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TV SERIES 'PLANET OF THE APES' FIRST & ONLY SEASON REVIEWS

Planet of the Apes TV Deconstructed
When THE PLANET OF THE APES movies were all finished, fans of the franchise wanted more, so the producers set their sites on television...

Sondra Locke guest stars in episode The Cure
And after one season, there was no more of the Apes canon...

That's if you don't count the one-season cartoon titled RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES: as young audiences got the same plot schematics as the 1968 Pierre Boulle novel, which involved apes in modern cities, driving cars, jeeps and flying airplanes. Meanwhile, this live-action cult series was inspired by and modeled after the blockbuster Charlton Heston loosely-adapted motion picture where the simians live in caves while caging humans: And replacing Heston are two astronauts who resemble that world's very own Starskey and Hutch...

Left astronaut is dead: Ron Harper & James Naughton, alive
Episode One: ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW: Pilot episode of the television series based on the franchise of motion pictures involving two astronauts: older blond-haired Ron Harper and cool young dark-haired James Naughton aka Virdon and Burke, who land on a planet ruled by… you got it… talking apes. The beleaguered astronauts meet Roddy McDowall as Galen, a friendly chimp (Cornelius with a new name...

Galen was actually an assistant chimp in the original movie) helping them dodge gun-totting militaristic Gorillas while a local, Royal Dano, provides shelter and exposition about their situation. The suspenseful plot involves straight-line survival, setting up the series’ template: Virdon, Burke and Galen are known fugitives who must be caught and it’s General Urko, played by a fitfully hammy Mark Lenard, who heads up the chase – although it’s the scientific orangutan, Zaius, who wants them alive: but for scientific reasons, which would lead to the same lethal conclusion.

William Smith & Roddy McDowall GRADE: B+
Episode Two: THE GLADIATORS: Like after any pilot episode, the budget here on episode two is noticeably sparse and we're cut down to a more centered storyline with less Apes and more humans... After all, it's much easier to throw rags on people than to dress up those gorillas...

In this sort of old school gladiator style episode without fancy armor, Burke and Virdon must go up against a human brawler who fights other humans for the ape’s enjoyment.

Muscle-bound character actor William Smith is the formidable badass and his son, who’s learning the ropes, is played by Marc Singer. The last half, as Singer and Galen compare the “virtues” of warriors and pacifists, drags despite the awesome premise. But the scene where Burke’s pitted against Smith makes the episode shine – although the turnout is pretty unrealistic.

GRADE: A+
Episode Three: THE TRAP: Here we get to know the villainous General Urko as a real… um… person.

He and Burke, during a fight in the demolished San Francisco when an earthquake breaks out, fall into a hole and wind up underground where a subway existed, including a poster advertising a zoo...

Where children are feeding a banana to a caged gorilla. Burke talks the furious Urko into helping him escape instead of killing him, providing the best moments. All the while Burke hopes the general doesn’t see that poster, which proves the very thing all Gorillas’ don’t want to face: that humans preceded them. Tautly suspenseful (in the Irwin Allen fashion) with terrific dialogue between human and ape – one of the best episodes, perhaps even the best of the series.

GRADE: A
Episode Four: THE GOOD SEEDS: Galen is shot, so Burke and Virdon take him to a farm where a family can nurse him to health. The old-fashioned ape clan doesn’t trust the humans, especially the oldest son, who, to become an actual farmer, must have his pregnant cow give birth to a bull.

Thinking the humans have cursed this, he’s the one thing that might put our heroes in jeopardy, and this character gets fitfully annoying – to the astronauts and audience both. Good episode, kind of a LITTLE APE ON THE PRAIRIE with Lonny Chapman and Jacqueline Scott as the farmer mother and father, while Bobby Porter, who portrayed Caesar’s son in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, is the youngest son. The best scenes involve Virdon, a farmer in his “past life,” teaching Chapman the real ways of planting soil… for actual results.

With Jackie Earle Haley GRADE: A
Episode Five: THE LEGACY: The fugitive three discover a computer, resembling a candy machine, that tells the history of humans, and might serve more answers – but it turns off, and when the Gorillas raid soon after, they capture Virdon..

Thus placing a street urchin, played by a pre-BAD NEWS BEARS Jackie Earle Haley, as a spy to learn the whereabouts of Burke and Galen, who are elsewhere planning to free their friend whom the gorillas are using as a plant to snare the entire trio.

An entertaining episode with some nice twists – and Ron Harper’s character is front stage as we get to know him from the inside/out. Meanwhile, the artistic-looking, real life dancer Zena Bethune, Harvey Keitel’s girlfriend from Martin Scorsese’s first theatrical yet still very low-budget film WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR and who, years later in real life, died tragically while trying to save an injured possum on the freeway, guest stars along with Haley.

GRADE: A
Episode Six: TOMORROW’S TIDE: An episode that centers on a village of exploited humans used as fisherman – they venture into the shark-saturated ocean with spears, risking their lives for a catch that benefits the ape foreman, Roscoe Lee Brown...

A standout episode combining sharks with monkeys
Virdon and Burke are captured witnessing the fishing procession...

And soon become one of… or, two of them – having to pass dangerous initiations, including swimming under fire, dodging sharks and landing a catch on the spear. Pre-JAWS, this forebodes the shark scare craze that would strike a year later, and has terrific moments and is one of the better episodes: getting down to bare-knuckle action. Galen, in trying to con Browne, has some fun. Even Virdon points out: “I didn’t know he was that much of a ham.” Character actor John McLiam co-stars as the McGuffin, but it’s those sharks that, although obviously stock footage, make things work.

Roddy with Jacqueline Scott GRADE: A—
Episode Seven: THE SURGEON: The one thing Galen’s missing is a girlfriend or wife, especially since we all know McDowall’s Cornelius character as being matched with Kim Hunter’s Zera in the original films… and here a ladyfriend is introduced – well actually, she and Galen are former lovers, and Kira’s a surgeon who holds the skills, along with a discovered forbidden book on human surgery tactics, to save Virdon: who’s been shot by Gorillas.

But first, the one thing he needs before the operation is the transfusion from a put-upon teenager, whose father thinks she’s cursed: and he’ll do everything to stop the surgery...

Has that time-is-running-out intensity throughout, and is thus as aggravating as suspenseful, but a cool episode giving Galen more depth than usual. And last but not least, CHARLEY VARRICK actress Jacqueline Scott (quoted at the end of this article from an interview) plays the surgeon aka the Galen’s ex, and is wearing Kim Hunter’s (from the first three films) same mask. And behind another ape mask is James Naughton's brother, David Naughton, who would be a (Dr.) Pepper before starring in the John Landis classic AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.

GRADE: A
Episode Eight: THE DECEPTION: Perhaps the “deepest” episode of the series...

Involving a blind female ape who hates humans for (supposedly) killing her father, and her uncle who heads up a KKK type group who kills humans with masks at the dead of night. For the record, this episode became the best read of the PLANET OF THE APES novelizations...

Herein, Galen and the astronauts have to trick the girl into thinking they are all apes for shelter, and along the way, she falls for Burke. Some intense moments between Galen and Burke and with a suspenseful template throughout – tightening the inevitable anticipation of when the girl will discover she’s being duped. Melodrama and suspense ensues, and it's all very well executed.

With James Daughton GRADE: B—
Episode Nine: THE HORSE RACE: They called in action director Jack Starrett... who directed a bevy of biker flicks, SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIPOFF, and later RACE WITH THE DEVIL and played the helicopter riding redneck cop in FIRST BLOOD... for this episode about an important horse race that could free a disgruntled prefect, and a blacksmith’s human son, the latter who illegally rode a horse to save Galen from a scorpion bite.

And it’s up to Virdon to ride against Urko’s best rider – and his life’s at risk since Urko has his henchman ready to gun him down before he wins or after he loses...

With the exception of Morgan Woodward as the blacksmith, some overacting occurs between the gorillas and Woodward’s son, who seems like a cameo player in a CHIPS episode and isn't as effective as an intrepid youngster played by ANIMAL HOUSE villain, MALIBU BEACH hero and the guy who competes with Fonzie when he jumped the shark on HAPPY DAYS, James Daughton, but the race’s climactic action pulls it all through.

A cute cameo by Lynn Benisch GRADE: D
Episode Ten: THE INTERROGATION: The worst episode yet has Burke (James Naughton) getting captured, and a masochistic female ape (Beverly Garland) putting him through the ringer...

Including a spinning wheel/rack and hypnosis, all the while strangely seducing him while the most annoying sounds, like clocks from hell, tick and chime in the background: All this is supposed to make Burke go stark raving mad, and then some, but this primal torture chamber winds up torturing the audience as well.

On the peripheral, Virdon and Galen are trying to locate their friend by visiting Galen’s house, where mother is helpful but human-loathing senate seat father takes a while to come around. Meanwhile, the only good/decent and/or worthwhile/entertaining scene involves Burke hallucinating beautiful blonde Lynn Benisch (who appeared in many TV shows during the 1970's but never looked so pretty) in place of Garland’s ape under hypnosis. But she doesn’t last long enough. Making her image alone a red rose in a garbage bucket.

Booth Coleman as General Urko GRADE: C
Episode Eleven: THE TYRANT: Turns out General Urko really isn’t so bad – like comparing Stalin to Hitler during WWII. The episode starts out great – setting up two human characters that seem a mainstay...

Michael Conrad as a farmer and his rambunctious ape-hating son, James Daughton (“Greg,” head of the Deltas from ANIMAL HOUSE, in his second episode). Daughton joins with our hero-trio Virdon, Burke and Galen in battling a band of apes led by the titular villain, Aboro, ruling the town with an iron fist...

And unlike Urko, not adhering to any rules or laws. But the episode wanes when, after a tragedy, Galen is sent to Aboro’s tent undercover (as Zaius’s aid), tricking him into a personal battle with Urko. Despite being dialog-laden, there’s a con – kind of a Planet of the Apes version of THE STING – that’s somewhat involving. Although for the most part, it’s like watching a bland stage play.

Mousy-cute Sondra Locke makes our day GRADE: A
Episode Twelve: THE CURE: An episode about a village of humans dying of Malaria would seem a drag, and many shows after, like LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, would have very searing episodes on the subject of disease wiping out towns, but this is surprisingly one of the best episode...

The ape doctor doesn’t believe Virdon and Burke, who know a thing or two about this “unknown” disease called Malaria.

Sondra Locke, a few years shy of being Clint Eastwood’s girlfriend/co-star in projects ranging from BRONCO BILLY and SUDDEN IMPACT, plays a pretty village lass smitten with Virdon, who had shared their background as astronauts – and when she comes down with the illness, under delusion she tells all to the Ape doctor, putting the trio at risk and making this a race double-edged race against time: our heroes need to gather tree bark for a possible cure and escape before the apes find out their true identities.

James Naughton GRADE: D+
Episode Thirteen: THE LIBERATOR: The one episode never aired, and perhaps that’s a good thing because it’s a subpar outing, resembling a lesser STAR TREK episode with campy costumes and, like several other episodes, a lack of apes.

Centering almost completely on a group of villagers who punish their own by execution, we follow an Arian blonde fella and his dark haired girlfriend falling in love against the will of the village leader who won’t let go of the past. Pretty boring, especially since our mainstays Virdon, Burke, and Galen serve very little in the dull proceedings. Seems like a failed attempt at some kind of spinoff that would have not lasted half a season.

Harper & McDowall flyin' high GRADE: B+
Episode Fourteen: UP ABOVE THE WORLD SO HIGH: The final episode, and perhaps, as we see Virdon, Burke and Galen heading off on a raft towards (perhaps) another land in the last frame, this serves as a decent farewell – although the show was cancelled... So for the PLANET OF THE APES television series, there’s no actual conclusion.

Pasted Together TV-Movie
Plot centers on a rogue human (slightly resembling Soupy Sales) who created a hang glider – that works, somewhat.

Astronauts Virdon and Burke, knowing a thing or two about flight and a lot about altitude, teach him how to make a better pair of wings – but the inventor gets captured, and must be freed before a lady ape scientist tricks him, and a love-struck Galen, into turning the flying machine into a primitive B1 Bomber...

And all pretty much good stuff, especially the aerial scenes – seeing an ape on a hang-glider is what made our youth dreamlike and cool-weird. But alas, it's a sad and literal farewell to a creative series, and one of two episodes (beginning with TOMORROW'S TIDE, a personal favorite i.e. "the one with the shark") compiled into a so-called TV-movie mixing this episode in circa 1980, titled FAREWELL TO THE PLANET OF THE APES. But both UP ABOVE THE WORLD SO HIGH and/or FAREWELL has no closure since the series was cancelled after season one. Like so many other great cult shows, it lived on in our imagination. They're out there still. Finding their way...

Interview Selection from Jacqueline Scott
••• And here's some bonus monkey business transcribed from a Cult Film Freak Podcast Interview with character-actress Jacqueline Scott, who played Zora in a stellar episode, THE SURGEON...

Why do you think PLANET OF THE APES got cancelled?  

Because it’s so expensive – putting the makeup on was about three and a half, four hours. And then you could only wear the appliances once, and then they had to be destroyed... 

And they had to have the very best makeup man in the business on that show, because it was not easy to put the masks on. And they were in two pieces. And then they had to know how to lay the hair on your face, and hair on your hands, and it’s quite a complicated makeup job. So with the combination of only being able to use the appliances once, and then the time that it took to put them on… And then they didn’t want to pay us to take them off, but we got around that, because if you could imagine driving home on a freeway in those ape masks – we would have caused about a five-hundred car pile up.
Sondra Locke plays Amy, the only human that the astronauts share their real identity secret with: Reedited since Locke died on 12-13-18
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