Like most peeps who were born/grew up in the ’80s, I irrationally idealize that decade as the greatest and best of all things.
And there’s nothing quite like finding some obscure reminders of the themes, styles and tropes of that era.
Here’s a few examples of TV shows that really, really embraced certain trends of the time.
THE RENEGADES was a knock-off of the movie THE WARRIORS starring Patrick Swayze as the head of a street gang who secretly works for the cops, specifically national treasure Kurtwood Smith from ROBOCOP, THAT ’70s SHOW and more. I love how half the credits are just their feet intercut with their striking poses and revealing their street names, followed by Smith and his partner exchanging looks like, “Oh, those crazy kids!”
The long-running daytime soap GUIDING LIGHT briefly had an opening that was about…discos, kung-fu and evil Jack O’Lanterns, I think. I sort of love how it goes from the karate kick to everyone dancin’.
During the 1980s, syndicated TV programming for local channels really took off, and TBS, the “Superstation,” had a number of original long-running low-budget comedies. The weirdest was DOWN TO EARTH, whose premise was…well, the theme song pretty much describes this. I’m amazed a show was able to come up with a rhyme based around being hit by a trolley. ALSO OF NOTE: One of the kids of the show grew up to be a Real Housewife, the actor playing the dad quit and was replaced by Dick Sargent, Darren #2 from BEWITCHED, because…that’s his job to replace people, I guess, and the whole thing was co-created by STAR SEARCH champ Sam Harris. That’s some pow’ful ’80s mojo in this one.
THE MASTER featured veteran actor Lee Van Cleef as an American Ninja searching for his long-lost daughter with Tim Van Patten, known as the star of the cult classic CLASS OF 1984 and now known for directing such HBO shows as THE SOPRANOS and GAME OF THRONES. It was one of many “action heroes travel around helping the little guy”-type shows, complete with sweet custom van. Ironically, Van Cleef’s action scenes were mostly done with the actor playing his ninja rival serving as stunt double.
WE GOT IT MADE was one of those wacky shows about guys dealing with a hot girl, in this case a maid. Get it? In this case, it had some of the most sophisticated video graphics this side of The Cars’ “You Might Think” video.
Among the many low-budget SF-TV shows of the 1980s was THE HIGHWAYMAN, a vague knockoff of MAD MAX starring Sam Jones from FLASH GORDON as a government agent with a souped-up truck battling secret forces of evil. Among the supporting cast was former V alien Jane Badler, future STAR TREK: VOYAGER Vulcan Tim Russ, and noted battery spokesperson “Jacko” as “Jetto,” which led to commercials saying the heroes were into “Assault…and battery!” It was created by BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Glen Larson, nicknamed “Glen Larceny” for the number of his shows that closely followed recent hit films, and the credits feature the most sophisticated CGI-effects 1989 could buy.
Here’s a compliation of many other low-budget 1980s SF show openings, including TRON knockoff AUTOMAN, the GHOSTBUSTERS knockoff SHADOW CHASERS, and many others.
Finally, here’s an oddball show: DISNEY PRESENTS THE 100 LIVES OF BLACK JACK SAVAGE, a Stephen J. Cannell production for Disney by future X-FILES writer Glen Morgan and James Wong about a Trump-style yuppie (HARDCASTLE AND MCCORMICK’s Daniel Hugh Kelly), who flees to a Cuba-esque corrupt island and lives in a castle with the ghost of a pirate who uses him to help do 100 good deeds to make up for the lives he’s taken with the help of a souped-up boat and special ghostbusting equipment to stop the creatures trying to drag said pirate to Hell. WHEW! Needless to say, the premise was a bit much for viewers, particularly the young ones coveted by this show, to follow. It didn’t last long.
I’m sure there’s many shows I missed, but presumably this has brought back some repressed memories, or created morbid curiosity you’re better off not following up upon. Let’s just remember this: The ’80s were the most awesome decade ever…if you were there for ‘em.