Friday, March 20, 2015

Hard Time at Disneyland

No, I'm not talking about the Pressler Era (ta-dum-dum. heyyyy-oh!)

I'm talking about Hard Time On Planet Earth, a short-lived science fiction TV show from Touchstone Television that lasted only 13 episodes.

The year is 1989. An alien warrior from another galaxy is found guilty of fomenting rebellion and sentenced to serve time on a primitive planet called Earth. He'll trade his normally robot-like appearance for a human disguise that looks a lot like the square-jawed, muscular Martin Kove (Death Race 2000, The Karate Kid).

Joining "Jesse" (that's the Earth name Kove's character adopts) throughout his sentence is "Control", a floating football-shaped robot whose voice resembles Paul Reuben's Star Tours navigator RX-24 (the actual voice actor is Danny Mann, and he may very well be the first CGI character on television.)

Control acts as Jesse's guide and companion while Jesse serves out his term, learning the ways of Earth's strange inhabitants... and just maybe a lesson or two along the way? Control also comes with an annoying catch-phrase: "Negative outcome. Not good." which he'll deliver repeatedly throughout the show as a dead-pan, hilariously understated observation.

We're going to need a lot of these, right? This catch-phrase is gonna be HUGE.

In episode 3, "Losing Control", Jesse and Control visit an "important center of rejuvenation" that "reverses the human aging process"... Disneyland. The whole episode amounts to a barely veiled advertisement for the park (exploiting television in this way was a Disney tradition going all the way back to 1954!)

Jesse and Control first enter Disneyland and encounter the clockwork and calliope installation that was part of a "35 Years of Magic" celebration in anticipation of the park's 35th anniversary the following year.

Over the opening credits, we are treated to flyover views of Fantasyland accompanied by synthesized, electronic renditions of "It's A Small World" and "When You Wish Upon a Star" that sound like cover versions you might expect to hear broadcast on the Star Tours radio station, K-DROID.

The gravity-defying Control briefly ducks into a garbage can to avoid attracting too much attention...

...and in a moment that somehow got past Disney's lawyers, describes a guest's half-eaten hamburger as "minced bovine carcass and vegetation immersed in hydrogulated fat and heat", then quips "These humans will eat anything!" Now THAT'S corporate synergy!

After noticing the Mickey Mouse balloons, Jesse suggests Control hover above him in a similar fashion as a disguise.

We ride the Skyway buckets, pass the original Star Tours, and the Rocket Jets...

...then Control splits off to explore on his own, getting an up-close look at a hippo from the Jungle Cruise.

Something resembling the early stages of a plot starts to develop, threatening to interrupt our Disneyland showcase, by way of a child ("Johnathan") telling his parents he wants to see "Captain EO and the Crystal Arcade". The Crystal Arcade? Mmm-kay. (This is actually foreshadowing, as later plot machinations require there to be a video arcade along the Main Street parade route, but we'll get to that in a bit.) The Peoplemover is visible in the background.

The interior of the Crystal Arcade on Main Street strangely resembles the much larger Starcade in Tomorrowland (they swapped out the interior in service of those pesky plot machinations I mentioned earlier). Johnathan plays the moving-cockpit version of Sega's Afterburner...

...while nearby we find Blasteroids, Pac-Man, and a Star Wars machine whose marque had to be partially obscured since its an intellectual property that Disney doesn't own the rights to.... for now.

Control finds his way into the Crystal Arcade/Starcade and is somehow able to play the games wirelessly by projecting lasers. He takes on the game grid of Tron first...

...before playing a row of machines all at once for a greater challenge.

The exertion of videogaming not only causes the entire arcade to blackout, but completely drains Control of his energy, who drops lifelessly to the floor, where Johnathan mistakes him for a free souvenir. Jesse witnesses this from his Peoplemover cabin as it passes through the upper level of the arcade.

Jesse needs to get Control back from that kid. Cue Chase Sequence #1! Jesse bolts out of the Peoplemover, featuring the World of Tron...

...and follows Johnathan and family onto Big Thunder Mountain, bypassing the line by leaping the fence, scaling the rocks and dropping right into the moving train from above!

The chase continues across the greens of the not quite open Splash Mountain (it would debut a few months later, in July '89) before Jesse is stopped by Disneyland security...

...and invited to take a walk through Disney's California Adventure Version zero-point-oh (i.e. The Parking Lot.)


...about 20 minutes of plot occurs not relating to Disneyland, in which Chase Sequences #2-4 happen, before our hero is given an excuse to return for a night visit... because you haven't REALLY seen Disneyland until you've seen it at night!

Plus, for Summer nighttime entertainment, you can't beat The Main Street Electrical Parade. Jesse who?

The plot conceit that brings Jesse back to the park is that he has recovered the still defective Control and believes he must return to the Crystal Arcade to rejuvenate him. Alas, the arcade is still closed from the earlier damage...

...leaving Jesse with no choice but to recharge him with a broken electrical main cable he finds lying on the ground somewhere near Coke Corner. While reviving, Control begins to sing the lyrics to "It's a Small World" in a slow, mechanical drone that resembles HAL 9000's dying swan song. Nothing creepy about that.