Monday, March 26, 2012

TV From the 80's: Tales of the Gold Monkey

Anybody remember this one?  It only ran for one season on ABC here in the U.S., back in 1982.  It was set in the South Pacific in 1938 and involved an ex-Flying Tigers pilot (although that's a gaffe - the Flying Tigers didn't start in operation until 1941) named Jake Cutter (played by Stephen Collins).

In the series, Jake is an air cargo delivery service man based on the fictional island of Bora Gora.  His sidekicks include his usually-drunk mechanic, Corky, and a one-eyed Jack Russell terrier named, appropriately enough, Jack.  Caitlin O'Heaney plays Jake's love interest, a U.S. spy named Sarah Stickney White, whose cover is as a lounge singer at the Monkey Bar.

Roddy McDowall, John Calvin, and Marta Dubois all have recurring roles in the series, which lasted a total of 21 episodes but was not renewed for a second season due to low ratings.

Although many thought of the series as just cashing in on the popularity of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which had come out the year prior in theaters (and this is what I thought at the time), in reality the show had been in development since the late 70s, but studio executives at the time didn't think audiences would be interested in watching a "period piece." The success of Raiders is what finally convinced the executives that perhaps they had been wrong.

[Isn't it funny how entertainment and studio executives consistently underestimate the intelligence of the audiences they are creating content for?  Maybe part of the reason that audiences are viewed as being so dumb is because nobody ever gives them the benefit of the doubt that they might want to watch something more intelligent.]

I remember being super excited when this show debuted, and I made sure that I was home every Wednesday to watch the show (since, of course, we didn't have any way of recording it aside from a VCR which was super expensive back in those days).  I remember the showed debuted the day after my 12th birthday and shortly around the same time that I was introduced to D&D, Conan, Monty Python.

The series was definitely very "pulpy" and utilized some of the same familiar tropes as Raiders and pretty much any other fictional pulp story that takes place in the 1930s - evil Nazis just coming into power, a dashing male hero who is somewhat rough around the edges, a beautiful dame, and a femme fatale. There was also the treasure-hunting aspect in the form of the statue from the show's title, the infamous golden monkey.

The entire series is available on DVD as a boxed set, and can also be rented via Netflix (although it's not available for streaming as of the date of this post).  Based on my memory of the show, it would make good idea fodder for any games that take place during that time period.  I feel like the Savage Worlds system would work perfectly with this show, although the d20 Modern Forbidden Kingdoms system would work also.

What are your memories of this show?


  1. Pretty much exactly the same as yours... =.=

    Get out of my head!

  2. So, was Disney's Talespin series based on this? Because it sounds like it was.

  3. @Saroe - Hahahaha! Funny.

    @mwschmeer - That's so funny - somebody else on my Google+ Profile mentioned that. I actually never saw Tailspin, but the Wikipedia article on Tales of the Gold Monkey specifically points out that comparison and says that the program was a "strong inspiration" for Tailspin. Good catch!

  4. I just watched the pilot episode of this a couple of weeks ago. I don't think it was ever shown over here, or if it was I was too young to have seen it or remember having seen it. Watching it now, I found it rather flat and uninspiring, with none of the gonzo fun the pulp trappings suggest. It's a shame, because there is a lot of potential in the show -- as well as the surface elements, some of the characters are given much more depth than you'd expect -- but it doesn't quite click. Perhaps the other episodes are better, but I wasn't moved to watch them.

  5. Hi @Kelvin - So funny that you just watched it for the first time! What a coincidence! I think it's one of those things that you just kind of had to see at the time to appreciate. I'm sure the nostalgia factor plays a significant role in my fond memories of this show.

  6. 21 episodes was ONE season?? WOW, that's like 3 seasons for a show today.


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