Old TV Review: Chameleons (1989)

Chameleons (1989) is a TV pilot by Glen A. Larson (of Knight Rider and A-Team fame) that I’d been looking for off and on for years, and finally stumbled on again on YouTube thanks to a sharp-eyed TV fan on DeviantArt. It was made, shown, and yet turned down as an ongoing show by both American and international networks. Sometimes it’s interesting to check out things that didn’t work, and try to figure out why, so you don’t make the same mistakes. (As a writer and human being of course you’ll make entirely different ones, but hey.)

I personally found it hokey but amusing, 3.5 out of 5 stars. And it might have made a really interesting book series, but there were Serious Problems with this even as a first episode, when you’d expect things to not be working quite smoothly yet. I’m sure people can find more, but I’m going to focus on the two biggest ones.

First, the acting. I’m going to go ahead and facepalm here. There are two really good actors in here, the lady playing the (somewhat) crazy cousin, and the butler. They have moments of Large Ham, but those are appropriate to the story and seem in-character. Everyone else – wow. Just wow. There is so much scenery being chewed. So much. And not even by the mastiff, Brutus. (Who is a very Good Dog, yes.) Captain Chameleon and the superheroic grandfather are the worst offenders with Pulp Dialogue; so pulpy you’d think you were straining OJ with your teeth. “May the Paraclete of Justice relieve itself on your enemies!” Why. I mean, why. The Bad Guys are a bit less pulpy, a bit more stock Corrupt Cop/Government Officials/Etc. But there is a straight-from-the-pulp-mags Council of Evil going on, with voice changers and faceless thugs in uniform, right in the middle of a modern city. Oyyyy.

…Okay, there are three good actors. Because if you think you’ve spotted a younger version of Jim Ellison (The Sentinel) as an antagonist – yes, yes you have, that is the same actor. He was also a bad guy in a Viper episode.

Second – the special effects/practical effects in here had to be very expensive. Specially modified car, making it change color, computer screens, “automated defenses”, the “invisibility/color changing” superhero outfit tricks, and multiple uses of a helicopter. None of that would have been cheap, and all of it viewers would have expected to see in every episode. And the whole “Carmeleon automated defenses” were, as one character lampshaded, so slow to get through the activation sequence that “by the time you’ve answered you’re already dead”. That’s expensive bad writing!

So. Yeah. I can see why network execs decided to pass on this one. But it was fun to watch. And possibly to mull over, so we don’t make the same kinds of mistakes!

Chameleons 1989


10 thoughts on “Old TV Review: Chameleons (1989)

  1. :Wince: Yeah, ouch much?

    There’s bad writing and then there’s Bade Writing. Though this might possibly fall into the “So Bad It’s Amusing” category, which is different from the “So Bad It’s Good” category.

    Will we make other mistakes? Undoubtedly. Will we make mistakes just as bad? …Dear Lord, I hope not.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. One of the initial superhero revivals, when the writers and actors both refused to take superheroes seriously. Or thought that 1960’s Batman camp was superheroes.

    I am pretty disturbed by the blasphemy, actually. I mean, I’m sure it was meant as a fannish reference to the song “The Friggin Falcon/The Face on the Barroom Floor” crossed with The Great Bird of the Galaxy. But a ridiculously cussfilled reference like that had no business on network TV in the day… And yup, even without knowledge of the reference, that is impressive levels of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

    Bonus points if anybody Muslim were watching, because Islam insists that the Gospel reference to the Paraclete is a prophetic reference to Mohammed coming. So yeah, that would have been nice for the network.

    But luckily, almost nobody was watching.

    But the joke also undercuts the character. Who said it? Was that person supposed to be purehearted and innocent and young? Then why would such a person make a reference to an old, raunchy song?

    If the person were an old guy with a past, that would be different, and the joke might work if said a different way.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A highly angry, punkish rendition of the song in question, and not worksafe.

    The fannish version is by Theodore Cogswell, but I am pretty sure he based it on an older song about the evils of drink.

    None of the printed versions of the song contain all the verses, apparently, because they got worse.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. / “May the Paraclete of Justice relieve itself on your enemies!” Why. I mean, why. /

    I suspect it’s the same category as The Tick, which was first published in 1988 and has a similar level of pulp.

    The goal is to have a hero with the 1960’s campy-ness, dial it up to 11, and have all the straight-man villains and bystanders wondering who this nutball is.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I honestly squeed when you mentioned the dog’s name was Brutus and a mastiff.

    Growing up, we had a mastiff/lab mix by that name. The funny thing was that he was supposed to be a surprise gift for my dad when he returned from overseas. However, my worrywart of a mother thought it would be a good idea to keep him leashed and at her side at all times while my sisters and I were at school just so she could keep an eye on him because, you know, puppies and their penchant for mischief.

    It wasn’t a surprise that he ended up choosing Mom as his human. She often boasted that he was the best dog she had ever had.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. OMG, I’d managed to forget that one. Not sure if grateful or hateful over the reminder… 😛

    It felt like whoever was making it couldn’t decide if they wanted 60s Batman, or Serious Superheroics. Much like most super-hero film/TV stuff in those days (even the Christopher Reeves Superman films, but most especially 3 and later).

    About 10-15 years ago, there was an attempted TV pilot (now on YouTube!) for the comic book series “The Global Frequency,” which had a really cool concept, but the budget definitely wasn’t there (and First Episode writing). Plus it would have had an “anthology cast” problem, which is always an issue for TV. Still worth a watch once, IMO.

    Liked by 1 person

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