Failed TV pilots: Heat Vision and Jack

“Knowledge is power — for real!”

Welcome to a new series that I’ve wanted to do for a while — to take a look at some of the most bizarre and quirky failed TV pilots of the past. There are so many of these could-have-beens out there that cry out to be remembered, yet perhaps none are as infamous and outright odd as 1999’s Heat Vision and Jack.

Seriously, this show’s conception sounds like it happened during a nerdy conversation of high schoolers sitting around shooting the breeze about what would make for the most outlandishly cool concept. Comic book writer Rob Schrab (Scud) got together with Dan Harmon (Community, Rick & Morty) to create a pilot about a former astronaut named Jack (played by Jack Black) who gains super-intelligence during the day and partners up with a sentient motorcycle named Heat Vision (voiced by Owen Wilson) that likes to ram things. The Fox-authorized pilot was then directed by Ben Stiller and guest starred Ron Silver as the weirdly invincible villain.

All of that is real. Yes, it’s tongue-in-cheek, but the actual pilot was greenlit, filmed, and remains viewable even to this day. And we must view it, oh we must.

No matter how you’d imagine such a show would begin, there’s no way you’d call this. Heat Vision and Jack starts with Ben Stiller sitting in a posh room and grousing about how he was raked over the coals at Fox for 1992’s The Ben Stiller Show. But then he won an Emmy! And now he’s back to direct this amazing show! Stiller even throws shade at The Phantom Menace, saying that this series’ computer effects are just as good.

“Some of you will be frightened… or aroused. Still others may be entertained,” he soliloquies. “As a person you admire, I’m giving you permission to appreciate this show.” Stiller then taunts “Georgie” Lucas’ photo and lack of Emmies — and then rips up Lucas’ photo.

This is already the best thing I’ve ever seen.

The opening credits explain how Jack Austin was exposed to “inappropriate” levels of solar energy, only to become the world’s smartest man. “I know EVERYTHING!” he shouts in his catchphrase. Then we meet Heat Vision, who was Jack’s unemployed roommate that got zapped into the frame of a motorcycle. “Together they run for their lives, blocked by adventure at every turn!”

The rest of the credits include Jack punching out a werewolf, “introducing Ron Silver as himself,” the moon blowing up, and this… thing:

As Jack and Heat Vision zoom down a dark highway, the subtitles tell us that this is “Episode 14: The Eyes of Paragon.”

The two have a conversation — with HV’s headlight dimming and brightening as a way to show he’s speaking, which is not worrying when you’re driving 60 mph in the desert night — about how Jack and HV went down to Mexico that one time and Jack hooked up with a 72-year-old lady who followed him to the border and customs made them smooch in front of everyone.

Meanwhile, a fry cook named Frank (Vincent Schiavelli, who I will forever think of as “that creepy guy from Ghost“) is zapped by his radio and becomes Paragon. Paragon isn’t fond of humans and prefers to zap them with his green eyes as Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” plays on the jukebox.

Jack walks into the gas station after this occurs to see “KNEEL BEFORE PARAGON” and other slogans painted all over the wall. As he takes this in, I love that Heat Vision casually rolls through the doorway behind him and then exclaims, “What the *BEEP* happened here?” Fox added the beep, not me.

“Jack, is that blood?” “The blood of tomatoes.”

Jack is then accosted by a sheriff, played by Ben Stiller staple Christine Taylor. As he’s locked up, the sheriff threatens to call NASA (as Jack is wearing his jumpsuit for some reason). Jack then shares how he became super-intelligent. “Apparently the mind is like cookie dough,” he explained. “Mine was baked by the sun.” But Jack is fleeing because NASA sent the evil Ron Silver after him. Maybe Jack should stop wearing his NASA outfit then? Just a thought?

As an aside, it’s hilarious that Jack acknowledges that Ron Silver is “also an actor” so that his existence here doesn’t present any logical paradoxes.

The sheriff doesn’t believe him, leaving to investigate another crime. Jack’s not worried: “Come sunrise I’ll be so intelligent no cell will be able to hold me.” And before the sun does rise, Heat Vision shows up to lend a hand. Well, not a hand, because of doorknobs being an issue to a motorcycle.

Meanwhile, the sheriff arrives at the next murder scene where a lab tech and his microscope are on sight to identify dehydrated human remains. “Are you saying that someone removed the water from six dead prostitutes?” is a line I’m sure Christine Taylor always wanted to say.

Ron Silver shows up in the motel room, prompting the lab tech to exclaim: “I just rented Timecop! You were the bad guy in Timecop!” Dude, he’s the bad guy in EVERYTHING.

The sun finally rises and Jack’s super-brain kicks in — as does industrial techno and a little montage of explosions and Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. This is an accurate representation of how I wake up in the morning.

Jack uses an improvised dog whistle to convince Gary the German Shepherd to bring him the keys to his cell. He runs out of there, angering Ron Silver who arrives to an empty jail cell. Silver flings a desk across a room and nearly chokes out Christine Taylor. He’s got a dark side, that one.

Back at the gas station, Jack is trying to figure out how the people were killed. He’s about to get his answer, as Paragon shows up and attack him with his deadly green eye blasts. He’s saved by Heat Vision at ramming speed going into the bad guy: “EAT WHEEL!”

Paragon responds by shoving Heat Vision over, which is pretty much the end of that fight as motorcycles can’t right themselves.

The duo hide out at the sheriff’s grandmother’s house. They never do give Taylor’s character a name, so don’t think I’m being lazy here.

Jack reveals how Heat Vision came to be. When Jack broke out of NASA’s clutches, he called his roomie Doug to come pick him up. But Ron Silver used some sort of ray gun to fuse Doug and his bike together in an unholy combination. During this sad tale, Heat Vision rolls into the house, “Do you guys have any matches? We’re going to light some leaves on fire!”

Jack opines, “If fate makes you a motorcycle, you become a motorcycle.” He and the sheriff then lock lips while Heat Vision remarks in the background that her grandmother must be rich.

After a night of thankfully offscreen lovemaking, Jack whips up a device to neutralize Paragon. And when they use it? “Para-GONE!” Heat Vision quips.

As pretty much every Fox show did in the ’90s, the action eventually arrived at a strip club. “Hey, that guy disintegrated Jasmine!” one rowdy pool player notes. Paragon rises out of the booth to say, “ALL MONKEY TRAMPS, DANCE ON PARAGON’S LAP!” Which should be a t-shirt but moving on.

A complete massacre is averted when Heat Vision — carrying Jack and the sheriff — crashes through the wall and into the club. “Jack attack!” our hero says, putting on protective goggles. Part of this fight involves Captain Kirk’s favorite move, the double fist. I approve. Jack then loses his sunglasses, so he steals a bra from a dancer to wrap around his eyes.

Heat Vision talks Jack through the blindfolded fight as Ron Silver shows up. And did I mention that the strip club’s pirate DJ is played by Ben Stiller? Your mind cannot contain this. Heat Vision knocks out Ron Silver for a bit while Jack improvises a way to suck Paragon’s energy out of our world and into a cassette tape.

The sun sets and Jack gets a bit dumber as he bids the sheriff farewell. “I’ve burnt my daylight. I gotta ride.”

But he’s being chased: “You can’t run forever, Jack. Not from your shadow. Not from… Ron Silver.”

And that’s Heat Vision and Jack — maybe one of the best failed pilots ever made. It’s ridiculous and sweaty and weird and flat-out hilarious in all of the best ways, and it is a tragedy that it wasn’t picked up as a series. But it’s perhaps far better to exist as this: A one-shot dose of genius that was too bright for us mortals to look upon it.

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