It’s also worth noting that these bionic fables often did involve an interesting mash-up of espionage and science fiction. There are moments when Austin appears as a kind of good old boy Bond, fighting international criminal conspiracies while riding around in his ‘vette. But traditional sci fi elements appear, especially in the later seasons, as the series came to include downed UFOs, female killer androids and several chances for Austin to mix it up with Bigfoot .
TimeLife really threw everything they possibly could at the bionic fanatic. Along with the aforementioned made-for-TV films, each season comes with a floodtide of extras. Featurettes include behind the scenes production information, as well as a deep probing of the series’ effects on popular culture. One of the best of the featurettes explores the aforementioned action figure craze, including a peek into the world of the people that collect them.
Another wonderful inclusion is an extended interview with Lee Majors. This long chat covers everything from Majors early career to his stories about working with various special guests (including his friendship with Andre the Giant who portrayed Bigfoot). This is an important extra given how fully Majors inhabited the character and how seldom his pretty serious acting chops have been recognized. Its hard to imagine anyone else ever being colonel Steve Austin.
Completists will celebrate the inclusion of three made for TV films that preceded the series. Fans will likely be a bit disappointed in these. While many of the individual episodes are entertaining, there’s not really enough of interest to fill the hour and 12-minute running time. In both of them, Colonel Steve Austin seems a bit less bionic than in the regular series. Also missing is the signature bionic grinding sound when Austin would run or perform some feat of strength (this does not become a regular feature until the second season). Another interesting feature of the pilot films is there tendency to try and turn Austin into a cybernetic Bond, even putting him formal wear for some casino gambling at one point. Thankfully, this conceit was dropped.
The set even includes to made for TV films, the 1987 Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman and 1989’s Bionic Showdown. The latter features an early appearance by Sandra Bullock. I was mostly glad to see more of Jaime Somers and not just because she was one of my special, childhood TV girlfriends. The Bionic Woman shared many of the best attributes of the Six Million Dollar Man though the writing and pacing seems tighter. Luckily, the set also comes with crossover episodes with the Bionic Woman though I almost think it should have contained the complete series, given that this aims to be a mega-set of all the bionics you could ever want.
The set is boxed up well and, while there is a major gimmick in the packaging, you don’t have to worry about cardboard slots that scratch discs. Each season comes in its own separate, sturdy plastic case and all are packed tight into a well-designed box.
The gimmick will probably please any fan willing to admit how cheesy The Six Million Dollar Man is in the first place. The side of the box features a lenticular 3D image of Majors in the iconic red running suit, appearing to make a dash toward you. It’s weird but fun.
The box also comes equipped with an audio chip that plays the famous opening lines of each episode when the box is opened. I discovered this feature is great fun exactly seven times. After that it is infinitely annoying. It is also relatively easy to disable and re-enable this feature.
The series looks as good as can be expected from a ‘70s TV show that has not been given the Blu-ray treatment. In fact, its perhaps best not seen in high definition as shows from this era often reveal their seams. The audio is scrubbed pretty clean and certainly sounds better than it probably did on your parent’s enormous, analog console TV circa 1975.
This is certainly a set for a niche audience and notably, Time-Life will only have them for sale until November of 2011. If you are not already a fan, picking this up will likely not turn you into one. However, if you are able to get past the ‘70s fashions and the sometimes adolescent stories, this series will surprise you with its blend of action and speculative tech. For some fans, it will be an opportunity to travel back to the origin point of many of their current pop culture obsessions.