Random Musings: The Fugitive runs on

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Fugitive DVD

“The name: Dr. Richard Kimble. The destination: Death row, state prison. The irony? Richard Kimble is innocent.”

Those words, delivered by narrator William Conrad, began the opening narration of The Fugitive (1963-1967), one of the best TV series made. Stephen King, in his introduction to Ed Robertson’s 30th anniversary book, The Fugitive Recaptured, said “it was at the time (and still is, when you see the reruns) absolutely the best series done on American television.” I don’t know if I’d call it the absolute best, but I’d say The Fugitive belongs in the top 10, if not the top five.

The series concerned the efforts of pediatrician Dr. Kimble (David Janssen), convicted of the murder of his wife, Helen, to find the real killer, a one-armed man (Bill Raisch) he saw running from the vicinity of his home shortly before discovering Helen’s body. My first exposure to the series came in the 70s via a passing reference in a Dynamite Magazine article about the Logan’s Run TV show. To wit: that the people behind that show hoped Logan’s… um… run would be as long and as successful (ratings-wise) as Dr. Kimble’s had been (it wasn’t). But I didn’t see any episodes until 1989, when the local CBS channel began airing re-runs. I had, however, read more about it in the interim.

Ironically, this great show almost didn’t get made. In The Fugitive Recaptured (pages 17-18) series creator Roy Huggins revealed that he’d wanted to create a contemporary analog to the wandering western hero, but realized a modern-day character who drifted about would come across as a bum. So Huggins thought of a wrongly accused and convicted fugitive from justice, seeking to clear his name. Such a man can’t remain in one place. However, everyone he initially brought the concept to was repulsed at the idea. Apparently, they couldn’t grasp the key fact that Dr. Kimble was innocent. Eventually, then ABC president Leonard Goldenson bought it. And the rest was history.

The Fugitive was also the first American TV series to have a definite conclusion, in which Dr. Kimble was finally exonerated. It was a decision producer Quinn Martin wouldn’t have made if he’d had to do it over again, co-producer George Eckstein told Ed Robertson in The Fugitive Recaptured (page 173); but as Robertson relates, Martin’s fears that the show wouldn’t enjoy syndication value later proved unfounded. Robertson reports that when A & E renewed its right to the series in 1992, it was one of the channel’s most highly rated programs in its daytime lineup.

That final episode held the record as the most watched episode on American TV until it was superseded by the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of Dallas and then the final episode of M*A*S*H (or just M*A*S*H, if you’re considering finales alone).

The Fugitive enjoyed both great acting and great writing, but one thing I especially liked was that Dr. Kimble’s implacable pursuer, Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), looked like an ordinary person, not the typical Hollywood image of a determined cop. He was middle-aged, balding and wore glasses. In reading about Gerard— who had the sort of tenacity that would’ve had the Terminator saying “relax, will you?”— I had conjured a certain mental image (I hadn’t seen any photos of Morse at the time). When I finally saw the series, the reality was refreshingly different.

David Janssen and Barry Morse in a publicity photo.

David Janssen and Barry Morse in a publicity photo.

One thing that fascinates me about Lt. Gerard is a certain dichotomy about the character. I’d hoped to meet Barry Morse at the 2006 Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention to ask him his thoughts about the character. However, he had to cancel his appearance and there wasn’t another opportunity to see him at another such event before he died.

Anyway, some brief examples of this dichotomy (not necessarily in broadcast order): In “Corner of Hell”, despite being accused of attacking a young woman after pursuing Kimble into the woods and offering as his only defense that he saw a man with baseball cap flee the scene (pretty much all the men in that community wore baseball caps), Gerard still insisted the one-armed man was a fantasy.

Yet, in “Somebody to Remember”, when a woman named Sophie suggested “Johnny” (Kimble) killed a man named Gus because Gus discovered the truth, Gerard told her, “He’s been spotted before. He hasn’t killed.”

“He killed his wife, didn’t he?”

“The law says he did.”

Gerard’s tone suggests he personally has doubts about Kimble’s guilt.

In “Nightmare at Northoak”, Gerard’s response to the sheriff’s wife’s question of whether Kimble really killed his wife was “the law says he did. I enforce the law.” He’s made similar statements in other episodes. Just contrasting those episodes with “Somebody to Remember” suggests that Gerard puts aside his doubts to carry out the dictates of the law.

So, did Gerard’s insistence in “Corner of Hell” that the one-armed man is a fantasy stem from his attempts to convince himself of that? Are these different “sides” of Gerard (and I could cite other episodes as well) the result of different writers giving the character contradictory attitudes about Kimble; or did The Fugitive writing staff (and Barry Morse) deliberately set out to make Gerard somewhat self-contradictory? I suspect it’s the latter (in part based on some comments Morse made in The Fugitive Recaptured), but I’d have loved to have talked to him about it.

Gerard’s name, by the way, was a deliberate echo of Javert, the man who hounded Jean Valjean in Les Miserables (something Morse himself picked up on). There were key differences, however. By the final episode, Gerard accepted that Kimble was innocent. Javert couldn’t reconcile himself to the fact that Jean Valjean didn’t deserve to be hounded all those years and killed himself.

Gerard was only in about 1/3 of the 120 episodes, but as Morse said in one of his introductions to a set of Fugitive videotapes released by Nu Ventures in 1991, there was always the sense that he was “just around the corner.” In fact, Morse related how in the years following the show, people insisted Gerard had been in every episode. To my way of thinking, this “certainty” is a testimony to the impact Barry Morse made.

The Fugitive is now out on DVD and is probably being shown in reruns somewhere. It’s an excellent series, well worth watching.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: That was no Martian; it’s Halloween.

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Innocents
Halloween will soon be with us and on Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch and—

Oh, sorry. I was channeling Linus for a moment there. This time around, a few really good ghost story/suspense movies to enjoy on or around Halloween:

The Innocents. 1961. Based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Deborah Kerr stars as Miss Giddens, the newly-hired governess to two children— Miles and Flora— whom she comes to believe are under the influence of the spirits of two deceased household employees. Given carte blanche by the children’s uncle, who lives in the city and wants nothing to do with raising them, Miss Giddens decides that drastic measures are required to save the children from the ghosts’ baleful influence.

But what’s real and what’s the product of her imagination? The film lets you decide.

Changeling

The Changeling. 1980. George C. Scott stars as John Russell, a music teacher who buys an old house shortly after the deaths of his wife and daughter. Turns out he’s not the only resident. The ghost of a child is also in residence, a ghost who leads Russell to discover the truth about a powerful senator (Melvin Douglas).

One of the things that makes The Changeling such an effective film is that we don’t see the ghost except in two brief scenes, one of which is a flashback to the murder. But we’re very much aware of its presence. In one scene, Russell comes home after failing to turn up a particular lead and all the doors in the house start slamming. In another, he returns one night after having thrown his daughter’s ball into the river. From the top of the darkened stairs comes a THUMP.

And another. And another. And another. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.

Until a wet ball stops at his feet.

Near the end of the film, an (apparently) empty wheelchair chases a woman down a passage in the house. You don’t see the ghost in any of those scenes and you don’t need to.

Haunting

The Haunting. 1963. Based on book The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn star as four people who visit a “haunted” house to determine if it really is. They get more than they bargained for.

As with The Innocents, we’re left to wonder how much of the supernatural activities— especially those experienced by Nell (Harris)— actually happened.

The Haunting was remade in 1999 and underwent a number of changes. Those changes, frankly, only reinforce that the 1963 version was better.

Case in point: In one scene in the remake, Nell sees her sheet or bedspread form next to her into the image of a child who speaks to her. In the original, nobody ever saw anything. And since Nell was the narrator, the audience was left to wonder whether she imagined everything.

One key scene in the original has Nell in the dark, telling Theo (Bloom) not to let go of her hand as a loud pounding echoes through the room. When the lights come on, Nell finds— to her horror— that Theo is still asleep in the other bed. “Whose hand was I holding?” she asks.

Was Nell holding a ghost’s hand, or did she imagine it all? It’s open to interpretation.

Uninvited

The Uninvited. 1944. Based on the novel by Dorothy McCardle. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star as a brother and sister, Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald, who buy a seacoast home where Roderick, a composer, can work. The house is, of course, haunted. At the center of the supernatural activity is Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), granddaughter of the home’s previous owner, who was very reluctant to sell. Roderick is determined to find out just what happened all those years ago.

The ghost is seen, briefly— and effectively, given the limitations of special effects at the time— but, again, much is left to the viewers’ imagination.

Others

The Others. 2000. Nicole Kidman stars as Grace Stewart, a woman living on the island of Jersey with her two photosensitive children while her husband (Christopher Eccleston) is off fighting in World War II. One day she wakes up to find the servants have all gone, three new servants have turned up at her door unannounced and someone or something seems to be in the house. And it/they start treating the house as its/their own, something Grace will not abide.

Bubba Ho-Tep

Bubba Ho-Tep. 2002. Based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale. Nursing home residents Elvis (yes, that Elvis) (Bruce Campbell) and John F. Kennedy (yes, that John F. Kennedy) (Ossie Davis) team up to fight an ancient Egyptian mummy who’s feeding on the souls of the home’s residents.

Okay, it’s not a ghost story, but it’s still Halloween-appropriate. And it’s fun.

Switching gears, over the past seven decades, Halloween has also become associated with one particular radio broadcast. In fact, stations, either broadcast or satellite, that play old-time radio tend to air this program either on Oct. 30 or Oct. 31.

Orson Welles directing the Mercury Theatre on the Air.

Orson Welles directing the Mercury Theatre on the Air.

The program was The Mercury Theatre on the Air’s adaptation of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells on October 30, 1938 on CBS Radio. The program— about a Martian invasion of Earth— caused a panic— though not as big a panic as later reports would claim. In a sense, War of the Worlds is radio’s “fish story.” The “fish” got bigger with each retelling.

Even so, the Mercury Theatre, led by Orson Welles, made excellent use of the medium to tell the story. First, it was transposed from the 19th century England of Wells’ novel to the then-future of Oct. 30, 1939. I wonder how many people listening that 1938 evening caught the comment “in the 39th year of the 20th century”?

Second, forgoing straight narration, Welles and company initially used “news broadcasts”— which interrupted periods of dance music— about “explosions of incandescent gas” on Mars; a shock of almost earthquake like intensity within a 20 mile radius of Princeton University and field reports from Grover’s Mill.

These “news broadcasts” were effective because people— still in the midst of the Depression— were already hearing disturbing reports from and about Europe as World War II loomed on the horizon. Also, there were no televisions, satellite communications or Internet in those days. And most phone calls went through an operator.

True, the “news broadcasts” weren’t taking place in real time, but I doubt anybody noticed. I think it’s reasonable to assume the minority who were panicking were too busy with their panic to pay attention to that detail; while those who were enjoying the drama were too caught up in the story to care that (for example) “Carl Phillips” (Frank Readick) and “Professor Richard Pierson” (Welles) got to Grover’s Mill from Princeton with amazing speed.

Other things that made War of the Worlds so effective:

During his performance as “Carl Phillips”, reporting on the first attack by the Martian heat ray, Readick echoed Herb Morrison’s on-scene broadcast of the 1937 Hindenburg crash.

Several seconds of silence followed when he was cut off in mid sentence. Very effective, that. It’s a good example of how what you don’t hear on a radio drama can be just as significant as what you do.

Kenny Delmar’s “Secretary of the Interior” sounded suspiciously like President Roosevelt.

The “news broadcasts” were timed so that people who switched over from NBC’s The Charlie McCarthy Show when Edgar Bergen brought on the musical guest would tune in to The Mercury Theatre on the Air  just in time to hear what sounded like a major news bulletin.

In addition to being broadcast this time of year by various stations playing “old-time radio”, The War of the Worlds is also in wide circulation on record, cassette, CD and download. If you’re at all curious about old-time radio and how it was very much a “theater of the mind”, you should put yourself in the mindset of someone living in the late 1930s and give War of the Worlds a listen.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating

Random Musings: Thoughts on what lies ahead for Supernatural’s 10th season.

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Supernatural season 10 poster

Supernatural begins its 10th season tonight. Season nine ended with the angel Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), the “scribe of God”, stripped of his expanded abilities and imprisoned in Heaven’s dungeon; the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) refusing to step into the leadership void; the treacherous angel Gadreel (Tahmoh Penikett) having redeemed himself; and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) having become a demon.

So, you know, same old, same old.

Given the recurring theme of the Winchester brothers fighting for each other, it’s clear that Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) will do whatever he must to restore Dean’s humanity. I doubt, however, that this will be a season-long effort (Sam didn’t remain soulless for the whole run of season six, for example). But whatever Sam does will lead to bigger complications.

Some questions arise from Dean’s new status. Since Dean awakened as a demon after Crowley (Mark Sheppard), the (self-appointed) King of Hell, put the First Blade in his hand, does that mean that Cain (Timothy Omundson)— established as a powerful demon— is still in his original body and not a meat suit?

As I mentioned before, when Dean accepted the Mark of Cain (and with it the ability to use the First Blade), he probably should have listened when Cain tried to warn him about the consequences. But as Yoda might have said, “impatient is Dean Winchester, yes.”

Is Dean now a Knight of Hell like Cain? And if so, how much of a hold will Crowley have over him? Crowley was terrified of Cain. Granted, Cain has had millennia to learn the extent of his abilities, but what if demonized Dean is just as powerful? Dean’s never been known to kowtow to anyone. Even if Dean believes he’s now just an ordinary black-eyed demon, Crowley would be wise to not push his luck in ordering him about. If there were a demon from whom Dean would be willing to take orders, it wouldn’t be Crowley. Not by a long shot.

Cain confronts Crowley.

Cain confronts Crowley.

At the Supernatural panel at this summer’s San Diego Comic Con (AKA Comic Con International: San Diego), Mark Sheppard and Jensen Ackles addressed the issue.

“No one’s ever going to believe that Crowley didn’t know what was going to happen,” Sheppard said. “So I think we’re going to have to see whether Crowley has any control at all or whether Crowley’s in charge or what that is.”

“The interesting thing with Demon Dean and Crowley is that at some point Crowley is going to be like, ‘this was a bad, bad idea,’” Ackles added.

At the convention, Executive Producer Jeremy Carver said Sam digs into how to rescue Dean from being a demon, while Dean, who is a demon, struggles with what that means.

“I think, myself and the other writers, are excited, most of all, with the idea of these brothers questioning who the real monster is,” Carver said.

At the end of season eight, Metatron had used trickery to expel all the other angels from Heaven and set himself up as the new god (the actual God having long since left Heaven). Metatron’s ability to take control of Heaven was an unintended consequence of Sam and Dean having stopped the apocalypse and the subsequent civil war in Heaven.

Sam and Dean confront Lucifer.

Sam and Dean confront Lucifer.

In brief: The brothers unwittingly freed Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) from Hell. Sam subsequently put him back in his cage, along with the archangel Michael (Jake Abel). With the archangel Gabriel (Richard Speight, Jr.) having (apparently) been killed by Lucifer, that left Raphael (Demore Barnes; Lanette Ware), who wanted to release Lucifer and Michael and re-start the apocalypse. To prevent this, Castiel partnered with Crowley to defeat Raphael. Castiel absorbed souls from purgatory, declaring himself the new God (he was later restored to his old self) and decimating Heaven’s ranks. He also unwittingly released the Leviathan.

Crowley and Castiel discuss a business arrangement.

Crowley and Castiel discuss a business arrangement.

So, when Metatron returned from his self-imposed exile, Heaven was in shambles, making his take-over that much easier. And none of this might have happened if Dean had accepted Sam’s death in season two and not sold his soul to get his brother back. He spent 30 (subjective) years in Hell before being rescued by Castiel. But while there, unknowingly broke the first of 66 seals needed to free Lucifer (Sam was later tricked into breaking the final seal).

Like I said, the Winchesters’ actions lead to bigger complications.

In part due to his actions in his war with Raphael, Castiel doesn’t want to lead the angels, but I think Cass will become leader, either willingly or because circumstances give him no choice. After all, no other still-living angel character has as significant a role in the Supernatural universe as Castiel.

Yes, Gabriel— who was part of a false scenario created by Metatron last season— might have really faked his death, but given that he fled Heaven eons ago and assumed the persona of a Trickster god, there’s no reason to believe he’d want the job.

The only other option is for some significant angel from biblical lore who has yet to be mentioned on the show to show up and play a key role in season 10, with Castiel offering him or her support.

But if this hypothetical angel is so significant, why hasn’t he or she been mentioned before now? After all, Naomi (Amanda Tapping), a powerful angel from season eight, is not listed in The Dictionary of Angels. Wouldn’t the Supernatural writers have used a “real” angel instead of Naomi, if a significantly powerful one— and one whose name is familiar to the general public— remained available?

Castiel also has to deal with the fact that his stolen grace is fading, leaving open the question of how he’ll replenish it. Presumably his own grace, extracted by Metatron, is lost forever. If it had been out there somewhere, Castiel would have been searching for it in season nine. Or there would have been some indication that it could be recovered.

It would seem, however, that Castiel has other things on his mind. At the Supernatural panel, Collins told the audience that Castiel was more concerned about helping Dean than recovering his own powers.

In a separate interview, Collins said Castiel was hell bent on trying to fix Dean, because he believes there’s nothing he can do for himself.

In Supernatural- A Very Supernatural Special, which aired yesterday, creator Eric Kripe said the more Supernatural is about the brothers, the better it is.

He’s right. At its heart, Supernatural is a show about family— biological or otherwise. While there have been some great storylines over the years, the relationships between the characters are what have made Supernatural one of the best shows on TV.

Copyright 2014, Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Catch The Flash

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The Flash

On Tuesday, the CW debuts The Flash, a spin-off of Arrow. It’s not the first time the Scarlet Speedster has been adapted to TV. In 1990, a one-season Flash series aired on CBS, starring John Wesley Shipp, Amanda Pays and Alex Desert. I thought I’d look back at the old series before the new one airs.

Police scientist Barry Allen (Shipp) is working in the lab late one night when lightning strikes a shelf of chemicals, bathing Barry in them and hurling him across the room. Soon after, he discovers that he’s gained the ability to move at super speed.

We first meet Barry at the Allen family home, where his older brother, Jay (Tim Thomerson), is celebrating his birthday. Jay and Barry’s father, Henry (M. Emmet Walsh), makes it clear he doesn’t consider police scientists to be “real cops.”

Jay’s name is a reference to Jay Garrick, the original Flash from the “golden age” of comics in the 1940s. The series is peppered with such allusions.

In the pilot, Central City is being overrun by a motorcycle gang called The Dark Riders. Jay heads up the task force charged with stopping them and Barry conducts his own investigations in the lab.

It’s not just Barry’s father who insults his work. When he arrives at a crime scene, he tells a TV reporter he’s with the crime lab. She immediately loses interest, telling her cameraman, “cut it. Let’s see if we can find a real detective.”

Barry’s partner, Julio Mendez (Desert), retorts, “see if you can find a real newscaster while you’re at it.”

That night, as Barry stays late at the lab— in part to “prove himself”— the storm strikes.

Hours later, he’s checking himself out of the hospital (against the doctor’s advice). By contrast, the Barry Allen of Arrow and the current Flash series was struck by lightning in a mid second season episode of Arrow and remained in a coma for months. I suspect the latter scenario is more medically accurate. Or it could be because the lightning bolt that created the current Flash was a byproduct of a Star Labs experiment. We’ll see.

(Shipp himself serves as a connection between the two series. In the current series, he plays Henry Allen. Only in this storyline, Henry is in jail for murdering his wife when Barry was a child. Barry (Grant Gustin) has maintained a lifelong belief that his father wasn’t responsible and became a police scientist in part to be able to prove it.)

Barry discovers something’s amiss when he runs to catch a bus and finds himself 30 miles away. His initial reaction is to rid himself of these strange abilities and he turns to Dr. Tina McGee (Pays), a scientist at Star Labs, for help.

(According to Variety, Pays will also appear in the new series, again playing a woman named Tina McGee. Only in this incarnation, she works for a rival company, not Star Labs.)

In testing Barry’s abilities (and keeping him from burning through his clothes), Tina gives him a prototype Soviet deep sea suit, with a layer of reactive insulation next to his skin. We later learn that the wings on the Flash’s cowl serve as radio receivers for Tina to communicate with Barry.

Barry changes his mind about getting rid of his powers after Jay is killed by his former partner, Nicholas Pike (Michael Nader), the leader of the Dark Riders. Barry goes after Pike with a vengeance.

John Wesley Shipp was a guest at the Motor City Comic Con in Novi, Michigan in May 2006. He told the audience at his panel that he liked that Barry decided to accept his powers out of the dark motivation of revenge. He said he could wrap himself, as an actor, around that motivation.

John Wesley Shipp at the Motor City Comic Con, May 20, 2006. Copyright 2006, Patrick Keating.

John Wesley Shipp at the Motor City Comic Con, May 20, 2006. Copyright 2006, Patrick Keating.

He also admitted that he didn’t know about the comic when he got the part. He thought it was Flash Gordon.

That didn’t mean he thought any less of the material.

“We didn’t want to make fun of it,” Shipp said. “We didn’t want to send it up. We wanted to respect the material as classic American literature, pop literature.”

Shipp also said that, to him, the character was Barry; the suit played itself.

“My job was to create a human character with whom people could identify,” he said, adding that he loved that Barry was an unblessed son.

Barry’s relationship with his father improved in the episode “Sins of the Father”, with Henry acknowledging that while Barry’s type of police work is different than his own or Jay’s, he was still a cop.

Central City had a very stylized, 1950s look, but The Flash wasn’t a period piece. In some ways it seemed to exist in the same universe as Tim Burton’s Batman, which hit theaters the previous summer. The difference, of course, is that Central City was a much brighter metropolis than Gotham. Shipp said the idea of the show’s look was “the 50s and 60s meets 90s, as if the 70s and 80s had never happened.”

He also said his understanding was that CBS wanted to do a detective show which was realistic save for the Flash’s speed. That might be why it wasn’t until the 12th episode, “The Trickster”, that we saw the first appearance of a villain from the comics. James Montgomery Jesse (Mark Hamill) is a killer who role-plays different parts (he impersonates an FBI agent at one point). When Jesse adopts the costumed persona of The Trickster, Barry wonders if he’s responsible, because of his own activities as the Flash.

The Trickster (whom Shipp said was his favorite villain) also appeared in the final episode, “The Trial of the Trickster”, making him the only villain to appear more than once.

Mark Hamill as the Trickster.

Mark Hamill as the Trickster.

Other villains from the comics were Captain Cold (Michael Champion), re-imagined as an albino hit man who kills people by freezing them; and The Mirror Master (David Cassidy), a thief named Sam Scudder who got his nickname through his use of hologram technology.

(Cassidy’s daughter, Katie Cassidy, appears as Laurel Lance in Arrow.)

Shipp said he thought there should have been more character arcs from week to week, which, he believed, were needed to hook the larger audience. He also said he believes such arcs would have happened had the series gone to a second season.

It’s too bad The Flash didn’t last longer. Many shows don’t find their footing until the second season. Of course, the series might have stood a better chance if it hadn’t been initially scheduled opposite both The Cosby Show and The Simpsons and later pre-empted and moved around (Shipp said the real adventure was finding where the show was on the schedule).

On the positive side, Barry, et al were engaging characters the audience could care about. On the negative side, more than one episode utilized TV logic (including the Flash moving at the speed of plot), instead of letting situations develop organically. I suspect that 90 percent of the shortcomings were due to network interference.

All in all, The Flash was a valiant attempt to treat a superhero show as a serious drama. With luck, the new series will enjoy a longer run.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Revisiting Leave It To Chance

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Leave it to Chance #1

Chance Falconer is a typical 14-year-old girl doing typical 14-year-old girl things. You know, hanging out at the mall; having slumber parties with her friends; playing with her pet miniature dragon, St. George; fighting monsters.

Okay, maybe she’s not that typical.

Chance lives in the community of Devil’s Echo and is the daughter of that town’s occult investigator, Lucas Falconer. A Falconer has always protected Devil’s Echo and Chance is ready to begin her training. But her father decides it’s not a job for a girl; he’ll wait until a grandson comes along and train him.

Chance is having none of that; and along with George, she gets involved in paranormal goings-on, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not.

Leave It To Chance was an excellent, but sadly short-lived all-ages series (with an obvious appeal to girls) by James Robinson and Paul Smith that ran for 13 issues, starting in 1996.

Chance is intelligent, resourceful and quick-witted. But she’s also headstrong, which more than once results in her father saying three little words:

“You did what?!”

In the first issue, Chance frees the dragon she’ll later name St. George from a cage because she doesn’t understand why her father has to return him to his own dimension; and she doesn’t like the fact that the process could kill the creature.

She also recognizes that the dragon is terrified, which is probably the tipping point in her decision. In issue two, George saves her life and the two become inseparable from that point on.

Leave it to Chance #2

In the first four-issue storyline, Chance decides to prove herself by investigating a case involving a comatose shaman and his missing 7-year-old daughter, while Lucas Falconer handles an out-of-town matter. Of course, she doesn’t mention her plans. Nor does she suspect that she’ll find herself caught up in political corruption and the return of a long-banished toad god as a means of revenge against both Devil’s Echo and the Falconer family.

In addition to being intelligent, resourceful, quick-witted and headstrong, Chance is also impetuous. As she’s attacked by the one behind all the troubles, she says to herself, “oh yeah. Now I remember. I was supposed to call for backup.”

Chance helps save the city, but her father is not happy with her involvement and asks her what she was thinking.

“To be honest, there wasn’t a lot of the time to think. Not about the danger,” she replies.

“Apparently so.”

Soon after, Lucas Falconer decides that maybe he’s a bad influence and sends Chance away to a boarding school. No way could she get into trouble there.

He wishes.

Her first night at the school, Chance uncovers a smuggling operation being led by a pirate ghost. With help from her friends, she exposes it. And in response to her father’s, “well, what do you have to say for yourself this time?”, Chance insists that she had to investigate and that he would have done the same.

He reminds her which of them is supposed to act that way and makes her promise there will be no more monsters, ghouls, magic or danger.

“Leave that sort of thing to me.”

“I will, Daddy,” she says. “I promise.” She then silently adds, “unless I can’t help myself.”

Chance explains what happened at the school

Trouble finds Chance, even when she’s not looking for it. In issue nine, the classic horror movie monsters the Pharaoh, the Count, Man-Monster and the Howler emerge from the screen of a revival movie house into the real world. Lucas Falconer is called in to investigate. As he talks to city officials in his front hall, he says, “any little girls who might be listening in… this isn’t your affair. I expect you to stay at home.”

For her part, Chance decides to do a good deed for her friend, police officer Margo Vela, and bring her some soup while she’s on a stakeout. As Vela subsequently explains to Lucas Falconer: “She was bringing me soup. The monsters attacked. One thing led to many.”

“Yes, that seems to be my daughter’s lot in life,” he replies.

In 1997, Leave It To Chance won the Harvey Award for Best New Series and the Eisner Award for both Best New Series and Best Title Aimed at a Younger Audience. Eleven issues are collected in three trade paperbacks. They (and the individual issues) are well worth keeping an eye out for at your local comic shop.

For myself, I’m sending a Leave It To Chance collection to my cousin for her 15th birthday. I’m confident she’s gonna enjoy it.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Through the Time Doorway into the Land of the Lost

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LOTL

What comes to mind when you think of Saturday morning TV? So-called “kiddie fare”? Both live-action and animated shows meant to entertain children as they scarfed down their (probably much too sugary) cereal? Yes, there were (and are) such shows, but an excellent science fiction series also aired on Saturday mornings, beginning in 1974— a series initially story-edited by David Gerrold and which had scripts from Gerrold, Larry Niven, D.C. Fontana, Walter Koenig and Theodore Sturgeon, among others.

That series was Land of the Lost.

Produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, Land of the Lost ran for three seasons (the only Krofft show to run that long), and concerned the adventures of Rick Marshall (Spencer Milligan), his son Will (Wesley Eure) and daughter Holly (Kathy Coleman (and in season three, the kids’ Uncle Jack (Ron Harper)), in a small, enclosed universe which the Marshalls called the Land of the Lost. This place featured, among other things, three moons, dinosaurs and a race of xenophobic creatures called Sleestak, described as both reptilian and insect-like.

The Marshalls entered this small universe when their raft plunged over a waterfall and they fell through a time doorway. Though some fans dispute this (it was debated from time to time at the now defunct Land of the lost.com website), I’m among those who believe the “rules” of this enclosed universe require a balance. For X number of people to enter, X number must leave (or vice versa).

Land of the Lost was the best Saturday morning TV series ever made. What made this show— which was remade in 1991 (and focused on a family named Porter) and more recently adapted into an ill-considered comedy film (a comedy?! WTF?)— such a great series? First, Gerrold— who in many ways was the series true creator— hired science fiction writers, people who understood the genre.

Second, the language of the small ape-like Pakuni (singular: Paku) was developed by UCLA linguist Dr. Victoria Fromkin. It was a language, not just random gibberish.

Third, Gerrold had a strong story arc that first season, with an underlying subtext of discovery running through those first 17 episodes. In the second episode, “The Sleestak God”, the Marshalls (and we) discover the Lost City and the Sleestak. But it isn’t until the sixth episode, “The Stranger”, that we begin to learn anything about the people who built the city.

Will and Holly discover a pylon in the first episode, “Cha-Ka”, but the Marshalls don’t learn more about these obelisks (some of which deal with the operation of the Land of the Lost; some of which contain time doorways) for several more weeks.

Grumpy contemplates a pylon.

Grumpy contemplates a pylon.

In the fourth episode, “Downstream”, the Marshalls discover the river returns to its source (the first indication that they’re in a small, enclosed universe); but it’s not until the 16th episode, “Hurricane”, that they see a visual example of the nature of the closed universe. They look through a pair of binoculars and see the backs of their own heads.

Land of the Lost also paid attention to tiny details that other Saturday morning shows might have ignored. In the opening credits, as the mist of the time doorway clears and the Marshalls find themselves in a small clearing with an angry tyrannosaurus Rex (whom Holly later names “Grumpy”) standing over them, we see that both their raft and their clothes are wet.

How many other Saturday morning shows would bother with such a detail for a quick shot in the opening credits? Probably not many. In most other cases, they’d put a raft on the set, put the actors in the raft, say “action!” and start rolling the film, unconcerned about making it look as if it had just been in the water. Yet the people behind Land of the Lost took the time to add that little touch of realism that viewers might not have even noticed.

Season one ends with one of my favorite episodes, “Circle”, written by Gerrold and Niven. The Marshalls discover that they’re at the center of a paradox. They’re in the Land of the Lost, but they’re also on the waterfall. Yet there’s no mist of the time doorway. If the Marshalls died in the falls, they couldn’t be in the Land of the Lost now; and how could they be in the Land of the Lost if there was no time doorway over the falls?

My theory? Somehow the universe “hiccuped” just as the Marshalls went over the falls and they ended up “jumping a time track” and finding themselves in the Land of the Lost before they actually arrived (The Doctor Who episode “The Space Museum” (1965) explored a similar theme).

The Marshalls and Enik (Walker Edimiston) ponder the paradox in "Circle."

The Marshalls and Enik (Walker Edimiston) ponder the paradox in “Circle.”

The time doorway is locked on the waterfall scene, replaying the Marshalls’ plunge over and over again. Rick eventually figures out a solution to the paradox. If the doorway is opened so the Marshalls on the waterfall can enter, then the Marshalls already in the Land of the Lost can leave and the doorway will no longer be fixed on that one scene. In fact, once the loop is broken and the raft falls, the Marshalls in the Land of the Lost must leave, because the Marshalls on the raft would remain suspended on the waterfall until they do.

Gerrold has said “Circle” was written with the Marshalls both getting out and coming in for the first time, in case Land of the Lost only got a single season. That way there’d be both a resolution and a continuous cycle of episodes for the rerun market.

What happened to the Marshalls who left? They either popped out of existence like soap bubbles or, more likely, merged with their past selves, who subsequently experienced a great deal of déjà vu during the events of the first season. Everything happens as before. Except the events of “Circle”, since there’s now no paradox.

Land of the Lost was a great show, but it also had its flaws. Season three, which saw the departure of Rick Marshall and the arrival of Uncle Jack, wasn’t as good as the first two seasons, with writers ignoring much of the internal logic that had previously been established (Gerrold had left by then); but even the third season had its (few) bright spots.

Even with its flaws— as I’ve said elsewhere— the original Land of the Lost was Masterpiece Theatre compared to the remakes.

If you buy or rent the DVDs, get the individual season sets from Rhino, which contain various extras, including actor and writer interviews. Seems the “complete series” DVDs, packaged in a replica lunchbox, doesn’t have those features.

You can also watch Land of the Lost on the Memorable Entertainment Television (ME TV) network. According to their schedule, it airs Saturdays at 7:30 a.m.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating

Random musings: Happy Birthday to Bill Cosby

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Wonderfulness

Today, July 12, the great Bill Cosby— my favorite stand-up comedian— turns 77-year-old.

One of the great things about Cosby’s humor (and this was emphasized on the back of his album Why Is There Air?) is that he tells stories, not jokes punctuated with punch lines. What’s more, his delivery of lines that would be neutral statements if taken out of context is such that he brings the house down.

And his routines remain timeless.

To the best of my recollection, I first encountered Cosby’s humor when I checked one of his albums out of the library around 1982 or so. I think it was When I Was a Kid. I own all but one of his comedy albums (Sports) and I can recite many routines by heart, even ones I haven’t heard in years.

A few of Cosby’s comedy albums include Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow, Right!; Wonderfulness; Why is There Air?; I Started Out As a Child; To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With (which Chris Rock singled out for praise at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2009 when Cosby was honored with the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor); Bill Cosby Himself and Revenge.

Among my favorites of his routines are the “Noah” trilogy, “Noah: Right!”, “Noah and the Neighbor” and “Noah: Me and You, Lord.”; “Superman”; “Oops”; “Neanderthal Man”; “The Lone Ranger”; and “Chicken Heart.”

And that’s just scratching the surface.

Cosby’s comedy even found its way into I Spy, the 1960s series he co-starred in with the late Robert Culp. There’s a scene in the episode “The Honorable Assassins” in which Alexander Scott (Cosby) and Kelly Robinson (Culp) make oblique references to Cosby the comedian. In the scene, the two men wake up in the middle of the night, ready to set out on a journey, only to discover several snakes on the floor of their room. This prompts Scott to tell the snakes to get out of there, leading Robinson to say that it reminds him of a comedy record.

“Yeah? Well, it’s not too funny now,” Scott replies.

They’re alluding to the “Chicken Heart” routine, which relates— among other things— how, before they went out for the evening, the young Cosby’s parents told him that invisible poisonous snakes around his bed would bite him and make him dead until morning if he got out of bed (to go into the living room and listen to Lights Out on the radio). Indignant, the young Cosby shouts, “snakes, you get out here! This is not your room, this is my room! Now you get out of here!”

Other I Spy episodes made reference to characters in Cosby routines (such as “Old Weird Harold”), but “The Honorable Assassins” had the character of Alexander Scott commenting (without naming names) on the humor of the real Bill Cosby.

Some of the humor from Cosby’s comedy albums— including a funeral for a goldfish— also found its way into his popular 1980s series The Cosby Show. Though, to the best of my recollection, there was never an instance where the character of Cliff Huxtable made an oblique reference to the real Bill Cosby.

On the other hand, in the “My Spy” episode of the 1990s TV series, Cosby, Cosby’s character, Hilton Lucas, falls asleep while watching an I Spy marathon and dreams that he’s Alexander Scott. Robert Culp guest-starred in the episode as Kelly Robinson.

If you don’t already own a Cosby comedy album, you’re missing out on some great stuff. And if you get a chance to see him live in concert, you should definitely do so.

Happy birthday, Mr. Cosby.

Copyright 2014 Patrick Keating.