Tag Archives: Buck Henry

DVD REVIEW: Quark: The Complete Series: Children and Quasi-Norms First!

In May, 1977, NBC premiered a [very] short-lived satirical science fiction series created by Buck Henry – one of the duo behind Get Smart. The series was called Quark and it ran for seven weeks before it was unceremoniously cancelled. The series was based around a United Galactic Sanitation Patrol vessel captained by Adam Quark [Richard Benjamin].

Quark Cover Art

Most of the components of the series were based on Star Trek – particularly the relationship between Quark and his Vegeton science officer, Ficus [Vegetons, being plants have no emotions] – The Captain’s “Space Notes;” the transporter [or at least its sound effects], and even one episode, Goodbye Polumbus, which was a send up of the classic Trek ep, Shore Leave.

Henry took the Get Smart template [smart stories about less than brilliant characters in important positions] and transferred it to Quark. The crew of the USGP ship included Gene/Jean [Tim Thomerson], a “transmute” who exhibited both male and female behaviors; Ficus [Richard Kelton], the aforementioned Vegeton; Bettys I & II [Trish and Cybill Barnstable], a human and her clone, both of them second in command [and both of them crazy about their captain], and Andy [Bobby Porter], a cowardly android/robot that Quark built from spare parts. They received their missions from Otto Palindrome [Conrad Janis], commander of Perma Station 1 and The Head [Alan Caillou], a disembodied giant head seen only on a video screen.

Besides the show’s riffs on Star Trek, it also poked fun at all manner of SF and space opera conventions. The episode, May the Source Be With You, had a pretty obvious target [and skewered it pretty thoroughly] and set the tone for the series. But the show was just hitting it stride with the two-part Flash Gordon spoof, All The Emperor’s Quasi-Norms, when it was taken from NBC’s schedule.

Much of the series has held up pretty well, but there are instances where the silliness doesn’t quite make it. Overall, though, even some of the effects hold up – the transporter is more colorful than Trek’s and the series did show a fair number of actual alien lifeforms [some of which changed shapes disconcertingly – check out Captain Walker who is radically different in each of two eps].

Final Grade: B+

MOVIE REVIEW: Get Smart: From Analyst to Super-Spy by Sheldon Wiebe

Get Smart could have gone wrong in oh so many ways. Fortunately, rather than parrot the ‘60s hit spy spoof, writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember choose to give us the story of how super-analyst Maxwell Smart [Steve Carell] made the shift from computer jockey to field agent. Mixing clever gags with action is tricky, and while the ratio isn’t quite right, the film manages to maintain its entertainment quotient by keeping Max from being hopelessly incompetent. Instead, Max passes the field agent test with flying colors but is only sent into the field when the identities of all Control’s agents are compromised.

Only Smart and Agent 99 [Anne Hathaway, sexy in a Disney-cute way and deadly in a Modesty Blaise way] can find and destroy KAOS’s stockpile of nuclear weapons – cleverly hidden in a Moscow bakery [well, it would be cleverly hidden if the bakery wasn’t a huge building with an enormous sign bearing its name]. If they fail, it could be curtains for Los Angeles and the visiting President of the United States.

86 & 99

Staples of the series [Max’s love of little British sports cars; Agent 13, the master of disguise; certain trademark phrases] make appearances – including one that is so utterly perfect that I won’t mention the character or the actor. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for fans of the original series. Besides the homages to the original series, there are things about this movie that work because they are different.

Max is not incompetent – his bumbling usually occurs because his focus is too narrow and everything outside his focus gets past him – watch him deal with a hulking Russian assassin, for instance. He also cuts a mean rug in a party scene – where he gives an unlikely dance partner an incredible ego boost [which refers back to Max’s past].

Get Smart’s supporting cast is excellent, but underused. Since some of the action sequences run a bit long, it might have been a good idea to give more time Dwayne Johnson’s suave Agent 23 – or Terrance Stamp’s Siegfried. Another cool change is Alan Arkin’s Chief – instead of being put upon like the character originated by the late Edward Platt, here the Chief is very much a player.

Overall, then, Get Smart is a smart, if slightly overlong movie that reintroduces the characters from the TV series in a fresh way that does not negate the originals. For the most part, it is great fun – and the moments where it tries too hard can be forgiven. Peter Segal directs the film with good energy and if the action threatens to overwhelm the comedy occasionally, it never quite does. The result is an entertainment that should tickle fans of the series as well as those who’ve never heard of it.

Final Grade: B