Thursday, September 01, 2011

Assignment: Earth

Note: this post is one of a series of STAR TREK episode reviews originally written for the newsgroup. For more information, please read this post.

Episode 56 of 80
March 29, 1968
Teleplay: Art Wallace
Story: Gene Roddenberry & Art Wallace
Director: Marc Daniels

STAR TREK's second-season finale was created as a pilot for a potential spinoff series set in the 20th century. ASSIGNMENT: EARTH (the series) would have starred busy leading man Robert Lansing, formerly of 87TH PRECINCT and TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH, as Gary Seven, a human from another planet who has been sent to Earth by his extraterrestrial peers to help us survive. It would likely have mixed science fiction with the then-hot spy genre (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, and I SPY were among the era's most popular TV shows), complete with high-tech gadgetry and a sexy young female assistant played by a pre-TOOTSIE Teri Garr.

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) feel like afterthoughts in Art Wallace’s script; in fact, neither Enterprise crewman was present in the original draft of the pilot script. They beam down to a 1968 Earth and encounter Seven, whom they mistake for a saboteur. After some fumbling around and unwise comic relief involving an innocent bystander (Garr’s Roberta Lincoln) who becomes accidentally involved with Seven’s mission, it is revealed that the secret agent from outer space is attempting to end the world’s nuclear arms race.

“Assignment: Earth” doesn't really work for me as a TREK or as a pilot. Not enough of “our guys” in it for a proper STAR TREK. The low budget is too much of a distraction; I pity poor director Marc Daniels trying to present a NASA rocket base on what Paramount was willing to pay. The NASA stock footage used doesn’t match very well, and the scenes of Lansing on top of the rocket gantry don’t look good at all. Possibly because it was the end of the season, Roddenberry had used up all of his money and none left over to make his pilot look good.

Lansing was among TV and film's most dependable leading men, though he was never able to break into the A-list (THE NEST director Terence H. Winkless and I discussed Lansing in this interview). This may have been due to a lack of warmth or humor, as Lansing tended to play dour personalities. For an audience to tune in every week, they have got to like the guy a lot. He played big-city detective Steve Carella in one season of 87TH PRECINCT, and whenever I read one of Ed McBain's excellent crime dramas, it’s Lansing's face and personality I associate with the character. Lansing was terrific as a detective on an episode of THRILLER in which he had to track down a woman who was unknowingly carrying around a bomb in her purse. He died of cancer in 1994.

Interestingly, Lansing is the only STAR TREK guest star to be credited in an episode’s opening titles. This was most likely done to showcase Lansing’s stature as the star of the “new” series. Teri Garr was primarily a dancer at this time. The same year “Assignment: Earth” aired, she had a brief but memorable role in HEAD, the Monkees’ only movie, which was written by Jack Nicholson. She later appeared in OH, GOD; CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND; THE CONVERSATION; and a lot more very good movies.


Grant said...

I feel like the only one who enjoys stereotypical ' 60s things with just about no "irony." In other words, I can think of them as enjoyable WITHOUT that whole WTF? attitude that's supposed to be such a big part of seeing them. The reason I mention that here is that Teri Garr in that "mod" outfit is one of the "draws" of this story, without there being anything unintentionally funny about it (at least, to me).

GarySeven said...

Gary Seven was a cool character and Assignment: Earth a cool concept. Alas. A shame we didn't get to see. I have my own thoughts of what it would have been like.

GarySeven said...

And I remember Johnny's crane shot. Loved Johnny Larue. SCTV was great.

GarySeven said...

Check out to see our vision of what Mr Seven's show could have been.