May 21, 2016

MEN IN BLACK: THE SERIES

MEN IN BLACK: THE SERIES
(WB, October 11, 1997-June 30, 2001)


Amblin Television, Adelaide Productions, Columbia TriStar Television

MAIN CAST:
Ed O’ Ross (season 1), Gregg Berger (season 2-4) – Agent K
Jennifer Lien (season 1-3), Jennifer Martin (season 4) – Agent L
Pat Fraley – The Worms, Bob
Tony ShalhoubJack Jeebs (season 1)
Billy West – Jack Jeebs (season 2-4), Dak Jeebs, Vangus

The question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe is one that has danced in the mind of scientists and common man alike. Is there life on other planets? In other galaxies? Have they ever been to Earth? And if so, why do they only target rednecks and cattle? And don’t they have anything better to do than make lawn art? These are the kinds of questions answerable only by the Men in Black.

The original comic.

Men in Black started out as a three-issue mini-series published by Aircel Comics, the insulation company-turned-independent publisher run by Barry Blair, in 1990. The concept was created by writer Lowell Cunningham after his friend introduced him to the concept of the men in black: government agents that wore suits and sunglasses and drove around in black vehicles to hide all evidence of the existence of aliens by any means necessary.  Similarly, Cunningham’s Men in Black (also known as MIB) used the same, if not more extreme, methodology but to keep the premise from getting stale they dealt with all aspects of the paranormal including ghosts and monsters.

Agent K "recruits" Agent J.

The primary focus of the book was Agents K (sometimes depicted as Kay) and J (sometimes Jay). Agent K forcibly recruited Agent J, a DEA agent, during an undercover drug sting. He threatened J with a memory-wipe from his “neuralyzer” device that would leave him unable to explain the operation’s failure to his bosses unless he joined the agency. The neuralyzer was the key instrument in the agency’s ability to keep the public unawares of strange phenomenon by wiping out all memory of an encounter and replacing it with a new memory suggestion.

Farmer vs. alien. It doesn't end well.

While Agent J became K’s partner, K regarded him as completely expendable, kept secrets from him, and made morally questionable decisions involving him. Essentially, K was corrupted by the love of the power the agency gave him, according to an interview by Cunningham in the first issue. Their direct supervisor was Agent Zed who was heard but never seen and hinted at not actually being human. Another agent, Agent Ecks, went rogue when he discovered that the MIB’s true purpose was to reshape the world into their own image by keeping the supernatural hidden.

First film promo poster.

The series proved a success and was followed-up the next year by a second three-issue series called Book II. Both were drawn by Sandy Carruthers. Producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald came across the comic and optioned the rights to it in 1992. They hired Ed Solomon to write a script that was very faithful to the comics and sought Barry Sonnefeld to direct after seeing his darkly humorous The Addams Family and Addams Family Values. When Sonnefeld was unavailable, Parkes and MacDonald considered other options before deciding to wait for him to be free.

The main receiving area of MIB HQ.

Production began on Men in Black in 1996. While filming, numerous changes were made to the concept and the script. The agency was more benevolent, focused solely on monitoring and policing alien visitors and those who remain secret citizens on the planet since they made first contact back in the 1960s. The secret, of course, was to avoid a worldwide panic at discovering not only are we not alone in the universe, but the universe was already here. Sonnefeld set the movie in New York City as a result, feeling its citizenry would be more tolerant to oddly-behaving aliens disguised as humans as well as a great number of the buildings there resembled space transports. Operating independently of the government, MIB was financed by patents on technology appropriated from alien encounters such as Velcro and minidisc. Unlike the traditional firearms of the comics, the MIB used more advanced weaponry and tools, including the neuralyzer (whose effects could be blocked by the sunglasses they wore). Their primary mode of transport was an unassuming black 1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria that held an advanced power plant under its hood and could transform for a burst of speed. As MIB headquarters was the arrival point for aliens to arrive on Earth, production designer Bo Welch modeled it after the TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Agents K, J and L.

The characters were given backgrounds, something the comics stayed away from. Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) was just a kid who stumbled upon the first meeting between the aliens and the agents; opting to join the organization and cut off all ties to his former life as all agents are required to do. Agent J (Will Smith) was NYPD detective James Darrell Edwards III who was recruited by K when he ran down an alien perpetrator on foot. Smith was cast after the original choices of Chris O’Donnell and David Schwimmer turned down the part because Sonnefeld liked his performance in Six Degrees of Separation and his wife was a fan of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. K, while grizzled and jaded, was more human than his comics counterpart and took a mentorship role to J. Agent Zed (Rip Torn) was also fully seen, and the center of the MIB’s intelligence-gathering and communications were handled by a pair of one-eyed tentacle aliens known as The Twins: Idikiukup and Bob.

Agent L faces down Edgar's brother.

Men in Black dealt with the arrival of Edgar the Bug (Vincent D’Onofrio), who wanted to take the tiny galaxy possessed by the Arquillian race in order to destroy them. The MIB had to stop Edgar and retrieve the galaxy before the Aquillians destroyed the planet in order to keep it out of the Bugs’ hands. The film ended with K wanting to retire, having trained J to be his replacement rather than his partner. J in turn gained a new partner Laurel Weaver (Linda Fiorentino), the coroner who aided them. Released by Columbia Pictures on July 2, 1997, the film became a box office success. Marvel Comics, who came to own the franchise through their purchase of Malibu Comics in 1994 who in turn had come to own Aircel in 1991, released several comics to promote the film. One was an adaptation of the film; another was Retribution, which followed the first movie and saw K returned to active duty via de-neuralyzation (similar to what would happen in Men in Black 2); Far Cry had Cunningham return to write a continuation of the original comics’ continuity; and a reprint of the original first issue in association with American Entertainment.

Making animation look good.

That October, an animated series based on the movie was produced by Amblin Television, Adelaide Productions and Columbia TriStar Television to capitalize on the film’s success. Developed by Duane Capizzi, Jeff Kline and Richard Raynis, the series largely took up where the film left off, however there were some changes made. Agent K (Ed O’ Ross & Gregg Berger) didn’t retire and was made to seem more stiff and emotionless. Agent J’s (Keith Diamond) personality contrasted K’s as he was lively and held on to his humanity. He was made more of a rookie for comedic effect, however; particularly every time he was sent flying by the kickback from his signature weapon from the film, the Noisy Cricket (J would later acquire a silencer that would reduce that). J’s new partner from the end of the film, Agent L (Jennifer Lien & Jennifer Martin), became a veteran agent who spent most of her time in MIB’s lab before eventually becoming a field agent. Zed (Charles Napier) was just as no-nonsense as K, rather than displaying some of the sarcastic wit he did in the film. Also present were the coffee-mooching Worm Guys (Patrick Pinney and Pat Fraley) that hung out in MIB’s break room, the Twins (also Pinney and Fraley), and MIB informant Frank the Pug (Eddie Barth).

Jack Jeebs.

Tony Shalhoub reprised his role of Jack Jeebs from the movie for the first season. Jeebs was an alien who worked in a pawn shop that was actually a front for illegal alien goods and sometimes informant for the MIB (after they shot head his off first, usually—don’t worry, it grows back). He was replaced by Billy West for the remainder. D’Onofrio also returned in several episodes to voice other Bugs that came to Earth as well as the Emperor Worm. Agent Ecks was reimagined as Alpha (David Warner), K’s former mentor who became corrupt and sought to become all-powerful by grafting alien parts onto his body. The Agent X name was recycled into L’s new partner (Adam Baldwin), a green-skinned alien from the G-Dan galaxy as a means to smooth human-alien relations.

Rogue agent Alpha.

Men in Black: The Series debuted on October 11, 1997 on The WB as part of their Kids’ WB programming block. Unlike other movie-based cartoons that would utilize the film’s signature song as its theme, the series instead had an original theme composed by series composer Jim Latham playing over an intro with slightly more intricate animation. Smith’s “Men in Black”, written by Smith, Patrice Rushen, Terri McFadden and Freddie Washington, instead was used as the show’s closing theme over the credits and mug shots of various aliens. The series ran for four seasons, expanding to also include reruns on weekdays.



Although a toy line by Toysite was announced and promoted at the 2000 Toy Fair, it was never released. Instead the only toys based on the series came from both Burger King and Wendy’s as part of their kids meals. In 2000, Crave Entertainment produced two video games based on the series for the Game Boy Color. In the first, Men in Black: The Series, the player was only allowed to play as Agent J while using various weapons to work through levels reminiscent of episodes. Men in Black: The Series 2 allowed the player to switch between Agents J and K. In 2001, Infogrames released Men in Black: The Series – Crashdown for the PlaySation that had Agents J and K in a first-person shooter combining multiple episodes together into one story.

The American DVD release.

In March of 1999, Sony Pictures released three two-episode VHS collections, one containing a bonus episode. The remainder of the first season saw release in 2003 outside of North America. In 2004, UCA Pictures released the first three episodes to DVD outside of North America, however low sales resulted in no further releases. Sony Pictures Entertainment released the complete first season on DVD in 2007 as a box set in Australia and between two volumes in the United Kingdom. In May of 2012, in time for the release of Men in Black 3, the first season came to DVD in the United States initially as a Target exclusive. No further releases of the series have been planned or announced, but the entire series was made available for streaming on Netflix.

Now, just look right here for a moment...


EPISODE GUIDE:
Season 1:
“The Long Goodbye Syndrome” (10/11/97) – When J destroys a Skraaldian on a mission, he becomes the most wanted man on the planet Skraal.

“The Buzzard Syndrome” (10/18/97) – J and K help alien cop Treblor track down escaped convict Z-Ron, but Treblor may not be who he says he is.

“The Irritable Bow-Wow Syndrome” (10/25/97) – The Charnock pursue Frank after he accidentally swallows a black hole generator.

“The Alpha Syndrome” (11/1/97) – J and K stumble upon a theft committed by K’s former mentor Alpha, who has upgraded himself with alien body parts.

“The Undercover Syndrome” (11/8/97) – J goes undercover as a Tarkan bodyguard to protect the Trade Minister of Tarka at an alien conference.

“The Neuralyzer Syndrome” (11/15/97) – J trying to learn more about K’s past leads him to accidentally neuralyze K back to the age of 16.

“The Symbiote Syndrome” (11/22/97) – J fills in for an infected K on a mission to transport a symbiote to New York, but Buzzard has his sights set on the symbiote for his boss.

“The Inanimate Syndrome” (12/6/97) – Intergalactic cop Eileen, an old flame of K’s, helps the MIB track down an escaped shapeshifter.

“The Psychic Link Syndrome” (12/13/97) – Forbus is absorbing human body fluids and allowing K to share in his experiences through a psychic bond.

“The Head Trip Syndrome” (12/20/97) – J uses a device that accidentally increases his intelligence, but before he can fix himself he has to stop an alien bigot from wiping out the MIB in the past.

“The Elle of My Dreams Syndrome” (1/10/98) – When the MIB attempt to save the crew of a space shuttle, L has to enter J’s dreams to save him from a Vermax.

“The I Married an Alien Syndrome” (2/14/98) – J believes K is an alien spy for the Blastula who are currently increasing Earth’s temperature to colonize it.

“The Take No Prisoners Syndrome” (5/16/98) – MIB’s inmates escape and take over the HQ, leaving only J and the worms to stop them.

Season 2:
“The Little Big Man Syndrome” (9/19/98) – J is shrunk down to investigate the Fmeks thefts of Arquillian human suits.

“The Quick Clone Syndrome” (9/26/98) – J uses quick clones to get some rest, but Alpha uses one of them to steal Zed’s brain.

“The Heads You Lose Syndrome” (10/3/98) – Alpha’s alien attachments are failing and decides to use Troy the symbiote to rectify that.

“The Dog Eat Dog Syndrome” (10/10/98) – Frank’s old associate Drekk is running loose on Earth, but if he helps MIB he could be boiled alive.

“The Big Bad Bug Syndrome” (10/24/98) – The Queen of the Bugs puts a bounty on the heads of J, K and L for the death of Edgar.

“The Jack O’Lantern Syndrome” (10/31/98) – While trick-or-treating with the worms, J discovers an alien kidnapping children.

“The Sonic Boom Syndrome” (11/7/98) – J and K team-up again with Eileen and her partner to track down an escaped alien.

“The Bad Seed Syndrome” (11/14/98) – Parasites from alien seeds take over MIB and threaten the world.

“The Fmall, Fmall World Syndrome” (11/21/98) – The Fmeks break into MIB to steal a growth formula and kidnap one of the worms, believing him to be its creator.

“The Black Christmas Syndrome” (12/12/98) – MIB has to rescue Santa Claus from Drekk.

“The Supermen in Black Syndrome” (1/16/99) – J, K, L and three alien criminals are all given super powers.

“The Star System Syndrome” (1/23/99) – K and J are sent to Hollywood to investigate the disappearance of alien actors.

“The Blackguard Syndrome” (2/6/99) – J and K head into space to rescue MIB’s satellite from Alpha and Dak Jeebs.

Season 3:
“The Worm-Guy Syndrome” (10/30/99) – J and K are merged with the worms while trying to stop Kalifadik law enforcement agents from sending the guilty to alien prisons via teleportation guns.

“The Cold Sweat Syndrome” (11/6/99) – Alpha and Dak, now merged, end up in Antarctica where they discover a powerful alien spaceship.

“The Puppy Love Syndrome” (11/13/99) – Frank’s new girlfriend Veronica secretly works for Javkor who is out to steal MIB’s secrets.

“The Lost Continent Syndrome” (11/20/99) – K and J have to prevent the restoration of the continent of Atlantis.

“The Way Out West Syndrome” (11/27/99) – J and K travel back in time to the wild west to stop an alien in his vulnerable state before he can threaten Phoenix in the present.

“The Mine, Mine, Mine Syndrome” (12/4/99) – MIB faces problems when The Bug Queen and The Emperor Worm end up staying at the same hotel.

“The Bye-Bye Worm Syndrome” (12/11/99) – J tries to clear the worms’ names after Zed deports them for their latest mishap.

“The Lights Out Syndrome” (1/29/00) – J has to help a blinded K to stop the Darkons from creating a permanent eclipse.

“The Out to Pasture Syndrome” (2/12/00) – Zed retires, K is put in charge, and Alpha returns more powerful than ever.

“The Sardines and Ice Cream Syndrome” (2/26/00) – While the Fmeks shrink everything, J becomes pregnant when he accidentally swallows an alien egg.

“The I Want My Mummy Syndrome” (3/12/00) – A Hyperian, dressed like an Egyptian mummy, is awakened.

“The Baby Kay Syndrome” (4/23/00) – When the delegate’s daughter they’re watching is kidnaped, K is exposed to her age-regressing spray and de-ages into a baby.

“The Bad Doggie Syndrome” (4/30/00) – Frank’s body is taken over by the king of the Tunstons, who are trying to conquer Earth.

“The ‘J’ is for James Syndrome” (5/7/00) – J joyrides in the LTD and ends up fired just as the bugs attack.

Season 4:
“The Musical Chairs Syndrome” (9/16/00) – Dr. Zeeltor takes over the lab for new field agent L while New York is threatened by the Barooga.

“The Spectacle Syndrome” (9/23/00) – J and K have to rescue the worms from an alien world resembling ancient Rome.

“The Back to School Syndrome” (9/30/00) – J poses as a high school student to protect an alien prince.

“The Opening Gambit Syndrome” (10/7/00) – MIB has to get information from Alpha about how he stopped Vangus the first time he came to Earth.

“The Future’s So Bright Syndrome” (10/21/00) – J gets sent to the future and discovers worms rule the Earth.

“The Loose Ball Foul Syndrome” (4/14/01) – K is on the same baseball-like tiny planet that the Fmeks decide to conquer.

“The Hots for Jay Syndrome” (4/21/01) – Alien food gives J the ability to throw fire.

“The Circus Parade Syndrome” (4/28/01) – An alien gang comes to Earth after discovering someone they’re looking for is hiding out there.

“The Virtual Crossfire Syndrome” (5/5/01) – When J attempts to beat a virtual reality training program, the program goes haywire and becomes deadly.

“The Breaking News Syndrome” (5/12/01) – An alien film crew follows the MIB around on the job just as Drekk returns.

“The Zero to Superhero Syndrome” (5/26/01) – When an alien becomes a superhero, MIB seeks to stop him before his actions attract unwanted galactic attention.

“The Endgame Syndrome: Episode 1” (6/23/01) – Zed decides to reveal MIB to the world after Alpha, Vangus and the Ixions band together.

“The Endgame Syndrome: Episode 2” (6/30/01) – Despite MIB successfully resisting the attack, the Ixions plan to unleash their ultimate weapon that will kill everyone on the planet.

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