Ray Bradbury Theater – The Town Where No One Got Off (02/22/86)

It’s hard to believe these first few episodes of Ray Bradbury Theater are part of the same series I grew so contemptuous of while watching the later episodes.  Maybe, in some sense they are not, in the same way you can’t urinate in the same river twice. [1]  

This episode clearly has a larger budget than the later episodes.  Not only are there dozens of extras, many exteriors, and multiple locations, but they have a real train.  It has an experienced director to move things along, and get the occasional interesting shot.  It also has some star-power with Jeff Goldblum after he had already had a few big roles, and the same year as The Fly.

Cogswell [2] (Jeff Goldblum) is gazing out the window at fields and small towns.  They must be on their way to New York because the passenger across from him wonders, “What kinds of lives do people live in God-forsaken places like that?”  Cogswell suggests that they enjoy peace and quiet, clean fresh air, friendly people; it is a farming community where people “look out for each other instead of looking out for number one”, although they do have to look out for number two.

The man spots Cogswell as one of those “bleeding hearts with their heads stuck in the past.  They think the solution to the life’s problems are waiting around the bend on small town front porches.”  So he’s a bleeding heart conservative?  He challenges Cogswell to get off at the next stop and talk to the boring-as-hell rubes.  Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this is the Acela Express.

The idealistic Cogswell does get off at the next random town even though it is not a scheduled stop.  As the train pulls away, he sees the other passenger through the window shaking his head at either 1) Cogswell’s naivete about humanity, or 2) in amazement that his absurd ruse to clear the seat in order to put his feet up actually worked.

At the train station, Cogswell encounters a a very rude clerk, and a sleeping old man who is only slightly less responsive than the clerk.  He leaves his bags and starts touring the town.  He walks past the cemetery, past some horses, into the small town.  He tries to get a drink from a machine, but it is as unresponsive as the citizens.  A scowling clerk tells him it is broken.  It must be said that Cogswell is doing an admirable job of trying to be friendly and engage these awful people.

He sees the sleeping man has awakened and is standing down the street.  When he sees Cogswell has noticed him, he turns his back.  However, he starts following Cogswell.  He next walks down a street covered in fallen autumn leaves.  He sees a little girl on a swing.  He asks the girl’s mother about the room-for-rent sign.  She rudely tells him it has been rented.  He sees the old man again and walks the other way.

He goes back to the store with the scowling clerk.  He asks two guys playing checkers what time the next train stops.  The men ignore him, but the clerk says, “It don’t.”  She explains that it only stops if there is a flare on the track.  He steps out and sees the old man window-shopping pocket knives at the hardware store.  He reaches for the door, but someone immediately closes the blinds and puts out the CLOSED sign.

A dog barks at him, and the police station is locked.

He finally comes face to face with the old man.  He tells Cogswell he has been waiting a long time at that station.  After more walking and talking than an Aaron Sorkin script, the man leads Cogswell into an old garage.  The old man confesses he has long wanted to murder someone and figures a stranger in town would be the perfect victim.  Cogswell counters with a story that coincidentally he also wants to murder someone and figures visiting a town where no one knows him would provide the perfect opportunity. Cogswell gets back on the train, and the old man resumes his nap at the station.  The end.

They were wise to pay the money to get Jeff Goldblum.  There is a lot of mundane dialogue in the episode, but he is endlessly fascinating to watch.  But to what end?  In the final face-off, is Cogswell bluffing about committing a murder?  Almost certainly, but it is a nice turning of the tables.  But that confrontation really has nothing to do with the why the townsfolk are all so surly.  So ultimately, we get resolution on why one man is acting crazy toward this stranger in town, but no mention of the much bigger mystery — why are all the rest of the people here such assholes?

Still, it looked great, and Goldblum was great in it.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Note to self: Might need to brush up on my Heraclitus.
  • [2] For some reason this strikes me as a terrible character name.  Maybe because it suggests he is a cog in some mechanical or metaphysical process. And I’m not hard to please — I thought Fiorello Bodoni was a perfectly fine name for a rocket man.
  • Title Analysis: My guess is that Bradbury was too pure of heart to even get the naughty spin of the title.  In fact, that might be what doomed this series to low-budget hell.  Maybe HBO wasn’t going to keep funding it if it wasn’t going to occasionally show a little skin like Tales From the Crypt or The Hitchhiker.
  • The town seems be to named Erewhon.  That is the name of a utopian novel by Samuel Butler, a health-food store in Los Angeles, and is nowhere spelled sideways.  Tip o’ the hat for the Butler reference here.
  • Yeah, during the talky parts, I was thinking, “Must go faster!

Outer Limits – Relativity Theory (02/27/98)

Woohoo!  The crew of the USS Something has reached Tau Gamma Prime!  It is “an unspoiled planet with no signs of intelligent life,” a condition which will not change after their landing.

Xeno-biologist Teresa Janowitz explains the plants look similar to earth’s “because they’re based on photosynthesis.  You get the same amount of sunlight on the same-sized planet, survival of the fittest will give you the same types of trees.”  See paragraph one.

They land the ship on the planet which, like every planet in SF, has 2 moons. [1] It is full of resources that will make the team rich.  “The earth is almost out of resources.  No one’s found a new titanium deposit in years.  Petroleum’s just a memory” and Al Gore is still saying we have just 10 more years until it’s too late.

Perimeter weapon in action.

They’re enjoying a nice day in the woods until Corporal Judith Mason gets hauled up in a spring trap and killed.  This isn’t good news for the crew as they have lost a friend,  it leaves them short-handed, it is evidence of an aggressive native population, and it leaves one woman alone on the planet with four dudes four dudes on a planet with one woman.

That night, they are attacked again and another crew-member is killed. They high-tail it back to the ship. Once safely inside, they “activate perimeter weapons” which mostly just seem to fire 45 degrees straight down into the ground.

The next day they suit up in armor and arm themselves.  They need to clear out the locals so they can survey the planet and collect their commissions.  They follow a trail of snot blood until it leads them to some bleepin’ dead aliens.  They kill off some other aliens later and recover a mysterious object.  It really feels like they were padding out the story.

In fact, yada yada to the rest of it.  It was a fine episode, but not worth recapping every beat.  The object turned out to be a beacon.  The aliens they killed were basically children on a camping trip.  The aliens tap into the ship’s computers and locate earth.  Like the aliens in Trial by Fire, they decide the appropriate response to a few inadvertent deaths is to destroy the earth.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Would also have accepted two suns.
  • Title Analysis: Seems pretty random.
  • Director Ken Girotti has had a huge career, so who am I to criticize?  OK, he did seem to be way too in love with close-ups in this episode.  Luckily, Melissa Gilbert made this very tolerable.

 

 

 

 

The Hitchhiker – Man at the Window (03/12/85)

Dude, that ain’t a Segway. Take it out on the street.

Arthur Brown is covertly aiming his Popeil Pocket Parabolic microphone at people on the street.  And by covertly, I mean dressed in leather, reclining like Rose being sketched by Jack in Titanic, his motorcycle parked beside him apparently having been driven up onto the walkway.

He hears an old man complaining about being an old man, and he hears a young woman with a black eye talking on the phone about having an affair.  Quite reasonably, he follows the woman.  The titular hitchhiker tells us, “Arthur Bradley Brown steals the words of others and uses them like they were his own” — just like Amy Schumer.

Arthur slowrides, following the woman as she walks to the studio of her lover.  He leaves his bike parked perpendicular to the curb, and sneaks up the fire escape.  He finds her window, and watches her.  So in the first three minutes, he is eaves-dropping, endangering pedestrians, holding up traffic, stalking, blocking the road, trespassing, and Peeping Tomming.  Ladies and gentleman, our protagonist.

Arthur had wisely called before midnight to get the free suction cup attachment for the microphone, which he sticks to her window. Turns out the woman, Diane, is having the affair with another woman, Carla Magnuson.  She makes excuses for her husband and the black eye he gave her.

That night, Arthur goes to Diane’s house and snoops outside her window for a while.  She assures her husband she was just in the city window-shopping, and that there is no one else.  They start making out, which is fine, but I think this scene could have been accomplished without seeing Michael Madsen’s butt.

Arthur is a writer.  He transcribes the scenes he has witnessed into a screenplay and takes it to his agent.  He had been a hot new talent at one time, but the drugs derailed him.  His agent is glad to see he is better than ever.  He has a few suggestions, though.  Apparently, his agent also represents Stephen King — his editing advice is: don’t cut anything, more more more!  He wants to add a scene — inexplicably not a further exploration of the lesbian affair — but of the husband finding out.

At home, stuck for a 3rd Act, Arthur calls Diane’s house to instigate trouble.  Her husband John answers, and Arthur says he is her boyfriend.  John says, “I’m her husband, you son of a bitch.”  The next day, the scamp sends flowers to Diane with a card that says, “To my best girlfriend.”  She wisely tells the delivery boy to take them away before she gets another shiner.

Diane storms into Carla’s gallery and accuses her of making the call and sending the flowers.  The flowers, I get, but why does she think Carla made the call.  Wouldn’t her husband have said a man called, or your boyfriend called?  Arthur is eavesdropping again, this time with a camera.  He takes a picture of Carla giving Diane a back-rub next to a gigantic nude photo of her.  Because, if you’re having an affair with the wife of an abusive psychopath, ya really want to prop the super-sized evidence up in front of a window that doesn’t even have curtains.

Arthur goes to Diane’s house, and this time breaks in.  He installs a bug on her phone and leaves a picture of Diane’s nude photo in their living room.  Finding this, her husband, predictably, starts slapping her around.  Arthur actually feels a little remorse when he overhears this.

The husband — Michael Madsen, playing his usual role of a muscle-head who is not particularly muscular — is a cop.  He detects a signature on the nude in the photo. In a nice bit of exposition, he calls a buddy on the force to get a number for a photographer named Magnuson.  This allows Arthur to overhear the address.  In the bedroom, Diane has picked up the extension, so she also knows where her husband is heading.

All three take off separately for Carla’s studio like the opening of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.  The husband wants to kill “the guy”, Diane wants to warn her lover, and Arthur is thinking if he saves Carla’s life she will so grateful they will have a three-way.  Arthur gets there first and tries to warn Carla that John is on the way over with a gun.  Diane arrives next.

Diane:  John’s coming.

Carla:  That’s what he said.

Hee-hee.  Both women are baffled who Arthur is and why he is there.  John finally arrives and Carla breaks a perfectly good whiskey bottle over his head.  When the cops show up, they inexplicably shoot Arthur who is just standing there with his hands up.

This one grew on me as I thought more about it.  The story could hardly be simpler.  Maybe the lesbian love affair was a shocker in 1985, but it can’t support a whole story in 2017; at least not without significant nudity.  The direction called attention to itself a couple of times, but that’s OK.  Some of the shots such as through the fire escape (pictured above) and Arthur’s motorcycle riding were stylishly designed.  Performances were competent.

Maybe it is grading on a curve, but an OK episode.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Blessington Method (11/15/59)

In one of the great opening scenes of the series, JJ Bunce (Dick York) is sitting on a pier.  OK, it doesn’t sound like much so far, but stick with me.  An elderly fisherman approaches and says York is in his spot.  York is an affable guy, so scoots to the side so the 93 year old can sit.  York helps him out by pointing out a big fish.  The old man leans over the water to check it out.  York pushes him into the water.  Maybe he had a cement hip because he sinks like a stone.

Dick York was ludacris playing a thug in Vicious Circle.  However, in The Dusty Drawer, he seemed to find his niche.  He is a smiling sociopath who has no problem ruining or ending people’s lives if it fits his idea of justice or commerce.  Or maybe he’s just smiling because he knows he will be playing Elizabeth Montgomery’s husband in a few years.

Bunce walks into the offices of uber that-guy Henry Jones[1] This being the exotic future year of 1980, we get a couple of bits of business that aren’t all that far-fetched.  Bunce introduces himself as being from the Society for Experimental Gerology.  He seems to know every detail of Jones’ life including that he fell madly for Adlai, and has a shrill 82 year old harridan living with him.[2]  Even worse, Bunce’s statistics show that with 1980s medical advances, the old shrew [3] — his mother-in-law — could live another 32 years.  Bunce suggests he could make the problem go away.  Jones is outraged and throws him out of his office.

After an awful evening at home with his mother-in-law, Jones strides purposefully into his office the next morning.  Bunce is waiting for him. He has a plan to knock off the old woman for the low, low price of $2,000 with insanely low APR.  He is instructed to leave his mother-in-law for a nice day in the park.  Bunce finds her there in her wheel-chair.  After a brief conversation about how the old have an obligation to make way for the young — hint, hint, Bill & Hillary — he wheels her right off the pier.  Bravo!

Bunce finds Jones fishing in a transparent row-boat.  Whether that was a past thing or a future thing, I don’t know.  Bunce gives him the good news.  However, he suggests that some day Jones might have a “strapping young son-in-law” who will find him a burden.  On the other hand, his daughter will finally be somebody else’s problem. [5]

If I ever used the word delightful, I would use it for this episode.  It has great performances from Jones and York.  York goes a little overboard with the fluttering eyelashes, but I just take that like Norman Bates’ manic twitchiness.  The peeks into the future aren’t particularly prescient, but are pretty amusing and well sprinkled through-out the episode without being jarring.  Finally, the callous murders of the old people are so over-the-top that they are just a hoot.

The minorest of minor issues:  Jones realizes that he might face this same treatment from his kids.  Yeah, but in 30-40 years, so I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.[4]

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I guess this is the new Uber that-guy.
  • [2] Well, I threw in the Madly/Adlai part because I liked the sound of it; and being embarrassed about your vote is one thing all Americas can share.
  • [3] The shrew seems fairly amiable as rodents go; it’s not really even a rodent.  How did they become synonymous with nasty women?
  • [4] Actually, part of his response — and it is well-handled — is a new self-awareness.  He is suddenly aware that his smiling, loving kids might some day have him killed.  He was once that respectful younger person, and realizes what an ingrate he has become.
  • [5] His teenage daughter is 29 and living at home.  At least they got that prediction right.
  • Saying grace before dinner, Jones says, “Our father, who art in space.”
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Nancy Kilgas is still hanging in there.  Of more interest is Elizabeth Patterson who was born just 10 years after the Civil War.

Twilight Zone – The Convict’s Piano (12/11/86)

Ricky Frost is minding his own business tapping out a tune on the table as if he were playing a piano.  Unfortunately, he is in prison where that translates as “break my fingers, please” with an encore of “thank you sir, may I have another.”  A fight breaks out nearby and Ricky stupidly tries to help a friend.

He gets a minor wound in the hand that is a little baffling.  As a pianist, his hands are his life.  Yet, at no point is he overly concerned about this wound to his hand.  There is no suggestion that this could end his piano playing days.  Given that, why was the wound even written to be on his hand?

The doctor worries that Ricky is not fitting in.  He has pissed off the white gang, and “even though you play like Ray Charles, you hardly qualify for the black gang.”  Ricky refuses to stand by while others get knifed.  The wound gets him a cushy work detail.

It was 90 years ago today . . .

He is handed off to a grossly miscast Norman Fell as Eddie O’Hara.  Maybe having been there 50 years, you get special privileges.  He has a hat, smokes a cigar and is wearing a vest even though the last thing I would want to be in prison is a dandy.

Eddie: You’re the piano player.  Knocked off your girlfriend.

Ricky:  She was my former girlfriend.  They found her in a car that had been stolen from me but I couldn’t prove any of that.

That exchange bugged me, but it’s not worth dissecting.  The bishop is coming to the prison, and O’Hara wonders if Ricky can play Ave Maria on an old piano they have in the attic.  It was a gift from O’Hara’s old pal Micky O’Shaughnessy around the time he disappeared, back when major appliances were allowed as gifts in prison.  And there’s nothing guards encourage more than a huge supply of unguarded piano wire in prison.

Ricky opens up the keyboard.  He finds sheet music for The Maple Leaf Rag in his stool — heehee!  As he begins playing, he is transported back to 1899.  He is a member of a band dressed like Sgt. Pepper playing a concert in a park.  When he stops playing for a second, he is transported back to the prison attic.  Later in the yard, he asks O’Hara how to avoid trouble.

Ricky: How do you get along in here?

O’Hara:  I believe in the 11th command-ment.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . . . but do it unto them first!

This sounds clever, but makes no sense in multiple ways.  Again, let’s just move on.  The next time Ricky is able to get to the piano, he plays the WWI song Over There.  He is transported back to a bar in 1917 where dough-boys are waiting to ship out.  He pockets a box of matches and manages to sip a beer while playing with one hand.  When he removes both hands from the keyboard, he re-materializes back in prison.

While the doctor is removing the stitches from his hand, Ricky tells him about the piano.  The doctor, understandably, is dubious.  However:

Dr. Puckett:  If I were smart, would I be working here?

Bloody hell!  You’re a doctor!  OK, you’re not doing cancer research, but you earned a medical degree!  Maybe it’s time to point out this teleplay is from a writer with only one other credit on IMDb — another TZ segment which did not interest me enough to post about.

Apparently Ricky has freer run of the prison than Michael Scofield, because he is soon back in the attic with the piano.  Today’s selection is Someone to Watch Over Me (1928). [1]  O’Hara comes and Ricky asks him if he would like to go back to face O’Shaughnessy.  He proves it is possible by showing him the box of matches he pocketed.  He says, “I was there yesterday, the Shamrock Club in Chicago.”

What the hell?  He got those matches when he transported to the WWI bar.  One of the soldiers referred to being from 103rd street which sounds a lot more like New York than Chicago.  He offers to take O’Hara with him, but ends up being transported by himself.

O’Shaughnessy is critical of Ricky’s ivory tickling skillz.  He’s not crazy about the piano, either.  He orders a lackey to send it to young O’Hara at the state pen.  Then he sits beside Ricky and takes over the piano playing.  Since there was never a break of hands on the keyboard, O’Shaughnessy is now the driver and Ricky does not fade away.  Once O’Shaughnessy quits playing, he transports to the prison where old O’Hara punches him out for framing him and stealing his gal.  Ricky is a free man, and goes on to tickle the ivories of O’Shaughnessy’s flapper gal. [2]

Despite some gaps in math, dialogue, casting, and logic, this is a winner.  It takes a simple, high concept story and plays it out with justice being meted out all around.  Joe Penny has had a huge career, but he seems like such a natural talent, I’m surprised he wasn’t in more prestigious shows and movies.  Even though I felt Norman Fell was miscast as O’Hara, he’s still Norman Fell and that counts for something.  Another great asset is that, since this episode centered on certain songs, there was less opportunity for the awful TZ scoring to ruin the episode.

This is never going to be considered a classic, but it would have been a worthy episode on the classic 1960s series.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The sheet music for Someone to Watch Over Me says 1928.  Since it was written in 1926, I take it we are to believe 1928 is the date Ricky goes to.
  • O’Hara has been in jail for 50 years, or since 1936.  So how did O’Shaughnessy send him the piano at the prison 8 years before he got there?
  • [2] By ivories, I mean boobs.  Just to be clear, boobs.  Under the B, boobs.  Which probably didn’t get much sunlight.  So, ivory-like.
  • [2] So this girl ended up banging all 3 guys.  Flapper, indeed.
  • Thank God for CTL-F or O’Shaughnessy would never have been mentioned by name.
  • I would encourage people to click the Maple Leaf Rag link above because it is very entertaining.  Here is a more convenient link, but to be honest, it is to pictures of Emily Ratajkowski.