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Walter Nebicher is the police department's resident computer expert, although his immediate superior gives no respect as to his contribution to the force. To fix that, he creates a special program that creates Automan, an artificially intelligent computer construct that looks real, sounds reals and, given enough power, can have an actual physical presence outside the computer that feels real. Together, Walter and Automan along with Cursor, a small floating droid that can create any object Automan needs, battle the criminal elements of the city. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
Yes, this was a little predictable, as one reviewer said, but it had a sense of humour that American shows seldom crack. Strangely, it was from Glen Larson, whose creations have not always stood the test of time. Yet the charm in Automan was so delicious that it was a shame that it only lasted 13 episodes.
Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnaz) is a computer geek who creates a hologram called Automan (Chuck Wagner) - but the character turns out to have not only Walter's ideas for a crime-fighter, but his own soul. Turns out Automan has lived in a parallel, video-game universe (à la Tron, the big SFX hit of the early 1980s) and counts Pac-man and Donkey Kong ('He's an animal') among his friends.
This improbable storyline, plus Automan's sidekick, Cursor (who has quite the eye [he must have one!] for the ladies) played for good laughs. What we do know is that the characters are not really going to develop much. Walter has a stereotypical loud cop boss with a New York accent (Gerald S. O'Loughlin) who hates him, a beautiful female police detective (Heather McNair) who fancies him, and an immediate superior (Robert Lansing) who feels he's misunderstood yet wants to make him feel valued. And the villains are similarly flat, perhaps with the exception of the suave Patrick Macnee in the première episode.
For a guy who doesn't like sci-fi (and who was in his teens when this aired), it was a fine way to spoof the genre and to poke fun at the primitive nature of video games and early 1980s' computers. Additional ideas were that Walter could feed in data about human life into Automan, so he could dance like John Travolta after receiving a Beta tape with a disco flick - another opportunity for set-ups. A priceless tennis-playing scene sees Cursor replace the real ball, set up for more laughs. Sometimes the oldest gags are the best ones.
Meanwhile, Automan gets stuck on everyday human problems: when asked what his (astrological) sign is, he cannot reply. Walter suggests, 'Tell him you're an Apple II.'
Unlike Galactica 1980, the special effects don't look too primitive, and in its day, were very swish for TV.
Automan did have the storylines of a kids' show, much like the similarly ill-fated Enos, the Dukes of Hazzard spin-off that was its contemporary. However, folks appreciated a bit of a tickle then, seeing a splash of humour in the (by then) tired genre of the one-hour-format cop show. Numerous episodes looked expensive and probably were - so the show always looked the part. Automan is a product of its era and still retains some fascination for me. Sometimes, you just need something that isn't so serious.
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