Rewind: ‘Manimal’ revisited

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“Dr Jonathan Chase… wealthy, young, handsome. A man with the brightest of futures. A man with the darkest of pasts. From Africa’s deepest recesses, to the rarefied peaks of Tibet, heir to his father’s legacy and the world’s darkest mysteries. Jonathan Chase, master of the secrets that divide man from animal, animal from man… Manimal!”

What was is about?

Everyone loves a high concept TV series and it doesn’t come much higher than this. Dr Jonathan Chase is a square jawed hero with the frankly fantastic ability to transform, at will, into any animal. He uses these unnatural talents to fight crime.

Posing as a suave charmer and wilfully playing up to the stereotype of a wealthy playboy Brit abroad, ‘JC’ is paired with smart and pretty police detective Brook Mackenzie who uncovers his secret. Together with his old war buddy Ty Earl, they make an unlikely yet likeable crime fighting trio taking on gun runners, drug cartels and dodgy Bulgarian diplomats.

From the creative genius of Glen A Larson, producer of the original Battlestar Galatica, Magnum PI and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Manimal was a fantastical slice of 1980’s action adventure that owed more than a little to both The Incredible Hulk and Dr Doolittle.

Who was in it?

Simon MacCorkindale (Falcon Crest, Casualty) starred, with Melody Anderson (Flash Gordon) as Brooke Mackenzie. Stalwart US television actors Michael D. Roberts and Reni Santoni, who between them have notched up appearances in pretty much every 80’s and 90’s US TV series you can name, round out the cast with supporting roles as the comic best friend and Police Lieutenant boss respectively.

The pilot episode also guest starred original Bond girl Ursula Andress as a villainous glamourpuss.

Best moment?

The best moment of any Manimal episode had to be the transformations into with Hawk or Panther, which stand up pretty well today. Pre-CGI, it was all achieved with practical effects and designed by SFX guru Stan Winston, who went on to design the Terminator, Predator and the Queen from Aliens.

Best not to get too bogged down in what happened to JC’s ripped clothes after transformation though, as they miraculously reappeared undamaged every time – even if he was unconscious!

Last seen?

Debuting in 1983 against megasoap Dallas on the night the US found out who shot JR, Manimal struggled to make an impact. After the pilot and a mere seven regular episodes, the network pulled the plug due to low ratings. It was long enough to build a cult following in Europe and be well remembered though.

Fifteen years later, the Manimal returned for a guest spot in another Glen A Larson fantasy series. MacCorkindale reprised the role for an episode where he assisted the ‘Night Man’ in putting an end to the homicidal rampage of a time travelling Jack the Ripper.

The future?

Sadly Simon MacCorkindale passed away in 2010, but this vintage slice of 80’s cheese need never be further than your bookshelf as all eight episodes have just been released on DVD. Though it seems unlikely, in interview Glen A. Larson makes frequent references to a proposed movie version. Watch this space!

> Buy the boxset on Amazon.

What are your memories of Manimal? Let us know below…