Sunday, March 16, 2014


Well, we’re back to wrap up our retrospective look at The Six Million Dollar Man, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect, what with Dynamite Comics having just released the first issue of their new comic-book series THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN: SEASON SIX on March 12.

It basically picks up where Season Five of the TV series left off, and apparently—and unfortunately, in my humble opinion—it dumps the three reunion TV movies from the continuity. But it’s great to see the original Steve Austin back in action, albeit in comic-book form, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the creative team takes things. And now back to our show: 


Let’s face it: The Six Million Dollar Man was always an uneven series. You can’t point to a particular season as a whole and say, “That’s the one to watch, nearly every episode in it is a gem.” In each season, the quality varied—sometimes wildly—from episode to episode. There were high points, low points, and many points in-between. But the same can’t be said about Season Five, the final year of the series. There’s a real deficit of high points in that season. There are no major stink-bombs either, but the vast majority of the season’s installments fall squarely into the “mediocre” category, sometimes amusing but rarely more than by-the-numbers efforts. And when an episode does show a spark of creativity and some genuine effort, it gets hobbled in the execution.

The series entered the fifth season at a major disadvantage. For reasons I haven’t been able to confirm, Executive Producer Harve Bennett, who had overseen the show since it became a weekly series, departed—somewhat abruptly. He’s still credited as the EP in the two-part season premiere, “Sharks,” but his name is never seen again after that. The show-runners who took over—one of whom was the notorious Fred Freiberger, the gentleman responsible for the third and final (and, overall, less-than-stellar) season of the original Star Trek—just didn’t seem to have the will or the ability to wring any true greatness out of the scripts they had on hand. (In the case of Freiberger, that doesn’t come at all as a surprise.)

Another major problem: The Bionic Woman was canceled by ABC after its second season, and then picked up by NBC. While Richard Anderson and Martin E. Brooks were allowed to continue playing, respectively, Oscar Goldman and Dr. Rudy Wells, in both shows, actual crossovers were now out of the question. Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers could no longer appear together. Steve never mentions Jaime throughout Season Five of TSMDM, and Steve is only referred to once, in passing, during TBW Season Three—in the first episode, which, incidentally, introduced Max the bionic dog.

To top it all off, absolutely no effort is made to provide Steve with any depth or substance. There’s virtually no exploration of his character, aside from revisiting his past as an astronaut in several episodes, including one storyline that sends him back to the moon. As a result, Lee Majors basically sleepwalks his way through the season, given no chance to really stretch his acting muscles. He’s never allowed to show Steve’s vulnerable, more human side, the way he was in the first TV pilot and in “The Bionic Woman” and its sequel. He is, however, allowed to grow his hair out to epic proportions—perhaps to compensate for the loss of his mustache at the end of Season Four? 

Let it fly in the breeze, and get caught in the trees...

With a run of mostly unremarkable episodes, and no trace of Jaime, my daughter Maddie lost a lot of interest over the course of the fifth season, so she doesn’t have much to say about it. So, alas, you’ll be hearing mostly from me this time around. Let’s get to it.

One of the most notable things about Season Five is that there are quite a few two-parters—five in all. Presumably this was done as a cost-cutting measure rather than for any creative reasons, because most of the stories didn’t really warrant the extra time. “Return of Deathprobe,” a sequel to Season Four’s “Death Probe,” is probably the best of the two-parters. I remember really liking it as a kid, but I was a bit underwhelmed watching it again on DVD. That said, in some ways it’s actually an improvement on its predecessor.    

For me, “Bigfoot V” and “The Lost Island” are the closest that Season Five comes to having actual highlights.

“Bigfoot V,” titled thusly because it’s the fifth episode to feature Sasquatch (his two previous appearances were both two-parters), does a semi-decent job picking up on where the character was left off and wrapping up his storyline. That in itself is a major achievement, since writer/producer Kenneth Johnson, who created the character and was responsible for all of the previous episodes involving him, has nothing whatsoever to do with this one. 

Eye feel a change coming on...

It’s an interesting, compelling episode, with a genuinely touching ending, but there’s some truly bizarre stuff in there, and some mangling of continuity. For example, the aliens who created Sasquatch had mentioned at the end of “The Return of Bigfoot” that their people would not come to Earth to take them home for about 100 years, but in “Bigfoot V,” Steve mentions in passing that he saw the aliens off when they departed our planet. When—and how—did that happen? And if Steve was there when the aliens left, how could he not know that Sasquatch had decided to stay on Earth?  

Near the end of “Bigfoot V,” when Steve plays a video message from the aliens explaining Sasquatch’s current condition, it features some guy we’ve never seen before. What, the producers couldn’t bother to ask Stefanie Powers to do a 60-second cameo as Shalon, or, at the very least, Severn Darden as Apploy, both of whom were so memorable in the previous Bigfoot shows? For that matter, “The Return of Bigfoot” ended with Shalon’s fate uncertain, but there’s no resolution to that plot thread to be found in “Bigfoot V.” Had Shalon been the person in the video, there would have at least been the implication that everything turned out okay for her. 

As for the bizarre, there’s a scene early on where Steve, commenting on new reports of Sasquatch’s aggressive behavior, says, “That sounds more like the legendary Earth Bigfoot, not the Sasquatch I know.” Uhhhh... it was clearly established in “The Secret of Bigfoot” that the alien-built creature is the legendary Earth Bigfoot, since the aliens had been living on Earth for several hundred years. (Not to mention the fact that in all of their previous encounters, Steve saw just how aggressive and destructive Sasquatch could be.) And later on, when a battered Steve returns to Rudy’s mobile lab, he tells the scientist, “I found Bigfoot,” and Rudy replies, “Which one is he?” I can’t imagine why writer Gregory S. Dinallo even introduced this train of thought—it wasn’t necessary at all. You could remove every line of dialogue about the “Earth Bigfoot” as opposed to the “Space Bigfoot” and it would not change or hurt the episode in any way.

As for “The Lost Island,” it was an expanded episode that originally aired as a TV movie. Like “Bigfoot V,” it’s more science-fiction oriented, focusing on a radioactive satellite that crashes on a remote island and mutates some of the peaceful inhabitants into hairy, super-strong, power-hungry brutes. I watched this when it first aired on January 30, 1978, and I thought it was great. Watching it again years later, I didn’t think it was nearly as good as I remembered it being, but it was still a cut above most of the other episodes of the season.

"Yeeaaah, radiation, bitch!"

Other notables:

“Just a Matter of Time” features Steve returning from an orbital test flight to find that he’s apparently been thrust six years into the future—and is wanted for treason. It’s not a masterpiece, but I give this episode points for at least attempting to be a little more creative and innovative. Interestingly, variations of the central plot were used years later in the 1988 Star Trek novel Timetrap by David Dvorkin, and in “Future Imperfect,” a 1990 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, both of which I enjoyed.       

“Killer Wind,” in which Steve, while contending with a trio of bank robbers, has to rescue students and their teacher in a stalled cable car halfway up a mountain as a tornado approaches. (Lee Majors did the death-defying stunt himself!)

“The Cheshire Project,” in which Steve rekindles his romance with an old girlfriend, Jenny Fraser (played by Suzanne Somers, whose star was on the rise at the time). Jenny is piloting a top-secret fighter jet that can be rendered invisible to radar, but when the plane mysteriously disappears in mid-flight, Steve sets out to investigate—and makes an unsettling discovery.

Can't help thinking that under different circumstances, Farrah Fawcett would have played Jenny.

“The Deadly Countdown” is nothing special, but it does feature the lovely Jenny Agutter and author Martin Caidin, who wrote the novel Cyborg upon which The Six Million Dollar Man is based. Apparently, Caidin’s performance was below par, or his voice sounded like Mickey Mouse’s, because all of his dialogue seems to have been dubbed in by another actor, to unintentionally hilarious effect. It’s so poorly done, so distracting, I can’t believe the producers allowed the episode to air like this. Honestly, it’s akin to this:  


And I have to mention the two-parter “Date With Danger” solely for the presence of guest star Elaine Giftos, who brought vitality, energy, personality, and a sense of fun to an otherwise fairly standard installment. You’ve no doubt seen Giftos elsewhere—she appeared in virtually every TV series during the 1970s and early ’80s. 

Bringing a spark of life to a dying series...

Among the lowlights:

“Dead Ringer,” a sloppy exploration into the paranormal suggesting that Steve is being haunted by his own restless spirit, which was set free when he was clinically dead following his plane crash. There’s a particularly gaping plot hole in this episode, along with the surprising suggestion that both Steve’s mother and stepfather are dead, even though Jaime Sommers was still living on their ranch over in The Bionic Woman and had never made any mention of their deaths. Helen and Jim Elgin had been important elements of both shows, so to reveal their offscreen deaths so casually, so abruptly, is extremely puzzling. Presumably this was just a careless continuity gaffe on the part of the SMDM crew, because, based on the episode, I can’t think of any story-driven reason to go there.     

“The Moving Mountain” is not a good episode, nor is it an awful one, but it’s exceedingly mediocre. The only thing notable about it is that it’s the last episode of the series, and it’s unfortunate that after five seasons, The Six Million Dollar Man ends with such a whimper. True, most TV series of that time didn’t go out with an extra-special finale that wrapped everything up, but even The Bionic Woman, which ended the same year, was given a send-off that provided at least some degree of closure for Jaime. TSMDM just... stops. And it doesn’t even go out on a high note. We’ll see if the new comic-book series can make up for that. As for live-action, we wouldn’t see Steve or Jaime again until 1987’s reunion movie, The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman. (Though, amusingly enough, Lindsay Wagner did guest-star on a 1983 episode of Lee Majors’s next series, The Fall Guy.)


Yeah, they’re sort of cheesy. But come on, they aren’t any more cheesy than the two series they were based upon. And I’ll go out on a limb and say that despite all of its flaws, I really enjoyed—and still get a kick out of—the first one, the aforementioned Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman.

Embracing the '80s.

It adheres to the original series continuity, with a mention of Max and an in-depth explanation of what happened to Chris Williams, the O.S.I. agent played by Christopher Stone who became Jaime’s ongoing love interest during the third season of The Bionic Woman

MADDIE: “I didn’t like Chris Williams. Why? Because he wasn’t Steve.” 

He did have a better mustache than Steve's.

Reference is made to the final episode of TBW, “On the Run,” which concludes with Jaime convincing Oscar to let her cut back on her involvement in O.S.I. operations. And more importantly, Jaime’s memory loss, established in “The Return of the Bionic Woman,” is addressed and finally resolved.

MADDIE: “I was really excited that Jaime got her memories back because it meant that maybe she and Steve would get back together, or she would at least feel a stronger connection to him.”

There’s some fudging with Steve’s backstory, what with the establishment of his very brief marriage and the son that resulted from it, but it worked well enough for me, and I liked the character of Michael Austin, played by Tom Schanley—it’s a shame he wasn’t seen again in the two follow-up movies. Return was clearly set up to be a launching pad for a new series featuring Michael, but it never materialized.    

A (computer) chip off the old block. 

MADDIE: “I thought that adding Michael would bring a lot to the storyline and I thought that what happened to him was very clever, because now that he’s bionic, he can join the O.S.I. in place of his dad.”

Both Majors and Wagner, while significantly older, still look good and slip back into their roles quite smoothly. More importantly, in this film, when Michael Austin experiences the same tragic accident that befell his father, Lee Majors is given the opportunity to really perform as Steve, to react to events on an emotional level, to show human vulnerability, for the first time since he discovered Jaime Sommers was still alive.         

I liked the new character of smarmy O.S.I. agent Jim Castillian, played by Lee Majors’s real-life son, Lee Majors II. 

Wonder how he got the gig...

MADDIE: “I liked Jim Castillian! He was so goofy and cracked jokes and made the movie even more enjoyable. He would always introduce himself by saying, ‘I’m Jim Castillian, and that’s with two i’s and two l’s!’ He was so full of himself that he always said it. It just made me smile.”  

And to top it all off, a very young Bryan Cranston shows up in a small role. (For those of you who don’t know, I have a completely heterosexual man-crush on Bryan Cranston. I admit it freely!) 

And I think it’s cool that actor Gary Lockwood, who guest-starred on both bionic shows, turns up as a new character. A nice nod to the past. 

But I do have some issues with the movie. First, there’s the plot. Steve and Jaime are pulled back into action by Oscar to deal with the return of a criminal group called Fortress, led by a man named Lyle Stenning (played by future Oscar winner Martin Landau), whom, we are told, Steve put behind bars years ago. But we’ve never seen or heard of Fortress or Stenning before. It would have been so much stronger, and would have really resonated with longtime fans, had the main villain been someone from one of the original episodes. Hell, Gary Lockwood was right there on the set—why not just make him the main villain and have him reprise the role of Hopper, the criminal he portrayed in Season Two“Steve Austin, Fugitive,” who had plenty of reason to want revenge on Steve? Just establish that he’s out of prison and now hooked up with a paramilitary criminal group out to cause mass mayhem. The rest of the story would play out exactly the same.

Plus there’s the fact that Fortress turns out to be not all that impressive a threat, a fact presumably dictated by a limited production budget. 

The absence of the iconic Six Million Dollar Man theme music is a major source of disappointment, as is the lame synthesized ’80s-music soundtrack—composed, believe it or not, by Marvin Hamlisch—that sounded woefully dated even when the show first aired. 

But the film’s heart is in the right place, and all of the character stuff rings true. It ends with the promise of Steve and Jaime making an effort to get to know each other again, giving bionic fans everywhere hope for the future.         
MADDIE: “The ending made me think that Steve and Jaime could actually end up together without something or someone coming between them—someone like Michael Marchetti!”

I missed the second reunion movie, 1989’s Bionic Showdown, when it originally aired. I watched it for the first time only recently, via the DVD box set. Like its predecessor, it introduces a new bionic character. This time, it’s a second bionic woman, Kate Mason, played by a very young Sandra Bullock. 

Passing the bionic baton? Not so fast!

Kate is a paraplegic who is outfitted with experimental bionic implants designed by Rudy Wells, and she’s also close friends with Jim Goldman, Oscar’s nephew, who is played by Jeff Yagher. Jaime is on hand to help Kate adjust to her new condition, while Steve is overseeing security for the World Unity Games, an international sports competition that’s an obvious stand-in for the Olympics. Kate eventually ends up going undercover as an athlete at the Games to root out a traitor within the O.S.I. who is leaking top-secret information—and she faces off against a brutal enemy operative who, it turns out, is also bionic.

MADDIE: “I liked Kate Mason, how young she was and how she got to compete in the Games like an Olympic athlete. And I liked the storyline between her and Oscar’s nephew, how they get together. They made a cute couple and I liked how Jim was protective of Kate, even though he wasn’t bionic.”   

Bullock, here in the earliest days of her career, exudes the down-to-earth, girl-next-door sweetness and charm that would serve her so well in years to come. Jeff Yagher is slightly more likable here than he was in the original V weekly TV series—he’s still doing his cringe-inducing “I’m so slick and cool and witty and don’t you wish you were me” routine, but he’s added a dash of humbleness here, which makes him a bit more tolerable.

Gotta love that combination mullet/pompadour.

While Steve and Jaime are actively involved in the storyline, and their relationship is taken one step further, the movie is really a showcase for Bullock’s Kate Mason, serving as a pilot for a new Bionic Woman series. But it ultimately didn’t go anywhere and Bullock obviously went on to bigger things.

I have to mention that Lindsay Wagner looks terrific in this film—she’s ditched the short “woman of the ’80s” hairstyle she sported in Return and has let her hair grow long again, which makes her look more youthful than she did in the previous film.  

Not that Lindsay Wagner could ever look bad, but still...

MADDIE: “I liked the fact that Jaime’s hair was long again, because I prefer her with long hair—it reminded me of how she looked in her TV series.”    

It took five long years for Steve and Jaime to reunite one last time (I guess Bionic Showdown didn’t garner huge ratings—this movie even jumped networks, airing on CBS instead of NBC, which aired the previous two films). In 1994’s Bionic Ever After?, the focus is squarely on the original pair, with no new bionic characters being introduced. Even Michael Austin and Kate Mason don’t appear. 

"Steve Austin, I will not honeymoon in Silicon Valley!"

Steve and Jaime are finally headed to the altar, but Jaime is hit by a mysterious illness that causes her bionics to start breaking down. As Rudy Wells races around the clock to find a cure, Jaime calls off the wedding, leaving a heartbroken Steve to accept an O.S.I. mission paired with beautiful young agent Kimberly Harmon, played by Farrah Forke. (Yes, that’s right—Lee Majors found himself playing opposite an actress named Farrah Forke. Gotta wonder what was going through his mind during those scenes.) 

The other Farrah.   

While on assignment with Kimberly in the Bahamas, Steve starts showing signs of having contracted the same illness as Jaime. Gee, you think this mystery sickness was arranged?

Bionic Ever After? is okay. It gets the job done and provides a crowd-pleasing ending. I liked Farrah Forke ever since I first saw her in the sitcom Wings, and she does a nice job here. Wagner still looks great, Majors a little less so.

>Sniff< Excuse me, I've got something in my eye...

My main gripe with the movie is that once again, the main villains leave a lot to be desired. They’re not memorable at all (at least the first movie had Martin Landau and Gary Lockwood) and their ultimate plan isn’t all that impressive. They just don’t seem worthy of, or enough of a challenge for, the combined efforts of Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers—even an older Steve and Jaime. Since this was the last go-round for these two characters, it would have been nice to do what hadn’t been done in the previous two films, and finally bring back an already-established threat from the original series, something or someone from the past having returned to menace them again. Not necessarily Bigfoot or the Death Probe, which probably would have seemed too outlandish, but what about the Fembots, which were so popular and so fondly remembered? Just spitballing here, but they could have brought back Dr. Chester Dolenz, the evil robotics expert who appeared in “Day of the Robot,” “Run, Steve, Run,” and “Return of the Robot Maker,” and have him take over the work of John Houseman’s now-deceased Dr. Franklin, introducing a new series of Fembots in a last act of vengeance before he dies of old age. Henry Jones, the actor who played Dolenz in all three of those episodes, was still alive and working in 1994. Ah well. We got what we got, and it was satisfying enough. It ends our time with Steve and Jaime on a happy note, and provides a nice farewell.

Let the fighting begin! 

MADDIE: “I was really happy when Steve and Jaime got married because that’s what I wanted for them since Jaime was first introduced. I was really scared at the beginning of the movie, when Jaime’s bionics started to break down, because it was like deja vu, she was going to die again right before they were going to get married, and that would have been awful. I liked the twist about there being an O.S.I. agent who intentionally caused the bionics to start breaking down. I thought this was a good way to end everything, because it was on a happy note. I don’t think we needed to see any more movies with them.”

And that wraps up our look back at The Six Million Dollar Man. I want to thank my wife Ginny for buying me the DVD box set for my birthday a few years back. It is, without a doubt, a gift that keeps on giving! 

© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2014.