Retro Television Reviews: The Master 1.1 “Max”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Fridays, I will be reviewing The Master, which ran on NBC from January to August of 1984. Almost all nine of the show’s episodes can be found on Tubi!

My original plan was to follow-up Half Nelson by reviewing Freddy’s Nightmares.  Unfortunately, Freddy’s Nightmares has been removed from Tubi and it’s not currently streaming anywhere else.  Hopefully, some other site will soon feature it or it will eventually return to Tubi and I’ll be able to review the show in the future.

While I was looking for another show to review, I came across The Master.  The Master ran for 13 episodes in 1984.  It featured Lee Van Cleef as John Peter McAllister, a ninja traveling across America and searching for his daughter.  Helping out McAllister is Max Keller, a young drifter who owns a groovy van and who is played by Timothy Van Patten.  (Van Patten, who has since become a much in-demand director, is probably best known for playing Stegman in Class of 1984.)  Since The Master had a short run and everyone loves ninjas, I decided to add it to our retro television schedule!

Episode 1.1 “Max”

(Dir by Robert Clouse, originally aired on January 20th, 1984)

“My name’s Max Keller and this is how I usually leave a bar.”

So opens the first episode of The Master.  The voice over is courtesy Max Keller (Timothy Van Patten), a young drifter who drives across America in a van with a pet hamster named Henry as his main companion.  And the way that Max usually leaves a bar is through the front window.  In this case, Max is tossed through a window by a bunch of bikers.  Max responds by sabotaging all of their bikes so, when they try to chase after him as he drives off in his van, all of the bikers are thrown from their bike and onto the hard pavement of the road.  I would think that this would kill most of the bikers but Max doesn’t seem to be too concerned about that.  Instead, he just has a good laugh as he drives away.  Oh, Max!

Meanwhile, in Japan, John Peter McAllister (Lee Van Cleef), “the man who would change my life,” (to quote Max’s voiceover) is preparing to return to America for the first time in years.  McAllister moved to Japan after World War II and is the only American to have been trained in the ninja arts.  (Why the ninjas would be so eager to train an American after the way World War II ended is not explained.)  McAllister has just found out that he has a daughter who he has never met.  (How did he find out?  Again, it’s not explained.)  He wants to return home so that he can find her.  However, Osaka (Sho Kosugi), a former student of McAllister’s, is determined to kill him for breaking the ninja code.  McAllister manages to escape Japan with only a slight wound courtesy of a throwing star.  Osaka decides to follow him.

Back in America, a young woman named Holly Trumbull (a very young Demi Moore) runs out into the middle of a country highway and is nearly run over by Max.  Max stops his van just in time and offers Holly a ride.  It turns out that Holly is being pursued by the evil Sheriff Kyle (Bill McKinney).  She explains that Sheriff Kyle tried to rape her, which is information that Max just kind of shrugs off.  He manages to outrun the Sheriff and takes Holly back to the airport that is managed by her father, Mr. Trumbull (Claude Akins).

Max apparently (I say apparently because the episode’s editing is so ragged that it’s often difficult to tell how much time has passed from one scene to the next) spends a few days working at the airport and trying to date Holly.  When he attempts to give Holly a kiss, she backs away from him and explains that she’s still not comfortable with being kissed after nearly being raped the town’s sheriff.  “I’m sorry,” she says. Max, being a bit of a jerk, gets annoyed and says, “That makes three of us.  Henry was just starting to like you.”  After saying that he’s going to go somewhere to see if “my luck improves,” he goes to the local bar to unwind.

Also at the bar is John Peter McAllister!  McAllister knows that his daughter came through Mr. Trumbull’s airport and he wants to show her picture to the people in the bar.  For some reason, the bartender doesn’t want him to do that.  When Sheriff Kyle, who is also in the bar, discovers that McAllister is carrying a samurai sword in his suitcase, the sheriff tries to arrest him.  When a bar fight breaks out, Max fights alongside McAllister and they even manage to steal the sword back from the sheriff.  Bonded by combat, Max and McAllister become fast friends.  Before you know it, Max is agreeing to drive McAllister across the country as long as McAllister trains Max how to be a ninja.

But first, an evil developer named Mr. Christensen (Clu Gulager) is determined to run the Turnbulls off their land.  After Christensen is not moved by an impassioned speech by Max and instead tries to blow up the airport, it’s time for Max and McAllister to invade Christensen’s office and fight a bunch of guards.  Osaka also shows up at the office so we get a lengthy fight scene between Sho Kosugi and Lee Van Cleef’s stunt double.  (McAllister dons his head-to-do ninja costume before doing any fighting, so we don’t actually see his face while he’s doing in any of his amazing ninja moves.)  While Osaka and McAllister are fighting, Max defeats Christensen by throwing a ninja star at him and hitting him in the chest.  I would think that would be murder but who knows.  Maybe the blade narrowly missed Christensen’s heart and he was just unconscious.  Or maybe Max’s just a sociopath.

Somehow, this leads to the Turnbulls getting to keep the airport.  McAllister and Max drive off together, in search of America.

What a messy episode!  Obviously, this episode had to get a lot done in just 48 minutes.  It had to introduce Max and McAllister, it had to explain why they were traveling together, and it also had to give them an adventure.  I guess I shouldn’t feel surprised that the episode felt a bit rushed but still, there were so many unanswered questions.  For instance, why is Max driving across the country in a van?  How did McAllister find out that he had a daughter?  Why didn’t he know that he had a daughter before hand?  Did McAllister’s daughter actually come through the town or not?  How did Osaka track down McAllister?  Where did Max learn to fight before he met McAllister?  Why is McAllister so quick to agree to take Max under his wing?  Why is Max so quick to drive a strange old man across the country?

As for the cast, Lee Van Cleef appears to be a bit frail in the role of McAllister.  (He would died 5 years after The Master went off the air.)  Timothy Van Patten comes across as being bit manic as Max.  Personally, I would be worried about getting into a van with Max because he doesn’t really seem to have much impulse control.  As for the guest cast, Demi Moore gives a strong performance as Holly but the character vanishes from the episode after finally giving Max a kiss.  Claude Akins and Clu Gulager only get a few minutes of screentime and are both stuck with stock roles.  Akin is the honest working man while Gulager is the corrupt businessman.  Billl McKinny is properly hissable as the bully of a sheriff.  And Sho Kosugi looks annoyed with the whole thing.

The first episode was not that promising but who knows!  Maybe the show will improve as it goes along.  We’ll find out next week!

3 responses to “Retro Television Reviews: The Master 1.1 “Max”

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Television: 5/7/23 — 5/13/23 | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 5/8/23 — 5/14/23 | Through the Shattered Lens

  3. Pingback: Retro Television Reviews: The Master 1.2 “Out-of-Time Step” | Through the Shattered Lens

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