Friday, March 1, 2013

I Remember That: The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams

"We're two living things that feel as one.  We aren't actually brothers of the flesh, but brothers in spirit."

-Grizzly Adams speaking of native American Nakoma, but in many respects laying the foundation for the theme of the series and his relationship with all of the wilds' creatures great and small in The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams-

I picked up The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams [1977-1978] Season One recently to share with my daughter, The Girl Wonder.  I have such fond memories of that show.  Season One has just twelve episodes.  Season Two is a complete season. The series features 38 episodes in all.

A show like The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams always offers the promise of that nostalgic wave, which is probably why I embrace these less substantive releases when they arrive.  That flush of pure child-like spirit rushes over you and transports you back in front of your television sitting Indian-style and wearing feet pajamas (sometimes with little holes from running and sliding).  I was literally whisked back in time to the series particularly with its opening theme song, Maybe.  I remember that song like it was yesterday. I loved it as a kid and it just transports you back in time.  The song was written and sung by Thom Pace and it reached number one on the singles chart in Europe believe it or not. It even won awards.

Now, today, the pacing for The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams is fairly laborious, even painstaking, particularly for the often impatient youth of today.  There is a gentle, beautiful and almost breezy approach as if peering into the simple life of this mountain man and his wild neighbors whom he considers friends.  But as it turns out the series is more the product of its time and place in television history, because my family certainly didn't appreciate it as I once did as we watched.  Perhaps the charms of this program would be better suited for the very young today.

The One To Be Pitied definitely appreciated the full-on 1970s wilderness cheese.  My kids, not so much.  As much as I tried to cheer lead the show from my comfortable couch location I was often met with a muted response.

The series was led by the naturally gifted actor Dan Haggerty who seemed to exude an inherent likability, warmth and charm almost from the word go.  Without question Grizzly Adams was the role of a lifetime and the one Haggerty seemed born to play.  Haggerty, with his full beard, seemed to embody the mountain legend and the character and the actor seemed one and the same throughout history.

Despite my childlike affection and joy for the show, my kids were there to poke it with holes like a dam made precariously of sticks by a native beaver.  I can only liken The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams to the equally wonderful The Little House On The Prairie (1974-1983), but slower and absent the compelling family drama.  They both seemed to capture the frontier vibe of the day effectively through their respective series.  The Little House On The Prairie may have had a much larger budget along with a much larger fan base.  The simple little show with an epic, spacious feel that was The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams has a very sweet message - appreciate and connect with mother nature.  Timeless Media Group (licensed by CBS Home Entertainment) made no effort to clean up the show for DVD release. A disclaimer to viewers before reaching the menu indicates that the producers of the DVD did apparently make efforts to implement the best available archival sources.  Sadly, the video quality is just fair. In fact, it may have been transferred from VHS.  Still, it's unlikely this show will ever see life beyond DVD and it is quite simply a lovely outdoor driven TV series for young children who can still appreciate a show centered on bears, raccoons, deer, hawks, foxes and other square ideas.

Of course, I had to suffer the indignity of shots from my son who didn't see the show quite as lovingly as myself.  "Man, I don't think I can take much more of this."  "I think I would rather be watching Little House On The Prairie" [mind you that wasn't a compliment to The Little House On The Prairie, because he didn't care for that one either]. Here's a favorite observation on The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams wildlife approach: "Oh, throw in a deer and make it look cool. That's classic." He had us howling on that one.  But the various critters that populate the show and, of course, big Ben the bear, make it a wonderful stroll down memory lane loaded with delightful likability and beautiful scenery.  It's like a sweet, dramatic way of presenting Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (1963-1971; syndicated 1971-1988) narrated by Marlin Perkins, except narration here comes by way of Denver Pyle as Mad Jack.

Unfortunately, despite the arrival of MTV, quick edits, plotless action films and the bombardment of relentless television and television channels, there is a part of me that can still appreciate this kind of magic.  It didn't help my cause that we actually pulled out The Lfe And Times Of Grizzly Adams following a viewing of the exceptional Joe Carnahan-directed wilderness adventure overtones The Grey. That exhilarating, incredible film is not only exciting but infused with existential complexity.  It's a work of true poetry regarding survival, questions of life and death and surviving the wilds of nature. The Boy Wonder and I loved that film.  So a show like The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams didn't have a prayer.  Kids today are exposed to the likes of The Grey or the documentary Grizzly Man, both of which my family loved, and then to have to slow things down for something far less demanding, far less emotionally complex, well, The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams doesn't have a chance.  Of course, there's no historical context or nostalgic perspective for the kids either and I can appreciate that too.

For those interested in the science fiction connections Lawrence Dobkin wrote the film The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams and penned episodes Unwelcome Neighbor and The Rivals.  He was the director on Charlie X for Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969).

Samuel A. Peeples wrote and directed Adam's Ark. He penned Redemption Of Ben and The Tenderfoot.  He famously penned Where No Man Has Gone Before and the first entry for Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974), Beyond The Farthest Star.

James L. Conway directed Adam's Cub, Unwelcome Neighbor, Redemption Of Ben and The Tenderfoot.  He would move on to direct for Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) (Season One's Justice and The Neutral Zone and Frame Of Mind from Season Six), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) (Season One's Duet, Season Two's Necessary Evil, Season Four's The Way Of The Warrior, Little Green Men, Shattered Mirror and For The Cause, Season Five's Apocalypse Rising), Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) (Season Two's The 37's, Persistence Of Vision, Death Wish and Innocence) and Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005).

Terrence McDonnell scripted Howdy Do, I'm Mad Jack.  McDonnell was also a writer for The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978) (Season Three's Divided Loyalty, Season Four's Nightmare In The Sky and The Thunderbird Connection, Season Five's Walk A Deadly Wing), The Bionic Woman (1976-1978) (Season Three's Which One Is Jaime) and Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979).  Writer Jim Carlson who collaborated with McDonnell on Grizzly Adams also collaborated with him on Battlestar Galactica.

Actor Ronny Cox (Stargate SG-1, Deliverance) appeared on Unwelcome Neighbor.  Famous actor Charles Martin Smith guested on The Tenderfoot.  Smith would one day direct Space: Above And Beyond (The Dark Side Of The Sun, Ray Butts, Pearly) for Millennium's Glen Morgan and James Wong. He even directed and launched the opener to the now legendary Joss Whedon's Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  He has appeared on Fringe and in Brian DePalma's The Untouchables.  Yeah, it's a crazy, crazy, small world.  And that's Season One.

Season Two spotlighted Worley Thorne scripting Track Of The Cougar and The Seekers.  Thorne penned Justice for Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He penned for Star Trek: Phase II (Are Unheard Melodies Sweet?).  He wrote a handful for Fantasy Island and one for The Bionic Woman (Jamie's Mother).

Sharron Miller would direct in both seasons and was once linked to direction on In Search Of... (1976-1982) presented and narrated by Leonard Nimoy.

Haldon Darryl Allan Eastman rounded out Season Two with The Skyrider.  Eastman was also executive producer on Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda (2000-2005), but directed episodes for that series plus Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict (1997-2002) (Season One's Decision and Truth), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Season Six's Honor Among Thieves), Star Trek: Voyager (Season Four's Prey, Season Five's Relativity) and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Actor Russ Tamblyn appeared in the aforementioned episode.  Tamblyn appeared in one of the very best from Toho, War Of The Gargantuas (1966). He also appeared in David Lynch's Twin Peaks as well as Babylon 5 (A Distant Star).  June Lockhart (Lost In Space) guested along with Kim Darby (ST:TOS' Miri) in The Capture Of Grizzly Adams. Whew! Like I said, it's an absolutely insane world.

Today, I still see The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams' appeal, though I'm not sure it could possibly satiate today's children outside of the very young I Dig Dirt crowd.  The pace is lethargic by today's standards, which is too bad. But I'll tell you, I'm still watching it.  Okay, I'm watching the series alone now mind you (my kids peek in and generally run the other way now), but I still think it has a special charm about it.  Granted I'm not convinced I'll be investing in the Season Two set just yet.  We'll see how I feel at the end of the first season, poor video quality and all.  Nostalgia can only take you so far and I'm not entirely assured there is enough to stimulate and enthrall the much older big kid in me.  But yes, watching it will sincerely transport some back in time.

My God, once upon a time I loved The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams and adored Dan Haggerty, big Ben and Mad Jack's mule, Number 7.  There was real kindness and respect in that series.  Can you imagine today in a television world where sarcasm and chippy, cheeky humor by children rule the day for children?  There just isn't a show like this today and that's unfortunate.  But I definitely remember loving that show. Of course, I don't recall all of the credit-related information provided here.  I appreciate it now, but back then I was just a wee bear cub myself with a simple appreciation for mother nature.


Justin said...

Absolutely lovely review :3.
God bless you!

Anonymous said...

I'm with You on poor picture guilty, season 2 is far worse then Season 1! they could have done a better job, vhs tapes look better then these. The picture is so blurry on most of the shows, they make the eye's hurt! I wish they would come out on blu ray, but I don't see this happening, at least not anytime soon! I too love this show as a kid, but I still love it today, almost 40 years later, it's good,loving, family fun show for all! I wish they made shows like this today!

Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hey Thank you Justin!

Thank you also Anonymous. I agree. These DVDs really aren't much better than VHS transfers to a DVD. I mean no effort at all was made for these wonderful episodes of an ephemeral but classic series. Such a shame.

Great family show and sadly I'd put money on the fact you will never see Blu-Ray for this and likely never a remaster for DVD. It's really too bad. Young children would enjoy this series especially if it was cleaned up for an actual viewing experience.