Three years after the theatrical release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles premiered on ABC. Developed as a more cerebral adventure show, Young Indiana Jones showcased the adventures of Indiana Jones from age 8 to 21. Throughout the series, Henry Jones Jr. finds himself in the company of cultural and historical luminaries during some of the most exciting moments in 20th century history. Variety’s Brian Lowry seemed to predict the fate of the series when he wrote: “’The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles’ is lavishly produced, ranks among the best hours on TV, and still seems doomed to virtually certain commercial failure.” He was correct, despite winning several awards and critical praise for strong historical programming, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was canceled in 1993 after only two seasons.
As originally aired, each episode was bookended with an intro and outro featuring an elderly, eye-patched Indy* reminiscing about his younger days. These bookends showcased Indy as a grandfather with a daughter and grandchildren, but were later excised when the series was picked up for syndication and developed for home video.
As an Indiana Jones fan, I have to say that the television series doesn’t hold a candle to the films, but they were never meant to. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles was developed as ‘edutainment’, a family series meant to showcase historical events and figures through the lens of a young adventurer. Considering what passes for historical entertainment these days**, it’s a shame this show didn’t catch on. Is the series hokey? Yes. But many of the episodes are a great deal of fun and feature outstanding performances. Below are five of the best episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Daredevils of the Dessert:
This episode features a Catharine Zeta Jones and Daniel Craig in an episode that has shades of Lawrence of Arabia and Gallipoli. Indy is tasked with going undercover as a merchant in order to help the British and the Australian Lighthorse regiment seize control of the town of Beersheeba (because that is the only place with a dependable water supply). This episode is definitely among those that resemble closer the tone of the films. Though heavy on the history, the feeling of adventure is still there as Indy battles double agents and German soldiers leading to the grand ending.
The Phantom Train of Doom:
This episode plays a little like The Wild Geese, as young Indy teams up with an international collection of aging soldiers. The initial mission for Indy and his friend Remy, is to meet up with their unit, near Lake Victoria in Africa. The two soldiers get lost along the way, becoming embroiled in the adventures of “The Old and Bold” Division, as they intend to find and destroy a mysterious German cannon that is used to shell the British army. This episode leans to the pulpy side, but is a lot of fun and adds a level of military adventure to the series. This episode is also notable for having been written by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) as well as featuring actor Paul Freeman, the performer who portrayed Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Hollywood Follies:
This first half of this episode gives excellent background on the early Hollywood system and has young Indy going toe to toe with megalomaniacal director Ehrich VonStroheim, in his efforts to keep the director from spending all of the studio’s money on his epic “Foolish Wives”. The episode soon becomes a western, however, as Indy acts as a cowboy stunt performer for a young John Ford. We also get to see an old Wyatt Earp as a consultant on Ford’s picture. The episode is a perfect mix of Hollywood glamour and dusty Western and serves a perfect ending to series.
Masks of Evil:
This episode offers intrigue, espionage and pulpy horror as Indy goes undercover in Istanbul, posing a Swedish journalist in the first half, and faces off against the supernatural in the second. Filled with film noir atmosphere, the first half of this episode has a real The Third Man vibe to it. Indy uncovers a plan of the Turks to murder French intelligence operatives. The second half of the episode takes a hard left turn however, as it becomes INDIANA JONES VS, DRACULA! That’s right, The second half of this episode has young Indy holed up in Transylvanian, facing off against an immortal Vlad the impaler and his undead army. I can’t recommend this episode highly enough and I believe it is the only episode with overt supernatural activity reminiscent of the four films.
Oganga: The Giver and Taker of Life:
This is one of the greatest episodes of the series, because it does such an excellent job of expressing the themes of duty, honor and humanity. Up until this point, Indy has been learning what it means to be a soldier, but this is the episode that puts those lessons to the test. Becoming reckless in the field, Young Indy is both chastised and promoted by his superior officers before being sent to march across Africa to pick up machine guns that the allies need. Along the way,Indy and his men are challenged by exhaustion, disease and death. This is a trek that ultimately results in mutiny, for the sake of his men and the child they have found on their journey. In the second half of the episode, Indy makes the acquaintance of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who cares for the young officer and his men. Schweitzer also brings Indy to the realization that “Good is whatever promotes life. Evil is whatever destroys it.” This lesson gives young Henry Jones a lot to think about regarding his recent behavior, the war and his place in it.
The Mystery of the Blues:
Don’t get me wrong, this episode is hokey as hell, but the episode is bookended with Harrison Ford reprising his role as an aging Indiana Jones in 1950s Wyoming. Please bare in mind that this was not a time when we would often see actors of the caliber of Ford doing television. The performance by Jeffery Wright as a young Sidney Bechet is fantastic, and remains grounded despite the madcap content of the episode.
These are a few of my favorites in the series, do you have a favorite? Let us know in the comments.
*George Hall, one of the five actors to portray the character, played the elderly Indiana Jones, whose eye-patched look was modeled after John Ford’s later years.
**The boat left, and I clearly wasn’t on it. When did pawn shops, swamp people and Larry the Cable Guy become part of a channel meant to deliver information about historical events?