The National Geographic Society must be off its little yellow-bordered nut to make a TV special praising computers as "Miraculous Machines" and gingerly avoiding the ghastlier social implications that go with them. Instead, the program, at 8 tonight on Channel 26 and other public TV stations, dwells naively on the wonders they perform and on the wonder of it all.
You remember The Wonder Of It All. We go gaga over that at world's fairs. Then big corporations get into the picture and suddenly it's the horror of it all. Megabank, a division of Megacorp, has mistakenly declared you dead and insolvent, but not in that order, and nobody in the firm wants to argue with the omnipotent computer even if you show up in the pink and in the green.
It is the microchip specifically, not the computer per se, that is being celebrated on the special. We do see it improving qualities of life for various people, including a little old lady who asks a robot responsive to voice commands to lift a glass so she can drink from it (this takes a long time, but she does look delighted) and a 90-year-old man who waits patiently in his chair to be served medication by an R2D2ish RBX droid. "Here you go," it says as it hands over the goods.
A sequence on digital animation shows people what they missed by not seeing "Tron." Robotic arms do this and that, including popping something into a microwave oven (now all they need is another machine to eat it). More significantly, a 25-year-old Cleveland man, paralyzed from the waist down, is made able to walk, even up a flight of stairs, with the help of a computer and implanted electrodes.
We are also told reassuringly by writer-producer Barbara Jampal that the human brain is still superior to the electronic one. But it's becoming an uncomfortably close race. The point that we are living in times of technological hyperrevolution is worth making again and again -- a 70-year-old alive today has lived through more technological change "than in all of time before," according to the script -- but there ought to be some mention of the nightmarish perils that go along with surrendering our power and identity to things that are plugged into sockets.
Although not one of the best of the Geographic specials, "Machines" is noteworthy as the last to be narrated by Alexander Scourby, who died earlier this year. Scourby's career in television narration includes the still memorable "Project 20" series for NBC in the '50s and early '60s, in addition to countless other documentaries to which he was invariably an asset. Perhaps someday a computer will be able to synthesize a voice as warm and commanding as his. But it won't be the same, will it? 'Double Dare'
Nobody has to buy CBS in order to ruin it if the network persists in the systematic destruction of its own reputation. "Double Dare," premiering at 8 tonight on Channel 9, doesn't even have the simple production sheen one associates with CBS programs, much less anything approaching quality. The opening credits are cheap and ugly, but at least they are indicative of what is to come.
Billy Dee Williams, the silver-screen heartthrob, and Ken Wahl, lummoxy veteran of many a movie clunker ("Jinxed," "Purple Hearts"), are teamed as tandem hunks in this thick-skulled and low-grade crime caper. The premiere, which opens with a man being blown away with two big blams, was cowritten by the man who "developed" the series for television, Leon Tokatyan. Leon used to work on a show called "Lou Grant." This is how you tell the old CBS from the new CBS.
Williams pours on the charm in the trite role of a well-dressed jewel thief who is blackmailed into undercover work for the San Francisco cops and partnered with the wearily uninterested Wahl (Brick Wahl would be a better name for him), a sullen ex-con. Both are bossed about in the premiere by the creepily brittle Jennifer Warren. Perhaps some viewers will consider it a breakthrough: the program has as many macho women as it has macho men.
The master thief drives around in a Rolls-Royce, which isn't very funny, but when illegally parking he puts a sign in the front window that says, "Physician on Emergency Call" -- one of the show's few cute touches. "Something very big's gonna go down in the city," proclaims Warren; what's going down are the standards at CBS. At this rate, it'll be too tacky even for Ted Turner to buy. Maybe Chuck Barris and Aaron Spelling should consider floating a loan.