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The Phoenix

posted by Mike on 8/28/02

As a certain pointy-eared alien once stated so eloquently, nature abhors a vacuum. That is to say, when a void is left, it must be filled. And television is no exception. As the recent dredge of reality shows and death-defying stunt game shows proves, network executives are often rushing to fill timeslots on their respective channels to offer seemalike programming to counter the current hot thing. In the spring of 1982, CBS’s hit show The Incredible Hulk had just ended its four year run. Looking to cash in on an audience now devoid of their Sci-fi Fugitive fix, ABC premiered a show that would ultimately turn out to be not only derivative in plot, theme, and style, but also so poorly acted and badly produced that it lasted only five… count ‘em… five episodes, and that includes the two hour pilot. To this day, few people even remember it at all, much less fondly. And in the wake of recent shows concerning humans with extraordinary powers (Smallville, Buffy, Mutant-X, etc) I thought it might amuse you, constant reader, to see how these shows might have turned out, had they been produced in the lower standards era that was the 80’s. And so I give you…

I wonder how much dick ABC sucked to get those glowing reviews

If you took The Incredible Hulk, removed The Hulk/”David” Bruce Banner, and replaced him with a vaguely gay looking alien, then you’d have The Phoenix. This phenomenally horrid piece of forgotten 80’s lore starred Judson Scott (famous for his role in Star Trek II as Khan’s second-in-command/rumored son, though his first big break was in an off-Broadway production of Richard III, co-starring opposite Al Pacino… talk about going downhill) as Bennu, an alien astronaut who, after being in a state of hibernation for over a thousand years, is rudely awakened when the seal on his computerized hyber-coffin is broken by a team of archaeologists digging in an ancient Peruvian tomb. Apparently, he’d been sent to Earth by his superiors to wait for a predetermined event that would require his help in saving humanity. Unfortunately, the computer that is supposed to implant this information in Bennu’s brain when he is awakened is accidentally destroyed by the archaeologists, leaving Bennu with no memory of why he is there. Shortly after being imprisoned in an Area 51 type government stronghold, Bennu escapes with the help of one of the government scientists on staff, who is shot to death by his own colleagues for having a nice guy streak. And so Bennu makes his way through the southwestern United States, and wanders the Californian countryside, searching for Mira, his female counterpart, who is the only one who knows what his mission is, all the while fleeing government agents and solving problems as he moves from town to town. Sound familiar?

You are the Last Phoenix... You posses the power of The Glow...

Inspired by South American and Egyptian myths, Bennu (another word for Phoenix) wears a golden medallion that bears the image of a falconlike bird (amusing since he’s an alien, and birds are indigenous to Earth… he and Hawk should hook up and swap space stories) that allows him to harness the power of the sun and use it to thwart his enemies, and save local townswomen from greedy ranch owners. When the need demanded it, Bennu would kneel, take up the traditional Kung Fu meditation stance, and absorb solar power, causing him to glow brighter than a Chernobyl native in a dark room. But he never used it to send fireballs of death reigning down on his foes Ryu style. More often than not, he’d use it to melt locks, lift cars, and anything else that everyday tools could accomplish. He couldn’t fly. He didn’t have super strength or heat vision. He couldn’t even run really fast or talk to fish. All he had was an advanced intellect (just like his father Khan) and the alien magic hood ornament that he was constantly waving around, like a dork trying to impress his school friends with his shiny new Transformer watch.

Please Mr. Preminger, don't make me angry. You wouldn't LIKE me when I'm angry!

Just like Bruce Banner, Bennu had his enemies, always chasing him from town to town, trying to capture him, or kill him, or both. First and foremost was Jason Preminger, a government agent who always seemed to come one step shy of capturing his prey, much like the reporter Mr. Mcgee from the Hulk series. He was played by sci-fi TV mainstay Richard Lynch. I’m sure you’ll recognize him from the picture above. Preminger (to my knowledge) was one of the only regular characters this guy ever played. He’s mostly spotted playing the evil villain of the week in numerous shows and direct-to-video films. He’s perhaps known best for his portrayal of Baran, an evil alien who showed up in a Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter called “Gambit.” And, to tie all of this in with my Glen Larson tribute, Lynch has also played one-shot villains in Manimal, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, Galactica 80, and Automan. Additionally, he’s been in Bionic Woman, Highlander The Series, The Fall Guy, Matt Houston, Vegas, Jake And The Fat Man, Murder She Wrote, Riptide, Airwolf, The A-Team, Blue Thunder The Series, TJ Hooker, Bring ‘Em Back Alive, Charlie’s Angels, A Man Called Sloane, Serpico, Police Woman, Barnaby Jones, Baretta, the voice of Graft in the shitty cartoon series Phantom 2040, and perhaps most pathetic of all, a guest shot on Hulk Hogan’s opus Thunder In Paradise… and he played a bad guy in every one of them. Typecast, much?
I swear, I wouldn’t doubt that I could turn to TBN next week and see him playing the villainous Lucithor in the latest installment of Bibleman…

The other villain was an evil alien from Bennu’s home planet, a dastardly rogue named Yago. Yago appeared briefly at the end of one episode, entitled “One of Them,” as a sort of epilogue to the story. The show was cancelled before his character was fleshed out, but supposedly he was a hardened space criminal who’d been imprisoned by Bennu over a thousand years before, and had come to Earth to exact his revenge. I barely even remember Yago, much less who played him, but I do remember one thing. One of the guest stars on this episode was a very young Shannon Dougherty of 90210 fame, playing the daughter of the weekly damsel in distress. Anyone up for a game of Six Degress of WD?

Child of the Sun, bear forth thy Golden Rod!

In researching this article, I found that (not surprisingly) The Phoenix has a small but devoted fan following in the gay community, including gay Phoenix fan fiction sites and the like. I won’t subject you to mental disturbance by quoting from these works of fiction, but suffice it to say, it’s amazing how many ways an asshole can be violated by a solar-powered penis. I would guess this phenomenon exists because of the producer’s attempts to pull in the female audience. At least once an episode, Bennu would feel it prudent to take off his shirt and prance around in the desert, becoming one with the sun… whilst arching his back and showing off his bulge through his three sizes too small denim jeans. How this helped save the world is beyond me. Perhaps by getting half-naked, he absorbed twice as much solar radiation, and thus helped prevent global warming. Or maybe he was hoping to become a poster model for an Anti-skin cancer organization. Alas, we’ll never know, since the show didn’t last long enough for the writers to figure it out for themselves, much less the viewing public.

Excuse me... I'm looking for the entity known as "The General Lee"

The saddest aspect of Bennu was that he wasted his entire five episode life helping other people and searching for his space chick instead of trying to better himself. Think of all the things he could’ve accomplished with his solar power. He could’ve opened Bennu’s Bake-O-Rama, a bedless tanning salon. He could’ve rented himself out in Alaska as a portable space heater. He would’ve been of great help to Mark Hamill on that fateful night when the lights went out in Georgia. And along with running his own tanning salon, I‘d say that another missed calling for Bennu would’ve been that of interpretive dance, as evidenced by his uncanny ability to twist and contort in the desert like a pillow-biter’s dick hooked up to a car battery. Lost opportunities one and all. He had so much potential, and yet he threw it all away to chase alien skirt and hang around in Incan burial grounds looking for “Signs.” But at least he didn’t wander the English countryside making crop circles. That would’ve been REALLY stupid.

Just to give you an idea of how monumentally dumb this show was, take a look at a brief plot synopsis from episode #4, entitled “The Presence Of Evil:”

“Bennu finds work as a hired hand on a farm. His employer has unknowingly rented his property to terrorists who plan to take over the farm and transport stolen uranium to foreign countries. The terrorists plan to kill everyone on the farm, including the new hired hand, before completing the heist.”

How did this possibly make any sense to the writers? Here are these terrorists who want to smuggle stolen uranium to foreign countries, and their ideal base of operations was a one cow farm in the middle of California. Where the hell did they score the shit, Big Jed’s Tackle And Feed? It boggles the mind. But it gets worse. Check out this Emmy Award winner, “The Fire Within:”

“While searching for Mira, Bennu saves the daughter of a wealthy contractor, who gives him a job at a construction site. He befriends another daughter of the businessman, who reveals to him that her father's partner may be swindling the company. Bennu convinces her to examine the accounting records unaware that the swindler has hired an arsonist to set fire to the building. Soon they are trapped in the burning structure.”

So on top of being a badass alien cop who has super powers, he’s also a certified accounting advisor. And his weakness is apparently fire. Huh? Wouldn’t it make more sense for his weakness to be water, or even more appropriate, dark places? If his powers are derived from solar energy, the bad guys didn’t have to go to all the trouble of locking him in a burning building. They could’ve just given him the Stan treatment and locked him in the trunk of a car, then sent him rolling off a bridge into the river. Of course, that would indicate coherent thinking on the part of the bad guys, and as we all know from endless episodes of The A-Team, bad guys can’t plan for anything, especially alien super men who are more useless in the dark than a solar-powered flash light, and battletanks made out of a Volkswagon Golf and a can of Spam.

It came as no surprise that ABC pulled The Phoenix after just a month and a half on the air. They received hundreds of letters from lonely housewives (and no doubt quite a few gay men too cheap to buy porn) demanding the return of the bare-chested Bennu, but it was not meant to be. Unlike the legendary fire bird, this Phoenix was incapable of rising from the ashes. And so the Phoenix vanished from the airwives, like so many shitty sci-fi shows before it, destined to be revived twenty-five years later for the Sci-Fi channel’s classic sci-fi block.

And what of the show’s star, Judson Scott? Well, he continued to guest star on numerous TV shows throughout the 80’s and 90’s, including The Powers Of Matthew Starr (which I’ll get around to eventually,) Greatest American hero, The Dukes Of Hazard, Matt Houston, TJ Hooker, General Hospital, V: The Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (which I’ll also get to eventually,) Renegade, Babylon 5, Star Trek: Voyager, Walker: Texas Ranger, and most recently as the character Absolom on The X-Files. He also had a brief appearance as Pallantine, a member of the Vampire Council in the first Blade film. When not guest starring on every sci-fi show known to man, he enjoys his other career, that of a championship surfer (he has a sponsorship through Hobie Surfboards) and spends his leisure time planning group suicides at his chosen cult…er…church, The Self-Realization Fellowship.

Will he (or anyone in a… God help us… theatrical version) ever return as the Phoenix? Doubtful, though he does enjoy the small amount of notoriety that the show won him. Lately, he’s been touring the Con scene. He’s scheduled to be at this year’s DragonCon in Atlanta, so if any of you are in the area, go check him out… Perhaps he and his magic medallion could help you lady WD readers with your tan lines…

Next time, we update the long dormant WD: On Location feature with a look at St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in America. Till then…


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