The Hitchhiker – The Legendary Billy B (03/31/87)



It wasn’t much of a twist, but way to blow it in the opening credits.

It is almost a certainty that an episode centered around a rock band or rock musician will be as dreadful as most episodes with a Christmas theme.  That Outer Limits episode with Sheena Easton was tolerable because it was The Outer Limits and had Sheena Easton.  The Christmas episodes have to be mawkish or show that miracles do come true. In the rock & roll episodes, the miracle is that anyone on-screen cares about the god-awful music or the repulsive artists.  Even trying to introduce a edgy vibe by using someone like Henry Rollins or Iggy Pop usually serves only to demonstrate how utterly vacuous and laughable they are.

Kirstie Alley and Andy Summers are hiding outside a house spying on a couple coupling like a couple of rabbits.  It seems like a fairly mundane story until Summers recognizes the girl as being the man’s sister.  Kirstie is giddy — this will finally catapult her to the big time!  Publicizing people’s most intimate moments can only lead to fortune and a long career as the fine people at Gawker can tell us.

When the story and pictures are published, Kirstie shows her excitement by buying a fake fur coat.  Summers is a little more sympathetic, showing her a new headline, “Actor’s Wife Takes Life After Illicit Love Nest Exposed.”  Her main concern is that another magazine is stealing her story.  She does calm down again when Summers reveals he has been sneaking pictures of the titular Legendary Billy B. who is supposed to be dead.

Summers tells her, “Billy B. was one of the original acid rockers, the greatest American guitarist pre-Hendrix, the big rock sex god after Elvis and before Jim Morrison.” Unlike the other three dumb-asses, his death was not self-inflicted by drugs — he was shot on stage 20 years ago. And unlike two of those three, he seems to be alive.

Kirstie is ready to get the scoop and ruin his retirement, but Summers is again the voice of reason.  He was just stalking Billy B. for his own amusement; a defense which has never worked for me.   She talks him into making it a story.  They go to his house and jump the wall.  Kirstie mentions how Billy B. appeared only 25 in Summers’ pictures, but he should be in his fifties.  Summers says rock & roll keeps you young.  To be fair, in 1987 he had no way of knowing what Keith Richards would look like in 2017.[1]

They break into the house and hear guitar riffs that could only be coming from Billy B. They follow them to the 2nd floor which smells like “beer and piss and vomit.”  They follow some flashing lights up to the 3rd floor.  They catch Billy B. playing the guitar.  He stops and says, “Glad you could make it.”

When Kirstie suggests a comeback, he tells her, “I’m not exactly one of those forgotten cult heroes, you know.  If I can still make you shiver on record, I’m not forgotten am I? Don’t it make you shiver just to hear my music?  Don’t you just want to rip your clothes off when see me?  I don’t ask, I don’t say anything.  I just play.  That is what it means to be a rockstar.”

Summers busts him for giving the exact same inane response he gave a reporter 20 years earlier.  His other dopey answers are also rehashes of old interviews.  They want some new material, so Summers challenges Billy B. to play more than a simple riff.  When he seems unable, they peg him as a phony.  He pulls a gun on them. Summers proves to be quite agile as he leaps through a glass window, then jumps from the 2nd story.  Sadly he is killed by Red or Sonny or whatever Billy B.’s lackey is named.

Kirstie is able to run downstairs (Note to self: Be nice!).  On the first floor, she hears more guitar riffs, although these are not as terrible as the others.  She finds the real, more age-appropriate, Billy B., but he is unresponsive.

She increases his IV to a VI, but that doesn’t do much other than get him shaking.  Young Billy B. shows up with Red or Sonny.  Young Billy B. admits he is actually the son of Billy B.  This is not much of a shocker as the opening credits listed “Brad Dourif as Billy Baltimore Jr.”  They inject Kirstie with something and hook her up to an IV just like Billy Baltimore Sr.  For what reason, I have no idea.

The extent to which this episode is redeemable depends on how much you like Kirstie Alley.  As it happens, I like her, so she mitigated the awfulness.  I can imagine her over-the-top performance would grate on many people.  Despite being a musician, Andy Summers seems like a decent guy.  His acting isn’t up there with Roger Daltrey’s, but he was a nice addition.[2]  Overall, though, it is just another mediocre music episode in an often lackluster series.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Although credit is due for being alive at all.
  • [2] FYI, Sting is an asshole.
  • In 6 months, Kirstie Alley would begin her run on Cheers. Sadly, I don’t think she did much running after that (Note to self: Nicer than that).
  • I saw no opportunity for a Kobayashi Maru reference.

The Hitchhiker – W.G.O.D. (11/26/85)

Gary Busey.

That’s it.  Join me tomorrow for The Outer Limits.

Wait, what?  This was 3 years before riding a motorcycle without a helmet made him seem like he had played too much football without a helmet? OK, then.

Seeing the date of his skull-cracking crash, I am stunned.  I thought after his accident, he had immediately become . . . shall we say, erratic.  However, the crash was in 1988.  He still had the relatively subdued performances in Point Break, Under Siege and The Firm ahead of him.  Whatever, like Randy Quaid in Night Visions, it is just nice to see him young and healthy.

Busey plays Reverend Nolan Powers, a radio evangelist.  We join him mid-call with an adulterer who has been sneaking out for nooners at the Airport Ramada Inn.  He tells her he is going to play a song for her, but strangely nothing is done with this. The music seems to be as stock as the first DVD releases of WKRP, so I guess budgetary issues stopped them from doing anything interesting with it.

His takes a call from a shoplifter, and he then has another untrustworthy type in the studio, a network reporter from Weekend LapWatchdog.  His last call of the day is a young man, but his call is distorted with feedback as he requests What a Friend We Have in Jeebus (availabe since it entered Public Domain in the year of our Lord 1206).  After the show, reporter Eric Sato rides with Powers in his Lincoln back to the Reverend’s modest 12,000 square foot parsonage.

We’re still only 5 minutes in, but the direction and set design are already pretty impressive.  We got some nice dizzying aerial shots of the station and tower.  The building has huge letters WGOD on the roof.  Even more amazing are the 10-foot tall letters in front of the building.  If this is where the budget money went, I can listen to some generic hymns.

Sato would like a tour of the house, but Powers does not invite him in.  Powers hears What a Friend We Have in Jesus coming from the attic.  His mother is playing his brother Gerald’s records again.  Even though Gerald ran off, Mom still adores him, living in his old attic bedroom with the college pennants and model airplanes.  Powers rips the record-player’s [1] power cord from the wall, but it continues playing.

The next day, caller #1 is pain-killers, and that is how his callers are designated on his call screen — atheist, mid-life crisis, pain-killers.  The mysterious young man calls again, but without the feedback and distortion.  He tells Powers, “I want to save your soul, or do you want to die a sinner?”  The microphone gives a spark and the caller ominously says, “You’ll be hearing from me.”  Could this be Gerald?

Later, Powers is putting on an anti-abortion show at the local mall.  Once again, this looks great.  It is filmed in a real split-level mall, it has a banner with a logo, the many extras are dressed neatly in a nice mid-western style.  The Armani-clad reporter comes in just in time to hear Powers wonder if maybe “Jesus has already returned and was flushed down an abortionist’s toilet.”  Gotta say if that’s your philosophy, it is a pretty good question.

That night, Powers makes a phone-call and the Gerald-voice answers. He is watching a replay of the rally and his mother thinks she sees Gerald in the crowd.  Powers goes to the garage, grabs a shovel and gets in the Lincoln.  On the radio, he again hears What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  Gerald’s voice comes on the radio and taunts Powers over how he abused Gerald when they were kids, and accused him of being a mama’s boy.

Powers drives back to the station.  You pretty much know what is going to happen, but the specifics are carried out with genuine creativity and style.  It is not a one-man show, but Busey really blows everyone else off the screen.  He does what I have seen many others fail at in the course of this blog — he comes off as a believable voice on the radio. As things fall apart, I see him as a real person breaking down, not a caricature or latter-day Busey.

Great stuff.

Post-Post:

  • [1] For the kids, that is an actual player of records — mono with a jagged needle and scratchy speakers.
  • Other nice little flourishes:  The cross on the phone, in headlights, and as the hood ornament of the Lincoln; the microphone dripping blood.
  • I watched this on You Tube where it has French subtitles.  Over there, the station is D.I.E.U.  Pretty clever, but now that I think of it, why do WGOD and DIEU have periods?  They aren’t abbreviations.
  • Gary Busey will play another evangelist in The Outer Limits.  In Season 6.  God help me.
  • There actually is a WGOD in The Virgin Islands.
  • Fun Fact: I learned from this episode that old CRT computer monitors had a red incandescent bulb in them.  OK, that’s a cheap shot at a good episode, but it is weird how long they lingered on it.

The Hitchhiker – Man’s Best Friend (12/10/85)

Car door dented before the suitcase hit it.

Richard Shepard comes home and is good-naturedly shouting to his wife upstairs about his bad day.  He says, “You should have seen what they were throwing at me.”  At just that moment, a large suitcase crashes to the bottom of the stairs.  This could have been a good laugh; actually, I did laugh.  Sadly, no one involved in the production seemed to recognize the gag.  Even after a 2nd bag crashes down, Shephard barely reacts.

Ellie walks down the stairs after the bags.  She has thoughtfully packed them for Richard because she is throwing him out of the house.  One of the bags opens as he is carrying them to the car.  In anger, he flings another bag against the door of his Porsche, leaving a nice dent in the car which I suspect was an accident.

He goes to the home of his friend Carl.  Several years earlier Carl’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return.  Fortunately they do not have to share the apartment as Carl is heading to New York.  That night, Shephard hears howling.  He investigates and finds a white dog and — for no reason I can figure — a blow-up sex doll.

hmansbestfriend2The next morning, still wearing the same double-breasted suit — that’s reason enough to break up with a dude right there — Shephard goes in search of Ellie.  He goes to her hair salon and starts flipping up hair dryers in search of her.  He is man-handled, tossed out and given such a slap by the fabulous owner [1] of the salon.  That’s not a story I’d tell down at the VFW Hall.  The dog witnesses the whole scene.

In another non-sequitur that I can’t figure out, Shephard makes a little fort for the dog. He has turned the sofa upside-down and spread some pillows to make it very homey. The dog comes home after walking himself and is covered with blood.  Shephard takes him into the shower and hoses him off — still wearing the double-breasted suit.  At least it is getting cleaned.  The next morning — as he awakens still in the same suit — the dog fetches him the paper.  The salon owner has been killed.

The next day he goes to an analyst who seems to have treated both him and Ellie.  He accuses the shrink of having a lesbian affair with his wife which is troubling as it 1) broke up their marriage, and 2) was a breach of medical ethics, and 3) took place off-camera.  The therapist assures him this is a delusion he has concocted to explain the break-up.  He seems to be wearing that same suit, BTW.  And it’s not like it is ragged, as a metaphor for his breaking down.  If still looks like a pretty nice suit except for the double-breastedness.  Oh, the dog kills her too.

hmansbestfriend3Carl comes home from New York to find his home has been wrecked.  I still can’t figure out what the point of this is.  Carl is understandably peeved, but Shephard tells him not to be angry.  Just to be safe, the dog kills him.

The next day, still in the same suit, Shephard takes a Polaroid picture of he and the dog posing in front of a mirror.  Ellie calls and that seems to upset the dog.  Shepard goes to her house to protect her.  When she tells him he is his own worst enemy, the dog attacks him and pushes him off a balcony.

Of course, there is no dog.  As it is attacking him, we see Shephard from Ellie’s POV defending against a non-existent dog.  Just in case we don’t get it, we then see the Polaroid which has developed to show no dog in the shot.  Shephard is the dog.

hmansbestfriend4I was highly critical of Michael O’Keefe’s (Shepard) performance for most of the episode. He was never much of an actor, but here he just seemed all over the board.  The revelation that he was nuts helped explain away some of that; many of his mannerisms are meant to imitate a dog.  The basics of the story were great.  I just wish I understood the sex doll, the sofa fort, the destruction of Carl’s house, and the symbolism of wearing the same suit day after day.  I guess the destruction is what you would expect from a dog.  Maybe the suit was like the dog’s fur — he can’t change it.

There’s a melodrama that permeates every episode of this series.  Despite it, this turned out to be a good episode.

I rate it 5 in dog years.

Post-Post:

  • [1] This guy was a dead-ringer for the love child of David Letterman and Joe Pisopo.
  • Directed by a pre Dead Calm Phillip Noyce.
  • In the commentary, Noyce says the dog is only seen from Shephard’s POV, but that’s not true.

The Hitchhiker – Ghostwriter (01/07/86)

hghostwriter08Writer Jeffrey Hunt’s car is pulled out of the water.  A detective standing by is immediately suspicious of his wife Debby and his agent Tony Lynch. They also retrieved a notebook with three false-start letters:  Goodbye Debby, Goodbye Tony, then Goodbye Debby & Tony.  This was pretty prescient as the next scene is one of those godawful amber-bathed Cinemax style sex scenes with the wailing sax, but with an NQ of 0%.[1]  This is not HBO, this is TV.

Thank God it is cut short by Librarian Vivian [2] who drags Tony away to discuss re-releasing Jeffrey’s books.  Left alone at the house, Debby takes a long steamy shower. No wait, she hears a noise and goes upstairs.  To take a shower.  No, she hears Jeffrey’s typewriter clacking away.  She sees a piece of paper roll up with the words: CAN’T LIVE WITH MYSELF.  DROWNING IN GUILT.  It is a sad commentary on this episode that 1) I have an idea where this plot should go, and 2) there’s not a chance in hell it will happen.

She is stunned to see Jeffrey come walking into the bedroom.  He says he faked his death because he wants what every writer wants:  Immortality.  He announces that they are going to disappear to Samoa.  He smirks and tells her “Today is the first day of the rest of my death,” possibly explaining his lack of success as a writer.

hghostwriter14At a reading of Jeffrey’s books by Vivian and Tony, Debby waves Tony outside.  The director very nearly sneaks some humor into the episode before catching himself.  She tells Tony all about Jeffrey.  His bright idea is to kill Jeffrey for real.

To Debby’s credit, she is not thrilled at this idea.  More to her credit, in the next scene, she strips and climbs buck-naked into a Jacuzzi with Jeffrey. Within seconds, we see Tony’s hands around Jeffrey’s throat as he drowns him with an assist from the still-naked Debby.  The score in this scene is so nearly an exact duplicate of the shower scene in Psycho that I’m not sure if it was a homage or rip-off [UPDATE: Rip-Off].

They roll Jeffrey up in a tarp and toss him in the back of a pick-up truck.  Darn the luck, the police show up.  Debby manages to slip away and drives to the river to dispose of his body.  Once again, reports of his death are premature as he suddenly gets up and attacks Debby.  He throws her off a pier on to some rocks.  He then leaves a typewritten note on her windshield TONY FORGIVE ME.  I HOPE YOU GO ON WITHOUT ME. THE GUILTY MUST PAY.

Back at casa de Hunt, it becomes clear that Tony & Jeffrey were in cahoots.  They have a glass of wine to celebrate, but Tony’s is poisoned. The police show up again.  These are both the most diligent and most incompetent cops in the world.  The cops break in and find a note on the typewriter:  POISONED BY GUILT. A GREAT WRITER IS DEAD.  GOD FORGIVE US, DEBRA, FOR THE MURDER OF JEFFREY HUNT.

Jeffrey is spotted at the ferry and makes the world’s worst attempted escape.  He steals a car, rams the gate, and I assume plans to jump the car onto the departed ferry.  He misses by a mere 200 feet.  But what if he had made it?  Couldn’t they radio the captain to turn around, or just meet him on the other side?  So the car goes in the drink and he drowns just as was originally believed.  Nice.

I must admit I was way off-base.  An extra twist and a sexy murder scene redeem this episode from the trash I expected it to be,  It was still a humorless, melodramatic slog but it had some good qualities.

hghostwriter56Post-Post:

  • [1] Nudity Quotient.  This was on HBO, right?
  • [2] Madeleine Sherwood was a regular on The Flying Nun. Only worth noting because it had the greatest premise in the history of TV: a flying nun.
  • Dayle Haddon (Debby) was on the cover of the 1973 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
  • Jeffrey often calls Debby “mousy face” which is the least romantic gesture since John Travolta clawed Joan Allen’s face in Face/Off.
  • Almost homophonically related: I’ve been requested this from Alexa a lot lately.

The Hitchhiker – The Miracle of Alice Ames (07/15/89)

haliceames08I decided to give this my undivided attention.  I would make no notes, and give it a fair chance.  The joke is on me because now I have to watch this piece of shit again.

First of all, why is this set in France? Did it originally air on Maison Box Office?  And how far is this hitch-hiker going, anyway?  If those opening desert scenes of him were France, stick to the 1989 domestics.

Brother Charles (Joe Pantoliano) operates The Church of Limitless Love.  Most of his parishioners seem to be seeking a hot meal more than the word of God.  This day, Alice Ames comes in from the cold.

After the sermon, Alice delivers soup to Brother Charles.  He wastes no time explaining that “love is love” and she is “deeply and unconditionally loved”.  He wants to build a new church.  “A temple where people from all over the world could come and feel safe.”

Alice is shown to a room that she will share with Melissa.  She is going out for the evening as Alice is getting into bed.  She says she has a “missionary position in the organization.”  haliceames10I can’t cast any stones about lame, obvious jokes, but this is painfully shoe-horned in and delivered.  It does indicate to us, however, how Brother Charles plans to pay for his new gold and silver “castle in the sky.”  Of course, keen observers of the human condition might have figured that out as the opening scene of the episode was Melissa pushed against a brick wall getting bloody railed.

Even though nothing is ever explicitly said, Alice is given a new suit of hookerwear.  She puts it on and hits the street.  She picks up a guy who seems to be wearing the top half of a scuba suit, but is probably some fashionable Euro-wear.  Aquaman lays on top of her, and the next thing we see is him running out of the hotel room, covered by blood.  The hotel manager looks in and sees Alice with blood pouring from her hand.

Brother Charles rushes to the hospital to pick up Alice.  He is met by a policeman who thinks he can now bust Charles’s operation.  When did the French become such prudes?  On the way back, Charles stops the car and tells Alice to get out.  He says he “can’t have this kind of thing in my church.”  What kind of thing?  Because she seemed to be stabbed? Because it was stigmata?  I have no idea what the point was here.  She gets out, fortuitously, right in front of another church — one that doesn’t operate in a storefront.

haliceames14She looks up at a statue and cries out that it is a test and she will prove herself to be a believer.  We see her wrapping her hands and feet, but where is she?  Then we see her walking through a hospital.  Then we see her being escorted out of the earlier hotel room by the police.  I can’t even begin to speculate what this series of events means.  Was it a flashback?  Did she return to the scene of the . . . well, it wasn’t really a crime.  What the hell?

She returns to Brother Charles who exploits her stigmata as “a living example of God’s work”.  The bucks are really rolling in.  Before the congregation, he unwraps her feet to show her bloody wounds.  As they gasp, he holds up her arms to show her bloody palms.  They again recoil, although it might have been at her shaved armpits.

After the service, Charles is enjoying a swig of sacramental vodka with Alice.  He accuses her, in the nicest possible way, of faking the wounds, then starts negotiating their split of the proceeds.  Charles climbs on top of her, and she cries, “This is the wrong kind of haliceames20love!”  She seems scared to death as he forces himself on her.  Her hands begin to bleed and he dies — why, I have no idea. There is blood on his face — why, I have no idea.  Alice goes limp beneath him.  I guess she is also dead — why, I have no idea. The police know to come examine the bloody room — why, I have no idea. There is a very choppy edit back to the titular hitchhiker who explains nothing.  Not even HTF he got to France.

This is probably the most incoherent episode I have watched for this blog.  It is stunningly inept at every turn.  As with both previous Hitchhiker episodes, it is leaden and humorless; but that seems to be, inexplicably, what they are going for . . . so, kudos for succeeding.  Unlike the other episodes, here you are frequently left having no idea where people are, what their motivations are, and why things are happening.  I assume, at a mere 23 minutes, there were huge chunks of this that were even worse, so were edited out.  Was this like the last episode of The Twilight Zone, where they just bought a French short film and passed it off as original?

OK, everyone has an off week.  The exchange student director didn’t work out, the funding fell short, the story just didn’t translate from the page.  But after it is filmed and seen to be such a turd, WTF would you put it on Volume 1 of what can reasonably be expected to be a greatest hits compilation?  And in the third slot?

Rating:  This ain’t no miracle; this ain’t even a card trick.

Post-Post:

  • From the director of Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay.  Maybe that’s what got my hopes up.
  • Never got around to it above, but what about those scars on her wrist?  Another mystery.