Turn Back the Clock
Television Series / DVD
Stephen King's Golden Years
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures and CBS DVD
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
What happens when a mad scientist ignores all the warnings about power limits and goes ahead with his crazy experiment? An explosion that takes an elderly janitor on the verge of losing his job by surprise. But it’s what happens to the janitor after the explosion that’s really surprising. This is the premise of the short-lived 1991 CBS television series Stephen King’s Golden Years.
The series begins with hard-working janitor Harlan Williams (Keith Szarabajka) arriving at his government agency job. Harlan is a janitor at a hi-tech government laboratory and, at the age of 71, has given no thought to retirement. That is, until a desk jockey in administration named Major Moreland (Stephen Root) takes great pleasure in letting Harlan know that he has failed the vision exam. Angry at Morland’s tone and rude dismissal of him just because of his age, Harlan vows to retake and pass the eye exam.
Meanwhile, in the laboratory, Dr. Richard X. Toddhunter (Bill Raymond) is about to go through with an experiment despite the warnings of his lab technicians, causing a power overload and machinery begins to short-circuit. Hearing the fire alarm, Harlan rushes to the lab, extinguisher in hand, and is swept off his feet by an explosion. His wife, Gina (Frances Sternhagen), is rushed to the agency’s infirmary by Security Chief Terry Spann (Felicity Huffman). It would seem that all is well with Harlan until his wife notices that his eyes glow green.
While Harlan remains at the infirmary, Terry Spann tells General Louis Crewes (Ed Lauter) of her suspicions regarding Dr. Todd hunter, the only surviving member of the lab crew working on the failed experiment. She learns that his experiment had to do with regeneration, but the doctor refuses to accept the blame for the explosion. An official hearing is set, but Spann recognizes one of the hearing panel members as Jude Andrews (R.D. Call), an employee of a government agency known as The Shop. Spann realizes that if Andrews is involved, this experiment is higher priority than Toddhunter has let on.
Meanwhile, Harlan is allowed to return home. His first thought is to get a new eye exam, which he passes with flying colors. Harlan and his wife soon start to notice that the explosion has had a strange effect on Harlan’s physique. It would appear that the man was getting younger. The Williams’ are not the only ones who notice. The Shop is just itching to get their hands on Harlan and experiment. The elderly couple’s only hope is Terry Spann who will do anything to keep them out of Jude Andrews’ hands.
I watched this series faithfully when it came out - all seven episodes - before CBS cancelled the series. I may have forgotten some of the minor nuances of the series, but I remembered most of it, including the cliffhanger we were left with in August 1991. Thus, I was none too pleased when I finally got my hands on a copy of the series and found it had been changed to give the show some closure.
It would have been fine if they just finished up things after the final airing episode, but the powers that be decided to change the whole final episode. Thus, the cliffhanger ending of Harlan getting captured by Andrews ceases to be and we are given a new ending, one that sort of ties up loose ends, but in actuality is done too hastily and thus, creates more questions than answers. To explain would be to reveal the ending and I won’t do that to folks who actually want to watch this.
When I originally watched Golden Years, I found the concept to be rather interesting and along the lines of works I had been reading by Stephen King. Watching it now, decades later, I see that the show was more of a low budget production with a campy attitude and somewhat silly dialogue. And yet, I still couldn’t help routing for the Williams’ and Terry Spann. It would have been nice to see what demons lie in Spann’s past as a former member of The Shop and where her issues with Andrews began. A shame that the show ended before anyone could expand upon her character.
I loved the appearance of The Shop, the government agency akin to the CIA that has appeared as the villain in a number of King’s novels, including Firestarter and The Tommyknockers. I also enjoyed the appearance of Captain Tripps. In the series, he’s a hippie that reveals the Williams’ hideout to The Shop. Fans of Stephen King will remember that Captain Tripps was another name for the government created virus that wiped out most of the population in The Stand.
For Stephen King fans, the original version of Golden Years would have been right up your alley. But, as we all have seen, Stephen King television series do not have much of a shelf life. I suppose fans of his books and the films based on his novels won’t always be accepting of the original television work. I, for one, found the series to be enjoyable and was sorry to see it go. A shame that the powers that be felt the need to change the story before releasing the series to video. It was much better in its original form, leaving the viewers in suspense as to what was going to happen next. That way, we could end the story in our mind’s eye…probably much better than the ending provided us in the video.