This is a re-post of my summary of the pilot episode of The StarLost with a brand new introduction by Suzanne of MyDangBlog!
As I was reading Notes From The Avalon with fascination, having never seen that show but enjoying Paul’s hysterical critiques, I thought to myself, ‘If this guy is so determined to expose Canadian TV shows for the gems they truly are, then what about The Starlost? In the pantheon of Canadian broadcasting history, The Starlost is surely the most unique, strange and intriguing thing we’ve ever done north of the U.S. border. And to my delight, he agreed!
At first glance, one might be tempted to dismiss The Starlost. From the first moment we learn that “three young people” will be the saviours of this floating arc, and then we realize that the main young person, Devon, played by Keir Dullea and his huge porn-stache, was 37 YEARS OLD at the time, it becomes apparent that The Starlost exists in a world of its own. Is the acting terrible? Oh, yes. Are the production values shitty? Obviously. Was the entire budget spent on greenscreens and plastic models? Absolutely. But if you were me, an eight-year-old in 1973, it was breathtaking and amazing, and had my brother and I asking each other “Can I be of…assistance?” in our Mu Lamba voices until we drove our parents nuts. Keep in mind that Star Wars wouldn’t be released for another 4 years, and nobody had really seen the kind of computer effects that Lucas made ubiquitous. The premise of the show was nothing like its only notable predecessor, Star Trek. Remember how you felt when you heard Shatner begin “Space: the final frontier…”? That was how every Canadian kid felt watching this crazy show–enthralled from the first moment the narrator’s voice intoned “Earthship Ark: Man’s greatest and final achievement…” as the rather obvious but still very cool plastic model of the Ark with all its biospheres slowly sails by. I was worried that, as an adult, I would be sadly disappointed by how bad it was, but I’m not. It still has a great premise that other films have borrowed from since (when we get to Episode 2, you’ll probably think of Pandorum at a certain point), sincere characters (Rachel and Devon are SUCH a cute couple, I don’t know how Garth can stand it), and imaginative tech (you can make fun of the bathmat launch pads all you want, but if they had those in downtown Toronto, I would use them all the time). So carry on, Paul–I can’t wait for your hilarious take on the rest of this fascinatingly weird but oddly likable series!
Episode 1 – Voyage of Discovery
Look at this mustache.
Seriously, look at that fucking thing.
LOOK AT IT!!!
The face upon which that incredible push broom of a ‘stache resides is that of veteran actor Keir Dullea, circa 1973, a full 44 years before the animated adventures of Canadian superhero Apollo Gauntlet premiered on Adult Swim.
In 1973, Canada’s CTV green lit a new sci-fi program based upon an original screenplay written by renowned author Harlan Ellison. Apparently, by the time the studio had cranked out the low budget pilot based on a dumbed down bastardization of the original script, Ellison was so disgusted with the end result that he insisted he be credited as “Cordwainer Bird” so as not to sully his reputation in the literary field.
While I was still in the process of writing posts for Notes From The Avalon, Suzanne of MyDangBlog! alerted me to the existence of The Starlost, correctly surmising that if poorly produced Canadian TV is my thing, then beholding The Starlost for the first time would make me feel like a kid on Christmas morning. I quickly pulled up an episode on YouTube and found myself utterly dumbstruck at its sheer awesomeness. So much so, in fact, that I originally intended for my next blog at the conclusion of Avalon to be a page entirely dedicated to an episode by episode analysis of The Starlost, much as I did with Fifteen. Alas, The Starlost only aired for one 16-episode season, so I couldn’t really justify giving it a page of its own. However, since my new page is largely dedicated to TV and The Starlost was on TV, I’ll be composing occasional episode summaries here until we reach the series’ conclusion. If you liked Fifteen, imagine how much cooler it might have been had it been set in outer space!
The episode opens on a succession of extreme close-ups of Devon (Keir Dullea), Garth (Robin Ward) and Rachel (Gay Rowan) staring in disbelief from the bridge of a spaceship. The silence is finally broken by Devon declaring, “We may be the first living beings here in 400 years.” This confusingly melodramatic, nearly dialogue-free intro drags on for a full two and a half minutes before the screen freezes on Devon’s face as Garth insistently urges, “Devon! We should go back, Devon!”
I’ve seen elementary school plays with better production values than The Starlost. If it weren’t for an abusive overreliance on the trusty green screen, this show would look like a dress rehearsal conducted in someone’s garage. Of course, therein lies the entirety of its charm.
Without warning, we’re whisked to a pastoral country setting where a congregation is gathered around American character actor Sterling Hayden. Just one year after his portrayal of Captain McCluskey in The Godfather, we find Mr. Hayden dressed like a grizzled Amish elder shaming the supernaturally mustachioed Devon for asking impertinent questions. It seems that in this strange rural-futuristic locale called Cypress Corners (not to be confused with the earthbound biosphere of Stars Hollow), the elders arrange marriages for the younger members of the community. Recently, it was announced that Rachel, with whom Devon is in love, has been chosen to marry Devon’s best friend Garth. Apparently, Devon feels that love trumps blasphemy and this emboldens him to risk the ire of eldest elder Jeremiah (Hayden) by refusing to cease questioning the wisdom of this nuptial arrangement. The crowd, including Rachel and Garth, murmur in discomfort as Devon accuses Jeremiah of having banished him to the woods some time ago as a punishment for decreeing his love for Rachel. He goes on to imply that the elders have been withholding information from the rest of the populace by delivering a barrage of existential questions to Jeremiah (“Why does the sun move across the sky? Where does the water come from? What is death?”) When even Jeremiah’s fire and brimstone exhortation to Devon’s “blasphemy” goes unheeded, the increasingly irked old man consults “The Oracle”, a roughly joy-stick sized piece of black plastic with a couple of green buttons and a slot into which microcassettes can be inserted. Allegedly, The Oracle consults with “The Creator” to provide divine answers to the elders’ inquiries. In a commanding robotic voice, The Oracle deems that Devon is a threat to the Cypress Corners gene pool.
Apparently, Devon and Michael Landon-doppelgänger Garth were BFFs before Devon began publicly bad-mouthing his upcoming loveless marriage to Rachel. Devon pays a visit to Garth’s curiously ultra-modern dwelling where he’s engaged in some antiquated form of metal work like a blacksmith in Colonial Williamsburg. Devon hopes to convince his friend that arranged marriages are unnatural, to which Garth barks in awkward Old English, “You made me look some fool!”
Little Earthship Ark On The Prairie
A forlorn and lovesick Devon wanders aimlessly through a series of desolate green screen landscapes until he encounters a wizened old Cypress Corners denizen named Abraham leaning against a big red free-standing door bearing the spray-painted message “Beyond Is Death!” Abraham seems to understand that Jeremiah and “the elders” have been misleading the citizens of the biosphere for a long time, but he’s too tired to do anything about it now. Regardless, he seems to view Devon’s resistance to the elders with admiration. Some time later, still wandering about, Devon stumbles upon Jeremiah and another elder talking about The Oracle. Hiding behind a bush, he learns that Jeremiah records statements onto a cassette, then feeds them into The Oracle which repeats the messages with a robotic effect that masquerades Jeremiah’s voice. Devon now realizes that his entire life up to this point has been one big fucking sham.
With this newly acquired knowledge, Devon pays another visit to Abraham who, for some reason, is in possession of a key to the door marked “Beyond Is Death!”. He opens it and Devon steps inside.
As the door slides closed behind him, Devon finds himself in a futuristic tunnel flanked by rows of computers. There’s a circular green mat on the floor that looks like a bathroom throw rug. Devon steps on it and is sent hurtling down the tunnel in midair, arms waving and mouth agape, until he lands at the far end of the tunnel onto another circular green bathroom rug. Without the assistance of these magic rugs that bookend either side of the corridor, walking from one end of this tunnel to the other would probably take 15 seconds at the most. But, you know – magic rugs.
Devon steps into a nearby vestibule with a chair facing a round computer screen. He sits down and starts touching it in various spots until the face of a man who looks like an evil James Lipton appears on the screen. This is Mu Lambda 165, a computerized operating system that obligingly answers one of Devon’s myriad questions at a time, periodically instructing his impressively mustachioed inquisitor to “insert Cylinder 4-1” when the answer to the query at hand resides on a different cylinder than the one currently in use. Yeah. This scene conveniently fills in all remaining plot holes in less than five minutes. Mu Lambda informs Devon that he resides on Earthship Ark, an enormous and elaborate spaceship that departed a planet called Earth over 400 years ago, in the year 2285. It is currently 2790 A.D. As Earth faced an imminent extinction event, 3 million people were shepherded onto the Ark, along with natural and biological materials from all parts of the world. Their mission was to find a habitable star system for the intergalactic refugees and their progeny. The people on board were separated into separate “biospheres” that mirrored the environments and cultures from which they hailed on Earth. Apparently, Devon and the rest of the citizens of Cypress Corners are ancestors of an Amish community…from the year 2285. Mu Lambda goes on to explain that Earthship Ark sailed along without incident for 100 years. Suddenly, his wires seem to get crossed and he starts repetitively droning, “then there was an accident…then there was an accident…then there was an accident”. When Devon asks him to elaborate, Mu Lambda’s image begins to flicker and fade into static as he declares that there is no longer a cylinder corresponding to this question and that if one needs to know, the information has been transferred to “the bridge”. Shocked at these revelations, Devon steps onto the closer bathroom rug that transports him to the farther bathroom rug and returns to Cypress Corners through the same free-standing door.
Devon’s first stop is his own funeral in progress, presided over by Jeremiah. He desperately tries to inform the crowd of what he just learned, but is shouted down by his white-bearded nemesis. The elder consults The Oracle, which conveniently just so happens to have a cassette inserted that decrees Devon be put to death by stoning. Jeremiah and some of his burlier devotees grab Devon and drag him off to jail to await his execution. It’s also decreed that Rachel shall throw the first stone.
That night, Rachel visits Devon in his cell and they declare their love for each other while awkwardly trying to tongue kiss through the metal bars (“I love thee! I truly love thee!”). Devon assures her that he will devise a way out and makes her promise that she will join him in his flight from the elders as soon as he finds a means of escape. Some time later, Garth arrives and begrudgingly springs his friend from the cell, with a stern warning that he leave Rachel alone. As soon as Garth is out of range, Devon seeks out Rachel and together, they breach the door marked “Beyond Is Death!”
At Rachel’s disappearance, a search party carrying electric torches goes hunting for the AWOL couple. Garth grabs a compact stainless-steel crossbow and follows his former friend and fiancée into the tunnel beyond the forbidden door. The star-crossed lovers, of course, get levitated from one bathroom rug to the other, where they pause for a brief tender moment on the rug. Then Garth does the same, hurtling awkwardly and rapidly down the tunnel, and three’s officially a crowd.
Devon breathlessly advises Garth that “we have to find the bridge!” even though a prominent sign just to his right bears the words “The Bridge”. (Has anybody seen the bridge? Where is that confounded bridge?) Eventually, our intrepid trio access the legendary bridge and are stunned to find themselves staring into the vastness of space through enormous sectional windows. The skeletal remains of what I assume are former crewmembers are laying here and there on the floor. Devon simply remarks, “the accident,” upon witnessing the uniform-clad corpses as Garth advises that he will join them on their flight from the elders, “to protect Rachel”. The three stand in awe of the star-filled blackness before them until Devon breaks the pregnant silence: “We may be the first living beings here in 400 years…”, bringing us full circle.
As the credits start to roll, a sober-voiced announcer provides us with the following instruction: “Be with us each week at this time on the giant Earthship Ark, 800 years into the far future, for the adventures of three young people, Devon, Rachel and Garth, as they search through the strange and mysterious worlds of the space ark’s biospheres for something or someone who can help them save…The Starlost.”
Just one episode in and I already love this show more than life itself. I really owe you big for this one, Suzanne. Stay tuned — The Starlost saga has only just begun!