi fan should have in his or her own home DVD library. That is evident in large part to its in-depth writing. In watching the series’ thirteen total episodes, it is obvious that a lot of work and attention was put into each of the series’ scripts. That is just one part of what makes this box set so interesting. The work of the show’s main stars works in conjunction with the writing to make the series that much more enjoyable for every sci-fi fan. The bonus behind-the-scenes documentary “Calling Automan – The Auto Feature” rounds out the box set’s presentation. The revelations discussed within the course of the documentary’s near hour-long run time bring everything full circle and make for even more appreciation for this short-lived and under appreciated classic sci-fi series. That appreciation will leave audiences agreeing that Automan: The Complete Series is a must have for every sci-fi fan. It is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered direct via Shout! Factory’s online store at https://www.shoutfactory.com/tv/tv-sci-fi/automan-the-complete-series. More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory and Fabulous Films is available online now at:
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