The TV show “UFO” takes place in 1980. You learn this during the opening credits when the year is flashed multiple times on the screen. It is a Gerry and Sylvia Anderson extravaganza so there are also a bunch of unconvincing models used for special effects. Some of them explode. Unlike their previous efforts, humans are used in place of puppets though that didn’t improve the acting much.
Production for the show began in 1969 (it premiered in 1970) so the depiction of 1980 involved a lot of guesswork, most of it wrong. I was just a little kid when the show first aired so I never saw it then. Even when it was in syndication and I was older, I never much got into it. My viewing time for such fare was already spoken for with one better show (“Star Trek”) and one worse one (“Lost in Space”).
To be fair, reruns of “UFO” weren’t on TV often. The programming managers had decided that they didn’t care about the show and neither should we. Their word was final until YouTube came along.
I can’t remember the circumstance that prompted me to watch the pilot episode earlier this year. I was probably either bored on the bus or laid out on the couch too hung over to move. It hardly matters. It was wonderful.
Don’t get me wrong. The show is crap, but it’s highly entertaining crap. Comedy doesn’t need to be intentional to be funny. I was particularly amused by how over-the-top sexist it was.
Women assigned to the moon base wore metallic miniskirts and purple wigs. Their earthbound counterparts were less space age in their attire yet similarly tarted up for the male gaze. The submarine captain, who lost his sister to the aliens, kept a picture of her on the wall of his quarters though it was the kind of photo one would jack off to.
Best of all was Alec Freeman, who had all the tact of a rutting boar who was recently divorced. We first see him march into an office and grab the receptionist’s hand as she’s about to make a phone call, not letting her lift the receiver until he’s finished hitting on her. He is later the pilot of an aircraft transporting a team of specialists to London. When he leaves the copilot in charge and goes into the main cabin to meet the team, he all but ignores the men so he can treat the one woman to double entendres on the word “equipment.” Back at the plane’s controls and under attack from a UFO (pronounced “ewe faux”), he remarks “This cloud gives about as much cover as a G-string on a belly dancer.”
Alec was one awesome dude.
I wanted to watch the rest of the series and preferred to share the experience with Becca. Neither of us is the sort to binge watch trending fare like “Game of Thrones” then make observations on social media to an online community of fans. We enjoy trash (particularly vintage trash) for what it is. When we talk shit about it to each other, it becomes our thing.
We watched starting with the first episode (I didn’t want Becca to miss a thing) on her laptop, which has taken up a permanent spot on the coffee table in the living room. The eye rolls began with the opening credits.
“They’re defending the Earth with toys,” she said.
“The aliens have toys too. It’s called detente. “
“Christ, I need wine.”
Alec Freeman amused her, which didn’t surprise me. Toxic masculinity is hilarious. The only character who really bothered her was Commander Straker, the guy in charge of the planetary-defense operation. He was the kind of boss that makes people shoot up their workplaces. He was micromanaging, snippy, and quick to point out that no one was as dedicated as he was. Straker also looked like a complete doofus.
To be fair, there was a lot of that going around. The show’s 1969 vision of 1980 was achieved by taking a late-60s “Austin Powers” aesthetic to its logical conclusion. The Nehru jacket was acceptable business wear. The submarine crew wore these mesh tops that looked better suited to employees of a full-service massage parlor.
However, Straker took fashion victimhood to the next level. He often wore this vest-pants onesie and turtleneck that mde him look like a figure skater. Then there was his hair, platinum-blond locks combed straight down over his forehead.
“Christ, he looks like Ellen DeGeneres,” Becca said.
She was as right about this as she was about the need for wine. Despite her grumblings, she was as sucked in as I was and we watched all 26 episodes.
There were some disappointments along the way. One was Alec Freeman. From the second episode onward, he stopped trying to nail every woman he laid eyes on. Perhaps HR had a word with him. If you needed a sexism fix, you had to make do with women dressed like Vegas cocktail waitresses and Straker establishing dominance by having them make him coffee. He did kinda-sorta put the moves on some moon-base honey at some point, but that was more sad than anything.
Pacing could also be a little slow, especially when extended scenes of mediocre special effects were used to pad a story far too thin to fill the 50-minute run time. There were a few gems though. One episode involving a murder plot was refreshingly dark.
Even when the show was a mess (and it often was), that just gave us more opportunity to indulge in snark directed at the show’s protagonist.
“I was thinking of a UFO/James Bond crossover called ‘Moonstraker,'” I said to Becca.
“Of course you were.”
“Not a fair contest though. I’m sure Roger Moore could kick Straker’s ass.”
“Dudley Moore could kick Straker’s ass.”
Mostly, we sat back and drank in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s absurd retrofuture vision. Becca, though born in 1987, knew that 1980 was nothing like that because she’s not an idiot. I remembered 1980 so I had firsthand knowledge of how off the mark the Andersons were. The difference for me is that I kind of wish it were spot on.
The 1970s was a decade that looks much better in a rearview mirror than it did being inside the thing. It was a terrible time to grow up because our parents were as insufferably adolescent as we were. Shirt collars were big enough to hang glide with and porn ‘staches were held in high regard at a time when I had to shave maybe once a month.
I kept telling myself that someday it would all be over. 1980 not only began a new decade, but also had me graduating high school and turning 18. Fuck your disco and your erroneous zones. This was my time now.
Well, that was the idea anyway. My predictions of 1980 were as inaccurate as anything “UFO” put on the screen. The golden age of the new-wave renaissance man (yeah, I thought of myself as such) began with the year that killed John Lennon, elected Ronald Reagan, and showed no signs of music on the radio sucking any less.
If the 1970s never happened, maybe 1980 would have been like it was on the show. The existence of a moon base would be pretty awesome and I’d look fab as fuck in a Nehru jacket. Perhaps I’d even look cool rocking some Straker hair.
After we finished “UFO,” Becca and decided to watch the Andersons’ sci-fi follow up, “Space: 1999.” It made me think of my own 1999. That was the year I went to work at a dot com with dreams of becoming an internet millionaire. Just like my 1980, it was not meant to be.