To give you a glimpse into the creative process that goes on around here, I began the day today knowing that it was Tuesday, and I was determined to put up a TV Tuesday post. Despite scouring the internet for TV movies last night, I had just about decided to review a Jerry Reed/Tom Selleck movie I have on VHS that is called Ramblin’ Man. But then my husband found this compilation video someone had put up on YouTube which featured opening credits from obscure 80s sci-fi and fantasy shows. Most I had never heard of, and there were three that I really wanted to track down. Good old YouTube happened to have the pilot episode of Outlaws, a weird west series that ran for 12 episodes in 1986 and starred, among others, my good friends Richard Roundtree and Charles Napier! I love weird west stories, and Charles Napier reminds me quite a bit of Jerry Reed for some reason, so all at once there was my Tuesday post and my afternoon entertainment needs met. And there you have it.
Outlaws begins in 1899 with Napier, Roundtree, William Lucking, and that guy from Hot Dog running from a sheriff’s posse after having robbed a bank. Sorry about their damn luck, but the sheriff and his pals chase them into a dead end in an old Comanche graveyard, and a storm has come up so the sky has gone from day to night. It’s a spirit storm, says the sheriff’s Indian guide. But this sheriff (Rod Taylor, The Birds) has to follow the bad guys into the boneyard to try to talk them out of a shootout because he used to be part of their gang. Everyone draws their guns, and lightning strikes….
And suddenly, they’re in Houston, in 1986, beside an interstate! Now they have to band together to deal with the newfangled new world! Jukeboxes! Bikinis! Football! Rednecks! The incredible pressure of having the 2,000 bucks worth of gold they just stole instantly grow to a worth of half a million! The horror of a brace-faced Shannen Doherty, in a bar! Will they all get along, now that their old leader has returned from the side of what’s good and proper to accompany them into the world of loud noises and people who aren’t manly? How will they get a bank account with no I.D.? Will anyone know what they mean when they refer to themselves as “Texicans?”
So they buy a big ranch, comedically learn to drive, have a meet cute with the neighbor lady, and then the guy from Hot Dog (the hot assed and hot headed one), Napier the religious one, and Roundtree the adventurous one all set out to make a break from the other two dudes, who despite being the leaders, really don’t have personality traits.
Ten minutes later, Roundtree comes back, but it’s been an indeterminate amount of time and the story of what happened while they were gone gets told in flashback. It’s just good screenwriting. Napier and the Hot Dog are now in jail! Recidivism! These guys got out of going to jail (or being hanged) for armed robbery by a literal act of God, end up in the twentieth century as thousandaires, and now they’re in jail. Also, they have pissed off a drug dealer. But somehow, when it all works out in the end, the five guys have a detective agency on their ranch, and that’s what the rest of the series centered around: five time traveling cowboys who solve mysteries. I love the 80s!
I do intend to watch the rest of the episodes that I can find, and I urge you to do the same if you’re a weird west and/or 80s cheese fan, but I have to admit that I’m not all that surprised that Outlaws didn’t make it as a long-running show. The pilot could have been much better. The first half was great. I was grinning while watching them bumble around the 80s with their old clothes and their one-liners. But then, instead of having an entire movie planned out, the writers just tacked the first episode onto the setup and called it a pilot. The plot with the drug dealer came out of nowhere, the flashback breakaway was bullshit, and even though the premise about them becoming detectives was right there in the synopsis for the concept of the show, the route it took for them to get there was beyond ridiculous.
But the thing is, I didn’t watch a whole lot of network TV in the 80s, preferring movies on HBO and Cinemax and my beloved trips to the video store. Honestly, as an elementary school and middle school kid, I thought most network TV series were really stupid. Then I mellowed out in college in the 90s and realized that, hey, 80s TV was really stupid, but I’m okay with sinking down to its level. And now that everything on modern TV is either reality TV or overwrought drama, I long for something stupid and cheesy to watch, that doesn’t ask much of me. Fortunately, I have a lot of 80s TV still to catch up on. So Outlaws, while really dumb and hokey, is just about my speed. I’ll gladly time travel into the past to catch up with the cowboy detective gang.
By the way, the copy of Outlaws that I found, which I’m embedding below, has the commercials left in, so that’s fun to watch too. There were a lot fewer commercial breaks in 1986, and the commercials were far less annoying. That’s another advantage of cheap, cheesy shows, I guess: it didn’t take as much ad money to run them.