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This is a list of the author's favorite bad episodes and moments. I'm open to suggestions for lengthening it. But common mediocrity isn't enough. I'm looking for stuff that's at least one step beyond Impossibly Terrible.
eerily prescient -- and it has electrolytes!
I watched "Idiocracy" a second time last night, with a friend, and was startled at just how prescient it is at anticipating the Trump administration. Particularly notable is the way corporations purchase the FDA and other government agencies to control public perception (to the extent this future public has anything that might reasonably be called "perception")..
It's no surprise "Idiocracy" bombed with audiences, who weren't prepared for such vicious satire. "Satire is what closes on Saturday night."
Dax Shepherd delivers a superlative performance as Joe's idiot lawyer. He should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Between them, "Idiocracy" and "Network" accurately predict the dumbing-down of American society. The two ought to be reissued as a double feature.
Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958)
What makes W:DA such a good series is that it's basically a solid drama, and avoids falling into the trap of "format becomes formula". It tells all sorts of stories, perhaps the strangest of which is "Littlest Client", in which an orphan asks Josh to look for her father. The father is involved in an intense erotic friendship with another man (which might or might not be sexual, but nothing is said, or even hinted). At the end, she walks away with two daddies.
By the way, in "The Blob", the film that won McQueen his role on W:DA, there's an actor in a minor role named... Josh Randall!
Maverick at its best
This is the epitome of a non-comic Maverick episode. The plot has a complexity and depth that screams "Roy Huggins" (though he didn't write it). It's so complicated that it rivals the original "Perry Mason" for creating confusion.
The quality of the writing (that is, the characterizations and dialog), is exceptional, especially for a series written in an era when TV series were often "cranked out".
We also see just how well James Garner could act. Though arguably a male "pretty face", he could bring a subtlety of expression few of his films gave him a chance to reveal. He finally received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for "Murphy's Romance".
This episode is also a good example of why series production bogged down so quickly, and Jack Kelly had to be introduced as Bart, with episodes in overlapping production. "...Jenny Hill" has a lot of camera setups and many night shots, which slow things down.
"Maverick" remains one of the great Westerns -- perhaps because it isn't really a Western.
PS: The Maverick boys aren't named after stray dogies. Such critters were named after the man who illegally gathered them.
Can it possibly equal the original? Or even come close? Not likely.
"Rocky & His Friends" was the first TV cartoon specifically tailored to adult sensibilities (though Jay Ward's preceding series, "Crusader Rabbit", had some of that ). Ward didn't care if some of the humor was built on jokes and references parents had to explain to their kids.
The focus wasn't primarily on R&B dealing with their adversaries, but with satirical attacks on American society and individuals. When the monstrous metal-munching Moon mice destroy Frostbite Falls' TV antennas, a crazed elderly woman (voiced by June Foray) runs around screaming "Our lives are ruined!"
Then there's the Kirwood Derby, which makes its wearer the smartest person in the world. This was a slap at Gary Moore's dense sidekick, Durward Kirby, who threatened to sue. Jay Ward's response? "Go ahead -- we'll pay you to sue."
The world is a lot meaner and nastier than it was 60 years ago. "Fearless Leader" is no longer a jack-booted Austrian with a fencing scar -- he's our disgusting, amoral, idiot President, who thinks he knows everything. * Will the writers be willing to confront him, and the thugs he's surrounded himself with? I doubt it.
Like any great work of art, the original R&B wittily reflected its times. The new version almost certainly will not. Sad.
* Bullwinkle sometimes did a "Mr Know-It-All" sketch. This could be recycled with Trump replacing the moose. Come on, guys, show some spine.
The Woods (2006)
good, but could be better
This is one of those films with a great idea, but less-than-ideal development.
The problem is that the characters' motivations and interactions -- and the nature of the strange events -- are often unclear. These should unfold slowly, to build suspense, but they don't "unfold" at all. And too much attention is initially paid to one girl, rather than keeping the audience wondering. We only start to properly understand things near the end -- and the climax is a doozy.
I couldn't help but think of Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt", which has a similar problem with development, but for the opposite reason. We know from the first scene exactly what's going on. There is absolutely no suspense. And the ending is hardly a surprise.
Recommended, but be prepared to watch it a second time to see how the often confusing pieces fit together.
Daikyojû Gappa (1967)
This is the sort of film that evokes violent feelings. Once the parents have found their kidnapped baby, and there's a lot of hugging and kissing and sickening sentimentality, you long to see the family of reptilian birds doused with thousands of gallons of napalm, which is then ignited.
As the creatures are consumed, we hear their screams of terror -- and then the silence that signifies death. When the fire ends, nothing is left but a pile of blackened bones -- not even Buffalo wings.
An Important Scientist arrives and announces an expedition to the island these creatures came from. "It is obvious they serve no purpose, and all must be destroyed!"
A loader truck arrives and shoves the remains into the bay. The humans quickly forget the creatures and any "lessons" about familial love they might have learned.
Voodoo Island (1957)
Worth seeing simply for Karloff's marvelous performance...
...and the crypto-lesbian sub-plot. But mostly Karloff.
Boris Karloff (William Henry Pratt) is one of the all-time great English-language actors. Not just for horror films, but anything.
He's the undisputable master of underplaying. His delivery is always subtle, nuanced, and restrained. At the same time, he can embroider the most-trite dialog and make you believe Shakespeare wrote it. (Jack Elam is nearly as great an actor, though in a different sort of way.)
The six-star rating is primarily for Karloff's performance. Otherwise, it would get two stars (just barely).
"Voodoo Island" would make a great double feature with "Little Shop of Horrors" (especially the musical).
Undead or Alive: A Zombedy (2007)
slick and clever
I found my copy yesterday, and decided to watch it again, because I didn't remember how it ended. I have to take exception to the many negative reviews.
Despite the beautiful cinematography, spot-on direction from a first-time director, and generally excellent production values, it's decidedly episodic. There are too many characters, and there isn't enough time to get familiar with the principals. But the humor is underplayed, which keeps it from sliding into camp. (This is not the TV "Batman".)
But it is a damned (joke intended) funny film, especially the second time around. It's the kind of film you'll want to share with your friends. It's cheap, so it's easy to recommend.
"Make the audience work..."
One of the things taught in screenwriting school is "Make the audience work". Don't explain everything. Give the viewers the pleasure of unraveling it. I had no problem with the first half hour or so.
The problems start when you can't figure out the characters' relationships or motivations. Why does Leo so love his girlfriend? What is she hiding from him? And why is she murdered? There are other problems, but these seem the major ones.
I was partly distracted while watching, so I might have missed something. But I have too many other things to do to watch it again. If you choose to watch "Mute", give it your full attention.
Don't worry. No spoilers.
Many "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episodes have surprise or twist endings -- the very first of them (S1E1) being a classic example.
This is another one, with Richard Kiley and his wife abused and extorted by slimy yokels. Paul Henreid's tense direction induces an incredible amount of hatred in the viewer. When the mechanic threatens Kiley with a wrench, you hope he'll grab the wrench and beat him to death.
He doesn't. What does happen is -- there's no other word for it -- delicious. You'll be grinning from ear to ear.
What, exactly, is the point of this episode?
The problem with this episode is that it tells three stories (not just two), which don't mesh. The first is the parent's inability to control their child. The second is the question of whether Chill Wills is the escaped lunatic. The third is the attitude of the black waiters towards while people.
This is shown when the silver dollar slips out of the kid's belt, and one of the waiters steps on it, so the kid can't find it. He remarks that if his father could give him one, he can give him another.
I'd like to add (for those interested in Western lore) that cowboys commonly put silver coins in their canteens to keep the water fresh (especially important when people drinking from the same canteen unavoidably "swap spit" ). Silver is a natural bactericide, and is used in some water-purification systems. When a cowboy raises his canteen to drink, you should hear it rattle. I've never seen this in any TV show or motion picture.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Poison (1958)
The ending is too easy to anticipate.
My first thought watching this meticulously directed episode was that Paul Henreid * -- who directed many excellent episodes -- had helmed it. Low and behold, the final credits revealed that The Master himself was in charge. It's worth seeing for that reason alone.
The problem is that almost all AHP episodes have a surprise or twist ending. By the time the serum has been injected, and reptile anesthesia has been performed, there's only one way the story can possibly end. And it does.
* Henreid was a respected actor (his most famous role was as Ingrid Bergman's husband in "Casablanca") who turned to directing, with equally fine results.
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Dick Miller delivers an exceptional performance.
Talent and good looks rarely go together. Dick Miller had the bad luck to combine a blue-collar face with a blue-collar voice, and suffered for it throughout his career. Such people are rarely successes in "leading" roles. Charles Bronson comes to mind, but he's barely a good actor. Miller is genuinely talented.
His Walter Paisley (at one point the character wears a cravat with a paisley pattern) is played absolutely straight. He never winks at the camera or steps outside the character. He's a pathetic creature we sympathize with, even when doing horrible things. It is a finely nuanced, essentially perfect performance. That is not an exaggeration.
Charles B Griffith's excellent script combines pointed satire, solid laughs, and genuine wit. Griffith did a lot of work for Roger Corman, and this is surely his best. The lesson to be learned is that you can't make a good movie from a bad script, but not even Roger Corman can ruin a good story.
Griffith would go on to pen "The Little Shop of Horrors", which Dick Miller passed on, because he didn't want to do another film where he played a serial killer. This didn't help his career much, and today he's best-remembered as Mr Futterman in "Gremlins" and its sequel, as well as one of Lawrence Woolsey's cronies in "Matinee!". He is a beloved actor, and there aren't many actors, living or dead, who can claim that distinction.
Cheyenne: Land Beyond the Law (1957)
"When correctly viewed...
...everything is lewd", as Tom Lehrer says in one of his songs.
"Land Beyond the Law" anticipates "North by Northwest". In that film, Martin Landau is in love with James Mason -- though the script only suggests it, rather than saying it outright.
In "Land Beyond the Law", the weaselly and vaguely effeminate Charles Griffith plays Joe Epic. Epic's leather outfit is kinda kinky, and someone accuses him of being a poisonous influence, probably because that person has figured out Epic is in love with the Major (Andrew Duggan). When Epic semi-accidentally kills the Major, his grief-stricken reaction should make his feelings plain even to the most-naïve.
Well, maybe. This is 1957. Male/male affection (let alone love) is uncommon in TV westerns (it shows up in a few "Gunsmoke" episodes, most notably "Thirty a Month and Found"), so it would be interesting to know exactly what the writers were thinking.
This episode is typical "Cheyenne", with Cheyenne a largely (though not wholly) reactive presence. Throughout the series, he often seems to be a secondary character, as if he'd been shoehorned into someone else's story.
Gunsmoke: Deputy Festus (1965)
Good character actors?
My heavens. You missed Royal Dano (as Lambert). Twenty-five years after his passing, Dano remains one of the all-time-great American character actors.
I think it significant that Festus has a confrontation with Lambert. It could have been any of the other cousins, but it must have seemed too good an opportunity to miss, giving Dano and Ken Curtis a scene together. As actors, they were made for each other.
While I'm at it... How does one trap firs?
Completely over-the top...
I've seen more WWW episodes than I care to admit. At its best, it's a guilty pleasure. At its worst, it's profoundly stupid. It works well when it sticks with more-or-less conventional villains looking to kill the President, or cheat settlers out of their land, or print counterfeit money (etc, etc, etc). It works badly with super villains who seem to have been dragged in from a James Bond film. (Why do you think the hero is named James? (The writers apparently never had the nerve for him to introduce himself as "West. James West.")
The chief of these villains is Dr Miguelito Loveless, a scientific genius whose plans vary from honestly trying to help people, to just being mean for its own sake -- and sometimes a mixture of the two. A dwarf, he's played by a real-life dwarf (not a midget), the superb actor Michael Dunn. Superb is not too strong a word. Put him in a scene with anyone, and he steals it, simply by the intensity of his personality. *
Of the "crazy" WWW episodes, this is arguably the best, with a complex story that wouldn't be out of place in James Bond film. The basic plotting involves Dr L destroying forest life to make the Indians dependent on him, a prelude to destroying Washington and giving the country back to the Indians. And that isn't the half of it. You have to see it to believe it.
The budget for this episode must have been huge, involving large, complex sets, and two versions of the same Indian village, one outdoors and the other on a sound stage. The producers must have thought "This is a great story. So let's throw money at it." And they got their money's worth.
* I can't help but think of Dunn in "No Way to Treat a Lady", where he confesses to the murders. The police dismiss him, and he accuses them of prejudice towards small people. "You don't think I'm big enough!"
Dead of Winter (1987)
Directors ignore Hitchcock at their own peril.
Alfred Hitchcock is arguably the greatest director of the sound era (D W Griffith holding the comparable honor for silent films). It's unlikely this will ever change.
Hitchcock famously said "The director's job is to manipulate the audience." This is critical in a thriller or suspense film, but Arthur Penn fails to do it consistently. The story unfolds at a too-leisurely pace, without the fluctuating tension that would keep the audience on the edge of its seat. The audience has to be thoroughly confused as to the motivations of the doctor and his assistant, but not enough is revealed (or even suggested) to create viewer tension that parallels the heroine's.
The director isn't obliged to interpret a script literally, but too much of Penn's direction is annoyingly literal. Hitchcock's success in repeatedly confusing the audience throughout "Psycho" owes a much to his working closely with Joseph Stefano to create exactly the right situations and dialog to produce the desired effects.
"Dead of Winter" isn't a terrible film -- just a disappointing one.
Criminal Minds: Mayhem (2008)
Where have I seen this before?
The raison d'etre of this review is to poke fun at the ludicrous ending. You have been warned.
If you watched movie serials, you've seen the cheap and shoddy ways the writers save the heros. It's obvious they can't survive the dynamite explosion or chariot crash at the end of one episode, but at the beginning of he next, they've rolled out of the way just in time - or the scene is restaged altogether, so they're not actually at the scene of the disaster.
That's what happens here. The bomb in the ambulance goes off (in multiple explosions to convince us It could destroy a hospital) -- and there's no way the hero could have survived. But a minute later he's okay, aving managed to get out in time (without our seeing it, and run well outside the blast radius. Uh-huh.
If you didn't know Charles Marquis Warren...
...was the creator of "Rawhide", the violence and just plain nastiness of this episode would give it away. It's right out of "Gunsmoke".
The villain is almost as rotten as any "Gunsmoke" bad guy -- a true "Meston maniac". What's amazing is that the script is by... David Swift? Swift is best known as a writer of sappy drivel. But he really gets into the "Gunsmoke" spirit here.
Martin Balsam -- as a priest! -- strikes an unintentionally discordant note, as I can never see him without thinking of him as one Mrs. Bates' victims.
The final gunfight isn't well-choreographed; it's sometimes hard to tell who's on which side, and where they're (physically) standing. But it's way above average for a TV series. ("Rawhide" had the highest production values of any Western I've seen.)
The Outer Limits: Behold Eck! (1964)
"...with effects that are comic or tragic..."
Given the highly negative reviews this episode has gotten, an opposite opinion is needed. Anyone who thinks "ZZZZZZZZ" is a good episode needs to be disagreed with.
I'm 70 and saw this episode when it premiered. It falls back on a basic plot -- the absent-minded professor no one will listen to -- but it's gloriously silly. It's apparently the only TV episode that ever considered a two-dimensional universe and beings. (The idea has been treated in much more depth in "The Planiverse", which really ought to be made into a film.)
Parley Baer (Dr Stone's brother) was the original "Chester" on the radio version of "Gunsmoke". He would later be accidentally "killed" by Judge Stone (odd coincidence) on "Night Court".
Laredo: A Double Shot of Nepenthe (1966)
"Laredo" meets "Bewitched". Disaster follows.
Comic Westerns are difficult to sustain. (Only "Maverick" had any success with it -- and that was because most of the stories were more or less serious, with deft comic touches.) It appears that, by the beginning of the second season, "Lardeo"'s writers were running out of ideas, and borrowed one from "Bewitched" (which had already run it into the ground).
Many "Bewitched" episodes revolve around a magic spell or potion that never works the way it's supposed to, producing odd or embarrassing side effects. In "A Double Shot of Nepenthe" (look it up!), it's a drug with the amazing ability to almost instantly destroy someone's will, making them the unwilling (and seemingly unknowing) servant of whoever administered the drug.
The problem is that it's fundamentally unbelievable. The closest real drugs approach this are so-called "truth serums", which relax a person to the point they become susceptible to suggestion. When the drug wears off, so does the suggestibility. The same is true of post-hypnotic suggestions, which vanish after the person goes to sleep.
The results in this episode are likely to make the viewer squirm, especially at the beginning, when a man -- after a single injection -- is told to push his best friend off a cliff. And he does so. He is then shot to death, so there won't be any witnesses. One doesn't expect even a comic Western to be free of violence. But I doubt "Laredo" had many on-screen murders.
The best stories are built around plausible character interactions. This one is not.
Night Court: Baby Talk (1987)
"Night Court" remains among the funniest sitcoms ever. This episode shows it at its peak. The late Dee Cooper (the real-life cowboy owner of the Paramount Ranch) gets some of the biggest yucks.
He plays the furry-faced owner of a sleazy C&W bar&grill. When Christine asks if there's a restroom, he says "See those fellas kneelin' in front of that hole in the wall?"
She demurs, and Dee responds "A pretty young gal like you's got no reason to have stage fright!"
He later invites her to come back Saturday. "We're havin' a wet T-shirt contest."
"I'd rather dance with a greased pig!"
This review drops a hint as to the ending, without giving it away.
William Link and Richard Levinson were successful producers of TV series and movies, with such shows as "Columbo" to their credit. This "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episode, for which they wrote the short story and teleplay, is nothing to write home about, though.
Once it was revealed what was in the amnesiac's pockets -- and what wasn't -- it was obvious what was going on. There was only one possible explanation -- and, to my smug satisfaction, I was right. See if you can figure it out.
Bebe Glazer lives! (or will)
The first season of "Adventures of Superman" remains one of the great TV series of this or any other era. (Why it hasn't been revived as a period piece is beyond my understanding.) It's dark, morbid, and just plain nasty -- not kiddie fare at all. "Mystery in Wax" follows the equally unwholesome "The Stolen Costume". Both are classics.
It appears that Madame Selena (Myra McKinney) has a true paranormal gift -- she can channel the yet-to-be-born Bebe Glazer (Harriet Sansom Harris)! When she goes nuts, she perfectly (and I mean perfectly) renders Bebe's voice, mannerisms, body movement, etc. This is a coincidence, of course, but you have to see it to believe it. It's uncanny.
If you've never seen the early B&W episodes, this is as good an episode to start with as any. Unreservedly recommended.
Mannix: The Cost of a Vacation (1967)
Why was Dick Miller wasted?
This is a "petty" review, and I wouldn't blame the editors if they dumped it.
I'd finished watching "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and was about to find something else, when "Mannix" came on and I spotted Dick Miller as a fashion photographer. "Why would they cast the wonderful Mr Miller if they weren't going to use him?" ("Perry Mason" often cast familiar character actors as the murderers.)
I waited another 20 minutes and nothing much happened. Any residual interest evaporated when we learned that the person Mannix's ex-girlfriend was looking for didn't really exist. (I think that was it, but who cares?}
This might be a good episode, but it got pointlessly complicated. Definitely not "Rockford" material.