The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Season 1 Review

  • Series: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 29
  • Discs: 11
  • Cast: Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll
  • Network: NBC
  • DVD Format: DVD, Technicolor, Standard
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 04/01/2008, now hosted on Dreamwidth

Note: This is an older review, previously posted to my Live Journal and now hosted on Dreamwidth. I’ve decided to copy it as is, silly asides and all. I did correct typos and formatting. Enjoy!

I finally got the money together to order The Complete Man from UNCLE and The Complete Get Smart from Time-Life (and received them). Now, with five seasons of Get Smart and four of The Man from UNCLE, it’s going to take me a while to watch everything, not to mention writing reviews, but I aim to get everything posted in the next couple of months (yes, I said months – I gotta’ work for a living!).

The Man from UNCLE is one of two series that established media fandom (the other is the obvious original Star Trek). Like Trek, UNCLE fans have produced fanzines (and still do, as well as online fan fiction), established conventions or fannish get-togethers, and just created fandom as a creative and positive place to be. One can even argue since UNCLE was incredibly popular from the very beginning, and the second season debuted at number 1 in the Neilson ratings (and never left the top ten for that season), UNCLE fandom preceded and eclipsed Trek fandom. Personally, I wouldn’t quite go that far, but I’ve seen the argument that UNCLE was really the first (and biggest) female-centered media fandom.

Briefly, in case you don’t know, U.N.C.L.E, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement is an international organization devoted to peace, order and good government (no, sorry, that’s Canada. Sorry that’s a joke – god, I don’t think I should have had wine tonight). Well, UNCLE is devoted to peace and order anyway. They basically step in to combat criminal activity. Often they are combating Thrush – an international organization of evil. Napoleon Solo (played brilliantly by Robert Vaughn) is the American number 1 of section 2 based in New York. Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum – who’s also brilliant) is Solo’s Russian partner. Alexander Waverly sends Napoleon and Illya on their missions – he’s UNCLE’s version of James Bond’s M or Austin Power’s Basil Exposition. And yes, UNCLE is the type of spy series that Austin Powers is satirizing.

Another thing to remember about UNCLE is that, like SeaQuest DSV, each season of the series had a different flavor. (It’s like Linux, we have flavors! Sorry, computer geek joke!) Anyway, each season had its own distinct flavor, though the seasons weren’t quite so different as Sea Quest (season 3 of SeaQuest is practically a different show entirely).

Here’s the basic breakdown:

Season 1 – filmed entirely in black and white, much more serious than later seasons, more intrigue/less camp, established the basic “look and feel” of the series (the Innocent, Napoleon and Illya’s partnership, Waverly playing the M/Basil Exposition role).

Season 2 – Probably the most UNCLE season of all. Details to follow when I watch all of it and post a review.

Season 3 – The campest UNCLE, but still fun and adventurous (details to follow when I watch all of it and post a review.

Season 4 – A return to serious UNCLE. I actually don’t think I’ve seen much of it. Also, only a half-season. (details to follow when I watch all of it and post a review.

Watching Season 1 – I really enjoyed it. Filming in black and white adds to the seriousness of the first season stories. Also, the writing has a much more serious tone than the campy/silly season 3.

The other thing about season 1, is that occasionally there are some absolutely brilliant directing, and fantastic shots. Some of the episodes actually remind me of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, not in content or story type but in shots and direction. Later, of course, with the switch to color, everything has a flat “locked-off” look (the same happened in early Technicolor films – the jewel tones look gorgeous but directing suffered because you can’t move a 1-foot square camera! – Yes, 1-2 foot – the early Technicolor film cameras were huge, mostly because they held four rolls of film, synced together.)

Anyway, there are some truly lovely shots in season 1 UNCLE – looking thru’ a glass table from the bottom for instance, and outdoor scenes with a sense of unreality to them.

The only bad thing about season 1 is “not enough Illya”. Illya is definitely a secondary character, especially in the early episodes of the season. As the season moves on, you do see more of him, but he and Solo tend to be separated. UNCLE works best when Napoleon and Illya are working together as unlikely but excellent partners and friends. Illya does get to be the lead agent in “The Bow Wow Affair” (which, unfortunately, is not a great episode), and “The Odd Man Affair”, because Napoleon gets shot half-way through the episode, and Illya takes over the mission (course, it’s the ubiquitous shoulder wound, and he’s fine at the end of the episode, except for a sling on his arm).

Oh, and I most emphatically don’t dislike Vaughn/Napoleon – Vaughn’s excellent (watch his expression in “The Love Affair” when he knows Illya’s been hurt or killed by a hand grenade for example, or his rolling his eyes at Illya in the beginning of “The Girl from Navarone Affair”). Anyways, I’ve always liked Vaughn, and he’s at his young, spry, and suave best in UNCLE. It’s just there’s something about Illya. Well, McCallum actually – who’s magnetic on the screen (I also love him opposite Joanna Lumley in Sapphire and Steel), and he’s also done several brill episodes of both the original and the remake of The Outer Limits.

Overall, I really enjoyed the first season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I wouldn’t say it’s the best season, but only because I like David McCallum, and miss Illya when he’s not in an episode.