Friday, November 17, 2023

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles - Innovative Failure

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (YIJC) is on Disney+ but the moron I am got tired of waiting and broke down and bought the DVDs about 3 years earlier. It's a very odd show, it had a massive budget for televison. George Lucas wanted to create films for the small screen. The stories were meant to be epic.  

River Phoenix declined to return to the role after his appearance in the Last Crusade.  Sean Patrick Flannery stepped in as teenage Indy, Corry Carrier as child Indy, and George Hall as old Indy. Harrison Ford was offered the part of old Indy but turned it down because…he’s one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  


The original broadcasts originally had a bookend segment featuring Old Indy in modern day (the early 1990s) and then would cut to a flashback of this crazy old man yammering on about some adventure he had when he was a child or teenager.  The broadcast versions jumped around in the timeline, much like the show This Is Us.  

The show’s huge budget and lack of ratings got it canceled after two seasons.  After its cancelation four TV films were made in an attempt to rework the format into something sellable to other networks.  


YIJC wasn’t aired on a consistent date or time when originally broadcast which made it impossible to find its audience.  Network decision errors aside, the problems with implementing the show are numerous.  The Old Indy scenes are just painful to watch.  Indiana Jones shouldn’t be some crazy old man wandering museums harassing kids about the time he went to Egypt and fought a mummy. The pacing of the stories are agonizing when trying to work around a television format. 


The Young Indy stories are not fun or interesting.  Indy as child growing up, nothing exciting happens to him.  The stories aren’t compelling, have no action, no drama, no heart, no humor. 


The Teenage Indy stories are better.  But those don’t pick up until he runs away from home and starts meeting random famous people in history (eye roll).  Sean Patrick Flannery does not bring the same flair to the character that River Phoenix brought in The Last Crusade but he does an adequate job.  Crafting stories around an older character does help create more excitement and allows you put him in more adult scenarios.  That doesn’t excuse the failure of Young Indy.  He could have had his own level adventure.  Lucas really lacked the vision of what could have been done.  


A modern issue with the show stems from how the stories were “retold.”  Lucas reedited the entire show into mini movies in hopes of selling them into syndication and also on home video.  The four TV films post cancellation were meant to entice network affiliates into buying the package.  It’s a rather interesting endeavor and not crazy idea in relations to 1990s television.    Ultimately it was a failure as the show wasn’t picked up.  Lucas’ attempts to redefine the standard of television failed. 


In classic George Lucas fashion, he recuts the entire show with no care for what preceded it.  The reedit cuts out all the Old Indy scenes which everyone hated.  But ultimately helped fit a pacing for television that included suspenseful act breaks.  Without the Old Indy scenes the episodes are left to stand on their own with no contexts. In the original format certain episode stories started with Young Indy and were resolved with Teen Indy.  In the new format the viewer doesn’t get a resolution to certain stories until well later in the series chronology.  The story telling becomes completely inconsistent.  The Young Indy episodes are hurt most by these changes.  The Teen Indy episodes had enough dramatic content on their own to survive these changes. 


The show has some exciting moments but overall is not very compelling.  What’s supposed to be a story about how a young man grows into the larger than life character Indiana Jones lacks any real footing.   It’s certainly worth watching but don’t feel guilty for fast-forwarding the boring parts because we all have lives to live.

You have to give George Lucas for always trying to be innovative.  He doesn’t just make a product.  He pushes industry boundaries and is willing to fail in the process.  Young Indiana Jones is Lucas’ attempt to keep a franchise alive while trying to increase the scale and quality of TV production.  If you look at shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, Wanda Vision, The Mandalorian these are all fairly recent big budget television that have cropped up.  Lucas was trying to set the bar higher in the 90s.  He failed with YIJC but the idea resurged as technology evolved.  


Also, the TV culture changed.  Lost was a show which had an interactive fan community.  Creators were looking at fan web boards and reading their theories and adjusting their stories based on that fan feedback.  It was an almost interactive show which allowed them to adjust stories mid-season.  The new streaming culture has high budgeted TV shows with less episodes per season.  So instead of 20 – 26 episode seasons with some of the writing forced or phoned in to fit a production order.  A viewer is given 8 – 12 quality episodes, character based, and story arc driven.  

Lucas understood TV needed to change but he just wasn’t sure how to implement that change.  Ultimately his vision wasn’t the future of television but he did see the current format was eventually going to die out if it didn’t adapt.  

Written by
Joseph Ammendolea
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®