Category Archives: TV

Sculder, Mully and Bubbles: Books read!

X-FILES FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Global Conspiracies, Aliens, Lazarus Species and Monsters of the Week by John Kenneth Muir has been a useful guide to watching the series (along with my friend Ross, who’s serving as my X-Files guru for Alien Visitors). Muir covers the various inspirations for the series, the key episodes, what made it stand out from the pack (some of which I covered reviewing S1 last weekend) and its influence on later TV. It also covers stuff less relevant to my project such as Chris Carter’s other series (Harsh Realm, Millennium). A good guide, though I think his list of inspirations for X-Files is reaching — Chris Carter has admitted Night Stalker inspired him but the obscure paranormal anthology One Step Beyond? The Friday the 13th TV series (on the grounds it has a male-female paranormal evil-fighting team)? I’m not convinced.

BUBBLES UNBOUND by Sarah Strohmeyer is a cozy mystery in which blue-collar Bubbles Yablonski (“Everyone thinks I’m a dumb blonde because of my name. And I’m a hairstylist. And I have the exact measurements of Barbie.”) discovers a talent for journalism after flunking out of every other course at community college (I do wish they’d played more with the idea this makes her, like Streisand in What’s Up Doc?, a low-level polymath). After getting a stringer job with the local paper, she’s lucky enough to catch a pillar of local society has run over a man while driving drunk. But the film Bubbles took disappears after someone knocks Bubbles cold. The woman’s family insist she was out of town. And someone’s trying to shoot Bubbles for suggesting something’s going on … A fun mystery in the vein of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books.

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TV seasons: new, old and Did Not Finish

MOTHERLAND: FORT SALEM‘s second season (S1 review here) has our three cadets (Abigail, daughter of a proud military family; Tally, more innocent and very good-hearted; and Raelle, the rebel) come back from last season’s battle with the witch-hating Camarilla changed: Raelle’s tapped new powers she doesn’t understand and Tally’s having flashes of what turn out to be the origin of the anti-military terrorist group the Spree. General Adler is playing hardball, Raelle’s ex-girlfriend Scylla and her mother are waging war on the Camarilla but the Camarilla has plans of its own …

Set in a world where witchcraft is part of military service, this kept up the quality of the first season, though Scylla’s murderous past gets kind of hand-waved. I’m kind of glad next season will wrap things up, rather than going until they run out of steam or getting cut off before resolution like so many shows. “He’s a safety school with a penis.”

I didn’t watch the entire first season of THE X-FILES for Alien Visitors as only the ET episodes are relevant to the book (and I simply don’t have time to watch the whole thing). The story of brilliant profiler Fox “Spooky” Mulder and equally brilliant physicist/MD Dr. Dana Scully (David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson) investigating everything from mutant serial killers to alien abductions is probably just as familiar to y’all as it is to me. Even so, it’s a shock to realize just how much of a game-changer this series was.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, X-Files injects the political cynicism of the Watergate era into TV and gives us a world where government can’t be trusted. Key players in the FBI are actively working to cover up the government’s knowledge of UFOs and aliens on Earth (the Cigarette Smoking Man played by William B. Davis is the face of the conspiracy). Mulder has a contact, Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) — see the Watergate influence? — but is he on the level or just playing some game with Mulder?

More than that, the concept of a show with an elaborate mythology that develops over time and mysteries that takes months or years to unravel makes this show the godfather to 24, Lost and Manifest. Which is part of why I never really cottoned to it; when Mulder rants to Deep Throat about playing games — only throwing him little pieces of information and holding most of the truth back — it’s almost a metacommentary on X-Files and LostThough obviously I’m in a minority in not being into the show, and that’s okay — it wasn’t for me but I don’t begrudge it it’s success (though if it had run shorter, my work on the book would be easier).

And I should note that Scully remains a groundbreaking character. Even though she’s usually wrong about what they’re going up against she remains as smart and competent as Mulder and doesn’t back down on her skepticism. As Foz Meadows says, the show let Gillian Anderson dress in unremarkable jackets and blazers rather than looking fashionable because that’s the kind of woman Scully is. The Scully/Mulder dynamic had its influence on later shows too, for example the leads of The 4400. “How can I deny things that are stamped with an official seal?”

The second season of PEOPLE OF EARTH wrapped up in 2017 on a cliffhanger and wasn’t renewed, but up until that point it was as fun as the first season. The realization they were all abducted together brings the Starcrossed therapy group back together but now they have special agent Foster (Nasim Pedrad) breathing down their neck to find Jonathan. Meanwhile, an AI takes over the ship leaving Jeff, Don and Jonathan all hating him and having second thoughts about this whole invasion business. I am a little puzzled why they wrote Ozzie (Wyatt Cenac) out mid-season but as it’s clearly positioned for him to return, I guess it was a schedule conflict, health issue or the like. Streaming on Hulu if you get the itch to check it out. “Don’t you dare use my favorite musical against me!”

TV producer Aaron Spelling was, as many critics have pointed out, not an artist, just a guy who turned out tons of glossy soap opera for entertainment. It’s true, but watching the new revival of FANTASY ISLAND just reminds me how very, very good at glossy soap opera Spelling was. Where Mr. Roarke ruled a world-class luxury resort, the island his niece and heir Elena (Roselyn Sånchez) ran in the first episode feels closer to a chain motel. Nor do the creators have Spelling’s way with a slick storyline. That said, I may pick it up once all that X-Files viewing is done … but more likely not. “I’m offering an opportunity to be brave.”

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Movies and TV, with aliens and without

TYG was watching IT PART 2 (2019) recently, which meant I half-watched the story of adults going back to their hometown to confront the monstrous, jeering clown and his nightmare-inducing, reality-warping powers … all of which made me feel like whoever made it was trying to knock off Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddie Krueger did it better though.

Ron Howard’s COCOON (1985) has aliens led by Brian Dennehy arrive on Earth to retrieve the life-support cocoons of their fellows, who’ve been waiting for rescue since the fall of Atlantis. The treatment to revive the cocoons has the side effect of rejuvenating some residents of a retirement community — including Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and Wilford Brimley — but can they keep the source of their new vigor safely secret?

This is a great showcase for all those old-timers, and genuinely sweet; on the other hand, there’s some truth that the aliens are almost absurdly nice. While the film is certainly sympathetic to the plight of the old, it lacks the underlying anger that made Twilight Zone‘s Kick the Can episode memorable. And like a number of 1980s movies, the climax is a fairly pointless chase — one of the kids of the oldsters is desperate to stop them doing whatever insanity they’re doing so we wind up with cops trying to chase them down, purely to provide suspense (I had the same problems with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah being chased by the military at the climax of Splash). “The way nature’s been treating us, I don’t mind cheating her a little.”

The first season of TBS’ PEOPLE OF EARTH was a surprisingly engaging spoof of alien abductions. Protagonist Ozzie (Wyatt Cenac) is a successful reporter who’s been having hallucinations ever since he hit a deer. Therapist Gina (Ana Gasteyer) convinces him that what happened was an alien abduction so he reluctantly joins her abductee support group (“We prefer the term ‘experiencers.'”). The series follows the interactions between the oddball abduction victims and also between the abductors — a Grey (Ken Hall), a White (Bjorn Gustaffson) and a Reptilian (Michael Cassidy) who in human disguise is Ozzie’s boss. By the nd of the season, interactions between the ETs and the humans have gone in unexpected directions, and the alien invasion, it appears, is about to start … Looking forward to the second and final season. “She wasn’t a circus performer Mom, she was a yoga instructor with a nose ring.”

BIRDS OF PREY AND THE FABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN (2020) has Margot Robie’s Harley openly break up with Mr. J, with the result everyone in Gotham on both sides of the law realize they can take her down without getting a shot of Joker venom — and Ewan MacGregor’s Black Mask and henchman Szasz (easily the least impressive incarnation of that psycho) very eager to seize the moment. Complications include teen pickpocket Cassandra Cain stealing a McGuffin, Rosie Perez’ pissed-off Montoya (“She got a major bust ten years ago — her partner stole the credit so she’s still working the detective beat.”), vengeful Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead — I seem to be seeing her a lot lately) and Jussie Smollet’s Black Canary. Much more fun than I expected. “Stop, stop — you’re going to do that thing where you open up a box of outlandish torture devices while detailing your master plan and explaining how I don’t fit into it.”

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TV, with aliens and without

The second season of DOOM PATROL is probably the most frustrating of the various Covid Interruptus season enders I’ve seen — while I can’t say I was that invested in the main threat, the growing problems inside Jane’s split-personality mindscape (“The Underground”) had my rapt attention. The main plot concerns the Chief’s long-lost daughter, Dorothy, whose reality-bending powers make her a ticking time bomb Niles is hoping to defuse. Paralleling their relationship we have Cliff reaching out to his daughter, Larry trying to connect with his family and Rita remembering unpleasant truths about her mother, all of which comes to a head in the final episode. Not as good overall as S1, but I’m looking forward to the third season starting next month. “You’re right, Jesus forgives — too bad for you I’m not Jesus!”

THE WHISPERS was a 2015 series based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “Zero Hour.” In the story, a mother slowly begins to realize the local kids’ game with their imaginary friend Drill is actually a real game involving an alien manipulating the kids into opening a dimensional gateway (an example of the Pied Piper theme in kids-and-aliens stories). In the series’ opening episode, Drill tricks a girl into almost killing her mother. The feds ask Claire (Lily Rabe), an agent who specializes in dealing with kids, to investigate the girl, who claims she was just playing a game with her friend Drill. We know Drill’s real, but will the feds believe it? What’s Drill after? And what does the tattooed amnesiac (Milo Ventimiglia) hanging around have to do with things (his role doesn’t make much sense — I assume he’s partly an Easter Egg reflecting that “Zero Hour” appeared in The Illustrated Man).

The series worked well, and Drill’s manipulation of the kids — or parents, by threatening their kids — is effectively creepy. A lot of what he does doesn’t hold up logically (possibly an S2 would have made sense of it) and the last episode disappointed me. Gaslighting the children is creepy; having him suddenly mind-controlling them is less interesting. Good overall, but I’m not grieving we’ll never get a second season. “What if she’s turning into one of those kids — the ones you whisper about, the ones you make up excuses to keep your kids away from?”

When I wrote about the first season of the KUNG FU reboot back in June I didn’t realize it was only a pause, with the final episodes to follow. The rest of the season has  Zhilan (Gwendoline Yeo) and Nicky (Olivia Liang) racing to gather the artifacts and their mysterious power source, Nicky working out her relationship situation and sister Althea finally speaking up about her former employer raping her.

Everything comes to a head in the final episode, which wraps up everything while setting up for S2. I’m still looking forward to it. “The phrase ‘okey dokey’ means the bullies have gone away.”

Spinning off Supergirl, SUPERMAN AND LOIS has the couple relocate to Smallville with their teenage kids, Jonathan and Jordan. It turns out that corrupt media mogul Morgan Edge (Adam Rayner) is investing heavily in the town, but Lois is convinced it’s for unethical reasons. She’s right, too — Smallville sits over a buried meteorite shower of X-Kryptonite, which Edge — actually another Kryptonian — and his scientist aide Leslie Larr (Stacey Farber) can use to endow Smallville residents with superpowers to make them hosts for the dead of Krypton. And how does the mysterious Captain Luthor (Wolé Parks) fit into all this?

This started off so-so, much as I like the cast, but it picked up amazingly as the season went along. Unlike the comics, where Lois  (Elizabeth Tulloch) hasn’t done much reporting since moving to Smallville, this has her going to work for the struggling local paper (Edge bought out the Planet and eventually fired her for not toeing the corporate line). My biggest complaint is that Kryptonian villains have become generic (and they’re solidly Othered here — all of them but Superman are genocidal psychos) and Edge is also, even as a human; I actually confused him with Maxwell Lord from Supergirl because they both come off as post-Crisis Luthor knockoffs. Still, I’m (again) looking forward to more. “When I said I love you, it wasn’t just one of those things that people say because they think they’re going to die.”

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UFO vs. Blue Book

The difference between the 1970s TV series Project UFO and 2019’s Project Blue Book says a lot about the way TV changed in the decades between.

The real Project Blue Book was an early 1950s USAF investigation into flying saucers: were they real? Were they a threat? It was an officer on the Blue Book team who coined the term “unidentified flying objects” as an alternative name, one that didn’t suggest anything about the nature of the sightings (it didn’t work, as UFO became just another name for the saucers). After two years the Air Force wrapped up, concluding there was no evidence of flying saucers, though many UFOlogists claim that was just a cover-up.

In 1978, veteran TV producer Jack Webb brought Project UFO to NBC. In the opening episode (the only one I’ve seen), USAF investigators Gatlin and Ryan look into a series of UFO sightings in the DC area (like most of the cases, this was based on an actual case from the 1950s). There’s much detailed discussion in the interviews with eyewitnesses, though most of the sightings are relatively simple, like a shining disc in the sky. One woman does claim she’s seen a robot in her garden and chatted with it.

We get to see the experiences as the interviewees talk about them, which is part of the problem. When the time comes to explain them away as natural phenomena or witness error, it’s not at all credible. Seeing them as it happens, they look just as real to me as the people telling the stories; simply saying they’re temperature inversions or whatever doesn’t convince. And even Gatlin and Ryan admitted that they couldn’t explain the robot sighting. This was apparently an ongoing element of the show, some loose end that might just possibly have been the real thing.

There is no doubt, though, that the investigators were on the level. Straight-arrow types, clearly devoted to finding the truth. The exact opposite of the Blue Book investigation in History Channel’s Project Blue Book. In the opening episode General Harding (Neal McDonough) recruits astronomer Allen Hynek (a real person, the guy who coined the three kinds of close encounter) to investigate UFO sightings; in reality, as Harding tells Hynek’s new partner, Captain Quinn, the job is to disprove and discredit all sightings. Harding knows better; Quinn doesn’t but he dutifully pushes back against Hynek’s theories. It’s Mulder and Scully if the latter had a hidden agenda.

It’s not just the characters (there’s also an enigmatic Deep Throat type) but the whole tone of conspiracy and cover-up. In Project UFO we can trust our leaders; in Blue Book the government’s lying to us and not for our own good. What is the reason? What’s really going on? As of the end of S1, I’ve no idea. Nor do we have any clue what the UFOs’ agenda is. It’s another example of the gap across the decades: elaborate, complex, hidden mythologies are now standard. Lost. Manifest. Black List. And yes, X-Files.

Another difference from Project UFO is that there’s no ambiguity, no doubt: aliens exist. It’s a fact. The only question is how we handle that knowledge, and handle the ETs.

Neither show was good, though Project Blue Book certainly works better as drama, but they were both instructive to watch.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder. A longer version of this post appeared over at Atomic Junkshop. last week.


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A speedster, a trickster and superhero girls! Movies and TV

Wow, this season of the CW’s FLASH was really disappointing. It started off well with Team Flash wrapping up last season’s battle against the female Mirror Master despite Barry losing his speed. Then we launch into the main plot of the season and things tanked.

It turns out that in reviving the Speed Force, Barry also created the Strong, Sage and Still forces, all of which have hostile avatars. A minor flaw is that the names make no sense: the avatar Psych makes people face their worst fear, which hardly fits “sage” and “still” for a Time Force (because he can stop time and make things still, get it?) isn’t much better. A bigger problem is that the arc never really had any juice. Neither did the B-plots. Kramer (Carmen Moore), a hardline anti-meta cop, brings in Killer Frost despite her having reformed. The show makes a big deal about Frost getting a life sentence, but a couple of episodes later she performs some heroics and presto, out of jail.

The final plotline, with an army of Godspeed clones terrorizing the city, might have worked if it had space to breathe (due to the pandemic, this was a truncated season). Then again, Karan Obaroi as Godspeed simply can’t pull off megalomaniacal rants about his absolute power the way Tom Cavanaugh as Thawne can; I honestly don’t care what’s going through Godspeed’s head, as he’s a pale clone of the comics’ Savitar. The final battle with Godspeed, Thawne and Flash using light-sabers made out of Speed Force is just silly. And Cisco’s replacement Chester (Brandon McKnight) so far doesn’t have the same sparkle. “We are here to celebrate the greatest sequel since The Empire Strikes Back!”

TRICKSTER was a 2020 Canadian show about Jared (Joel Oulette), a teenage Native American living on the “Rez,” and struggling to support his shiftless, prone-to-bad-decisions Mom (Crystle Lightning). Weird things start happening, the weirdest being that Jared’s birth father turns up (Kalani Queypo) turns up, claiming they’re both Tricksters and Jared might have inherited his powers. And Dad is far from the only supernatural force moving through Jared’s life … I enjoyed this, though I wasn’t hooked on it. However the reveal the show runner had lied about having Native American ancestry seems to have made the show toxic; it ended after six episodes and nobody’s picking it up. “The purpose of life isn’t to share it with someone — the purpose of life is simply to survive.”

DC SUPERHERO GIRLS is a series of animated web shorts that has also broadened into graphic novels and some movie-length toons. In Intergalactic Games (2017), Superhero High hosts an interplanetary athletic contest against the snotty students of Sinestro’s Korugar Academy (Blackfire, Lobo and Maxima among them) only to have the Female Furies of the Apokalips Magnet School demand a seat at the table. A further complication is high school IT tech Lena Thurol’s desire to go on an anti-meta crusade (“I’ve tried everything to be one of you — radiation, chemical baths, mutation drugs — none of it worked!”). Suffers from having a bland set of voices compared to the Dini/Timm films, but still fun. “We Female Furies called earworms ‘ear snakes’ — because better you be bit by a snake than Granny catch you singing!”

Legends of Atlantis (2018) has dimensional exiles Mera and her sister Siren stealing a Mystical McGuffin from the school that Siren assures Mera will let them make a home in Atlantis — but leaves out that it will also let Siren conquer the world. As a result Wonder Woman has to face her worst fear, Supergirl and Batgirl switch powers and skill sets and Harley tries convincing new student Raven to have faith in herself. “May I be excused from class so that I can draw up a plan for keeping this book from falling into evil hands and contributing to our total destruction?”

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Childhood’s End, the book and the miniseries

Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novel CHILDHOOD’S END was still a big-name SF novel when I read it in the early 1970s — the kind that stands out for being about big, cosmic ideas. After watching the SyFy miniseries for Alien Visitors, I figured I’d reread the book for comparison.

The book opens in the 1970s, as a rocket expert contemplates how close we’re coming to putting a man into space. Clark reminds us in the intro that this was published four years before Sputnik launched and nobody imagined we’d have a man in space by 1961. Then spaceships descend into Earth’s atmosphere and the scientist realizes his dreams are dead: alien first contact makes all our efforts to develop space flight obsolete.

Working through the UN, the Overlord Karellen (the most fun character in the book, with a pronounced sense of humor) eliminates hunger, disease and want, stops wars and smoothly takes over administration of all the world’s nations. Nation states fade away; crime dies out, as everyone’s needs are now met. The small resistance movement against the Overlords goes down easily. Earth enters into a golden age of peace and plenty, but with a lotus-eating quality to it. Lots of amateur scientists but nobody doing groundbreaking research (I wonder if Raymond Jones’ “The Unlearned” was a counter-argument to this book); lots of amateur artists but nobody with the drive to create great works. Jan, a black scientist, contrives to visit the Overlord home planet and makes the depressing discovery that space is too overwhelming, too vast for human beings. We have no place there.

Finally we learn the real reason the Overlords came. The next generation of human children are born psionic, developing a hive mind like The Midwich Cuckoos. They ultimately destroy the Earth — Jan, the last normal human, stays to record events for the Overlords — and move on, ultimately to join the Overmind. This is the cosmic intellect that commands the Overlords; it has uplifted countless races this way and brought them into its greater hive mind. Humanity is dead and our offspring have gone far beyond us. It is truly … childhood’s end.

All I remembered of the book from first reading was the fate of humanity and the shock when Karellen reveals himself: Overlords look like Satan so they hold back from the big reveal until their control is secure. I can see why that’s all that stuck with me. This is primarily a setting story, a look at the last years of Earth. There are few standout characters — Karellan, Jan and Stormgren, the UN Secretary General who serves as central character for the first part (most of his scenes are quite engaging). There’s no real plot or conflict; everything’s very sedate. And there’s way too much exposition about how the Overlords run Earth, the nature of the Overmind, Jan’s trip into space (we don’t see it, we get it recapped later).

The exposition also skims over a lot of stuff that’s worth telling. At the time, maybe it was plausible that if something like this happened, nations wouldn’t put up too much of a fight; I’ve read other stories from that era that assumed the UN was just the first step to some sort of United Earth. As Fred Clark points out writing about the Left Behind books (which assume the UN Secretary General has some kind of dictatorial power), people don’t let go of their old ways that easily. Karellen does discuss his methods for dealing with resistance at one point; showing that in action would have helped.

The age of the book shows in some of its politics too. Karellen describes himself as a benevolent colonial administrator, something that probably sounded acceptable back when the British Empire was still a going concern. Not so much today. At one point Clarke mentions that with racial hatred faded (another hand-wave I’m unconvinced by), people casually use the n-word for blacks without any racial intent. I presume Clarke meant this as an unsettling demonstration how different this future is but I’d rather he just didn’t say it.

The 2015 SyFy Channel miniseries makes a variety of changes. Stormgren (Mike Vogel) is now a Midwestern farmer, picked as alien envoy for no discernible reason (I’m guessing it’s because so many right-wingers think the UN is some kind of global tyranny — though I don’t know they’d be watching this anyway). Karellan is much more humorless, and doesn’t look that Satanic to me (in fairness, trying to make him plausible and Satanic is a challenge — it was much easier when my imagination did the work).

There’s a lot of added material, such as a subplot in which Stormgren and his wife learn Karellen sterilized them so their hearts wouldn’t be broken by what’s going to happen to the children. I could have done without it.

Overall, it was a solid adaptation, but it suffers from some of the same flaws as the book — the takeover’s just too easy, presumably the reason for the added drama. A bigger problem is that this just isn’t as fresh as it was in 1953 — 2001 covered some of the same themes, for instance.

Still, I’ll give SyFy credit for bringing a major classic of the genre to the screen.

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“There is nothing wrong with your television …” Outer Limits, Season One

After finishing my rewatch of the original Twilight Zone, I figured I’d rewatch the 1960s Outer Limits eventually. As it has several episodes involving alien visitors on Earth, I thought rewatching while I was working on Alien Visitors would be the perfect time. The show comes off better than the last time I caught any of it, but definitely no match for the Twilight Zone.

The brainchild of Joseph Stefano, Outer Limits was conceived as SF where TZ skewed more to fantasy. Like so much that shows up on TV, it was compromised child: ABC was dubious a serious SF anthology would fly so Stefano committed to providing a monster in every show. That worked fine when there was an alien but in The Human Factor it’s one character’s hallucination about a frozen corpse (he’s cracking in the belief he was responsible for the man’s death). Well, it worked sort of fine when there was an alien: in giving them nonhuman faces the show routinely wound up with what looked like grotesque masks, with no ability to move or show expressions other than eyes and lips. Vulcans looked a lot more convincing.

What does leap out at me rewatching is that they managed a wide variety of stories within the given range. We have political thriller (The Hundred Days of the Dragon), a grim story of POW torture (Nightmare, the source of the above photo — if anything it feels more believable these days), the paranoid of O.B.I.T. (even more relevant as surveillance has almost caught up with the show), comedy (Controlled Experiment), human drama (The Bellero Shield and the excellent Feasibility Study), and the weirdly poetical, arty tales of Don’t Open Till Doomsday, The Guests and The Form of Things Unknown (an unsuccessful backdoor pilot).

Outer Limits also suffers from a sense of how serious they are — not kid stuff like Tom Corbett Space Cadet, they’re doing high drama in an SF format! Despite which the best episodes are really good. Fun and Games has a bored alien race kidnap two humans — a runaway wife and a weaselly gambler — to compete against a couple from a barbarian planet (this looks like an unacknowledged swipe of Fredric Brown’s Arena). The reason? The aliens will have fun. The incentive: if the humans lose, or refuse to play, Earth dies within five years. It works as both an adventure and a character story. A Feasibility Study has aliens abduct a small town as a test case to see how easily we can be enslaved; if the humans resist, they’ll be infected by a monstrous, deforming disease. In the end, the town chooses infection to show the aliens we can’t be broken. It’s intensely moving.

Some episodes that aren’t great still have great performances. In The Mice, convict Henry Silva is part of an experimental exchange with an alien planet, via teleporter. Silva’s turn as a guy constantly figuring the angles makes the whole episode worthwhile.

The season has a number of clunkers though. The pop-eyed evil mutant of The Mutant, the easily defeated flowers of Specimen: Unknown, the hamfisted throw-lots-of-stuff-in-the-blender plot of Tourist Attraction. Some episodes have an interesting concept that isn’t developed enough: In Zanti Misfits, the Zanti ship their convicts to Earth, confident we’ll be intolerant enough to do their dirty work and kill the prisoners; too much gets handwaved to really work.

That’s one of several episodes I may reference in Alien Visitors. As I mentioned in my post on ET Pied Pipers, The Special One has an alien scheming to use human children against humanity, but it’s uninspired. Fun and Games is an example of an abduction by aliens that doesn’t fit what we now think of as a “UFO abduction.”

I’ll tackle the second season, which is conveniently only half the length of S1, soon enough.

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British TV watched recently (and one American series)

THE CORRIDOR PEOPLE  (I think the title is meant in the sense of the corridors of power, but I wouldn’t bet money on it) lasted four episodes in 1966, but they’re certainly memorable episodes. The players include Kronk (John Sharp), a ruthless British security official; international criminal Syrie van Epp (Elizabeth Shepherd); Scrotty (Gary Cockrell), a PI who plays for both sides; and Kronk’s aides Blood and Hound (Alan Curtis, William Maxwell).

The four stories involve Syrie seeking control of a new drug; an elaborate scheme to cover up financial fraud; an amnesiac caught up in a communist scheme; and a European prince obsessed with marrying a black woman he saw dancing at a disco. The plots are less important than the show’s strange style and peculiar characters; in “Victim as Whitebait,” one man defends equipping a female assassin with blanks on the grounds “The gun is a phallic symbol — the phallic symbol!” and women shouldn’t be allowed to wield it (today the dude would be making the case on some incel website). In the same episode, Syrie has a Swedish filmmaker tagging along to make an art movie about her crimes. It’s all entertaining, though the racial elements of “Victim as Black” have not aged well. “Seven accountants tried analyzing the finances — four had nervous breakdowns, two quit, one became a Trappist monk.”

THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (1953) was the first in the series of BBC miniseries that culminated in Quatermass and the Pit. Reginald Tate is Quatermass, a literal rocket scientist overseeing the first manned flight into space (you can hear the incredulity when he realizes the ship has reached halfway to the moon, an astonishing feat in the pre-Sputnik days). When the capsule crashes down in a London residential street, only one astronaut is inside … with memories of the two missing astronauts and traces of their fingerprints mixed with his own. Before long it’s clear he’s been infested with Something out in space and it’s about to spread and give off spores…  This was very well done, but unfortunately four of the episodes are lost and had to be recreated by a screen crawl mixed with still photos. “Thirty years ago I almost dedicated myself to land surveying in the tropics.”

The BBC attempted a live remake in 2005, trimmed down to a 90 minute QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT TV-movie with Jason Flemyng as Quatermass and David Tennant among his team. Despite chopping the running time in half, this one actually felt much talkier; little changes like having the satellite crash in the woods instead of in town didn’t help. “I have brought upon this Earth what is possibly the most terrible thing ever known.”

I found INVINCIBLE (2021) marginally better than the comic book, but not by much. While it speeds up the Big Reveal (which I won’t mention here) the story of Omni-Man’s (a Superman analog) son Mark discovering he’s inherited dad’s powers and ecoming a superhero still bores me: it’s stock teen angst (oh no, he has to break a date because he has a mission) with little to freshen it up. As I was only watching this for Alien Visitors I skipped a couple of episodes and didn’t miss anything important for my purposes. “We wanted to find out what Omni-Man is after and how to stop him getting it. We failed on both counts.”


Filed under TV

My imaginary friend is completely real!

It’s shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are a number of films focusing on kids and ETs. Some of them are geared for a kid audience, such as Explorers, The Space Children or (at the same link) Invaders From Mars.

Some are teen-centric such as Pajama Party (same link again). Others, such as E.T., work well for all ages. Super 8 is a nostalgia fest I suspect works much better if you’re old enough to remember the 1980s.

As I noted in my post on The Space Children, family conflict is a running element in a lot of these films. The kids and Mom in the core family are stressed out at relocating to an isolated rocket base for Dad’s job; another kid suffers from an abusive, drunken stepfather. By end of movie, the problems have been resolved. E.T., according to Spielberg, was meant to show a suburban family that was disintegrating in the wake of the parents’ divorce; E.T. again heals them.

Another theme I’m noticing is the idea of children having a secret friend nobody else knows about, or even believes. Which is a concept that can range from innocent and adorable to ominous, depending what the friend really is and what they want. It overlaps with a theme my friend Ross has mentioned, that an alien can serve as a Pied Piper type leading a child in their wake … but where?

The example that sparked Ross’s thought was the Outer Limits episode The Special One. Dignified Mr. Zeno informs a father played by MacDonald Carey (best known for his soap opera career) that his son is a super-intelligent mutant selected for special tutoring by the federal government. In reality Zeno is an alien hoping to recruit the boy’s genius (other aliens are working with other kids) for his plans of conquest, building weapons to attack Earth from within. In the end, Zeno fails: the kid’s a nice, decent Earth boy who wants a nice normal life, not to be feted as a conqueror’s lackey. It’s an uninspired episode (I’ll be discussing Outer Limits‘ mixed record when I finish the first season), partly because the kid’s stiff and wooden.

The alien in Alien Lover, a 1975 episode of Wide World of Mystery, a late-night ABC series. Kate Mulgrew is a teenager who who had a mental collapse after the death of her parents; recently released from a mental hospital, she’s staying with uncle Pernell Roberts and his family. When the TV in her MIT-genius cousin’s lab starts talking to her, Mulgrew assumes she’s delusional. Or maybe her cousin’s playing a trick? The delusion introduces himself as Mark, resident of a parallel world where parents are banished as soon as they give birth — no oppressor parental figures harshing their freedom, man! The cousin eventually reveals Mark talked to him too, trying to gain access to Earth so his people can invade. Mulgrew, however, is in love and she doesn’t really care what Mark wants if he’ll be her friend. Suffice to say, Mark ends up with more success than Mr. Zeno found.

In 1984, British TV adapted CHOCKY, one of John Wyndham’s novels (yes, the same guy who gave us Day of the Triffids and Midwich Cuckoos). A young middleclass couple are bemused when their son Matthew suddenly acquires an imaginary friend, just like his younger sister. Then they notice Chocky inspires Matt to ask really strange questions — why aren’t cows more intelligent? Why are their two sexes? And what sort of kid in that era would imagine a nonbinary friend (though they settle for calling Chocky a “she” after the son says she’s bossy, just like girls are)? A psychiatrist friend talks to Matthew and gives the parents a startling conclusion: Chocky, whoever or whatever she is, is real.

It turns out Chocky is an alien consciousness, seeking to help us through Matthew. Unlike Klaatu, it’s pure selflessness: intelligent life is rare and they want to help ours flourish. By steering Matthew into science, Chocky would have eventually inspired him to discover a new source of cheap, clean energy, transforming the world. Unfortunately she told him too much too soon and the powers that be are now interested. Fearful they’ll kill him to preserve the status quo, Chocky decides she needs to go; Matthew’s life can return to normal and he’ll be out of danger.

It’s an excellent story and unlike Second Chance the kid playing Matthew is up for the role. British TV made a couple of sequel series, which I’ll watch soon.

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Filed under Movies, TV