Thirty years ago tonight, a new television series debuted: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Coming only a couple years after what we then thought was the final big-screen adventure of our favorite fedora’d archeologist, this little show was a very big deal for Indy fans. In fact, I don’t remember being so excited for the premiere of a TV series since the original Battlestar Galactica when I was a kid. And I don’t think I’ve been so excited for any TV series since.
Looking back now, though, Chronicles was clearly a bit of a mixed bag, and for many viewers who expected something like the cliffhanger-serial, high-adventure style of the Indy movies, it was an outright disappointment. The series was not like the feature films. Aside from the pilot and a later TV movie that came out after the show ended, Young Indy did not hunt for ancient treasure. The show was far more concerned with character and conversation than action, and it was overtly intended to deliver a history lesson to kids. In addition, the tone veered wildly between tragedy, wistful nostalgia, and juvenile silliness. I think that, coupled with the creative decision to alternate every other week between stories about 10-year-old Indy and teenaged Indy, made it difficult to find an audience, or even to figure out who the audience was supposed to be. It didn’t help that ABC kept changing the show’s time slot, or outright preempting it for football games. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when it was cancelled only a year later. The last few episodes didn’t even air until The Family Channel cable network reran the series later in the decade. In the end, I guess Chronicles must be viewed as a failed experiment, a mere footnote in the Indiana Jones franchise.
Nevertheless, I liked it.
Like I told the show’s star, Sean Patrick Flannery, at a convention a few years back, I was probably a bit older than the target audience — I was 22 in March of 1992 — but I identified with the teenaged version of the character he played. Like him, I was restless and idealistic, well-read but naive in a lot of ways, and I wanted more than anything to see the world. The show’s airing overlapped with the beginning of my own travels, and it’s no coincidence that the journal I used during my 1993 study-abroad adventure in Cambridge, England, resembled the one Young Indy carries on the show. (Yeah, I know, I’m a dork.) In certain respects, the character’s maturation paralleled my own, or so it seemed to me at the time. If nothing else, Chronicles is very special to me as a reminder of that period in my life. (Flannery seemed genuinely touched by all that; he’d seemed sort of cocky when I first approached him, but he dropped that attitude as I spoke, then extended his hand and sincerely thanked me for sharing that with him. It was one of my more memorable celebrity interactions.)
Sadly, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles isn’t available today, at least not in its original form. Just like he did with Star Wars, George Lucas couldn’t resist tinkering with it, and what came out in a lavish DVD release in the mid-2000s is not the show I watched a decade earlier. Even the title has changed; the series on DVD is called The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. Long-time readers of this blog can probably guess how I feel about that. Fortunately — for a given value of “fortunate,’ considering the picture quality — I’ve still got my old VHS recordings of the broadcast episodes, and one of these days I’ll get around to digitizing them. But damn, that’s a lot of work…