By: Marc Weidenbaum
June 6, 2022

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite TV shows of the Seventies (1974–1983).


ARK II | 1976

A year before the arrival in theaters of a movie we’d come to call A New Hope, CBS broadcast the serial Ark II, now a mere 15-episode footnote from the Golden Age of Saturday morning television. While our current cultural moment, a Golden Age of Golden Age reboots, has arguably run its course, I’d sure welcome an opportunity to revisit and perhaps revise this short-lived bit of just-pre–Skywalker science fiction. I, then age 10, wouldn’t learn to regularly employ the four syllables that constitute “millennium” for another 12 months, but Ark II was already set a full half millennia in the future — 2476! — on an Earth so devastated by societal collapse that it could almost pass for the desert planet of Tatooine.

Ark II followed a scientific expedition making its way from one episodic slice of dystopia to the next. The show took its name from a mobile laboratory — imagine if the Airstream factory were retooled to manufacture the Space Shuttle — populated by a diverse crew of four: a hirsute leader named Jonah, an Asian scientist named Ruth, a younger male tech (with a distinct Latin accent) named Samuel, and a talking monkey named Adam. The end of the world may have come and gone, but the roads apparently still rolled. Each week the crew would drive straight into another low-budget, high-concept threat, and technology and teamwork would save the day.

Back in 1976, we Americans were busy celebrating the country’s 200th anniversary, and a patriotism hangover eventually began to set in. Fortunately, as the year was coming to a close (Ark II debuted on September 11, back when that date held no particular meaning), kids could witness a comfortably distant future in which the country — heck, civilization — no longer existed. (Presumably not enough kids did, since CBS canceled the show before the ball fell on New Year’s Eve.) After months upon months of red, white, and blue overkill, the sheer sun-damaged bleakness of Ark II provided a restorative catharsis — all the more so because it built on nascent 1970s anxiety about what would eventually fall under the banner of climate change. (Another 1976 release, the movie Logan’s Run, provided a similar bicentennial corrective when the young protagonists encountered the aged Peter Ustinov in a decimated U.S. Capitol building.)

The quartet of Biblical names for the crew of Ark II was by no means the most heavy-handed thing about the show, and yet we were repeatedly sucked into a half hour (including commercials) of post-apocalyptic antics. One episode: children following a capricious leader named Fagin (a wizened Jonathan Harris, barely recognizable from his black and white days as Lost in Space’s Dr. Zachary Smith). Another: children with psychic abilities. Another still: a wild boy hunted by locals. Like Whitney Houston and George Benson, the producers of Ark II clearly believed that children were the future. More so, kids wanted to see themselves on screen, even if — arguably because — every single time they/we were in serious jeopardy. And we’d be rescued. By a chatty chimpanzee and a chill dude in a jetpack.


KOJAK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Lynn Peril on ONE DAY AT A TIME | Dan Reines on THE WHITE SHADOW | Carlo Rotella on BARNEY MILLER | Lucy Sante on POLICE WOMAN | Douglas Wolk on WHEW! | Susan Roe on THE LOVE BOAT | Peggy Nelson on THE BIONIC WOMAN | Michael Grasso on WKRP IN CINCINNATI | Josh Glenn on SHAZAM! | Vanessa Berry on IN SEARCH OF… | Mark Kingwell on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA | Tom Nealon on BUCK ROGERS | Heather Quinlan on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE | Adam McGovern on FAWLTY TOWERS | Gordon Dahlquist on THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO | David Smay on LAVERNE & SHIRLEY | Miranda Mellis on WELCOME BACK, KOTTER | Rick Pinchera on THE MUPPET SHOW | Kio Stark on WONDER WOMAN | Marc Weidenbaum on ARK II | Carl Wilson on LOU GRANT | Greg Rowland on STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES | Dave Boerger on DOCTOR WHO | William Nericcio on CHICO AND THE MAN | Erin M. Routson on HAPPY DAYS. Plus: David Cantwell on THE WALTONS.




Enthusiasms, TV