Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 12, 2008)
Back after Star Wars became a smash in 1977, it prompted imitators like Battle Beyond the Stars and Battlestar Galactica. In addition to these more obvious rip-offs, it inspired a spoof: TV’s Quark. Created by comic legend Buck Henry, the series ran a mere eight episodes in 1977/1978.
Or did Star Wars really inspire Quark? Based on the info I found on the Internet, it appears that the series’ “Pilot” aired a few weeks before Star Wars hit movie screens. However, after that early May 1977 airing, the show stayed on the shelves until February 1978. At that time, the series demonstrated a much more significant Star Wars bent. While this means the show didn’t originally launch due to Star Wars, it got a second wind due to the film.
I vaguely remember Quark from its broadcast run, but like most folks, I’d not seen the show in 30 years. With the release of this “Complete Series” DVD, I decided it’d be fun to give it a look. The disc presents all eight shows in the order broadcast. The synopses come straight from the package’s insert.
Pilot: “Tired of garbage duty, Commander Adam Quark (Richard Benjamin) finally gets a real assignment when he is ordered to destroy an enzyme cloud that threatens the galaxy.”
The “Pilot” bears a decent resemblance to classic Star Trek, which makes sense since it appears that it originally intended to spoof that seminal series. Quark himself boasts a really Captain Kirk feel, and the similarity in names can’t be a coincidence. Later episodes will show more of a Star Wars dynamic, but in the “Pilot”, Trek rules the day; from characters to sets and effects, we get a real Trek impression.
Hopefully later episodes will also produce greater amusement. The “Pilot” prompts a couple of minor chuckles but that’s about it. Instead, we mostly focus on stale sci-fi conventions without much inspiration. Maybe it played better 30 years ago, but now it looks lame. Let’s hope for better comedy in the subsequent shows.
May the Source Be With You: “Quark battles a menacing Gorgon (Henry Silva) with the help of an ancient power known as ‘The Source’, which he quickly discovers is a little rusty.”
Obvious Star Wars influences pop up here, as “The Source” and the Head Gorgon clearly take their cues from that flick. Other aspects of the episode also steal from Star Wars, such as when The Source instructs Quark to perform an exercise similar to Luke’s training. Then again, the episode introduces Ficus, a somber character clearly based on Spock, and the show’s framework still feels a lot like Trek.
While it’s nice to see a broader sci-fi focus, the big question remains: is “Source” any funnier than the “Pilot”? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Some of Quark’s bickering with the nagging Source creates amusement, but that’s about it. This double-length episode still suffers from a definite lack of hilarity.
The Old and the Beautiful: “Just before his amorous rendezvous with a beautiful princess, Quark contracts a mysterious virus and begins to age, becoming old and feeble within hours.”
After three episodes, Quark finally shows signs of comedic life. The episode mixes some dry humor – such as Palindrome’s amusingly cryptic instructions – with good broader moments. Benjamin’s goofy take on Old Quark delivers well, and the show even boasts a pretty clever story. This is a pretty good episode that demonstrates the series’ potential.
The Good, The Bad and the Ficus: “While on a routine mission, Quark’s ship gets pulled into a black hole, which splits the crew into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ counterparts, except for the Science Officer Ficus (Richard Kelton).”
It’s starting to look more and more likely that Quark left behind its Star Wars aspirations with “Source”. “Old” bore an unmistakable Trek impression, and “Ficus” definitely continues that trend. It obviously borrows from “Mirror, Mirror”, though it doesn’t act as a straight copy. It produces some fun moments and turns into a pretty good Trek spoof, especially when we see the cast’s relentless overacting as the “bad crew”.
Goodbye, Polumbus: “The ship is sent on a mission to the planet Polumbus. But once there, Quark and his crew fall prey to their fantasies, and no one wants to leave.”
As “Ficus” directly reflected “Mirror, Mirror”, “Polumbus” bears a striking resemblance to Trek’s “Shore Leave”. However, “Polumbus” often feels less like a spoof and more like a straight Trek story. That doesn’t mean it lacks gags, but it’s not as comedic as usual. It’s decent but not much better than that.
All the Emperor’s Quasi-Norms (Part 1): “Quark is captured by the evil Emperor Zorgon (Ross Martin) and ordered to find ‘it’. And while Gene/Jean (Tim Thomerson) lectures the enemy, the Emperor’s daughter (Joan Van Ark) falls for Ficus.”
For my thoughts on this two-part episode, look at my discussion of the second segment.
All the Emperor’s Quasi-Norms (Part 2): “After he and his crew are rescued by the Forest People, Quark actually does find ‘it’, a crystal that he thinks will make him invincible.”
Expect more Star Wars references here, though “Quasi-Norms” bears more of a debt to the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers style of sci-fi. The multiple subplots on display here make the episodes rather disjointed and scattershot at times, but it still works fairly well. The broader focus also gives the shows a more epic scope that suits it.
Vanessa 38-24-36: “As everyone on Perma One celebrates the holiday Number 11, Quark is given an experimental computer named ‘Vanessa’, which tries to take over his ship.”
The series comes to an end with an obvious 2001: A Space Odyssey parody. Oddly, the episode often takes on a more dramatic tone and it eschews the comedy. This leaves it a bit spotty, as it doesn’t hit the target particularly well. It’s interesting at times but not special.