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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

'Automan' DVD: Tubular Neon-laden Desi Arnaz, Jr. '80s Crime Drama by 'Galactica' Creator

Image result for automan images

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This Australian-produced Region 4 DVD will not play in a standard U.S. player. It requires a (well worth it) international player.]

Australia-based DVD producer Madman Entertainment once again awesomely fills a void left by U.S.-based companies in recently releasing a four-disc set of the very "Knight Rider"/"Street Hawk" esque 1983-84 crime drama "Automan." The "Tron" style neon that adorns the titular crime-fighting hologram (a.k.a. automatic man) and his very snazzy holographic sports car and helicopter is attributable to having common behind-the-scenes talent with the original "Tron" film.

Including a never-aired 13th episode is one of the most awesome aspects of the set; being unable to locate the listed pilot episode among the special features slightly diminishes the fun.

The primary lore, which the opening segment in the following YouTube clip explains, is that mild-mannered police department computer expert Walter Nebicher, who former dreamy teen idol Desi Arnaz, Jr. portrays well, creates the titular computer-generated image to be the perfect weapon against malfeasors. Programming "Auto" with all the knowledge needed to ensure that justice is served allows that AI dude to save the day, Adding in a "Matrix" style ability to do things such as dance like John Travolta (which an episode hilariously illustrates) furthers this effort.

Casting dreamy blond haired/blue eyed soap hunk Chuck Wagner as Automan further establishes that character as an ideal. Wagner does a nice job with both the innocence of the character and his evolution as a sentient being. One of the best segments has him confusing the antics in a prime-time soap with real life. Many ladies and roughly 10-percent of the male population will enjoy an episode in which our hero goes undercover as a male stripper.

Creator Glen A. Larson, who is also behind other wonderfully cheesy '70s and '80s crime dramas such as "Rider" and "The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries" as well as both fracking spectacular "Battlestar Galactica" series, wisely adds in a vulnerability that prevents Automan from easily doing his thing.

The premiere episode nicely quickly establishes the lore of the series before having Walter and Automan investigate the disappearances of top engineers. The cool things that we learn in this one are that our heroes can merge in a manner that protects Walter from harm, that Automan can change his molecular density to suit his needs, and that aptly named companion droid Cursor can literally and figuratively outfit Automan with anything that he needs. Having Automan congenially converse with others of his ilk makes nice contributions to the great humor in the show,

We further get to witness the way cool method by which Walter summons his AI friend/partner in crimefighting.  Cursor preceding his "master" into our reality is only part of the fun.

Subsequent adventure have Walter and an increasingly center stage Auto investigating the veracity of a claim that a judge is corrupt, matching their mad computer skills against those of a master hacker who is messing with the power grid and other critical systems, and gleefully disrupting the activities of a crime syndicate. The award for most cliched episode goes to one in which the team tries to clear a cop friend of Walter who dies with a serious blemish on his record. Scenes of Auto literally performing magic in this one makes it particularly awesome.

Wonderful retro fun come in the form of the "cutting-edge" '80s technology. The  ginormous computers, DOS-style displays, and amazement of characters regarding telephone modems are only the tip of the iceberg.

The truly special extras include a modern interview with a very charming Chuck Wagner and other nice presentations on the background of the series (including images of "merch.")

As Walter would state regarding his show, they simply do not make them like this any more. Further, the fact that this 13-episode show has a minimal (if any) syndication history makes it a prime candidate to add to a DVD library.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Automan" is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.