Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hi Yo, Steampunk, Away!

Station KDOC is airing The Wild Wild West – the world’s first steampunk series - on their weekend sched. I recorded a pair of episodes – they were even in black & white! - and gave ‘em a gander.

One episode, “The Night of the Druid’s Blood,” had an especially ridiculous plot: some insane doctor was abducting brilliant minds from around the globe. He siphoned off and kept their “essences” in jars (I didn’t see their brains floating in the soup, so the network censors back in the day must have thought that too gruesome). Assisting the doctor was none other than Mr. Warmth himself, Don Rickles, as mad “satanic” magician Asmodeus, complete with tux and cape and goofy mustache and soul patch! He brandished the famous Don Rickles smile-smirk practically the whole time. I was on pins and needles waiting for Rickles to call Jim West a “hockey puck,” but no go.

A non-Don Rickles highlight was when Mr. West, imprisoned in a tiny room with high walls and a small opening at the top, produced some handy-for-this-type-of-situation plastic explosives from his hollow boot heels. He placed the plastique under a tin bucket and turned it into a rocket to propel him toward the opening. Sounds simple enough right (something the A-Team would do for those of you who grew up on 80s teevee)? The thing that got me was the editing: they really milked it for the tension. No simply lighting the fuse, standing on the bucket and BOOM! Nope. West lights the fuse. He stands on the bucket. Cut back to the fuse. Cut to a shot of West’s goal of the opening up top. Cut to the fuse again. Cut to West. Cut to the opening. Cut to some more of the fuse. You see how this is going? And this was in the middle of the show, not even the final act!

This episode ended in a very weird way. On their train, the Wanderer, Artie (Artemus Gordon for you purists) does a magic schtick and produces a hot chick from a cabinet. She goes right up to West without so much as a how do you do and gives him a big wet one. The next image is their train slowly chugging away. Did Artie just buy West a hooker? It sure looked that way to me. And she’s staying on the train! How the network censors let that one go is beyond me.

The other episode, The Night of the Freebooters, wasn’t as much fun. It did have Keenan Wynn, the Winter Warlock from the puppet-animated Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, as some ex-Army type who was trying to take over Mexico with rifles that fired exploding bullets and an armored wheelbarrow with a Gatling Gun called "The Turtle."

The only thing of real note was that William Campbell also guest starred as Keenan’s right hand man. Campbell is most famous for a pair of Star Trek roles, Trelane in "The Squire of Gothos" and Captain Koloth in "The Trouble with Tribbles." Campbell appeared as a bit of dandy – his cowboy was well groomed and always wore gloves - but there was a definite slimy quality about him, which was good. This episode also let Ross Martin dress up as a Mexican colonel (Artie wanted to play a general, but West “demoted” him to colonel in a cute bit.) with a very bad Spanish accent (Speedy Gonzalez is more authentic).

As goofy as these two episodes might have been, they were still head and shoulders above Will Smith's insipid big screen version. One day I will have to sit through that cow pie for this blog. And that will be a very sad day indeed.


  1. I used to LOVE the Wild, Wild West when I was a kid. I used to have a really short "shell" jacket and ran around as James West with my two six-shooter cap guns (that is when we weren't playing Star Trek). I've always wanted one of those spring-loaded sleeve guns he sported.

    I've had the complete first season DVD set on my "to-buy" list for some time but just haven't taken the plunge. I remember about 10 years ago or so the local NBC affiliate started running the show about 1 AM on Saturdays. I stumbled upon it accidentally and it happened to be the very first episode--really cool. To top it off it was directed by none other than Richard Donner!

    You are a braver man than I wanting to watch the Will Smith fiasco. I read that Robert Conrad turned down a cameo as President Grant because he thought the whole project reeked out loud. Although looking at the complete cast list on IMDB I see that Clayton Moore has a cameo which is about the only thing that would drag me into watching it.

  2. Clayton "The Lone Ranger" Moore was in the Will Smith WWW movie!?!? And he starred as George Washington!

    You might see if the local "liberry" has the series on DVD and check out some episodes that way. I know the L.A. Library does (but only one hard to get to branch).

    Any time you want to get REALLY ANGRY, just watch the opening scene from WWW with Will Smith as West in the water tower with the girl. Make sure you have no sharp or heavy implements in your hand as you WILL destroy your TV when you watch that scene.