Category Archives: TV

Talking with god, the speed force and Mrs. Davis: three TV series end.

After wrapping up S1 of JOAN OF ARCADIA, I put S2 into my Netflix queue, but as Netflix is shutting DVD rentals down and my library had S2, I checked out the library DVDs instead.The first season had God giving Joan messages about how she can help in her community, usually without explaining why or what the outcome is. At the end of the season, Joan got the devastating diagnosis that this was all a delusion — but when S2 starts up, God’s back, giving her more directives. The show’s a little darker, with tragic endings for some of the characters, but still following the same format while exploring character arcs for Joan’s family and friends. Then, in the last two episodes, we meet Ryan Hunter (Wentworth Miller), a wealthy, community oriented man who also hears God’s voice. Only he got fed up with everyone needing his help and decided not to listen. Now he’s set himself against Joan and God, though it’s unclear exactly what his agenda will be. Everyone else thinks Hunter’s a good guy; Joan’s in this alone. It would have made an interesting S3 but alas, we didn’t get one. Still, S2 was a pleasure to rewatch. “Unravelling a scarf doesn’t make the threads go away.”

The final season of FLASH was a lot shorter than the two full seasons the show-runners were hoping for but they still ended on a win. It opens with the Red Death — the Batwoman of a parallel Earth, amped up by super-speed — waging war on Central City and ends with Eddie Thawne — Iris’s boyfriend from the first season — returning from the dead as an agent of the Negative Speed Force, resurrecting a legion of evil speedsters to take Barry and Team Flash down.

What makes the season sing, though, are all the callbacks and cameos: Oliver Queen briefly returning to moral life as Green Arrow (“Ramsey Russo, you have failed this city!”), Thawne, Tom Cavanagh as yet another incarnation of Harrison Wells (and also as Zoom), and the birth of Nora West-Allen proving history is on the right path. Not without its weak spots — Danielle Panabaker’s arc as Kheone didn’t work for me at all — but overall a lot of fun. “You’ve become the person you died trying to stop.”

Peacock streaming service’s MRS. DAVIS has a premise that doesn’t really work but it’s so gloriously loonie I forgive it. The premise is that an algorithm (“Mrs. Davis” is one of the various names for her) is now shaping human society, much to the displeasure of Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin), a stage magician turned nun whose convent just got shut down due to Mrs. Davis’ manipulations. That’s simply to free up Simone to run a mission for the algorithm: find the Holy Grail and destroy it, in return for which the algorithm will turn itself off. If you think that sounds weird … well, keep watching.

The flaw in the premise is that Mrs. Davis isn’t much more than a self-aware search engine (though her origin, revealed in the last episode, is awesome) and I don’t see any real signs she’s changing society (as opposed to Person of Interest). That bothers me, but not as much as I enjoyed watching Simone and her supporting cast in their constantly oddball adventures. I can’t imagine they can work this premise into another season but eight episodes this good is enough. “There is so much to explain, but right now you’re passing through the whale’s intestinal tract.”

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Thank you Netflix!

As I mentioned last month, Netflix is ending its DVD service. Rather than ghost on us, it’s sending out lists of every DVD they’ve mailed us from the first. I was started to see what I watched in my first year on the service — no, that’s not a clickbait lead-in, I really was.

I remembered clearly that the reason I signed up with Netflix was to watch all of Daybreak, a TV series with Taye Diggs as a cop caught in a time loop (I rewatched it for Now and Then We Time Travel). It got yanked for low ratings by ABC and I desperately wanted to know how it all ended so when I saw Netflix had the DVD set … And it was worth it too; it’s an excellent one-season series.That was in February of 2009. After wrapping up the series, I watched a few more things through June (I was on the one-DVD-at-a-time plan) including Coupling, The Big Lebowski and the British Jekyll. Starting in June, though, everything through April of the following year was movies or TV shows I watched for Screen Enemies of the American Way, my book on subversion, infiltration and political paranoia in film and TV. That was a shit ton of stuff I’d have had to buy; streaming wasn’t an option back then and I doubt my library back in Florida had most of it. Local video rental stores could have provided some of it, but still more expensive.That included multiple series such as The Invaders, Surface, Threshold and Sleeper Cell. There were also lots and lots of movies, many of them nothing I’d want to spend money on such as John Wayne’s red-baiting Big Jim McClain.I also caught The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby, JFK, The Quiller Memorandum and a great many other good films.Other films, such as Red Nightmare, were only available on YouTube; some, such as Stepford Wives‘ dreadful sequels, I taped off the air. Netflix was still a life-saver, from the first movie I watched for the book (They Live), through the last (Left Behind and Left Behind II, because Satanist infiltration is a subgenre). Fortunately with Durham Library’s larger DVD selection and the wide range of streaming, doing my next film book without the DVD service won’t be as pricey.

I’ll blog about what I watched after the book was done, assuming there are further interesting insights to mine from the list.

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New companions, new Doctor: Doctor Who Season 21

It’s a weird feeling to realize that my Doctor Who rewatch is now closer to the end of the classic run than the beginning. Season 21 has a lot of good stuff going on but we say goodbye to the Fifth Doctor, Turlough and Tegan; the new TARDIS team is disappointing by comparision.The first serial, WARRIORS OF THE DEEP has the TARDIS materialize on an underwater base two centuries from now (well, from when “now” was the 1980s). Earth is divided in a tense cold war between two superpowers, something the Silurians and the Sea Devils — working together onscreen for the first time — plan to exploit to eliminate the hairless apes they resent for stealing “their” planet. Can the Doctor stop a nuclear war? Can he, perhaps, make peace between the Silurians and humans? While the effort to broker peace is a common theme in Sea Devils/Silurians stories, this handles the themes of coexistence and mistrust very well. “Why do humans insist on thinking a futile gesture is a noble one?”

The two-part THE AWAKENING is weaker. This time they land in a small village where Tegan’s uncle lives, only to discover the traditional re-enactment of a local Roundhead/Cavalier battle is getting uncomfortably realistic. It’s reminiscent of countless stories about sinister goings on in small British villages, including the Pertwee serial The Daemons. It doesn’t succeed because the evil entity behind everything, the Malus, fails on every level. “I shouldn’t worry about it — as local magistrate, I shall find myself completely innocent.”

FRONTIOS, by contrast, takes a familiar premise — a beleaguered, struggling space colony — and injects it with life. Mysterious meteor strikes on Frontios, colonists getting sucked into the Earth — what’s behind it? And why is Turlough freaking out about it so much? Familiar stuff but well-executed, even if the alien Tractators look too much like Tenniel’s Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland. “If anyone asks whether I made any material difference to this planet’s welfare, tell them I came and went like a summer breeze.”

Like Warriors of the Deep, RESURRECTION OF THE DALEKS is a grim one involving an imprisoned Davros, a struggle for control of the Dalek race and the Doctor deciding not to go soft on destroying them as he did in Genesis of the Daleks. It’s grim enough that Tegan decides she can’t deal any more and walks out; it also introduces Lytton, an alien mercenary working with the Daleks, memorably played by Maurice Collborne (he’ll return in S22). I don’t like the Daleks using brainwashed human infiltrators — it feels off-brand for them — and given the reveal about the Movellans from Destiny of the Daleks here (they beat the Daleks) it’s all the more surprising they never returned, even if I didn’t care for them much. “I am hard to kill, Lytton. You should have realized that.”

Mark Strickson’s Turlough bows out and Nicola Bryant’s Peri Brown debuts in PLANET OF FIRE, a lackluster serial despite the presence of Peter Wyngarde and Barbara Shelley as colonists on the eponymous world, now collapsed into superstition with no knowledge of their origins; one member of the production teram quipped that the serial only existed so they could shoot at the beachfront vacation site Lanzarote.

This brings back the Anthony Ainsley’s Master for his final performance — Ainsley’s contract was expiring — though he would, in fact, return — and writes out Kamelion, returning for the first time since The King’s Demons despite having been on the TARDIS the whole time. Bryant is tremendous eye candy but her American accent as Peri is very inconsistent; worse, after someone as strong-minded as Tegan she’s kind of wimpy. One interesting trivia note, producer John Nathan-Turner insists the Master’s “How can you do this to your—” statement would have ended with “brother” if it hadn’t been cut off. “I deplore such unsophisticated coercion but your cooperation is necessary.”

Peter Davison fortunately gets a much better swan song in THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI. Efforts by a colonizer planet to crush an independence movement on Androzani are complicated by everyone on every side having a hidden agenda and by the scheming android master Sharaz Jek (Christopher Gable). A masked scarface who becomes obsessed with Peri, Jek is a blatant Phantom of the Opera knockoff but Gable plays him with such intensity I don’t care. I’m also amused by the climax in which the Doctor dies and regenerates while obtaining milk from a subterranean queen bat to save Peri’s life; as my friend Ross says, the milking happens off-stage so apparently we can take it for granted Time Lords know how to milk bats. A great farewell for Davison. “You sound like a prattling jackanapes — but your eyes tell a different story.”Colin Baker had a much less successful debut in THE TWIN DILEMMA, a dull story about aliens capturing young genius siblings and exploiting them for some tedious evil scheme (you can see how invested I was). It would be mediocre as Davison but Baker is incredibly unpleasant here; while the new Doctor is usually a little off, they’re not usually arrogant, bullying or selfish as Baker turns out. Peri is too ineffective for a good foil, too — Tegan would have held her own and told him where to get off. Baker’s clearly written to contrast with Davison — not so gentle or nice — but he comes across like Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor amped up to 11, and it doesn’t work. While he’s probably the least popular of the classic Doctors, I don’t remember him being this awful so hopefully he’ll improve later. We’ll see. “I don’t want gallons of blood to be spilt, especially mine.”

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Writers on strike! There’d be film at 11 but we have no script!

The Washington Post provides the basics on why screenwriters are striking, what they want and how it will affect TV.

Vanity Fair looks at the current streaming environment and how it’s already become hard for writers to make a living in it. “Wall Street changed the rules of the game,” says Marc Guggenheim, a veteran showrunner. Instead of chasing subscriber growth with great content, streamers are now directed to focus on profitability. “Overnight, all the streamers will suddenly be measured by a completely different yardstick that they weren’t built to meet.”

If you want a primer on the topic, these articles should do the trick.


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Taking documentary films to the Outer Limits: Movies and TV

Automats were restaurants I’ve seen in 1930s films where instead of servers you had a vending machine like structure, but with real meals and food behind the glass windows.THE AUTOMAT (1922) filled in a lot I didn’t know about these eateries: they were a format associated with one company, Horn and Hardart, found only in New York and Philadelphia but so successful that in their heyday they served more customers a day than any other restaurant chain. They also lasted much longer than I realized, the final automat only closing in 1991. A fascinating look at how they worked, how they appealed to people across the social spectrum and how they fell (as more people went home to the suburbs for dinner, the customer base dried up). “There were baked beans and baked beans — and Horn and Hardart baked beans.”

THE ARISTOCRATS (2005) is a documentary about a notoriously gross, tasteless joke comedians tell to each other backstage or at parties (I’m not going to repeat it here), trying to put their own spin and style on it and stretching out the disgusting parts with new gross elements. This would make a great film to study if I were into stand-up, for example trying to figure out why George Carlin’s delivery had me in stitches. While I’m not into standup particularly, I still found it interesting and entertaining. Familiar faces include Tom Arnold, Eric Idle (I think), Eddie Izzard, and Phyllis Diller. “They have a midget uncle with three dicks coming out of his head.”

Robert Culp and Arlene Martel appear above in one of OUTER LIMITS‘ best episodes, Demon With a Glass Hand, with Culp as Trent, a man pursued by aliens for unknown reasons, knowing only that the clues reside in his mysterious artificial hand. Written by Harlan Ellison, it’s terrific (as is Ellison’s Soldier) but an outlier in the show’s second season, a poor follow-up to S1. The second season has some effective episodes but between budget cuts and shifts in creative personnel, more of them are third-rate and uninspired, such as Keeper of the Purple Twilight. Disappointing. “The silence of the infinite void has been broken.”

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Norse gods, Arabs, Maggie Smith and San Francisco mysteries: movies and TV

The first Thor movie drew on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the second on Walt Simonson’s 1980s run, and now THOR: Love and Thunder (2022) draws on Jason Aaron’s work but to much less effect. Christian Bale plays Gorr, the God Butcher, dedicated to destroying all deities after his own gods laugh off his pleas to save his dying daughter. When he reaches Asgard’s Earthly colony, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) understandably object to genocide and get surprise support from terminally cancerous Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) whom Mjolnir chooses as a second Thor (“Call me the Mighty Thor!”).

That’s all the ingredients for a great Marvel movie but as with Ragnarok, Taika Waititi piles too much humor onto it, as if he were terrified we’d start taking it seriously. This made it a slog for me to finish despite the presence of Sif (Jaime Alexander), the Guardians of the Galaxy and Kat Dennings’ Darcy. ”Maybe your arm is in Valhalla.”

Continuing my viewing of Howard Hawks’ work brings me to FAZIL (1928) starring Charles Farrell as an Arab prince whose instant connection with a free-spirited Parisienne leads to marrying in haste, then repenting in leisure as it turns out his misogyny and her independence are incompatible. This culminates in what’s meant to be a tragic suicide pact but looks more like murder, as the dying Fazil takes his wife’s plea they never be parted as an excuse to slip a poison needle into her. Not a winner. “If a woman wants a man to do as she wishes, she must be worth it.”

After a terrorist attack, Maggie Smith invites her fellow survivors to recuperate at MY HOUSE IN UMBRIA (2003), including sidekick Timothy Spall, a mute girl, a grieving lover and a widowed general; when the girl’s uncle Chris Cooper shows up Smith gets the itch to seduce him, mixed with a worry he’s not the right caregiver for the girl. The cast performs well but the movie feels like it’s just going through the motions of being serious drama. “Hell is where people like you wake up.”

The fourth Season of MCMILLAN AND WIFE (click for my reviews of S1, S2 and S3) doesn’t do well by Susan St. James as Sally, wife to the San Francisco police commissioner: one episode makes her unusually ditzy, another couple have her as little more than a cameo. This presumably reflects St. James having a kid in real life, reflected by pregnancy on-screen and a baby in the final episode (though we never see the boy and don’t even hear him). The mysteries are the usual fun, even so, with great guest casts, but without Sally everything feels off (I won’t be catching the final season sans St. James, when it was just McMillan). “Every McMillan since 1837 has been married in San Francisco except three — one was hung as a horse thief, one died on the Titanic, and one moved to … New York.”

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Quantum Leap, Queen’s Gambit and a show that doesn’t begin with Q

I’m curious if making QUANTUM LEAP and the new Night Court sequels to the originals rather than reboots is a sign of a new trend or just a fluke. Either way, I enjoyed the first season.

Raymond Lee plays Ben Song, a scientist on the Quantum Leap project which has been revived after several decades. The project ramrod, Herbert “Magic” Williams (Ernie Hudson) has a reason: he’s one of Sam Beckett’s former swaps (from the S3 opening episode) who learned why he has a gap in his memory from one day in Vietnam; figuring he owes Sam (he saved Williams’ platoon) he’s determined to bring him home. The rest of the key team includes Ben’s ex-military fiancee Addison (Caitlin Bassett), nonbinary tech whiz Ian (Mason Alexander Park) and hacker-turned-security chief Jenn (Nanrisa Lee).

Everyone knows what happened to Sam Beckett so Addison is shocked when Ben, without telling her, leaps by himself: why would he do that, given the risks? Along with keeping Ben safe as his hologram guide, Addison and the crew have to figure out the reason Ben leapt, and the reason he kept it secret. And who is the “Leaper X” following him through time?

The show reworks the original’s premise: now the leaper’s mind occupies someone’s body in the past, rather than physically trading places. That makes more sense (even though it’s a retcon) but it makes the emphasis that Ben will be stuck permanently in that body if he fails not at all sensible: sure it jacks up the stakes but it punishes his host by taking away his life forever (and blocks any future good Ben could do). Despite which, I found the conspiracy arc worked better than expected, though having Ben travel to such now-historical periods as the 1980s and 1990s makes me feel old. “I was hurled across time and space, forgot who you were — yet our love survived.”

QUEEN’S GAMBIT was the 2020 Netflix adaptation of Walter Tevis’ novel about a young orphan in the 1950s who finds salvation from her bleak orphanage home in playing chess with the janitor. She’s good and we get to watch as Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) begins winning at the amateur level, then turns pro, with her adoptive mother (Marielle Heller) finding prize money a way to support the family after Dad walks out. We watch as Beth’s life moves into the 1980s and she fixes her sights on the big prize, world championship.

Taylor-Joy gives a terrific performance (everyone in this show does) and the period detail is great (though as others have noted, the spinner rack in one early-1960s drugstore scene does not have the right comics in it). It also does a lot that I didn’t expect, such as the way Beth and her mom’s relationship develops. I’m glad I finally got around to watching this. “Let’s pretend you didn’t just compare yourself to Michelangelo.”

I’m much less impressed with GOTHAM KNIGHTS, the new CW series that is yet another Bat- TV show without Batman, as Warner Brothers saves him for the big screen. In the opening episode someone kills Batman and frames a gang of punks headed by Duela (Olivia Rose Keegan) — Harvey Dent’s daughter in comics, the Joker’s daughter here (something she claimed in the comics at one point) — for the crime. Worse, Batman’s true identity is out and that makes his adopted son Turner Hayes (Oscar Morgan) the perfect patsy (Bruce was allegedly changing his will to cut Turner out). Can Turner, Duela, her gang and Carrie Kelly (Navia Robinson) — the Robin from Dark Knight Returns — find the truth when they’re wanted by the cops and the Court of Owls has painted a target on their backs?

This didn’t work for me at all. It feels like the creators thought staying away from costumes and super-types would make it more real or fresh or something; even Carrie wears a dark burglar outfit than anything that looks too comic-book. A much bigger problem is that rather than an alt.Dick Grayson or Damien Wayne, they made up Turner. He’s not Robin (he didn’t even know his dad was Batman), he has no particular skills (the action falls to Duela and Carrie the first episode) and he comes across like a generic rich kid. He ain’t interesting. One final problem is that while I can buy Batman vanishing (the premise for Batwoman and the 2002 Birds of Prey) I don’t believe for a minute he’s really dead. In short, this isn’t something I’ll waste further time on. “How are you going to catch Bruce Wayne’s murder when Batman is dead?”

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Everybody was kung fu fighting. Except the pirates. And the women talking.

The third and probably final season of KUNG FU has Nicky Chen (Olivia Liang) continuing her fight to rescue her mentor Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai) from possession by Xiao, the immortal alchemist. She also has to deal with a shady cybersecurity company that wants to set up a Big Brother level of supervision under contract with San Francisco, a new bad boy-lover, Bo (Ben Levin) and her mother’s conflict with the big corporation that invested in the restaurant. It’s a solid season and ends with a great call back to the original David Carradine series (this review of the current series’ S1 includes links to the three seasons of the first series); the showrunner says they have plans if they’re renewed but I’m okay if not. “One must not mistake stasis for peace.”

As part of a presentation on pirate movies I gave recently I watched the 1956 TV season THE BUCCANEERS, in which a reformed pirate turned Caribbean colonial governor (obviously based on Sir Henry Morgan) sets out with middling success to convince his fellow privateers to accept a pardon and go straight. In the third episode we meet Dan Tempest (Robert Shaw), a pirate who has no interest in settling down as a farmer. Fortunately the colony needs someone to help defend against the pirates who haven’t reformed and Tempest soon discovers using his skills to protect people scratches his itch for adventure just as much as buccaneering. This UK-produced series lacks the charm and verve of other productions of the era such as Richard Greene’s Robin Hood so I gave up after three episodes. “I think a man who knows how to die should also know how to live.”

THE SPANISH MAIN (1945) works much better as a pirate adventure, a great swashbuckling yarn despite Paul Henreid as a Dutch colonist lacking any flair for swashing his buckler. After Henreid’s ship crashes at the Spanish colony of Cartagena, governor Walter Slezak decides to keep Henreid and his fellow colonists as slaves; Henreid, however, recruits a few pirates already in the cells, busts out and five years later is the Barracuda, most feared pirate on the Spanish Main. When he captures and marries Slezak’s intended, Maureen O’Hara, the other pirates, particularly Binnie Barnes as Anne Bonney think this is a fatal mistake. Their efforts to get her back to her rightful husband, even if she doesn’t want to go, cascade out of control and Henreid winds up in even more trouble.Slezak is a treat as the villain (“We did agree to 50,000 in gold but 10,000 is the figure I was thinking of.”) and Barnes steals every scene as Bonney (including the one above, holding a pistol on Henreid). On the downside, as the Bad Girl Bonney turns out as doomed as Anne of the Indies and the no-means-yes treatment of O’Hara won’t be to everyone’s taste (though I don’t find it as bad as The Black Swan).  “Unless you believe the words I say simply because I say them, I have no proof.”

WOMEN TALKING (2022) has the woman of an Amish-esque religious community discover the freakish nightmares they’ve had for years are the work of a rapist armed with cow tranquilizers. They’ve turned him over to the law but the community’s men are bailing him out; the women have 24 hours to forgive him or go into exile.

The debate that follows feels oddly old-fashioned — with a little tweaking it could be a women’s liberation rap session from the 1970s — but it still makes absorbing drama that kept me watching attentively for the length of the movie. It doesn’t hurt that we have Frances McDormand (now aged into grandmotherly roles), Rooney Mara and other talented women delivering the lines. Not for every taste, I’m sure, but thumbs up for me. “Leaving’ and ‘fleeing’ are two different words.”

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Bad, bad, bad, bad girls, they make me feel so … uncomfortable?

After watching Mary Reilly, I’d planned to stop watching Jekyll and Hyde-related material unless I go ahead with a film reference book on them. Anything I watch now I’d have to rewatch when I write the book and a lot of films such as Horror High, barely bear watching once. However when I discovered the Tubi streaming service, which I get free through Amazon Prime, has Fantasy Island, I succumbed to the temptation to watch a couple of Stevenson-based episodes (though one is very much an edge case).

Fantasy Island was an anthology show starring Ricardo Montalban as Roark, the enigmatic owner of a fabulous Pacific island vacation resort, with Hervé Villechaize as his right hand, Tattoo. In addition to every possible amenity — gambling casinos, sports, wilderness areas, pools to lounge around — Roark’s special service was catering to guest’s fantasies (my apologies if y’all already know all this). These range from the mundane (a guy wants to live in a version of Three’s Company, rooming with two beautiful women for a week) to the unconventional (a woman wants to fake her death and attend her own funeral) to the paranormal, as in the two here. Various episodes revealed Roark himself is centuries old and possesses considerable supernatural power.

In the first episode (each episode included two plots, but I won’t bother with the other one here), prim, uptight psychologist Dr. Griffin (Rosemary Forsyth) arrives on the island with her sister Jennifer (Maureen McCormack). Griffin works at a halfway house and can’t understand why the girls keep returning to their old, self-destructive lives and bad, dangerous boyfriends. She has the same problem with her sister, whose petty-crook boyfriend Ross (Don Stroud) has made the trip with them.

Roark reveals that Jekyll and Hyde was based on a real case involving Stevenson’s friend Dr. Lanyon (a supporting character in the book) and that he has Lanyon’s formula here. Drinking it turns Griffin into sexy, wild Lila — no makeup as in the Fredric March version, just letting her hair down and putting on a slinky dress.

Lila easily seduces Ross but instead of dumping Ross, Jennifer wants to imitate the bad girl to keep her man. Then it turns out Ross taped his night with Griffin and he threatens to show it to Jennifer, making her realize who Lila really is. Griffin slips into her Lila dress but lacks the oomph her other self put into it; when she tells Ross about the potion he makes her take a much larger dose than safe, resulting in her turning into an ugly harridan who tries to kill him.

Roark intervenes before Griffin becomes a killer. He then tells her her actions sprang from hating men; she admits that her first husband was an abusive brute leading her to reject love and become an emotionally cold figure. Now she realizes the key to dealing with her patients is caring about them; she applies the same warmth to Jennifer and they leave on a happy note.

If the producers thought of Mary Ann and Miss Sophisticate as a Jekyll/Hyde story I doubt they’d have run it a few episodes later (presumably they saw it as an Evil Ventriloquist’s Dummy story, something films have been doing since 1945’s Dead of Night). However it does feel like it deserves a mention.

Annette Funicello plays Mary Ann, “the world’s most famous ventriloquist” thanks to her puppet Valerie, a shameless gold-digging sexpot (“You don’t marry men for money, silly, you divorce them for money.”). Her fiancé George (Don Galloway) wants to marry her, but as she tells Roark, she’s afraid the Valerie side of her personality is clouding her judgment. For one weekend she wants to expel that part of her personality so that she can, as she sees it, think clearly about what she wants. Roark tells Mary Ann that to do that he’ll have to bring her puppet to life. When he does, Valerie (Maren Jensen) reveals she has zero interest in being repressed again once the weekend ends.

Mary Ann’s initial happiness at being free ends when Valerie bangs her knee on a table and Mary Ann feels it (because Valerie is part of her). Valerie takes great glee in hurting herself, then seduces George (it’s implied he’s reacting to her, unconsciously, as part of his fiancee), forcing Mary Ann to feel every second of it (she and George have not slept together). Valerie puts on a ventriloquist show in an empty room with Mary Ann as her submissive puppet; Roark appears and encourages Mary Ann to fight back. The Good Girl fights the Bad Girl and turns her back into a dummy, then burns it. Free of her dark side, she tells Tattoo she’s marrying George and apparently giving up show business.

Watching the two stories confirms my thinking that where male Hydes are sometimes monsters and usually brutes, female Hydes tend to be sexy. Given the amount of discomfort our society has with female sexuality, that makes a certain amount of sense — a lot of women have to repress their urges and conform — but it also feels like a male fantasy (under every prim librarian there’s a sex volcano ready to burn its way out!). Women repress anger too, but I haven’t seen that as much — though of course, there aren’t that many female Hydes to study.

Both these stories seems uncomfortable with the idea Mary Ann or Griffin might have a bad-girl sexual self lurking inside them. There’s no suggestion Griffin enjoys her Lila persona the way Jekyll enjoyed becoming Hyde; despite what Mary Ann says, she shows no sign of being tempted to walk on the wild side or marry someone with more money than George. The logical ending, to me, would be Mary Ann embracing and attaining balance with her wild side, the way Kirk does with his counterpart in Star Trek: The Enemy Within. Instead, the implication is she’s purged her Valerie side completely and is better off for it. I didn’t think that worked when I first saw it and my view hasn’t changed.

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“I’m just the Middleman”

I bought and watched the Middleman series on DVD a decade ago. Since then I’ve acquired the original graphic novel run, plus the two post-series graphic novels so I figured last year, why not go through the whole thing?

THE COLLECTED SERIES INDISPENSABILITY by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine collects three graphic novels. The first couple are quite close to a couple of episodes of the TV series, except Wendy — the new recruit to the Middleman organization — is white, not Latino. The third goes its own way, eliminating the Middleman and bringing back Wendy’s long-lost father, who turns out to be a Middleman too.

Then came the 2008 TV series, which is where I first encountered the mythos. In the opening, Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales) is an artist who loses her day job as receptionist at a genetics lab when something breaks out, the Middleman (Matt Keeslar) shows up to save her and then makes it look like she was responsible. However the incident shows Wendy can deal with the weird and impossible so the Middleman hires her through the Jolly Fats Weehauken Temp Agency to work on similar cases. The title of the post comes from Keeslar’s statement that he doesn’t know who runs the show — he’s merely the middleman.

The show had a solid cast, enjoyably goofy scripts, and a lot of pop-culture and untold-story references (“Has everyone forgotten the Day Without Wheat?”). Many other shows have done the same but on this one it just clicked … though obviously not with enough people to make it last longer (big sigh). But there were many memorable adversaries, such as an immortal linked to the accursed tuba from the Titanic’s band — any time he plays it, everyone in earshot drowns in the waters of the North Atlantic, even on dry land. Plus, the ending episode, a “Mirror, Mirror” pastiche in which every guy in the regular cast has a counterpart in the other world with a goatee.The series ended with a couple of plotlines hanging: what exactly was techbro Manservant Neville (Mark Sheppard) up to? Will Wendy’s roommate Lacey (Brit Morgan) and the Middleman ever get together and why is he so reluctant. Grillo-Marxuach (with Hans Beimler and Armando M. Zinker) resolved those in The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse in which Neville’s master plan unleashes chaos, we learn about the Middleman’s lost love and he tragically does not get the girl.

Then everything wraps up with The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation by the same creative team. In this one the world’s most efficient vacuum cleaner is somehow opening up gates between worlds, which leads to the comic-book team and the TV team meeting for the first time. It’s a lot of fun and provides a mostly satisfactory finish to both, but I hate the idea that Wendy’s father (in both universes) was a Middleman and had always marked her as his successor — it’s a variation on the Chosen One trope that as I’ve mentioned before doesn’t work for me.

Rereading/rewatching the whole thing was fun, and rewarding too: a lot of the references in the last two graphic novels were much clearer this time around (though there are footnotes for anyone who doesn’t get them). Who knows, perhaps ten years from now I’ll do it again.

#SFWapro. Cover by McClaine, all rights to images remains with current holder.

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