"Planet of the Apes" (TV)

With Roddy McDowell, Ron Harper, James Naughton, Mark Lenard, Booth Coleman
Executive Producer: Herbert Hirschman
Producer:  Stanley Hough
Reviewed by JB

A too-literal game of Monkey in the Middle     For what it is - a failed television series of the seventies based on a fantastically popular series of movies - Planet of the Apes is decent enough entertainment.  The two human leads, Ron Harper and James Naughton, are likable sorts and give able support to Roddy McDowell, who is wonderful in his stated favorite "ape" role, Galen, a chimpanzee sympathetic to the plight of humans subservient to the ape ruling class. The stories, though repetitive, are intelligent, and there are some terrific guest performances scattered throughout the fourteen episodes. For fans of the movie series who just want a little bit more, the DVD set is inexpensive enough for almost anybody to add it to their collection.

    The series is not a lost classic, however.  While it failed to click in the U.S. because many more people wished to watch Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man in the same time slot, my hypothesis is that the series was destined to fail anyway.  The movie series was an epic which attempted to tell a story that spanned thousands of years, each sequel continuing a plot thread from the previous film.  It failed to bring the story full circle, however, and although many movie theaters in 1973 had five-film marathons celebrating the franchise, audiences could not fail to see that, with the possible exception of ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, most of the sequels did not live up to the promise of the first film. The television series was an attempt to keep the franchise going, but I believe the whole ape phenomenon had peaked and was over by the time the series aired.

    Downsizing the saga down from "epic" to "standard TV fare" was probably not going to please many people.  A similarly intelligent science fiction show, Star Trek, went in the opposite direction, from small screen to epic film series.  It grew.  Planet of the Apes shrank.  It went from an epic if flawed movies series to The Fugitive With Apes. Nearly every episode had the two humans, with their chimp friend Galen, hiding out someplace while the gorillas, headed by Urko (Star Trek's Mark Lenard) hunted them down, or one of the humans being captured, leading Galen and the remaining human to rescue him.  

    Today, Planet of the Apes might have found a nice home on the SyFy Channel and been allowed to tell longer, more involved stories.  But season-long story arcs were not really part of early 1970s television, the apes phenomenon had fizzled out with BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, and 13 episodes, Roddy McDowell was looking for another job.  Ce la vie.

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