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Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series

After Battle for the Planet of the Apes was a modest theatrical hit and a TV broadcast of the original Apes scored for CBS, everyone was poised to bring Apes to the small screen. The concept the producers settled on was a pretty good one, actually: Two new astronauts — family man Alan Virdon (played by Ron Harper) and smart-ass younger guy Pete Burke (James Naughton) crash-land on a future Earth where apes rule and humans are slaves. To bring back Roddy McDowall (who'd emerged as the heart and soul of the Apes series), the producers created Galen — a decidedly Cornelius-like, arched-eyebrow sissy who was forced to flee with the astronaut fugitives when he saved them from the treacherous gorilla General Urko (Mark Lenard) and Machiavellian orangutan Councilor Zaius (Booth Coleman). Not a bad set of ideas. But "Apes" TV was for the most part an aggressively mediocre series (with sporadic flashes of goony fun and inspired acting) that got well and thoroughly creamed by the one-two punch of "Sanford and Son" and "Chico and the Man." (The show premiered in September 1974; it was canceled that December — with one episode never even getting a first-run U.S. broadcast.) The central problem? The show's "watered-down" vibe. The series doesn't dive into the "Apes" universe in any sort of detail; our heroes simply scratch the surface, moving from village to village along the northern-California coast. Even worse, the show dilutes the movies' delicious mix of social commentary, brutal violence, stagy histrionics, and light sadomasochism. Even the cornerstone racial commentary is blunted: Where the movies adopted a pessimistic view of humanity — eventually cloaking their apes in revolutionary fervor — "Apes" TV is all about how Virdon and Burke are smarter than (and morally superior to) those stupid, backwards monkeys. Every week, our astronaut heroes upstage ape society with 20th-century technological know-how, spreading revolutionary fervor and hope among the simple humans populating the countryside — with Galen oohing and ahhing in approval all the while. It's a near-total inversion of previous "Apes" themes. Which isn't to say the show's a total wash: Roddy McDowall is eminently watchable as Galen — one of the chief joys of any Apes installment is watching him find new ways to emote within the constricting makeup. And there are also a few campy "parlor games" to be played with this series — most notably trying to find the myriad in-jokes that seem to refer to Galen's/McDowall's, ahem, "alternate lifestyle." It's also fun to (a) spot the human mouths plainly visible under the ape mouths, and (b) point out the MacGuyver-like skills of our human heroes, who are the most holistically educated astronauts in history. Fox's four-DVD set — collecting all 14 episodes of this nonsense — is bare-bones, unsurprisingly. The full-frame transfers (1.33:1) are solid, but picture quality varies wildly — from near-mint to fleck-tastic. Dolby Digital in both English and French, with English and Spanish subtitles. Four-disc keep-case.
—Alexandra DuPont

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