blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Amazing Spider-Man (1977) s02e01 – The Captive Tower

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

A group of highly trained men takes over a state-of-the-art skyscraper. They are led by an enigmatic leader whose primary contact on the team is the computer wizard. They have rigged the roof to explode. They have thirty or so hostages on the thirtieth floor, and they are in control.

But there’s something they didn’t expect—they’re not in the pilot for “McClane,” which could’ve starred Tom Selleck in 1979—they’re in the second season premiere of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” and Nicholas Hammond is going to kick their ass. I mean, presumably Nicholas Hammond. While there are a handful of scenes you know it’s him in the costume, in most scenes, you know it isn’t him. Does it break the verisimilitude?

Yes and no. Captive Tower is a decent season premiere of an action stunt show. It’s very specific about how it works. Hammond (out of costume) hangs out in the first act, then is in and out for the rest of the episode. He checks in for exposition scenes and catch-ups with the supporting characters, but otherwise, it’s all costumed “Hammond.”

So it’s an action stunt show with a specific target market. Tween boys who are allowed to stay up at primetime, which is a weird advertising demographic for primetime. The Die Hard plot is so incontrovertible the show can’t help but be compelling. Even when the height of action drama is “Hammond” being woozy at the edge of the building.

Spider-Man’s lack of balance this end of the Spider-Verse also plays in when there’s a balancing on a tightrope sequence. Spider-Man’s bad at balance. What is even happening.

Basically, there’s just no promise of verisimilitude for it to fail. All the character work for the regular supporting cast stops before the halfway point. Chip Fields drops Hammond off at the assignment—presumably to borrow his new car (which will go on to be a regular on the season, but never a plot point). She does an exposition dump to help introduce new regular Ellen Bry, playing a rival photographer who can appear in the action plot but also be damsel and love interest at better rates than weekly ingenues.

Bry and Hammond bicker, touch a lot, then she’s background.

Ditto Robert F. Simon as J. Jonah Jameson. He gets a lot to do in the first act (though, at best, he’d just be setting himself up for an Ellis situation). But then he’s just around to tell the guest stars what to do. Like, literally. Either Hammond or Hans (David Sheiner) will tell everyone to do something, and Simon will tell people to do it. It’s busywork and very obviously where Tower proves the Die Hard structure needs, you know, some kind of artistic impulse.

Instead, the character drama is either about a terrorist’s fear of heights or the computer guy (Todd Susman) being in love with the computer. Does the computer talk to him? No. Is it visually impressive? No. Director Cliff Bole just gives Susman one shot after one shot about how much he loves the computer and how he’s got to seduce her into doing their… commands.

Sheiner’s bad. Susman’s bad, but not always. Hammond’s got his moments, and even though Tower features him definitely in the costume doing scenes with other characters—he talks to the other other agent Johnson—Spider-Man’s not a character who has any stakes. The cops aren’t even after him this season, apparently. The show replaced season one (and pilot movie) regular Michael Pataki with Bry for this season, only to bring in Ed Sancho-Bonet as a Pataki-like cop to negotiate with Sheiner.

Simon and Bry are both fine. Fields gets that opening scene to be charming and makes Hammond immediately better; he’s never better on the show than with her. If only she’d stayed past that actual opening scene.

But there’s more than enough “Spider-Man” action for the target audience.

And that Dana Kaproff score is dynamite.

One response to “The Amazing Spider-Man (1977) s02e01 – The Captive Tower”

  1. I remember seeing a Spider-Man movie on the big screen in the 1970s. Years later, I found out that they had made a movie out of a bunch of episodes from the TV show. Anyhow, I thought it was a fun movie (I liked Hammond as Parker).

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