I was chatting the other day with author and blogger “Porter Girl,” about what I call the “80’s ‘Raiders’ TV ripoffs.” And that’s … probably an unjustly harsh term coming from me, because I absolutely loved both shows in question when they were on the air in 1982.
I’m talking about “Tales of the Gold Monkey” and “Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” which both aired for only a single season. (“Bring ‘Em Back Alive” had the misfortune of airing opposite “The A-Team,” a show I never liked but which was a LITTLE popular among my peer group of 10-year-olds.)
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” had hit theaters a year prior. Countless adults will tell you today that the “Star Wars” movies were part of their childhood, and that’s true for me too. But “Raiders” was a far larger part, and today it is still tied with “Vanilla Sky” (2001) for my favorite movie of all time. And if you’ve ever read this blog before, then you know that I watch a lot of movies.
So I was thrilled when two shows appeared that were so much LIKE “Raiders.” Both were sort of … “Raiders” Lite. (I think what a lot of people fail to realize is that the sometimes grim inaugural 1981 movie was unambiguously aimed at adults, while the sequels were geared toward the younger set.)
And, to be fair, each show stood on its own. “Tales” was set in the Pacific in 1938, and followed cargo plane pilot Jake Cutter (played by Stephen Collins). He and his near-sentient, one-eyed dog, “Jack,” adventured among all manner of period players: Nazi spies, American spies, Imperial Japanese officers, et alia. (I think that both “Tales” and “Raiders” misled an entire generation about the degree of gunfights and swordplay connected with certain careers.)
The show’s title derives from the adventure in its pilot episode; Jake and company face a mysterious island in which giant, vicious were-monkey cryptids protect a golden monkey statue. (Think of the evil primates in “Congo” (1995).) I explained to my friend that I thought this was maybe inspired by the Hovitos’ gold idol in the opening of “Raiders.” Quite honestly? I remember that pilot episode being pretty scary for a kid, and it was unusually dark for early 80’s primetime show.
“Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” while also developed to capitalize on “Raiders'” popularity, was actually based on a real person. Bruce Boxleitner’s “Frank Buck” was based on the very real Frank Buck, a famous big game trapper in the 1930’s. He wrote a book entitled “Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” and the film treatment followed in 1932.
I’m surprised that anyone even remembers “Tales” or “Bring ‘Em.” I don’t ever remember meeting another fourth grader who talked about either show. It was always about “The A-Team” in the lunch room, and the “DID YOU SEE WHEN THAT GUY SHOT THAT GUY?!” But Blog Correspondent Pete Harrison chimed in immediately when I posted about “Tales” on Facebook, and there are people in the blogosphere who fondly remember them too.
If you do recall them with a smile, as I do, I think they’re both available on DVD.