Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

QUARK (1978) * * *

QUARK is a space adventure parody and TV sitcom that first aired on NBC May 7, 1977, and was cancelled in April 1978. It was created by Buck Henry (co-creator of GET SMART) and only 8 episodes were produced. The show is a peculiar mix of sci-fi spoof, intellectual jokes, sex, and slapstick comedy. It is witty, sarcastic, bright, and cheesy.

In the year 2222 A.D. Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) is Commander of the United Galaxies Sanition Patrol Cruiser, whose continuing mission is to clean up garbage floating in outer space, mostly in "space baggies". "Quark" sounds like "Kirk", and he would like important assignments because he is actually skilled and competent, although he always gets into trouble. His garbage scow operates out of United Galaxies Space Station Perma 1, home of Otto Palindrome and The Head. In a "Starnote", Quark records, "We are now orbiting Polumbus, a planet nobody has ever returned from. It could be very crowded down there."

The cast includes:

The Bettys (Cyb and Patricia Barnstable), co-pilots who are identical in every way, because one is a clone of the other. Nobody knows which is the clone and they constantly bicker over who is the real Betty. They tend to speak in unison, have the same thoughts at the same time, and are Quark's love interests. The Barstable twins were once featured in "Doublemint" TV commercials.

Gene/Jean (Tim Thomerson) is a "transmute", a humanoid with male and female chromosomes. He/she is the engineer and vacillates from macho to cowardly and feminine at very inconvenient times. His male half is never around when Quark needs him.

Ficus Pandorata (Richard Kelton) is a Vegeton, a highly-evolved intelligent plant with human appearance. He is logical, unemotional, observant, has difficulty understanding humans, and has a bad sense of timing. Obviously Ficus the science officer is a parody of STAR TREK's Spock. There's no doubt about it when you see Ficus use the Vulcan neck pinch.

Andy (Bobby Porter) is a robot made from spare parts. It is cowardly, neurotic, funny and similar to Marvin the Paranoid Android in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Andy says, "Cowards live longer."

Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janis) is in charge of Perma 1. A tyrannical bureaucrat, cowardly with his superiors, he enjoys giving Commander Quark unpleasant assignments. Conrad Janis is also in MORK AND MINDY.

The Head (Alan Calliou) is a disembodied head with a huge cranium. He is Palindrome's boss but is detached from routine events, cannot tolerate failure, and also enjoys giving Quark strange tasks to perform, usually at the most inconvenient times.

There is also Interface, a four-armed alien female bureaucrat; Ergo, Quark's one-eyed pet blob; and Dink, a small and hairy aide to Palindrome. The villains are the Gorgons. Zoltar the Magnificent is the evil High Gorgon. There is also Zorgan the Malevolent.

In the "Pilot" a deep space phenomenon threatens to destroy the galaxy. Because Quark's ship is the only one in the area, Palindrome and The Head order Quark on a suicide mission to save civilization. Communication can only be done by telegram, and much of the episode is spent with arguments over the cost of telegrams and ways to reduce words to save money. The crew accidentally save the galaxy anyway. There are many scenes of the galactic Interface (Misty Rowe) and her four arms. Ficus was not part of the cast in this episode, and the science officer is Dr. O. B. Mudd (Douglas Fowley), an old one-eyed man. Mudd and Quark build Andy the robot. Mudd never appears or is mentioned again in the series. This episode is a parody of STAR TREK's "The Immunity Syndrome", with a galaxy-eating enzyme. Quark says, "My ancestors were members of a subgroup called Americans. Archaelogical diggings made in the Western and several sections of their country indicate the so-called Americans worshiped and perhaps were governed by a fully clothed English speaking mouse." (First aired Saturday, May 7, 1977)

"May the Source Be with You": Perma 1 is in a state of emergency because Gorgon has created a weapon to destroy the United Galaxy. Palindrome gives "The Source", a secret weapon, to Quark who must believe in it to defeat the Gorgons. He is temporarily blinded by a stray gamma gun blast. The High Gorgon (Henry Silva) says, "People of Spartan, this is the High Gorgon. I command your unconditional surrender. You shall be treated with compassion, honor and patience. You have twenty seconds before I blow you out of the galaxy." (First aired Friday, February 24, 1978)

"The Old and the Beautiful": Quark is given an "extended romantic interlude" with Princess Carna of Kamamor (Barbara Rhoades). He says, "Emotionally I won't feel a thing. It's strictly a mission." In this spoof of STAR TREK's "The Deadly Years" problems develop when he encounters a space baggy contaminated with a virus that ages him 2 years every hour. Quark asks, "I want to know why I came out of that hatch ten years older than when I went down." (First aired Friday, March 3, 1978)

"The Good, the Bad and the Ficus": The garbage scow is accidentally pulled into a black hole, splitting the crew into good and evil counterparts. Ficus is immune and remains the same because "there are no good or evil plants, there are just plants". Quark confronts his evil self on an asteroid, defeats himself, and sends the evil counterparts back through the black hole. This is a parody of STAR TREK episode "The Enemy Within". The evil Quark says, "Keep your deflectors up do-gooder! You haven't seen the last of this face." (First aired Friday, March 10, 1978)

"Goodbye Polumbus": Quark and his crew are sent to planet Polumbus to discover why no one has returned alive. Just as in STAR TREK's "Shore Leave" they imagine things because of the Gorgons. Quark meets a beautiful woman (Mindi Miller), Ficus encounters a teacher (Maggie Sullivan), The Betty's meet duplicates of Quark, and Gene/Jean encounters Zoltar the Magnificent (Denny Miller). To survive Quark must destroy an obilisk and liberate the Polumbian "clay people". Quark says to Freddy Astro, "Of course I remember your dad. I baby-sat for you when you were ten feet tall. That's a long time ago. My goodness, you really shortened well." (First aired Friday, March 17, 1978)

"All the Emperor's Quasi-Norms (1)": Quark's crew encounter a Gorgon battle ship and are captured by Zorgon the Malevolent (Ross Martin), who wants to know what "it" is and where to find "it". His costume is reminiscent of FLASH GORDON. Zorgon's daughter, Princess Libido (Joan Van Ark), falls in love with Ficus, who teaches her to "pollinate"--which is how plants make love. Ficus says, "As a Vegeton I remain cool and crisp even while being crushed by walls." Andy the robot and Gene/Jean escape and disguise themselves as Gorgon scientists. Gene/Jean is asked for a lecture on "it". The Betty's are held hostage and Quark guesses what "it" is. (First aired Friday, March 24, 1978)

"All the Emperor's Quasi-Norms (2)": Ficus marries Princess Libido to save the crew. Quark and the Betty's are sent to a planet to be eaten by lizard god Lizgoth, but are saved by the The Baron of the Forest People (Bruce M. Fisher). Baron's people think Quark is "The Stranger" meant to defeat their oppressors. Gene/Jean says, "Andy, that's shit." on prime time national television. "It" is a piece of quartz. Quark is saved by Ficus and returns to the Zorgon ship to say good-bye to him. (First aired Friday, March 31, 1978)

"Vanessa 38-24-36": As a gift for Holiday Number 11, Palindrome gives Quark a new ship computer named Vanessa, which takes complete control of the spaceship. The computer is as crazy as Hal 9000 in 2001. Vanessa attempts to destroy Quark and the crew to prove its superiority. Quark disables Vanessa and throws it out the garbage hatch. Vanessa drifts through space singing "Born Free". (First aired Friday, April 7, 1978)

It is a shame that this very funny, intelligently written and well-produced spoof was cancelled with only 8 episodes. It satirizes sci-fi classics such as STAR WARS, 2001, FLASH GORDON, and three episodes are direct satires of the STAR TREK TV series. Some reviewers claim there are 9 episodes. They are in the minority, and it is probably because the "Source" is an hour in length and the other episodes are 30 minutes. Some fans believe that QUARK was canceled because of electrical power outages in the American midwest during the worst ice storm in US history. The resulting drop in ratings killed the show.

Science Fiction fans must see QUARK. For over a decade I watched videotape copies of Kentucky TV broadcasts from the 1980's. Now it is available on DVD. The picture quality is excellent and I notice details that I never saw before. It's like watching it for the first time.

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