'Tales of the Gold Monkey' or 'How I Hate My Eyes' or 'Why Would I Spend an Evening Like This, Much Less Write About It?'
The other day, a memory drifted into my head from some unknown place, like an unaddressed letter whose only contents were fragile fragments of information: a seaplane, a bomber jacket, the 30’s, mysterious adventures... a TV show! “To the internet!”, I yelled and furiously typed ‘indiana jones ripoff tv show’ into google. Twenty seconds of searching around provided satisfaction: Tales of the Gold Monkey, producer Donald Bellisario’s (Magnum P.I., Airwolf, Quantum Leap) 1982 adventure show set in 1938 on the fictional South Pacific island of Bora Gora. Memories flooded back in; I HAD to have it. It was available on Netflix but not ‘Watch Instantly’ so I obtained it from a LEGAL and REPUTABLE source.
I cracked a beer and threw it on. The First thing that struck me was the theme, a sort of combination of ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Growing Pains’ themes, it left me apprehensive. The Second thing that struck me was the actor playing the lead role of (awesomely named) Jake Cutter: Stephen Collins. Sci-fi fans will know him as one of the many, many things that made ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ so very, very terrible. Idiots will know him as the Reverend/father from ‘7th Heaven’. Considering his place in history, one might call him ‘Scott BakulaBeta‘. My apprehension did not lessen.
The plot centers around the aforementioned (awesomely named) Jake Cutter: a Cornell educated, Army Air Corps trained pilot, who runs a cargo service on Bora Gora (which, I have learned through shitty research is probably near New Caledonia, which is very interesting). He hangs out with Corky, an alcoholic mechanic with slight Buddy Hackett tendencies, Sarah, an American spy-woman posing as an entertainer and Jack, his very SMART and FUNNY one-eyed Jack Russell terrier. The local bar owner, Bon Chance Louie is played by Roddy McDowell! Let me tell you, this crew gets into all sorts of wacky adventures!
It would be very easy to dismiss this show as an Indiana Jones ripoff, I mean, the whole two hour pilot is about this guy trying to get a mythical, mystical object before the NAZIS do, but Bellisario had been pitching an adventure show set in the 30’s or thereabouts for several years before Raiders came out (not to mention the derivative nature of Indiana Jones) and it was the success of Raiders that caused the show to be picked up. Granted, the show probably saw a retooling to fit the salivating networks need for a knockoff, but let’s give ol’ Don a little credit for coming up with the idea of ripping off old adventure serials independent of Lucas and Spielberg’s same ripoff. Also, the show has another thing going for it, one far more important than ‘who came up with what and when’: it’s watchable. It has great locations, good sets and is fairly well written with coherent plotting, serviceable dialogue and some character development. Collins pulls off the action hero surprisingly well, and the rest of the cast is fairly good. I’m not saying it’s amazing, but it’s fun and, Jesus, each episode is a fuck of a lot better than the Crystal Skullfuck, PLUS there is a Nazi on the island who looks a lot like a poor man’s Rutger Hauer and who masquerades as the local priest.
It only lasted one season; low-ish ratings and high production costs led ABC to dump it. I’ll watch all 22. Color me pleasantly surprised at this one. Tales of the Gold Monkey is available on DVD here.
-pierre idiot trudeau