Long ago, I stopped trying to understand why certain pop-culture artifacts have remained lodged in my cranium for decades. Instead, I just embrace my indiscriminate nostalgia. For example, I must have enjoyed watching episodes of a short-lived ’70s series called Lucan, about a boy who was raised by wolves, because I’ve remembered the damn thing for the ensuing 40-ish years. Having recently tracked down and the series’ feature-length pilot episode, I’m happy to report that it’s not awful, even if the reasons why Lucan never became a hit are plainly evident. The central notion of the show was simply too gentle and small. Picking up Lucan’s story after 10 years of living in civilization, the pilot introduces him as a Kwai Chang Caine-type nomad, helping people as he tries to understand the strange ways of modern man.
Written by series creator Michael Zagor, the pilot begins with voice-over and newsreel footage explaining that Lucan was abandoned in a Minnesota forest by his parents at an early age. Then he lived with wolves during a decade of feral existence. Discovered by hunters at age 10, Lucan was entrusted to the care of kindly Dr. Hoagland (John Randolph), who taught the boy language and socialization. Yet Lucan retained many wild ways, including a nocturnal sleep cycle. When the story catches up to the present, Lucan, now 20, has grown eager to seek out his birth parents. Therefore, when Dr. Hoagland is hospitalized following a car accident, Lucan hits the road. In his first adventure, he gets a job on a construction site overseen by builder Larry MacElwaine (Ned Beatty). Lucan befriends Larry’s misfit daughter, Mickey (Stockard Channing), while becoming enemies with Larry’s hardass crew foreman, Gene Boone (William Jordan).
In short order, Lucan battles with a vicious guard dog, defeats several motorcycle-riding assailants, teaches Mickey to respect herself, and uncovers corruption. At various points, he manifests his quasi-canine nature by making slight transformations—his eyes turn yellow, his unibrow thickens, and he starts growling and pouncing. Not quite a werewolf, but close. Benefiting from terrific guest stars and a plaintive musical score, the Lucan pilot episode is a bit slow but otherwise quite earnest and watchable. There are even glimmers of humor, as when Lucan says, “I’m always tired if I don’t get a good day’s sleep.” Furthermore, star Kevin Brophy is perfectly cast, thanks to his athleticism, sincerity, and slightly primitive-looking features. Still, there’s not much cause for excitement here, so it should be considered a minor victory that Lucan became a weekly series and lasted 10 regular episodes before retiring to the great wolf den in the sky.