Science Fiction Theatre – The Strange People at Pecos

Son of a bitch!  Just one day after I complain about episodes that have a father and son with the same name, here come Jeff and Jeff, Jr.

We are told that Radar Operator Jeff Jamison — and we don’t know whether he is Jeff or Jeff Jr. — is an essential part of the Pecos Rocket Testing Ground.  He’s not such a big shot at home, though.  He can’t tell his wife Celia what he does at work, and he has two incredibly loud, obnoxious kids of the type I thought did not exist in the 1950s.  They want to know if the rockets he works on are as good as flying saucers.  As he is leaving for work, he meets a little girl at the door.

She is new in town and has come to meet the boys.  They should get along great because they something in common — an inability to believably deliver a single line of dialogue.  Jeff asks where she is from and she says “The 3rd planet from the sun, but as my father says, we’re all really from the same galaxy.”  Jeff retorts, “Yeah, sure,” ceding this round to the 8 year old.

At work, Jeff is tracking the “Big SAM” rocket (Surface-to-Air, although it is unclear which is big, the surface or the rocket).  He calls Dr. Conselman over to look at his radar scope.  Big SAM has been joined by two companion blips.  Conselman suugests they are cosmic clouds.  Jeff disagrees because 1) they are moving too fast, and 2) there is no such thing as a cosmic cloud. [1] He jumps to the next logical conclusion that they are flying saucers.

Back at the house, the kids are playing ball.  Jeff Jr. (I’ll assume, since there is no Jeff III in the cast) and Terry are using the standard tossing approach.  The new girl, Laurie Kern, has a better idea — use telekinesis.  She mangles the pronunciation, but she’s just a kid.  Then Celia also mangles it.

For his crazy flying saucer talk, Jeff is sent home.  While he and Celia are talking, they hear brakes squealing.  They run outside and see that Laurie has been hit by a car (driven by Green Acres’ Fred Ziffel).  Laurie wakes up on the Jamison’s couch and is ready to jump up.  They convince her to wait for the doctor.  Inexplicably, Jeff decides to treat her wound before the doctor arrives.  He warns her it will hurt when he pours iodine on her wound, but she doesn’t feel a thing. [2]  She has no pain at all from the accident, so gets off the sofa and goes home.  This is astounding to everyone; and Ziffel has seen a pig answer a telephone.

Jeff Jr. goes to Laurie’s house and eavesdrops on Mr. Kern recording a podcast (or maybe just recording on that big reel-to-reel).  He says, “The people of Earth can’t and won’t understand that our arrival from space could never be a hostile invasion.  We’re that far ahead of them.  In so many thousands of light years, we have learned to live at peace with ourselves and our neighbors in the universe.”  Yeah, but at least we know that light year is not a unit of time, brainiac.  Maybe he meant parsecs.  When Jeff Jr. sees Laurie and her father launch an anti-gravity toy, he writes “Martians Go Home” on their sidewalk and runs home.

Jeff Sr. goes to the sheriff to complain about this “Baby Einstein” who feels no pain.  He also tells about the recording Jeff Jr. heard Mr. Kern making.  Then . . . wait — why does the sheriff of Pecos County, New Mexico have a picture of J. Edgar Hoover on the wall behind his desk?  This might be the creepiest thing yet.

The sheriff says, “in this country, a man has the right to face his accusers” and suggests Jeff go see Mr. Kern.  Coincidentally, Mr. Kern then comes in to complain about the little shit who peeked in his window and vandalized his sidewalk.

Jeff accuses Kern and his daughter of being aliens.  Kern replies that he is a science-fiction writer, and they they moved to New Mexico from Chicago to help his daughter’s condition.  Brain damage has caused her nerve endings to malfunction so she feels no pain.  Jeff asks why he says they are from Chicago when his daughter says they are from the 3rd planet from the sun.  Kern tells him, “The 3rd planet from the sun is the Earth you’re standing on.”  That’s just embarrassing.  To make it worse, Jeff counts them out to himself, “Mercury, Venus . . . Earth.”

Back at home, the Jamison boys are bullying Laurie about being a Martian and having no feelings.  Jeff even throws her to the ground.  She runs home, hopefully to get a death ray.  Laurie is briefly reported missing, but is found in seconds.

Really, nothing is resolved.  I think we’re supposed to wonder whether the Kerns are aliens or just misunderstood, but that anti-gravity toy makes it pretty clear.  Also Kern tips his hand when he says advanced races would be more peaceful than savage humans.  That is straight out of the Star Trek snotty alien handbook.

Just as the ending resolves nothing, the introduction also sets up a plot-point that is dropped.  Host Truman Bradley gives a demonstration (that they admirably admit is trick photography) of teleporting a weight from one bell jar to another like Brundlefly.  He then says, “Teleportation is an important word in the story we are about to tell.”  Yeah, there is not one word about teleporting in the episode. [3]

Despite abysmal performances from all 3 kids, it is OK.  The premise is good, if underdeveloped and the adult actors are solid.  Commenters at IMDb are probably right that Rod Serling would have beat this story like a drum.  Sure, the cold war, xenophobia, and racism angles could have been emphasized more, but we’re just trying to have fun here.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Hmmm, I guess there is such a thing.  But that kind of makes Conselman’s remark even dopier.
  • [2] I didn’t even know you could put iodine on a wound.  My parents put some orange stuff on a cut when I was a kid and the sound I made has traveled farther than Voyager.
  • [3] You’re saying maybe Laurie teleported into the path of the car that hit her.  No, Fred Ziffel specifically said she ran in front of the car; not that she suddenly appeared.  Besides, she was playing with the boys and they would have ratted her out.
  • Hair Commentary:  Celia Jamison’s hairdo was fabulous!  Laurie Kern grew up to play a one-shot character on Star Trek.  I think I only remember her because of her hair in the episode.
  • Non-Hair Commentary:  Mr. Kern could easily have been a young Johnny Sac from The Sopranos.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Not the Running Type (02/07/60)

Alfred Hitchcock straight-up murders a dude in the prologue.  So that’s new.

Captain Fisher is recalling one of the cases of his early career.  Milton Potter, the “tamest criminal” Fisher ever saw, was just paroled after doing 12 years for embezzlement.  He says, “Milton Potter had worked for Metro Investments since he got out of college — a total of 13 years.”  Since Potter is played by 56 year old Paul Hartman, it is safe to say he was not Dean’s List material. [1]  Fisher says he was making only $60/week and describes him as a quiet, friendless drone.

Milton does not show for work one day 12 years ago, and no one notices.  The second day, however, they notice because $200,000 is missing. [3]  Young Lt. Fisher is assigned to the case.  No one can describe anything about Potter, not even his eye color after 13 years.  He did seem to read a lot of travel magazines, though.

The next day Potter goes to the police station and gives himself up.  However he will not return the cash.  He goes to jail, does his time offscreen, and is paroled 12 years later.  Fisher — now the Captain — goes to see Potter.  He wants to remind him that even though he did the time, that doesn’t mean the money is his.  So Potter returns the money.  That paragraph took 13 minutes on the screen.

There is a nifty wrap-up that involves Potter finally getting to travel, and babes in high-heels playing shuffleboard.

Mostly, it was a lot of talking, though.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Paul Hartman was believable as the mild-mannered, sad-sack Potter.  Wendell Holmes was a hoot as his blowhard boss.  The other performances were competent.  Despite a fine twist, this was more of a character piece than we usually get from AHP.

Warning to anyone attempting to duplicate Potter’s scheme:  Putting $200,000 in the bank for 12 years nowadays would leave you with about $200,005.

Potter is the guy on the left, but really, who cares?

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Actually, the character is said to be 34 [2] at the time of the crime, thus 46 for half of the episode.  F***ing actors, man!
  • [2] So he graduated at 21 — a genius!
  • [3] When another office drone comes in to report the embezzlement to company VP Halverson, he stutters.  Halverson [4] demands, “What is it, Newton?  Out with it — I don’t have all day!”  I love the way old shows have the boss barking at employees and calling them by their last name.  Did that really happen?
  • [4] It bugs me when a show has a son with the same name as his father; or characters with similar names.  It is just pointlessly confusing.  Here, we have  Halverson and Harv Ellison which, if you’ve had a few drinks, sound pretty similar.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  One survivor; although at 97, I wonder if IMDb missed a phone call.
  • Title Analysis: Potter says he turned himself in because he is not the running type.  Also not the running type: Alfred Hitchcock.
  • This would have been a rare non-murder AHP if not for Hitchcock’s opening shot.

Twilight Zone – Memories (10/29/88)

Mary McNeal is a regression therapist or, as they are more accurately known, a fraud.  The exploration of past lives seems to be a real thing in this world, so I am happy to go along with it.

Mary McNeal asks her very old patient to recall “the most significant memory of your past lives.”  She describes being a seamstress during the Revolutionary War, although that might just be a regular memory.  Some British soldiers accused her of hiding soldiers, and burned her shop down with her in it.  She begins to panic, but Mary brings her back.  The woman is happy to have learned the reason for her fear of fire, men in uniforms, and taxation without representation.  Mary opines that if everyone could recall their past lives, we’d be kinder to each other because we could remember being poor or hungry.

In her office, Mary uses a small tape recorder to play herself leading a regression session to lull herself into remembering a past life.  When she awakens, as always, she has been unable to recall any past lives.  She has overslept, and wants to apologize to her next patient for missing her appointment.  Rather than just pick up a phone, she goes to the patient’s house.  But the woman answering the door is not her patient.  Stranger, the woman has perfect recall of all her past lives; as do all the inhabitants of this world.

Mary returns to her office and finds another business operating there.  OK, classic TZ, she has slipped into another world.  Great, I always dig these stories; but when did she enter this world?  Wouldn’t the logical point have been when she hypnotized herself?  But that sure looked like her office that she woke up in — same blue walls and white sofa.  But somehow the world changed after she left the office, and before she visited her patient.  No matter.

Ironically, this new business helps people adjust to their new lives.  Mr. Sinclair gives Mary a form to fill out.  He asks her what a Regression Therapist is; for the first time ever, she tells the truth and answers, “Nothing.”  However, he is impressed with her history of counseling and helping people.  He says “I see you didn’t list anything from your previous lives.”  He asks her to describe the jobs she had in her last three or four lives.  When she can’t give any details, she leaves and the man ominously picks up the phone.  He describes Mary and says, “She may be the one we’re looking for.”

Mary walks through the town which is has many homeless people, dilapidated buildings, sirens and arguing people.  She sees a woman living in the back of a beat-up station wagon with no tires and asks if she is OK.  The woman wants to die because she is so much worse off in this life than in her previous life; although she is better off than the guy in the Mini-Cooper.  She wants to spin the wheel again.  Mary ignores her wishes, which seem to be culturally acceptable in this world, and goes to get help for her.  Unfortunately for Mary — and probably fortunately for the woman — Sinclair and his goons dope Mary up and stick her in a van.

She wakes up in a warehouse and is questioned by Sinclair and another man who I assume is the one credited as Vigilante on IMDb.  Vigilante says it is “utterly unheard of” for a person not to remember their past lives.  Wait, Sinclair said just a minute ago that “new souls” with no memories do exist.  Anyhoo, Mary is even more suspect because she doesn’t even have a current life — there is no record of her existence.  Vigilante menacingly tells her that means no one will miss her.

Vigilante grills her about what she is trying to hide.  “What names did you go by in your past lives?  The Borgias, Attila the Hun, Lady Macbeth?”  Really, he suspects her of being all the Borgias?  And does he know Lady Macbeth was a fictional character? [1]  After an intense interrogation, they finally believe Mary.  The bad guys are actually the good guys and offer Mary job.  They want her to use her mad counseling skillz to do un-regression therapy — to help people forget their previous lives.

Vigilante tells her that society has gone mad and is getting worse with each generation.  Wait, did she flip back to our world?  Rather than making people more empathetic, the recollection of past lives has caused people to “be so busy avenging the past, that we lose the present.”  Grudges go on for centuries, people long for past lives, the pain of birth is recalled in detail (I assume they mean by the baby, not the mother).  They want Mary to teach people to forget.

This is more like it.  The 1980s TZ could have used a lot more stories like this.  Sure, it checks some familiar boxes, but they are welcome tropes — inexplicably finding yourself in another world, having no identity, being menaced for unknown reasons.  Even better, this wasn’t a morality play beating us over the head with a message.  It put forth an original premise and explored how this might affect society.

Good stuff.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The was a real Lady Macbeth, but surely it is not who Vigilante referred to.
  • Title Analysis:  IMDb’s increasing useless Trivia section tells us the “The title comes [from] the song “Memory” from the musical “Cats” written by Andrew Lloyd Webber”.  First, the episode is called “Memories”, not “Memory”.  And I’m pretty certain both words were in common usage before “Cats”.  Hey, IMDb, you got rid of the Message Boards to make room for this?

Tales of Tomorrow – Another Chance (02/13/53)

Harold Mason (Leslie Nielsen) wakes up sitting at the kitchen table where he fell asleep 1) playing cards, 2) reading the newspaper, 3) drinking coffee, or 4) tidying up.  Well, we can rule out #4 because the table is a mess, strewn with newspapers, cards, coffee and Harold’s noggin.

Finally, after a full minute of him nervously taking a drink and lighting a cigarette, he looks at the headline PRICELESS BROOCH STOLEN; DIAMOND CUTTER SOUGHT.  He pulls the brooch from his pocket and turns it over in his hands until he hears footsteps in the hall.  It is his wife Carlotta returning from the grocery store.  She berates her panicky husband, sarcastically calling him a “big brave man.”  He blames her for pushing him into this predicament “ever since we were married, always griping, never satisfied!”

He hands her the brooch, but she says, “This cheap piece of junk wouldn’t buy me a cup of coffee” and slams it on the table.  Harold says, “Not after I recut the stone.”  So, it’s worthless until cut; then it is priceless?  Wouldn’t the great potential of the brooch be reflected in its current value?  Hey, PV = C/(1+r)n, motherf****r!  She pulls a suitcase out from under the bed and begins packing to leave.  After much begging from Harold, she gives him 24 hours to sell the brooch to a fence.

Fortuitously, he sees an ad in the paper I’M SURE I CAN HELP YOU!  DR. JOHN BORROW.  Dr. Borrow helpfully tells Harold he’s “made a mess of things and there’s no way out.”  Furthermore, he recognizes that Harold will just go on making the same mistakes in his life unless there is a change.  He says he can offer Harold the titular another chance.

This ad ran during the commercial break. Now, this looks like a guy who knows what teens like.

Borrow has invented a machine that can give people such an opportunity.  He says it is based on amnesia.  “With this machine, I am able control the degree of forgetfulness.  I can erase from the mind only those things I wish to erase.  A man’s conscience, his associates, his friends, these are the things I can erase.  But the ability to think, to work, to talk, to construct, to earn a living, these things remain.”  Borrow tells him that after the treatment, he will awaken in a room 1,000 miles away . . . and back 7 years in time.

Wait, is Borrow now claiming he invented a time machine?  “You’ll have no memory of these past 7 years.  The slate will be clean.  You’ll be able to start a new life.  You’ll have another chance to try life over again.”  No, I guess it isn’t a real time machine, Harold just won’t remember the past 7 years.

Harold is worried that the cops still will recognize his face.  Borrow holds up the brooch.  “Yes, but seven years ago, none of these things had happened.”  What the hell?  Is it back to being a time machine?  Manipulating memories isn’t that big a deal, but if he has invented a time machine, that should be his lead.  Anyhoo, Borrow straps him in the chair and begins the procedure.

Harold awakens in a Chicago hotel room.  A card left for him informs him that in his new life, he will be known as Jack Marshall, which is an improvement already.  There is a 1946 calendar, so I guess he really did go back in time.

After the commercial, a title card tells us it is 7 years later, back in present day.  He wakes up flopped over the table just as he did in the opening scene.  This time, the headline in the paper says SECURITIES STOLEN; BANK TELLER SOUGHT.  As before, he has the stolen goods with him.  As before, he has been hiding out in a room for 5 days.[1]  As before, his wife (Regina this time) enters and berates him as a coward.  As before, he blames her for nagging him into the heist, “always griping, never satisfied.”  As before, she pulls a suitcase out from under the bed and begins packing.  As before, he asks her for 24 hours to unload the securities.  As before, she goes to the movies.  As before, he sees an ad from Dr. Borrow in the paper.

He goes to see Borrow again.  Borrow refuses to help him this time because the securities are non-negotiable.  Harold presses the button on Borrow’s desk that opens the door to the time machine.  So I guess that memory wipe procedure has not been perfected yet.  Borrow refuses to divulge Harold’s previous life, only saying he has made the identical bonehead choices in both lives.  On the plus side, he says this is the result with all his clients.

Borrow further explains that people are who they are.  If they go back in time, they will make the same dumb mistakes.  He says the key is not to change your past, but to change your future.  Not to nitpick, but if you are sent back seven years and don’t retain your memories, that is your future.

So he goes home and strangles Regina.

This is one of the better episodes.  There is a thought-provoking story and the music isn’t as canned and awful as usual.  At first, Leslie Nielsen’s performance just seemed bizarre.  His portrayal of the paranoid, twitchy Harold seemed hammy and affected.  Gestures were exaggerated and a lot of time was spent on him doing nothing but writhing in fear, taking a drink, or lighting a cigarette.  It all came together for me when he was in the Chicago hotel, though.  I could feel his horror at not knowing who he was.

The same actress portrayed Carlotta and Regina.  I’m not sure why other than to illustrate that Harold made that same mistake twice too.  Of course, on the second go-round, she would be seven years younger than him.  A couple more iterations and they will be a typical Hollywood couple.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Having been in the room for 5 days, I am unclear why he would be wearing a necktie.

Outer Limits – Final Exam (06/26/98)

Seth Todtman has awkwardly shown up to take the doctoral exam.  Dean Irwin reminds him that the failed out of the program.  Seth replies, “Define program.  Define fail.”  If this had been filmed more recently, I would just assume he literally did not know the meaning of the words and was showing up to collect his Participation Doctorate.

Sadly this is not an axe-free zone as he has one to grind.  He closes the classroom doors and pulls out a gun.  So the gun-free zone thing doesn’t work any better than the axe-free zone.  Seth fires a shot in the air in reckless disregard for the students on the 2nd floor.  He condescendingly unveils a cold fusion device, which everyone said was impossible.  If 5 people of his choosing are not brought to him within 3 hours to be executed, he will annihilate 5 million with his cold fusion bomb.  He delivers his list of people to hostage negotiator James Martin.  The list reads:

  • Prof. Claud Wylie
  • Prof. Hanson
  • Mr. Walker
  • Ms. Owens [1]
  • Ms. Carstairs

OK, maybe the first two are known on campus, but the rest are pretty vague.  Could we get a first name maybe?  You know, since we are going to be executing them.  An address or phone number?  Even the T-800 didn’t have to kill every Connor in the phonebook.

Seth tells Martin he has a 50 megaton cold fusion bomb capable of destroying the city.  Then he asks an unexpected and pretty great question, “Tell me one thing.  Define how you can possibly believe me.” [2]  Martin tells Seth he takes him very seriously.  Seth replies, “Then you need to have your head examined because no one has ever come close to building such a device!”  Martin, quite reasonably, asks why — if he has invented cold fusion — he doesn’t just cash in.  There are some interesting turns in their dialogue, but frankly, both of them are so insufferable that it is hard to care.

Seth sends a sample device out for them to observe.  The first thing they observe is that it “doesn’t produce any significant radiation.”  But then Martin says cold fusion actually produces very little radiation — so why bring it up?  And earlier, they suspected Seth just sprayed some radiation-in-a-can on the device to make it appear like cold fusion.  So which is it, does cold fusion produce radiation or not?  They chopper the device out of the city.  When the timer hits zero, it does produce a huge blast, killing the observers.

The 5 people from the list are brought in.  One of them is a long-haired whiner in a black suit with a black t-shirt.  Pop quiz: Is that Mr. Walker or one of the Professors?  Martin tries to talk Seth into letting him in the classroom.  He says 500 people were killed in the blast.  Wait, they took it to a remote are in the mountains — was there a Jamboree going on?  Seth agrees, but demands that the first hostage be killed.  As the timer reaches 1 hour, Martin enters the classroom.

There are two interesting debates going on.  Should the government execute five civilians to avoid Seth’s bomb detonating?  But, at the same time, the army has men burrowing under the classroom to detonate a smaller bomb that will incinerate the cold fusion bomb.  Is it murder to pro-actively kill a few bystanders to avoid the larger calamity?

The stakes are a little diminished because I just don’t care about these people.  Martin was first introduced having an argument with his wife.  There could be no reason for that other than him having a revelation at the end about what is really important in life.  Also, his clothes seem to be oddly ill-fitting.  No big deal, but Outer Limits has had costuming issues before.  Seth is just an annoying, whiny dweeb.  Costuming-wise, they appropriately gave him rimless glasses, frequently an indicator of repellent personalities.  So they might fit the character, but wow did I not care about him.  Finally, the man in black, Professor Wylie . . . any dude over the age of zero wearing a blazer over a t-shirt is not a man to be taken seriously, much less if decked out all in black. [3]  He is understandably panicked at being the first guy to be sacrificed, but his suit and hair would have made him my first candidate also.  On the plus side, this will probably be the first positive contribution this academic chowder-head has made to society.

I have to hand it to them.  An soldier — in fabulous camo — Ryan Chapelles [4] the guy in short order.  For a few seconds, I did care as they were yelling at each other.

Yada yada . . . towards the end, Seth is making more sense than the hostage negotiator.  Martin tries to convince Seth that cold fusion can be un-discovered.  He suggests materials can be restricted and education steered away from the critical physics.  Right.  Then some other stuff happens.

In the last scene, we see a student at a different school scribbling notes about cold fusion.  His professor has a respectable sweater vest and bow tie, so maybe the kid has a chance.  No, wait, the kid is wearing a hoodie.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Does the current edition of Clue have a Ms. Scarlett rather than Miss?
  • [2] Do TV writers not speak English?  He means explain, not define.  Of course, I’m no better — it isn’t a question.
  • [3] OK, Martin is also wearing a blazer over a t-shirt, but at least they are different colors.
  • [4] I opted for the Lego version.  There just ain’t nothing funny about the real clip.
  • Todtman is German for dead man.
  • Best line:  “Are you sure you got your degree from a regular college, or one of those night schools where experience counts?”