Starstruck (1979 TV pilot) impressions…

There are reasons why some TV pilots aren’t picked up… After the break…

Starstruck (1979 TV pilot) impressions…

I’ve written about this before but I’ll write it again: A parody or homage will never be as good as the genuine article because, by it’s very nature, it can’t. A parody or homage is required to proverbially look into the camera and wink; It has to somehow acknowledge that it’s a parody or homage in order for it work as one. It’s sort of like that old physics law that the act of observing something causes that something to change from what it would normally do.

Having written that, had the 1979 TV pilot “Starstruck” been a modern-day parody, it would be unequivocally the best parody of cheap 1970s sci-fi comedies that had ever been produced or ever would be produced. It would be genius on the scale of Andy Kaufman only lip-synching the portion of the Mighty Mouse theme song when Mighty Mouse shouts, “Here I come to save the day!” It would be genius that, quite honestly, most people would not be able to properly handle or absorb into their psyche.

If you’ve never heard of the TV series “Starstruck,” there’s a very good reason for that – It doesn’t exist. As with all television series, they start their prospective existence as a television “pilot”; Think of it as the demo for a computer game or even a “tech demo” of a computer game that is shown to prospective computer game publishers in the hopes of receiving funding in order to create the whole game. Some television series get picked up while a lot of them don’t and the reasons for why they don’t is long and varied. Some TV pilots are altered and, after the alteration, those series are picked up. The television series “Married… With Children” had a pilot episode featured different child actors for the kids but those actors were replaced with what would be their permanent replacements. “Star Trek” had two pilot episodes where various aspects of the series changed; “The Muppet Show” made radical changes to it’s format through two pilot episodes.

In the TV pilot for “Starstruck,” a family of space pioneers maintain a folksy space station (if a space station could ever be considered “folksy”) which functionally serves as a waystation for travelers. For people who grew up in the 70s, think of it as “Love Boat meets Star Wars (Episode IV, obviously) meets Little House on the Prairie in space.” Yes, that makes no sense to anyone born after 1988 or unaccustomed to American television but, trust me, it works.

There’s a weird, almost hallucinagenic amalgamation of various genres in the series that nearly defies description. The series is clearly science fiction but the family acts and sounds as though they came straight from the 1800s, even going so far as wearing “retro-colonial” clothing. There are huge influential flourishes in the storyline from Love Boat and Star Wars that are so obvious that, had it ever become a series, there would need to be royalty checks cut. There’s a tall gold-colored robot and a squat white robot (sound familiar), there’s an African-American bartender (yes, there is), there’s a prominent blond-haired young male dressed in white clothing who acts the hero (yes)… Not to mention a certain cantina-quality to one of the sets…

The TV pilot, to be fair, has some quality to it, given that it is a 1970s production. There’s a special effect towards the end that approaches what could be considered a movie-quality special effect. The sets, given the comedic nature of the production, are fairly well-made and some of the creatures are at least serviceable (although, supposedly, one of them was made for a larger-budget production and was merely borrowed for the pilot).

A lot of the TV pilot, though, is a painful collection of 1970s cliches that have aged as well as bell bottom pants and 8-track cassette tapes. There’s a character that is portrayed as such an over-the-top cliche of Jewish stereotypes that I was surprised that he didn’t say “Oy vey!” during every other sentence. The series tries too hard to be too many genres to too many demographics: It attempts to be science fiction, it attempts to be a situational comedy and it attempts to capture the western genre via the “Little House on the Prairie” dynamic with the close-knit homespun family (along with the whimsical 1970s typeface used in the title and credits).

The series has aged too poorly to give it a proper review: You can’t review it as straight science fiction because the setting is only incidental to the story (you could literally re-write it as contemporary without too much effort); As a situational comedy, it depends heavily upon your ability to appreciate the horrid archetypes that persisted in 1970s situational comedies; As an attempt to appease the Western crowd, it’s abysmally confusing (there’s no real explanation for the retro-futuristic Colonial garb and the type font is dreadfully inappropriate for the setting).

In the end, it’s pretty easy to see why this series never got past the TV pilot stage. The odd genre out is the folksy retro-colonialist vibe that runs through the family, as though the pitch for the series was “Little House on the Prairie… But they run a space station!” Maybe if it was just a normally (normal, for 1970s science fiction) dressed and behaving family, there might have been a foundation for a practical series here – A situational comedy in space that serves as a springboard for your usual rotating cast of guest stars. Yet the folksy Prairie angle is as ill-fit as giving the family a gothic makeover (What? “The Addams family… In space running a space station” didn’t cut it?).

Starstruck isn’t a parody or a homage; Had it been, it would have been brilliant. But it isn’t on both counts: It’s neither a parody nor a homage and it isn’t brilliant. It’s just painful to watch and not hard to wonder why it’s only a pilot.


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