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.


  • [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.

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