I guess if nothing else good came out of it, I can thank Stephen King’s very short-lived 1991 TV series “Golden Years” for my love of David Bowie’s music. I knew as soon as I heard that theme song (Bowie’s “Golden Years”, after which, obviously, the series was named), I knew I had to track it down, which I did on my mother’s ex-husband’s CHANGESBOWIE CD. The rest is history. As far as Bowie is concerned.
As for the series itself, things didn’t turn out quite so well.
“Golden Years” was designed as an ongoing TV series, but when it failed to be the ratings grab King and CBS had hoped it would be, the show was unceremoniously scrubbed without even offering a real ending for the fans who had stuck around. Originally I had planned on being one of those fans, but having just watched the entire 7-episode run, I realized I only made it to episode 5 before I just never saw the show on TV again, which, for the last 20-something years, has left me with the belief the show ended even worse than it actually had.
The story centers around Harlan Williams (Keith Szarabajka, THE DARK KNIGHT), a janitor for a military/scientific research lab where Dr. Todd hunter (Bill Raymond, THE CROW) is doing experiments with regeneration. One of those experiments goes awry and Harlan is caught in the blast. The result is that he begins aging backward, which is pretty good for the aging janitor who was in danger of losing his job because he couldn’t pass the eye exam. It’s not so good for Jude Andrews (R.D. Call, WATERWORLD), an agent of King’s shadow organization The Shop (the outfit responsible for the capture of Charlie McGee and her father in King’s FIRESTARTER), who is charged with covering up what happened to Harlan and bringing him in for further study.
Meanwhile the head of security at the facility where Harlan works, Terry Spann (Felicity Huffman, “Desperate Housewives”), and her boss, General Crews (Ed Lauter, “The X-Files”), are more interested in saving Harlan and his wife Gina (Frances Sternhagen, MISERY) from the sociopath Andrews.
Once things get rolling, the series becomes a cat and mouse game as Spann and Crews try to keep Harlan and Gina hidden and Andrews tries to discover their whereabouts and bring the janitor in for further study by the slowly unraveling Dr. Toddhunter.
It’s a fun series, but watching it now it’s so very dated it’s feels almost, at times, unwatchable.
Szarabajka does an excellent job as Harlan, totally immersing himself in the 70-something year old man to the point I didn’t recognize him at all and even after I realized who he was, had a hell of a time seeing him under the performance.
Huffman and Lauter do fine as the good guys, but the standout of the series has to be R.D. Call as Jude Andrews. There wasn’t a single likable thing about this man, and Call seemed to relish in the despicableness of his black ops character.
There’s not a lot one can say about “Golden Years”, really. It didn’t make enough of a splash to see a second season, and the ending--which originally had been a cliffhanger--had to be tweaked upon release of the videotape version of the series to something that was intended to bring some kind of closure but, in my opinion, just seemed even more confusing and unsatisfactory. In fact, if I hadn’t read about the alternate ending online, I would have had no idea at all what was “supposed” to have happened to the characters.
On the other hand, the original cliffhanger ending, had the series been picked up, could have been predicted by any layman how the series would have played out. This alternate ending, however, the aftermath is anyone’s guess and there was much more potential for future storylines.
Production quality on the series was on the cheap side, especially the scenes in Dr. Toddhunter’s lab where it looked like they’d borrowed some unused sets from some of the “Doctor Who” sets from the 80s, but only enough to fill the frame; I never got the sense that I was looking at part of a larger whole when I was in the lab, but instead felt like the shot had been dressed merely to fill that frame, but that the actors were standing in an otherwise empty room.
I also felt the writing was uneven. This may be because King only wrote the first five episodes while providing only the story for the last two, leaving Josef Anderson (“Slider”) to pen the scripts. Funny thing is, those last two episodes were the most exciting of the entire show.
“Golden Years” is available on DVD, but I can’t say it’s necessarily an essential addition to your King library, especially if you’ve never heard of it before now. If that’s the case, just move along and forget it ever existed, as I’m sure so many of those who worked on it did. If, however, you remember the series and only saw part of it and want to finish it off, saw none of it but were always curious, or saw all of it, and want to, for whatever reason, see it again, then by all means, give it a go. Just don’t expect top quality production value, because this thing has 1991 made-for-TV written all over it!
King on Film