Twilight Zone – Joy Ride (05/21/87)

Not to nitpick, but Robert Knepper has a very distinctive voice, plus he is Greg’s brother. You’re telling me Greg would not have seen through this in a split second?

Deena and Greg are walking down a suburban street at night.  Greg is trying to lure her into some kind of delinquency.  From the shadows, they get a gun stuck in their faces.  After demanding their cash, his wacky brother Alonzo steps out to say it was a funny comedy joke.  They all share a good laugh.  Alonzo admits it is just a starter pistol, the kind they give to li’l criminals just starting out.[1]  He fires it into the air.  A porch light comes on and they take off running.

Alonzo wants to show them something.  He leads them to the late old man Taylor’s driveway, on top of which sits a pristine ’57 Chevy.  I can’t tell them apart, so all old cars are ’57 Chevys.  Alonzo’s girl Adrienne needs some dialogue, so she says, “I wonder what the inside is like.”  Fortuitously, Alonzo also has a starter car thief tool with him.  They are amazed at how spacious the interior is.  Alonzo wants to take it for a spin.  Greg has some car thief skillz too. He pops the hood and flips that big ON/OFF switch that all other guys seem to know about.  Alonzo starts the engine.

They shoot out of the driveway with Alonzo at the wheel.  When he makes a sharp turn, a pistol slides out from under the seat.  He says, “Charlie Taylor must have been some crazy guy!”  Yeah, he was such a fascinating character that they cut his backstory completely out of the segment.

The gang does not recognize the street they are on.  Then, they notice all of the cars are ’57 Chevys, although of various years, makes and models.  Alonzo tells Adrienne to get him a cigarette from the glove box.[2]  She asks how he knew they would be in there.  Greg tells him to pull over because “Something weird’s going on.”  Just then a police car pulls up behind them.

Alonzo pulls the stolen car over.  The cop says there was a robbery at the Five and Dime Store.  Greg remembers it was torn down years ago.  Alonzo pulls out Charlie Taylor’s pistol and shoots the cop.  The cop goes down, but as Alonzo drives away, a cop is shooting at him.  Was this the cop’s previously unseen partner?  Why didn’t he tend to his fallen partner?  Or maybe Alonzo had only used his starter pistol which he hallucinated as Taylor’s gun?  However the cigarettes were real, so why would the gun . . . . forget it.

In any case, the cop is using a real gun.  He starts firing at the car as it pulls away.  Somehow, in a shot even the Warren Commission wouldn’t believe, from behind the car the cop manages to shoot Adrienne who is sitting in front of Deena in the passenger seat of the enclosed sedan.  With the cops in pursuit, Greg and Deena beg Alonzo to take Adrienne to the hospital.  He does the next best thing — he pulls off the road, and shoves her out of the moving car onto the ground.

I am just baffled by much of the editing in this episode.  It is seems likely that this was a much longer segment which had to be edited down for time.  That would explain Charlie Taylor non-sequitur, and the mysterious identity of the cop shooting at them.  However, this last scene is inexplicable.  Alonzo’s struggle to open Adrienne’s door seems to have some significance, but what?  Whether he was Alonzo or possessed by Charlie, I think both know how to operate a door.  Besides, a) Alonzo would not ditch his wounded girlfriend, b) Charlie would know how to operate his own car.  Here are the shots that baffle me:

  1. Alonzo struggles with the latch.
  2. He gives up and sits up straight in his seat.
  3. He presses the accelerator, the car starts moving.
  4. From outside, we see the door open.
  5. He pushes Adrienne out the door.

Why did Alonzo have such trouble with the latch?  When he sat back straight, had he opened the door and we just didn’t see that shot because it was cut for time?  Then why do we have two separate shots of him struggling with it?  Why does he start driving before he pushes Adrienne out?  Forget it Jake, it’s TZ.

As they drive off, Greg notices Adrienne is not behind them.  Most people would think she’s being dragged under the car.  But to be fair, “sucked into time portal” would be most people’s second explanation.  The cops continue chasing them.  Greg and Deena complain so much that Alonzo pulls over again and tells them to get out.  Alonzo is somehow able to reach from the driver’s seat to the rear passenger seat door and push Deena out.  I’ll give him credit for flooring it only after Deena hit the dirt.  Greg looks out the window and, like Adrienne, Deena has disappeared.

Greg climbs into the front seat while the police are still on their tail.  Although they should be safe — these are the worst cops on earth.  Alonzo has stopped twice and they didn’t catch up.  He could stop off for a bucket of chicken and still get away.  Alonzo refuses to stop again because he knows they will be peeved at him shooting a cop.  Greg jumps from the car while it is going about 40 MPH.

He finds himself back in the driveway where they stole the car.  Hey, there’s Deena and Adrienne!  Greg sees the car is still parked in the driveway.  EMTs are trying to get into the car.  A cop on the scene says he doesn’t know what’s going on, “but that car was used in a robbery 30 years ago.  A cop was killed.”  They are able to crowbar the door open.  The interior is filled with fog, green light, and lots and lots of chrome.  A fireman is held by the waist as he leans into the car to pull Alonzo out.  Of course, Alonzo / Charlie thinks he is still leading a high speed chase.

The fireman is able to pull Alonzo completely out of the car.  Not having an attorney present, he blurts out, “I killed a cop!  With this gun!”  The cop examines the gun and says it has not been fired in 30 years.  Greg tells Alonzo, “It was old man Taylor.  After all these years, he was trying to confess.  I guess this was his way.”  Confess to what?  It sounds like the cops already knew he had killed the cop; OK, technically, they knew his car was involved.  And how exactly was a confession being communicated in this scenario?  Cue the — as usual on TZ — entirely incongruous music that sounds like the closing theme to a 1980s sit-com.  I’m surprised they didn’t have the kids jump into the air and freeze the frame.

The episode succeeds in spite of itself.  It accomplished everything I described in an economical 11 minutes.  Unfortunately, paring it down that much caused a few problems.  I’ve said many times that these minor issues don’t matter in a good episode, and this is a good episode.  It took a great high-concept, added some simple set direction in the form of old cars, and came to a suspenseful ending.  Normally, I would not have even posted about an 11 minute segment, but this is worth a viewing.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Correction, after further research, a starter pistol is used to start races.
  • [2] It was a glove compartment where I came from, and I’m sticking with that.  Apparently in Idaho, they call it a jockey box.
  • Classic TZ connection #1:  You Drive — A car takes on a mind of its own, returns to the scene of a crime, and delivers the criminal to the police.
  • Classic TZ connection #2:  Little Girl Lost — A man is anchored in our world as he leans half-way into another dimension to pull someone back to our reality.  It’s a minor point, but I love this trope.
  • The cast was unexceptional, but Robert Knepper (Alonzo) would go on to create one of the most interesting characters in TV history — T-Bag on Prison Break.
  • I can’t emphasize enough how terrible the score is for this episode.

Twilight Zone – The Card (02/21/87)

Linda Wolfe is invited to the offices of the THE CARD card.  It is an exclusive new invitation-only credit card operated out of a strip shopping center across from the   7-11.

Ms. Foley immediately brings up Linda’s past problems.  “Mrs. Wolfe, you have a very spotty credit record . . . AMEX, Visa, MasterCard have all cancelled you in the past.  So have the department stores.  Even Union-76.” [1]  Linda swears she’s learned her lesson.  Mrs. Foley says they offer credit to those who can’t get it anywhere else, but they have some stringent requirements:  They require a minimum payment within se7en days of purchase.  She is honest that there are some serious penalties.  Mrs. Foley hands Linda a contract which has only slightly more fine print than a standard non-Twilight Zone cardholder agreement.  Like only 100% of applicants, Linda signs without reading.  Mrs. Foley hands her an onyx THE CARD with her name already embossed on it.

Back at home, her husband notices a bottle of perfume and the new card and asks about it.  Linda replies 3rd personally, “Are we going to start fighting about Linda’s problem again?”  Her husband, hoping to ever see her naked again, says, “No, I don’t think that would be a good idea at all.”  He does carefully ask her to be careful, though.

You know there is going to be trouble when a title card pops up that says “ONE WEEK LATER.”  She is looking for their cat, but he has disappeared.  No one else in the family even remembers them having a cat.

Two days later, they are shopping for a new refrigerator.  They pick out one with a $1,698 price tag, which would be — holy crap — $3,700 in today’s dollars!  Natch, she blows this purchase also, and the dog disappears.

Then the car breaks down; there’s another $360.  Using the card again even though she is already delinquent earns her an immediate penalty.  When she gets home, the kids have disappeared and her husband doesn’t remember them.  The mass extinction of all 3 kids at once answers one of my questions — why not just buy a bowl of goldfish and be late on the card every week?  I guess they delete all like items at once, so that wouldn’t work.  But you could still make it work for you — did I mention my pet termites, Mrs. Foley?

Linda understandably flips out like a woman whose kids are missing.  She runs to the kids’ room, but their stuff is gone.  The family portrait seen earlier is now just she and her husband.  She realizes it is the THE CARD card.

The next morning, Linda goes to the THE CARD office and demands to see Mrs. Foley.  While she is waiting, she sees her kids in the hall [2].  She screams for them, but they seem not to recognize her.  Mrs. Foley calls her into the office.  “Yes those were your kids.  Earlier this month, we acquired your cat and your dog.  What seems to be the problem?”  Linda finally hands Mrs. Foley a check to get her kids back.

Linda rushes home to yell at her husband about her day.  She says she wrote a check out of their joint account.  He says the bank called him to approve it and he told them not to honor it.  She screams and runs out to the car — which disappears.  She tries to call Mrs. Foley, but furniture starts disappearing.  Then her husband disappears from the family portrait which is now just of her.  Her The Card, lying on the floor, now says Linda Wilson, presumably her maiden name.  There is a good laugh as she digs through a kitchen drawer looking for scissors.  As she removes each item from the drawer and places it on the counter, it disappears.  Great stuff.  Or maybe I’m just reminded of Zinc Oxide.

She cuts the THE CARD card in half.  In an exterior shot, we see the house disappear.  The card halves flutter to the ground.  Even Linda has disappeared.

Great episode, and not just because I’m a sucker for nobody-else-remembers-what-I-remember stories.  There was a lot packed into this episode and they did an amazing job making it fit.

I’m undecided on whether they should have shown the kids again.  It provided an opportunity for Linda to give a great reaction; plus, it is creepy that they no longer recognize their mother.  On the other hand, I would have liked the idea of them just being gone, blinked out of existence.  I guess the The Card needs to make a profit off of them, though.

Maybe they have an adoption service that places the kids for a fee.  But what lucky guy gets the pixie-haired Linda as part of his Rewards Program?  Actually, it would have been the interesting for the 2nd segment of this episode to be a stand-alone story that showed The Card operation from the opposite POV.  We would see where the cat, the dog, the kids, Linda, her husband and the house go.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I was prepared to say Linda had caused the jingoistically-named Union-76 to mercifully go under before it had the chance to trigger any snowflakes.  Turns out, they still have a few stations.  OK, 1,800.
  • [2] I have no idea if that link is representative of their work.
  • Classic TZ Legacy:  And When the Sky was Opened.  A rocket returns to earth with its crew.  One by one, the crew disappears with only one crew-member remembering them.  Then he disappears and no one at all remembers any astronauts . . . just like today.
  • Skipped Segment: The Junction.

Twilight Zone – The Road Less Travelled (12/18/86)

Six year old Megan McDowell comes downstairs to her parents watching TV.  She says, “Daddy, I’m scared.  There’s a man in my room.”  Actually, I think it would have been more realistic for her to be shrieking, “Daddy, there’s a man in my room!”  The scared part would have been implied.  Show, don’t tell.

Jeff takes her upstairs and shows her there is no man there.  When he clicks off the light, he sees a six year old Vietnamese girl in bed and hears helicopters.  Lights on, back to normal.  He turns the lights off again — which would not have been my next move — and everything is cool.

The next day when Denise brings Megan home from school, Jeff already has the wine flowing.  A kid in his class asked him what he did during Viet Nam.  He answered that he was in school, but did not mention it was in Canada.  He asks, “Why do I feel so guilty?”  Yeah, I wonder . . .

Megan comes downstairs and says the man is back.  Denise takes her in the bathroom to wash her hands. In the mirror, she sees a scruffy bearded man in a Veteran’s Administration wheelchair roll out of sight.  She runs downstairs and meets Jeff. She says, “Did you see him?  Did he come past you?  The man in the wheelchair?”  Jeff steals my thunder by pointing out the man could hardly have wheeled the chair down the stairs past him.  He doesn’t find the man, but does find wheelchair tracks in the plush shag carpeting.

Jeff suddenly flashes back to a past he did not have — he is in a swamp, under fire in Viet Nam. His first instincts are to take off his helmet, throw his rifle aside, and give away their position by screaming like a maniac — so maybe he was right to go to Canada.  He quickly returns to his very patient wife.

He says the man being here is his fault.  “I got drafted, but I chose Canada.  I copped out on Viet Nam.  And now it looks like Viet Nam is catching up with me.”  He thinks maybe the legless man had to go in his place.  Or maybe he died because Jeff wasn’t there.  As he hugs Denise, he flashes back to the war and is making out with a Vietnamese girl, though thankfully not the six year old.  When he snaps back, he does what comes naturally — gets in his car, and drives away.

The next day at work, Denise gets a call from Jeff asking her to come home.  But a few minutes later, Jeff comes to her office looking for her.  Uh-oh.  She arrives home first, finding the man in the wheelchair — a bearded, grizzled, legless doppelganger of Jeff.  Jeff-2 suggests there was a fork around 1971 and they took different paths.

Denise died young in Jeff-2’s timeline.  Ya might think that would be used to validate Jeff-1’s choice, but nothing really is done with it.  Jeff-1 has a random idea that by holding hands, they can exchange memories, giving Jeff-2 some happier ones to cling to.  From there it gets new agey and kumbaya in the way that caused such damage to this TZ reboot.

I appreciate that the episode didn’t come down hard on either side of the draft-dodging question.  It really just addressed the fall-out of each man’s choice without placing blame.  Despite the mushy ending, it was a good journey.

Other Stuff:

  • Title Analysis: More like the Road Not Taken than The Road Less Traveled.  But the both came from the same source.  I mean literally . . . literally literally.
  • But what’s up with the 2 L’s in Travelled?
  • Cliff DeYoung (Jeff) is still on my sh*t-list for his role in detonating that atomic bomb in Valencia.  [UPDATE] Turns out that was Raphael Sbarge.

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.

Twilight Zone – The Toys of Caliban (12/04/86)

Problematic.

Like the Outer Limits episode Unnatural Selection, this episode uses a mentally-challenged kid as its catalyst.  That isn’t inherently bad, but man is it hard to do well.

Toby, a mentally challenged teenager, is looking at a book and becomes interested in a picture of a unicorn.  He says, “Brinnnnng.”  When his mother calls him and his father Ernie to dinner, it is fairly subtly revealed that a stuffed unicorn has magically appeared in his lap.  It’s a good thing he chose a mythological creature which could not materialize — three inches to the left, there was a picture of a gorilla.

His mother Mary asks if he is hungry and he shouts, “Doughnuts, momma, doughnuts!”  Ernie says no, he had doughnuts yesterday, like that’s a reason not to have a delicious doughnut today.  Even during dinner, Toby wants doughnuts.  Ernie finally gives in and pulls pictures of doughnuts out of a locked drawer.  Before he can give Toby the picture, he conjures up a chocolate doughnut.  Previously, like Amy Schumer, he always needed to see an pre-existing object in order to create.

That night Toby is in pain from OD’ing on doughnuts.  Mary says he only had two, but Ernie points out that with Toby’s improved powers, he could have eaten a dozen earlier.  They call an ambulance.  The hospital wants to keep him overnight in the children’s ward which has a TV and lots of comic books.  Ernie demands Toby must stay in a private room, so I hope he can wish up a good-ass insurance policy.

The next morning, Toby is better.  The family gets a visit from Mandy Kemp — she’s from the government and she’s here to help.  Actually, she is asking some valid questions about why Toby has never been to school.  All the adults are throwing around the R word — no, the original R word — so this is clearly an old episode.  You probably would have never heard the word retarded on the old TZ either.  Strange that there was a brief period when it became acceptable, although the taboos on each end were for different reasons.  But I digress.

Over Mandy’s objection, Ernie & Mary take Toby home.  Once again, TZ undermines itself with an entirely inappropriate score.  Toby has just thrown a tantrum and his parents blasted Mandy.  So naturally we get happy piano music which I swear I thought was leading into the Charlie Brown theme.  Sure, Toby is excited to see a floor-waxer, but the doctor and Mandy are concerned for his welfare, and his parents are desperate and angry as they defy they hospital.  Ernie grimly glares at Mandy as they enter the elevator.  This is no time for the Snoopy dance.

In his room that night, Toby closes his eyes and says, “Bring.”  A magazine Ernie was reading at the hospital appears.  Sadly, dad was not reading the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  Mary goes in and sees Toby fondling a bloody human heart like one pictured in the science magazine.  She has a heart attack and collapses.  This a little muddled, at least to me.  My initial interpretation was that the heart he was holding came out of her chest. [1]  Other write-ups do not suggest this, and he is clearly playing with something before she collapses; so I guess I’m wrong, but I’m not sure my way is not better.

Some time later, Mandy comes to the house.  She insists that Toby must be moved to an institution.  Ernie decides to show her why Toby can’t go with her.  He makes a suit of armor appear and she is shocked.  But not as shocked as when Toby grabs a picture of his dead mother and wishes her rotting corpse back into the living room.  Mandy runs out and Ernie buries his wife in the back yard.

Just as Ernie finishes burying Mary, he hears sirens.  He fears they will take Toby and slice him up like a lab rat.  He goes inside and looks through his books as we hear more entirely inappropriate, sickeningly sweet music.  He apparently finds Great House Fires of North America and gives it to Toby.  Boom.

I like a simple, high-concept episode like this.  I really felt like Ernie and Mary loved their son, so it didn’t feel too exploitative.  The score, while dreadful, was only really offensive in a couple of scenes.  On the plus side, no narration from Charles Aidman.  That is strange, because this is the kind of episode his avuncular voice might have fit into.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] My interpretation comes from a problem I always had with shows like Bewitched.  Where does this newly materialized stuff come from?  Does it come from somewhere else?  How is the source chosen?  Is it a completely new object?  How was it designed?  What matter was used to create it?  Guess you’re not supposed to think about that.
  • Classic TZ Legacy:  It’s a Good Life.
  • Title Analysis:  Did they really need to compare a mentally-challenged kid to a monster?  They called Anthony Fremont in It’s a Good Life a monster too, but at least he was making reasoned choices.  You know, for a six year old.
  • And, BTW, Prospero was the magician; I don’t remember Caliban having super-powers, but it’s been a while since I skimmed the Cliffs Notes after a few beers the night before the test.