The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
There's no question about it. George Lucas is one of the modern pioneers of filmmaking, starting strong with the coming-of-age classic American Graffiti before reaching superstardom with Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. His films took the world by storm, introduced us to some iconic characters with some iconic stories, and left a stamp on Hollywood since. When he ventured his creative talents to television, he proved to be equally adept in establishing his creative genius there, too, even with different methods, as he demonstrated with the Star Wars Clone Wars television series.
At least, I thought he made a splash on television starting with that until I discovered another TV show that Lucas made many years prior. At first, I dismissed it as the kind of TV show you can put on for fun, and that's it. After checking it out, however, much like an archaeologist who struck it rich, I uncovered mounds of treasures and unsuspecting goodies from underneath its simple, rusty layer.
The show I speak of happens to be The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
At first glance, the show seemed relatively simple. In his younger years, Henry Jones, Jr. - that was Indiana Jones' real name - explored the world and discovered all kinds of sights, sounds, and people, as the circumstances shaped him up into the famous archeologist. But as I said, there's so much more to unpack here than meets the eye. First off, when he was eight years old, he traveled with his family because his father, Henry Jones, Sr., a professor of Princeton University, partook in lecturing tours across the globe. Now, because Indy was still young, his family roped in Helen Seymour, a tutor who taught Henry Jones, Sr. himself when he was younger, to teach him all the basic education courses throughout the tour around the world. After being fed up with such a seemingly dull routine on many occasions, Indy didn't resist the temptation to sneak off when his family expected him to keep up with his studies. In the process, he made his own explorations of some of the various, exotic new locales in which he and his family visited. Sometimes, he would've made discoveries, like one he made with T.E. Lawrence in Egypt. But other times, he would've roped himself into some trouble, like in Paris, when he met Pablo Picasso and Norman Rockwell. But every step of the way, his expeditions would have tested him as he tried to process the circumstances at hand and try to solve the problem or make some sense out of it. Other times, even his family got involved, and they, too, in spades, started to pick up on the circumstances at hand and grow along the way.
And that's just the first third of the show.
The other two-thirds of the show centered on Henry Jones Jr., now nicknamed Indy – he decided to name himself Indiana after his beloved pet dog – as he engaged in a world tour of his own when he was in late high school. One day, he joined his father on a family reunion in Albuquerque, and once again, he got too curious about the outside world to stay put. So he left his father behind and got mixed in with a band of Mexican revolutionaries who tried to win Independence from America in the Spanish War. There, he met Remy Baudouin, a Belgian man with a family back home, and once their intertwinements with the Mexicans reached an end, they both decided to depart for London, where they would've boarded to fight in Europe for World War I. These two were not without some silly banters every once in a while; I mean, Remy tended to be the worrisome, more reasonable half to Indy's more confident yet reckless half. But what they discovered once they were in the trenches would have scarred them for life because of all the travesties they both witnessed. At first, they fought for the Belgian Army, especially after they faked their identities and ages, Indy especially. But after some time had passed, Remy was reassigned to another mission, while Indy was promoted to Intelligence Coordinate for the French Secret Service. There, Indy was to gather information from documents or even conversations that would've been needed to make the next move against the Germans. Partaking in the war, whether as a soldier in the trenches or inconspicuously as a spy for the French Secret Service, would have tested Indy in more ways than he ever could have imagined. Then, when the war was over, he prepared to return to his old life in America. But after an expedition he had with Remy to seek a lost diamond, he started to acquire an unquenchable thirst to discover what more could be found out there in the world. So he decided to head off to college in Chicago to study archeology. And, throughout his life and adventures, he would've gone through his experiences not just while discovering the excellent locations but while also crossing paths with various people who would one day have become historical celebrities themselves.
Now, let me make one thing clear with regards to the editing. When this premiered on ABC in 1992, it did so as a one-hour TV series called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. When presented this way, the episodes came with bookends that starred George Hall as Indiana Jones in his early 90's as he recounted the past experiences we would've seen as the hour-long episodes in question. Later on, in the late 1990s, George Lucas had the episodes edited into a series of feature-length episodes entitled The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. Because of this, a good majority of the show, when presented this way, felt more like two hour-long episodes stitched together. And for the record, that does include episodes that never even made it on the air. Some of them blended together quite seamlessly, while others absolutely did not mesh well together at all. Nevertheless, they all still did a nice job of telling Indiana Jones' stories in a way that was exciting and kept to the chronological consistency of his adventures.
Look at Trenches of Hell, for example. Even though the first half of the episode was just him and Remy fighting on the battlefield, and the last half is just Indy in prison and attempting to break out, these two halves worked well together because they structurally worked into each other very thoroughly. But with Travels with Father, these two halves felt completely different because the first half took place in Russia, while the other took place in Greece. The only thing these two shared in common was the struggles Indy had concerning his father.
I first saw this show through "The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones" presentation. But I can guarantee you, no matter how you watch it, no matter how it's structured, this was still an ambitious look into the early life of Indiana Jones as he tried to take in all that the world threw at him and grew up from those experiences.
For starters, the shots and settings were absolute marvels to look at. Word has it that this show had a bulky budget thanks to George Lucas, and this helped him, the cast, and the crew go all over the world and authenticate the adventures young Indy went on throughout most of his youth. Thanks to that, this show treated us to the traditional realms of India, the pleasantly romantic atmosphere of Paris, the gorgeous sceneries of Vienna and Prague, the philosophical presence of Greece, the enriching spirituality of Africa, the horrors of the World War I trenches, the vastness of the Arabian desert, the modern and contemporary opportunism of America, and so forth. This show felt like a nicely written, elaborately made travelogue besides serving as a good prequel for the Indiana Jones movies.
Speaking of which, let's talk about the writing. One thing about George Lucas that I find myself admiring is that he's known to create complex, fascinating stories that benefited from their mythologies. Whenever he expanded on these stories, especially as far as prequels were concerned, he went the extra mile to tell those stories with the utmost attention to detail in terms of continuity. He did that to ensure that the carefully planned plot devices, characters, and events would have set the stage for what we were acquainted with so well in the movies before. And bear in mind, this was George Lucas' first prequel series, and this was years before he made his more popular but conflicted move on Star Wars with the Prequel Trilogy. But 'til then, he gave it a whirl with Indiana Jones, and I was in awe of how much Indy went through in a way that felt more progressive and natural than repetitive and fabricated.
If there was only one thing I wish this show had more of, I'd say it might be more people, certain situations, and locales that had direct connections to the films. Of course, the closest we got to that was the relationship between Indy and his father, Henry Jones, Sr. On the other hand, I'll admit, those events felt very well done, they developed the two characters more in their closeness, and they set the stage for their eventual next reunion in The Last Crusade.
And another thing, do you remember Indy's fear of snakes in the films? For something that's a crucial part of Indy's character, this surprisingly occurred only twice throughout the entire show. Once when he encountered one in East Africa as a young boy, and again when he and John Ford's film crew had a problem with one in Hollywood Follies, including the death of one of the actors because of that snake. One of the crew members even asked Indy about his fear of snakes in that episode, to which he responded, "It's a long story." That's all that the show displayed or allowed the characters to discuss regarding his fear of snakes, and that's one element I wish was elaborated on more.
And, let's not forget the one other aspect of the show that stood out besides Indiana Jones and the locations. It's the fact that in all of Indy's quests throughout the world, he found himself meeting up with people who went out experiencing what Indy also was before making the discoveries either themselves or with Indy. They all had a role to play in Indy's life as much as Indy had a role to play in theirs. I say this because the people he met up with, and there were a lot of them, would have gone on to become celebrities. You name it, George Gershwin, Franz Kafka, Theodore Roosevelt, Princess Sophie, Pablo Picasso, Elliot Ness, most of the many important historical figures of the early 20th-century, at some point or another, crossed paths with Indy in partnership or competition.
In some cases, however, these celebrities-to-be would have come back in Indy's life as close companions in other quests, and I think that's the beauty of this show. Indy's acquaintances and reunions with good friends like Remy or his high school sweetheart, Nancy, felt no different from those he had with such people as T.E. Lawrance or Ernest Hemingway. These people made their entrance as people first and historical icons second.
Indy himself was a very likable young fellow, even before he acquired his skills. At a young age, he was a precocious young kid who had a thirst for adventure that stemmed partially from his globetrotting expeditions with his family, and sometimes, he got into more trouble than it's worth. Whether as a young kid or as a budding young man, however, Indy's conscience and willingness to resolve whatever dilemma he was faced with always made him stand out as a remarkable young man, and one who was quick to catch on to certain things yet at the same time still had a ways to go in experiencing everything else that life had in store for him.
The supporting characters were fun, too. Because there were so many of them throughout the show, and a good portion of them just came and went episode by episode, I'll focus on those that stood out from the rest.
Let's start with Henry Jones, Sr., Indy's father. He had a strict, no-nonsense personality to him, and he always seemed so uptight and obsessed with having things go as he desired it to a point where he would've given Indy a good scolding if things didn't go as he intended from his end. This introduced a compelling family dilemma that would've required some tense situations to put their relationship to the test. Such as with his and Indy's adventures together in Greece, or even when Indy returned home after serving in World War I, he often looked down on Indy with a scowl and a stiff disposition before also showing a soft, tender side. This showed how not dismissive he can be and how loving as a father he really can be.
Though this reminds me, wasn't he a bit more pleasant and giddy when he made his debut in The Last Crusade? Because his personality here felt more different than it would eventually have been in the movie. But at the same time, I guess that shows you how some characters can grow and grow out of stinginess in-between installments.
Helen Seymour, Indy's tutor, was also an intriguing character. Having taught his father when he was younger, she, too, came in with the anticipation of providing Indy with the same upbringing and education as she had given Henry. But because Indy was such a loose cannon and not prone to stay still, her attempts usually backfired, and some of it felt like foils plotted by Indy on Seymour. As for her character, she was a little strict on Indy, just like Henry, only on some occasions, she expressed some slight pleasant aspects of her character on her part. So, this introduced a twin set of characters that displayed stinginess with occasional tenderness: Henry was the more personal, familial type, while Seymour was the formal, educational type.
Remy, Indy's friend in their war years, was a fun character. Having met Indy in Mexico, he was delightful, was reasonable, liked to take opportunities to find more women, fretted about the more terrifying circumstances at hand, and was subject to some funny bickers with Indy. He also showed some interesting facets of his personality, which may have clashed with Indy's when they weren't dealing with the war. For example, when he came to London with Indy accompanying him, he enthusiastically told Indy about a map that would've led to a hidden treasure. Remy urged him to join him on their adventure, even though Indy was not as interested in the treasure as he was. So, he was a delightful character, felt like a good comic relief even in the war episodes, and felt like a terrific companion for someone like Indy.
Indy's mother had her moments, even though she wasn't portrayed quite as extensively or with as much depth as the other supporting characters. She was interesting when she had to watch over Indy, especially when he had fallen ill in China, and her mounting desperation to help him was pretty nerve-wracking to watch. However, I think her most exciting moment was when she started falling in love with an Italian opera composer in Florence named Giacomo Puccini. She was intrigued by his romantic ways but grew even more conflicted about her life choices because of that. Watching her go through her troubling dilemmas was compelling and even juicy, despite her eventually getting back together with her family, especially Henry.
The performances all across the show felt terrific. Of course, you can expect many actors to join a massive show like The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Still, they all just gave their roles a sense of conviction and dedication as they lent their characters the sense of legibility and believability they deserved.
Margaret Tyzack expressed a sort of regal impression with Helen Seymour as she traveled throughout the world and through Indy's escapades with a highly sophisticated, high-standing stature to her. And whenever she was more cheerful, she expressed a side of Seymour akin to a pleasant, good old friend who just went on an experience with someone she didn't even know she was close with.
Lloyd Owen also expressed his character, Henry Jones, Sr., with a strict sense of dignity, commitment, honor, and precision, though sometimes it made him come across as too uncaring. But even then, that was for the best because when he expressed his tender side with Indy either in Greece or back in Princeton, it made the pleasant little moments he had with Indy that much sweeter.
Ronny Coutteure felt like he was having a lot of fun as Remy. Every time he portrayed Remy in a war environment, he displayed enough charm through his character to not make him too cartoonish, dramatic, or silly. And in situations where he and Indy were not in war, he displayed a civil and slightly sophisticated demeanor to him, as well as a sense of giddiness and awkward moments of uncertainty whenever he and Indy were in a pickle.
The two actors who played Indy both as a kid and as a teenager were genuinely fantastic. Corey Carrier nailed down Indy's likeness in his yearning to explore the outside world underneath an outer coating of youth, recklessness, and precocious antics. And his many facades as he experienced tragic life situations felt in sync to how a young kid would've reacted to it in real life, no matter what appealed to him.
This was one of Neil Patrick Harris' earliest roles in either television or film, and he nailed it as the teenage Indy. He still maintained some elements of Indy's rebellious youth and precocious attitude like Corey Carrier did, but he also portrayed him with a lurking sense of elegant charm, knowledgeable expertise, and physical skills that we recognize from Harrison Ford. Whenever he was at his most mellow, I didn't find him that interesting. Yet, whenever he was in danger, in the process of thought-processing a problem, trying to question what's going on, or arguing with other people about it, you can feel his inner uncertainties seeping through until you're left sympathizing with him every step of the way.
This show even had the good fortune to rope in plenty of big-name stars to leave their dent in this show. They included Catherine Zeta-Jones, Max Von Sydow, Christopher Lee, and even Lucas veteran Ian McDiarmid. And, at one episode, Harrison Ford returned to reprise his role as Indiana Jones, this time in his early 50s, as he tried to escape a band of thieves in Wyoming during the bookends of Mystery of the Blues. He still maintained the charisma that he had with him in the movies, and for that reason, he left a mark in equally good measure despite the little screentime he had in this one episode.
As I continued digging my way into the show, I came away thinking that Indiana Jones' adventures reminded me too much of those of James Bond. But then it hit me: I think Indiana Jones was partially inspired by James Bond. Think about it. Who else besides these two would have traveled around the world, fought off against bad guys at every turn, and wooed women every chance they got? And, is it any coincidence that they got Sean Connery, the first James Bond ever, to play Henry Jones, Sr. in The Last Crusade?
I usually found his romantic escapades very standard since I knew they were not going to last long. I mean, how else would he have found Marion Ravenwood or Willie Scott? But thankfully, this part of Indy's adventures wasn't without its standouts.
There's one cute episode where 8-year-old Indy experienced love for the first time when he had a crush on Princess Sophie in Austria.
There's another solidly romantic episode set in London where he fell in love with Vicki, a suffragette, on the eve of departing for World War I.
But for my money, the strongest and most surprisingly uncomfortable of these episodes was the one set in Paris where he met Mata Hari. On a two-week leave from the war, Indy and Remy were in the mood to hit on some women after experiencing the chaos of war. Indy nailed it with Mata Hari, or so he thought; she always showed up super late for many of their dates, and he caught her wooing other men. And if that's not bad enough, he got apprehended and questioned about his identity and role in the Belgian Army and that Mata Hari was responsible for it. I enjoyed this episode for how sly and mysterious it was and how it made Indy's affairs with Mata Hari reach even rockier terrain the longer it went on. I also enjoyed it because, at this point, it made Indy think twice about romantic affairs and who to trust from then on.
There were plenty of episodes that hit their mark for me. Of course, some of them were okay, but the rest was just terrific.
The three episodes set in Paris each felt unique, enjoyable, and different. I already talked about the Mata Hari episode, but the other two were equally as exciting. The first one involved 8-year-old Indy when he crossed paths with Pablo Picasso and Norman Rockwell, who constantly butted heads over whose art was superior. This felt like a decent introduction to classical art from Paris. And the third one, which took place at the end of the war, covered the Treaty of Versailles, and the political negotiations brewing about after Germany's defeat left Indy, especially T.E. Laurence, baffled and confused about the validity of their ways of enacting a surrender from Germany. It was made even more ominous by another man who witnessed the conceptualization and feared that the events that led to this would only have repeated themselves, the predictions of which proved correct when World War II came around. This was clearly the most political of all the episodes, but the politics in this episode felt 100% natural...as opposed to in The Phantom Menace, where the political talk felt shoehorned and blatant.
The episode set in Transylvania was by far the most gothic and fantastical, and while it was standard, here's why it's so memorable. Indy and his friends heard of three missing soldiers being held hostage in a nearby castle despite reports confirming their deaths. So when they reached the castle, not only were the soldiers alive and well, but the head of the castle, General Mattias Targo, who thinks he's Vlad the Impaler, was seeking their blood, as well as those of Indy and his friends. This episode never made it on the air, and there may be a reason why: there's a lot of blood in this episode, especially from those who Vlad murdered. Anyone who has seen all the Indiana Jones entries will tell you that this imagery called them back to the nightmarishly graphic scenes prevalent in The Temple of Doom.
There's one episode I remember well when Indy was ordered by French Intelligence to gather information on the forthcoming of the Russian Revolution and the political rise of Vladimir Lenin. Indy's opinion on the goings-on in Russia was intriguing, the setup was suspenseful, and the events started to take a more tragic turn for his newfound friends from Russia.
Mystery of the Blues was just a fascinating episode. Besides being bookended by the legendary Harrison Ford reprising his role, this episode showed Indy's life in Chicago for all its pretty sights and ugly turns of events. First, Indy got acquainted with an African-American blues group as he picked up more on the rhythms of that music and the racial prejudices prevalent in the early 20th century. But at the same time, Indy, his old wartime friend, Ernest Hemingway, and college roommate, Elliot Hess, discovered how the employer of the restaurant in which Indy worked was murdered. So the three of them tried to crack the case and hunt down the murderers, and in doing so, crossed paths with Al Capone. And when they submitted evidence on the case to the Chicago Police Department, they dismantled them and dismissed them, much to the begrudging compliance of Ernest and Indy and the sheer outrage of Elliot. To Indy and Ernest, this was just another man-hunting expedition that amounted to nothing. To Elliot, however? Well, if anyone knows from history or even The Untouchables, you know that this was just the beginning.
There's another episode that tested Indy in more ways than he could have imagined when he was out in Prague. When asked to wait in a specific location at a particular time and with a phone, Indy attempted to comply only to lunge into one outrageous problem after the next, and it all left Indy feeling like he was losing his mind. Along the way, he was guided by a young worker, who happened to be famed author Franz Kafka and helped him with his pursuits for a new phone to dial and share the message with. This episode was wild, crazy, tested Indy's patience in more ways than even we could've expected, and it all amounted to a delightfully insane episode.
As you can tell by now, there are many great episodes throughout the show, but the following three might be my personal favorites out of all of them.
#3: Scandal of 1920: After quitting his job as a waiter in Chicago, Indy went to New York to take a summer job working behind the scenes for a Broadway show, George White's Scandals. There, he reunited with the Blues group from Chicago, crossed paths with Tin Pan Alley musicians and famed composer George Gershwin, and, disastrously enough, went out on dates with coworker Peggy, poem-writer Kate, and American socialite Gloria individually all at the same time. Like the Prague episode, this episode put Indy into a mind-bending pickle as he tried to hurdle through many different things all at once. He was asked to get the show underway before it collapsed on its potential, and this episode was where Indy's womanizing came back to bite him as he discovered there's only so much juggling with the ladies he can do before they found out. This episode was fun, it had great music – especially by George Gershwin – and like with filmmaking in Hollywood Follies, witnessing the makings of a Broadway musical was a treat to see.
#2: Daredevils of the Desert: This episode arguably felt the most epic out of all of them, as Indy was tasked on a mission to Beersheba as it was bombarded by enemy Turk forces who were after its water supply. For a good portion of the journey, he was accompanied by old friend T.E. Lawrence, this time in his Lawrence of Arabia persona. The other half, he was accompanied by a spy named Maya who was tasked never to show her face, was a belly dancer on the side, and knew the secret passageways to Beersheba. This episode was massive, it featured some fantastic action scenes, it featured Catherine Zeta-Jones as a spy/belly dancer, you see a pop culture icon (Indiana Jones) pair off with a historical icon (Lawrence of Arabia) against the forces of war, and – in unintentionally keeping with the character's inspirations – it starred future James Bond himself, Daniel Craig. How can anyone resist that?
And my all-time favorite episode? That honor belongs to Treasure of the Peacock's Eye.
In this episode, World War I has finally ended, and as they returned home to London, Indy and Remy remembered from a dying soldier that he was searching for a missing diamond and left them with a map to seek it out with. Indy was resistant to find it but later came to be on board with it, while Remy was ecstatic about finding the treasure from the get-go. So, the two of them set off on an adventure that took them through Egypt, throughout Southeastern Asia, and into the South Pacific islands. Along the way, they had to fight off competing vandals who were after the diamond, too, and river pirates who looted one of the boats they were on, just in the hopes of finding the Treasure. I could go on forever about why this episode was awesome. It was epic and colorful. It took Indy and Remy halfway across the world. They both fought off bad guys every step of the way. The countless obstacles they both faced were fascinating. This episode had almost everything you'd want in an Indiana Jones episode. And, the quest in which Indy and Remy partook tested their friendship more than either of us would have expected. But what I really love about this episode was that it planted the seeds in Indy's psyche that would've budded and made Indy mature into the adventurous archeologist we all know and love, the kind of archeologist who was in it for the thrills instead of the object of the quest...unlike Remy.
The show starts relatively slow and simple, but if you think that the entire show will be this, stick with it. It only gets better from there. And for what we got, whether it premiered on cable TV, premium TV, or even home video, I find this show to be just spectacular. It raised the bar in ambitious storytelling and cinematic television excellence, a feat which would later have been duplicated by shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, and even The Mandalorian. And the size of the stories, settings, experiences, and Indy's character development were such where they occasionally even eclipsed those of the movies.
All I can say is, swing on in and see for yourself. This does an adventurous icon proud.
My Rating: A-
I read that George Lucas planned on producing up to sixty hour-long episodes of the show and that it would've covered Indy's adventures up to when he reached the age of twenty-four. Unfortunately, the highs of its budget and the lows of its ratings sliced it down to over thirty-five hour-long episodes, including those that made their entrance as halves of the feature-length episodes. One of those episodes, Jerusalem, June 1909, would even have involved Indy meeting Abner Ravenwood, who was seeking the Lost Ark, long before Indy would've eventually done the same with Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's a shame this show didn't have a chance to last as long as it could've, and it's especially a shame that this particular episode never made it into fruition. This could've introduced elements that would've guaranteed direct call-forwards to the original film series, just like Indy's relationship with his father. Who knows how this show could've ended up had it went on for as long as Lucas intended.
Interestingly enough, one of George Lucas's proposed ideas, especially as he did this show, was about Indiana Jones discovering the Crystal Skull. He even intended to develop it as one of the episodes for this show before ultimately deciding to embellish it as the fourth Indiana Jones movie, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Young Indy That Could Have Been. Indyfan.com. (2000, November 30). Retrieved from http://www.indyfan.com/articles/yijchb.html.