The Boob Tube #4: Quark

The unprecedented success of Star Wars resulted in a sci-fi boom in the late seventies. Not the gigantic insects invading earth variety (like in the fifties); this time it was the "space opera" that captured our attention. And so, Hollywood gave us things like Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, The Black Hole, Logan's Run (TV series) and Flash Gordon.... but where were the science fiction sitcoms? Sitcoms were in their prime in the late seventies, so it seemed the logical thing to do: capitalize on the sci-fi craze with a situation comedy! Surprisingly, I can't think of any attempts in the U.S. to do this (Mork & Mindy doesn't count)... that is except for the short lived series Quark.

The series had all the makings for success with Buck Henry at the helm. A pre-Love at First Bite Richard Benjamin plays "Adam Quark", an interstellar garbageman, with his usual smirky flair.

I was also glad to see the talented Conrad Janis (Mindy's dad on Mork & Mindy) as Quark's boss. The show even had tons of sex appeal with two former Doublemint twins as Quark's sidekick clones - the Bettys. Yowza!

It's like Janet and Chrissy, but in space! How could this series possibly fail? It looks like pure gold on paper.

So what happened? Why did it tank? First of all, most of the jokes miss their mark by a mile. Watching Quark's pet alien Ergo attack him was nothing short of awkward. Even the canned laugh track couldn't make this scene funny. The show is full of poorly executed gags.

If that wasn't bad enough, the ship engineer is a "transmute" - a being who is gender confused, flipping between macho male and flamboyant female personalities. As you can imagine, this gag gets tired after about five minutes.

Plus, there's a lot of inside jokes that only sci-fi fans would get. Let me illustrate: in one episode an otherworldly Source speaks to Quark from the great beyond. An unarmed Quark must put his complete trust in the Source to defend himself against the laser blasts from the gender confused humanoid and the Bettys.

It took even me, a sci-fi geek, a few minutes to get that The Source was a spoof of The Force, and that Richard Benjamin was reenacting the scene from Star Wars where Luke is introduced to The Force on the Millennium Falcon. (yawn) A real riot.

This is really the crux of the problem. The show's strong points can't override the fact that Quark is essentially just a parody- and how many successful TV shows can you think of that are primarily parodies? In other words, Spaceballs was funny, but I wouldn't want to watch it every week. Buck Henry spoofed the spy genre with Get Smart, but the gags came first and spoofing second.

From Left: The Bettys, the gender confused Gene/Jean, Adam Quark, and the Spock spoof, Ficus.
All in all, the show wasn't too terrible. I'd give it a score somewhere between CPO Sharkey and Love, American Style. However, I have to admit the last few episodes showed real signs of improvement and it started to grow on me. In fact, given a little time it could have developed into a very entertaining program.


  1. Hey Gil. I had never heard of this one before. So how many episodes did this last? I couldn't really think of any space sitcoms. I loved Spaceballs, but not sure I would watch to see a weekly tv series of it. Not sure that space and comedy work together on a weekly basis. This show does sound pretty bad.

  2. Yeah, it was pretty lame. But as I mentioned, I think it would have been good if it'd been given a chance and gotten all that spoofing out of its system. Like I said, it had all the elements for success - if only the gags didn't fall so darn flat.

  3. Ken TuckyJuly 08, 2009

    You're right that it's rarely funny. The idea is better than the execution. Reading a synopsis of the show would be better than seeing the show itself, because it sounds hilarious on paper.
    And I agree with your observation that the show gets better with each episode, and if NBC has stuck with it, it might have turned into a very funny show. I've watched four of the eight episodes, and each one is funnier than the one before it. The pilot is by far the worst -- ironic, because it was written by comedy legend Buck Henry.
    Watching it today, I just wish the writers had done a better job of "punching up" the scripts. The characters and storylines are fine. Love Quark, Ficus, the twins, Andy the Robot, the Head. But individual jokes and dialogue just aren't that funny.
    I usually hate to advocate doing a "remake" of anything, but this show begs for it. Take the same idea, execute it better, and it could be hilarious.

  4. Nice Betties!

  5. Quark also suffered from "timeslot shuffle". Too many "more important" shows and specials took precedence. The audience that the show managed to gather, was scattered by the simple inability to find it again after one of these timeslot changes. Gene/Jean was truly annoying due to the brazen and inaccurate gender stereotypes constantly interrupting the flow of jokes, rather than adding to them. The cast, IMO, did a pretty good job of working the material that was available to them. Remembering that in the 70s and 80s, series needed time to find their feet. This critical process, that took place in the first season of a new show, has largely been eliminated in modern series by a lot of behind-the-scenes massaging before it is brought to the small screen, but back then viewers seemed to be more patient and would allow shows to work out the bugs for a few episodes. A prime sci-fi example of this is in the first few episodes of Star Trek TNG... tedious, long winded and yet ended up running 7 seasons and spawning a bunch of movies as well. Quark seemed to have just about found its feet by episode 8, but sadly too late.