Outer Limits – To Tell the Truth (04/24/98)

Dr. Larry Chambers and Miss Amanda Harper — because who would believe a woman scientist? — are watching a storm and solar flares wreaking havoc on the colony.  The green-screen is just terrible, it does not appear real at all, totally unbelievable!  The fusion plant explodes, and there is massive destruction.  Chambers freezes the picture — it is a simulation.  Oh, in that case it is the best simulation ever, totally believable!  Unfortunately, his simulation has determined that this destruction will occur in mere days — although, since this is not earth, who knows how long that is?

Amanda’s father Ian is a councilman — because who would believe a woman councilman, or even a councilwoman?  He is skeptical of Chambers’ prediction of doom because he cried wolf once before.  Five years earlier, as the colony was 40% complete, he insisted that it be relocated because a nearby volcano was going to blow.

With timing better than a Swiss watch, Chambers’ neighbor Fenton stops by to remind Chambers that his wife fled the planet with their kids after his first prediction.  The angry, beady-eyed man doesn’t mention why they never came back to him, though.  I don’t think Chambers is to blame on that point.  After this perfectly pooped choad [1] of exposition, he unceremoniously exits.  Ian says that is the kind of reception his new theory will receive.

Later, Amanda admits her father might have a point — the doomsday scenario only occurred in 2 of 46 simulations.  Yeah, but the last time was after Chambers added new data to the model.  And here’s an idea — if the future of the freakin’ planet is at stake, maybe keep running simulations.  I’m willing to authorize some OT for this.

As further evidence, he shows her an alien (i.e. indigenous) skeleton he looted from a reservation.  They were shape-shifters.  Somehow he also looted a rock wall with petroglyphs that seem to confirm his theory.  As they are talking, Chief Bennett walks in.  Dude, you have a door!  I see it right there in the shot!

Chambers goes to see head councilman Murdoch, and if there was ever a trustworthy character named Murdoch on TV, I missed it. [2]  Chambers suggests they evacuate the planet or take some core samples to maybe, ya know, check out this potential world-wide Armageddon.  Murdoch thinks he subconsciously wants to sabotage the colony because his wife died of cancer there, far from the facilities on earth that could have helped her.

Chambers goes back home.  He finds Fenton there lounging in his living room.  Ian walks in and runs Fenton out.  Seconds later, Amanda walks in.  Seriously, does this guy not get the whole door concept?  It’s right there and says “Chambers Quarters”!   BTW, a much better episode could have been filmed in “Quarters Chambers”.  He tries unsuccessfully to convince the colony of the danger.

The next day, Ian, Fenton, Bennett and Murdoch open his door and walk right in.  So he has figured out the door, but not mastered the lock yet.  Fenton saw an alien leaving Chambers home.  Murdoch concludes Chambers must be a shape-shifting alien, overlooking the fact that every f***ing bi-ped in this colony seems to waltz in and out of Chambers front door whether he is there or not.  He forces Chambers to take a DNA test which reveals him to be an alien.  He is hauled off to jail.

Ian and Amanda break Chambers out of jail after determining that the first DNA test was rigged.  Blah blah, there are twists and turns but it was hard for me to get invested.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Apparently I’ve had the meaning of this word wrong all my life.  I kind of like my definition better, though.
  • [2] OK, I just thought of The A-Team.

The Hitchhiker – The Cruelest Cut (11/18/89)

Question #1: What was holding this knife up?

Without much in the way of preliminaries, a hooker stabs her client.  Leave it to The Hitchhiker to not even get this right.  She sits on the edge of the bed, and pulls a knife out from her leather mini-skirt.  I reran this several times — it wasn’t tucked in her thigh-highs.  She slides it down from her skirt.  What the hell was holding it up?  We see later it is tucked into a garter; but with the handle at the bottom, the question stands, what was holding it up?  She slides it down her right hip.  The dude is behind her and maneuvering his head around her right side.  She must be a contortionist to even sink it into him.  And that 270 degree arc that she had to swing it gave him every chance to stop her.

The cops try to get the other hookers to take it seriously because people are being killed.  Blonde floozy Sterling Jenkins says, “People?  Johns.  Somebody oughta give her a medal.”  With that kind of contempt for her customers, she should be NFL Commissioner.  As Sterling walks away, the knife starts to slip down, but she catches it.

Question #2: Could she really swing that arm allllll the way around to stab him?

A well dressed guy is following her later that night, and she pulls the same distinctive knife on him.  He says he has car trouble and just wants some help.  Amazingly, she is able to get his car started, although, since it is a 1980s Jaguar, his troubles are far from over.  As they start a little flirtation, her scumbag pimp waves her over.  The dude catches up to her later and offers her a ride home.

Another night, the dude finds her again and asks her to dinner.  They go back to his place and she starts to strip, but he stops her.  He is redecorating and wants to get her opinion.  No, seriously.   He says he is color-blind and needs her help.  He does break out the champagne, though.  This is just too weird for her, so she bails out.

Back at her apartment, her pimp is waiting for her.  After some yak-yak, the dude shows up and decks the pimp with an amazingly lame punch.  He takes Sterling to a hotel and orders room service with champagne.  They finally not only have the sex but make the love.  Apparently after one night together, he is ready for this hooker to move in.  He sends her back to her apartment to get her things which makes as much sense as the Frelings trying to dodge a night’s hotel rent by returning to hell-house.

As she is gathering her things, she hears a noise outside her door.  She says, “Jason?” but gets no answer.  So she opens the door.  What?  If she was going to . . . oh forget it.  This is the last episode of this god-awful series.  It’s not worth my time.  Blah blah, it’s the pimp, but she gets away.

She goes back to Jason’s apartment.  Either he left the door open or she has a key.  She overhears him giving another hooker the same sweet-talk he was giving her.  OK, so he sent her back to her apartment to get her things, and thought that narrow window was plenty of time to seduce another hooker?  And knowing Sterling could walk right in and catch them?  Sterling pulls out that ubiquitous knife.  When Jason goes to get some champagne — again with the champagne — she points it at him, but ends up leaving.

Jason goes back to the other floozy five feet away who has somehow seen or heard none of this.  He begins kissing her neck.  She pulls out an identical knife and raises it to stab him.  Oh my God, how did this junk get on TV?  Think back to Alfred Hitchcock Presents from the 1950s.  They almost always had a tight, logical story.  The Hitchhiker is a metaphor for America going to shit.  And no, I’m not 80.

What are they trying to tell us?  Is this a copy-cat killer?  If so, that is a complete non-sequitur.  Did this new chick do the first killing?  I call bullshit on that, too. Immediately after the first killing, we see Sterling with a knife like the murder weapon.  In fact, she seems to whip it out in every scene.   Misdirection is one thing.  Blatantly lying is another.  The first killer also had a leather skirt, black patterned hose, and a silver bracelet all just like Sterling’s.  To be fair, the hooker at the end did too, but what the hell does that mean?

Tales of Tomorrow and Science-Fiction Theater were made when TV was still figuring itself out.  I will defend Ray Bradbury Theater as doing the best they could with severe budget constraints and being saddled with a single writer who was better at prose than screenplays.  This series, however, defies explanation.

They put out 30 of the 85 episodes in 3 DVD sets that should reasonably be expected to be the best of the series.  To be sure, there were some winners, but on the whole, I have never seen a sloppier series.  Some of it can be attributed to terrible transfers and the unfortunate styles of the 1980s.  At the core, though, is just a disregard for story structure and logic.

It is to be avoided.

Other Stuff:

  • This episode was the writer’s only credit.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Ikon of Elijah (01/10/60)

Mr. Carpius returns from a buying trip for his junk antique shop.  His assistant tells him he just missed a visit from a monk.  The monk mentioned that he had a titular Ikon of Elijah, but it was just a copy.  Carpius says, “Where there is a copy, there must be an original; and the original may have been worth a fortune!”

A hot young woman emerges from the back of the shop and calls Carpius to dinner.  He has brought her an amber necklace, but tells her someday she will have sapphires.  She accuses him of being a dreamer, but nothing ever happens.  Well, at some point he probably dreamed of marrying a woman 40 years younger than him, and that happened. [1]

Malvira says she is leaving him.  He says, “Where will you go?  Back to the market where I found you?  And your filthy stall to sell pots and pans?  Have you forgotten so soon?  Your ragged dress, your sandals split at the seams.  Look at you now!  Everything you are you owe to me!  I took you in, I fed you, I clothed you . . . if you leave me, I will kill you.”  Which is the same speech Harvey Weinstein gave to Jennifer Lawrence.  Except instead of threatening to kill her, he jerked off into a potted plant.  See, he could have been worse.

The monk returns with the ikon of the prophet Elijah, a small painting.  He says it was painted by one of his brothers.  He was the first Ikon Copier. [2]  Heyyyyoooo!

The next day Carpius goes to the monastery.  He tells the head monkety-monk that he just couldn’t sleep last night because he paid so little for the ikon.  He admits to being less than honest in his business, and says the meaning of life tortures him, although the bit with Mr. Creosote was fun.  He seeks true religion.

He asks to see the original ikon.  The head monk takes him to see the original, guarded by brother Damianos who mouths his prayers silently in obeisance to God, his vows, and union pay rules for non-speaking parts.

That night, after torches-out, Carpius sneaks back to the ikon room.  He swaps the original ikon for the copy.  The lumox manages to wake the snoozing Damianos.  He brains him with a candlestick.  Immediately, several monks show up to the ikon room.  Carpius claims it was an accident.

The head monk says, “You say you are sorry. I choose to believe you.”  Carpius is relieved, but the head monk says he must pray for divine forgiveness, starting immediately.

Sensing a good deal, Carpius starts praying.  The monk says, we will bring you food and water twice a day, and oil for the lamp.  He locks Carpius in the ikon room and says, “We shall feed you as the ravens fed Elijah.  As long as you live, this will be your world and you will pray for forgiveness.”  If they really wanted to punish him, they’ make him listen to The Raven every day. [3]  Oh well, as daily visits from birds go, he got a better deal than Prometheus; also better than the eagle, who had to eat liver every day.  Who did he piss off?

Oskar Homolka (Carpius) is a fast-talking, inarticulate, not particularly likable, hammy actor.  Last time we saw him, he was killing his wife in Reward to Finder, but that’s half the husbands on AHP.  He is the whole show, though, so you better get used to him.

On the other hand, I find monasteries fascinating, from the Odd Couple to The Twilight Zone.  And I like seeing some frontier justice handed out.  Those aspects and Malvira earn a marginal thumbs up.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The actress is 22 and the actor is 62.
  • [2] Ikon was founded in Malvern, PA.  Pretty similar to Malvira.
  • [3] This is another case where, in the light of day, I have no idea what I meant.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Carpius’s assistant and his wife are still in business.

Twilight Zone – The Crossing (10/08/88)

Following yesterday’s Tales of Tomorrow is like getting the slot after Spiderman at the dance contest.  Making the comparison even worse for TZ, this is a really mediocre episode.

Boring Father Mark Cassidy is working obsessively to raise funds for a new children’s hospital.  His boring assistant brings him some boring tea, but the coffee and cigarettes probably have him wired enough already.  Coming out of the rectory (hee hee), he sees an old family truckster passing by.  It disappears around the bend on a dirt road.  He hears a crash and runs down the road.  At the bottom of a hill, he sees the car in flames.  When his assistant arrives, she thinks he’s gone around the bend because she sees nothing.

As Cassidy is updating the fund-raising graph, Monsignor Perot [1] drops by.  He says, “I remember when that children’s wing was just a dream.”  That’s nothing, I remember 2 minutes ago when it was a whole hospital.

These are literally the most boring characters I have seen this year.  Both are soft spoken old white men.  The Monsignor is a geezer who, at least, is puffing on a meerschaum to give him a little character. [2]  Cassidy is just a tall, blonde, angular non-entity.  Both speak somberly and slowly as if to add some gravitas to the scene.  The new announcer ain’t working for me either, but that can come later.

During a class about Father Damien and the lepers, he spots the family truckster through the window.  He runs outside, and after the car.  It again goes around the bend just out of budget range, and he hears the sound of a crash.  His mob of students chase him down like they just found out he believes in the 1st amendment.  He looks down the hill and sees the car on fire again — this time with a woman he recognizes inside.  Again the kids see nothing.

That night, staring at a fire — a real one, in a fireplace — Cassidy looks through some pictures.  He and the woman are in the same car, surrounded by kids.  It is never made clear what their relationship is.  At first, I though it was his family, but the kids are never mentioned.  Maybe they were camp counselors.  They are wearing camp tee-shirts and Cassidy has a whistle among his keepsakes; there is a lanyard, but that is inconclusive as there is no clipboard.

The next day, the Monsignor announces that after Cassidy’s years of hard work raising $2 million, the children’s wing can be built.  Not only that, it will be named after Father Mark.  He takes this news very somberly.  Later the Monsignor tells him to take some time off, but he is worried about the clothing drive, the pageant, the operating costs.  He is clearly driven, but it is the dullest drive I have ever seen.  Worse than Alligator Alley.

Cassidy spills his guts in the confessional.  He describes the actual accident from his youth when he looked exactly as he does now.  He was able to hear the girl call him for help as she burned alive.  He asks why he was thrown from the car and not her.  He asks if all his works have not atoned for his cowardice at not fighting the flames to rescue her.  He begs forgiveness at leaving her to die while he lawyered up with the family fixers, and wearing a fake neck-brace to her funeral in a laughably transparent ploy for sympathy.  No, wait, that was Ted Kennedy.

The confessional is a great made-for-TV location for exposition.  However, isn’t there supposed to be someone listening?  I’m not up on the rules, but isn’t that the point?  Isn’t the priest supposed to absolve you of your sins?  Cassidy spends a couple of minutes talking to the screen partition — there is no one on the other side.  I guess you could argue that he was talking to God, but that could be done anywhere.

He later sees the car outside again.  This time, he gets into the car beside the woman and they drive around the bend.  The screen goes black and we hear the same crash again.  If this episode were not so deadly dull and dreary, I would have thought they were going for a joke.  Actually, it is a pretty good joke, though unintentional.

However, the real joke is on the viewer as the episode continues at the funeral of Father Cassidy.  As his casket passes by, the woman who had appeared burning in the car places a rose on it.  She watches it be loaded into the hearse, then walks away.  That’s it.  Seriously, that’s it.

The script was nonsensical on a Hitchhikerian level.  As a full stand-alone 30 minute episode, there was no excuse for this.  Was the original crash his fault?  Who was the woman?  What was their relationship?  Why was he confessing to an empty chair?  How did he die? [3] How was the dead woman able to attend his funeral?  She left a rose — does she forgive him?  Shouldn’t she have faded away as she walked down the road?  Or maybe at the end, they could have both driven safely around the bend?  My only explanation is that the pace is so lethargic that scenes had to be cut for time.

The performances were so flat as to be tiresome.  This includes the new announcer.  I had hoped the person following the avuncular Charles Aidman would have a little more menace in his voice.  Unfortunately, it sounds like they just went for a younger Aidman.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Also boring.
  • [2] OK, it’s just a boring regular pipe.
  • [3] When he got into the ghost car and rode away, his assistant should have seen him hovering down the road in a sitting position.  To be fair, I’m willing to accept that anything in the car moved to a different dimension.
  • Title Analysis:  No idea what they were going for.  Yeah, Cassidy crossed over at the end, but I don’t think that’s it.  The car accident was not at a railroad crossing.

Tales of Tomorrow – The Window (11/07/52)

  • Question:  How is this episode of Tales of Tomorrow like Mother!?
  • Answer:  I liked it, but will never watch it again and will never recommend it to anyone.

I applaud Tales of Tomorrow for some major fourth wall breakage.  It might be giving them too much credit to point out the irony of breaking the fourth wall with a window, but I was just so happy to genuinely enjoy an episode that I’m feeling generous.

Something seemed immediately amiss when the announcer said, “Starring William Coburn and Merle Albertson.”  IMDb also lists Rod Steiger and Frank Maxwell — two much bigger names at the time — for the episode.  Kudos to the producers for completely subverting the form.  The episode, unbeknownst to the audience, began before it began.

Otherwise, the episode begins pretty typically with a white man working at a desk in an office and an overwrought score.  He brings Martha in and tells her, “At this time tomorrow, the earth will be one flaming white inferno.”  So maybe the score was appropriately wrought.  I would like to think this was a meta-gag based on how often the series destroyed the world.

That’s not the shocker, though.  Our picture goes all staticky, then shows a window in an apartment building.  We overhear the director say, “What happened?  That’s not our show.  Where’s the picture coming from?”

Two men (Steiger and Maxwell) and a woman are sitting in a Kramdenesque apartment swilling beer.  Al is warning Hank not to get married because all dames are like his wife.  Dude, she’s sitting right there!  I can certainly understand why she’s drinking.  He is upset because he just got out of the hospital and she wasn’t there to pick him up.  I must agree, that is pretty lousy.

Our screen goes hinky again and resolves to a PLEASE STAND BY title card.  We hear a crew-member say, “We were cut off.  That picture in the window is going out in place of our show.”

The cameras then show what is happening behind the scenes in the TV studio.  The actual Tales of Tomorrow director tells the actual stage manager — among the many people credited as “himself” on IMDb — he needs to make an announcement to the audience.  Fearing the Announcers Local 306 more than the possible alien invasion, he stalls until he sees the program’s actual announcer.  All he gets out is the standard “Due to circumstances beyond our control” before the screen goes crazy again.

Dude, I was going to sit there!

The POV switch between the TV studio and the apartment happens several times, but it would be tedious to document each instance.  The fascinating thing is how much is going on in this hitherto dimwitted series.  The breaking of the fourth wall had to be almost unknown to a 1952 audience.  Sure, Orson Welles did something similar with War of the Worlds, but that was just on radio and I’ve always suspected the effect was vastly overblown.  Comedians like George Burns might address the camera, but TV was still basically vaudeville at that point.

This could easily have been a mere stunt but for the story-telling.  The brief scenes in the apartment are often individually innocuous, but build to an inevitable conclusion that the observers race to prevent.  In the studio scenes, there is believable chaos in trying to figure out how this is happening.  At the same time, they logically work on a way to locate the apartment and prevent the crime.  We see everyone getting involved: the actors, the sponsor, the network, the crew.

  • The engineer gives his scientific theory on the air.  When someone brings two chairs out for him and the announcer, the engineer puts his foot up on one.  The announcer looks at the chair like “what the hell, dude?”  Very minor, but it adds to a great sense of unscripted chaos.
  • The actors walk in front of the camera and are hustled away before they can say how much they don’t Like Ike (elected 3 days before this aired).
  • During one interval when the studio is being received, they do a live commercial.  Priorities, ya know.  Kudos to them for suddenly cutting it off a few seconds early to have the apartment take over the transmission again.

The ending is a little anti-climactic, but I’m not going to let that ruin a great experience.  In truth, there wasn’t anything Tomorrowy about the Tale.  It would have made a kick-ass Twilight Zone in a few years, though.  Maybe I was too harsh in the first two lines of this post.  I’m sure part of my appreciation of this episode is due to low expectations, but there is no denying this is something special for 1952 TV.

Great credit goes to writer Frank De Felitta, but greater credit goes to whoever approved this crazy script to air in 1952.   Easily the best of the series (sadly, I doubt I need to add “so far”).

Available on You Tube.

Other Stuff:

  • Both IMDb and the DVD case mention an alternate title of The Lost Planet.  I have no idea how that could possibly fit this episode.