“Spencer’s Sanctorum” Presents:
MISFITS OF SCIENCE – “YOUR PLACE OR MAYAN” (1985)
Review by Spencer Seams
Welcome to Spencer’s Sanctorum. This column is about old TV shows in the vein of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, ONE STEP BEYOND, and KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER. I seek out the weird, goofy, and underrated episodes, the ones that nobody talks about.
The 1980s…Reaganomics, questionable fashion, and of course especially cheesy TV. We’ve all seen the classic series MIAMI VICE, notorious for being aggressively of its time – fashion, soundtrack, and guest stars galore. Well, I think I found the most 80s of 80s TV (The creator of NBC’s HEROES, Tim Kring, wrote on the show as well)…MISFITS OF SCIENCE.
Now, imagine the Fantastic Four—but Marvel didn’t let NBC use the official license—so, instead they create something a bit similar, but different, so that they aren’t sued for copyright infringement. That isn’t the official story from most sources, but you can’t deny that this show is strikingly reminiscent of Marvel’s fantastic first family.
MISFITS OF SCIENCE actually has a dark history. The show was cancelled in 1986, and two of the four leads were dead by 1991. One by plane crash, and the other from AIDS. It’s unfortunate that a show this fun was followed by tragedy so soon.
The crew includes: Writer – Donald Todd (THIS IS US, 2016), Director – Alan J. Levi (The ROBOCOP live-action TV show), Production Manager – Larry Y. Albucher (TJ HOOKER). The cast includes: Dr. Hays – Dean Paul Martin (BACKFIRE, 1988), Dr. Lincoln aka El – Kevin Peter Hall (PREDATOR and PREDATOR 2, as the Predator), Gloria – Courtney Cox (Monica on FRIENDS), and Johnny – Mark Thomas Miller (MOM, 1991).
El and Hays watch an Indiana Jones knock-off on TV, as their friend, an Indy Jones knock-off, is escaping from an underground Mayan city in the middle of L.A. Their friend dies after telling them an ominous, vague message, along with giving them a map. All the while, an even more vague white man is following the Indy J fella, and now Hays and El as well.
Back at the university lab where El and Hays work, Johnny and Gloria stop by. It’s only been one episode, and already Gloria wants to be normal again. Most teen girls don’t have psychic powers and hang out exclusively with dudes in their 20s and 30s. Naturally, she and Johnny are curious about the wicked-old map. No one can read it. Gloria, though, has a crazy idea. She has a Mexican classmate, Angel. He might know what is says. Mayans were from Mexico, and his graffiti is Mayan in nature. Now, they need to find him. He’s a street thug, well, trying to be, at least. The team goes to a dangerous part of L.A. after dark to find him. Following an awkward stand-off, Angel agrees to help.
El and Hays try a genetic memory experiment on the graffiti artist. He is of Mayan origin and is fluent in Mayan (you know, the dead language). With his help, they find one of presumably several Mayan temples in L.A. The Mayans never disappeared, they went Hollywood (I’m not sorry for that terrible joke). The mysterious white man and his evil white land-developer boss are hell-bent on destroying the ancient artifacts and temple, so they can build a new building. The Misfits (of Science, that is) won’t let that happen, but then Angel betrays them. They are trapped.
Angel learns that evil is bad. The Misfits escape. The evil white man dies in the collapsing building, along with several people who had no part in the events and countless historical artifacts. Angel becomes a successful artist. The Misfits fail, I guess, end of episode.
So, that’s it. There isn’t much to really get into, but I’mma try my best.
If you’re thinking this is kinda like the Fantastic Four…you are correct. It is pretty much that except the Mr. Fantastic surrogate isn’t a horrid person and is likable (seriously, Mr. Fantastic is a villain in hero’s clothes). You can clearly see the other parallels. El is The Thing. Johnny is the fire one, and Gloria is Sue. I get the feeling that Marvel probably saw this and didn’t care much. There is a difference between homage and outright stealing. MISFITS somehow fits in the perfect middle ground. You can make an argument either way and be both right and wrong.
The start of every episode is very meta, to a point that didn’t exist in television of this era. The cold open would relate to whatever the crew was watching. In this episode, it was an Indy Jones-type movie, intercut with the real-life Indy Jones character that was Hays and El’s buddy. Easily, this is the strongest aspect of MISFITS. It shows creativity on a cerebral level, or it could have been added later, because the show itself is formulaic to a fault. This is the equivalent of adding sugar to a bland tomato soup. The first gulp tastes good but then the rest is bland. That sweet spoonful, though, tastes good enough to make the rest of it slightly better.
Angel, he was the worst. That’s hyperbolic, ok, he was irritating. Very irritating. Immediately, you know he will betray them at some point and then change his mind. His mannerisms were supposed to be charmingly roguish, a la Han Solo, but he was just annoying. Not only that, but having a Hispanic (or non-white) character’s purpose be to read a foreign language and nothing else is well…not good. His main characteristic is wannabe street thug. He only realizes that life isn’t worth it through the help of white people and one black person. If he was in one scene, then this would be fine, but no. He is a noble savage. I know this still happens in movies and TV now, but it always bothers me. Annoying is one thing, stereotyping is another altogether. El being a black scientist and lead of the show didn’t overshadow this.
If you think the title, Your Place or Mayan, is in reference to anything in the episode, it isn’t. Waste of a great pun.
Overall, everything else was fine. It’s extremely 80s, very much of its era. Despite the Angel problem, it’s light fun at its core. It succeeds at being an enjoyable, silly romp. So, if that’s your jam, then check it out. It is on DVD (and Youtube as well).
© Copyright 2017 by Spencer Seams