I was inspired to dig up this posts old television series when a UK friend asked on twitter if it had been a real show or just a figment of his imagination. It was indeed a real show. And one that I remember fondly. No matter how ridiculous the plot actually was.
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!
Simon MacCorkindale, a lovely British actor (RIP, he passed away in 2010), portrayed the lead character. This is my second strongest memory of his performance- the first being his role as game hunter in Jaws 3. But even thinking of that role inspires me to watch Manimal. So there’s that.
Alright, back to the plot- essentially, as a boy Chase was taught the secrets that connect man and animal and used this knowledge to transform himself into any animal he chose. Say what? Yes, he could turn into animals. And no, he wasn’t a mutant, he wasn’t cursed, the world around him wasn’t smoking crack… he just new how to shapeshift. And while he could become any animal, he pretty much stuck to a hawk and a panther (he appeared as those animals in every episode, though also turned into a dolphin, horse, bear, and others). Honestly, I think it’s the panther that truly stuck with me- I’m a cat person and that was a beautiful beast. So why did this wealthy young man opt to randomly change into an animal? Well, to help the police solve crimes, obviously. Isn’t that why this sort of thing happens?
The opening episode presents a robbery and introduces the three main characters- Chase, his friend Ty Earl, and Detective Brooke Mackenzie. Of course, Ty knows Chase’s secret, but now Mackenzie does too, which leads to Chase’s connection to the police and explains why Manimal helps solve crimes. It makes perfect sense. Clearly.
The show premiered in the fall of 1983 and ran for 8 episodes. It lives on airing on Syfy occasionally. Look, it’s cheesy. But it’s fun. Kill an afternoon and enjoy some 80’s silliness.