Seconds later, there was a horrifying hawk poo incident.
Release Date: 27 August 2012
1983 | PG | 409 minutes | £34.99
Creators: Glen A Larson and Donald Bellisario
Cast: Simon McCorkindale, Melody Anderson, Michael D Roberts
If you’ve ever shoved your mitts into a Dyson Airblade and found yourself imagining for a second, as a blast of hot air ripples your skin, that you’re transforming into a panther, one man is to blame. Or rather, one Manimal…
This short-lived action-adventure series (scheduled against ratings juggernaut Dallas, it lasted a feature-length pilot and seven regular episodes before the axe fell) was brought to our screens by Glen A Larson and Donald Bellisario, between them responsible for everything from Battlestar Galactica, Quantum Leap and Buck Rogers In The 25th Century to Knight Rider, Airwolf and Magnum PI. Yes, these men rotted the brains of an entire generation – and we kinda love ‘em for it.
Simon McCorkindale (think “own-brand Michael York”) plays hand-kissing, Ferrari-driving charmer Jonathan Chase, a police consultant on all matters animal who can transform into, er, all animal matter – from fluffy white cats and parrots to horses and dolphin. Though it’s usually a hawk or a black panther, since they couldn’t afford to shoot that many transformation sequences. With the aid of feisty NYC cop Brooke Mackenzie (Melody Anderson, Flash Gordon’s Dale Arden) and comic relief buddy Ty Earl (Michael D Roberts), he takes on smugglers, CIA traitors, horse thieves and the like.
Those transformations (created by FX great Stan Winston) captivated young viewers back in 1983, but now look pretty cheesy – particularly the bit where panther claws emerge from what looks like an over-sized plush paw. You’re also liable to splutter with laughter every time there’s a close-up of, say, a single paw rifling through a drawer, pressing buttons, or unlocking a door. The series doesn’t always make the best use of its premise, either – usually, Jonathan’s powers are used for eavesdropping or pursuit and don’t give him much more of an advantage than a bugging device or a fast car would.
And it’s spectacularly daft at times. Jonathan’s clothes rip when he changes but he transforms back fully clothed (huh?). The number of times a hardboiled criminal faints in terror when confronted with a panther instead of putting a couple of rounds between its eyes defies belief. And you can’t help wondering why Jonathan, a man with a preternatural affinity with wild animals, has so many of them crammed into tiny enclosures in his flat, despairingly pacing up and down in the back of shot…
Still, Jonathan’s battles for supremacy with Brooke (who’s determined not to let him get the upper hand) are cute (as long as you can block out the bestiality subtext to their flirtations…), and there are some great guest stars, including Ursula Andress, Richard Lynch and Doug McClure. The series is at its campy best in its more outlandish instalments, like “Female Of The Species”, which sees Jonathan take in a young woman raised by wolves and climaxes with him morphing into a dolphin to headbutt the crap out of some sharks. Another closes with a shedload of KGB goons (literally – they’re in a shed) being pushed into a harbour by a rampaging elephant. Mental.
Is it, by any conventional measure, great television? Dear god, no. Is it watchable? Yep, if you can dial down your IQ for 45 minutes. If it transfixed you as a child, will it briefly return you to a warm, cosy, televisual womb state? Without a doubt.
Executive producer Glen A Larson discusses the show’s cancellation and his hopes for a new big-screen version in a 17-minute interview – sadly his memories of the show’s creation are pretty vague. You also get the copy from the original production notes, a bunch of text-only biographies, three galleries (including a few interesting shots of various stages of the panther make-up), and an episode guide booklet.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
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