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!

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

  1. Sure, Jeff Goldblum was great, however when the episode ended I thought to myself, “Great – and where is Part II, where SOMETHING happens?”

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