Editor Note: Gini Koch brings us a new column entitled Binging My Life Away.
Installments will be sporadic as Gini Has time to binge-watch olde series on DVD/Blu-Ray. This is Gini so we should expect a healthy dose of her own unique view of the world.
Let’s see what she has to say about her selection for this week.
Take it away Gini:
The Wild Wild West
As we all know, binging is the new way to watch things in these fabulous teens of the new millennium. Not to be left out, the hubs and I have been binging many things. Though not all of them are from this century. Such as this particularly big binge – The Wild Wild West, from 1965-1969, plus two made for TV movies. That’s right, you get it ALL here – 104 episodes AND two movies – because we watched it all.
The Wild Wild West stars Robert Conrad (at his most hunky, which is, considering how hunky Conrad has been for most of his life, saying a lot) as James West and Ross Martin (also rather hunky and giving us another type of handsome to enjoy week in and week out) as Artemus Gordon, two Secret Service agents protecting the Union under the auspices of President Grant (Roy Engel).
And what Secret Service agents they were.
The Wild Wild West is pretty much solely responsible for creating both the Weird Western and Steampunk aesthetics and sub-genres. It was considered a cross between a Western and a Science Fiction show when it was first-run. Every week, something totally out of the ordinary happened – UFOs, crazed megalomaniacs, amazing machines run only on steam – and Jim and Artie had to save the day using only their wits, skills, and a tonnage of useful things the Secret Service was given as standard issue that no one knew about. Yes, there are others who added in to create these aesthetics and sub-genres (Jules Verne for Steampunk in particular) but TWWW brought this into homes for almost 5 years straight and it really affected people.
Me, in particular, as it turns out.
As we started this binge a realization hit me – the most influential thing on all of my writing is not other authors or books I’ve read but is, in fact, this television show. I was a very little girl when it was on first run (and my family of all women never, ever missed this show and I was even allowed to stay up late to watch it), but in the olden days of yore, before VCRs, let alone cable and Netflix, shows ran for, easily, at least 24 episodes a season and then they were in constant re-runs. TWWW was re-running when the hubs and I met, for example. It was re-running through the 70’s and 80’s like Friends and That 70’s Show re-run now.
As we watched this show – and for most of the episodes it was like we were seeing it for the first time – I was able to go, “Oh, I got X from this scene. I got that name from this character. I got Y from that.” And so on.
For readers of the Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, if you want to know what Jeff Martini REALLY looks like, go watch any of TWWW episodes where Jim has his shirt off (at least half of them, God love whoever ran this series), add a foot to his height, and, presto, there’s Martini.
And it’s not just my Alien series this show affected. It’s EVERYTHING. Clearly, this show went into my mind, made itself comfortable in my subconscious, and never left.
But, is the show worth the binge if you don’t care about my creative process? Oh, hells to the yeah.
We have two BFF agents fighting all the weird crime and supervillains trying to destroy the still-fragile republic, as well as harm the Republic of Mexico. They have the coolest toys, the coolest train, the best horses, and the dammed best outfits. Artie is a master of disguise and also a scientific genius who routinely creates needful things for Jim as well as uses advanced science to help determine what’s going on. Jim is a master of everything else – being a badass, karate master, kicking butt, and being charming are only a few of his talents. They’re both smart, dedicated, brave, fun, and did I mention hunky?
For those who want other eye candy, almost every episode features a pretty girl, either needing rescuing or capturing. The supporting players are consistently fine – when you binge this you realize that they were very loyal to their stunt crew. As in, by Season 4, the hubs and I were shouting, “Hey, Red” to Red West every time he was onscreen, and so forth.
The best of the many supervillains is Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn) who, sadly, passed away before the end of the series’ run. Dr. Loveless is everything you want in a supervillain – smart, crafty, totally nuts, and also somehow so tied to West and Gordon that he can’t let himself or anyone else just kill them because their deaths have to be extra-special and with meaning. My listing of Best Episodes has those with Loveless in them all ranked highest.
As the show progresses into the latter half of the third season and all of the fourth, you see how 1966’s introduction and the success of Batman affected this show, for better and worse. There’s a lot of “jazzy 60’s music” that doesn’t fit TWWW, the villains just get beyond over-the-top, and Jim suddenly seems like he has a Bat Utility Belt. But still, overall the show continues to work.
Season 4 forces us to meet other agents because Ross Martin first got hurt due to a minor stunt and then had a heart attack right after coming back. So not only do we spend a huge part of the season Artie-free, but we also get these clearly shown out of order (events are referred to that we hear about as new in a subsequent show, Artie’s back and then he’s gone again, and so on). So Season 4 is definitely the weakest. But, other than the very last episode, where they write Jim as a total chauvinist pig, which is out of character, Season 4 still has its charms.
Conrad did all his own stunts until somewhere late in Season 3 where he got hurt, badly, and after that the stunt crew did most of them. We’re pretty sure we spotted which scene did it, too – we were actively looking for it – because it’s clear he was supposed to fall onto a stuntman who wasn’t where he should have been. It hurt to watch, frankly. But the show went on – albeit with a delay while Conrad recovered because you can’t have the title character not onscreen.
The two made-for-TV movies are worth watching the first time you binge, but only then. Unlike the series, which was NOT played as camp, the two movies are totally campy. Campy off the charts. And while we get Paul Williams as a good substitute for Michael Dunn (he plays Loveless’s son), you miss Dunn a lot in these movies. We do get Victor Buono both twice in the series and once in the second TV movie, but it’s not enough. The TV movies are fun, but they aren’t really TWWW, though it’s nice to see Jim and Artie back together again.
Season 1 has commentary from Conrad to open each episode, which is nice. If you buy the complete boxed set it comes with a really good episodes listing as well.
Bottom line: This series still stands up even to today’s standards and is hella fun to watch. For those long-running binge needs, The Wild Wild West stands ready to save your day.
5 stars out of 5
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