Ready for more cringeworthy science fiction? Let’s kick off the party by paying tribute to Automan, another blink-and-you-missed-it sitcom from the mind of Glen A. (“Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, Manimal, Magnum P.I. and Battlestar Galactica”) Larson. Why was this one season wonder laughed off the air while Firefly fans continue to demand a second season after twenty years? Let’s watch a brief overview of Automan:
As you’ll learn in the linked video, Larson ripped almost everything about Automan from TRON, which came out the year before. ABC had Halloween costumes, action figures and even binoculars ready as product tie-ins. The one they didn’t have was a relatable character, compelling stories, or realistic technology. Everything about this show fell apart as soon as you realize that the science is simply a MacGuffin for having a superhero that can go anywhere, do anything, and be anyone. “If anything is possible,” the saying goes, “nothing is interesting.”
Let’s not forget that Automan, like other Larson projects, was helpful to science fiction in general by acting as a ‘gateway drug’ to more serious scifi properties. Automan predates other landmark movies like Cocoon, Weird Science, and Back to the Future and TV shows like Misfits of Science, V, and Max Headroom. Automan contains many of the same thematic elements that other, more successful science fiction stories would build upon (‘Cool Car,’ ‘Da Chief,’ ‘Magical Computer,’ and ‘Shout-Out‘). This admittedly-deficient science fiction show also demonstrated the stylistic optimism of the 80s, which was a nice change from the brutally harsh, post-apocalyptic dystopian scifi of the seventies.
What was Automan’s cultural impact? Nothing. In fact, if you Google ‘cultural impact of “automan”‘ you’ll get ‘Cultural impact of the Ottoman Empire.’ The 1980s were filled with zany, campy television series’ that explored ridiculous ideas. Automan is no exception, knee-deep in Eighties television tropes and and that era’s perception of superheroes. All 13 episodes of Automan didn’t even air on ABC and it remains a cringy, silly relic of its time.
I hope you enjoyed this tribute to Automan. If you enjoyed this discussion, please feel welcomed to dive down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Have a great weekend! 🙂