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New Avengers '76, The
THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
When The Avengers ran on British television from 1961 to 1969 the show epitomized the hip mod style lovingly lampooned by Mike Myers in Austin Powers. But in a move familiar to fans of Hollywood, the producers tried to revive the series in the late Seventies with The New Avengers '76, the first season of which comes to DVD in a thirteen episode box set.
The first thing I was struck with was how un-groovy the show looks: The visuals are drab and lifeless. This isn't just a matter of the transfer or the conditions of source materials but rather the style of the show. It just doesn't swing, baby.
It has another factor working against it. No matter how wacky the plots get, I found the show plainly boring. Following the convoluted plots involving under-developed characters and their idiotic plans quickly becomes a chore. The plots often include silly villains like robots and Nazis, but the show isn't as clever as it thinks it is. Jokes fall flat and the pacing it too slack to achieve zany fun.
The stories become slightly more interesting when the villains are a little more frightening: One episode that actually contains some chills finds a bad guy whose command over incurable viruses and diseases is pretty scary, as biological warfare usually is. Still, the show usually just cribs from other sources, with one episode snatching the main mechanism from The Manchurian Candidate, cards and all.
If the show has a bright spot it's Joanna Lumley as Purdy, the show's attempt at a successor for Diana Rigg. Fans of Absolutely Fabulous, the series where Lumley plays an aging ingenue/alcohol-fueled drug addict, will appreciate her performance in The New Avengers both for how different she is and for how Patsy (her AbFab character) is supposed to be a washed up Purdy. Here Lumley is sexy and fleet-footed. The show's producers really wanted to emphasize her leggy sexiness, introducing her character in bed for the first episode. She gets to flaunt some fun outfits as well, like a gold lamé karate Gi. Undoubtedly fans of the original series long for Rigg, but of all the changes here, Lumley is the one that works.
Unfortunately she has to share screen-time with Gareth Hunt as Mike Gambit. Hunt, as the third member of the Avengers squad, isn't bad, but he's too bland to create the kind of dashing, suave agent the show wants.
The other main character, of course, is this remake's signature holdover from the original: Patrick Macnee as leader John Steed. Steed here fills more of a brains-behind-the-operation position, which makes sense given Macnee's age. It's a role he seems to enjoy but the scripts aren't sharp enough for him. Bad puns and boring plot twists leave his smirky, dry humor hanging.
The full-frame video is mostly clean but dull compared to more modern programs. The picture is reasonably sharp and the colors are lively (considering the generally ugly look of the cinematography.) Considering the source it looks pretty good. The contrast is also handled well, without the blacks appearing overly washed out, like so many programs of the period.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is a modest affair, with music sounding pretty mid-range oriented and dialog ranging from too-quiet to just right.
Photo galleries for the episodes are included. Not a very exciting presentation in that regard, considering the price of the set and the fact that someone has most likely produced something extra-worthy on the show in the decades since.
Fans of the show may very well want this set but frankly for the price it hardly seems worth it. Thirteen episodes with no interesting extras is a pretty weak presentation. Lumley is charming and Macnee is devilish, but overall the shows aren't as clever or entertaining as you'd expect.