Twilight Zone – Act Break (11/15/85)

tzactbreak12TZ Legacy:  I have to move this to the top section because I’m not sure I can last to the bottom section.

Nutshell:  In The Bard, an hour-long 4th season TZ episode, insufferable man-child Julius Moomer summons the ghost of William Shakespeare to be his co-writer.  In this 14-minute-but feels-like-an-hour episode, insufferable man-child Maury Winkler makes an imprecise wish and ends up as William Shakespeare’s co-writer.

Uber-annoying James Coco (Winkler) is pursued down a busy city street by equally annoying but at least amusing Avery Schreiber. [1]  Winkler is a writer of failed plays and rent checks.  Schreiber, his fish-monging landlord, not unreasonably, would like his rent paid with a boffo check.  Less NSF, more SRO.

Coco is working on a play with his partner Harry.  They have partnered up on 17 plays in 22 years, but somehow success has eluded them.  Winkler says all he wants is “an office that doesn’t smell like low tide.”  A good line made better by the fact that his landlord actually is a fish-monger.

tzactbreak15As Harry is dictating a death scene to Winkler, he begins having chest pains.  For some reason, he continues dictating even as he is clutching his heart (but sometimes, his throat).  This is not played for laughs like Winkler misinterprets his pain; it is just pointless.  They are going for a fun romp here, though, so I can live with it.  Unfortunately, while Bob Dishy as Harry does play it as broad comedy, James Coco plays the scene like an Adderall-abusing chimp in an elementary school play.  No expression is too tortured, no movement is too exaggerated, no line-reading is too hammy, and for some reason, he seems to be typing with one hand like Edmond Valier.[2]

Harry falls to the ground.  He pulls an amulet out of his ass — thankfully figuratively, not literally — and tells Winkler to make a wish for him to survive.  Seems the amulet is only good for one wish per customer, and Harry squandered his wish to survive a plane crash in the Burmese Jungle.  Instead, Winkler dawdles until Harry croaks and then wishes for “a new partner, the best playwright ever.”

tzactbreak26Winkler is shocked to find himself transported to the home of William Shakespeare. [3]  Shakespeare is having a little writer’s block, and Winkler suggests a play called Hamlet.  There is some amusing business by Shakespeare hearing this wrong as Hamnet and being baffled.  The gag is not explained, but makes me curious:  Did viewers back then know Shakespeare had a son named Hamnet?  Was the writer giving the audience that much credit?  That might be the most unbelievable thing in this episode.

Winkler tells Shakespeare the story of Hamlet.  Shakespeare then plagiarizes that and other plays.  Not all that far off from what I’ve heard.  As the follow-up to Hamlet was Troilus and Cressida, maybe this was not such a great partnership for Shakespeare. [4]

If you can tolerate James Coco, there is a lot to like here.  Avery Schreiber was always a hoot, Bob Dishy plays it perfectly, and there are some genuine laughs in the script. For me, the whole production is torpedoed by Coco, though.  Your mileage may vary.


  • [1] Schreiber, German for writer, would have been an appropriate character name for Coco.
  • [2] The noted masturbater.  I mean, he masturbated a lot.
  • [3] Dishy also portrays Shakespeare.  I’m not sure the point of that, but he plays both parts much better than Coco.
  • [4] It appears they wisely set aside T&C to write Twelfth Night.
  • Title Analysis:  I don’t think a writing partnership is considered an act, but close enough.
  • Episode schreiber Haskell Barkin had no writing credits on IMDb until he was 43 years old.

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