Night Gallery – Something in the Woodwork (01/14/73)

ngwoodwork01Metaphors for Night Gallery abound in the opening of this episode.  There is the old house full of cobwebs and the promise of a ghost. There is the desperate 1st wife trying too hard, but unable to match the new girl that never gets old in a man’s mind.  And down the stairs comes a young handyman who she pathetically begs to stay to keep her company.

Night Gallery had a lot of political turmoil backstage, but maybe it just was doomed from the start.  Serling’s style of writing was on the way out.  Even in its contemporaries — you never see the maudlin, long-winded, preachy monologues in the other old shows covered here — Alfred Hitchcock or Thriller.

It could be argued that Serling was creating deeper characters, but was he?  Even the hour-long Thriller seems to be less padded out than a lot of Serling’s work in Twilight Zone (don’t even start on the hour-long season) and Night Gallery.  Mostly, it felt like he was just looking for a platform for his liberal (in the good way, before liberals went insane) speeches.  There’s a reason Strange Interlude never started a trend.

Even Serling himself went through a transformation which, though in step with the times, did him a disservice.  He started out a very straight-laced Don Draper type hosting Twilight Zone in 1959 — perfect dark suit, perfect short hair, perfect thin black tie. Probably wore a perfect hat.  He was the the very model of the modern major company man around whom things went askew — just as in many on his TZ episodes.  That itself lent an other-worldliness to TZ (and is why it was a mistake to ever have Boris Karloff host such shows).

By the time Night Gallery started, the 1960’s were in full swing or in full bore — ironically both cliches have appropriate double-meanings.  Serling was still hosting, but it was a different Serling.  Unlike Don Draper, he changed with the times (but did not buy the world a Coke).   He seemed a little too tan, a little oily — his dictating scripts by his pool has been described often.  And the hair — my God — the hair.  It was longer, wilder, often did not reflect a minute sitting in the make-up chair or having at least a comb run through it.  He was not our rock standing statue-still as he usually was to introduce the Twilight Zone.  He was more like a sunburned hobo with a five o’clock shadow wandering through this cheap set of mostly awful paintings (although why, for the love of God, didn’t they ever use that cool dragon sculpture?).  The societal  deterioration of the 1960s permeated Night Gallery.

It was also the curse of color television.  I have wondered whether watching some of these episodes in black & white might make them a different show — like the black & white DVD that was included in The Mist Special Edition.  Or the way color film of WWII seems to cheapen the events.  Maybe that’s true for some episodes, but I’m not going back and rewatching them in B&W (nice investment on those DVDs, pal).

And maybe, like the first wife in tonight’s episode, it would just never be able to compete with it’s younger “self” — the earlier “golden” age of TV, the newness, the younger age and energy of Serling, and the innocence of the country.  Even the iconic, tight-lipped, vaguely intimidating on-screen appearance of Serling was no longer a novelty.

By the time Night Gallery arrived, it was tarted up with color, infused with excruciating throw-away sketches, and creative control was taken away from “the man” to be be mostly controlled by lesser talents.  It was just a desperate attempt to be one of the young, hip crowd; but about as appealing as a potbelly and a comb-over.

But I digress.

ngwoodwork04Molly Wheatland invites her ex-husband over on the pretense of signing some papers. In reality, she has planned a romantic evening. Sadly, her ex-husband Charlie has a younger woman waiting in the car. Happily for him, it Barbara Rhoades who played the hot young busty redhead in every show of the 70s & 80s.  Yada yada . . .

Maybe it is just the sadness of the episode that finally brings this series crashing down for me.  Geraldine Page is great in this and certainly not unattractive.  Ironically, maybe this episode launched my rant because the sadness in it is a little too real.

Post-Post:

  • Twilight Zone Legacy:  Fittingly, none.
  • Ironically, Charlie is 13 years older than Molly, so maybe this isn’t his first trip to this particular rodeo.
  • Out of 49 episodes, this one ranked 14th from the bottom.  A better ranking than I expected, but that IMDb rating system has always been a little suspect.
  • I wish I had enough interest to mention that the black & white cookie guy in her eye above looks just like the guy in Star Trek.  Am I going to take the time to look up his name?  I am not.

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