"Misfits and Preconceptions"

Welcome to "Ask The A.V. Club," a weekly column in which the pop-culture experts at The A.V. Club attempt to answer your questions. Let's get right to it.

Dear A.V. Club,

I have been searching for the title of this for so long, I'm beginning to believe I invented the whole thing. When I was in elementary school (1985-89), I remember running around at recess pretending to be the characters from a TV show or movie about a bunch of people with extraordinary powers. One guy could shoot lightning out of his hands, and another guy could run really fast, and there was a girl (I think it was a girl) with ESP. I'm pretty sure there were other characters too, but these are the ones I'm sure about. It was like an A-Team-meets-X-Men hybrid that was live-action.

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Even with the advent of the Internet, I have been unable to confirm what this show/film was called and who was in it, because I remember so little about it. As I got older and would reminisce about stuff from the '80s with my friends, I would bring this up, but nobody had ever heard of it, so I dropped my quest completely. Help me, A.V. Club. You're my only hope. Stumped,

Will
Nashville, TN

That's what we're here for, Will. To help the helpless. Well, specifically to help the helpless remember random TV shows from the past. And after much discussion in the A.V. Club conference room, we think we have an answer: Misfits Of Science.

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Like you, we found that Misfits Of Science had faded into memory, so we did a little research at TV.com and Wikipedia and discovered that it aired on NBC, on Fridays at 8 p.m. from October 1985-86. (Sounds like prime playground-running years for you, Will.) The show was set at the Humanidyne Institute, a research lab/crime-fighting organization, and featured the adventures of the titular misfits who were gifted/cursed with amazing powers.

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Dean Paul Martin (son of Dean Martin) played Dr. Billy Hayes, the team's leader. The team included Kevin Peter Hall as a ginormous scientist able to shrink himself down to a seven-inch height, Mark Thomas Miller as a rock musician with the ability to manipulate electricity (thanks, of course, to an onstage accident), and Courteney Cox—fresh off Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark" video—as a teen with telekinetic powers. Future Alf dad Max Wright and former M*A*S*H co-star Larry Linville also played roles.

We vaguely recall the show getting a brief revival on the SCI FI Channel in the mid-'90s, but it isn't yet available on DVD. In the meantime, this opening-credits sequence should take you back:

Dear A.V. Club,

How much preparation and research do you guys usually do before seeing a movie you're going to review professionally? Do you find it more helpful to know everything about the movie and/or filmmaker prior to viewing, or do you purposely learn as little as you can so as to avoid going in with any preconceived notions about the film?

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Andrew

For this, we're going to turn the column over to A.V. Club film editor Scott Tobias, who has voluminous thoughts on the subject:

It sounds like a contradiction, but you ideally want to be as prepared as possible without having any preconceptions. And as with any contradiction, figuring out the right balance can be a little problematic: There aren't enough hours in the day to, say, read the source material for every film based on a book, or fill in the gaps of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's endless filmography in order to review Ali: Fear Eats The Soul. And as much as I try to avoid having preconceived ideas about a movie before going in, my pulse doesn't exactly quicken when I get the screening notice for belated sequels to bad Jim Carrey vehicles without Jim Carrey in them, or a goopy Country Music Television production starring Toby Keith and Kelly Preston.

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In general, I think willful ignorance is antithetical to good criticism. If you're looking for a review of Martin Scorsese's The Departed, do you want the critic who's seen the original Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs and the complete Scorsese filmography, or the one plopped into his/her seat tabula rasa? I'll take the first one every time, because it's likely that review will benefit from more informed context: How does the film stack up against the original? How does it measure up thematically and stylistically to Scorsese's other work? The only thing ignorant critics have in their favor is that they enter the theater without expectations one way or another, and to me, that seems like a negligible benefit. And really, who can honestly say they've purged themselves of preconceptions before seeing a movie? None of us were born yesterday—except a few infants, who really aren't getting much out of movies yet—so we naturally bring the wealth of our experience and taste into everything we see.

All that said, there are healthy ways to avoid poisoning the well too much. I try to avoid seeing trailers if at all possible, because they give away much of what I'd like to discover for myself—the style, the tone, usually the best scenes, and often the ending. Does that mean I annoy my fellow moviegoers during pre-movie trailers by closing my eyes, plugging my ears, and yelping at high volume? No, but I'd prefer to go into a movie sight unseen. I also try to avoid reading reviews until after I've seen a film, because I'd rather establish my own way of looking at it than be unduly influenced by someone else's. This, too, isn't always possible: I confess to seeking out festival reviews, especially from Cannes, to see how things are shaping up on the international scene. And gearing up for the Toronto International Film Festival by catching the early reviews and buzz is essential for putting together the best possible schedule.

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As for general preconceptions, I'd like to hope I have fewer than most. For me, a movie says what it's trying to do very quickly, and I'm inclined to evaluate it on those terms, whether that movie is a raunchy comedy or the rarefied work of an avant-garde Thai auteur. Or to fill in the blanks, there was room on my Top 10 list last year for The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Tropical Malady, and I'd consider that a pretty balanced diet.

So there you have it. Next week, more questions and more answers. But you need to help us out. Send your questions to asktheavclub@theonion.com.

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