52 Weeks of The Avengers

Posted on January 4, 2012

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The Avengers, a British television series, made its American debut on March 30, 1966 on the ABC network. The early response of the American audience (and American TV critics) was mixed but, within 6 weeks, ABC renewed its option for more episodes.* It was probably 1967-68 before I discovered The Avengers. I was 5 or 6 years old at the time, but my parents would let me stay up and watch it.

I’m not sure what, specifically, about The Avengers captured my attention as a child,  maybe it was the the accents or the wardrobes. Or maybe I subconsciously picked up on the intelligence and tongue-in-cheek humor.

I’m just not sure–my memories of watching The Avengers the first time around are somewhat vague, beyond generalities. I liked to reenact the opening credits from the color seasons featuring Mrs. Emma Peel. We didn’t have any champagne bottles lying around my house, but I would pretend to shoot the top off a champagne bottle, just like Mrs. Peel. That said, I also have very distinct memories of scenes from the episode “Epic,” which I’ll discuss when we get to that point in the series.

What I know that absorbed (at least in part) from watching The Avengers was a certain self–confidence and an awareness of feminine power. Although I was already wearing (and loving) hats long before I tuned in to The Avengers, I’m sure my fondness for millinery was influenced by Mrs. Emma Peel.

I rediscovered The Avengers in the late 1970s, when The New Avengers turned up on late-night American television. And I was thrilled when the series was rejuvenated by A&E in 1990. At first I watched and videotaped each episode as it aired on A&E. And then I was thrilled when the series was released, first on videotape and later on DVD. I purchased (and still own) both versions.

As a New Year’s Resolution for 2010 I decided to watch an episode each week, but I dropped the ball. After a couple of weeks, I fizzled out, due to work demands, buying a house, travel, etc. One of my holiday routines for the past several years has included a viewing of the episode “Too Many Christmas Trees.” Other than that one, however, I haven’t watched most of the episodes in at least 5 years. And I haven’t watched the entire series, in order, since A&E launched the revival in the early 1990s.

During the recent Christmas holidays, I decided it would be fun to watch the episodes and do a weekly blog post about The Avengers. So that brings me here. For the next 52 weeks or so, I’ll be watching and blogging about The Avengers. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I’ll watch these in the order they appear in the DVD series (which, I believe, tracks the order they aired on British television). I believe there are 50 episodes starring Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel and the final Mrs. Peel episode (#51) marks the transition to Linda Thorson, who portrayed Tara King, the character that replaced Emma Peel as John Steed’s crime-fighting partner. I’ll throw in a bonus post or two to finish out the year.

Look for The Avengers post on Wednesdays on The Ben Franklin Follies. At this point, I don’t know whether I’ll focus on my thoughts on the episode or simply summarize it. Probably some combination of those two.

I’ll draw liberally on commentary from the various books I own about The Avengers. Where appropriate, I’ll cite or quote from those books. But I’ve watched these episodes many times over the years, especially during the 1990s and early 2000s, so most of what I think or write will be the result of having absorbed the essence of The Avengers, both as a child and as a young adult.

In the event you aren’t familiar with The Avengers, here’s a bit of an overview:

According to Dave Rogers, author of several books about The Avengers, at the time of its American debut, the series was in its fifth season in the UK but American TV viewers were unfamiliar with The Avengers. To help set-up the characters and general structure, the producers created an introductory “teaser” segment, followed by the opening titles and voice-over narration: “Extraordinary crimes against the people and the State have to be avenged by agents extraordinary. Two such people are John Steed, top professional. and his partner, Emma Peel, talented amateur–otherwise known as The Avengers.”

And, if you haven’t picked up on this yet, the British TV series has no relationship to the comic book Avengers. Sorry comic fans.

*Dave Rogers, The Avengers Anew, p. 44.

First up: “The Town of No Return.”

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Posted in: Culture, Television