Thursday, October 22, 2015

Magnificent Seven Week: Season 1, Part 1

Prepping for this weekend's M7 Con is the perfect excuse to revisit The Magnificent Seven series. The late 90's and early 2000's were about the last time I actively followed a show and The Magnificent Seven was one of those final titles. Growing up it was all about reruns of Knight Rider and G.I. Joe while The Simpsons, Home Improvement and syndicated fare like Highlander or one season wonders like The Flash crammed their way into my psyche. M7 starred a post Terminator, Aliens, Navy SEALS, Tombstone and The Rock Michael Biehn so of course I had to tune in. How does the show hold up 15 years later? Pretty Damme well actually as M7 boasted a terrific cast, solid production value, action packed episodes and enough drama to keep things interesting.

Episode 0, The Pilot: Ghosts of the Confederacy
Former Confederate Colonel Emmett Anderson and his forces stumble around the old west after the Civil War, attacking a village of natives and freed slaves. The elder seeks out gunslingers from the lawless local town where we meet Chris (Biehn) and Vin (Eric Close) as they partner up to stop Nathan (Rick Worthy) from being hanged by a bunch of honkeys. Hired for $5 bucks a head, they gather up Chris' womanizing buddy Buck (Dale Midkiff), conman Ezra (Anthony Starke), preacher Josiah (Ron Perlman) and inherit young buck J.D. (Andrew Kavovit). Together they prep the villagers for battle and of course, come out on top at the end. While the pilot debuted in the top ten for the week, it's also one of the weaker episodes. Geoff Murphy's direction is a little choppy and the actors haven't quite eased into their characters yet. Biehn is all squinty eyed, lean and puffing on a cigar while Close sports what looks like a horrendous mess of a bad wig. The picture doesn't look great transferred to DVD and there's a certain flimsiness to the goings on. Costumes and sets are appropriately dusty and lived in but lack a certain grittiness the show would pick up in later episodes. There's shootouts, knife throwing, cannon fire and slo-mo galore. You get stiltedly awesome lines like "I am the bad element" and "Life's hard, then you die" then Kurtwood Smith and Tony Burton add a little familiar face firepower while Laurie Holden's Mary Travis is set up as a possible love interest and major supporting player. Unlike the film, all seven survive albeit with several injuries.

Episode 1, One Day Out West
Things start to gel as the seven end up in Four Corners and take on some goons from the local cattle baron. Biehn gets a hardass moment when he's insulted being called a cowboy, then later threatens to slit friend Buck's throat when Chris' past is used for small talk. We meet original Magnificent star Robert Vaughn playing a circuit judge and is Mary's father-in-law. The seven have to decide if they'll stay or go as Vin has a bounty on his head and needs to clear his name, Chris is looking for his wife and son's murderer, etc. Young J.D. ends up becoming sheriff with a steady line of advice from Buck. You start to get some clanning within the seven with Chris and Vin riding into trouble together, Nathan and Josiah running the local medical and church facilities, Buck and J.D. riffing like big and little brothers, etc. By the end, the seven are hired on to watch over the town and we see the emerging tone of action and humor. I'm not sure how far apart episodes were filmed but everyone's hair is longer here and the actors look much more comfortable in their costumes and surroundings.

Episode 2, Working Girls
We'd already gotten a taste of prejudice in the pilot as natives, blacks, whites and Confederates all squared off and a little beef between scoundrel Ezra and doc Nathan. In this episode the show takes on women in the old west and prostitution as we learn Buck's mom was a working woman. After a girl is severely beaten by her pimp, she flees and it's up to the seven to protect her. Mary butts heads with the "unwanted element" and there's more fuel to the fire added about her wanting a piece of Chris. I mean Michael Biehn is the Father of the Future so can you blame her? J.D. pairs up with a beautiful young woman as he wants to seal the deal but it's more of an innocent teen romance. You get a big horse/wagon chase resulting in said wagon going flying over a cliff and crashing in impressive, practical fashion. Ezra and Nathan butt heads again over the Ezra's efforts to get the hookers to act as mail order brides which Nathan sees as another form of slavery. Social commentary, action and laughs, what else do you want on a 90's Friday night?

Episode 3, Safecracker
Buck and Nathan escort a paroled prisoner to town who ends up being a mother and her young daughter. Only trouble is, the mother is a former safecracker and her ex-partner wants her help to rob the Four Corners bank. Buck gets caught up with the criminal gang while Josiah and Ezra watch over the escaped kleptomaniac young daughter. Chris plays drunk and seemingly kills Buck to infiltrate the gang and help stop the robbery. T.J. Scott directs arguably the weirdest episode yet with lots of canted angles and sweeping shots of characters walking down dark and wet streets giving everything a bit of a nightmare feel to it. You really notice the size and scope of the town set which made me wonder how much an episode cost and if the street was still standing somewhere north of Los Angeles. Desert Heat baddie Jeff Kober shows up as the episode villain while a pre-Spy Kids Alexa Vega plays the daughter.

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