Steven S. Drachman: On TV

Some stuff I’ve been watching, and some thoughts I’ve been having.

Rich Guy Traveling to Fancy Places that Cater to Rich People

Last night, I watched the first episode of Eugene Levy’s The Reluctant Traveler. Rich man gets out of his “comfort zone” when he travels to a luxury hotel in Finland; mistakenly believes he is roughing it. Locals forced to laugh uproariously at his stupid ad-libs; rich man mistakenly believes he is being funny. Maybe Hollywood is out of touch!

This is a genre that might have begun with Michael Palin, but Palin himself caught on that his privilege was showing, and later episodes crashed through the myopia. His visit to North Korea was a particularly spectacular example of breaking out of the genre to show us something genuinely new. It’s unlikely that The Reluctant Traveler will reach those heights. It is really nicely filmed, though.

A Groundbreaking Kids’ Sci-Fi Show

When I was a kid, I watched Land of the Lost, and my dad watched it with me. This was a show about a father and his two kids (later an uncle) who wind up in a weird primitive alternate two-mooned world populated by dinosaurs and two types of humanoids, the reptilian Sleestak and the lovable chimplike Pakuni. The show ran from 1974 to 1977, and it was shot on cheap-looking videotape and blue-screened backgrounds, but the stories were great. It was later rebooted for television in 1991, and as a movie in 2009. The new TV version was more lavishly shot on film and starred a famous movie actor, Timothy Bottoms. The movie was funny (at least, I thought so), and starred Will Ferrell.

But it was that first series that I loved, and still love.

Watching it back then, as a kid, I was used to TV and movie aliens speaking gibberish and assumed this was the case with the Pakuni, Chaka and his two dads, Ta and Sa. After a couple of episodes, though, my father said he thought the TV Pakuni were speaking an “actual” (though made-up) sort-of language. So he paid close attention, and pretty soon he could speak passable Pakuni. He had a knack for languages, and he liked to fool around with them. He learned Esperanto, which is pretty useless, and also Hawaiian, but Pakuni was probably the most useless language he ever mastered. Still, he enjoyed calling his kids to dinner in Pakuni. He didn’t have the benefit of a Pakuni-to-English dictionary, but one exists now.

I’ve told this story from time to time, but I have recently learned that Pakuni was the first “conlang” (consistent though madeup language) ever to appear in a film or TV show, developed by a linguist at UCLA, which made the show a trailblazer in at least one way. It was also the first show that featured two dads, even if they were chimplike aliens.

Klingons did appear in Star Trek in the ‘sixties, but back then they spoke only gibberish.

Style over Substance

I’ve been watching Hello Tomorrow, and the criticisms are all true: it’s a show about not very interesting people living in a wildly visually fascinating world. The visuals are what is known as “retro-futurism,” and it’s a popular style of art that looks at the future through the lens of the past, using a Jetsons hue. I believe that Hello Tomorrow is the first TV show or movie designed 100% in a retro-futurism style, and it is spectacular. The story, about a salesman and the son who never knew him, and an uninteresting fraud-mystery that plays out in painfully slow hints, is less-so. Is there an argument that this alone makes it worth watching? I will report back.

Mark Maron: From Bleak to Dark

Mark Maron looks just like Kurt Vonnegut these days. Or rather, he looks the way Kurt Vonnegut looked back when he was still alive.

Maron’s new show is breathtaking. His first standup special since the death of his partner Lynn Shelton (“the genius,” he says), it is both sad and hilarious; apart from some gratuitous and jarringly crude bits of unfunniness near the beginning, it’s the sustained masterpiece that those of us who have followed his career always knew he would one day achieve.

If only he didn’t look so much like Kurt Vonnegut. It’s distracting.


Steven S. Drachman is the author of a science fiction trilogy, The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, which is available in paperback from your local bookstore, Amazon and Barnes & Noble; it is also available as a Kindle e-book. Image by Pexels.