The Disparity of Performance
While poking around on the web the other day I stumbled across a banner ad that touted NBC.com showing the old Buck Rogers TV show from the 80's. I was a faithful viewer when I was a kid and just had to check it out for a trip down nostalgia lane. It was just as I remember it, with every episode from the scant two seasons that it ran (the first was way better than the second).
If you have never seen this show, then you'll probably want to pass. I admit it's pretty awful, but also had a sort of goofy charm and optimism that that you don't get from television anymore. The success of Star Wars spun off a lot of copycats, but Buck was more of a remake of the old serials (which also inspired George Lucas) than a direct ripoff. Rogers was played by the likable Gil Gerard and Erin Gray starred as love interest Wilma Deering. Gerard's career would peak here, while Gray would go on to more success with the sitcom Silver Spoons.
When I went to NBC's site to check out some vid, a clip was featured (seen above) from one of the first season's last episodes. It was the excellently titled "Flight of the War Witch" and Buck was about to "leave the universe". It's a farewell scene between Buck and Wilma, which you'd normally expect to see in a train station, but here it's a spacecraft hangar (no trains leaving the known universe, I guess).
What I found interesting here (and something we should all note in our productions) is how both actors play the scene on completely different levels which turns the whole thing comic. Gray tries to hit her emotions out of the park, even getting the waterworks to flow. Gerard, on the other hand, is so wooden here you want to check him for a pulse. These two are supposed to have chemistry, but because of the way the actors are directed (or not) she comes across as cloying and him insensitive. It's all wrong and made me snicker.
There has to be some balance for this scene to play correctly. Either Gerard has to elevate emotionally or Gray has to underplay. The way it is now, you have to laugh. The cornball dialogue doesn't help and is made worse when one of the leads looks like he'd rather be elsewhere. Good chemistry can cover a multitude of sins, but only if you get your actors to connect properly.