Let’s reflect on 1970s television for a moment. There are several tropes that 1970s television loved. Iconic, readily identifiable vehicles: Smokey & The Bandit Trans-Am, Dukes of Hazzard General Lee, Starsky & Hutch Gran Torino, and today’s entry into the When It Was Cool hall of fame cool vehicle division- the BJ and the Bear Kenworth.
The 1970s also loved monkeys from some reason. I blame that one on Clint Eastwood and Every Which Way but Loose. The 1960s and 1970s also loved their television theme songs to tell you basically everything you need to know about the story. Add to that, anything to do with truckers and CB radios and, finally, the 1970s really loved an anti-hero running from the law. So, with all that established television trope from the 1970s, let me present to you what happens when the 1970s throw up all over a television show: BJ and the Bear.
Let’s just get that theme song out of the way, that way I don’t have to explain much of the plot.
Hey there where ya goin', Not exactly knowin' Who says you have to call just one place home?
He's goin' everywhere, B.J. McKay and his best friend Bear.
He just keeps on movin', Ladies keep improvin'. Every day is better than the last.
New dreams and better scenes, and best of all I don't pay property tax.
(Yeah, that's what I'm going to do one of these days, Bear I'm going to teach you how to sing, how'd you'd like that kid, huh?)
Rollin' down to Dallas, my wheels provide my palace. I'm off to New Orleans or who knows where.
Places new and ladies, too, I'm B.J. McKay and this is my best friend Bear.
Ok, you got it now? Good. I was eight years old when BJ and the Bear first aired on NBC in 1979 and what was there not to like for an eight year old? The show had a flashy red and white truck that occasionally smashed into things and a monkey. Also, being that I am from the state of Alabama, the truck was painted up in the colors of my state University and the monkey was named after it’s head coach. Yep, everything an eight year old could want in a ridiculous TV show.
I have often wondered over the years why a show that was very popular (BJ and the Bear lasted three seasons, maintained good ratings, and even managed a spin off series The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo) never or seldom played in re-runs. I’m not aware of any legal difficulties preventing it like the ones that plagued the Six Million Dollar Man as BJ and the Bear is owned by NBC. The answer, I think, is that the show just isn’t very good.
Sorry to burst your nostalgic bubble but if you’re really fond of the memories of BJ and Bear like I was then save yourself the disappointment and don’t track down any old episodes. I managed to find BJ and the Bear Season 1 Episode one to review for our Patreon Retro TV special and boy was it bad.
BJ McKay (Greg Evigan) was supposedly a Vietnam veteran hero (and a Captain none-the-less) who somehow couldn’t turn being a decorated officer into a military career post-Vietnam and had to turn to truck driving instead. Also, he seems rather young to have been a Vietnam hero ten years or so prior to this but whatever. He also now seems to be broke but owns a sweet rig and a monkey. The monkey was apparently left to him in an inheritance of some sort. The monkey (yes, I know technically a chimpanzee) is also drunk within the first fifteen minutes of the show. HARR-HARR-HARR!
Every good 1970s television show about some good ole boy driving a sweet vehicle needs an antagonist lawman and BJ and the Bear was no exception. BJ McKay was constantly battling Sheriff Elroy P. Lobo (Claude Akins) who managed to get his own spin-off television show out of the deal that ran for two season from 1979 to 1981.
I wish I could tell you some wonderful things about BJ and the Bear but, in this case, maybe just leave the memories alone. If you want a more detailed review of BJ and the Bear: Season 1 Episode 1 check out our retro TV review podcast special- here.
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