BBC's 'Hitchhiker's Guide' satirizes everything in its intergalactic path
New York — The stuff of cult is in the air again.
Not since ''Monty Python's Flying Circus,'' ''Pennies From Heaven,'' and ''Fawlty Towers'' has there been a series out of Merrie Olde which promises to bring out the sort of Anglophile elitism of the outre as much as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (PBS, starting this month on many stations, check local listings or local station managers - premieres on WNET, New York, tonight).
Viewers who thought Monty Python was chucklefully bizarre will probably roar uncontrollably over ''Hitchhiker,'' produced by the BBC, based on a BBC radio series that was aired on NPR. It is a video science-fiction comic strip that satirizes everything in its intergalactic path, including itself.
The premiere of this seven-part half-hour series sets the stage. Arthur Dent (played by Simon Jones, the Bridey of ''Brideshead Revisited'') discovers that his home is in the path of a bulldozer mowing down properties to make way for a highway bypass. He lies down in front of it and, in defiance, says, ''We'll just see who rusts first.''
Soon, a space alien rescues him from Earth a few moments before it is due to be destroyed by a space-bulldozer making way for a hyperspace bypass. This space alien chose the name Ford Prefect, since he thought he could thus remain unnoticed in a world peopled with Ford Consuls, etc.
The irreverent, irrelevant adventures of Arthur and Ford, on and around the planet Damogran, is what this series is supposedly all about. But it really concerns the silliness of mystic science fiction, the maturity of comic strips, the childishness of the world, the incomprehensibility of the universe, and the unpredictability of the taste of radio and TV viewers. I think.
Over a million copies of the Pocket Book edition of ''The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe'' have already been printed. Its cover sets the pattern with the words: ''Don't Panic! There's Still Time to Read This Book Before Everyone Else Has!''
Well, there's still time to see this series before it is taken over by the cultists, who will undoubtedly claim you (and I) can't really plumb the intellectual depths of what appears on the surface to be humor.
In case you do have trouble understanding some of ''Hitchhiker's'' convoluted satire, you can always try to use the same translating device Arthur uses: a little fish stuck in the ear.
See you on Damogran.