Davis on DVD: Buck Rogers In The 25th Century

Nicely done fan wallpaper art from George Spigot's blog captures the essence of the series.
Nicely done fan wallpaper art from George Spigot’s blog captures the essence of the series. More can be found at https://georgespigot.wordpress.com/tag/buck-rogers-in-the-25th-century/.

The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William “Buck” Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later.

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century is a favorite TV series of my childhood. The show, starring Gil Gerard and Erin Gray, lasted two seasons from 1979-1981.

Fortunately, the series is on DVD. I snagged the complete series a few years ago. Universal has recently released each season separately. Even if you have the original box set, Buck fans may want to buy the second season for a special Easter Egg. More on that in another blog post later.

The series is often dismissed has 70s and 80s kitsch because of wacky costumes, cheesy sets, silly humor, disco music, stunt casting, and scenery-chewing guest stars.

Still, many of us gen-Xers have fond memories of the show. Rogers was the prototypical wise-cracking hero. There were cool spaceship battles and adventures on other worlds. Colonel Wilma Deering was drop-dead gorgeous in tight colorful Spandex. What was not to like?

The biggest appeal to me (besides Deering) was the character of Rogers. A man out of time, he had accidentally made the ultimate escape. Growing up, I’d often wish I could make a similar escape. Why deal with school bullies when I could pilot a NASA space shuttle into the future and be a hero? And meet Wilma?

Alas,  I wasn’t on Ranger 3 in 1987. I did graduate high school.

Re-watching the series, I’ve pick up on some deeper themes that escaped me the first time around. I guess I was distracted by Spandex the first time around. Forgive me.

These themes and the top notch acting by Gerard (Buck Rogers), Gray (Wilma Deering) and Tim O’Connor (Elias Huer) made rewatching the first season enjoyable.

Taking a deeper look

Regardless of the fantastic technology, adventures and bodies of the 25th century, at the core the Rogers character was a tragic one. He had lost his world, friends, lover and family. It was only human he would use humor to cope. Ultimately, though, the producers would start forcing the wisecracking and forget the reason it existed. As the series progressed, Rogers became more of a caricature.

Still, their our haunting moments through the first season. His sadness was on full display during a scene in the pilot episode where he battled mutants in the remains of Chicago only to find the graves of his family.

At least he didn’t have to fight apes.

In addition to the subtle mature themes, the acting by Gerard (Buck Rogers), Gray (Wilma Deering) and Tim O’Connor (Elias Huer) also made rewatching the episodes enjoyable.

I’ll be exploring the series more with my a few blog posts. Why? Well, it’s my blog. Also, I feel like the series has been largely ignored since it aired. Much has been written about shows like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and even Space: 1999, not much deep though has been given to the “man from the 20th century.” My upcoming essays will explore some of the show’s deep themes, artistic accomplishments, and share some more information I’ve discovered in the years since the show aired.

Stay tuned.

By Scott Davis

Former newspaper journalist, now government webmaster. Life-long geek.