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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #261: Dr. Jonathan Chase


In the fall of 1983 I was eight and a half years old, and a TV show featuring a guy who could turn into any animal was just about the coolest thing I could imagine. Apparently there weren't enough nerdy eight and a half year olds to offset the titanic viewership of Dallas, and Manimal! got slaughtered in its time slot, lasting all of eight episodes before cancellation. In retrospect, the premise was flimsy, the effects sadly dated, and the writing amateurish.

But somehow, more than thirty years later, I still vividly recall the opening sequence with its ominous voiceover..."Jonathan Chase, master of the secrets that divide man from animal, animal from man... Manimal!" So tacky, so early 80s, so irresistible. A professor of...something...Dr. Chase had followed his dying father's instructions to learn the mystical technique of transforming into animals. He used this ability to, of course, fight crime alongside a leggy blonde and comic-relief black buddy (1983, remember). His go-to choices were a hawk and a panther, though he also became a dolphin, a horse, or a snake if needed. If the show lasted beyond a paltry eight installments, I assume the writers would have explored even more options. Maybe the best and hokiest part of the show was the transformation itself, even though it was handled by SFX legend Stan Winston (Terminator, Predator, Jurassic Park). The effects were practical and not CGI, but state of the art in 1983 was pretty corny stuff. Plus, apparently his stylish three-piece suit was some sort of unstable molecules or something, maybe a gift from Reed Richards, because he'd tear the thing off to become some beast and then it would be back on again when he changed back.

As it turned out, the man with the darkest of pasts didn't have such a bright future after all. There's chatter of Will Ferrell putting together a big-screen version of Manimal! I'd pay to see that.

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