Enjoyably simple and light early 80s fantasy sci-fi fluff. It could have been better, but staggering competition at the other networks spelled low ratings and a mid-season thematic shift likely left casual viewers confused, leading to its first season also being its last.
By Jason Hink
Now, thanks to the folks at Visual Entertainment Inc. (VEI) and CBS Home Entertainment, the adventures of Matthew ‘E’Hawke’ Star and Walt ‘D’hai’ Shepherd live on through a surprise 2018 complete series DVD release for NBC’s short-lived The Powers of Matthew Star.
Click to purchase The Powers of Matthew Star complete series at Amazon.
In the fall of ’81, the resurgent popularity of sci-fi and fantasy spearheaded by Star Wars in 1977 was still strong, and TV was ripe for this kind of programming. Created by Steven E. De Souza (Die Hard, 48 Hrs.) and executive produced by Bruce Lansbury, The Powers of Matthew Star wouldn’t hit NBC’s airwaves until a year later–in the fall of 1982–after shelving the pilot and retooling the concept while star Peter Barton recovered from an on-set mishap involving pyrotechnics.
When it finally did premiere on September 17, 1982, viewers were treated to a spectacular, epic introduction depicting a sci-fi backstory and voiced by co-star Louis Gossett Jr. It explained how young Matthew (Peter Barton) and his guardian, Walter Shepherd (Gossett), made their way to Earth following a great battle on their home planet. And what a battle it was! Depicted in this opening montage is a stellar (for 1982 television) space battle with futuristic spacecraft, laser battles, and colorful planets. The imagery (which played at the beginning of each episode for the first half-season) may have led some viewers to expect the actual episodes to contain the same high quality sci-fi production values. But what they got instead were small, typical-for-the-era, earthbound stories on a television budget.
For the first 12 episodes, teenager Matthew Star must navigate the trials of American high school life while secretly honing his otherworldly powers, which are focused on telekinesis — an ability to move and manipulate objects. With guardian Walt helping him, he must practice these powers until he’s mastered them so he can return to his home planet of Quadris and free his people captured in the great war that drove Matthew’s parents to send the infant to Earth. This first batch of episodes follows through on this premise as Matt navigates typical teen drama while fighting crime when called upon by their liaison at the federal government, General Tucker (John Crawford), making for good practice for Matt to master his special abilities. Walt’s cover also comes in handy; he’s the high school’s science teacher.
Along the way, Matt meets several people who loom large in the episodes of this first half-season, though none more important than Pam (Amy Steele), a classmate who Matt has fallen for but carries an on-again/off-again romance with because he can’t spill the beans about his powers, a la Clark Kent and Lois Lane. But these whimsical teen-based stories mixed with sci-fi fantasy came to an abrupt halt halfway through the season.
With low ratings, the decision was made to re-tool the show. Suddenly gone were the high school settings and Matthew’s portrayal as a teenager, and critically, Amy Steele’s Pam also vanished. None of these changes were properly explained. Now, Matt and Walt were exclusively government agents, answering to Major Wymore (James Karen), who meets with the duo clandestinely at the beginning of each episode to give them their mission orders. The opening theme changed and no longer included the backstory about Matthew’s past as an inhabitant of the planet Quadris, and his powers became a tool-in-service-of-the-plot, appearing only when they needed to get out of a sticky jam. In other words, the show became standardized, general fare, no doubt with the hope of attracting a wider audience than the sci-fi/fantasy niche they were drawing during the first 12 episodes.
In these final nine episodes (the original series pilot from 1981 notwithstanding, which actually aired as the final episode), the writers showcase Matthew’s Astral skills, which allows an “Astral version” of Matthew to leave his living body behind (but only for two hours, lest his living body dies) so he can teleport virtually anywhere, including through solid objects. To achieve this transformation, he must lie down, close his eyes, and wait for a bright blue light to overtake his body before another blue light appears revealing the “Astral Matt,” who steps away from his “living” body. Sometimes he teleports as this blue light, flying through the sky to reach a destination or to follow a bad guy at rapid speed.
With the opening theme changed and references to space dispensed with, the focus changed to action and stunts (cars crashing through barricades, motorcycle races, aerial dogfights, etc.). The show went completely New Wave too, just as that particular music style was reaching its apex, and the scoring became increasingly synthesized (the new score dates these episodes a little more than the opening 12 shows).
This mid-season change in focus could have been explained as a plot point, which would have fit nicely with the idea that Matt and Walt will always be on the run, moving from city to city. But of course, this change was abrupt, with no explanation, due to dismal ratings. It’s possible NBC wanted more straight action-oriented fare to make for a better pairing with lead-outs Knight Rider and Remington Steele (both also new in that fall 1982 season, and much more successful). But this was eighties; changes like these in struggling television shows were much more common. With less serialization and backstory, The Powers of Matthew Star could be landed on by channel-surfers and enjoyed as standalone episodes…I guess. The main problem with this change, though, was the elimination of the smaller, more personal stories about Matthew’s growing pains and his struggles navigating life while learning his alien warrior skills.
In the final analysis, the show ultimately suffers from a lack of thematic direction, and I don’t mean just the mid-season changes; even in those first 13 episodes, it struggles to nail down just what it wants to be. For example, in Italian Caper, the writers find a quick and easy way to get Matthew and Walter out of their suburban high school setting to battle foreign terrorists and retrieve stolen American military tech. In the very next episode, Winning, Matthew’s biggest obstacle is becoming the starting quarterback for Crestridge High’s season-opening football game. The hero’s protagonists in these back-to-back outings were Italian terrorists and…a cocky high school starting quarterback whose job Matthew desperately wants. With such a broad range, viewers surely couldn’t know what to expect from week to week, and while I’m sure there were fans of both types of Matthew Star episodes (the coming-of-age teen drama vs. the man-of-action capers), it likely split what little audience it had.
That said, I happened to enjoy seeing this program. I was only six when it premiered, but I was a huge Knight Rider fan. Why do I have but a vague memory of The Powers of Matthew Star, considering it aired directly before Knight Rider on the same channel? The answer is easy; its direct 8 p.m. competition over on CBS was The Dukes of Hazzard, which finished the 1982-83 season tied for a still-respectable 29th place in the Nielsen Top Thirty (down from 6th place the previous year, no doubt due in part to original stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat being replaced for much of 1982-83 due to a contract dispute). If NBC was trying to pull in the kids, placing it directly against The Dukes was a huge mistake! Meanwhile, over on ABC, old war horse Benson at 8 o’clock and The New Odd Couple at 8:30 pulled in the adults not interested in the more juvenile Matthew Star and the Duke boys.
The Powers of Matthew Star finished the season near the cellar, ranked 86th (TV Guide would notoriously rank it at #22 on its list of the “50 Worst TV Shows of All Time” in 2002). In contrast, its Friday night NBC stablemates fared better, with lead-out Knight Rider and Remington Steele nabbing renewals and, eventually, reaching the coveted Top Thirty in their second and third seasons, respectively. Star Peter Barton, 26 years old at the time (while playing 16-year-old Matt Star, at least in the early stories), would go on to star in soap operas such as The Young and the Restless (1988-93) and Sunset Beach (1997-98). Louis Gossett Jr. won an Academy Award for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman, and would star in genre favorites such as The Principal, The Punisher, and the Iron Eagle films. Amy Steele became widely known for her association with eighties slasher films, having starred in Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). She also had a 12-episode stint on NBC’s short-lived For Love and Honor in 1983.
Also of note, Star Trek alums Leonard Nimoy and Walter Koenig lent their skills to The Powers of Matthew Star; Nimoy directed Triangle and Koenig wrote Mother.
How does stuff like The Powers of Matthew Star even get released on DVD at this stage? We should be thankful VEI has released this collection of obscure television. With that said, here are my thoughts and commentary on all 22 episodes of The Powers of Matthew Star:
Jackal (September 17, 1982)
The first of two straight Ron Satlof-directed episodes, it’s an odd outing for the premiere thanks to behind-the-scenes issues that saw major changes made to the original pilot, which wound up airing as the series finale (complete with the original–and now changed–character names). This notwithstanding, Jackal does a reasonable job of setting up the premise within the framework of a standard hour-long episode, & after the exposition & introductions are dispensed with, it’s a fun little outing.
In it, we learn that Matthew (Peter Barton) & Walter, who goes by “Shep” for short (Louis Gossett Jr.), have been on the run for some time, skipping town, settling in a new city each time assassins close in. And it’s a good thing, too, because they’re aliens from another planet being chased by fellow aliens — these are Quadrian assassins! And that’s how this one starts off when an alien ship lands on Earth with two aliens, Float & Judy (Judson Scott & Maylo McCaslin), looking to assassinate Matthew by kidnapping Walt to lure him in.
But since it’s the start of the series, we’re also treated to an introduction of their new surroundings, like Matthew’s new high school in Crestridge (“Up with the Trojans!”) where Shep scores a job teaching science as well as home economics, coaching track & becoming the football team’s trainer. We meet Matthew’s school friends, including Pam (Amy Steele), whose cocky friend Brian (John Laughlin) isn’t keen on Matt’s taking a liking to her. Another classmate is Cindy (McCaslin), the alien assassin sent to take out Matthew. Elsewhere is General Tucker (John Crawford), a man who has put together clues and realizes that Matthew & Shep wind up in towns where UFOs are spotted. But is he a friend or foe?
Once these expository introductions are taken care of, Jackal turns into a surprisingly zippy little thriller, with Shep & Matthew caught in a game of cat & mouse with the assassins sent from Quadris. We get a suspenseful runaway bus sequence where Matthew must use his still-spotty telekinesis to try to stop it before toppling over the mountainside…& the final scene in a scrapyard features super-human traits by the assassin Float, realized by impressive special effects for the time (such as Float lifting, then throwing, a junked car toward Matthew in an attempt to crush him — all before CGI!).
It’s probably not the proper pilot the producers intended, but it gets the job done.
Accused (September 24, 1982)
It’s a classic case of mistaken identity as Shep finds himself arrested for killing a cop during a sting operation where the perp is a dead ringer for Shep. It’s a curious mystery at first as we see lookalike Julian (Gosset Jr. in a dual role wearing pimp duds, a Hawaiian shirt & earring with the exact same goatee…and a Jamaican accent, mahn) commit the act (dig that crystal clear “security footage” of the crime, complete with moving cameras & gorgeous lighting). I was surprised at first, wondering why Shep was running around with a briefcase full of money & shooting cops, before I realized Gossett was playing another role.
Naturally, Matthew knows his guardian isn’t a bad guy, so he gets to work trying to solve the crime & clear Shep’s name. Along for the ride are Shep’s attorney Bill (played comedically by Stuart Pankin) who’s determined to prove Shep’s innocence, & angry cop Crawford (a convincing John Aprea) who’s determined to put Shep away. Matthew’s investigation leads him to a recording studio–a front for this criminal activity- where he hopes to track down Julian through his off-key singing girlfriend, April (Margaret Avery).
A fun little family outing that moves at a good pace, with decent performances & direction all around.
Daredevil (October 1, 1982)
A true family-friendly outing directed by Bruce Bilson as Matt tries to help his old friend Pete (Paul Regina), who’s in town with a crew shooting a horror film on the Crestridge High campus. The episode begins with an exciting, suspenseful scene straight out of so many slasher films with Pam being stalked in the school’s locker room shower by a hideous monster (perhaps foreshadowing Amy Steel’s career in the Friday the 13th films?). But just as the suspense hits its peak we’re reminded that we’re watching The Powers of Matthew Star, & a stereotypical “Hollywood director” (Bill Daily) yells “cut!”
The episode feels almost as if it was patched together from bits & pieces of unused footage as it’s not entirely clear what it’s about at first; there are long, drawn-out scenes the school kids acting in the movie (including Matt’s girlfriend, Amy), Matt playing on the football team, & Shep interacting on behalf of Principal Heller with the film company to make sure everything runs smoothly.
What we do get, however, is some nice motorcycle stunt work (the episode’s title is Daredevil, after all) & some behind-the-scenes insight on how stunts were done before CGI through the eyes of this fictional filmmaker. With Pete angling to become a stunt man himself, Matt will need to use his powers to make sure none of the stunts go wrong…& in what has to be the most clumsy, irresponsible film company to ever walk the face of the universe, these mishaps are aplenty.
This was the first episode that led into Knight Rider on Friday nights, no doubt priming audiences for more auto stunts to come.
Genius (October 8, 1982)
Enjoyable outing written by Tom Greene & directed by Bob Claver with some fun, soapy relationship drama thrown into the mix. The Genius in question is Monica (Margaret Fitzgerald), a nerdy classmate of Matt’s who’s a whiz at science, & she’s about to win a scholarship after creating a new paint she hopes to sell to the Halsey Research Institute (which is also a paint conglomerate, naturally). But like kryptonite to Superman, something in Monica’s paint causes Matt adverse effects, weakening his telekinesis power. Oh, & if the paint heats to over 100 degrees, it explodes!
Fitzgerald is fantastic as the nerdy, science-obsessed teen whose parents (Alan North & Fay DeWitt) comically worry about her lack of boyfriends. The danger in this episode is typical of the series (Oh no – the paint is dangerous!), but where this one really shines is in the teen drama incorporated into the plot. In order to get to the secret recipe Monica’s concocted to make the paint, Matt must find a way to get close to her, resulting in his asking her out on a date. But to do this, he must break a date with girlfriend Pam, who in turn begins seeing blonde stud Jerry (David Wysocki, credited here as David Wallace). When Pam first catches Matt in his lie while he’s hanging out with Monica at a party, & then catches the two kissing, you can legitimately feel the tension! It’s only too bad this plotline couldn’t have continued in later episodes because cool girl Pam & science nerd Monica are great as natural-but-likeable enemies.
The pre-CGI effects continue to impress me, especially for early eighties television. When Matt loses his power temporarily he must practice to bring them back, including a cute scene where he plays ping-pong…by himself! (He controls the opposing ping-pong paddle using his telekinesis.)
Meanwhile, Shep spends the episode in full-on Jim Rockford con-man mode, using his charm to impersonate a businessman, a computer tech, & even a phone repairman to intercept a call, all to aid Matt in shutting down the paint factory before the deadly substance can be produced!
Prediction (October 15, 1982)
It turns out Matt isn’t the only one with otherworldly powers. When he & Pam are hanging with friends doing what ’80s high schoolers do–drag racing–Matt realizes he can read the mind of hottie blonde Becky (played by Suzanne Adkinson, introduced with a close-up of her ass in tight jeans as she struts by, making the boys blush & the other girls jealous), who has psychic premonitions of awful things to come. When she bumps her head after boyfriend Bob (Chip Frye) almost wrecks his sweet, red, new-for-82 Pontiac Trans-Am during a drag race, it releases her “psychic power,” springing Matt into action to help her.
The various violence Becky sees in her future premonitions (which Matt sees, too) provides the catalyst for Matt to use his powers to thwart the awful things she sees that are going to happen to those around her. But as in the previous episode, Genius, Matt’s obsessive need to help Becky causes a rift with girlfriend Pam & pisses off Bob, Becky’s beau. On top of that, Becky’s father (Arthur Roberts) is an overprotective policeman, further complicating matters.
One funny, dated scene has Matt attempting to chase Becky into the girl’s locker room after gym class & then creeping outside, waiting for her…innocuous in 1982; unintentionally funny today. Another sees the whole gang, including Pam’s new friend Kay (Lenora May) & a bevy of guy pals I couldn’t keep straight (including Steve Peck, Joe Taggart, & Brian Kale) boogie their asses off at a bumpin’ house party, complete with early 80s dance moves & clothing–a great look at what a post-disco/early New Wave-era dance party might have looked like. But hey, they’re responsible kids, drinking Coke instead of booze, even if the party ends when a massive brawl breaks out & the cops have to show up to sort it out.
At this rate, Matthew Star’s teen drama almost outweigh his supernatural problems–was life ever this hard for E’Hawke on Quadris??
Italian Caper (October 29, 1982)
From high school drama to international intrigue. General Tucker needs Matt & Shep’s help recovering a sophisticated piece of American military tech stolen by terrorists in Italy (played with hilarious Italian accents by Robert Davi, Michael Tucci & Alex Rodine). Teaming with Gen. Tucker’s old war friend (Michael Constantine) & his beautiful daughter, Adrianna (Donna Cyrus), Matt must put his powers to the test to thwart baddies looking to sell the technology to the highest bidder.
This episode is an interesting departure from the preceding one, Prediction, switching out typical, sweet teen drama for international man-of-action adventure…and the following episode, Winning, which takes us back to the smaller, high school based drama.
This outing reminds me of the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, which features similar supporting characters & a similar military device used as a MacGuffin that everyone’s after (the Bond film was released the previous year). When the team must make a fake lookalike AGD (the name of the war tech everyone’s after), you can’t help but wonder if those responsible for later shows The A-Team & MacGyver were watching.
Some laugh-out-loud scenes include the three terrorists spying from a balcony while being served tea (complete with cups on saucers); Adrianna’s continual botching of American figures of speech (“Absence makes the heart grow fatter.”); & Pam’s (relegated to a small “over the phone” role) attempts to land Bruce Springsteen or The Police for the school dance in Matt’s absence (she lands neither & has to settle for unknowns The Moving Violations).
Winning (November 5, 1982)
From battling terrorists in Italy to fighting for Crestridge High’s starting quarterback job, The Powers of Matthew Star attempts full-on social commentary in this outing featuring an uncharacteristically mean Matthew Star. When Matt tires of being the ball boy for the football team, he uses his powers to stand out as a viable alternative to starting quarterback Tony Garcia (David Labiosa), a bad-boy Latino from a bad part of town who further strengthens Matt’s resolve when he begins openly flirting with Pam.
The wild theme shifts from episode-to-episode had me wondering if there was more to this simple teen drama story. (Also, wasn’t Matt already playing QB on the school’s football team in a previous episode?) Barry Van Dyke is good as the muscular jock head football coach who places wins over grades, which doesn’t sit well with Shep (“You flunked Garcia so that kid of yours can play!” he yells at Shep before throwing a punch at him.)
The football sequence that closes out the episode is overlong, padding out the episode & likely pissing off viewers who weren’t football fans. But it’s surprisingly well done; if I’m not mistaken, the director here (Ron Satlof again) may know a thing or two about the game as it’s staged quite well, especially for early 80s television. Despite redemption for all by episode’s end, a lot if it is a drag; nobody wants to see Matthew Star acting like a complete d*ck.
This episode on VEI’s DVD set appears sourced from a video master, with a softer picture & occasional imperfections you’d expect from video tape. The titles & credits appear “Chyron’ed”, as if added later from a video editor’s title generator. It gives the episode a look reminiscent of late 80s syndicated programs, often edited straight to video in that era. (It should also be noted that this isn’t the fault of VEI, who simply licenses & releases the material as they received it from CBS/Paramount).
Endurance (a.k.a. Survival) (November 12, 1982)
Part of the fun of a teen-set show like The Powers of Matthew Star is seeing Matt’s various high school “friends” from episode-to-episode, only to never see them again (having recently reviewed Beverly Hills, 90210‘s first season, I noted the same thing.) Barry Van Dyke returns in his second and final appearance as Coach Curtis who along with Shep leads Matt’s class into the mountainous wilderness on a class project to build a “survival shack” for folks who get lost in the woods (noble!). Funny how Coach Curtis & Shep seem like good ol’ buds now, just one episode removed from Coach’s attempted cheating to win football games & throwing a punch at Shep (both fire-able offenses, no?).
But what an adventure! After surviving an episode-opening rock climb that results in Pam’s suffering a sprained ankle, the danger keeps ratcheting up! Should the gang fear the mountain lion that’s on the loose? What about the buried human remains they find near camp? Or perhaps, maybe they should be concerned about the two escaped mental patients from the local asylum that may be hiding out in the hills. (Hey Crestridge High, I think these kids’ parents may have something to say at the next school bard meeting!)
Fun is had with student guest stars, including stud-boy Ted (Grant Wilson) who’s at odds with nerdy tech geek Fletcher (Michael Chieffo); cutie Anne (Jennifer Parsons) & sexy scared-y cat Lisa (Krista Errickson), who manages some pretty good slasher-movie screams in between complaints about “roughin’ it.”
Good pacing with a nice, simple twist at the end.
Triangle (November 19, 1982)
The first of back-to-back episodes featuring behind-the-camera involvement of Star Trek alums, Leonard Nimoy helms this outing (Walter Koenig scripts the next) & it certainly carries a classic Trek charm, right down to the score, which is reminiscent of that earlier sci-fi classic. When Pam’s treasure-hunting uncle (Robert Sampson) crash lands on a mysterious island inhabited by some shadowy, mystical visitors, Matt joins Pam on a search and rescue mission to the islands off the Florida coast.
Learning of this, Shep enlists General Tucker’s help & charters a chopper to the island to assist Matt, who finds his powers matched by mystical forces on the island, brought to the fore when he comes face to face with an elderly couple (John Corey and the Catwoman herself, Julie Newmar) from his home planet of Quadris.
With help from a freelance pilot/pirate named Nicky (Rudy Solari), the gang seeks to recover a lost Quadrian artifact while also rescuing Pam’s uncle in this adventure straight from the Raiders of the Lost Ark mold. Fun stuff, just in time for November sweeps! Bonus points for Pam’s sweet-ass 80s birthday party, held at her sweet-ass home (turns out, her family is rich!)
Mother (November 26, 1982)
Star Trek alum Walter Koenig pens this outing that further adds to the series mystique as more assassins (Jeff Cooper, Don Stroud, Jeff Davis) are dispatched from Quadris to take out Matt & Shep. But this time, a woman disguised as a carnival fortune teller is on hand to help our heroes, & it would’ve been a fun surprise had the episode’s title not been a spoiler (this is only true of the DVD set & its menu; the episodes as aired do not visually show episode titles).
Also fun is watching stubborn, ever-persistent Pam refusing to be ditched yet again, insisting on tagging along with Matt on his latest “mission.” Will she finally learn his secret? Futuristic laser guns, otherworldly throwing stars, & general telekinetic badassery are on display in the fight scenes, along with some explosions & genuinely creepy scenes at the carnival, including the final battle in the hall of mirrors.
Will Matt & his mother (Tricia O’Neil, Star Trek: The Next Generation) be able to reunite & live happily ever after back on Quadris? Don’t count on it…
Experiment (December 10, 1982)
Save the dolphins! When Matt visits a local marine mammal park with his class for a school project, he finds those in charge of the park are using an experimental drug on one of the dolphins by giving it numerous needlepoint injections. How does Matt know this? Because Susie the Dolphin can speak to him (in strange, creepy, high-pitched English)!
The man in charge, Dr. Simon Barnard (John Reilly), is a smooth operator but prone to panicking just as he closes in on perfecting his experimental drug. Enter his associate, Dana Eastland (Amanda McBroom), president of the park’s Eastland Labs, who aggressively (& flirtatiously) puts Dr. Barnard at ease, especially after she’s found a buyer for her firm’s drug.
Poor Susie the Dolphin; if crap like this routinely happens at marine parks, it’s no wonder activists want to shut them all down. Thankfully, Quadrians learned to speak to dolphins decades ago, making it possible for Matt to help Susie. (So…there’s dolphins on Quadris? Who knew!).
Strangely, classmate Bob (Chip Frye) makes a return appearance in the early field trip to the park scene, joining Matt, Pam & other classmates, where he makes a smartass comment to Matt before disappearing for the remainder of the episode (he’d return once more in the next episode). A strange outing with a happy ending.
This is the second of three episodes that appear sourced from a video tape master. It’s not as obviously soft & blown out as Winning was, but those Chyron-style credits & occasional speed-up in the video are dead giveaways. Again, this may be all that exists for these episodes. (They don’t look bad on their own, just not as good compared to the episodes taken from film masters).
Fugitives (December 17, 1982)
This is it! The end of the road for The Powers of Matthew Star as the original 13-episode order ends (12 episodes plus the still-unaired pilot)…or is it?
In this outing, directed by Jeffrey Hayden, Matthew gets into trouble when he allows himself to be photographed by a doctor Pam is interning with to test a new machine, which means Shep has to sneak in to destroy the prints before they realize Matthew has two hearts and 15 ribs! But a mishap puts Shep on life support, meaning Matt now has to save Shep by stealing some drugs from the local pharmacy. When Matt is caught by police & arrested, he becomes a fugitive as he races the clock in order to save Shep from certain death while being harassed by the aggressive doctor (Sam Weisman) who knows something isn’t quite right with Shep’s Quadrian make-up.
Decent story, but an unsatisfactory end to the series as it was originally conceived, with Pam never learning the info she seeks concerning the double-alien life Matt & Shep lead. Sadly, we never see or hear from Pam again (not counting the pilot episode, burned off as the final aired episode at the end of the season). One of Pam’s memorable final lines, “I feel like a gangster’s girlfriend,” adequately sums up her experience trying to date Matthew Star during this first half-season.
At this point, the show would leave the airwaves for over a month, returning 35 days later in late January of 1983 with a completely different format. For better or worse, The Powers of Matthew Star would never be the same.
(This episode on the DVD set also appears sourced from a video master.)
Matthew Star, D.O.A. (January 21, 1983)
It’s a new year & a new show for The Powers of Matthew Star. Matthew’s still in high school (apparently), but he’s suddenly single & chasing new hottie Kerri Saxon (Amanda Wyss) & Pam is nowhere to be found. In a bit of expository dialogue between Matt & Walt during a car ride, we learn that General Tucker has moved on to bigger & better things within the military & a new government contact, Major Wymore (James Karen), is their new liaison (& he contacts them using a signal that lights up gaudy rings on Matt’s & Shep’s fingers). Now that Matt has new & improved abilities (astral projection – he can walk through walls!), he may as well put them to good use.
At this point, the show takes on an adventure-of-the-week format, with Matt & Walt essentially agents for the government, and Major Wymore setting them up on various missions, including this week’s which has the duo dealing with some hokum involving dead criminals who may not be dead after all. The story has some decent action & car chases for the era, but some of the charm from the earlier episodes is lost despite the attempt at shoehorning in a teen subplot with Matt fending off Kerri’s overprotective brothers (Demetre Phillips & Phil Brock) during a silly bowling trip.
If all of this sounds confusing, it kind of is; there’s little sense to it all & it plays out like part action/adventure, part slapstick rom-com, & part origin story (& by origin, I mean those scenes where they explain what Matt & Walt have been up to now that everything’s, uhhh, different.
A new production team took over the show beginning with this episode (executive produced by Bruce Lansbury, taking over from Harve Bennett), complete with a new opening theme & a heavy analog synthesizer score, giving the show a more eighties sci-fi feel.
The Racer’s Edge (January 28, 1983)
Simple, fun, zippy adventure. After meeting Maj. Wymore & receiving their orders, Matt & Walt (Matt no longer refers to him as Shep now) infiltrate a motocross event where they’re to protect Caroline Ashley (Doran Clark), a young motorcyclist participating in the Desert Dune Dirt Bike Race. To do this, Matt enters the race & deals with a host of unsavory characters along the way, from would-be kidnappers to cocky fellow racers who aren’t happy seeing another potential rival enter the fold. Walt, meanwhile, oversees everything by sleuthing around as a motorcycle mechanic. Joel Brooks is comic relief as an annoying reporter hellbent on getting the scoop for his magazine about up-and-comer Caroline.
A pattern appears to be emerging with Matt meeting various women from episode-to-episode. Here, he’s flirts with Terri (Katherine Kelly Lang, Bold & the Beautiful) while playing a friendly game of darts to start the episode, then falls for Caroline during the motorcycle adventure, only to end the show back with Terri, who storms out of his bedroom when it’s obvious his mind is on something (or someone) else.
It’s lighthearted silliness, but if subsequent episodes match the fun adventure of this outing, it’s palatable.
Dead Man’s Hand (February 11, 1983)
A fun, engaging little caper penned by David Bennett Carren. After receiving orders from Wymore (it feels like a Mission: Impossible briefing & they know it — Matt & Walt make fun of Wymore’s clandestine meeting as such), Matt & Walt infiltrate a Las Vegas casino whose owner fixes games involving prominent government & business figures, letting them win big to gain their confidence, then causing their downfall in order to “help them out” in exchange for political favors.
At this point, The Powers of Matthew Star is no longer selling itself as sci-fi fantasy, instead hoping to appeal to the straight action fans (& spy/intrigue fans to a lesser extent) to nab some of that bigger audience tuning in to lead-outs Knight Rider (despite its sci-fi leanings) & Remington Steele. The lack of showcase for Matt’s powers are evidence of this, & much of the episode plays out before Matt ever uses any of his powers, & even then it’s for comedic relief when he attempts to help a long-in-the-tooth magician (James Somack) playing to a small house at the casino. It’s here that Matt meets make-out-of-the-week Lisa (Judie Aronson), daughter of a cop that’s soon to be set up by the casino owner’s (Richard Herd) scam.
An amusing pop culture moment occurs when Walt walks into Matt’s bedroom to drag him along to the meeting with Wymore: Matt is glued to the television which is nearing the climax of a soap opera (you don’t see the visuals, but you hear the audio). Walt, who tries to slag it off as “a waste of time” & an “insult to your intelligence,” finds himself sucked in as well. With rapt attention, they both intently watch to find out “Who shot Big Boy Cooper.” Was it “Mary Sue, the wife”? Just as they’re about to find out, an announcer interrupts, telling viewers to stay tuned for the final shocking moments of “Waco” after a commercial break. In February 1983, Dallas fever was still ratcheted up across the country, with that rival CBS show topping the ratings year after year. It was only natural for a show with a fraction of Dallas‘s audience on the last-place network to poke fun at the whole Who shot J.R. phenomenon.
Like Peter Barton & Amy Steele, guest star Judie Aronson would also later appear in a Friday the 13th sequel (1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter).
36 Hours (February 18, 1983)
At Parkland Space Center, the mission control crew nears the end of a successful mission where their Artemis space shuttle has released a satellite into space. Now, it’s time to bring home the astronauts. But Parkland Space Center is apparently not NASA, & security sucks. A small fire truck is allowed onto the base &, instead of putting out a fire, the crew hooks up their hose to Parkland’s mission control offices & gasses the mission control operators into unconsciousness. This allows them to steal an important piece of tech needed to safely land the astronauts! They have 36 hours before the shuttle lands with no landing gear.
Enter Matt & Walt, recruited by Wymore, who must discover just what in Sam Hell is going on in the great state of Texas, while going under cover to infiltrate a high-level coverup that includes the government & an agent (Joshua Bryant) who impersonates good guy Colonel Ezra Conlan (Scott Hylands) with a perfect disguise.
Can Walt pass himself off as an Air Force colonel who has to read a jet’s instruction manual while he’s flying it to remain undercover? Can Matt impersonate a cowboy while visiting the local honky-tonk to find out who the strong-arm boys are? Will reporter Lara Boston (Penny Peyser), who hangs out at such places, be able to keep her hands off of him? And when Matt & Lara finally do make out, will viewers wonder if Matt’s still a 16-year-old high school student?
The Quadrian Caper (February 25, 1983)
When Wymore’s nerdy banker nephew (Gary Imhoff ) “borrows” an expensive necklace from a safety deposit box & can’t return it due to his bank’s new security system, Wymore reluctantly calls upon Walt & Matt to see if they can return the necklace without detection. This farce coincides with the release of a convicted professional thief named Deke (Dennis Lipscomb) who, along with the gorgeous daughter of his dead partner (Laura Johnson), decides to rob the the same bank at the exact same time Matt & Walt are attempting to return the necklace. Now, the bad guys have the necklace and want to use Matt & Walt’s safe-cracking abilities for their next theft: the diamonds Deke’s former associate Frank (played with Hugh Hefner-like gusto by Felice Orlandi) kept after their last score 12 years earlier that landed Deke in jail.
The final sequence where Deke’s criminal team raids Frank’s expansive mansion compound to steal back the diamonds he feels are rightfully his is fun & complex, giving the story a true caper feel.
Some truly early-80s imagery is also fun to see, in particular the Disco Disco Disco (that’s what the sign says!) nightclub, complete with 1983-appropriate fixtures & vinyl record music system.
Also enjoyable is Laura Johnson’s femme fatale performance, truly coming across as a b*tch you shouldn’t mess with. Her flirtation with (and then discarding of) Matt in the episode’s final moments are pulpy fun, & it’s again apparent that The Powers of Matthew Star has all but abandoned the original premise that Matthew is a teenager in high school (I certainly didn’t get that many older women when I was in high school!).
Brain Drain (March 4, 1983)
Wild, bizarre, fun outing features a precursor to online dating & some dangerous ladies date-raping their clients.
When a famous economist (Richard Venture) disappears, Wymore puts Matt & Walt on the case, who find that Weston, a man who runs Heart’s Desire Dating Service (always game John Vernon), has been drugging & kidnapping geniuses from all over the world.
Walt & Matt infiltrate the dating service, each looking to score a date using the service’s high-tech matching technology that somehow determines your “passion review” to find a compatible partner. But watch out! Each time one of these men wind up in their date’s room, Weston’s women (Sharon Acker, Anne-Marie Martin, Sheila DeWindt, Lynn Longos) squeeze some knock-out juice into their date’s champagne from a pouch hidden on their ring finger. Can Matt & Walt discover the sham & use it to their advantage to track down the missing economist?
Some truly funny moments in this one. When Walt plays macho to score a date through the service, he’s hooked up to their machines to find his passion score…& the woman giving him the test says, “According to your passion review, there’s enough of you for 20 women,” to which Walt replies with a smirk, “Well. Whaddya know about that!”
Elsewhere, Matt & Walt now drive a big boaty station wagon…when did they change cars? And why doesn’t Matt try to romance the economist’s daughter (Lisa Lucas)? Also, the in-episode and end-credits are now yellow (not sure what goes into such a decision, but yellow they are).
The Great Waldo Shepherd (March 11, 1983)
When a friend of Matt’s & Walt’s (Terrence E. McNally) has his airplane stolen as part of an organized crime ring, the bad guys wind up with more than just another plane to to re-sell on the back market: top secret government documents were left in the plane detailing a sophisticated government weapon (as always). Now, these international weapons traffickers (Scott Marlowe & Christopher Goutman) have something more valuable to sell…if they can dodge an undercover government agent (Gracie Harrison) unwittingly helping our heroes to solve the mystery.
To get to the bottom of it, Matt & Walt go undercover as ace stunt flyers in an air show, complete with Matt acting as “wing man” (i.e. standing on the wing while Walt pilots the plane & performs stunts). When Walt flies a little too wildly for Matthew, the youngster calls out from the wing prompting Walt to reply, “Gotta give the folks a little something for their money, Matthew,” which Matt in turn says, “Walt, this is 1983, they don’t expect anything!”
A decent but silly little caper, with a nice turn by Goutman as the heavy, believable as a macho, badass, eighties jerk. Also watch for some great pre-CGI miniature work in the aerial dogfight during the show’s final act, likely done by Jack Sessums, whose studio did miniatures for many television shows & movies of the time. I also dig that Bond-lite hidden lair the criminals operate from.
Oh, & the in-episode & end-credits are once again fonted in white (nobody cares…but in case you’re keeping score).
Road Rebels (March 25, 1983)
Great episode (as far these second half-season shows go)… Matt & Walt infiltrate a gang of street racers committing burglaries & stealing “laser crystals” (what else!) for a crime syndicate that’s selling them on the black market (does this set-up sound familiar yet?). Matt goes undercover as one of the street racers & joins the gang while Wymore sets Walt up with cover as a police officer. Why? Because they think it’s an inside job, and the cops may be involved.
At this late point in the series, The Powers of Matthew Star may as well be called Matt & Shep: Secret Agents as Matthew’s powers (& any backstory related to home planet Quadris) has all but vanished, taking a backseat to more conventional action/adventure P.I. crime drama. That said, writer Mark Jones & director Barbara Peeters still deliver a great piece of early eighties genre television, hitting all the marks you want to see in such fluffy fare.
By now, so few people had seen the show that it probably doesn’t matter when that sweet, sweet, red Pontiac Trans-Am appears once again, this time belonging to Matt (or perhaps it was licensed to him by Wymore from the government for use on this mission?), who uses it to showboat his way into the street gang (watch the stunt driver almost crash that car while negotiating a corner at high speed!).
Gossett is pro as always, ping-ponging between serious & comedic, delivering a great performance-within-a-performance as a cop tracking Matt’s gang down. Cute Felicia Lansbury is chick-of-the-week who falls for Matt after tiring of street gang leader Brad’s (Jon Gries) general rudeness, much to Brad’s consternation.
Director Peeters does a nice job of building suspense around Matt’s cover, showing his slow ascent to gang wheel-man, with some well-staged action set pieces paced at nice intervals. A great incidental synth score here also.
Swords and Quests (April 8, 1983)
So this is it? The series finale? The end of this short-lived, quaint little sci-fi diversion? Well, sort of…if you’re watching in a semi-logical order (see the next entry for more info on that). Alas, it wasn’t the last “original” episode to air, though it should have been.
And we get a fun, spooky outing directed by star Louis Gossett Jr. that taps into a poplar trend of the time — role play gaming.
“I invoke the shield of invulnerability! Be gone, werewolf!” intones a college-aged nerd at the beginning of the episode while playing
Dungeons and Dragons Swords and Quests, a role-playing game where teams search for clues leading to victory while battling a mysterious “Sorcerer,” a masked, helmeted, black-robed man who looks like a cross between the Grim Reaper and a budget Darth Vader. Matthew is recruited by his friend Steven (Kevin Hooks) to help him play–and win–the game, alongside fellow friends & teammates Mandy (Michele Tobin) & Herb (Jim Greenleaf). Before long, it’s clear the Sorcerer isn’t playing nice & some people aren’t who they seem, & Mandy’s father, a science professor at the college, may somehow be involved.
In another jump in series logic, Matt is now portrayed as a college student…or at least as someone who has college friends. The action takes place at fictional Kingston State University, and the story plays as sort of an homage to those early episodes where Matt juggled high school troubles with the burden of managing his otherworldly powers. Even the Mandy character comes off as a Pam knockoff (Amy Steele’s character from the aborted first half-season); she’s a feisty redhead who’s sort of Matt’s girlfriend, sort of not.
Some good dialogue in this one, including these gems: “Are you okay, Matthew”? asks Mandy to a dizzy Matt before telling him, “Must be those tight jeans.” Later, in a scene where Matt draws his sword (they all wear sword-n-sorcery garb as part of the game) when the Sorcerer appears, he nails this double entendre: “Try anything funny and you’ll taste my steel!” His friends amusingly react with awkward side-stares. I’m guessing it made more sense to place Matt in a college setting as some of these more adult lines may have been deemed inappropriate for a high school setting.
All in all, good direction by Gossett and an eerie, mysterious story that plays on some dark themes, and with a fun, Scooby-Doo twist ending. It’s a satisfying episode as far as Powers of Matthew Star episodes go, but not satisfying as a series finale. With one more episode left to air, do we get that satisfying conclusion? Do we get to see Matt & Walt return to Quadris? Does Matt fulfill his destiny to become the planet’s savior? Or will we get just another regular episodic adventure?
Turns out, we got something completely different…
Starr Knight (April 15, 1983)
It’s The Powers of
Matthew David Star. That’s right; the network, probably demanding a 22-episode run from the production, aired as the series finale its previously unseen pilot episode shot in 1981, complete with different casting & even a name change for the title character, who goes by David here instead of Matthew.
Written by series creator Steven E. de Souza & directed by Ivan Nagy, the few viewers still tuning in may have switched it off from the get-go; the episode begins with the same pre-credits backstory from the first half of the season followed by the original opening credits, featuring Amy Steele & Louis Gossett Jr. But viewers who stuck with it would soon see that, although Steele’s character Pam made the cut, Gossett is nowhere to be found. He doesn’t appear. In his place is Max (Gerald S. O’Loughlin), a handyman at Crestridge High, whom
Matt David lives with.
What’s interesting to see is which story aspects carried over, and which changed when the series proper went to air a year following the production of this pilot episode (the series was delayed from its planned 1981 launch due to an on-set accident involving pyrotechnics that badly burned star Peter Barton). In this version, fatherly Max has joined
Matt David as his guardian from Quadris, much like the Gossett’s Walter Shepherd character, but Matt David is unaware of his telekinetic powers until he unwittingly uses them to save himself, Pam, & fellow students from dying in a runaway school bus with no brakes (sound familiar? It’s the same sequence used in the first aired episode, Jackal).
This version of the show is more serious & adult, with an emphasis on
Matt’s David’s struggle to find out who he is, & why strange things are happening to him, all while wishing to be a normal teenager like his friends. And speaking of friends, it’s easy to see why Amy Steele remained on as Pam; she’s a great foil & an interesting character in her own right — a tomboy-ish teen who, like Matt David, just wants to live life as a typical teen, but finds it a struggle considering her parents are rich, arrogant, & in one scene, perhaps racist. She’s portrayed as the sane, down-to-earth member of her family, while her parents look down their noses at Matt David, a mere “son of a janitor.”
Also invoking drama are some of
Matt’s David’s fellow classmates, particularly Maxwell Caulfield (spelled Caufield, without the ‘L’, in the opening credits) as the requisite bully who picks on Matt David at every opportunity, especially when it’s clear Pam is more interested in Matt David than him.
More emotional heft comes from
Matt’s David’s push-back against Max, who he no longer wants protecting him (“You’re not my dad!” he exclaims). But in the end, with Matthew David growing into his superhuman powers, he comes around & realizes Max is a suitable father figure after all.
Starr Knight would have set up a similar series had the show continued when it was planned (in the fall of 1981), but instead we got what we got, with both the good (Louis Gossett Jr.) & the bad (a mid-season genre shift) that came along with it. According to The Complete Encyclopedia of Television, original working titles included Knight Star, Star Prince, The Powers of David Star, & The Powers of Daniel Star.
Thankfully for fans of The Powers of Matthew Star, this episode aired & is included in VEI’s complete series DVD collection as a study in what might have been as well as an interesting look into how a television show can change from its original concept to what winds up on the air.