Automan (1983 – 1984)
Okay. It is obscure, silly and not very good Science-Fiction television show time. Which can only mean one thing: ‘Automan’! First aired in December, 1983, and with a total of thirteen episodes (of which twelve were broadcast), it was the American TV network ABC’s ‘inspired-by’ version of the hit Sci-Fi movie of the previous year, ‘Tron’ (1982). Though closely resembling the big screen success in style and look, that is where the similarities ended. The basic premise of the show was the crime-busting adventures of a police officer and computer programmer named Walter Nebicher, played by the woefully wooden Desi Arnaz, Junior, who had created an artificially intelligent program that generated a crime fighting ‘solid’ hologram (‘Automatic Man’ – Automan, get it?) played by that irredeemably All-American poster boy Chuck Wagner, that was able to interact with the real world as a secret U.S. Government agent. Automan’s sidekick was ‘Cursor’, a floating, glowing mote of energy which could generate three-dimensional physical objects as they were needed, generally cars, helicopters and the like. And if that sounds ridiculous, well it kind of was, the one redeeming feature being that Automan’s Autocar (sorry) was a real Lamborghini Countach LP400.
Like his ‘Tron’ inspirations, Automan was noticeable for glowing blue in the dark – this to resemble the on-screen special effects surrounding the character and what was perceived as a suitable ‘computer’ colour. To achieve this the actor’s suit was fitted with reflective tubes and plates upon which projectors were shone (unlike ‘Tron’ where the ‘glowing’ features were frequently the result of laborious hand-painted film cells). After all that there is little more to say about one of a wave of 1980s American crime-fighting ‘gimmick’ shows that came and went with little lasting dramatic impact in the ‘80s. Most ran with the same formulaic storylines, from ‘Knightrider’ (1982-1986) to ‘Airwolf’ (1984-1987), and ‘Automan’ despite the more overtly Science-Fiction overlay was simply more of the same. The stories have dated – as has the acting. The special effects are watchable in a quaint way, but there is little enough drama or narrative beyond that to hold anyone’s interest, not even a bit of retro-chic or a ‘so bad its good’ status to hold onto. Perhaps this is why the show remains (so far) unrealised on DVD or Blu-ray – and probably why it never will be.