Ark II (1976)

Hi, it’s Pam again. Nate and I had such a good time reviewing The Starlost, we decided to look around to find another obscure science fiction TV show that didn’t last long. I checked the Internet, and it turns out there are more of these than I thought. I’m not sure how I missed so many of them, but I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, which at the time (1970s and 1980s) had a grand total of five TV channels: CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, and a local independent station. Not even any UHF channels. Whoever was in charge of programming at the local stations in Tucson must not have cared much for science fiction, and I found a fair number of science fiction series that I didn’t know even existed. Some of them are better than others. I picked Ark II because I’d never heard of it at all but Nate said it had a cool RV, and because its episodes are only 22 minutes long. Those 49-minute episodes of The Starlost sometimes got to be quite a slog.

No, not that RV. Seriously, white people, let it go, that show wasn’t that good anyway.

The series was made in the mid-1970s, and a total of 15 episodes were made. According to the introduction, it’s set in the 25th century, apparently in the United States, judging from the characters’ accents. There’s been a collapse of civilization. What caused civilization to collapse? Post-apocalyptic science fiction stories tend to identify a cause for the apocalypse based on contemporary fears, and causes in stories I’ve read have been things such as a devastating plague, invasion by foreigners (nationality depending on who we’re most scared of at the time), invasion by aliens from outer space (who generally strongly resemble the nationality we’re most scared of at the time), atomic war, stupid people outbreeding smart people, general overpopulation, a new ice age, environmental pollution, or most recently global warming. Ark II has picked “pollution and waste” as the cause.


Luckily for us the viewers, not everybody in the post-apocalyptic world of Ark II is sitting around on garbage dumps, choking on bad air, otherwise this wouldn’t be much of a TV series. So what is driving the story? Well, the introduction tells us that only a handful of scientists are left, and some have chosen to travel around in vehicles like Ark II, trying to restore civilization. I’m wondering what a fairly small RV, crewed by only four people as we will shortly see, expects to do to restore civilization in a country the size of the United States, but I suppose everything has to start somewhere.

Pretty slick ride.

First, let’s talk about the crew of Ark II. Since the series was aimed at a juvenile audience, you won’t be surprised to learn that the main cast is all pretty young. Going from oldest to youngest, there’s the head of the crew, Jonah, played by Terry Lester, who was about 26 at the time. Yes, this is the original Jack Abbott from The Young and the Restless, and I’m a little embarrassed that I know this.

I don’t even know who you are anymore.

Then there’s Ruth, played by 21-year-old Jean Marie Hon, and Samuel, played by Jose Flores, for whom no birthdate is given in IMDb but who seems to be in his early-to-mid-teens.

Ruth (L) and Samuel (R). Faceless extra in background.

Finally there’s Adam, who has no biography in IMDb but who seems to be about three or four. So small children are expected to be fully contributing citizens in the world of the 25th century? Not exactly. I wasn’t completely accurate in the previous paragraph when I said the crew of the Ark II was made up of four people, because Adam isn’t a person, at least not a human person. Adam is a talking chimpanzee, and an excellent chess player to boot, not to mention well-dressed. So let us proceed and see what our motley crew is going to do to fix the sorry mess our world has fallen into.

It’s Captain Huggyface!

Episode 1: The Flies

We get a glimpse of what this world is like in the opening scene of the first episode where a man and a group of small boys (the “flies” of the episode title) are raiding a dump, looking for usable objects. They’re interrupted by the arrival of four men on horseback, dressed in a mixture of worn clothing and fur and carrying lances. The man and the boys pile into a horse-drawn wagon and speed off, pursued by the men on horseback. I’m about to scoff in disbelief, because there’s no way a loaded wagon could outdistance men on horseback for very long, but then I see the man has something literally up his sleeve. He pulls out a few balls about the size of golf balls and tosses them over his shoulder. The balls explode, and the men give up, although from their parting words, it seems they feel the man and the boys invaded their territory and their dump and they were just trying to chase them off.

He’s not a nice man.

As a brief aside, I’d like to examine this scene a little more closely. The man and the boys are dressed in filthy rags, and they’re raiding a dump, which lines up with what we’ve been told of this world. However, they’re riding in a sturdy wagon pulled by two well-fed, well-trained horses, which suggests some degree of civilization. Also, the man has an Irish accent, not to mention exploding golf balls. Do ordinary people travel between countries in this world? I guess that’s not impossible, if we assume a civilization of approximately 19th century based on the wagon, but what about the explosives? Will we get an explanation?

Wimpy bandits.

The man, the children, and Ark II intersect each other, but the wagon proceeds on its way, although some of its loot is lost in the near-collision. I have to point out Ark II and the wagon are traveling on well-marked roads. They’re dirt roads, not paved roads, but they’re smoothly graded. This could be done with horse-drawn equipment, but it suggests there’s some sort of local government that has enough authority to maintain roads.

The wagon clearly had the rightofway.

The Ark II crew examine what fell off the wagon and find it’s mostly pans and other scrap metal, but they’re dismayed to find a small cylinder of what they say is poison gas, which they know because the cylinder is conveniently labeled “poison gas.” I want to laugh, but then I realize the standard system of identification of gases might well have fallen out of use by the 25th century. Jonah is very worried, and I’m wondering myself why the kids bothered with it. Were they just taking it for the metal, or can they read enough to know what it is? If so, what are they planning to do with it? So Jonah straps on a portable jet pack, much more sophisticated than the one stalwart Larry Martin used in Zombies of the Stratosphere, and flies off to catch up to the kids, while Ruth and Samuel test a sample of the unknown but poisonous gas. A little bit dissolves the flesh off a piece of meat, leaving only bone, so it’s powerful stuff indeed. Fortunately Ruth and Samuel can and do neutralize it to nitrous oxide.

Cleaning up the environment.

The kids’ camp proves to be nothing more than some mattresses and beat-up furniture scattered around, with a crude awning for the man, so let’s hope this area doesn’t get a lot of rain or cold weather. We’re none-too-subtly informed of the relation between the man and the boys when the boys call him “Mr. Fagin.” When Jonah confronts Fagin about the gas, Fagin piously denies any wish to keep it and possibly cause harm to the boys, although he does mention he has a gas mask that will protect him (although it won’t do him much good against something that attacks flesh, so he may not know exactly what the gas does). Now I’m getting curious. Fagin mentioned something to the boys about selling their salvaged scrap; does he know somebody who’s in the market for poison gas? Fagin, by the way, is played by Jonathan Harris from Lost in Space, and so far he’s been more of a lovable rogue than a heartless exploiter of children. He entertains Jonah with a few magic tricks, and finally cons Jonah into letting him tie Jonah up. Unfortunately for Jonah, this isn’t a trick; Fagin takes the cylinder and goes off to the local warlords, whether to sell the gas to them or threaten them with it isn’t clear.

This actor has chunks of scenery in his teeth.

Back at Ark II, Ruth and Samuel are unloading an SUV-sized vehicle from the back. (From the outside, the Ark doesn’t seem big enough to have living space for four people – er, three people and a chimpanzee – plus the laboratory space we’ve seen, plus room to carry an SUV, but let’s not carp, not too hard, anyway.) Meanwhile, Fagin has arrived at the warlords’ camp. We can assume from the looks of the camp that warlording doesn’t pay well in this neck of the woods, since the best they can manage are a few crudely-built shelters, basic clothing, and more beat-up furniture. Perhaps for this reason, Fagin makes it clear he’s after power, not money. Once he brandishes the gas mask, the warlords look as though they may cave in to his demands.

The SUV thing (with T-tops!).

Ruth and Samuel have arrived at Fagin’s camp, for now hanging back under cover. Jonah is still tied up, but the boys are worried about Fagin, which suggests that Fagin may not be as bad as he seems. Jonah points out that Fagin could hurt himself with the gas, and most of the boys leave to check on him. This leaves Jonah still tied up with a couple of the bigger boys guarding him, but help is on the way in the person (?) of Adam. Adam grabs up a piece of scrap and runs off with it, the two boys follow, and Ruth and Samuel untie Jonah. Jonah retrieves his jetpack and flies off to try to find Fagin.

Jonah makes his case for peace and harmony (ha!).

Fagin is currently sitting in the comparative luxury of the warlord camp, gobbling fruit, including what appears to be a large modern Delicious apple (suggesting some fruit cultivation is going on somewhere), but things aren’t looking that good for him. One of the warlords challenges Fagin to demonstrate the power of the gas on some enemies, which turn out to be none other than Fagin’s boys, captured while trying to find their leader. Fagin, as I have mentioned, so far seems to have some genuine concern for the boys, and he tries to talk his way out of this, but the warlord isn’t having any argument. Sure enough, at the last moment, Fagin can’t go through with it. The warlord grabs the cylinder of gas and orders Fagin and the boys to be locked up.

Yay, we got tickets to the Yes concert!

By now, Jonah, Ruth, Samuel and Adam have arrived in the SUV, and they’re hiding outside the camp, debating what to do. To be exact, Jonah, Ruth, and Samuel are debating, Adam isn’t talking. In fact, he hasn’t said anything since his first scene. Samuel comes up with a suggestion: he, Ruth, and Jonah will all put on gas masks, Ruth and Samuel will draw the warlords’ attention, and Jonah will run into camp and grab the cylinder of poison gas. But what will keep the warlords from chasing them before they can release Fagin and the boys? You’ll remember the poison gas can be converted to nitrous oxide, and fortunately they brought along the cylinder they converted (it seems Fagin already had several other cylinders of poison gas, one of which he took to the warlords’ camp). Jonah opens the cylinder of nitrous oxide, and the warlords all collapse laughing uncontrollably. I will not deign to comment on the extreme unlikelihood of a small cylinder releasing enough nitrous oxide to form a high enough concentration in open air to affect adults. Not to mention nitrous oxide doesn’t really make people fall down laughing. This is a kids’ program, after all.

The end credits show childhood educational advisors for the content.

Anyway, the grateful Fagin promises to reform and give the boys a proper education, although how a product of a civilization in complete collapse can do this is a good question. With that uplifting thought, the crew heads back to Ark II and off for more adventures.

Hopefully not with this guy anymore.

Comments: The introduction at the start of the episode made it sound as though there were a handful of scientists who’d managed to retain civilization amid a sea of darkness and are trying to bring the rest of the country (world?) up to their level. This isn’t supported by what we see in this episode. It was mentioned at the beginning of the episode that Ark II went to this particular area to investigate reports that a band of marauding children were perpetrating “serious infringements on the rights of others.” Who made the reports, and do the handful of scientists really have the resources to investigate small-potatoes incidents like kids robbing scrap piles other people have claimed? And whose rights were the kids infringing, the warlords’? And where did Fagin’s exploding golf balls come from? So let’s proceed to the next episode and see if any of these questions will be answered.

No, they will not be.

Episode 2: The Rule

In the opening scene, Jonah gives us a little more information about his mission, which today will be helping some local inhabitants improve their way of life in any way possible. We can see they need all the help they can get: they live in caves with a little (very little) improvised furniture, wear crude clothing, and are so close to starvation they have to throw the sick and infirm out to survive as best they can once they’re not able to work. However, today is an even worse day than usual for them, because they’re attacked by a gang of “scavengers,” who look a lot like the “warlords” in the previous episode except they don’t have horses. The scavengers steal what little livestock they have, a few goats and chickens, and run off with their store of food, which is about enough to fill a cart. The cave-dwellers don’t seem to bother to post any guards, which seems peculiar since they know there are scavengers around.

The scavengers (nice boonie hat).

But weep not for the poor cave-dwellers, our foursome is here to help! Samuel and Adam lure the scavengers off with the SUV, while Jonah straps on his jetpack and zooms off to locate the stolen supplies. This plan works just fine, although not for the scavenger leader, because once his followers see their empty camp, they express their indignation quite forcibly, although since this is a children’s show, all we’re allowed to see is the leader running off with them in hot pursuit.

Jonah needs to lower his seat.

I want to emphasize that this is very definitely a children’s show, and it’s shaping up to be the kind of children’s show that feels the necessity to bring in a moral. Although the first episode didn’t do this, this one did, and with a very heavy hand, because the rescue of the food was planned by three people who’d been kicked out because they were deemed unfit to work. (However, the plan wouldn’t have worked without the advanced technology of Jonah and his crew, a point which the plot ignores.) The leader of the cave-dwellers is not only so impressed he promptly restores the three invalids to full citizenship status, he also takes in the ex-leader of the scavengers, who shows up begging for help. I have to say that although I believe in equal rights for the disabled, this may actually not be the best idea for a society that’s clearly living on the ragged edge of starvation the way these cave-dwellers are, since we saw their entire stock of food consisted of three goats and no more food than would fit into a small cart. In circumstances as dire as theirs, maybe it really is necessary to limit the number of non-workers and non-fighters in their group, since it appears they’re not only short of food, there’s a lot of people out there who are trying to steal what little they do have.

They’re old, burn them!

Something I need to point out is that our foursome didn’t really accomplish their mission, in that although the cave-dwellers may now be better off spiritually, they’re no better off materially than before the representatives of an advanced civilization showed up. In fact, the cave-dwellers may be a little bit worse off. Adam isn’t a big talker, and so far he hasn’t done much besides look cute, but it seems he both knows how to cook and has a sense of humor. We see him stirring something on the stove, then he announces that dinner will be chicken and plops a covered pot onto the table. Once the lid is lifted, we see a live chicken squirming around. This gives the others a good laugh, but the only place I can see that Adam could have gotten a live domestic chicken from was the cave-dwellers. I’m sure they’re just pleased as punch that one of their meager flock is being used to play a joke on the scientists, who seems to have all the food they could want already.

Oiy vey! That’s comedy!

A question: How can the scavengers, and the warlords for that matter, live off what they steal from others? Maybe they can’t, the scavengers are all skinny and ragged and look even worse than the cave-dwellers. So far people seem to be pretty scarce in this area, and the ones there are have so little it hardly seems worth stealing from them. This isn’t a new situation, either, it’s been going on for an unspecified but long time, possibly centuries, so how could scavengers survive for any length of time? Are there more populated, better-off areas they can prey on? Are there trade routes with travelers they can rob? Let’s see what the next episode shows us.

Hopefully more of Ruth…

Episode 3: The Tank

This episode takes our heroes to an old battleground to make sure nothing dangerous still exists. Could Fagin have gotten his exploding golf balls from this place, or a similar battleground? What happened to create this world, anyway? Once the “pollution and waste” took their toll, was there fighting over the remaining habitable areas? Maybe. And how old is “old,” anyway? The equipment (of which there is such a small amount there couldn’t have been much of a battle here, but this is probably due to a limited budget rather than an intentional sign that small groups were doing the fighting) is in bad shape but doesn’t seem to have been degraded by the weather, and no weeds or brush have grown up around it, although we see plenty of both in the surrounding countryside.

Cruising around, burning fossil fuels.

However, before Ark II can pause to investigate, Adam spots some (male) scavengers chasing a young woman. Hey, how come we haven’t seen any woman scavengers? But anyway, Jonah and Samuel rush off to the rescue, but just as the scavengers catch the woman, Jonah and Samuel are briefly distracted by the sight of - a tank! To be sure, it’s a very small tank with a very small cannon. (Nate, do you know what kind of tank this is?) Not only that, it turns around and drives off when the driver sees Jonah and Samuel. Jonah gives up on catching the scavengers on foot and turns to his trusty jetpack, but the scavengers have taken cover under some trees and he can’t find them.

More of an armored artillery tractor than a tank…

There’s a small village nearby, and Ark II heads off to see if the girl came from there. It’s the typical junky-looking small settlement we’ve seen before, but this one isn’t as friendly as the one we saw in the last episode. In fact, the leader orders them to leave immediately, claiming it was vehicles like Ark II that caused pollution and the destruction of society. Furthermore, he says, the girl they saw couldn’t have been from this village, because all its inhabitants are forbidden to go near the old weapons of destruction. While he’s denouncing them, though, Jonah and Samuel spot the driver of the tank in the group of villagers.

First contact with the locals.

The leader’s harangue is interrupted by the scavengers, who say their captive is in fact from this village. They want to trade her for four sacks of grain, which is more than the villagers can pay. Ruth says they’ll help him get his daughter back, but the leader contemptuously refuses their help. They go off on their own anyway, but when they get back to the old “battleground,” they’re stopped by the kid in the tank. Sharp-eyed Jonah notices grass sprouting out of the barrel of the cannon and points out to the kid that the barrel has been clogged “for centuries.” So the fighting must have happened a very long time ago? After a little more talk, the kid agrees to help them rescue the girl.

We surrender! We’re French!

Meanwhile, the girl’s father is trying to get his daughter back. He says the village can’t give them four sacks of grain, but he has a counter-offer: they can have him to sell in place of his daughter. He says he’s a lot stronger than she is, so he’s worth a lot more. Hmm…this suggests there’s enough of a civilization to provide a market for slaves, at least slaves that can work hard enough to produce more than it takes to keep them alive. It may not be a very high level of civilization if all they’re looking for are strong backs, but it suggests that somewhere there are people with somewhat more than the dirt-poor villagers and scavengers we’ve seen. I question, though, whether even a strong man is really worth more than a pretty young woman, but this is a children’s show after all, so I suppose the writers didn’t want to so much as hint at this.

He has very high associated maintenance costs.

So we’re to assume the scavengers are honorable people who keep their word? If so, we’re wrong, as predictably they keep both father and daughter and gloat over the fact they’ll get fourteen bags of grain for the pair! I would be outraged, but it does look as though the scavengers are even worse off than the villagers and really are close to starving. Incidentally, there are a couple of women among the scavengers, so that answers my earlier question.

Scavengers have no honor.

Back to our foursome, they use the same tactic that worked so well in the last episode. This time, Samuel and Adam draw off the scavengers while Jonah and Ruth drive the SUV to the cave where the father and daughter are being held, which incidentally has a door made of precision-worked metal bars kept locked with a new-looking padlock. Samuel and Adam unfortunately are captured, because Tank Kid was supposed to help them but instead stayed under cover. Jonah sends Ruth off, and he first beams a strong light at the scavengers who’ve just locked up Samuel and Adam, then runs away while they’re temporarily blinded. Tank Kid regains some courage and manages to grab the key to the cave door away from the scavenger leader, but all this gets him is locked up with father, daughter, Samuel, and Adam. I wonder how many bags of grain the scavengers will get for Adam? By the way, neither the scavengers nor the villagers seem at all surprised to see a chimpanzee, not to mention a chimpanzee wearing a red-and-white jumpsuit. Adam has shown himself to be a chimp of few words, and they haven’t heard him talk. If they did, I wonder if that would surprise them?

Jonah blinds the bad guys. Again.

So things are looking bad, but just then, what do you think happens? Yes, up drives the tank, crewed, to my surprise, by Ruth. I was expecting Jonah, which I suppose was sexist of me. To its credit, so far the show has shown men and women of all races living and working together, with any discrimination based on whether they’re law-abiding farmers or worthless scavengers.

Stuck in the cage.

Ruth has come equipped with a heavy metal chain, and it’s the work of but a few moments to use the tank to pull open the cave door. And it looks as though Jonah was in the tank all along, and after everybody’s climbed on to the tank (there’s no way they could all fit inside it), he drives off. Once they’re well away from the scavengers, we learn the moral for this episode is “Machines can be useful.” The leader is so happy to find this out, he picks up Adam and kisses him. As Ark II leaves, we see the tank being used to pull a plow, which should in fact help the villagers to plant more grain. Of course, there’s the problem of fuel, but the crew used the lab in Ark II to make them some (!) before they left, and maybe they’re planning to make periodic deliveries. That’s quite some lab they’ve managed to pack into a small space!

Always leave them laughing.

Episode 4: The Slaves

Remember last episode, when the scavengers were going to sell their captives as slaves? In this episode, we find out who is buying them. For once our heroes have an important mission, as Jonah decides it’s time to investigate. He finds a group of slaves hoeing a field – of what, I’m not sure, it looks like weeds to me, but I’m no farmer. (I think somebody handed out picks, shovels, and hoes, took the extras out into an empty field, and told them to pretend they’re doing something to the ground.) Is their master mean! He won’t even let them have any water to drink while they’re working. This, by the way, sounds like a good way to kill off all your slaves in a hurry. Are slaves so plentiful around here their master can blow through them like that? And since there are a lot of slaves and only the master and a couple of guards to watch them, why don’t some of the slaves sneak off? And the guards are just as ragged as the slaves, what keeps them around?

Set built in two days, tops.

Jonah finds out why. He’s so busy telling Ruth and Samuel what’s going on that he lets one of the guards sneak up on him, and he gets captured. He’s promptly put to work in the field, and one of the other slaves tells him that their master, who calls himself a Baron no less, is a magician who can turn people into animals. That’s why the slaves are sticking around, they think the Baron has turned their loved ones into rabbits and chickens, and if anybody leaves, his wife, brother, or whatever will be killed. Later, after the workday is over, the Baron puts on a red cape with Satanic-looking symbols on it and pretends to turn Jonah into a chicken in front of the other slaves.

Wow, that’s terrible costuming.

Although needless to say Jonah hasn’t really become a chicken, his situation isn’t that great even so. Under cover of a cloud of smoke, the Baron has dropped Jonah through a trap door and imprisoned him in a cell. But fear not, as you’ll recall Jonah was talking to Ruth and Samuel when he was caught, and they’ve tracked him to the compound and are currently hiding in an unused building, trying to find out where Jonah is. However, inattention seems to be a universal failing among the Ark II crew, and the two guards sneak up on them. The Baron almost has two more slaves, but Ruth and Samuel draw their Flashlights of Doom we saw in the last episode (which actually look exactly like smartphones with the Brightest Flashlight app ever activated) and blind the guards long enough for Adam to drive up in the SUV and take them to safety. Back at Ark II, they regroup and plan their strategy to rescue Jonah.

Curses, foiled again!

You know, I’m beginning to see a certain sameness to the plots. One of Ark II’s crew snoops around a group of people and gets caught, one or two other crewmembers lead the bad guys off while the captive escapes, the bad guys are licked, and there’s a happy ending. Let’s see if this episode is going to play out that way.

Just leave him there, he’s deadweight.

And it is. Ruth, Samuel, and Adam (!) put on ragged dirty clothing and sneak into the compound. Ruth and Samuel pretend to hoe while Adam looks around to find Jonah, proving that the Baron really does need more guards, if he has so many slaves he doesn’t recognize a couple of ringers, also proving the Baron is either blind or woefully ignorant if he doesn’t know a chimpanzee when he sees one. He does finally realize that Adam looks a little different from the rest of the slaves and sends the guards to try to catch him, which, of course, is futile since Adam can climb the buildings and clamber over roofs. So Adam tells Ruth and Samuel where to find Jonah while he leads the guards away from them, Ruth and Samuel release Jonah from his cell with keys Adam has managed to steal, and Jonah dons the jetpack Ruth and Samuel have been hauling around in a cart, lightly disguised with a blanket over the jetpack.

Ruth is the brains of this operation.

Oddly enough, Jonah hasn’t been stripped of his gadgets or even his fancy jumpsuit. Although the Baron may not know what the gadgets are and thinks they’re some kind of worthless ornaments, Jonah’s clothing must have value in a place where all the clothing has to be laboriously woven by hand. Considering that even the Baron’s clothes are shabby compared to what Jonah’s wearing, it’s surprising nobody’s taken Jonah’s clothes away from him. And there’s a major continuity error here, as Jonah is shown putting on the jetpack with Ruth’s assistance just outside the jail building but takes off from a wooded area with no buildings or people around. Why he bothered to fly is a good question, since all he’s doing is covering the short distance from his cell to the platform where the Baron puts on his performances, but maybe he likes a dramatic entrance. In the meantime, Ruth and Samuel have somehow managed to get out of the compound, go back to wherever they cached Ark II, and drive it back to the Baron’s platform.

Cue dramatic jet pack entrance!

Ark II has been shown to have a protective force field, and Samuel has figured out a way to project the force field away from Ark II. Jonah astonishes the crowd by climbing up on what appears to be air, and while they’re gasping in astonishment, a couple of slaves grab the Baron. Once captured, he crumbles fast and immediately admits the slaves he pretended to turn into animals were actually sold to other villages. Everybody gets a good laugh when Adam, now back in his Ark II jumpsuit, emerges from the trap door in the Baron’s platform, although Adam doesn’t get kissed this time. Incidentally, Adam’s jumpsuit isn’t nearly as well-tailored as the rest of the crews’. Information I found on the Internet said that Adam had to wear a diaper under his jumpsuit, so he must not have been as well-trained as he appeared. The ex-slaves seem happy, although of course they still don’t know where their loved ones are. The moral for this episode seems to be, “Don’t let anybody fool you with cheap magic tricks.”

The force field is pumpkin orange.

And so our crew is off for more adventures. But before I let Nate take over, I want to bring up some questions. So far, we’ve seen Mr. Fagin use exploding golf balls in Episode 1, and there was the kid driving a tank in Episode 3. Some things Jonah said in Episode 3 suggested that the fighting happened a very long time ago, maybe hundreds of years ago. So why are there grenades that still explode and tanks that still run? Is this a sign some weapons are still being produced somewhere, or is it a sign of sloppy writing? My guess is the latter, but we’ll see as the show progresses.

And who is still making Crest Whitestrips in this world?

I’ve mentioned that we’ve seen very few people, which seems a little odd. As I said, I’m no farmer, so I don’t know if you can grow much in the way of crops on the sort of land we’ve seen, but we’ve seen no signs of existing pollution in the areas Ark II has visited, and the land seems to be able to support game animals like deer. We’ve seen people wearing leather and fur, so there must be some animals. Why is everybody so hungry? If crops don’t grow well here, why don’t the people move to a better area? And the scavenger camp in Episode 1 had enough apples to share with visitors, so somebody, somewhere, must be growing apples, and there must be enough trade to get the apples to areas where they aren’t grown. And what is the deal with the Baron in Episode 4? This show certainly seems to be set in what’s left of the United States, has some sort of hereditary aristocracy grown up over the years? If not, how does the Baron know what a “baron” is? So far, we haven’t seen books or any written material, and no signs that anybody other than the Ark II crew is literate.

Even the chimp can read.

And how are the scientists able to survive at such a high level? They can clearly build large land-traveling vehicles, make jetpacks, and produce talking chimpanzees. If they established their own little enclave before the pollution and waste got so bad, how did the enclave survive? Why haven’t hordes of desperate people attacked it and taken it over by now? And if it somehow managed to fight them off, why don’t any of the ragged starving people we’ve seen seem at all envious of Jonah and Company? Oh, well. Over to you, Nate.

I’d want their hair care products.

Episode 5: The Balloon

Thanks, Pam, I’ll take the next four episodes, see what can be seen. In Week 5 our heroes visit yet another isolated enclave of survivors, this time up in the rugged mountains east of Los Angeles (I assume that’s where they are) to help solve some problem that can only be fixed with modern technology and bright white teeth. Really, this repeating of the same basic plot structure every episode is getting tedious and I sincerely hope that we see some change as the series goes on. Surely even the cast and crew by now must have been wondering when the scripts were going to stop being fill-in-the-blank forms.

Ruth reads today’s rewrites and she’s not amused.

This tribe believes in total isolation, mostly due to a wave of “the sickness” that has been causing random locals to become slightly tipsy and be marginally more sweaty than usual. Those who get the sickness, which is darn near everyone at this point, are taken off to some faraway hut to die by a guy literally wearing a black Medieval undertaker’s hood. As the sickness seems to pass from person to person via simple contact, you have to assume that this guy is somehow immune, meaning someone should really examine his blood and try and synthesize a vaccine or something. Or burn him as a witch, you know, whatever.

Embarrassed to be in this show.

Not everyone believes in keeping the outside world out, however, and one old man is printing help-me notes on a working printing press (sure) using Greek letters (sure) and sending them out attached to red party balloons (sure) which he inflates with a working and full tank of helium (sure). Why this is a problem is never really said, but know that the town’s Boko Haram leader believes that dying alone on this mountain is preferable to being exposed to other cultures and economic systems. And to be honest, except for the sickness, they seem to be doing ok without outside contact. Everyone is well-fed and tanned, there are several hulking muscle guys, the few women we see are pretty attractive, and everyone still has the free time to trim their goatees and hair in trendy styles.

The village management team.

When our team answers the old man’s red balloon call, the angry villagers grab their pitchforks and Jonah is once again captured. He’s always captured. Or if not him, then one of the others, no one in this band of supersmart scientists/explorers can run or knows karate or carries a bazooka or anything. They just meekly put their hands up and are led away without so much as harsh words. In their defense, they are clearly granola-eating pacifists who wouldn’t/couldn’t hurt a mayfly without filling out an environmental impact statement. Also, those spandex jumpsuits and space shoes aren’t exactly made for physical activity so maybe they can’t run away without ripping the crotch out on their outfits.

Jonah looks like Barry Gibb from the Bee-Gees.

Ruth escapes in a hot air balloon back to Samuel and the chimp who are waiting with the RV down at the bottom of the mountain. Why does she escape in a hot air balloon of all things? Is it relevant to the plot? Not really. Does it make any sense at all that they find a balloon in a box in an wrecked building and in the very next scene it’s fully inflated with a fueled burner cooking and the basket all rigged up and waiting there for Ruth to jump into? No, none at all. Clearly someone on the production team knew a guy who knew a guy who had a hot air balloon and the director thought that would be swell to have in this week’s episode.

It takes some skill to land a balloon.

So Ruth and Samuel (and the chimp) have to rescue Jonah (again), this time by blasting through a huge pile of boulders blocking the only road up to the village with a laser mounted in the nose of the Ark. Fine, but seeing how as how a directed energy weapon like that would require a massive amount of energy to power it up to a level that it could blast though ten tons of rocks, we perhaps have proof that the Ark is powered by a fusion reactor. Which makes sense, there’s not a lot of Marathon stations still open 500 years after the apocalypse and distilling cow dung for liquid fuel is prohibitively labor-intensive.

Optical effects on par with the 1970s.

So the kids rush in and slaughter everyone in the village with machineguns and rescue Jonah. Or maybe they rush in and cure everyone of the sickness with their medical kits and then inoculate the healthy ones and everyone is happy. Yeah, let’s go with the second one. The take-away lesson this week is “modern medicine is your friend and you shouldn’t fear the doctor’s office”. Or, in 2015, the lesson is “all you stupid fucking Vaccine Truthers need to grow the fuck up and get your dirty kids their fucking shots so they don’t infect my kids at school because you want to be a crazy fucking nutjob conspiracy wacko.”

Alls well that ends well.

In closing, I sure hope our heroes realize the amazing value of a working hot air balloon in this environment. Few things can provide a better low-cost/low-tech way to conduct long-range reconnaissance and surveillance missions. Getting planes and helicopters to fly again after so many centuries of lost knowledge might be out of the question, but balloons can be made with simple tools and raw materials by a society with the willingness to do so. Imagine a fleet of these balloons, of different sizes and capacities, all being used to keep tabs on the local area and even to transport goods and personnel over great distances without the dangers of overland routes. Hot air balloons lead to blimps and to zeppelins and finally (finally!) my dream of a world dominated by steampunk airship pirates will be realized!

Plus, balloons are romantic.

Episode 6: The Mind Group

So our crew of awesomely stylish adventurer-scientists is once again off doing something that really should be a local law enforcement matter, in this case looking for three runaway kids who probably just wanted to skip class so they could play Frogger down at the arcade with their home-schooled cousins. These are not ordinary kids with 1976 haircuts, however, but telepathic kids with 1976 haircuts who can also move objects with their minds (sigh…).

At least one of them is a girl (maybe).

The kids get separated in the dry San Bernardino hills and the short black one with the Jericurls is picked up by the Ark crew after Jonah nearly runs him over with the SUV (seriously, that was reeeeal close to being a tragic on-set accident…). Back at the Ark, Ruth waves a Phillips head screwdriv…um, sorry, a “health meter”, over the kid and announces that “he’s fine, just hungry”. Meanwhile Fez from That ’70s Show uses the Ark’s “digital computer” to analyze the kid’s “theta waves” to figure out why the scriptwriter wasn’t immediately fired when he first suggested that they have telepathic kids in this week’s episode.

The kid, chillin‘ in the Ark.

The other two scamps are captured by yet another band of wasteland marauders, this one led by a guy with a Genghis Khan beard and a hatred of people who won’t talk to him (telepathic kids, remember). The marauders (all seven of them) are basically just day-pass extras working for scale, dressed in torn thrift store clothes with some dirt smeared on their faces, but they still have their SoCal surfer tans and healthy teeth. None of the bandits in this series look like they’ve missed many meals. It doesn’t take long for the kids to escape the marauders’ camp, thanks to the older kid (the one with the Danny Partridge hairdo) using his mind powers to open his cage when everyone was off threatening their casting agents.

The marauders are bad at their jobs.

The bad guys give chase, but Jonah and the chimp roll up in the SUV just in time to drive off the bandits with his ultra-mega-wattage cellphone flashlight app. We also learn that Jonah has this square handheld laser emitter thingie that can cast a powerful beam of photons to set stuff on fire. This seems to be in opposition to all their other non-lethal weapons, but all he uses it for is to scare off the marauders, because frying them and removing a violent, cancerous impediment to progress and growth in the region would be too much trouble for them. I know it’s a kids’ show, but the Ark team really would be benefiting the local populations more if they spent less time looking for truant kids and more time hammering down the terrorists.

Justifiable force, look it up.

So the kids help Jonah fix his busted RV and everyone is super close friends now. And that’s a good thing because just then the kids’ parents show up and they’re also powerful telepaths who could surely pick up the Ark and toss it into the sun with their minds if they wanted to. Jonah’s final voice-over ominously notes that this group of super-powered mutants have so far been content to keep to themselves, but one day, perhaps one day soon, they will reenter society and either use their powers “for good or for evil”. That damn well better be a set-up for a later episode or I’m going to murder my television.

TOS Organians!

Oh, and we also learn in this episode that the Ark is equipped with a Star Trek-style food replicator that can turn two tiny inert pills into a 7-ounce Porterhouse and some fluffy mashed potatoes. Ok, ok, ok, stop. So in every one of the previous episodes they whine and complain about how everybody in the area is starving to death because there’s no food and here you have a machine that can magically convert pills to $8.99 Applebee’s dinner entrees? Really? Why can’t you build a bigger replicator, one that can feed an entire village? Why can’t you just turn the Ark into a Meals-on-Wheels franchise? If this thing can materialize solid food from virtually nothing, then what else can it create that would be of benefit to the locals? Tools? Medicines? Porn DVDs?

Meh, could use some steak sauce.

Anyway, today’s lesson-to-live-by is “you can trust children to save your life in a crisis situation“. The back-up lesson is “don’t talk with your mouth full”. That’s an actual quote from this episode. Three quick notes before I walk away: Many of the sound effects for the Ark’s computers are brazenly stolen from Star Trek‘s sound library at Paramount. Someone should sue. Also, all geographical names in this Brave New World have been replaced with bland Sector and Area numbers. Why? At what point in the future did it seem like a good idea to rename “The San Joaquin Valley” to “Sector 9 Area 12.B”? Why would anyone do that? And finally, everyone here uses the metric system. Wtf? Did America get invaded by the Brits again? Did whoever wrote this script on the back of his parole officer’s card think it sounded futuristic and spacey? No one here uses the metric system.

Hahaha Jonah, you‘re so handsome. I hate you.

Episode 7: The Lottery

Oiy, remember when Gene Roddenbery and his wife came up with the idea of the Mirror Universe for that little series they were working on? And remember how it potentially could have radically changed the very nature of the show in ways that no one at the time could understand? And remember how they quickly realized this after a few weeks and then never, ever mentioned the Mirror Universe again until the 1980s? Well, that’s what happens in this episode of Ark II. Here we are introduced to the “shadow world”, a place out in the tinder-dry fringes of Death Valley where there was once a secret Gubb’mint lab that was doing white-lab-coat stuff and accidentally tore a hole in the very fabric of reality. The scientists were sucked into this hole to a place where they were very much alive but stuck on a darkened soundstage filled with mood lighting and dry-ice fog for all eternity. But the hole was a known and stable point in both space and time, in this case, on that one little hillock by that scrubby pinon tree over there. And the locals know about this weird, invisible hole, even if they don’t understand what it was all about, and use it as a place to dump undesirables like criminals and political dissidents. To maintain a thin veneer of authority, though, the leaders hold a staged lottery to pick the sacrificial lambs to go into the “forbidden zone” up by that tree and go poof into thin air.

Via a reverse-negative color trick (ugh).

They justify this by saying that there’s so little water in the area that anytime the population gets to be a certain level, they have to cull the excess. And since they control what little water there is, the hapless citizens have to do what their leaders tell them. Instead of, you know, revolting and getting the water for themselves, because that would be soooo easy as the “leadership” is just two unarmed dudes and a swayback horse and there’s like 40 other guys in the village, any one of whom could pick up a rock and smack some heads when the sun goes down. But no one ever does that in this stupid series because they all need the Ark team to come in and solve all their problems for them (again).

Someone is wearing this polyester fur vest in every episode.

So the Ark rolls in and exposes the leaders as frauds and gets all that sweet water for the locals. Yay. That’s the A plot, but the B plot is by far more interesting. The Ark’s computers can somehow (?) pick up voices from inside the forbidden zone and they try and figure out a way to save those poor people trapped in there. To do this, first Ruth has to go into the wormhole alone to recon the situation. I would have sent a robot probe first, or, better yet, that talking monkey. Seriously, send the chimp to check it out first, he’s pretty much been useless for the last few episodes and if he doesn’t make it back alive then they could replace him on the team with another hot chick to balance things out.

Or send the boy, he can‘t even speak English right.

That foreign kid is really smart (or so the script says) and he’s developed a way to use the Ark’s laser zapper to somehow rip a hole in the alternate dimension over by that tree, a hole (another hole) big enough that they can pull Ruth and the others out so they don’t have to stand in that dark room with the fog and the strobe lights anymore. Ruth’s only been in there ten minutes, but the others, lost scientists and condemned citizens alike, have been in there much longer. They’re probably starting to smell bad.

Save her, she’s cute!

So it works and everyone makes it back to our world. Now that the Ark team has a sure way to enter and exit the alternate dimension safely, this opens up an entire new universe for them to explore and exploit. Imagine what’s in there, is it another version of Earth? Somewhere different in time? A gas giant planet in a distant nebula? A rented warehouse in West Hollywood? Will they unleash a hoarde of killer bugs? Could they colonize this other dimension? Relocate the rest of humanity there to start over? None of that speculation matters because we never visit the Mirror Universe again because I hate this show.

Why are they all wearing the same outfit?

And furthermore now the Ark team has freed a bunch of scientists so capable and smart that they could rip a hole in the universe, surely they could repurpose these minds to rebuilding the Earth’s biosphere and feeding the helpless? Never hear from them again, probably all went back to torturing little white lab mice and lying on their grant applications. Also, lest we forget, not only was the forbidden zone filled with scientists and technicians, it was also home to all those criminals and petty water stealers that were banished in there. Now that they’re free, and understandably pissed, they’ll probably start one of those trendy scavenger/marauder bands that seems to be everywhere in California these days.

What hell have you brought upon us, Jonah?

Anyway, I’m over-thinking this. Today’s lesson is “manage your natural resources wisely or people will die”. Some notes: The Ark’s laser equipment is said to be water-cooled (it’s a major plot point), which is just insane as you’d need a massive reservoir of water to keep something as powerful as that laser at safe temps, certainly something bigger than that five-gallon jug Jonah fills it up from. Also, all the computer equipment in the Ark is hilarious, with simple number readouts like a gas pump and lots of mostly unmarked toggle switches and IBM calculator keypads. No one gave any thought to what computer interface technology might look like in the future?

Where‘s my touch screen app?

Episode 8: The Drought

Hey, look who’s back, it’s that rapscallion Fagin and his loyal band of undernourished and underage boys. What’ve they been up to since Episode 1? Doesn’t matter, no one cares! Why are they all dressed exactly the same as they were seven episodes ago? Is it because they filmed this entire series back-to-back over just a few weeks in the summer and these actors just rolled from one script to the other in the same day? Meh, probably. I’m just happy to have Fagin back, his whole skeevy trampy vaudeville act was a welcome diversion from all the hokey tree-hugger stuff.

Why aren‘t you in school?

The comical Fagin has a plan, a plan which involves the Ark and all the wondrous technology and tasty food inside it. So he and his cabin boys manage to lure everyone but Samuel away from the Ark and then tricks the dumb-as-a-stump Samuel into leaving him alone inside. Fagin promptly carjacks the Ark and drives off, helped in great part because Samuel rigged the Ark‘s computer to obey anyone who gave it simple commands, commands that Samuel told Fagin for some reason. Wow, Samuel is an idiot, why again did the scientist enclave entrust him with so much authority and valuable equipment? Is Samuel’s uncle the Head Scientist Dude?

Look what you‘ve done now.

In the best part of the entire series so far, we see Jonah get visibly pissed at Samuel for losing the Ark, snapping at him like a disappointed older brother. Finally, some cracks in the wall! All series long these three have been such a schmaltzy buttery happy little nontraditional family unit that it’s nice to see some bickering and resentment for once. Though, as it’s totally out of character for Jonah to be so snarky with Samuel, perhaps the actor was just having a bad day and adlibbed a bit out of frustration. If so, kudos to the director for keeping it in the final print.

“Fuck you, kid.”

Samuel, Ruth, and the simian are soon captured by yet another wasteland scavenger/marauder band (so tired of that). These particular ruffians are quite clearly stand-ins for Native Americans, right down to their love of buckskin and animal skulls to their oh-so-painfully clichéd Hollywood Injun accents. The White Man has angered the gods and a drought is upon their lands and nature is out of balance. So they stick our heroes in a cave, because there just happened to be a cave in the state park they filmed this series in, and all seems grim. But have no fear because they find their way out in about five minutes. Not once in this entire series have you ever really felt that any one of our team was in real danger and as such there’s zero dramatic tension to these scenes of them in alleged peril (yes, I know, kids’ show).

You are no concern to them, Fake Indian Guy.

Meanwhile, Jonah races after the Ark, which isn’t really that hard to find as it’s the only thing on wheels for a thousand miles. Which begs the question if there are other Ark-type vehicles out there working other sectors/regions? Surely the scientist enclave didn’t put all their eggs (and monkeys) into one basket, a basket frittered away running errands and solving petty issues? I’d hope not. Jonah eventually talks Fagin into giving up the Ark with smooth words of friendship and neighborly kindness (I threw up in my mouth a little bit…). Fagin, it seems, really just wants to be loved (by ten young boys…) and to settle down and become a farmer. Seriously.

I know, I feel ya, Adam.

Gather round, class, time for our lesson for today, wherein Jonah, the Wonder Twins, and the chimp teach us to “conserve water and practice efficient agricultural irrigation”. That way we’ll all have enough water to go around once the Apocalypse hits and the taps run dry. Did Al Gore produce this series? Seriously, though, did these sorts of heavy-handed Earth First messages really play that well with audiences in 1976? Was that not the era of cheap gas and huge Lincolns and state-funded strip mining?

Nice look at the back of the SUV.

By the way, with each passing episode we get a better look at the interior of the Ark, which is a kitschy fusion of ‘70s disco furniture and standard sci-fi movie banks of unmarked flashing lights and rows of toggle switches. Whoever designed this set, and I’m assuming that the interior shots are a physical set instead of the actual inside of the vehicle (there’s not enough room for cameras in there), clearly took their cues from the popular sci-fi of the day. There’s very little inside the Ark that looks “lived in” or “useful” or “comfortable” in anyway, because in the farflung future we’ll all have evolved past the need for practical furniture and a trackball mouse.

Lots of primary colors.

So, we’re up to the half-way point in the series and overall I’m pretty disappointed. The idea is great, the Ark vehicle is well-done, and the camerawork and sound and editing and all that is pretty good, but Ark II is still a slog to get through. I honestly think they could have taken the first 8 episodes, trimmed and cut them up, and made a helluva good standalone 90 minute movie. Every single episode is essentially the same, you could take all the inventive touches we’ve seen so far (and there are quite a few) and combine them all into one action-packed movie that tells the story of the Ark team contacting a local band of survivor and helping them fight off the marauders and develop sustainable agriculture and democratic leadership. In the end Jonah and Ruth have sex, the stupid monkey gets run over by a tank, and everyone laughs as the credits roll.

And then Jonah becomes the new Red Ranger.

So, Pam, over to you now for the next four, lets hope that you have better luck finding something unique and memorable in your set.

We’ll see what turns up as far as “unique” and “memorable” are concerned, Nate. I’m not too hopeful, but you never know.

Episode 9: The Wild Boy

Hmm…am I going to have to eat my words about there being nothing unique or memorable about the next episode? Because it’s starting out differently than the previous eight. Instead of solving a problem among the locals, this Ark full of scientists is actually doing something scientific for a change: they’re exploring a cave, looking for rare minerals. Does this sound dull? It does, a little, but excitement is on its way. Our foursome is under observation by somebody who looks like Eegah’s younger brother, down to the one-shouldered fur dress – tunic, I mean, and bag-like shoes. However, his hair is much more neatly coiffed, and he sports well-trimmed sideburns. And just as Jonah finds the minerals he was looking for, up charges Eegah Jr., yelling and grunting. Fortunately Ruth and Samuel have their high-powered flashlights handy and are able to drive him off, or so it appears. In fact, he headed back to the Ark to help himself to some of the goodies it holds, and just after a couple of the locals made a brief visit and helpfully told Jonah what a nuisance and a thief this boy is, the Ark crew catches him red-handed.

Tree hugger!

Brief digression: the two locals are riding horses, and their horses are saddled with well-made saddles. Where did the saddles come from? I can’t imagine leather goods from before the catastrophe survived for several hundred years. Making a good saddle isn’t easy, and a good saddlemaker charges plenty for his work. So far, none of the hardscrabble locals appear to have the ability to make anything so sophisticated, nor do they appear to have the means to buy it from somebody who does know how to make it. I won’t even speculate on how Eegah Jr. keeps his hair looking so good.

Black magic?

It turns out the boy can actually talk a little, and he manages to stammer out that his name is Isaiah. (What’s with all the Biblical names?) So they take him back to the Ark and feed him, using the previously-seen method of transforming pills into food, much to Isaiah’s astonishment. (So why was Adam cooking in Episode 2?) Isaiah is busy learning how to turn lights on and off, something which is probably a novelty to most of the people we’ve seen so far, when the locals turn up again. They’re expressing their concern that the boy is too dangerous to have around, and Jonah is pooh-poohing this notion, when suddenly Isaiah yells, grabs at Jonah’s rock samples, and throws them around. Isaiah runs out of the Ark and disappears into the surrounding brush, and the locals chase after him.

Impressing the locals.

But all is not well on the Ark. It seems Isaiah did some damage when he was throwing the rocks around, and the Ark can’t move. The locals are setting a trap for Isaiah as Jonah dons his jetpack and zooms off in search of the boy. Jonah radios instructions to Ruth and Samuel, but it seems the Ark isn’t the only thing that’s lost power. Ruth and Samuel are almost asleep, and Adam’s sacked out completely. We get a quick shot of the rocks Jonah collected, but now they’re lit up and pulsating mysteriously (and how Jonah didn’t notice this and comment on it, I have no idea). Oh, no! Is it…could it be…these rocks have some kind of mysterious power?

Look normal to me.

We’ll have to wait a little while to find out. The locals have just captured Isaiah, and they must have some mysterious powers themselves to have spotted him in the thick brush and to have caught up with him, when Jonah directs a drowsy Samuel to channel the Ark’s force field to generate an orange glow at the spot the locals are holding Isaiah captive. This spooks them, and off they run, giving Isaiah a chance to escape.

Woof, that’s a bad effect.

Although he can barely keep his eyes open, Samuel manages to fix whatever it was Isaiah broke with the rocks. Ruth has left in the SUV to retrieve Jonah, while a very sleepy Samuel pilots the Ark to meet them. Jonah, Ruth, Isaiah, and the local woman all intersect, and Isaiah looks as though he’s planning to throw a large rock at them. But instead he grunts out, “Rock…bad!” The local woman is astonished to find that Isaiah can talk, but, probably as a result of their vast scientific knowledge, Jonah and Ruth deduce Isaiah is trying to tell them the rock samples Jonah brought back to the Ark are dangerous. This really is an amazing deduction, because Jonah has no idea that the rocks cause sleepiness, and Ruth left the Ark also unaware that her tiredness was unnatural. Ruth, in fact, deduces that the rocks remove oxygen from the air, although she doesn’t deign to explain to the audience just how a few rocks can do this.

No, it’s not over yet, sorry.

We get a little bit of suspense when an almost-asleep Samuel nearly steers the Ark off a cliff, and Jonah has to open the Ark door from the SUV, which seems to have a button expressly for this purpose, jump in from the moving SUV, and grab the controls away from Samuel. But all’s well that ends well. Jonah collects the rocks, returns them to the cave, and uses some kind of laser device to seal the cave entrance. Ruth explains that when the rocks are exposed to the Earth’s atmosphere, they give off a gas that “uses up” oxygen. Sure. The local woman offers Isaiah a home, and he and the crew of the ark, including Adam, pledge eternal friendship. And the moral for this episode is, even well-educated scientists can learn things from grubby-looking kids in fur dresses. Also, be careful when you collect rocks.

Jonah updates his facebook page.

Comments: Where are these backward locals getting their well-trained horses and well-made saddles, tack, and wagons from? And how do they feed the horses? The villages we’ve seen are barely producing enough to feed themselves, so they surely aren’t growing enough grain to feed horses. And if you can manage to feed horses, why haven’t we seen any used for plowing? Even the Baron didn’t seem to be producing a surplus of grain. We haven’t seen any signs at all of people skilled enough to tan leather and make saddles (although we’ve seen some villagers wearing what look suspiciously like Birkenstock sandals.) I think I caught a glimpse of the occasional primitive loom, but the villagers all wear crudely-made clothes, and even the Baron’s attire wasn’t anything much. Is there a more sophisticated and wealthier society somewhere off-screen that’s able to produce luxury goods for the few who can afford them, and the Ark has just happened to be in very poor areas so far? Are the scientists themselves making some things they sell outside their enclave?

Why do the locals always wear earthtones?

Episode 10: The Robot

Here we are at the tenth episode, and the crew of Ark II has spent the last nine episodes busily at work, sticking their noses in where they don’t belong, that is, meddling, I mean, solving other people’s problems. Don’t they ever need a rest? It seems they do, because this episode opens with Jonah, Ruth, and Adam fishing. You’ll notice that Samuel isn’t among the fishermen. Where is he? He, it seems, is usefully at work back at Ark II, putting the finishing touches on a robot. He calls the robot Alfie, but those of us who have watched a lot of bad science fiction movies will immediately recognize him as our old friend Robby the Robot.

From Forbidden Planet!

However, their day of relaxation is interrupted when Ark II informs them there’s an unknown gas in Area 14, and off they go to investigate. I grudgingly admit that this might actually be a good use for Ark II, since this is a situation that could be dangerous and that the locals probably aren’t equipped to deal with. In fact, it does seem to be a dangerous situation. Ark II arrives just in time for the crew to leap out and stop two drugged-looking people from walking over the edge of a cliff. So far, Alfie has proved to be a mixed blessing, since he’s very clumsy and has caused some damage to the Ark, but now he shows he can be useful, since he can not only analyze the gas in the peoples’ lungs and tell what it is, he points out he’s the logical one to investigate an area filled with a harmful gas. This makes sense to me but not to Jonah, who not only takes Ruth and Adam in the SUV to investigate, he orders Samuel to deactivate Alfie. Bear in mind that 1) so far Alfie’s done only minor damage, and 2) Jonah’s taking 75% of Ark II’s crew in an SUV with the top and windows open and no respiratory protection into an area where there’s known to be a gas that drugs people to the point where they have no idea what they’re doing. Jonah for Leader of the Year, anybody? I didn’t think so.

His uncle must be the boss.

Samuel doesn’t think to argue but obediently starts to shut Alfie down as the others drive off. It seems, though, that Alfie has some capabilities that are unknown to Samuel, and one is a doozy: he emits a cloud of smoke that renders Samuel unconscious. At least, since this is a children’s show, I’m assuming it just knocked Samuel out, it didn’t kill him. (Let’s not get into how the boy who built Alfie had no idea Alfie could do this. Since Alfie’s only been awake for a very short time, I don’t see how he could have had a chance to add on this little extra himself.) Maybe Jonah had a point when he wanted Alfie deactivated. Anyway, Alfie leaves Samuel lying on the floor and lumbers off to do – what?

What’s with the egg beaters?

In fact, Samuel is unconscious, not dead, although Jonah, Ruth, and presumably Adam are seriously upset when they get back to the Ark and find Samuel lying on the floor. Not surprisingly, they’re concerned about what else Alfie might do. But as a matter of fact, Alfie is off doing good deeds. He comes across a sobbing little girl and asks her what’s wrong. You won’t be surprised to hear she’s sad because “the sickness” has affected her parents, who seem to be the two out-of-it people the Ark crew saved a little earlier. Alfie lumbers off to do what he can, with the little girl trustingly clinging to one of his – hands, if that’s the right word. (All together: Awww!)

The locals are jealous of Ruth’s hair.

Meanwhile, Jonah has strapped on his jetpack and is off to find Alfie. I note with relief that this time he’s taking a respirator with him, also a “laser” that looks like six of the Flashlights of Doom we’ve already seen glued to a board with a handle on it. The little girl leads Alfie to the shabbiest village we’ve seen yet, nothing but a few crude open sheds for shelter. The people are shambling around like zombies, and it’s clear the “sickness” has taken its toll. However, they’re still trying slowly and awkwardly to continue with their daily chores, so at least they have a good work ethic. At least one of the men is still in good enough shape to recognize the little girl and be concerned that Alfie may hurt her. He flails uselessly at Alfie with a hoe while the rest of the villagers throw rocks at poor misunderstood Alfie. We see that Alfie has yet another power Samuel may not have known about, which is the ability to shoot laser beams out of his chest and vaporize the rocks before they hit him. I really have to point out that we see the people throwing small rocks and not putting much strength into it (probably to avoid damaging the robot and the stuntman inside, the cost of which probably took up a good chunk of this episode’s budget), while we see Alfie shooting big chunks of rocks that are flying high into the air. It seems even a selfless robot doesn’t have unlimited patience, and finally poor Alfie turns and lumbers away.

Laser Alfie has good posture.

Just about then, Jonah spots the village, and Jonah, this would be a really good time to stop and put on your respirator, since you have no idea how far the gas has spread (although since the nature of the gas is unknown, you better hope your respirator can actually protect you against it). The people clearly haven’t seen anything like Jonah’s jetpack before, and they still have plenty of rocks. They manage to damage one of the jetpack’s boosters, and down goes Jonah.

The Ark’s computers are super helpful…

Ruth, Samuel, and Adam zoom, or rather proceed slowly, in the Ark, to Jonah’s rescue. Jonah has struggled out of his jetpack but has hurt one of his legs, so he can’t escape the crowd of villagers who are storming up. Since the villagers haven’t run out of rocks, Jonah is in something of a pickle. As we’ve seen in the previous episodes, the Ark is rather slow and can’t travel off-road. Will it get there in time? Not to worry. Alfie hasn’t gone too far, and he lurches up to save Jonah. I guess Jonah is thinking “Any port in a storm,” because he seems to have forgotten the fear he felt for Alfie just minutes ago and greets him gratefully. Alfie returns good for evil and helps Jonah hobble off, unpursued by the villagers, although possibly they suspect their rocks are no match for advanced technology.

Hostile natives.

Alfie hasn’t been wasting his time but has located the source of the gas, a crack in the ground that’s allowing volcanic gases to escape. (Geologists, is this a reasonable scenario in the sort of country we see the action taking place in? Also, does anybody know if volcanic gases really produce the effects on humans we’ve seen?) Jonah has thought to don his respirator, although any safety professionals watching will point out that beard of his is likely to mean the respirator won’t seal closely enough to his face to prevent the gas from seeping in. Jonah fires his flashlight array and Alfie fires his laser, and the crack is sealed. Enough of the villagers collapse while this is going on to convince the most skeptical that this crack in the ground is the source of the “sickness” that’s been affecting them.

No air tanks?

Jonah and Alfie are just finishing with the crack, when up comes the Ark. Their sensors indicate the force of the volcanic gas is about to blow up a piece of ground, and Ruth and Samuel help Jonah to run away. However, Alfie stands his ground, finishes sealing the crack, and disappears in a cloud of dirt when the explosion happens. Yes, poor Alfie has bitten the dust for real.

Samuel’s only friend is toast.

We get a scene showing Jonah, Ruth, and Samuel staring sadly at the blackened patch of ground that was once Alfie. Not only that, but when they get back to the Ark, they find Alfie had the foresight to record a touching farewell message for them. The kids in the audience were probably wiping tears from their eyes at this point, but I’m wondering, why couldn’t Alfie have moved to a safe location until the explosion was over, then come back and finished sealing the crack? But this doesn’t occur to Ark II’s crew, and as they drive off, we learn the moral for this episode is, “Even machines can learn from their mistakes.” Uh, okay. Actually, what I’m thinking is that any robot that keeps turning up with potentially deadly powers you didn’t build into him really is too dangerous to have around.

Why is Adam sniffing Jonah’s crotch?

Comments: We’ve seen a lot of dirt-poor villagers, and no signs of literacy anywhere, with the possible exception of the group with special mind powers, who in any case seem to have completely isolated themselves. Some people we’ve seen take the Ark and its crew as a matter of course, and some act as though they’re some kind of devils. Why is this? We’ve been given the impression Ark II is exploring unknown territory, so it doesn’t seem likely anybody’s seen an Ark before.

Monkeys must be common, too.

Episode 11: Omega

Ho-hum, it looks as though Ark II is going to be satisfying idle curiosity in this episode. The crew has heard of a village where children rule the adults, and they’re speeding off (or at least coming as close to speeding as they can) to investigate. This seems somewhat outside the scope of their mission, but maybe they’re still grieving for Alfie and need to take their minds off him. By the way, Jonah doesn’t seem to be quite his usual chipper self. His voice drags, and he’s squinting his eyes as he looks out the windshield. Hung over, maybe? But come to think of it, we haven’t seen any signs of alcohol so far, or for that matter any other form of “adult” pastimes. I know, kids’ show. Let’s proceed.

Adam has found the “medicinal stocks”.

The action switches to the usual grassy area, where a blonde girl in her early teens is begging her grandfather to come home. (As it happens, this girl is the teenaged Helen Hunt in one of her earliest roles, probably one she’d like to forget.) He seems afraid of something, apparently with good reason, since several teenaged boys appear and start chasing him. Like the heroine in a ‘50s B-movie, the old man trips and falls. Fortunately the Ark pulls up in the nick of time, just as the boys are walking ominously toward the old man. Once the kids see the crew, they turn and walk away.

Everyone shops at the same store, it seems.

The old man seems to be hurt pretty badly, but he manages to tell the crew that his granddaughter is in danger. So Jonah straps on his trusty jetpack and flies off. Back on the Ark, Samuel has been scanning for external signals and gets more than he bargained for when he detects one that turns him into a blank-faced zombie. Adam may or may not have been similarly affected, he never does much anyway. Jonah catches up to the granddaughter and breaks the news to her that her grandfather’s hurt, but she’s not worried, she says their leader Omega can fix him. As they head toward Omega, Samuel shakes free of whatever affected him, or so it seems at first. Then he starts hearing a voice that tells him to leave the Ark and come to him, and Samuel’s gone again. He takes the SUV and leaves, with Adam tagging along in the back seat.

This actor’s entire range of emotions.

Jonah and the granddaughter arrive at the village, which is pretty ritzy compared to most of the villages we’ve seen. These people live in real houses with thatched roofs (no glass in the windows, though). Some of the houses even boast little porches, and there’s real furniture! After a little, you notice that the older people are doing all the work, while the kids are mostly sitting around, doing nothing. A couple of boys are sitting at what looks like a cast-iron patio set, painted gleaming white no less, and they’re using spoons to eat out of bowls! I think I even caught a glimpse of a tablecloth. Clearly this village is rolling in it.

Lots of thrift shops in LA…

Jonah is wondering why the old people are doing all the menial labor, when a voice out of nowhere answers him. This voice, it turns out, is the Omega in whom the granddaughter places such trust. In addition to a loud echo-y voice, Omega also has a large shiny board marked out in squares big enough for an adult to stand on, and a more-than-mansized black rectangle in the middle of the board. Omega admits to being a machine, but, he says proudly, a machine created to build a perfect society. From my early-21st-century viewpoint I find the village a bit lacking, but I’m sure if I’d been born in one of the other villages we’ve seen, I’d be thinking this really is close to perfect. Especially if I were still a child and could order all the grownups around. Why does Omega let the kids rule? It’s because the adults are the ones that cause all the problems. Jonah doesn’t buy into this reasoning and says both the old and the young have things to contribute, but Omega isn’t listening. Furthermore, he says smugly, he’s already captured Samuel with Jonah slated to be next, and what’s more, he has a defense mechanism that will kill anybody who tries to turn him off.

2001 much?

An experiment with a nearby stick convinces Jonah that anybody who gets too close to Omega will indeed be fried. Jonah decides discretion is the better part of valor, and jets off back to the Ark to settle on a course of action. Once there, Ruth breaks the news that Samuel is gone. However, Gramps has revived, and he tells Jonah that Omega is a relic of a past society (duh, there’s no way these villagers could have built it themselves) and had just been sitting around harmlessly until three weeks ago, when the villagers decided to reactivate it. When he saw that Omega was taking over peoples’ minds, he ran away. Ruth has been doing some research, and she’s found that it can be deactivated by – flipping a switch? Pressing a button? Cutting off its power source? No, for some unfathomable reason, the people who created it designed it so the only way it can be turned off is for someone to jump on the squares drawn on the board surrounding Omega, then push buttons on the giant rectangle. It has to be done in just the right order, which is very complicated, or the jumpee will be vaporized. But the Ark crew doesn’t have much choice. Not only is Samuel under Omega’s control, Jonah’s and Ruth’s minds are now under attack by Omega. They won’t abandon Samuel, so somebody has to deactivate Omega, and it looks as though Jonah is elected.

Googling the answer.

So Jonah flies back and has Ruth radio the moves to him. He comes close to falling a couple of times and is hindered by Omega’s continual efforts to take over his mind, but of course he succeeds in reaching the rectangle. Once there, he has to push three buttons in sequence, with two of the buttons being well above his head. Jonah manages to push two buttons, but he can’t reach the third, even by jumping. Why in the world was Omega designed this way? But Jonah talks a hypnotized Samuel into bracing him while Adam, who’s been with Samuel the entire time, climbs onto Jonah’s shoulders and pushes the third button. Finally, Adam is good for something!

Lamest floor piano ever.

Once Omega’s off, the villagers instantly wake up and hug each other while Jonah hugs Adam. And with that, the Ark heads off to new adventures. Lesson for this week: The old and the young must work together.

“Take us with you!”

Comments: Why is this village so much better off than the rest we’ve seen? Does Omega give helpful advice on growing and trading food? But then, it’s been on for only three weeks, it couldn’t have done much in that time. Also, we were told Omega was built in the 21st century to serve mankind. Amazing how it’s survived several hundred years in perfect shape.

If the chimp knows, he’s not telling.

Episode 12: Robin Hood

Oh, boy, this episode is just what it sounds like. The Ark has received a report (from whom?) of “widespread hunger and unrest” in an area. So off it goes, and as an aside, it seems Jonah is teaching Adam to drive the Ark. I don’t see how those short legs of Adam’s can reach the pedals, but then it occurs to me there’s no reason the Ark’s speed has to be controlled by foot pedals, it’s possible it’s all done with hand controls. We’ll see how well the chimp can drive.

The Ark still uses tape reels?

I bet you all have a good idea what this episode is about, and you’re right. An evil man by the name of Lord Leslie (!) has appointed himself the ruler of these parts. As with the Baron in a previous episode, what’s up with the title? I suppose some sort of hereditary aristocracy could have arisen in parts of the devastated United States in the intervening centuries, but in that case, why are so many of the villages we’ve seen in this area completely independent? Aristocratic governments were notorious for bringing as many people as they could under their control.

Even local kids with great hair.

However, Lord Leslie isn’t having everything his own way. He’s opposed by a band of outlaws that have chosen to dress – you guessed it – like Robin Hood and his Merry Men. And they call themselves merry men (and really are, they spend most of the time laughing). The leader’s name is Robin Hood, and whoever cast this episode picked an actor that looked something like Errol Flynn, and had a British accent (!). Talk about lazy writing. The Merry Men even have bows and arrows, something we’ve seen no sign of up to now. And they have quite a few horses, how do they feed them? They aren’t growing grain, and it doesn’t look as though there’s enough grass around to sustain the horses by grazing.

“Robin Hood”.

What you probably haven’t predicted is Lord Leslie’s robes of office and the uniforms of his followers. They are black with double-headed red axes printed on the shirts and are accessorized with dorky-looking caps, and in the case of Lord Leslie, silver sequins (!) Somebody’s six-year-old must have designed them, and I have great respect for the actors, since they’re all keeping a straight face even when they’re looking right at His Lordship. Besides the sequins, we see something else we haven’t seen before, namely some small three-wheeled ATV-like vehicles powered by some sort of internal combustion engine. The biggest vehicle is fitted with a wooden rocking chair on the back so the sheriff can ride in style, although he looks perfectly ridiculous. The ATVs are what his henchmen ride, and as a matter of fact, this is why the people are starving. He’s chosen to use most of the grain to make alcohol to power these vehicles. It’s unclear what this gets him. They do give him some advantage over the villagers, because they can move a lot faster than the villagers can run, but if he wasn’t using up most of their food to power the vehicles, the villagers wouldn’t be such a threat to him. And all the villagers have to do is take off into the brush, of which there is a lot around, and the ATVs can’t follow. By the way, the fuel is being stored in 55-gallon metal drums, and I have no idea where he could get those. They almost certainly couldn’t have lasted several hundred years. But then, where did he get the ATVs? There has to be a more advanced society somewhere not too far away.

Our crew meets the local law.

Lord Leslie has a fair number of henchmen, and they’re armed with swords and spears while the villagers are unarmed. They don’t seem to have any bows and arrows, though, which must put them at a severe disadvantage when fighting Robin Hood. Why don’t they have any? How come they can’t get any, if Robin Hood is able to? But the story is set up for a nice little conflict between Lord Leslie’s forces and Robin Hood’s forces, with the Ark II crew set to mediate.

They’ve aligned themselves with the wrong side.

At first it doesn’t look too good for the Ark II party. Jonah, Ruth, and Samuel are all quickly captured by Lord Leslie’s men. Adam, however, is still free, and Jonah is able to contact him on the radio or whatever it is they used to talk over long distances, and direct him to drive the Ark to rescue him (Jonah, that is, who for some reason has been tied to a tree in the middle of nowhere instead of being taken back to Lord Leslie’s stronghold – and has had his jetpack left with him, too). You’ll recall Adam is learning how to drive. “Learning” is the right word, because Adam is by no means an expert. While getting the Ark out of Lord Leslie’s camp, he manages to knock over a bunch of cardboard boxes, fire off the laser, and come within inches of squashing Jonah when he finally gets to him. Okay, where did the cardboard boxes come from? Is there a paper mill around here?

Comedy gold, I tells ya.

I thought for sure this episode was going to have a battle, but I was mistaken. Recall it’s a children’s show, and one that stresses nonviolence and cooperation. Robin Hood has sneaked into Lord Leslie’s stronghold (easy to do, because the sentries Lord Leslie posted are idiots), and started out by emptying the drums of the alcohol (also easy, because the drums are equipped with well-made metal spigots), then progressed to pulling out supporting timbers to make the platform the drums are on collapse. Unfortunately one of the village boys was under the platform, and is unhurt but trapped. Instead of a battle, we get a feel-good scene where Robin Hood and one of Lord Leslie’s men pull timbers out of the way and Jonah uses his six-flashlight array to vaporize one last timber. Oddly enough, Lord Leslie and the rest of his men are standing right there, doing nothing, as the boy is rescued. And at the end, Robin Hood, the villagers, and Lord Leslie’s men all walk off together to start a new village someplace away from Lord Leslie. Let’s think about this…If Lord Leslie’s men were so unhappy, why didn’t they leave long before? Was it so much fun driving the ATVs they didn’t want to go? But we have a happy ending, and the lesson for this episode is, “Every member must take a responsible role in government to keep the Lord Leslies of the world at bay.”

That’s got to be hot in the summer.

Comments: The world-building was really bad in this episode. There’s just no way Lord Leslie could have his ATVs, his 55-gallon drums, his cardboard boxes, and even his sequins without getting them from a society much more advanced than anything we’ve come across so far. What’s going on? Is the area we’ve seen so far just a poor, isolated backwater, sort of an Appalachia, in the midst of prosperity? If so, why isn’t part of Ark II’s mission to help the poor people? Why aren’t Jonah and his crews building schools, setting up clinics, and encouraging small businesses to produce things the better-off outlanders might want to buy? Settling petty disputes seems trivial compared to what these people need.

“Replicate us some food, you bastards!”

Well, I think I’ve had enough fun for now. Back to you, Nate.

Thanks, Pam, to the finish line! Sadly, this series is not going to get any better as the looming specter of cancellation begins to cast a long shadow over our heroes and their idiot monkey friend.

Episode 13: The Cryogenic Man

What are Jonah and Co. up to this week? Science! Two 20th century businessmen were cryogenically frozen 500 years ago and the Ark II crew decides today is the day to stick them in the microwave and hit defrost. They come out immediately looking to build factories and make money, and are even dressed in polyester suits with vests and ties and one is carrying an actual briefcase of money. There’s no tubes, no pipes, no medical monitors, one has his glasses on still, they’re even breathing normally and they wake up in two seconds (clearly no one on the production team knew what “cryo freezing” really meant).

“Frozen“ in the farflung 1986.

The businessmen get the locals to start rebuilding civilization, one toxic chemical fertilizer plant at a time. Capitalism! Jonah and Ruth butt heads with the businessmen and their new-found pool of cheap labor (who are being paid in worthless 500-year old money) and are captured and stuck into the empty cryo tubes. The unfrozen businessmen label them as “meddling bureaucrats” that stand in the way of unregulated commerce and industry (boo!). Samuel and Adam escape capture, helped by the businessman‘s mousy assistant, who switches sides early because he has a thing for monkeys.

Corrupting the locals with free market principles.

Samuel sneaks in and unfreezes Jonah and Ruth and then they all evacuate the hapless locals when the businessman’s toxic fertilizer plant breaks and starts spewing out deadly fumes. This “chemical factory” is a metal shed about the size of a port-a-potty, by the way, that two old men in ties and some dumb local hillbillies rebuilt in about ten minutes. The factory building was already there, they say, because that’s all that survived the last 500 years when the entire city around them crumbled to dust (well, that shed and their cyro tubes, of course). But don’t think, we gotta hurry, there’s only 22 minutes in this episode and we’ve already wasted half of them in set-up, go go go!

Saved by the chimp.

Jonah rushes in to zap the toxic fumes with his lasers and make it all better. The businessman sees the error of his ways and becomes an honest man who pledges to protect the environment, because that’s how human behavior modification works. Of course none of this has any impact at all because it’s all played for low-brow laughs, there‘s even a Benny Hill-esque theme they keep playing on the soundtrack whenever the businessman is on screen! Oh well, the lesson for today: “Even globe-polluting eeevil businessmen can have a softer side”.

Working together on that one valve wheel thing.

This episode is a total waste of time. Any sense of semi/quasi attempt at adult storytelling with mature themes is completely tossed in this episode and you are never more aware that this show’s target audience is a bunch of 10-year olds than here. I know, I know, I know, it’s always been a kids’ show, but at times (many times) it seemed like it was geared towards teenagers at least, a demographic that could at least sorta see when they were being pandered to by “age relevant” dialogue and insulted by juvenile plot contrivances.

And I can’t get past that stupid monkey.

Some notes: While rushing to fix the chemical leak, Jonah gets visibly frustrated with everyone around him, even (gasp!) angry. It’s been many, many episodes since Jonah was anything other than a bushy haircut and a perpetual smile, nice to see him have some negative emotions. The only other thing of note is that the businessman says the line (to paraphrase), “No government? Well, that’s un-American!” This, I believe is the only direct reference to this series taking place in America that we’ve had all series long. Not sure if refusing to identify with certainty the location was a deliberate decision by the producers, but I think that this show would benefit from tying the future to the past a little more (it couldn’t hurt).

They don’t look Russian.

Episode 14: Don Quixote

Yet another week, yet another drive around the countryside in the big white van. Today, even before the credits are over, they come across a delusional old man who thinks he’s Don Quixote, windmill slayer of song and tale. He’s been reading a ancient copy of the book, you see, and he’s taken on the armor and lance of his alter ego and is out righting wrongs and searching for evil doers to vanquish. Yes, it’s exactly like every other retelling of the Don Quixote legend you’ve ever seen or read, nothing new here, despite the setting and the timeframe.

That’s a lot of tinfoil and spray paint.

Predictably, the old man sees the Ark as a “white dragon” and charges it with fire in his eyes. After being zapped by the force field, the old man is even more nuts, even believing that Chimp Boy Adam is his lover, under the Black Knight’s spell. Oh, and Sancho is here, but he does nothing more than relay some exposition and reinforce Mexican/American stereotypes.

Cursing his agent.

The Ark crew has other, more pressing, jobs ahead, in this episode they are out hunting down ancient unexploded bombs from the “old war”. They find a surprisingly rust-free 500-pound aerial bomb in a local village that has apparently just been lying there under some straw and sticks for five centuries right in the center of a farming town and no one noticed (sure). While they’re attempting to disable it, and while everyone is gathered around watching, here comes Don Quixote, sure the bomb is a serpent for him to slay.

The right people for every job.

Thwunk! The bomb is now active and on a 12-minute timer to go explodey. Why 12 minutes? That’s how long they have in the episode, really. A huge chunk of the remaining running time is spent with painfully manufactured drama as Jonah tries to defuse the bomb while Ruth and Samuel stand around doing nothing but offering unhelpful advice and getting in his way. Since the real story here is Don Quixote and his mental health challenges, I assume you have to have something for the rest of the crew to do.

“You’re in my light.”

Meanwhile, Don Quixote captures Adam (the rest of the team either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care) and takes him to his “chapel”, where he attempts to break the curse and turn him back into his fair lady. He does this by neck-chaining the monkey to a pentagram he chalked on the floor and chanting spells over him while holding a snowglobe. Seriously. It doesn’t work, obviously. Earlier they had a scene where the old man hallucinated Jonah as the Black Knight and they blurred to a shot of him in a black suit of armor. I was really expecting them to cut to a shot of a pretty lady in the place of Adam, just to show us how delusional the old man is, but they passed that chance up (lazy!).

Satanic ritual? Call PETA!

So Jonah sends everyone else away while he tinkers with the bomb, and now he needs a magnet to turn it off. Since no one has a magnet in the Ark (???), it’s up to Don Quixote and his magnetized armor (???) to help disarm the bomb. As the ticker counts down to zero, this is the first (only?) time that there’s a real possibility that one of the crew (Jonah) will die, though sadly unrealized. Lesson for today? Eh, maybe, “Even crazy old guys can use useful”?

Why is his armor magnetized?

Some notes: In this episode everyone drops the metric system! Everything is feet and yards and inches, not a stuffy French meter or a potato-encrusted Irish kilogram in sight. Not at all sure why this happened, but I checked twice and it did. Also, the dude playing Don Quixote is hands-down the best actor in the entire series so far, bar none. Robert Ridgely is his name and he does a better job reading his lines and giving his character a real personality than anyone else so far. To be fair, the chick playing Ruth is pretty good, but my positive opinion of her acting ability might possibly be unduly influenced by my penis.

You thought I’d have a cap of Ruth here, didn’t you?

Episode 15: Orkus

In a very Star Trekkian plot turn, the Ark team stumbles upon a group of immortal men and women who live in a tiny Greek temple in the woods and wear white togas all day (yawn). Their leader is a balding middle-aged guy named Orkus, and he’s in control of a set of mysterious glowing globes kept under a Home Depot garden trestle that magically keep everyone there looking young and well fed. They are also militantly xenophobic and a more than a bit dangerous, but more on that later.

Small set.

The downside is that their “device” is polluting the local river and anyone who gets near it suddenly grows old super fast! Perhaps whatever mystical power is being produced to keep them all young has to vent out the opposite reaction somehow to work properly? I’m spitballing because that’s just so fricking stupid and I don‘t want to think that hard about it. Barely-of-voting-age Ruth gets too close to the water’s edge and from out of nowhere a team of make-up artists rush in to cake latex all over her face and hands, slap a gray wig on her head, and tell her to walk all hunched over like an old lady. Oh, and Adam is also affected, but screw that monkey.

“At least I missed out on menopause!”

Jonah (and I suppose Samuel) must make an unsavory deal with Orkus to reverse Ruth’s ageing process and return her to her former hottie glory before she starts complaining about loud music and watching reruns of Nash Bridges on netflix. But Orkus has all the cards, his machine is able to draw power from the Ark and has the ability to eavesdrop on conversations and make objects move on their own. Jonah must do something drastic to gain an advantage over Orkus.

Jonah misses cute Ruth.

Jonah’s gambit is pretty risky to say the least. He brings the Ark in close to the temple and tells Orkus that if he doesn’t give him the cure he’ll self-destruct the Ark and blow them all up. If he fails, then Ruth stays old and Orkus gains control over them and the Ark and turns the rest of them into senior citizens with bad face paint and 10% discounts for the afternoon buffet at Sirloin Stockade. It’s touch and go there for a while, with Orkus clearly relishing the challenge of defeating Jonah in a game of mental wits and stamina, he’s had 500 years to practice this sort of manipulation, after all.

Orkus is a smarmy bastard.

In the end, it’s Orkus’ once-loyal followers who turn on him, encouraged by Jonah’s appeals to their long-repressed sense of humanity and honesty. So they rise up and smash the machine, dooming themselves to growing old and wrinkly themselves, because apparently immortality sucks if it means you have to live in a temple the size of a two-bedroom apartment with fifteen other people and wear nothing but white smocks. I’d say it’s a shame to waste that technology when the Ark team could bring it back to HQ and reverse-engineer it to save humankind, but no one with a scriptwriting credit on this show could think that far ahead.

They want to grow old???

So, there we are, the very last episode of Ark II that was fully filmed and released. By this time it must have been clear to all involved, from actors to producers to the craft services guy, that this series was not going to be the success they had all hoped. Filmed in the summer of 1976, as the episodes trickled onto television screens the following fall and winter, anyone could see the Neilson ratings sliding downward week after week and any hope of a second season was washed away. A crying shame, too, because this series had some real glimmers of hope, some hints that maybe it could have hit its stride in a second season, but it was not to be.


Nate‘s Closing Notes

To me, the repetitive nature of this series was its ultimate downfall. Every episode is essentially the same and that makes the viewing experience pretty bland. This series could have benefited from some sort of Big Bad Adversary to give the Ark crew a larger purpose and direction beyond the “village of the week” format. Perhaps a large, organized group/city/army that was a looming threat to the region, something that our team could occasionally make contact with but would just remain a constant source of dread and danger as they went about their weekly tasks.

Why painted white? Why not camo or battleship grey?

The other main problem as I see it is with the casting decisions. While Jonah and Ruth are pretty good characters with capable people playing the roles, that Samuel kid drags the entire series down. Clearly, they were going for genius young man who both knew computer stuff and who could pull in the girl viewers, but what they got was a slightly less competent Fez from That ‘70’s Show. Not a single episode goes by without it being apparent that the teenage actor playing him is way out of his element, especially when in scenes with the generally excellent parade of guest stars. Acting, as a profession, was obviously not something he was good at and somebody really should have seen this in pre-production and recast. Why they didn’t, or couldn’t, recast the Samuel character is probably an interesting story, but beyond the scope of this review.

Get a real job.

Let me just list some other issues that all worked in concert to drag this series down, in no particular order:

Nothing in this show looks like it’s 500 years old, more like 100, maybe. It would have done absolutely nothing negative to the script or the series theme if it was set 100 years after Doomsday, that way you could explain easily why everyone and everything still looks exactly like 1976.

The Ark vehicle is severely underutilized, they could have replaced it with a Ford Crown Victoria taxi cab and it wouldn’t have had much impact on the series. I know they were going for a Damnation Alley sorta look, but it’s just too bland to really be memorable. And it’s clearly not built for off-roading, with a rather narrow wheelbase and frighteningly low ground clearance, which is good because this “post-apocalypse wasteland” has better maintained roads than my county here in Indiana.

We never really (at all?) hear about any sort of home base or headquarters for the team. They clearly don’t live in the Ark, but where do they? And is there anyone at this base available for help? Reinforcements? The cavalry if they get into trouble? Who fixes their stuff? Who does Ruth’s hair? Along with that, we never get any sort of sense of these three characters are actual people. We never get to see them off the clock, at home, taking a break. They never, ever talk about their personal lives, about who they love or who they hate or where their parents are. Does Ruth have a puppy? Does Jonah like to paint portraits of dead presidents on his days off? Does Samuel know he’s useless in every way? Getting to know them as actual people might have helped us relate to them and their mission a bit better.

Too many push button control panels.

Some other random thoughts: This series was crippled by the short 22-minute run length of the episodes, that’s just not enough time to really develop ideas and concepts. The color-keyed outfits got real old real quick, it would have been nice to see them wear something else at least once. There’s never any sense of time passing or distance traveled. How large an area is their area of responsibility? How many villages are there, how many people, what sort of dangers lurk? Details like that, even if given out in little snippets over the length of the series, really help us to understand their world and their goals.

Could have used the jetpack less.

And finally, I’d like to pimp out something I worked on years and years ago that has some similarities to Ark II. There was an old pen-and-paper role playing game called The Morrow Project that I wrote extensively for, which shared a premise with our TV series. In The Morrow Project, teams of scientists with high-tech gear travel around a post-holocaust America trying to rebuild civilization, though without the talkative chimps. Here’s a link to my Morrow Project Travel Guide to Post-Nuke America.

Over to Pam now for her final thoughts on this series!

Pam‘s Closing Notes

Seconding Nate's comment that it would have been a lot better to set this show about 100 years after the catastrophe happened. An alternative is to make it clear there was no single catastrophe, American society gradually fell apart due to "pollution and waste," with some areas declining faster than others, and a few places managing to keep on advancing. (There's no reason to believe this show is set someplace other than the United States.) In fact, a slow uneven decline seems more likely, given what little we've seen of the overall society. Obviously wherever Ark II came from is more advanced than the United States in 1976 or today, and the same is true of the society that built Omega. This could account for the ATVs Lord Leslie owned, which if they weren't still in production by the time of the episode, must have been produced relatively recently, since they looked to be in good condition.

By the way, what's up with the rest of the world? A handful of the characters had non-American accents. Is there travel between countries? Is the rest of the word as badly off as the United States, or did some countries manage to hang on?

It's obvious this show not only had a fairly small budget, but it was intended to be a children's show, which limited the subject matter that could be addressed. Still, some thought could have produced an entire world behind the small parts we saw, which could have been incorporated into the scripts to make the action more believable. That, plus not so much repetition in the plots. And, as Nate said, fleshing out the characters and giving them some backstory would have helped enormously. For instance, how did a boy in his early teens like Samuel get chosen to be part of Ark II's crew? Who thought this was a good idea, and why? And no, "To have a character the target audience could identify with" isn't a good enough reason.

Too bad you're all unemployed now.

I think this sums up my thoughts, Nate. Watching this show wasn't as painful as I thought it was going to be. Kelby, you have anything to add?

Yet another show with no cats. Who writes this stuff without at least one noble, wise house cat? Do I get paid extra for this?

The End.

Written in March 2015 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.

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