Review: Manimal - The Complete Collection / Cert: PG / Director: Various / Teleplay: Various / Starring: Simon MacCorkindale, Melody Anderson, Michael D Roberts / Release Date: August 27th
The 1980s was a funny old time for American genre telly. Pure sci-fi was out but high concept shows like Street Hawk and Automan sprang up left, right and centre - but few of them had the legs to run for much more than one season. Fewer yet were as unfortunate as Glen A Larson’s Manimal, though; scheduled against ratings beast Dallas, Manimal growled his last after just eight episodes and, if not for its peculiar international appeal (the show was a substantial European hit), it would have probably quickly been forgotten or else dismissed as a 20th century TV fever dream.
Even by 1980s standards - and all the clichés are here from the mullet hairstyles to the squeaky synth theme music - Manimal is absolutely preposterous. Brit thesp Simon MacCorkindale plays Dr Jonathan Chase, a shape-shifter who has mastered dark African arts which allow him to transform himself into any number of convenient animals - normally, for the purposes of Manimal, a black panther or a hawk. After his secret is uncovered by Detective Brook Mackenzie (Anderson), Chase, with his sidekick Ty Earl (Roberts), works alongside the Police, using his special abilities to keep him one step ahead of the bad guys. Despite the idiocy of its core concept, Manimal is actually surprisingly good fun. The stories are desperately mundane murder, extortion and gambling racket yarns; Manimal already asks its audience to take seriously the idea of a man routinely transforming himself into a big cat - fantasy storylines are strictly off-limits. But the show works because of the chemistry between its stars and some decent writing. The scripts are spry and witty, MacCorkindale gives the show a gravitas it really doesn’t deserve and there’s a sparky relationship between Chase and Mackenzie (the show didn’t stick around long enough for any will they/won’t they stuff to develop) and Roberts is on hand to provide light physical comedy.
Oscar Winner Stan Winston’s visual effects - Chase transforming in a blur of fur and claws, dodgy blue screen - are primitive by today’s standards but they still exude a quaint, oddly-effective charm. Add a few ambitious stunts, action sequences, plentiful animal action and even now, thirty years later, it’s easy to see why this silly, short-lived show, never exactly a roaring success and far from purrfect, made its mark on those who saw it and embraced it at the time.
Extras: Interview with creator/producer Larson who reveals - gasp - that a feature film version is in the works, ancient biographies, photo gallery.