Twilight Zone – Shatterday (09/27/85)

tzshatterday1It is a given that Bruce Willis is a movie star.  That star was pretty slow to rise, though. Breaking out in Moonlighting (1985) [1], it took quite a few tries for Willis to make it in the movies.

It took six years for him to finally make a movie (The Last Boy Scout) that both 1) I can remember seeing and 2) was not completely awful [2]. In fact, in the first nine years of his career, he starred in at least three movies that are still widely mocked as being among the biggest fiascoes of all time (Bonfire of the Vanities, Hudson Hawk, North).  If there had not been a couple of Die Hards in that time span, he would probably would never have been heard from again — America’s Paul Hogan.

His batting average improved beginning with Pulp Fiction (1994), but there was still notorious awfulness to come (Breakfast of Champions, Die Hard V and I will go out on a limb and predict VI also).

tzshatterday2All this is to say, this episode is a great concept largely sunk by Willis’s performance. Maybe he was still learning his craft.  He was still the wise-guy, fun-loving party-boy on Moonlighting, but this was a pretty somber role.  Maybe it was the 80’s style or lousy DVD transfer.  Maybe it was the thick hair — Willis didn’t really seem to take off until the hair started to go, which is an inspiration to me.

Peter Novins is sitting in a bar.  In pre-cellphone days, he asks the bartender to use the old black Ma-Bell-issue telephone.  He laughs at himself as he accidentally calls his own home number — to his shock, someone answers.  The man on the other end of the phone says that he is Peter Novins.  Willis simply is not believable as the Novins in the bar, but the Novins at home is a bigger mystery.  Homeboy is also mystified, but not as much as barfly.  He also seems more sedate.  Are we to infer these are his yin and yang like Kirk when he was split in half by the transporter, then evil-Kirk tried to split Yeoman Rand in half?

Novins leaves the bar and in this continuing salute to extinct communications technology, he goes into a phone booth. He again calls home and homeboy.  Barfly is beginning to unconvincingly panic while homeboy remains cool (and by cool, I mean emotionless and dull); he is still fairly non-plussed — minussed even — by this miraculous occurrence.  The duality is further illustrated by barfly’s shivering in the rain versus homeboy warm at home in front of a roaring fire and snuggling in his fabulous sweater.

tzshatterday5Barfly threatens to go home and throw homeboy out into the street. Homeboy remains calm and tells him that they can’t occupy the same space because physics.  So now homeboy somehow knows the “rules?”  Barfly suggests that they can both separately go about their lives, but homeboy berates barfly as not being able to live on his own. Barfly leaves the phone-booth to look for a telegraph.

Barfly warns homeboy that the first time he tries to leave his apartment, he will zip in and call dibs, reclaiming his life under the revered “possession is 9/10ths of the law” clause of the Constitution. [3]  Barfly goes to his bank to close out his account before homeboy spends it all on snazzy sweaters.

Barfly gets a hotel room and methodically burns bridges with the milk man, cleaners, The New York Times, and the grocery store to isolate his other self.  He scratches each off of a list he has prepared; although cancelling the Times might just be because he has his own alternate reality now and no longer needs theirs.  He calls homeboy.  Not only is he one of the first preppers, having laid in a supply of rations, he has exercised the nuclear option and invited their elderly mother to live with him.  Barfly gets increasingly manic.

tzshatterday4Barfly further devolves in the hotel room until he is visited by homeboy. Yada yada, barfly becomes trans — as in lucent until he fades completely, leaving behind his new and improved self to star in The Return of Bruno.[4]


  • [1] One of the first will-they-or-won’t-they-consummate-their-relationship series.  It soon became a tired trope through series such as Cheers (Sam & Diane), Buffy (Buffy & Angel) and Bates Motel (Norman & uh, well, you know . . .).
  • [2] Although it was somewhat awful.  It’s one of those movies where you want to take a shower after watching it.
  • [3] Apparently that is about the only bloody thing people can’t now find in the Constitution.  But I digress.
  • [4] Return of Bruno actually seems to be fondly remembered by many reviewers, so maybe I was too quick to mock it.  Seriously, this is cringe-worthy, though.
  • Classic TZ Homage:  Similar to Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room where a twitchy loser argues with his more confident mirror image before the reflection becomes the real guy.  I have a feeling the Classic TZ Homage tag is going to be used a lot.

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