Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tales from the Darkside Season 3: Episodes 8 through 16

Season One begins here
Season Two begins here
Season three episodes 1 through 7 appear here
Season three episodes 16 through 22 appear here

A fairly strong first third of Darkside's third season is followed by some truly weak episodes. What is striking in season three is the throw-away attitude toward magic. Several episodes use magic in an utterly sloppy way: it is merely a device to not only trigger the story or progress plot, but often to manipulate plot, allowing for the magic to do whatever the writer wishes in a kind of deus ex machina. This sort of practice is unfair to the viewer, manipulating expectations and such.

"A Serpent's Tooth." (First aired 16 November 1986) Directed by Frank De Palma. Written by Edithe Swensen. Starring Renée Taylor, Louis Quinn, JoAnn Willette and some other unknowns.

Following the poor "Heretic" we have yet another weak entry penned by Edithe Swensen. In this, yet another attempt at laughs, an overbearing stereotypical Jewish mother receives help from the magic of a serpent's tooth. With this tooth she is able to direct her son away from his intended career, and pretty much enslave her daughter with notions of housewifery. There is no sense, no real point, and certainly no laughs to be had in this poor episode. The characters are not terribly interesting and the situation is pure fluff. It is not among the truly horrible episodes, since Renée Taylor is somewhat decent as the mother while JoAnn Willette's hair is pretty neat. 4/10

"Baker's Dozen." (First aired 23 November 1986) Directed by John Harrison. Written by George A. Romero from a story by Scott Edelman. Starring Mabel King, Larry Manetti, Vernon Washington and Therese Pare.

Advertising guru Henry Hogan believes he can transform Ruby Cuzzins's wonderful bakery Cuzzins' Dozens into an empire. Yet he is warned by Ruby's slaving husband Aloysius Cuzzins to beware, while being handed a dozen special cookies. These special cookies, in the shape of little people, allow the owner to harm others, which Hogan apparently has no qualms doing. This episode makes no sense, and is a fine example of how magic is used to simply to allow the writer all the freedom possible to fiction.

[Spoilers] First of all, the cookies have no designation in the sense that they do not individually represent specific people, yet when a particular cookie is used, even accidentally, if harms the person required for plot purposes; when Hogan's wife Helen crumbles the cookie left in the bag, who is to say that that particular was designed to represent Hogan himself, especially since Hogan no doubt would have used it against someone completely different. Is it that Hogan was on his wife's mind at the time? Moreover, if Aloysius had the thirteenth cookie all along (the baker's dozen extra), why does he wait until the very end to dispose of Ruby? He's been wanting since the beginning to be free from her, and waiting as he does simply allowed for much blood to be unnecessarily spilled. Realistically, he would have used the cookie against Ruby much sooner, especially since he had easy access to these special baked goods all along. Not only would he have been free long ago, but more importantly he would spared Darkside viewers from watching this painful drivel. Poor acting, a lame script and a load of nonsense does not a good program make. Hogan is played by Magnum P.I.'s Larry Manetti, his second appearance on Darkside (he was the lead in season two's ho-hum "Printer's Devil") Ruby is (over)played by Mabel King, though the script calls for exaggerration in stereotypical form. 4/10

"Deliver Us from Goodness." (First aired 30 November 1986) Directed by Warner Shook. Written by Jule Selbo from a short story by Suzette Haden Elgin. Starring Kaiulani Lee, Steve Vinivich, Mary Louise Wilson and Jane Adams.

Among the worst episodes ever produced for Darkside. During her husband's mayoral campaign, Mrs. Valerie Cantrell discovers she is a saint, and does her best to lose her saintliness in order to be a normal wife and mother. Not only is the play painfully unfunny, it is simply uninteresting and the acting requires no effort, just those silly expressions of shock when something supernatural occurs. The glowing and heavenly music is overused and dull. The only thing worth watching is Jane Adams as daughter Charlotte Rose Cantrell, who manages to take this awful business seriously and nonetheless give a good performance. 2/10

"Seasons of Belief." (First aired 29 December 1986) Directed by Michael McDowell. Written by McDowell from a story by Michael Bishop. Starring E.G. Marshall, Margaret Klenck, Mark Capri and a couple of annoying kids, including sitcom actress Jenna von Oÿ.

Ahhhh, the Christmas episode. There was a month hiatus since the last Darkside episode, though likely due to special programming. The nuclear family is sitting around the family room on Christmas Eve, with spoiled children Jimbo and Stefa growing quickly bored and wanting to watch TV. Well, clever and creative mom and dad decide instead to collaborate on a scary story about the Grither, a creature that lives in a cave at the North Pole. Now, don't say his name aloud, because he will hear you and make his way toward you.

The talented E.G. Marshall looks more like grandad than dad, and some of mom's knowing glances are a little irritating. The episode does manage to deliver something rare, which is to produce a Christmas episode that was actually Christmassy. Sure there's some Christmas music, a few presents, but really it is the portrayal of family togetherness and the cozy setting with the relentless winter outside. Also, there's a great last line. Of course this Christmas ends up being memorable for reasons other than family togetherness, but since it is Christmas we should allow for a few surprises. 6/10

"Miss May Dusa." (First aired 18 January 1987) Directed and written by Richard Blackburn. Starring Sofia Landon Geier and Gary Majchrazak.

A store mannequin suddenly awakens and, running scared, meets a subway saxophone player. The two outcasts and soon become attracted to each other, while the young musician tries to help the strange woman overcome her amnesia. The first (and perhaps only) episode that is solely written and directed by the same person. Richard Blackburn does not have much credited to his career in video, most notably as co-writer of the popular film Eating Raoul, but does a good job with this quiet Darkside episode. Most of the play focuses on dialogue between the two characters, centred around musician Jimmy James trying his best to uncover the secret of mannequin May Dusa. While this sounds dull focus for an entire episode, it works well, with actors Sofia Landon Geier and Gary Majchrazak doing a good job acting while looking their parts. (Interestingly, Montrealer Geier was a long-time writer for long-running soap Days of Our Lives.) Moreover, thanks to the jazzy saxophone we are spared the 80s TV music. 6/10

"The Milkman Cometh." (First aired on 25 January 1987) Directed by John Strysik. Written by Donald Wollner from a story by Charles Grant Craig. Starring Robert Forster, Seymour Cassel, Shannon Wilcox, Chad Allen and Barbara Sloane.

"Maybe you shouldn't get things from the milkman anymore."

Advertising artist Garry Cooley is struggling to make ends meet, and his wife Ruth is pressuring him to ask for a raise. Yet things suddenly start getting better when Garry puts into action some advice that was being passed around the rumour mill: when in need of something, anything, just request it from the milkman. Garry soon becomes a little too needy though, and begins to ask for more than just money. Unfortunately, the milkman tends to interpret less than straightforward requests in his own peculiar way. A great episode, suspenseful and well written, with a nice pleading moment from Garry to the milkman, and several scenes of tension between Garry and others. Robert Forster is well cast in the lead, with good support from Shannon Wilcox as wife Ruth, and Seymour Cassel as friend and fellow milkman "client."

The opening sequence of Cooley working on a campaign for breaded fishsticks is a nice touch, watching as the subtle little dots and lines he is adding help the cartoon come alive. I'm not sure what, if anything, this has to do with the rest of the episode, but it's a good way to nab the viewer's attention. 7/10

"My Ghostwriter - The Vampire." (First aired 1 February 1987) Directed by Frank De Palma. Written by Peter O'Keefe from yet another story by Scott Edelman. Starring Jeff Conaway, Roy Dotrice and Jillie Mack.

Struggling hack writer Peter Prentice receives a unique opportunity from a vampire: In exchange for room and board, Count Jeffrey Draco will recount (pun intended) his various life experiences so that Prentice could use them for what is sure to be a massive best seller. While the idea could have been well rendered, you can count on some bad comedy and haphazard notions of magic to once again get in the way.

For bad comedy we have a script by Peter O'Keefe, who will later in the season be privileged to offer up one of the worst Darkside episodes yet ("Let the Games Begin"). The script is from a story by Scott Edelman, whose previous story idea in "Baker's Dozen" was also poorly scripted. As for magic, the idea of blood mixing with the ashes of a vampire to revive the creature to its previous fleshy form is poorly used. The idea itself is idiotic (though I know only the basics of vampire lore and perhaps this is part of some legend outside Bram Stoker's Dracula, which I am familiar with), yet the set-up is so poorly contrived that not only do we know how this silly play will wrap up, the blood dripping wound is, all in all, quite a pathetic moment. Jeff Conaway is passable as Prentice. Roy Dotrice makes a fine vampire, but Jillie Mack is a little annoying. 4/10

"My Own Place." (First aired 8 February 1987) Directed by Theodore Gershuny. Written by Gershuny and Perry Lang. Starring Perry Lang, Harsh Nayyar, Nancy Travis and Bina Sharif.

A young urban professional rents a snazzy apartment in a rent-controlled building in New York City. Having wanted all his life to have his own place, he is soon driven to incredible bouts of anger and frustration by the strange Indian man named Ram who appears when no one else is around.

This episode is undecided. It can't figure out whether it is trying to be funny, mysterious or creepy, and thereby fails on all three counts. Whereas it appears light there is no humour; while the presence of the man is strange we've seen this kind of thing so often that it is tiring; and even though we are tossed a few images of dusty India, these seem so random that we are too confused to feel any creepiness whatsoever. The story is a muddled mess, with two lives interchanging... but no they don't, since one of them disappears. It's about finding your own path, as the Indian says to the American... no, the American is clearly on no path of his own but is being strangely manipulated. It's really about... no, I just don't care to even speculate. The episode is poorly written, with some needless and annoying repetition ("You are afraid") that seems to hint at a purpose but goes nowhere (we never discover what this dear might be).

It is written (or haphazardly scrawled) by the lead actor, a certain Perry Lang who is best known for... oh look, he directed himself in a Dolph Lundgren movie from the mid-1990s (that dark period that was hard on all action stars from the 1980s). Harsh Nayyar (Ram) was the annoying vampire in the episode "Strange Love." Nancy Travis, however, has a solid career, is the only thing worth looking at here, and oddly enough re-united shortly hereafter with Lang in the fine John Sayles film Eight Men Out. What is interesting about this episode is that it not only begins with an outdoor shot, but with a character in the great outdoors riding his bicycle, and another brief outdoor shot is included following the first act. 4/10

"Red Leader." (First aired 15 February 1987) Directed by John Harrison. Written by Edithe Swensen. Starring Joe E. Tata, Brioni Farrell, Carmine Caridi and Peter Bromilow.

After the death of his partner, corrupt businessman Alex Hayes sets out to control the company. Yet things get complicated when his dead former partner jackhammers his way up through the floor, and "Red Leader" is close behind, wanting to recruit Hayes among the ranks of hell's minions. Another lacklustre episode penned by Edithe Swensen. The situation is uninteresting and the plot tiresome, unfunny and predictable. Performances are also weak, in particular Athenian Brioni Farrell as widow Amanda Caine, and Brit Peter Bromilow who is a strange, almost effeminate "Red Leader." 2/10


Anonymous said...

In Baker's Dozen, I believe that each cookie harmed whoever the person holding it was thinking about at the moment. I agree with you about the absurdity of Aloysious keeping the 13th cookie for so long.

Casual Debris said...

Hi Didi, I can't recall this particular detail but your suggestion makes good sense. If I ever revisit this episode (not in the near future) I'll update my comment with a note. In the meantime thanks for posting for others to see.

NYCJapaneseTeacher said...

No, it seems that you deeply misunderstood Baker’s Dozen. Aloysius is Ruby’s father, not husband. Of course, he wouldn’t rush to murder his own daughter, regardless of circumstance! And did you miss the entire dialogue where Ruby explains that her father never did anything for anybody and that he never took initiative? That is why he gave those dozen cookies to somebody else to fix HIS problems! It was classic Aloysius. These episodes are like short stories. There is no filler dialogue. Every sentence matters and every camera shot matters. Nothing is said for nothing.

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