A man with the ability to shapshift into any animal helps the police fight crime.
Dr. Jonathan Chase… wealthy, young, handsome. A man with the brightest of futures. A man with the darkest of pasts. From Africa’s deepest recesses to the rarefied peaks of Tibet, heir to his father’s legacy and the world’s darkest mysteries. Jonathan Chase, master of the secrets that divide man from animal, animal from man… Manimal!
This is the opening narrative recited by William Conrad in the opening of each episode except the pilot. As the intro mentions, JC, Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale) uses his ability to change into any animal to fight crime along with his friend Ty Earl (Glynn Turman / Michael D. Roberts). While attempting to stop an illegal military grade weapons sale, JC crosses paths with Police Detective Brooke Mackenzie (Melody Anderson) who figures out that JC has the ability to shapeshift. After thwarting the bad guys in the pilot, the trio work together to solve other cases. Throughout the series, Jonathan usually changes into a hawk or a panther and then one other special “guest” animal each episode.
Manimal premiered on NBC September 30, 1983, with a special 90 minute episode. The series would only last for eight episodes with the final one airing on December 17 of that same year. The show was not well received by viewers or critics alike, it also didn’t help that it was scheduled on Friday nights opposite the highly rated nighttime soap Dallas. The series appears on many “Worse of Science Fiction Television” lists and many wonder how it ever got past the pilot stage. Stan Winston, Academy Award-winning special effects guru designed the transformation sequences, although in the series, most transformations were done off camera. Glen A. Larson created the show along with Automan and Night Man, and these three series share a common universe with Dr. Jonathan Chase appearing in a crossover episode of Night Man in 1998, fifteen years after Manimal ended.
This show was right up my ally when it came out and I cannot remember why I didn’t watch it. I use to love to pretend I could turn into any animal and I love police procedurals. The problem, in my opinion, with the series is that it had a great premise but horrible execution. Even with Stan Winston doing the transformation scenes, aspects of them looked really cheesy along with most of the acting. As much as I love Melody Anderson as Dale Arden in the 1980 adaptation of Flash Gordon I have not cared for her much in any other role, she just doesn’t seem authentic to me. The writing was also a bit corny, with a lot of flirtation between the two leads and dialogue that was stiff and often forced. But the idea of a man who can change into animals and helps the police solve crimes is a great idea and with today’s special effects and more penchant for more in-depth storytelling this could be ripe for a remake. Which almost happened, in 2012, Sony Pictures Animation was developing a live action/CGI film based on the characters with Glen Larson once again involved as a producer. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay were also attached to the project. Glen passed away in 2014 and there has been no mention of the film since.
As much fun as a remake would be, I would want it done right, and I am not sure Will Farrell would do it justice. Overall, I didn't find this a bad show, but not well executed.
Forgotten Television: Manimal
- Writing - 7/107/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Acting - 7/107/10
- Music - 8/108/10
- Production - 7/107/10
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