Sometimes the cherished memories of youth are so compelling and so elemental to the person you’ve become that you must revisit them. You seek out the music and movies, even the junk food you used to eat when you were young, if only to yank back that feeling they once gave you.
Sometimes it’s just as you remember, like when you pop in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but now you revel in every wonderfully cheesy effect that once terrified you. And sometimes it just ain’t the same, like cramming your face full of Pop Rocks or blueberry-flavored Bubblicious, the gum that’s so sugary you could smell it a mile away in a previous life. And sometimes it’s best to just leave it alone altogether, because facing the truth that you weren’t as hip as you thought you were way back when is far more painful. Super painful. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century painful.
I mean, you probably remember the show with gauzy fondness: the robot with Mel Blanc’s voice, the devil-may-care Gil Gerard as the once and future redneck (his performance evokes a degree of Foxworthiness), the space fights, the frosty yet lusty Colonel Wilma Deering. They’re all there. And so long as they remain there in memories of Sunday afternoons in the wintertime building forts out of couch cushions, surrounded by the worst-looking paneling and circus-striped wallpaper ever, you’re fine. But once you’ve paid your way into the past, you learn the truth — it kinda sucked, didn’t it?
I mean, yes, it’s exactly as you recall with the robots and the “aw, shucks” fighter-pilot jive and Erin Gray as Wilma, who is so obviously into ol’ Buck it’s ridiculous, but it just didn’t seem quite so awful back then. So very, very awful. And the fact that I bought the entire series on DVD from the local big-box conglomerate for a mere $20 didn’t tip me off. Silly pudding. In my defense, it was a set of eight discs, double-sided, for the price of a single DVD. It was a steal, but now I’m not sure if I’ll ever attempt to watch it again, not even for snarky giggles. There’s a limit to the “so bad, it’s good” genre.
The pilot episode was a two-parter that was first shown in theaters in March of ’79, six months before the series debuted, as a ploy to lure those dumb nerds who were up to their ears in Star Wars paraphernalia into the local cineplex. (An aside: back then the cineplex had roughly two — count ’em, two — movie screens. Just a tidbit to remind you how old I am.)
The first scene has Captain Rogers riding a three-stage rocket into space, with the rocket separating from a space shuttle that’s headed into the farthest reaches of “out there.” Somewhere along the line a malfunction occurs and Buck flash-freezes like a pea pod in the Green Giant’s clutches. His mind drifts into flights of fantasy or, more likely, a crappy James Bond-like credit montage of babes writhing around on his logo. Get your mind out of the gutter — literally, the women are “emoting” on a stage designed like the Buck Rogers logo. You may think that’s hot, but trust me, it’s not.
It gets worse as Buck ends up on a spaceship left over from the recently canceled Battlestar Galactica — both shows were produced by TV veteran Glen A. Larson — with set design somewhere between Bob Guccione’s Caligula and Deney Terrio’s Dance Fever: It’s a star destroyer. It’s a hedonistic pleasure palace. It’s everywhere you want to be.
Although I’m sure you’re dying for more description, I’m going to leave it there. Actually, that’s what I should’ve done in the first place. In our adult lives we know mom and dad fought and money was always tight and those early diet colas tasted like the underside of a Buick and the old family Buick was a money-sucking crap bucket, but time dulls the edges. In your memory you had the idyllic fantasy childhood: Winters were postcard perfect, with beautiful, sweeping drifts of snow, perfect for sledding yet never ever being obtrusive to the rest of the world. And summers were always comfortable, those polyvinyl splash pools in the backyard always spacious, and you never ever broke a sweat. Of course, these are just the half-truths we tell ourselves to avoid the reality that our early years were probably pretty bland.
I know I was bland. I was the worst sort of geek in my grade school days. Those dumb Star Wars nerds I alluded to earlier? I was one of them. That was me chasing away friends like Jimmy Whatton and Paul Peluso because all I could do was drip over my obsession. And Diane Hahn was totally into me, I just know it. She was cute too, if I recall correctly (and for the sake of my main statement, so it shall be), but the last thing I remember saying to her after the St. Mary’s Fair was “May the Force be with you.” A few years later, when it was time to get into football, I was still wrapped up in my nonsense. Ron Ohnmacht and Mike Halisky were fed up with the geekfest and found other things to do. Eventually I learned that you have to go outside and play once in a while. Eventually you need to put aside things from your childhood.
Adulthood isn’t easy, but it allows those youthful mistakes to blur, to become something less difficult to deal with. (Friendships didn’t fall apart — they just sort of melted away. Droughts and heat waves were once endless and agonizing, but now they’re tolerable — now everything is tolerable.) Just don’t go back too far to investigate, because that wonderful dulling of your memories’ edges can be wiped away with the flash of a debit card or the cost of a DVD. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy whatever you want or participate in whatever you like — just know that it won’t be the way you thought it was. It can’t be. That’s the beautiful thing about age and amyloid plaque buildup in the brain. Consider that before you go off half-cocked on a trip down memory lane.
However, if you’re a masochist and you choose to ignore everything I’ve said, you can find Buck Rogers in the 25th Century at Amazon, hiding behind a mound of half-chewed blueberry Bubblicious.