Amish… In… Space…. (The Starlost: Episode 1

Fresh from my experiences with Tomes and Talismans, I decided to Netflix a series I had never heard of until it cropped up in a cross-reference to a wikipedia article I was reading.
The series is, I believe, a post-apocalyptic Canadian space opera from the seventies. The internet tells me such talent as Harlan Ellison, A.E. Van Vogt, Frank Herbert, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Alexei Panshin, Phillip K. Dick, and Ursula K. Le Guin were contracted to write storylines for the series. No one knows why they did this, because the series is a complete piece of shit. Sixteen episodes were produced, in which many of the expansive and amazing space sets were inserted via greenscreen rather than actually building any sets, a technique later to be adopted by shitty Star Trek Fan Films. (Fun fact: Several first season episodes of Star Trek: Hidden Frontier pulled the episode’s entire dialogue from episodes of The West Wing with the phrase “Mr. President” replaced by “Captain” and “The Senate” replaced by “The Romulans”.)
The creepiest thing about the show is how clean all the footage is. The soft focus of degraded VHS and NTSC color bleeding really do a lot to play down the terribleness of (a) cheap visual effects, (b) old video tape cameras that had no depth of field whatever, and (c) that is it is the 1970s. This is clear, crisp, and makes me remember why I can’t always tell the difference between Escatology and Scatology.
The first episode’s narration sets up the premise: Earth got destroyed eight hundred years ago. Humanity had buggered off on the Battlestar Galactica Ark, but th bridge got blown up, and now the Ark is gonna drift into a star unless our heroes can re-establish flight control.
That said, the bulk of the episode is a flashback triggered by our three heroes looking out a window at the vastness of space.
Seems these three are Space Amish, from the town of Cypress Creek. Only these Space Amish have zippers and a computer. So Space Mennonites I guess. Devon wants to marry Rachel, but Rachel is promised to his best friend Garth. Garth isn’t interested in Rachel, but he’s a respectful sort who will do as the elders order, unlike Devon, who has previously been censured for daring to ask questions like “Why does the sun come up in the morning and set at night?” and “Where does the water come from?” and “What’s Vietnam?”
The elder asks the magic 8-ball, some kind of computer terminal, just to make sure, and the computer announces that no, Devon and Rachel are not a genetically optimal match, and that the previously proposed marriage should take place.
Devon isn’t happy about this, and spies on the elders later, whereupon he discovers that the Magic Eight Ball, which the Elders introduce as the voice of the creator, isn’t actually making these pronouncements on its own volition: the elder inserts a microcassette recorder tape, tells the Magic Eight Ball what to say, and then orders it to translate from fakey archaic English (“Thou hast spake against the will of ye creator, and thou must pay with thy life”) into technobabble (“Genetic profile is incompatible with optimal conditions. Nonconforming element must be eliminated to return system to equilibrium”). Devon reacts by shouting to everyone that the ELders are faking it, without any evidence. So then he has to run away from the angry mob, through the DOOR TO THE FORBIDDEN ZONE. This leads to a crappy chromakey effect of him falling down a long tunnel, whereupon he finds an Interrociter from which the face of Anton La Vey appears as a computer program to answer all his questions, only in vague terms that don’t really explain much.
The Ark, it turns out, was designed to keep all these habitats isolated in order to preserve various aspects of Earth culture. Also, the whole “About to fly into the sun” thing. Anton La Vey can’t communicate with the bridge for a data update, so he orders Devon to.
Devon, instead, goes back to Cypress Corners, where he is decried as a witch, especially when he tries to explain what he’s seen to everyone else. The Eight Ball orders Devon’s execution, and the Elder thinks it would be a good idea to order Rachel to throw the first stone.
But Garth decides to bust Devon out of jail, on condition that he leave and never come back. Devon does, but Rachel goes with him. We’re told. She has like three lines on-screen. The crazy old guy who sits by the door out of the pod explains that, now that someone has been outside and come back safely, the evil elder’s total control over the village can’t last.
Garth decides he’s going to go out of the pod, kill Devon, and bring Rachel back. Because Devon is his best friend, and he doesn’t actually want to marry Rachel, and she clearly wanted to go. And also because most of the writers quit before production started.
While Garth tumbles down the bad special effect tunnel, Devon and Rachel pass through the giant oscilloscope toward the bridge. Garth catches up with them and demands that Rachel come back with him, on the assumption that she doesn’t want to be there. She says she does, but Garth doesn’t agree.
Since the other option is shooting them with his crossbow, Garth decides to tag along to keep Rachel safe until he can take her back to Cypress Corners and marry her against either of their will. The oscilloscope, which is a security checkpoint, lets him pass in spite of the crossbow, leading to me concluding that the whole security checkpoint thing was just a waste of our time inserted to show off the shitty oscillosope effect.
They reach the bridge, saving the ship, and ending the series. Well, not quite, but they do reach the bridge, which isn’t so much “destroyed” as “roughed up a little bit”. As they stand in front of a chromakey matte painting of the bridge and look out at a chromakey matte painting of the vastness of the Ark and space beyond it, the scene from which this flashback began, they are awestruck and get to see a star approach so rapidly that there is no reasonable way that the ship will not be immolated in the very next episode. Though it then stops and hovers off the starboard beam to give them at least a season to sort it all out.
The continuity announcer makes some dishonest promises of excitement and adventure to come, which appears to include a guest appearance by John Colicos.
I. Can’t. Wait.
(Disclaimer: I can totally wait.)

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