8 Short-Lived '80s Sci-Fi Shows That Were Actually Awesome

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Max Headroom (1987–1988), a short-lived '80s Sci-Fi show

If you were a nerdy girl or boy growing up in the ’80s, you probably remember being starved for good science fiction. Sure, we had Star Trek in syndication, Land of the Lost on Saturday mornings, and Star Wars would occasionally appear in the local church basement, but what was a geeky gal to do in between these rare gems for some fresh stories set among the stars? Perhaps you watched one of the following shows, whose stars perhaps shone too bright to last? Or maybe they just weren’t that great? Maybe, but each one holds a special place in this geeky girl’s heart.

1. V (1983–1985) The mini-series, but also the short-lived TV show. Do you recall being glued to your TV for the first sight of that alien-human baby? Sure you do.

Starring Marc “Beastmaster” Singer as maverick reporter Mike Donovan, who never met a pair of tight jeans he couldn’t pull up to just beneath his hipbones, and Faye Grant as do-good doctor Julie Parrish, V featured goofy special effects of reptilian aliens masquerading as the human-like Visitors–until you caught them unhinging their jaws to eat Earth’s tiniest pets. After star child Elizabeth—product of a union between teen mom/spoiled brat Robin Maxwell and Brian, the Ken doll of Visitors—saved the world with her “give pretay nama a chance” schtick, the mini-series was spun-off into a TV series.

For the series, the star child had to metamorphose into a star teen so that her romance with Kyle, rebel son of the big bad, would be less icky. That meant unwed mom Robin Maxwell had to transform as well—via an unflattering haircut—to make sure she’d be no competition for Kyle’s affections. Message: once you breed, you cannot lead. Apparently the haircut wasn’t enough, and Robin had to “disappear” for a while. Like the show did, forever.

2. Manimal (1983) This may be my favorite worst show ever. It starred Simon MacCorkindale, whose name means “sprightly chipmunk” in Latin (I may be making that up. I’m not sure. I don’t know Latin), as college professor Jonathan Chase. The opening credits made some sly references to his youthful travels in Africa, the implication being, if you go on safari, you will gain the ability to transform yourself into any animal, as long as it’s a panther. Occasionally a hawk.

My VCR may be long gone, but I’m still the proud owner of a tape that has an episode of Manimal where the denouement involves what is clearly a black paw on a stick being use to foil the bad guys. It’s one of my fondest TV memories that I mentally caress when life gets to be too much.

3. Misfits of Science (1985) Starring Dean Paul Martin (Dino’s son) and a fresh-faced Courteney Cox straight from Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” video, this was about a team of mutants with powers. Cox was a troubled teen telekinetic. There was also a leather-clad bad boy who could shoot electricity and run fast and scientist/front man Martin’s partner, a very tall black man who could shrink himself. Imagine the hijinks this crew could get up to! And we were left to imagine, since the show was cancelled after 16 episodes.

4. The Phoenix (1982) Bennu of Golden Light, played by Judson Scott, who was also Ricardo Montalban’s right-hand man in The Wrath of Khan, was an alien discovered frozen in Peru. The show was about his quest to find his beloved using a combination of his magical phoenix amulet and hatha yoga. His amulet either gave him or acted as a conduit for the powers of telepathy, astral projection, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and not having to shave his chest hair so he could wear low-cut shirts. Would he ever find his beloved? We never found out, since the show lasted only a month on our TVs–but a lifetime in our memories. Apparently.

5. Max Headroom (1987–1988) From depicting a dystopia where TVs take over our minds to being a show that spawned from an MTV character, Max Headroom was oddly prescient. What I remember best were the Blipverts, commercials that caused people’s heads to explode.

The show starred Matt Frewer in dual roles as both Max Headroom and as a reporter undermining the monolithic TV corporations that employed him, determined to expose their secrets.

6. The Powers of Matthew Star (1982-1983) Like Bennu of Golden Light, Matthew Star (Peter Barton) was an alien with new-agey powers, only—twist!—he was a teenager just learning to control them. There was high school, there was a love interest, there was Louis Gossett, Jr. There was me, ass planted in front of our furniture-sized TV with a bowl of Dolly Madison ice cream, waiting to be thrilled.

7. Voyagers! (1982–1983) A time-travel show where we learned about history, it starred Disney hero come to life Jan-Erik Hexum as time traveler Phineas Bogg and Meeno Peluce as the crying child. (Seriously, the kid cried every episode.) Premise was Bogg’s gold pocket watch, called the Omni, would alert him when something was going wrong with history, and since he’d lost his history book, Jeffrey Jones–accidental companion and history buff–would help him out. When he wasn’t crying. It was actually a pretty good show that was tragically cancelled too soon. To put this in perspective, Hexum’s accidental death a couple of years later was a lot more tragic.

8. Galactica 1980 (1980) If it pains you to admit that the gritty and morally complicated reboot of Battlestar Galactica was better than the original from the late seventies—in effects, plotting, acting, etc.—then you probably watched Galactica 80. Set thirty years after Battlestar Galactica ended, our ragtag fleet had finally found Earth, but it turned out Earth is not the safe harbor they hoped for, and we Earthlings are woefully unprepared for a Cylon attack.

It starred Barry Van Dyke (later St. John Hawke on Airwolf) and Kent McCord as reincarnations of Starbuck and Apollo, who are sent as undercover agents to Earth so they can help a planet out. As first contacts went, it was silly, but we were desperate for sci-fi and I’m not ashamed. Okay, slightly. #BringBackMuffittheDaggit.

Until next time, pretay nama out!

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