|Space Academy: The Complete Series (1977-79)
Starring: Maggie Cooper, Eric Greene, Pamelyn Ferdin, Ric Carrott, Ty Henderson, Brian Tochi, Jonathan Harris
When you think of live-action shows on Saturday mornings during the ‘70s, it’s usually the Sid & Marty Krofft oeuvre that leaps to mind – and reasonably so, given how productive the Krofft brothers were from 1969-78. As such, though, one tends to forget that Filmation, who was best known for its animation, also dabbled in live action programming during the ‘70s. Filmation wisely avoided the comedy path trod by the Kroffts, sticking mostly to sci-fi (“Ark II”) and superhero adventures (“Shazam!” and “The Secrets of Isis”); based on its title, you’d be correct in suspecting that “Space Academy,” which aired from 1977-79, was more the former than the latter.
The series takes place in the year 3732 and revolves around the exploits of the cadets at Space Academy, including Chris and Laura Gentry (played by Ric Carrott and Pamelyn Ferdin), a brother and sister who share a psychic bond as well as telekinetic abilities, and Tee Gar Soom (Brian Tochi), who’s a martial arts expert. In the series premiere, the cadets meet Loki, an alien boy with the power of invisibility and teleportation, who is quickly invited to join the Academy. There are also a few other cadets as well, like Paul (Ty Henderson) and Adrian (Maggie Cooper), but they don’t possess much in the way of distinct personalities; in fact, to be painfully honest, Adrian’s around solely so Chris has someone to have a crush on, and Paul…um, well, he’s the resident Black Guy. (God as my witness, there really isn’t anything else that stands out about him or his character.)
Although they do passable work, none of the cadets were ever going to win an Emmy for their roles on “Space Academy.” No, acting-wise, the big selling point of the series was – and remains – the commander of Space Academy, Commander Isaac Gambu, played by Jonathan Harris, a.k.a. Dr. Smith from “Lost in Space.” Gambu is, we’re informed, 300 years old, though…wait for it…he doesn’t look a day over 275. Alas, Harris doesn’t imbue the role of Commander Gambu with nearly as much panache as that of Dr. Smith, but he still possesses enough charisma for viewers to constantly be waiting for him to reappear onscreen. Unfortunately, he’s not the primary focus of the show, which means he isn’t around nearly enough.
Despite the iffy acting, “Space Academy” is a great deal of fun to watch, thanks to the plots. If it seems that the writing staff was well versed not only in “Lost in Space” but also “Star Trek,” that’s because Samuel Peebles, who wrote several “Space Academy” episodes, was a writer for “Star Trek.” The cadets are regularly hopping from their star-base over to some planet or other, experiencing bizarre events in space and meeting this person or that. There are plenty of aliens; most are approximately humanoid, but we occasionally get to see larger creatures via stop-motion animation that is, if not up to Ray Harryhausen standards, at least marginally better than those crappy dinosaurs on “Land of the Lost” that always looked like they were made out of clay. Oh, yeah, and there’s also a robot named Peepo that, when I was seven, I thought was almost as cool as R2D2, due to the fact that Peepo could actually talk.
From a special-effects standpoint, Peepo has aged about as poorly as the rest of “Space Academy,” but it’s still a surprisingly intelligent – if scientifically flawed – kid’s show, and it’s a very pleasant surprise to find out how well it’s aged.Special Features:
You can count on BCI to treat every Filmation show in its stable as if it was one of the most successful Saturday morning programs of all time, even if it wasn’t. Here, we get a new half-hour documentary, “Back to School with ‘Space Academy,’” which reunites a number of the cast members, along with several writers and producers of the series. The same group sits in on two commentary tracks as well, and there are plenty of photo and art galleries, along with original commercial bumpers and a few Easter eggs. The DVD-ROM portion is impressive as well, containing the scripts for all 15 episodes, along with the show’s script bible.