So that’s that then. The top 26 episodes of The Adventurer, as voted for by you. I expect. Just over (well, OK, a bit longer) half a year after starting the guide, then we’re already at the end. And what a ride it’s been, hmm? What with the off-the-wall plots, duff performances all around, and spectacularly daft stuntwork we’ve certainly seen a worthy contender for worst tv series ever made, but it’s been fun, no? Hope so. And I hope I didn’t come across as too negative about the whole thing. I really do like it. Well, most of it. Some of it. If nothing else, doing these episode reviews now makes me the Andrew Pixley of Adventurer fandom – or perhaps the Ian Levine. One of the two.
And yes, it has been fun to do this, but I honestly can’t see myself coming back to the series very much after wading through it in such depth. Once you get past the obvious laughs (mainly Gene’s clothes, and his attempts to seem like a trendy superstud) there isn’t much rewatch value in any of these, and on the rare occasions the series approaches anything near being any good it’s usually because the leading man has cleared off on holiday and the semi-regulars have been drafted back in to carry the show. Those episodes are fun, but not really representative of the series as a whole. That is, if you were ever planning to show the series to someone. God, what am I on about? Try to show any of this to a friend, they’d have to kill you on the spot. I’m really just killing time here to avoid having a conclusion that only says “Thank God that’s over!”
There was a potentially brilliant concept lurking somewhere behind the scenes here, though – well, such as it was ever explained to us. In fact, it wasn’t, was it? There’s this actor guy, biggest movie star ever, and he goes around fighting crime for a vague government agency…why, exactly? He’s got a lot of money too, cos he’s a great businessman, and…he fights crime, and he’s a master of diguise too. And that’s before we get anywhere near the idea of him being the all-round greatest example of humanity ever.
Ignoring such a poorly conceived character, however, it could have been brilliant. It could have been a great sendup of the ITC action series, particularly as this show was filmed in the dying days of the genre (where the ‘token American’ was more likely to be a bit older than he had been in the Sixties). Playing it dead straight was suicide, because of one simple inavoidable truth – even though he was/had been a big star in the U.S., Gene Barry was completely miscast as a young, dynamic man of action (unless you were going to do it as a sendup) but none of the writers ever seemed to realise this. Throughout the entire series he rarely gets through an episode without beating up twenty baddies, or seducing some pretty young thing who’s young enough to be his granddaughter!
More often than not he also just looks really bored by the whole thing. That’s a shame, because the rest of the regular cast are great in spite of the less-than-engaging plots. Barry Morse maybe wasn’t an obvious choice for the vaguely-defined role of Mr Parminter, but throughout the second half of the series he certainly made it his own. Catherine Schell and Garrick Hagon were fine as agents of Parminter’s Ministry of Foreign Shenanigans, with both of them frequently rising above the material they were given. Stuart Damon would have been good too, probably (and a perfect choice for the role of Gene, surely?), and Dennis Price is easily the only reason to watch the three episodes he appears in.
And then there’s the star of the show, Mr Gene Barry himself. Let’s not beat about the bush here – this series does not capture Herr Barry at his finest. Far from it, in fact…what with his wrinkled, saggy face, clothes that were probably never in fashion even in the seventies, total inability to construct a coherent sentence, and those big beefy fists that probably couldn’t punch their way out of a wet paper bag, Gene Bradley is a pretty awful character all in all. But…and yes, I’m perfectly sober, thank you…he’s also quite possibly the only reason to watch the show today.
You see, the things that are genuinely good about the show (and I’m largely thinking of Morse Schell and Hagon, plus John Barry’s marvelous theme tune) can be found better elsewhere, while the writing and directing pretty much without exception is awful, but unremarkably so. Gene is awful in every sense of the word, so spectacularly awful that there’s just something almost magical about watching this over-the-hill fifty-something gasping for breath as he ambles around London giving various criminal masterminds a good shoving…like you can’t quite believe any sane producer/director wouldn’t pull the plug the moment they saw the first rushes, much less let it run for 26 episodes. Anyway, we’ve certainly all had a good laugh at his expense…and in the end, maybe, just maybe, that’s enough.
(So long as we ignore the fact that the old git worked behind the scenes to get his co-stars fired, of course…)
So, in summary – it could have been brilliant, but it wasn’t. It was pretty bad, all in all, but in a mostly fun way, and it certainly gave me plenty of material for this guide. One thing I noticed while watching them all again was how few of them actually make any sort of sense, at all. The writers working on this series were old hands at this ITC lark, so what the hell they thought they were doing when they came up with one or two of these ideas (Morse code in piano music? Gene learns to play chess?) is beyond me. Most episodes felt like they lasted much longer than their 25 minutes, too, and very few of them ended with anything approaching a decent climax (the trend in the final few episodes to explain nothing at all until the 24th minute was particularly irritating). I was also surprised by how many old friends Gene runs in to throughout the course of the series – I’ve not counted, but there were probably more old friends than there were episodes…
Obviously the show was a complete flop and disappeared into obscurity almost as soon as it went off the air. In America (the country for whom the series was specifically made, if you remember), it was pulled after the first two episodes, and considering the amount of crap telly they produce that’s quite an achievement. Over here it bounced around the schedules, and now seems to get just one satellite rerun every other decade or so. Not one episode had ever been released on home video until Network DVD came along, and I didn’t even know it existed until ITV4 starting rerunning it. Yet with all the constant talk of remakes of this ‘n’ that ‘n’ t’other, The Adventurer never gets a mention. Will we ever see Gene Bradley again, updated to thrill a more modern audience?
Fear not fans, because no, we’ve not seen the last of the man with the granny hair quite yet. Still to come (some time around the 22nd century, quite possibly) I’ll be casting an eye over his exploits on the printed page, and reviewing his escape onto DVD. Until then…here’s the opening and closing title versions of that wonderful John Barry theme music. Enjoy.
We also have an extended version of the theme that often shows up on John Barry compilation albums;
As well as a cover version that sounds like it would have accompanied a mid-1990s BBC remake of the show. Probably starring Trevor Eve.
Last, and certainly least, there’s…this. This….whatever it is, courtesy of our friends in Italy. If anything sums up the vast gulf between what ITC thought this show was going to be, and how it eventually turned out, it’s this. Just beautiful.
Now I’m off to sign cheques, scowl at printouts and say “No!” to people over the telephone. Toodle-oo.