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(Cross-posted from tumblr, but probably rather more readable here)

Sometime around September of last year, I happened upon a trailer for the recent The Man from UNCLE movie on youtube, and on a whim, decided to give the original 60's TV series a go. I knew very little about the show going in beyond the general notion it was one of those classic old slash fandoms from way back in the day – not that I was really looking for a new fandom at the time, just something lightweight and diverting to entertain myself with in between hacking out the last few chapters of that Teen Wolf fanfic epic I was still trying to finish. A little old, cheesy 60's TV sounded like just the thing.


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This did not precisely go to plan. I still finished my WIP, but I also fell head over heals for The Man from UNCLE in a way I had never remotely counted on. The whole experience of discovering the show has been both so rewarding and so bizarre it's stirred up the need to dust off my old essay writing habits and soliloquise at length about my thoughts on the thing, chief among those being oh my god, I had no IDEA what I was getting into!

See, here's the problem: it's a damn hard series to explain in a couple of hundred words of blurb. Tell people it's basically the Napoleon-and-Illya show, and they're going to be a little thrown by how it takes most of season one to figure out that's what it wants to be, not to mention how much time it spends on ‘innocent’ guest characters. Fans (mostly) agree that the first season was the strongest, that the third went too far into farcical nonsense, and the fourth went a bit far back the other way – but that hardly even begins to cover just how widely the tone changes season to season, or even episode to episode. "It's about an American agent and a Russian agent and set during the Cold War," pretty much immediately has to be qualified with, "but they basically just ignore the fact Illya's Russian or that the Cold War's even a thing after S1, and tbh they hardly touch on it in S1 either." It's absolutely slashy and kinky as fuck, but most of the tropiest scenarios our heroes are thrown into (Brainwashing! Amnesia! Enemy impostors!) tend to sort of peter out on screen without taping into a fraction of the pathos that could have been. You've pretty much got to start reading up on the history and the behind-the-scenes developments to have any hope of even starting to get your head around it all.


There's plenty written about the show available on the net – I found The Fans from UNCLE website particularly useful – but even that's more a series of variously opinionated essays by different authors (many of whom disagree on assorted salient points) than a really definitive source, and their 'guide' to the episodes is frustratingly brief. None of the easier-to-find reviews sites seem to have been written by anyone whose taste was anything like my own (not to say they necessarily should cater to me specifically, but it's still frustrating when you're trying to figure out what to skip), and the one slash-oriented guide I’ve found doesn't get past the first season. A lot of accounts, to my mind, tend to sell the internal consistency a little high and the feminist credentials a little low, for example. The community active on LJ remains remarkably healthy, but LJ never has been the easiest site to navigate when hunting for older discussion topics. And nothing I could find on the web came close to preparing me for how much I was going to see the show change and evolve across its run.

What follows below is, therefore, both a general excuse to squee over and pick apart a new shiny thing, but also a general sort of attempt to write the introduction to the series I would've liked to have found myself before I started. Maybe it'll be some use to someone else down the line.

The complete draft of this post has now gotten so long that I've split it into parts. But because it occurs to me that extended text posts generally aren’t the best way to get people’s in a hurry, here is a picture of Illya Kuryakin in his underwear tied to a pole:


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Do I have your attention yet? Good.

To follow:


  1. The Basics (an attempt to explain just what you are, in fact, getting into)
  2. The Characters (and why people are still slashing them 50 years on)
  3. The Seasons (a.k.a. how no two people to work on this show ever agreed on exactly what it was supposed to be)


1. The Basics (an attempt to explain just what you are, in fact, getting into)

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In a nutshell, The Man from UNCLE is a formulaic spy-fi series built around the classic buddy-cop partnership – except that UNCLE was first penned back before the classic TV buddy-cop formula really existed, and seems to have stumbled onto it largely by accident. You'd hardly name a show 'The Man from UNCLE' if it was meant to be a double-act from the outset, and it wasn't – the original concept was effectively an American James Bond for television with a few twists (Ian Flemming himself was famously solicited for input during the early stages, but ultimately left little lasting impression on the series, beyond perhaps a slight propensity for silly names).

The titular 'man' from UNCLE, Napoleon Solo (that name being one of Flemming's inputs), certainly came with his share of James Bond-isms, conceived as a suave professional spy with a womanising streak. But since UNCLE was supposedly an international agency, Napoleon was given a junior partner of Russian extraction by the name of Illya Kuryakin – a bold statement indeed at the midst of the Cold War – originally conceived as a minor character, and nearly vetoed out of existence by a studio exec before he ever made it to screen. He doesn't appear at all in three episodes from the first season, and has only brief appearances in many others, including the pilot. In contrast to his charming partner, Illya developed into a more reserved personality – a mysterious man with a keen intellect and a dry sense of humour. Far from suffering for his nationality, Illya quickly proved catnip for female viewers, turning his actor, David McCallum, into a major sex symbol overnight – mobbed by so many fans at public appearances he was famously referred to as 'the fifth Beatle'. The producers swiftly promoted Illya to share the lead billing, and while it's presumably possible to overstate his personal importance in turning the show into the biggest success story of its day, it obviously didn’t hurt.


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A handful of episodes in the later UNCLE seasons feature only one or the other of the duo (one in S3, two in S4 to be precise), but the show had well and truly ceased to be about 'the Man from UNCLE' well before season one was out. Napoleon and Illya share roughly equal screentime from the second season onwards, if not always simultaneously – a large majority of episodes send them in separate directions for most of the action. By and large, if there was a job that required someone to schmooze with society folks in a tuxedo, it went to Napoleon, and if there was a job that required someone to pose as his chauffeur or perhaps just some random local, it went to Illya, along with most of the literal dirty work. Neither was too proud to switch up when circumstances called for it though, and there were always plenty of fist fights, shoot-outs and getting-tied-up by the bad guys to go around on both sides. Perhaps most importantly though, it's hard to imagine UNCLE could have asked for much better when they cast Robert Vaughn and David McCallum for those roles. In a show where the calibre of guest stars and writers could vary wildly from week to week, I think it would be hard to overstate just how far the charisma of the stars of UNCLE goes in making the show work. But we'll get back to them a bit later.

Rounding out the main recurring cast was Napoleon and Illya's boss Alexander Waverly, the UNCLE section head for all North America. Like Illya in the early days, Mr Waverly appears only briefly in most episodes and not at all in a number from the first season, only very occasionally venturing out into the field. (Confusing matters for the viewer, all three still appear in the credits of every episode, and have been unhelpfully listed against every single episode on IMDB, regardless of who actually shows up that week.) Waverly's role is largely to brief Napoleon and Illya on whatever job is on the cards for this week and present a respectable, mild-mannered and all-but-unflappable presence as the face of the organisation, going only very slightly doddery around the edges with age.

Rather like UNIT of 70's Doctor Who, UNCLE itself was conceived as an internationally run security organisation with an acronym obviously meant to imply an association with the UN, then later hastily qualified otherwise ('United Network Command for Law Enforcement') when it became apparent the real world United Nations might not be so keen on the idea. Of course, rather than alien threats, UNCLE deals with 'ordinary' supervillainry – primarily the machinations of the questionably named evil THRUSH organisation (which the show never claimed to be the acronym for anything in particular, though the novels eventually suggested an answer you might rather forget). Your typical THRUSH plot would tend to involve them developing some new superweapon or secret formula, kidnapping some notable scientist or getting their claws into some important political figure. Spy-fi elements from mind-reading devices to de-aging formulas to doomsday machines show up on a regular basis, but tend to function as interchangeable McGuffins for the most part – the odd borderline-implausible piece of UNCLE tech is about the only such example that ever survives the story intact.


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From the earliest concept stage, the other key conceit of the show was that every episode would see an 'innocent' become involved in each case. Like the companions of Doctor Who (who serve much the same purpose), you get the occasional male example, but the overwhelming majority are female. Often, she'll be the informant who gives UNCLE their first lead – the naïve employee of a particular person of interest, or perhaps the wife or family member of someone who's disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Others simply find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it's not uncommon for the innocent to become involved only when UNCLE themselves go out of their way to recruit her to their cause, thanks to any of those same sorts of tangential connections to the unfolding case. The job of charming the innocent into helping and preparing her for her role usually falls to Napoleon, and only a relative minority fail to fall for his charms (though that may be more figurative than you think – many innocents are spoken for, and not all are interested, and Napoleon is far too much of a gentleman to push his luck).

Despite a number of memorable exceptions, most innocents to appear on the show are cast from a relatively limited set of moulds – typically young, white, pretty and unthreatening first, and all else last (female villains on UNCLE are a whole other story, which we'll get to below). But the really lovely thing (to my mind) about the role innocents play is that the idea that ordinary women can – and indeed should – be trusted with serious responsibility in dangerous circumstances has been built into the ethos of the series from ground level. Individual innocents may panic and scream under pressure, they may need rescuing, they may fall apart over pretty dresses, they may well be coerced into getting involved without any real chance to say no, and a great many will still fall for Napoleon within hours of meeting him – but they may just as well be the one rescuing him at some point, and their help is always warmly recognised. For all the inevitable sexist baggage that comes from the era (and even a show like UNCLE is hardly immune), there's an underlying level of respect in how even the silliest of them are treated that's very refreshing. The rare script which requires one of our heroes to utter the lines, "oh, we can't get her involved, it's much too dangerous!" comes out quite hilariously out of character.


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If there's just one thing that disappoints me a little about the collective innocents of UNCLE, it's how they pale in comparison with their counterparts on the other side of the law. Female villains on UNCLE range from femme fatales to scientific geniuses to kinky torturers to matronly old women who wield authority like an iron claw. A number are seen running THRUSH operations their own name, the equal or even the superior of any notable male THRUSH lieutenants to share their screentime. They may have to deal with sexism or unwanted male attention, but none ever seem to be judged by the narrative simply for being women trying to do a man's job, and there is all of one straw-feminist villainess in all the episodes I can think of. A professional racing car driver, a literary critic, a batty grandmother and a dominatrix going by the name of 'Mother Fear' (who never once has to strip down or crack a whip on-screen to convince us of her credentials) are just a few of the many weird and wonderful examples to get their spot in the limelight. Unfortunate as it is that the villains get to have so much more fun than the good guys ever do, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a show on TV today with half so many great villainesses as UNCLE has, and that's really saying something.

Your mileage may vary on how well some other aspects of the show have aged. Various shades of brown or yellowface are regularly employed to fill out the guest cast for episodes set in some international location, and telling yourself well, I guess the show is still basically a product of its time can only reduce the cringe-factor by so much. Actual non-white guest stars of various ethnicities do get to appear on UNCLE throughout its run (not least the wonderful Frances Nuyen from The Cherry Blossom Affair, who plays one of my favourite innocents of all time) – and are lucky enough to get most of the better scripts too – but there's a lot of decidedly missable material sandwiched in between the better episodes, and it's worth knowing that going in.


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One of my earliest impressions on watching S1 for the first time was to be pleased to find it much less ridiculous and exploitative than the James Bond franchise, which has never really worked for me. Plots are lower-key, women are treated as actual human beings, and good planning and quick thinking are far more likely to be what saves the day than raw machismo. High-tech gadgetry of the James Bond school of espionage gets a bit of a look in, but relatively few episodes hinge on it. Villains do occasionally leave their prisoners in easily escapable deathtraps, but most have better manners. But beyond all that, there's a kind of endearing innocence and optimism that permeates the whole show – from the very concept of a Cold War-era series about a an American and a Russian working together for a truly benevolent international agency, defending the world from megalomaniacal villainy. Napoleon and Illya may be capable of ruthless professionalism, but at heart they're always portrayed as fundamentally nice people, working to do a good thing. Losing even a single innocent in the line of duty would be unconscionable. About the only time you'll ever see them disobey orders is if those orders involve abandoning their partner to certain death.

The new movie's reimagining of Napoleon and Illya as reluctant heroes – a thief serving out his parole and a dedicated Soviet agent living in the shadow of family disgrace – is fairly telling of how times have changed, but strips the core out of what I've come to love about the originals. I have a terrible weakness for the idealism of shows like UNCLE – it's half the fun.



2. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (and why people are still slashing them 50 years on)

So, having covered the basics, let's get onto talking a little more about the stars – the real draw for us slashers (and I daresay a good portion of the regular viewing audience too).



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Always the darling of the show in his day, Illya's appeal doesn't seem to have dampened with the fans in the last few decades. I fell for him hard on my own first watch, to the point where I skipped a lot of episodes where he didn't appear (if anything, the rarity of his scenes in the early series only adds to their appeal). He's a thoroughly likable character, combining the best parts of the snarky sidekick and mysterious outsider all in one – just alien enough to be intriguing.

Though fanfic often (and not unreasonably) extrapolates his having had to deal with his share of anti-Russian sentiment while working in the US, and the new movie re-imagines him as a man driven by conflicted loyalties, the original Illya has a quiet confidence a thousand miles deep, and plainly feels he has nothing to prove to anyone. A card-carrying cynic, Illya has bone-dry wit, a disarmingly cute smile, and an occasional tendency to get over-involved in his undercover roles in charmingly ridiculous ways (Illya may gripe about some of his roles, but when he commits, he commits). He can play several instruments, speak a number of languages, and apparently convincingly reproduce any accent (except, apparently, that of a native English speaker). He rarely expresses strong opinions on food or drink, but never misses a good chance to stop for a meal. He's not much for tact and charm – even his rare upper-class roles come out on the irascible side – but otherwise, it may be shorter to list the things he can't do (though 'avoid an obvious opportunity to get himself captured and tied up' would have to be top of the list). The show goes back and forth a lot on his feelings on women, varying from 'perfectly susceptible to a pretty face, just less of a horndog than Napoleon' to almost comically blank disinterest. His "How did I get into this? Oh, right, Napoleon,"-face is quite the thing of beauty.[[MORE]]

Fandom makes much of Illya's intelligence – particularly scientific background and quantum physics degree, and his expertise with explosives (in actual fact, his PhD is mentioned all of once, and barely in passing then, and there's no evidence he has any particular expertise with explosives until another couple of mentions-in-passing in late season 4). On the other hand, I feel fandom has sometimes sold Illya rather short on being both a total troll and some kind of fsking ninja – which is to say that the young David McCallum had the upper body strength to go up a wall like a squirrel (no stunt double required), and that I had no idea just how much I was going to enjoy watching him do it until the writers cottoned onto this around S2 and began taking every opportunity to let him climb all the fuck over everything at the least excuse. Given the chance to do so without compromising a mission, he will also happily play dead or feign innocence with a flawless poker face purely to wind people up (if Napoleon isn't the target, he's probably playing along). As the younger, slightly shorter and blonde-blue-eyed partner, fandom also makes much of his waifish stature and angelic looks. This somewhat exaggerates the reality, where David McCallum's all of a couple of inches shorter and only a few years younger than his costar, and not that pretty standing still, but I'll be damned if there isn't something about that man in motion that does things to me. Like so many good spy tactics, it sneaks up on you.



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Rather like his partner did, come to that.

Unlike Illya, Napoleon took a little while to grow on me. The basic archtype of the inveterate womaniser who flirts with anything in a skirt but never settles down is an old one, and can easily go badly wrong. Most are far more about the fantasy of what men want to be than what actual women want out of a man, quickly alienating my half of the audience. That so much of Napoleon's womanising happens in the line of duty complicates things further – how much the job is the purpose and how much it's merely the excuse is hard to tease out, and probably varies by writer. One day he'll follow a blatant THRUSH honeytrap after barely a flutter of her eyelashes, another you'll see him surreptitiously checking his watch in the middle of making out with a mark. Whether the target is single, married, or sometimes even male, Napoleon's ability to charm his way past people's defences is one of his greatest assets, and both he and his boss clearly know it.

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All that said (or, indeed, as @out-there-on-the-maroon put it here, in a post that echoed my own thoughts so well I had to link them), there's something unexpectedly sincere in how Vaughn's Napoleon reacts to women on screen. Almost every woman he flirts with will end up on a date with him after the action – typically dinner and dancing in some fancy restaurant – but how many he takes home afterwards remains an open question. Plenty of innocents are portrayed as very innocent indeed, and though some are surely happy have Napoleon (ahem) remedy matters, it's even harder to imagine him much disappointed by those who'd rather say goodbye at the door. For Napoleon, wining and dining a beautiful woman is its own reward, and taking her out for some fun after the excitement just his way of showing his gratitude for her help in the latest affair (other S1 innocents are given a substantial cash reward – UNCLE likes its irregulars to feel appreciated). It is one of the greatest shames of the series, to my mind, that we only twice get to see Napoleon turning on the charm for a woman older than himself, which he approaches with scarcely less apparent enthusiasm. Perhaps what saves Napoleon most is that he's just old-fashioned enough to be a gentleman – and by that I mean a true gentleman, who treats women with genuine respect, and who'll back off if he's not welcome. Napoleon's ability to charm women seems to depend above all else on the way women charm him – effortlessly, over and over again, while episodes like The Terbuf Affair make it clear that it's the pressures of the job first and foremost that keep him from settling down. If his love life is restricted to a string of one-night-stands, it goes without saying he'll go out of his way to make sure the lady has as good a time as he does.

Perhaps the real wonder of Napoleon's manwhoring for justice is that women on UNCLE actually don't seem to be judged for the same behaviour. Those who pursue him (or Illya) with open enthusiasm are never vilified – perhaps faintly ridiculed at worst. Even outright femme fatales are likely to be more sympathetically portrayed than the average villain, not less. The gorgeous woman with the ear of the (male) villain-of-the-week is more likely to be presented as the true brains of the operation than the conniving ho who slept her way to the top, while others are running major operations in their own right. The lack of any real double-standard over sexuality makes it that much easier to sit back and enjoy watching Napoleon do what he does best.

All that said, Napoleon's more than just a libido in a nice suit. He's plainly a highly competent agent, never hesitates to take charge in an emergency, and for all that fandom that fandom makes of Illya's scientific prowess, it's Napoleon who actually seems to McGyver his way out of the more traps by creatively using whatever's at hand (Illya's more likely to ninja his way out, and I am very okay with this). If he's occasionally painted as the uneducated doofus next to Illya's Renaissance Man during briefing, he leaves it behind in the office. He's the very picture of grace-under-pressure, remaining suave and smart-mouthed even at gunpoint, though he also pulls some of the most endearingly hangdog faces when caught flatfooted. About the only time we ever really see him sulk over rejection is the rare occasion when the girl goes for Illya instead of him. By the end of the series, I was eagerly going back to watch episodes I'd originally skipped for Napoleon alone. Not since Captain Jack Harkness have I loved a total flirt like Napoleon nearly so much. A little charisma, a lot of sincerity and some basic respect for your partners goes a long way.

So there's everything to love about both of the individually, but as for all great partnerships, the combination is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

I'm personally fascinated by the parallels between them and that other classic 60's duo of Kirk and Spock from the original Star Trek, launched only a few years later – both pairing an alien genius with his womanising-but-otherwise-very-professional boss, producing a superficial clash of personalities over a deeper and enduring friendship. For bonus parallels, Spock too was never expected to become such an overwhelming popular character, let alone with the female fanbase, and likewise narrowly avoided being dropped from the cast by executive meddling before the pilot ever made it to air. In additional neat trivia, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy first appeared on screen together in an episode of Man from UNCLE – the quite excellent Strigas Affair from season 1. Also like Kirk and Spock, Napoleon and Illya get themselves shipped to hell and back, and certainly not without the subtext to explain why.

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Episodes which do much with their relationship (let alone hit the dedicated slasher's much-watch list) remain in the minority throughout UNCLE's run – a good number only have both characters in the same place together for a scene or two at most, and may not have much for them to say to one another even then. The history of their relationship is similarly spotty. We never do find out how long they've known each other or how they met – the decision to keep the protagonists' backgrounds largely mysterious was apparently made early in the show's history, and it stuck – but the easy camaraderie between them is all but fathomless. On paper, they ought to clash on every front – a Russian and an American, even before you factor in Napoleon's implied upper-class background against Illya's proletarian roots, and yet it never seems to matter. A friendly habit of winding one another up once in a while (often in a decidedly flirty manner) or Illya's occasional bitching during his more cynical moments are about as bad as the friction seems to get. A great many of their best moments of improvised teamwork are all but wordless, plans shared with barely more than a glance between them. It's lovely to watch.



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What you won't see is the two of them ever really talk about their relationship. Not even (to my great frustration) if one of them has been brainwashed or replaced with an enemy lookalike (which happens more than once) and what they should know about one another logically ought to be a major plot point. Like their personal histories, regrets or mortality, the core of their relationship goes almost entirely unanalysed and unspoken. The overarching subtext – and it's always hard to know how much the writers were building in intentionally, or even aware they were creating it at all – is that not talking about it is simply how they deal with the ever-present threat that one or both of them could die in the line of duty or be reassigned to the other side of the world tomorrow. This isn't to say they don't communicate, but a lot of the sweetest moments between them are little more than an exchange of smiles.

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They also rescue one another a lot. Which you'd think would be all part of the job, except that I really can't overstate how much getting captured, tied up and perhaps whipped or tortured in variously kinky fashion is a day-to-day occurrence for the both of them. This goes so far that Illya has had himself kidnapped by the villains on multiple occasions purely to draw Napoleon out (which it will, even if he's been specifically ordered to wait for backup). You won't much see them openly worry about one another, but leaving the other in serious danger is more than you can ask from either of them. And then there's the flirting, and the established habit of following one another even while on leave, the odd display of jealousy... if I started listing specific slashy moments, we'd be here a while.

More than anything else though, the heart and soul of the ship for me is the way the show has made clear again and again that there isn't and couldn't ever really be anyone more important for either of them. Napoleon's women come and go, but marriage to a civilian would never work. Both married their jobs long ago, and in a way, one another.




3. Changing With the Seasons (a.k.a. how no two people to work on this show ever agreed on exactly what it was supposed to be)

Beyond the three main characters, the Innocents, UNCLE vs THRUSH and a few favoured (and conveniently marketable) pieces of tech, remarkably little about the show remains consistent through its run, or even from episode to episode. Tone varies from the political drama of episodes like The Dove Affair or The Candidate's Wife Affair to ridiculous balls-to-the-wall inanity of stuff like the second part of the Alexander the Greater Affair – and that's even before you hit the wilder changes of the last two seasons. Showrunners changed with each season, bringing with them wildly different visions of what the show ought to be, from serious drama to spoof. Season 1 (widely considered the best of the four) could be characterised as often serious but with about as many light-hearted or downright silly episodes to space it out, whereas after the shift to colour, seasons 2 and 3 become progressively shallower and campier as they go – though still with occasional more serious fare. This trend comes grinding to a halt as we hit S4, which is goes so far in attempting to 'fix' the excesses of the previous seasons that the new season becomes almost uniformly grimdark and gritty throughout. Opinions on whether this worked vary, but in practice, the attempt to save the show backfired badly, and it was cancelled mid-season. An attempted revival in the 80's likewise failed, as did the recent movie (both have their merits and their fans, but certainly can't be called commercial successes).

Complicating things further, two stories out of every season were released in movie-length editions in international cinemas. Whether the TV-versions were cut down to a single episode (as in S1) or shown as a two-parter (as occurred thereafter), nearly all had substantial scenes added or replaced for their cinematic releases – mostly taking advantage of the venue to throw in some extra T&A. Some of the tamer footage later got recut back into other episodes (see esp: The Four Steps Affair from S1). The movies do mean that at least a couple of S1 episodes are available in colour, but largely tend more towards spy-fi clichés and empty spectacle. They're mostly loud and fun, but don't showcase the best of the series, IMO. There was also a short-lived spin-off series The Girl from UNCLE, a number of published tie-in novels, plus some comics and enough other supplemental material to keep arguments about what counts as canon going for a long while yet, though even the most dedicated fans are unlikely to tell you it's all essential viewing.



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How seriously we seem to be expected to take the very idea of UNCLE varies drastically from story to story. While more serious episodes build up the political intrigue or present UNCLE as having a contingency plan for everything from Waverly's incapacitation down to supposedly-innocuous phrases that can be uttered over a radio to indicate danger, others will see Napoleon and Illya walk into traps that would be lucky to fool a moderately-suspicious first-grader. Though UNCLE has done the typical 60's spy trick of concealing the entrance to its HQ behind an 'ordinary tailor's shop', it's apparent from the very first scene of the pilot that virtually every ne'er-do-well on the planet knows precisely where it is. S1 may, as I've sometimes seem claimed, be nominally more into realism than later seasons, but I find even that debatable – it's also the season where members of UNCLE's communications staff of sexy young women seem to find ample time to lounge around on sunbeds, take up pottery or flirt shamelessly with Napoleon over the radio. There’s always been a sense of fun about the series, realistic or otherwise.

While S1's Giuaco Piano weaves a complex chess metaphor of bluffs and double-bluffs as both sides work to anticipate the other's next move, Gazebo in the Maze sees Illya captured by a guy who 'accidentally' drops a book outside UNCLE’s not remotely secret headquarters, leading him onto a suspiciously empty British double-decker bus running a route in New York for no obvious reason, then later traps Napoleon by literally telling him "you can sit down, it's perfectly safe" on a booby-trapped chair. And while an episode like The Girls of Nazarone sees Napoleon recruit a grudgingly unenthusiastic innocent because she simply happens to be roughly in the right place to help him stage an elaborate con, he's utterly stumped when faced with an enthusiastic volunteer from his own staff in Never Never, even with a theoretically infinite timeframe to come up with something interesting for her to do. UNCLE's cigarette box communicators are made very cheaply in Japan, then in a later episode are quite expensive, but could be made more cheaply if outsourced to Japan. Few of these sorts of head-scratchers are ever so much as lamp-shaded by the script; almost the only consistent factor is the inconsistency itself.

What does stand out about S1 is a willingness to take deeper thematic ideas more seriously. Appropriately, given the mandate for innocents, a major recurring theme plays up the contrast between the world of espionage and the life of the civilian. The world innocents glimpse while working with Napoleon and Illya is glamorous, sexy, exciting and frequently, horribly dangerous, effectively precluding either of them ever forming long-term relationships outside of their work – if they live long enough to even consider it. Innocents sometimes wonder how they'll ever go back to their old lives after seeing what they've seen (though they almost invariably do in the end). Episodes like The Terbuf Affair see Napoleon pining quietly for an old lover he's given up, while the finale The Odd Man Affair sees a former spy eagerly taking the opportunity to return to the field. A few others like The Shark Affair and The Dove Affair pit UNCLE against enemies with sympathetic motives of their own, blurring the usual lines of black and white. Even in the first season, such episodes are the exception rather than the rule, and separated by plenty of lighter fare – but they collectively lend a depth and poignancy to the show that goes sadly lacking in later seasons.

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From the switch to colour and change of showrunners in the second season, any real interest in deeper themes falls by the wayside. A handful of better-developed villains or the very rare innocent whom Napoleon seems to have gotten closer to than most are about as near as we'll ever get again. Notably gone too is much of the glamour of the spy world, taking with it what seems to be most of UNCLE's annual budget. No longer does Napoleon have tens of thousands of dollars to throw around getting innocents on his side – instead, we start to see him taken to task for expenses as mundane as ruined suits. UNCLE seems to be increasingly taken as little more than a day job for its agents. Rather than giving innocents a glimpse into UNCLE's world, our heroes instead sometimes seem to be getting a glimpse into theirs -- to the point that a number of stories become so focused on the guest stars that our regular heroes seem to be there for contractual reasons alone. Even when we finally return to the subject of the incompatibilities between espionage and lasting love in one of the final episodes of season 4, thematic resonance is kept to an absolute minimum. Although there are still great episodes in the later seasons they're consistently shallow fare, which I feel is something of a shame.

What these stories lack in substance, however, they do at least partially make up in style. The quality of stunts and action scenes improves markedly from the start of S2, as does the frequency with which Illya ends up climbing things or stuck in a wet shirt, and the parade of increasingly kinky scenarios as Napoleon and Illya are tied up, threatened and/or tortured by villains in virtually every episode gets started in earnest. Chains, whips, various forms of brainwashing and even a maternally-themed dominatrix all make appearances. Silver communicator pens gradually start to replace UNCLE's original cigarette-box communicators, and various other gadgets begin to complicate their arsenal too. Innocents are more likely to be single women who collide with the case in the course of their day jobs than demure housewives, and the slightly grating S1 assumption that all women want expensive dresses and society parties relaxes away (perhaps in line with UNCLE's apparent budget cuts). A number of second-season episodes open with exciting and largely self-contained action scenes, sometimes so long the plot of the rest of the episodes feels cramped as a result. There may not be anything in S2 I loved quite so much as the highlights of S1, but there's still plenty I enjoyed to bits, if sometimes for fairly shallow reasons...

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(Ahem)

The third season holds a special place of infamy among the fanbase as the season where completely OTT camp sensibilities infested the show, allegedly inspired by an attempt to imitate the success of the new Adam West Batman series. Individual mileage may vary on whether S3 truly deserves its reputation – tone varies by as much as it did in previous seasons, and there's a case to be made that the deservedly bad reputation of just a few really bad examples (The My Friend The Gorilla Affair, mostly) drags the rest of it down. For my own money, I'd actually say S3 represents perhaps the least drastic change in tone from the previous season anywhere in the show's run – a bit more reliance on random gadgetry, a new fixation on ending almost every episode with a huge free-for-all fistfight, and a strange new insistence that Illya a) will not show interest in girls, and b) will get captured at least once in every episode are perhaps the most striking differences from the season past. That said, my list of all-time-favourite episodes coming out of S3 is notably pretty thin, while the dumb-but-still-entertaining category is unusually well populated.

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And then we hit season four.

That S3 was something of a misstep is hard to argue, so it's perhaps understandable that with S4, production took a drastic change of direction to 'correct' the mistake. The result, unfortunately, seems to have been a mandate against not just camp sensibilities but against the very idea of escapist fun. S4 is grim and gritty to the point that even those who enjoyed the resulting season (which, to be fair, seems to include most of the easily-found review sites which cover the various seasons, and a lot of slash fangirls too) note the episodes commissioned as not having 'as much humor as perhaps they should have'. And it's a damn difficult section for me to summarise objectively, as believe me when I tell you S4 did not work for me on any level.

Espionage in S4 is a serious business, filled with shouty, angry people and their shouty, angry enemies. A particularly infamous scene sees Illya forced to torture Napoleon to maintain his cover. This is also the season where Napoleon is tortured as part of an internal investigation on UNCLE's own premises, while UNCLE itself proves to be infested with traitors up to the highest levels of authority. There's nothing S4 loves more than a good shocking betrayal, and it loves them so much that all but one or two episodes out of the whole season revolve around our heroes or the innocent of the week being horribly betrayed by someone they'd trusted. Words can hardly express how old it gets by a handful of episodes in. Even Napoleon's charm and Illya's wit get barely any play, and there are precious few real character moments between them. All that drama and misery does produce a few very nice displays of loyalty, and has inspired some genuinely lovely episode-coda fic – most of it dealing with the fallout of everything Napoleon and Illya have been put through that week, only to be brushed aside on screen without resolution. Meanwhile, the personality and the idealism that originally attracted me to the series has been all but stamped out of existence. There isn't a single episode in all of S4 that makes my all-time-faves, and only a handful I much enjoyed.

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Accounts of how S4 was received in its own day vary – the standard view seems to be that ratings were well on the way down by the end of S3, and the changes that came with S4 was too little too late to reverse the trend. A more detailed source, however, suggests that ratings were down but not yet dire after the third season, and plummeted only during the fourth, and I suspect this is more likely on the money. For all S3's faults, it's hard to believe anyone still on board at the end of that era would have reacted well to the drastic switch in mood with the fourth. Whatever the truth of the matter, the show was abruptly cancelled mid-season. The biggest shame for me is that I honestly can't say I'm sorry that S4 didn't last longer.

The footnote to the UNCLE story is the 80's attempt at a revival in the form of The Fifteen Years Later Affair, which, for better or worse, failed both with the established fanbase and in producing new interest in the series. I haven't actually seen it myself. In order to generate a reunion episode, the script called for Napoleon and Illya to have left UNCLE not long after the original series concluded and not spoken since, and understanding objectively why that would sound like a good idea to a TV producer doesn't make it any less infuriatingly contrived.

In all, the history of The Man from UNCLE is a bit of an odd beast. Whatever it was about the show that made it work in its own day seems to have been stumbled upon by accident, and largely lost on later producers despite various different attempts to recapture the zeitgeist – though it's hard to think of UNCLE's story as a cautionary tale so much as a show that peaked a little early for its long-term good. Producer Sam Rolfe's departure from the series at the end of season 1 is one of the more widely cited sources for UNCLE's fall from grace, though the show's success did significantly outlast his tenure. Much as I gripe about tonal randomness, UNCLE’s blend of humour and drama, mixing spells of silliness in alongside world-threatening action obviously worked in its favour, engaging the audience and broadening story possibilities. Losing sight of how to keep that balancing act going may have been much of its downfall in the last season or two of its run.

Excluding supplemental material, there are 105 episodes of the UNCLE series proper. There are maybe 20 of those I'd personally consider really essential viewing, and probably 30-40 others I thoroughly enjoyed. Many are decent but unremarkable, only a minority are really all that slashy, and a rather distressingly large number so bored or irritated me I gave up part way through. That's not exactly a stunning hit rate, but the episodic nature of the series means there's not much lost by skipping what doesn't work for you, and the fact I was still head over heels for the series by the end of S1 (and even S1 had its share of clunkers, believe you me) says a hell of a lot about just how much I was enjoying the episodes that stood out. Other folks may find themselves loving a completely different subset; there’s plenty to go around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just wasted over 7K analysing this thing, and the snowballing list of fic ideas I’ve come out of it with ain’t gonna write themselves...

Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
spikesgirl58
Feb. 24th, 2016 04:35 pm (UTC)
Very good points to be made all the way through and it's refreshing to see someone look at the show with fresh eyes. I'm sure you are going to have fun with the series and I hope to read some of your work. Where will you be posting it?

Might I also offer you an invitation? There is http://mfu-canteen.livejournal.com/ which is our daily chatting place. There is also http://mfu-scrapbook.livejournal.com/ for all the image needs. There are also tons of links. Both sites are slash friendly.

Finally, looking for a new friend or two?
rallamajoop
Feb. 25th, 2016 03:13 am (UTC)
I've actually got one fic up already at AO3. Would probably have been writing more if I hadn't derailed myself into meta-land - hopefully should have time to get back to that soon-ish (though lord knows I'm not the fastest writer out there at the best of times).

I'd hardly say no to a new friend or two or more community recs, though I'm actually in the weirdest place right now where my own f-list has so completely dried up on LJ over the last few years that I've all but given up and moved over to tumblr, much as I miss proper threaded conversation. Discovering a fandom community still active over here has been the best kind of shock to the system, but I honestly have no idea whether it's going to get me back into the habit of posting regularly again. So, um, hi! Nice to meet you! I may or may not be around much. ^^;
spikesgirl58
Feb. 25th, 2016 04:32 pm (UTC)
Most excellent. We are actually a pretty active fandom, all in all. I hope that we will see you around.

laurose8
Feb. 24th, 2016 05:17 pm (UTC)
Welcome to the fandom! We're glad to have new members, especially a good writer.

Thank you for a terrific overview. I am most looking forward to seeing those fic ideas. It might be cheek from someone who can't write a word, but if you can fic half as well as you meta, they'll be very fine.

All the meta is admirable, but I'd like to especially yay what you write about S4, which says what I feel (as overview) better than I could. I'd like to add that nonhumans seemed very unfortunate, unlike S1 Fox and Hounds.

Most fans would probably advise against sitting through GfU, but if you ever care to give a small appendix about that; or indeed on any subject, this one would be interested.

Edited at 2016-02-24 06:30 pm (UTC)
rallamajoop
Feb. 25th, 2016 03:37 am (UTC)
Well, as I mentioned in the comment above I do have one fic posted already! I did actually link it to muncle and was there looking for a beta a little while before too, though I guess not everyone saw it/made the username connection.

Gosh S4 is an awkward subject for me. >_< I know a lot of fans loved it and I'd be the last person to tell them they shouldn't, especially when it sure has inspired some excellent fic. But I personally found it such a slog it all but killed my love of the series dead for a while in the middle. :/ Such a painful exercise in producers confusing grimdark nihilism for maturity.

I'd like to add that nonhumans seemed very unfortunate, unlike S1 Fox and Hounds.

Do you mean in the sense of episodes like My Friend the Gorilla, The Abominable Snowman, The Tigers are Coming, The Birds and the Bees, The Bridge of Lions, etc? Not the best record, though I did enjoy Bow-Wow and Bat-cave despite their sillier elements, and even Tigers has its (ahem) redeeming factors.

I did give GfU a quick try - or at least I watched the first episode and the Mother Muffin Affair. I wasn't exactly blown away and its reputation turns me off a lot, but I did write down a few paragraphs worth of thoughts at the time. Will have to see if I can track them down.
laurose8
Feb. 25th, 2016 04:00 am (UTC)
Actually, I did follow the link. But I don't have a taste for PWP, and I'm afraid I backbuttoned as soon as I saw the warning for gunkink (Thank you for putting it.) Nonetheless, I'm sure plenty will like it.

Thanks for replying, and looking forward to any future contributions, fic or meta.
fiorenza_a
Feb. 24th, 2016 06:31 pm (UTC)

Hiya, I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I've loved U.N.C.L.E. since God was a boy - and I actually like cheese - so the gorilla is fine by me. Although there are better examples of the faux gorilla http://mfu-canteen.livejournal.com/2119557.html

I agree S4 is a bit of a lurch after that, but I enjoy that too.

And I agree the villainesses - and some of the good girls - get better shrift than was often the case at the time. Which, I think, goes some way to making it still watchable. Although it was still undeniably sexist by modern standards.

I put off watching the Reunion for ever, but have just finally watched it. It's not terrible, but it it's not great either. Mediocrity is always the unpardonable sin of showbiz.

I like the boys as mates. I'm not a dedicated slasher, but I have slashed (ahem - slash is also a euphemism for urinating) and will probably do so again.

Like many fandoms - and long term fan I might be, but I'm still fairly new to fandom - I think it feeds on the gaps in the narrative. There's little to fill in or fix, if canon does it all for you.

I'd be interested to see if your views evolve over time :0)
rallamajoop
Feb. 25th, 2016 07:14 am (UTC)
Hi yourself! I kind of love that we've got folks in this fandom old enough to remember the show when it was originally on air - both for history's sake and just for getting more different perspectives in the mix. (Like meeting Doctor Who fans at cons old enough to have actually seen the missing episodes, to the envy of everyone else in the room.) Fandom over on tumblr makes me feel old and crotchety sometimes, it skews so young. (Apropos of nothing, gosh that gorilla can play the drums! Costuming too has come a long way in the last half-century.)

Although it was still undeniably sexist by modern standards.

Yeah - I mean, it comes and goes, but there's definitely moments even in UNCLE that really make me cringe, and plenty of others I know I give it more leeway on because it's a show from the 60's and I know how much worse it could be. And yet, I'd still say it's overall less sexist than some big budget modern productions I could name, le sigh. How far we've come, how far we still have to go...

ahem - slash is also a euphemism for urinating

XD yeah, I have encountered that one (also a guitarist, and a genre of horror movie!) Fortunately usually not too ambiguous in context. ;)

Like many fandoms - and long term fan I might be, but I'm still fairly new to fandom - I think it feeds on the gaps in the narrative. There's little to fill in or fix, if canon does it all for you.

*nodnodnod* I've seen it pointed out many times that canons with really tightly-plotted stories may be hugely popular and still not inspire much fic, simply because there's no space left to play in. I have my own convoluted theories on how half the reason fans get so much into slash and other non-canon pairings is that you get to start with nothing more than characters and maybe some good chemistry on screen, and everything about the hypothetical romance is up for exploration. But that's a whole other tangent.
lindafishes8
Feb. 24th, 2016 08:52 pm (UTC)
I see you've jumped into the deep end with gusto. Welcome to LJ. Allow me to recommend posting any gen stories you'd like to share in Section VII http://section7mfu.livejournal.com/

We host many different challenges. Watch for the weekly calendar each Monday, to keep it all straight.

I'm a first cousin (watched the original when it first aired) but there are many second cousins in LJ and all are welcome to join in the fun. You're also welcome to peruse our UNCLE bible. It was written for the 50th Anniversary. http://www.mfuarchive.net/archive/6/MFU_Bible.pdf
rallamajoop
Feb. 25th, 2016 09:23 am (UTC)
I see you've jumped into the deep end with gusto.

Considering the one other thing fannish thing I've done so far involved writing PWP gunkink fic, I think that one's pretty much a given. <_<

Thanks for the comm rec, though given the one gen-fic-ish idea I've had thus far would involve some sort of elaborate crossover with Doctor Who, I'm not sure if a comm dedicated to canon is something I'm best placed to get much mileage out of. XD; Shall keep it in mind anyhow.

I'm a first cousin (watched the original when it first aired) but there are many second cousins

I had not run into that terminology before - is it riffing on the idea of being an UNCLE? So 'first cousin' is whoever watched the original run, and 'second cousin' covers everyone else?



Edited at 2016-02-25 09:24 am (UTC)
lindafishes8
Feb. 25th, 2016 07:05 pm (UTC)
Yes! Exactly right. We call each other cousins. Recently, I've found and joined an MFU fansite in Russia! Illya being Russian and all, they are all "second cousins" but are very enthusiastic about the fandom. They write stories and do a lot of translating for fans there not as well versed in English. They talk about the original show and the 2015 movie. They even post other movies and TV shows in which actors David McCallum and Robert Vaughn starred in that aren't available in the US. Very nice and exceptionally polite group of cousins.

Here's a vid made by Anna Impu, from the Russian site.

Enjoy!
rallamajoop
Feb. 26th, 2016 09:59 am (UTC)
Nice vid! I'd heard there was a fairly active Russian portion to the fandom. I do remember wondering on my first watch through the show how Illya (being written by Americans and played by an Englishman) might come across to an actual Russian audience - it's nice to know the answer seems to be 'not badly'.

Is there a specific Russian site you were thinking of? I know there's a pretty significant Russian population on LJ, but it sounds like you mean elsewhere?
lindafishes8
Feb. 26th, 2016 05:01 pm (UTC)
Here's the site I joined. There may be other fan sites I'm not aware of. http://rumuncle.diary.ru/ You can watch without joining. It's a great bunch of gals from all over Russia. All very nice and in love with NS and IK.
sparky955
Feb. 24th, 2016 11:04 pm (UTC)
Ah. getting your PhD in The Pretty and The Brunet !!!!!

As one who came back to the family in 2007, all I can say is, THANK GHU FOR LJ and online fanfic.

rallamajoop
Feb. 25th, 2016 11:01 am (UTC)
And I am sure I will find that PhD just as useful as Illya's is on the show! If I disappear abruptly, just assume THRUSH has mistaken me for someone whose PhD is in theoretical physics, and are about to be very disappointed with my contributions to the construction of their latest superweapon.
leethet
Feb. 25th, 2016 04:19 am (UTC)
An interesting and intelligent analysis of the show. I enjoyed reading this and agreed with a great deal of it, which, I suppose, indicates that there are some universals about fandom (or about something) between old fen such as myself and new ones such as you. Welcome, cousin.
rallamajoop
Feb. 25th, 2016 10:20 am (UTC)
there are some universals about fandom

Well, at the very least we're all fans of the same show, so I would hope so! ;) And thank you, I am feeling very welcome indeed!
seagull2eagle
Feb. 25th, 2016 07:18 am (UTC)
{flails around excitedly at your post} Awesome, great review and summary of the whole thing! I rather want to write a 7k reply to it, lol, but sadly I don't have enough time for that. But I *really* appreciate the amount of time and effort you've taken into not only the watching but the whole poking around to find everything on the internet and then saying "not enough!" and making one that *does* have what you (and probably others) need. ^^

I'm a fan who grew up watching reruns, and managed to keep liking it into slash years (amazing what we don't see when we're younger!) but never got around to fanficcing it myself until the new movie came out. My friend and I went to see it and I was expecting nothing much... and came out absolutely delighted. It wasn't the most awesome thing in the world, but for what it was, we really quite liked it and thought they did an excellent job. Not the original by any means, but still so much fun and with good characters and dynamics. So then, of course, I went back and started rewatching the original too. Because there's only one movie, but there's hundreds of episodes of the tv... and I fell in love with that all over again as well. For many of the same reasons that you've enumerated here. The characters! The interactions! The wonderful balance between serious and funny. The many, many women in all facets and they at least tried for a decent representation of other races as well (heck, a lot better than most of the current day ones!) It was a product of its time, but it was a GOOD product, and does quite well even to this day.

Regarding Napoleon and the women, I actually had the thought the other day that he doesn't so much *chase* them, as he lets himself be *open* to them - whatever they want to do, he responds accordingly.

Regarding fandom, I actually made a post on this myself a few weeks back (on my journal) that I think fandom and canon diverged so very radically in so many ways because the early fen didn't have dvds to watch - they had their memory of the tv episodes, and the reruns, and in many tv stations, they didn't often rerun the black and whites because it was jarring for the audience. So fen were left with later seasons more than early, and memories, and lots of discussion amongst each other. Which lead to some rather interesting parting of the ways between canon and fanon along the way. Not all bad, but definitely slightly different beasts. ^^ (Like Illya's science - which I quite like, but as you say, isn't there in the series. Rather interestingly, though, *is* there more in the movie! Nod to fanon? Or just giving Illya more depth? Both ways, I like. ^^)

I'm also totally with you that I'm not a season 4 person at all. -_- Which, haven't rewatched all of them yet, but it starts off, as you say, grimdark, and is almost completely irreconcilable with the initial seasons. No hope there, where hope is what the first seasons have in abundance.

This must have been a heck of a post on tumblr, lol. Not the format! Thank you for reposting it in LJ, and with all the pics too. ^^

That clip you have with wet Illya is hysterical because I was just capping that one and very much enjoying making icons of it... Wet T-shirt Illya pulling himself up, yum! :)

Anyhow, must run because late. I really wanted to reply lots more, but had kept putting it off because no time to write that much, and then thought I better post *something* before bed, just so you know how much I appreciate your post and thoughts. I don't think it's wasted at all. And if there's fic ideas too? Even better. ;D
rallamajoop
Feb. 25th, 2016 03:46 pm (UTC)
I *really* appreciate the amount of time and effort you've taken into not only the watching but the whole poking around to find everything on the internet and then saying "not enough!" and making one that *does* have what you (and probably others) need. ^^

XD See, when I say the show 'stirred up my old essay writing habits', I do mean to say I have serious form for getting a bit loquacious over new fandoms (or even short questions someone has dumped in my tumblr ask box). Throw in the minor frustration of combing the web and finding nothing that really talks about so many things about the show that really stood out to me, and the urge to throw my own 5c into the ring becomes pretty hard to keep down. (Lord knows if anyone who would actually find it useful as an introduction is ever going to find this thing, but it doesn't seem to be lacking reaction either here or on tumblr, so I will gladly call that a win.)

This must have been a heck of a post on tumblr, lol. Not the format! Thank you for reposting it in LJ, and with all the pics too. ^^

Four posts on tumblr, technically, but I see you have already found them. ;) Should be a link to the one fic I've written yet there somewhere too, but I have more planned, believe you me!

With myself and the movie, I had the weirdest trajectory where it was trailers for that that got me interested, then I couldn't go see it right away because my friends were busy, so I started watching the series and fell hard. By the time I actually did get to see the film a month or two later, I had already managed to come all the way around to being the sort of purist who was morally offended by how unrecognisable movie!Illya was, and so I couldn't really get into it. ^^; (Probably would've worked out better for me in the reverse order - I doubt having the old series so fresh in my mind helped. Ah well.)

Re: fandom and history, have you seen the Fanlore page on muncle's fandom history? The Early Fanfic: Gen has some interesting tidbits about how early (zine/fanfic) fandom was focused on Illya to the point that Napoleon was almost a total non-entity. A lot of that is put down to lack of availability of the series (pretty much just as you suggest), and the fact people were getting a distorted second-hand view via the novels and fandom osmosis, so that early fandom's love for Illya became later fandom's focus on Illya to the exclusion of all else. Apparently that began to change late in the 80's - the fact people could record and trade tapes of the series around then probably would've helped. Now that I look it up, apparently official video tapes weren't available until 1991. Yeesh, it's a wonder the fandom kept going at all! They weren't making it easy for people.

I'm not sure I'd say the film does any more with scientist!Illya though - the series may have sort of dropped his PhD out there and forgotten about it, but the fact he has some sort of science background is implied often enough. He often mentions reading scientific papers on various subjects, and he's the one explaining technical details to Napoleon a lot of the time. I've also seen plenty of non-fandom sources mention Illya's science credentials and apparent PhD (IIRC, mostly in the context of his contrast with Napoleon and his appeal to female fans as the intellectual). It's just quantum physics that hilariously never comes up in practice. So the filmmakers wouldn't have had to know jack about fanon to throw in a bit of sciencey stuff attached to his character (and sadly, it's about the only thing about movie!Illya that I did recognise).

That said, Illya Kuryakin, PhD is definitely one of those things fandom has really taken and run with in a big way. Is there actually a single scene of Illya at a microscope at an UNCLE lab in the show? I honestly can't think of one, and yet, I've seen it in so many fic now that part of me thinks it must have happened somewhere! XD IDEK.
seagull2eagle
Mar. 8th, 2016 10:54 pm (UTC)
XD See, when I say the show 'stirred up my old essay writing habits', I do mean to say I have serious form for getting a bit loquacious

Oh, me too! Early fandoms used to get meta posts from me all the time, and happiest times ever were when I would fall in with others who would also do the same. The early "campfire discussions" of us debating fine points of fandom... ah, such fun! Sadly, I rarely have time for that anymore. It's a matter of parceling up my life and allowing myself to come out for a few hours of play periodically and having to also rotate between the parts. But it's a lot of fun to see others engage, and I'm really delighted to see all the thought you've put into this. So much fun to read along and go 'yes!' ;D

Tumblr isn't the easiest for fandom interactions. I finally got on there, but spend more time liking posts than actually talking.

I did like your fic. I remember seeing it posted originally - I have a tab on my phone set to tv MFU and one for movie MFU ao3 posts so I can see the new ones coming through. Fun now to go back and see knowing it's you. Enemies or not, those two just can't stay away from each other! ;D Very yummy.

I lasted all of about five minutes in the movie blinking at tall!Illya and then shrugged and went with it. I suspect that if they'd tried making movie!Illya anything like tv!Illya, fans would be even more outraged and be picking it apart like crazy going nononononononononooooooooooo! As it is, he's so far different, that the fans who weren't going to like it can't say much other than "not Illya!" and not go into nitpicking, and the ones who do like it can like without the problems. Tv!Illya was such a phenomenon, that making the changes was probably the only way to make a true character in it. And yeah, probably just having fallen in love with tv!MFU didn't help you when seeing movie!TMFU. ;D I've been very much enjoying rewatching the tv series, but for me it's a rewatch and not a first fall. Though it is a first major fandom jump into it for me - I was always on the edges watching the fandom but not interacting directly with it before. So this is fun for me too in a new fandom but not new way.

A focus on Illya without Napoleon wouldn't have been nearly as much fun for me, I suspect. I like my buddy-buddy series, even before slash. ^^ Fascinating to see how that happened, though!

Yes, 80s is when VCR came out and fans started recording in mass and trading amongst each other for all sorts of things. I was pretty much running mine for everything under the sun... had every single Dr. Who episode that channel 54 showed. :) There's an infamous moment in a brief-lived series called Phoenix that my friend and I were watching off my old tapes a good decade or so later where in the middle of the show, a ticker tape marquee scrolls across the bottom of the screen "Mount St. Helens has just erupted"... ;D And then in other series there were fans copying their own recordings and sending around to other fans, second, third, fourth generation... talk about pixilated, sometimes! I've got some behind the scenes things from Due South that I got that way. Not to talk about the anime fansubs of the time. ^^

Fandoms are remarkably durable. I was doing the Dr. Who scene the entire time it was on hiatus. For a long time, the convention was inviting all sorts of other guests like Babylon 5 and other SF things just to keep going as a convention while still doing the primary Dr. Who (and watching the actors get older and older...). I actually stopped going to the cons a few years after New Who came along because of the sheer explosion of fandom at that point was overwhelming.
rallamajoop
Feb. 25th, 2016 03:47 pm (UTC)
[and apparently I broke the comment limit slightly; here's the rest]

Which, haven't rewatched all of them yet, but it starts off, as you say, grimdark, and is almost completely irreconcilable with the initial seasons. No hope there, where hope is what the first seasons have in abundance.

It does lighten up a bit later on, but in a weird kind of way where you have graphic torture scenes and perky innocents sharing space in the same episode. So bizarre. As you say, the lack of hope really starts to wear you down. I'm not sure I even fully recognised what a bit part it played in what made UNCLE work for me until it was gone. :\

That clip you have with wet Illya is hysterical because I was just capping that one and very much enjoying making icons of it... Wet T-shirt Illya pulling himself up, yum! :)

You know, I actually remember eyeing that particular one when the icon batch turned up on my friend's list. V. nice indeed. *_*

Aaand now I should really be getting for bed, but thanks for this lovely long comment - I really do love getting them. <3
seagull2eagle
Mar. 8th, 2016 10:58 pm (UTC)
I broke the comment length on my reply too. ;p
---

the series may have sort of dropped his PhD out there and forgotten about it, but the fact he has some sort of science background is implied often enough. He often mentions reading scientific papers on various subjects, and he's the one explaining technical details to Napoleon a lot of the time.

True enough. And the pHd wasn't even mentioned itself until season 3. The pHd might have been the nod to the fandom like of the scientist rather than the start of it. Though with him explaining things to Napoleon, I often got the impression that Napoleon did know most of that and was just winding Illya up because he liked to. ^^ And, well, the audience needed to know.

Is there actually a single scene of Illya at a microscope at an UNCLE lab in the show?

Now that you mention it... I can't think of any. {tilts head and thinks} None? They're usually out in the field. There's not a lot of episode time with them back at headquarters, unless the series is set in headquarters. And of those... no. Hummmm.... Interesting point!

Interestingly, I'm watching season 3 now, and you're right that it's not as silly as people say it is (at least at the start), but I *am* finding it more difficult in general without any expectations, and I think I've traced at least part of it out: They're trying to please the fans.

Seasons 1 and 2 just basically went with the original ideas, though they did do their nods and interactions with fans in various ways (increased Illya time - the running and jumping of Illya time that you mentioned ^^ Illya shirtless time... ^^). But season 3 seems to be deliberately *trying* to do things with the characters, and things that the fans had claimed to want to see. It's not working because it's forced, and it's not natural. That's the way a lot of series go in the end - changing for the fanbase, when the fanbase fell in love with the original product. (I'll never, ever get why they decided that Brisco County Jr. needed to be changed because of the watching demographics to match the demographics, which... canceled the series because everybody stopped watching it when they changed it.) It could be also a bit more strain on the actors because of the fame and not as easily played in their scenes. There's something that's just a bit more forced about the episodes so far.

Hope is definitely more enjoyable. I will also often bypass fanfiction with bad endings because while those might be more realistic, they're not what I need. Life is miserable enough sometimes, without the thing that brings enjoyment and a detachment from everything also going there. Shows, and fanfiction, need to have that hope in them, because that's what makes things better. Without that... it might be realistic, it might be art, it might be drama, but it's not enjoyable and it's not what most people fall in love with. The first few seasons of UNCLE succeeded in that part along with fun and friendship as well.

Wet!Illya in season two is also combined with a heck of a lot of Shirtless!Illya. I was capping the Foreign Legion episode and rather admiring an actor that would do so much of it in just his briefs. ^^ The undressing scene in the plane was hysterical. That, almost certainly, was a fan nod. Yet, a fun, silly one, that was quite delightful.
gilda_elise
Feb. 25th, 2016 12:01 pm (UTC)
Wow, you really did jump in feet first! And what a great commentary! You've definitely done your homework. And, yes, it is very interesting to read what a new fan thinks of our very old fandom. I've seen it quite a bit in K/S these last few years; it's really nice to see the same thing happening here. For so long, new members were far and few between. So welcome to the fandom!

Oh, you may want to pick up a copy of this book. It's pretty informative.

http://smile.amazon.com/Man-U-N-C-L-E-Book-Behind---Scenes/dp/0312000529/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1456401476&sr=1-1&keywords=the+man+from+uncle+book
rallamajoop
Feb. 26th, 2016 02:18 am (UTC)
Well, like I said at the top, I did first get into the series around September last year - it's had time to percolate. Besides which, my past record tends to suggest that if I come out of a new fandom without a few gallons of meta sloshing around my head, I probably didn't get into it very much. ^^;

I've seen it quite a bit in K/S these last few years; it's really nice to see the same thing happening here. For so long, new members were far and few between.

Indeed there is nothing like a new installment to get people into an old fandom. *g*

I've actually seen that book recced around a few places already - was thinking of maybe seeing if I can convince someone to get it for me for my birthday. It does indeed look very much up my alley.
seagull2eagle
Feb. 27th, 2016 09:25 am (UTC)
Instead of replying to your reply, I wrote a ficlet. Inspired by a line in your meta post; though I'll admit it's not the cheeriest of fics. ^^;;; So much for the optimism we were talking about, oops. But, well, sometimes the oddest things stick with us.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/6116242

Okay, on to more cheerful things now. And replies. ^_^
seagull2eagle
Mar. 8th, 2016 11:01 pm (UTC)
{checks through LJ posts} Was it on Tumblr where you mentioned ripping the screen captioning for a start on scripts?

Cool idea! ^__^ I have heard that the screen captioning wasn't the best. But it's a heck of a lot more than nothing, and nothing is what's out there now. Would be awesome for just what you said - a quick check of nicknames and other things "I thought they said" only to find they didn't say. Or things like that. Good luck with it. :)
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