"Bring 'Em Back Alive" is dead on arrival. CBS is giving the new Tuesday night series a "sneak preview" tonight, in the "Dallas" time slot (following the season premiere of the recast "Dukes of Hazzard") in the obvious hope it will get enough sampling to lure viewers back on Tuesday, when the show plays opposite "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley."
Like ABC's wearily whimsical "Tales of the Gold Monkey," the CBS show mixes cliche's and formulas from old serials and B-movies into the sort of big cute spoof that some misguided TV producers apparently thought "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was. About the only childhood moviegoing pleasure that "Alive" recalls is the dubious treat of stepping on somebody's discarded Milk Dud and finding oneself momentarily stuck to the floor.
The show, at 9 on Channel 9, has animals, synthetic atmosphere (it is supposed to be taking place in Malaya and Singapore in 1939), secret papers, Nazi agents, crafty smugglers and a replica of the famous old Raffles Hotel, an ersatz Rick's. Since the exploits in question are supposedly those of wild animal hunter and trainer Frank Buck, one might expect the genre spoofed would be the sort of jungle adventure films in which Buck himself -- and fellow hunter Clyde Beatty -- once starred. But no, the hero is just another poor man's, very poor man's, veritable pauper's, Indiana Jones.
About the most that can be said for Bruce Boxleitner in the role of Buck is that he showed up. Boxleitner was fine as a human numeral in "Tron," but when required to imitate flesh-and-blood people, even those drawn in funny-paper terms, he's practically transparent. A Clark Gable mustache doesn't help. His friendly nemesis and love-interest is Cindy Morgan (also in "Tron") as Gloria Marlowe, the American vice-consul in Singapore, and she seems stranded by the phoniness of the whole situation.
When she arrives in Malaya to meet Buck, Marlowe swerves to avoid an elephant and her car promptly sinks into a swamp filled with crocodiles, for a little bit of cliffhanging before the commercial. But a little bit of cliffhanging on television goes a long way, as NBC found out a few years ago with "Cliffhanger." And it's all so painfully playful. Tongues stuck this strenuously in cheeks risk going completely out of joint.
The worst thing about spoofs may be that producers can hide behind them for various devious purposes. We're apparently not supposed to be offended that an Oriental man is referred to as Buck's "No. 1 Boy," because this is set in the make-believe past, and we're not supposed to be bothered that Buck uses modern-day expressions like "Hey, lighten up, willya?" because it's all a spoof.
"Bring 'Em Back Alive" is no breath of fresh air; it's just another little blast of helium. If television lightens up any more than this, it will float away.