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Heat Vision and Jack

Entry updated 13 June 2022. Tagged: TV.

US tv pilot (1999). The Greenblatt Janollari Studio, Red Hour Productions. Directed by Ben Stiller. Created and written by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab, Cast includes Jack Black, Ron Silver and Owen Wilson. One 30-minute episode. Colour.

A television pilot that was never picked up for a series. In the introduction Stiller, clutching his Emmy, declares that he has "returned to television a wealthy and powerful man ... [so] as a person you admire, I'm giving you permission to appreciate this show"; adding that its special effects outdo those of The Phantom Menace (see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace) and that George Lucas has never won an Emmy.

Astronaut Jack Austin (Black), having been exposed to "inappropriate levels" of solar energy, becomes the world's smartest man (see Intelligence); but only when the sun is shining. He flees when evil NASA decides to remove his brain, pursued by fellow astronaut, "gifted actor and cold-blooded killer" Ron Silver (Silver). Silver fires an experimental Ray, missing Austin but hitting his room mate, who has arrived by motorcycle to collect him. Vehicle and man merge to become our hero's wisecracking sidekick, the talking motorcycle Heat Vision (Wilson).

The pilot indicates the likely episodic format for a series: whilst Silver continues to hunt him down, Jack Austin wins over an attractive young woman and deals with a threat-of-the-week – in this case a sheriff and Paragon respectively. The latter is an Alien, broadcast on radio waves, that occupies the body of an unfortunate chef (see Identity Transfer) and starts killing people with its glowing eyes. Genre references include Heat Vision watching Genesis of the Daleks (1975) (see Doctor Who) on the sheriff's television.

Heat Vision and Jack was a perhaps too-fond Parody of sf shows like Knight Rider, Manimal, Six Million Dollar Man and Misfits of Science; the Humour was considered too offbeat and the special effects (deliberately old-fashioned though they were) too expensive; so it was never commissioned. Whether the format was sustainable as a Television series is debatable; nevertheless the pilot is funny and became a cult classic. This was partially due to the involvement of Black, Stiller and in particular Harmon, who went on to create two of the best television comedies of the twenty-first century: Community (2009-2015), a live action sitcom that used many genre references, and Rick & Morty (2013-current). [SP]


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