The Hitchhiker – Secret Ingredient (05/05/87)

Chris Taylor is the 1980s:  Yellow polo shirt that might as well have no buttons . . . collar turned up . . . worn under a suit jacket . . . padded shoulders . . . sleeves pushed up his arms.  I guess it is presentism to judge people in the past.  Hey, Shakespeare, what’s up with that air filter around your neck? [1]

Chris is pitching miracle supplement Fit Forever in what appears to be an infomercial, with the exaggerated speech and practiced awful jokes.  When the camera pulls back to reveal he is working this hard in a junky living room for a single uninterested housewife who is ironing, it is a pretty good gag and bodes well for the episode.

Maybe my optimism was premature.  This episode suffers the same lack of coherence as A Whole New You by the same writer.  He meets up with old girlfriend Cheryl in a restaurant.  He got her into the Fit Forever biz.  She has done so well, that she has been promoted, “I am no longer your distributor.  I’m your competitor.”  Wait, Chris doesn’t own the company, he seems to be selling door-to-door — how is that above a distributor?

She says, “I found something inside me that really makes a difference.  I’m stronger now.”  Well, great, you go girl!  The problem is that she mocks him for never having used the product, “not one day in your life”.  This is exactly the opposite of where the scene should go.  Given what comes later, it should have been made clear that Cheryl had never used the product so that we clearly understood later where her new strength really came from.  To  muddy things even more, Chris says “I put you on Fit Forever.”  He clearly means that she used it, but her response is immediately about her financial success so it is not clear whether he put her on it as a user, or put her on it as a career.

The shot so nice they used it twice

When Cheryl goes to answer a phone, Chris takes a look through her sales receipts to poach some customers.  I still don’t understand where they are.  It is clearly a restaurant — there is a cash register, glasses hanging from a rack above, liquor bottles.  It is morning and they are standing behind the bar, so clearly they have some connection to it, but what?  She takes a call — does she work there part-time?  I thought she was doing so well financially.  Why is he there?  In my A Whole New You post, I questioned whether anyone on the set spoke English.  That episode was set in France; I don’t know what the excuse is here.

Chris goes to an old folks homes to talk to one of Cheryl’s leads, wisely making it his first stop because their clocks are ticking.  The old woman says she is no salesman, but Chris says they have a built-in market with the residents.  He says they will all want it for the secret ingredient that makes them feel young again.  All for the low, low price of $5,000 — hey this is starting to sound like Aqua Vita.  While the old woman is writing the check, he sees a beautiful young woman; at least relatively i an old folks home.

She looks even more relatively lovely when she leaves in her hideous orange Volkswagen Thing.  Again, I question the choices.  She is supposed to be an attractive, elegant woman.  Why do they have her driving this German POS (piece of Scheiss)?  He follows her home, as guys do.  When she carries a bundle of neatly-cut store bought wood into her house, he steals mail from her mailbox, as guys do.  He finds a letter addressed to:

Belinda Hascombe

1020 Faygate Lane



My first though was, they don’t have cities in Washington?  Then I gave them the benefit of the doubt and thought, maybe it is Washington DC (and they forgot the DC, which I could totally believe from this bunch).  I figured the Zip Code would confirm that, but the Zip has a Twilight Zonish 6 digits.  Then I’m thinking, maybe this is supposed to be Canada — who knows what kind of crazy Zip Codes they use up there — but no, there is an American flag on the stamp.  And I wouldn’t say Faygate too quickly, either.  Just amazing.

He does not hesitate to walk right into her house, as guys do.  She is laying wood out by the hot tub, which he coincidentally hopes to do later himself — heyyoooo!  He tries to sell her Fit Forever and its titular special ingredient.  Belinda spots him as a Leo because he such a good salesman.  He tells her she is “an awesome chick” and would make a great Fit Forever distributor.  And believing in astrology, she’s used to peddling horseshit.  Fortuitously, she is having a party that night and can scam all her friends.  Chris opens his briefcase and his sales book is gone.

He panics and drives back to the Sunset Care Home.  He finds Cheryl there holding his book.  She has already copied it and makes a quip about his female distributors that I couldn’t understand even after multiple replays.  I’m sure it was great, though.

I’m not a fan of emojis, LOLs, etc but I did have to LOL at this.  When Chris pulls out of Sunset Care Home, we can see Belinda’s distinctive orange VW Thing ahead of him on the road — remember, Belinda is now back at her house.  They re-used the same piece of film (picture above).  I’m no director, but how long could it have taken to set up a second shot?  Or to edit around the car?  Or to use a more nondescript blue/brown/gray Oldsmobuick [2] that I would not have even noticed?  Or to not compound the problem by having 2 identifiable pedestrians prominently in the shots?  Or to use 2 cameras simultaneously shooting at different angles?  Or to not pan past the orange car, then swing back to actually catch it a second time for a few frames?

Back at casa de Belinda, she comes out of the house and gets into her car which — what the heck? — now has the convertible top down.  Ach du Lieber!  Chris pulls up as she is leaving.  She says she’ll be right back and is fine with the stranger waiting alone in her house with her bank statements, jewelry, and underwear.  I guess she never locks her house since he goes right back in.

Oh, he isn’t alone.  Belinda’s friend Elizabeth is there — her punky, slutty, gothy friend Elizabeth.  Maybe I’m just looking for trouble now, but that is some lame-ass character-naming there.  At least Esther Nairn was played for a joke.  She downs a glass of Fit Forever.  Despite Chris touting the secret ingredient, she says “something is missing” and pours the rest down the drain.

He asks her how many friends are coming to the party.  She says 10 or eleven.  I’ll be charitable and assume she isn’t including herself and Belinda in that count — that would get them the requisite 13 for a coven.  But why would she have even suggested 10, which would only get them to 12 women?  Surely the writer knew a coven needs 13 witches.  Right?  Right?  She says she just hopes there is enough of him to go around which is a pretty good line.  He asks her sign and she says, “Over 1 Billion Served.” What, did some else write the 2nd half of this episode?  Like a writer?

That night at the party, the music is playing, wine is flowing, and Chris is the only man there.  He sees Elizabeth slip into the hot tub naked and joins her.  She grabs a can of Fit Forever and dumps in into the bubbling water.  Belinda and her guests — including Cheryl — now all dressed in white, circle the hot tub.  They chant, “We banish you.”

Belinda says, “Better luck next lifetime” and Cheryl clubs him in the head.  This sequence is pointlessly repeated — literally the same footage — two more times.  The screen goes red and returns to show Chris floating lifelessly in the water surrounded by the witches.

The titular Hitchhiker seems a little more interactive this episode.  A Fit Forever can rolls down the road and he stops it with his foot.  Now just WTF did that can come from?  He closes, “Chris promised a secret ingredient.  He gave up everything to deliver the goods.”  And tosses the can away.  They should call this The Litterer.

I have to constantly compare this to A Whole New You because they are from the same writer and have some of the same problems.  This episode, however, is far superior.  It does not star Elliott Gould, which is a good start to any production.  Dean Paul Martin does a great job as the unctuous salesman.  He is even able to sell some gags appropriated from Steve Martin.  I totally bought it as awkward humor from his character rather than laziness from the writer — and that is almost never successfully done on-screen.  Candy Clark as Cheryl elevates the episode with her 1980s perkiness.

Most of the problems above are just sloppiness [3], not show killers.  They just compounded the problem that this is a pretty straightforward story:

  • Chris was not a great guy, but did he deserve to be killed?
  • Was he just a random dude that they needed for a sacrifice?  I would guess not since Cheryl set him up to meet Belinda at the old folks home.
  • Why didn’t the old woman buy the $5,000 of product from Cheryl?  They seemed very friendly.
  • Was she in on the set-up?  If so, then why didn’t they show her wearing the ankh symbol that the other women wore?
  • What did Elizabeth mean when she said something was missing from the drink?  It feels like that was meant to be significant.
  • Why did Elizabeth pour the Fit Forever into the hot tub?  Actually, bathing in one of these miracle cures rather than drinking it seems seems like a concept that could have set up a much better episode.
  • And what is this freakin’ special ingredient that is so special that they mention it repeatedly and named the episode after it?  Nothing is done with it.  Nothing.  It does not even rise to the level of a McGuffin.  It is a goose-egg.  It is an egg McGuffin.
  • Maybe if the coven had started selling New & Improved Fit Forever with a special ingredient, they would have had something.  Oh yeah, spoiler alert for the 1973 Soylent Green.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I originally made a note about George Washington’s wig, but turns out it wasn’t a wig.  What a yankee doodle dandy.
  • [2] A shout-out to Fletch which co-starred Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Belinda).
  • [3] The sloppiness is surprising since the director went on to great shows like Fargo and Breaking Bad.
  • The episode did not air as scheduled due to Dean Paul Martin’s recent death in a jet crash.  An HBO spokesman said “on review, some of the lines were in poor taste” so it was replaced by The Legendary Billy B.  You know, the episode about the dead 1960s rock star . . . which Martin was in the 1960s.  It’s not logic, it’s HBO.

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