Stargate SG-1 4.12 – Tangent

It’s always a pleasure to be so surprised by something our kid embraces so completely. “Tangent” is a pretty simple story about a space rescue after a test of using stolen alien tech goes wrong, but our son found this incredibly exciting. It was a real nail-biter for him, helped by Jack O’Neill’s sardonic humor. I don’t think he believed our heroes were in any real trouble, but everything they tried to fix the situation had him wide-eyed and chuckling from the thrills. “I loved that one,” he told us, breathless, in the end.

“Tangent” introduces Steven Williams, who you’ve seen in everything, as Lt. General Vidrine, a character who will appear in a couple more episodes. Williams had worked with Richard Dean Anderson at least once before; he was one of MacGyver’s oldest friends, you know, one of those who show up for the first time in years to get killed and motivate the action hero in a season one episode. Carmen Argenziano shows up for the first time in a year as Jacob to help out. The character of Anise, the Tok’ra who was introduced in this season, also helps, offscreen, and is apparently never mentioned again after this.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.8 – The King of Assassins

So how bad was that two-parter we just finished? Bad enough that Marie decided to make a grocery run rather than watch the next episode. And she missed out, because “The King of Assassins” is triumphantly silly and fun. Autolycus is back, and he meets Joxer for the first time, and thinks that he’s somebody else: Joxer’s really mean – and competent – brother, the assassin Jett. So with Lucy Lawless off filming other episodes, it’s up to Gabrielle, Autolycus, and Joxer to somehow save Cleopatra, who’s in town for largely unclear but plot-convenient reasons, from being killed.

I chuckled all the way through the thing, but the kid fell apart laughing. Jett torments Joxer through such tried-and-true methods as wet willies and hanging wedgies, and you thought they hadn’t been invented yet. Turns out Joxer is the black sheep of his family; everybody else is a real villain. Gina Torres is amusing as Cleopatra, though strangely the character doesn’t appear again. Torres had a different character in Hercules called Nebula who did make several appearances there. Xena shows up again at the end for a mostly played-for-laughs brawl that had our son howling. She just can’t leave this gang alone for a minute, apparently.

The Sarah Jane Adventures 4.3-4 – The Vault of Secrets (parts one and two)

“The Vault of Secrets” is a delightful love letter to the films of Barry Sonnenfeld, with little winking tributes to his Men in Black stories as well as a couple of hat tips to his pair of Addams Family movies. It brings back the villain Androvax from the previous season and puts our heroes in a skirmish between him and a trio of Men in Black. They’ve been patiently guarding a hyper-dimensional vault full of captured alien tech in suburban London for decades.

I actually really love this idea. Apparently there was once a group called the Alliance of Shades, and they spent twenty years on Earth – 1953-1972 – trying to keep humanity from learning about extraterrestrials. By 1972, I guess they figured it was a lost cause and disbanded. In fairness to them, Pertwee’s Doctor and UNIT were saving the planet from alien threats every four or six weeks, and they couldn’t possibly keep it under wraps forever. But Men in Black lore continued, of course, into the present day, and one of the last people to have her mind mostly wiped by them has been running a society of UFOlogists. Just as well BURPSS never had any joint meetings with that LINDA lot. Maybe that would have been too meta, even for the Doctor Who world.

Stargate SG-1 4.11 – Point of No Return

It was perhaps inevitable that eventually some conspiracy theorist would cross paths with our heroes, leading to rambling discussions of CIA black ops and lizard people in shabby motel rooms. I don’t know why they gave this one the title “Point of No Return,” but it’s a whimsical and very entertaining story about a lone gunman-type who knows everything the government of this universe actually does want to keep secret. Actually, remember that brilliant Darin Morgan-written episode of The X Files called “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”? There’s a conspiracy nut in that called Blaine who desperately wants to be abducted and shouts “Roswell! Roswell!” at government agents. That’s who Martin in this story reminds me of.

Unlike a typical Morgan Files, everybody leaves this story with their dignity intact. It doesn’t spoof the heroes or make them look stupid, and forces them to decide what’s the best way to handle an oddball who somehow knows about the Stargate and where it’s located. Along the way, they learn that some of Martin’s paranoia is really justified. He’s being drugged up to the eyeballs by his psychiatrist, somebody has put cameras in his house, and Sam and Daniel get interrogated by some mean dudes who won’t say what agency of the government they represent. Some of it was over our kid’s head, but I thought this was a splendid little change of pace. We saw the Air Force have a jurisdictional dispute with the ATF in season three; maybe they’re due a pissing match with the FBI.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.7 – The Debt (part two)

In the end, I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy that very much at all. The kid liked the brawl at the end, in which Xena is saved from certain death by remembering that about ten years ago somebody taught her some new superpowers. Is she going to be using telekinesis from here out, I wonder. But the main problem is Gabrielle deciding she knows what’s best for Xena without knowing the whole story, and Xena deciding it’s best Gabrielle not know the whole story. The breakdown in trust simply made this one excruciating to watch. Hopefully they’re back to normal after this.

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.6 – The Debt (part one)

We skipped an episode where Gabrielle has a supernatural demon baby. I said that from what I read, it ended with a big, messy breakdown between our heroines and their ability to trust each other. Then Xena gets word that a very old debt’s been called in and she has to go to China to kill somebody, which Gabrielle doesn’t like at all.

So most of this episode is a flashback to Xena’s days as a villain, not long after the events shown in season two’s “Destiny”. It certainly looks amazing in places. The big set piece at the beginning of the flashback involves several dozen costumed stunt riders on horseback in a huge, empty plain having an amazing fight. It’s feature film-quality, which is pretty awesome for a low-budget syndicated TV show to pull off. From there, Xena and her warlord buddy try turning two Chinese families against each other, but Xena’s tactics are too predictable and she’s too vulgar and wild to pull any of it off.

Honestly, though, I was annoyed by the creeping tough guy-isms in the story, the insistence on going it alone, the “you wouldn’t understand”s. Perhaps it makes some sense after the hour that we skipped, in which Xena and Gabrielle have that falling out, but the present day stuff is just self-destructive and dumb. It ends, bizarrely, with the revelation that Xena actually must have taken the slow boat to China, because Gabrielle got there first and found Xena’s target, warned him, and set up a trap for her friend. Because she’d rather get her friend killed than let her friend kill anybody, I guess. Kind of looks like a betrayal from where I’m sitting, and so the cliffhanger is more sour than thrilling.

Halloween With the New Addams Family (1977)

This morning, one of our rare forays into the world of bootlegs for a seasonally appropriate unavailable film. Halloween With the New Addams Family was shown on television only once, when I was six, and later turned up on a budget VHS label called Goodtimes. There’s kind of a folk memory of this being pretty awful, and unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the folk memory is correct. I didn’t make it through the film when I was six, and had occasionally seen repeats of the original series, and the somewhat similar Munsters, on WTCG-17. I had not seen any of the episodes with Cousin It, and his very brief appearance in this film unnerved me so much that I switched off around the 24 minute mark. That was the only thing from the movie I remembered at all, and I remembered it remarkably well.

So like a lot of other reunion programs from its era, this gets called “The New” presumably to distinguish it from repeats in an era when most people got their TV news from little grids in the newspaper without much information. But it’s a reunion of almost the entire cast: John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, Ted Cassidy, Lisa Loring, Ken Weatherwax, and Felix Silla are all back as the Addams clan. The only recasts are Blossom Rock’s Grandmama, now played by Jane Rose, and Morticia’s mother, by Elvia Allman.

So that’s not recast versions of Wednesday and Gomez in the photo above, those are actually new and completely unnecessary characters. That’s Wednesday Jr. and Gomez’s brother Pancho. It’s a weird, weird movie, on top of being incredibly boring, because it kind of feels like a backdoor pilot for a relaunch of the show, but it also feels like it started life as a one-hour special and the network decided they wanted it for a 90-minute slot instead. So it gets really, really long and tedious, with several unfunny gags repeated and the most interesting character in the thing getting dropped partway through.

Vito Scotti completely steals the show as one of a gang of criminals who’s sent to case the Addams house. A lot of what he does is seen-it-before reaction comedy, but when he gets back to their headquarters, he’s a complete scream, stumbling around in shock and babbling. Then the film leaves him behind and the others pose as distant relatives to get into the house during the Halloween party and find the Addams millions. The party is so tedious; it’s just extras in costumes dancing. The head criminal gets more lines than Uncle Fester. Did somebody involved with this movie actually think anybody in the audience wanted that?

Wednesday and Pugsley were often sidelined in the original show, but there’s no excuse for that happening ten years later. Loring and Weatherwax each get a kind of spotlight scene when they return home – she plays the piccolo and he’s a witch doctor – and then they’re on the sidelines again. They even do a recurring gag where Wednesday can hear her father playing Morse code on his own piccolo, but they don’t let Loring have any additional lines as she whispers instructions to Cousin It. There are two new children, who are called Wednesday Jr. and Pugsley Jr. and look just like their older sister and brother, and they don’t add anything to the narrative. Henry Darrow plays Gomez’s younger brother Pancho, who is also in love with Morticia. Madly, they remember to let Carolyn Jones dress as Morticia’s older sister Ophelia and do some judo, but decline to resolve this complication by marrying the two off. Best I can figure, this film was done on such a low budget that they couldn’t afford any rewrites.

Well, the kid laughed several times, and I enjoyed Scotti’s bit, but otherwise this really was as bad as its reputation has it. I adore the original series and rewatch episodes often, but was a dull and agonizingly long 75 minutes, and not at all the finale these actors deserved. Spirit of Halloween? Humbug, I say!

The Sarah Jane Adventures 4.1-2 – The Nightmare Man (parts one and two)

And now back to the autumn of 2010 and series four of the huggable The Sarah Jane Adventures. This was the series where the team mostly drops to a trio. Tommy Knight left the show and this is Luke’s final appearance as a member of the regular cast, although he shows up in a few more stories to come.

This story feels like a really strange one to launch the new series. It feels like the season cheapie, with almost no additional speaking parts or locations. The Nightmare Man is a being from another dimension who feeds on dream energy. It doesn’t feel like anything that original’s going on here, but it’s done with style and is sufficiently creepy. Our son demurred, saying it’s “more Halloweeny than creepy,” and assuring us that he would not be horrified by the Nightmare Man’s bad dreams. He’s just say “So what? Bored,” and wake up. Then again, this kid has probably had fewer bad dreams in nine years than anybody else in the world. He probably doesn’t understand why people are bothered by them.

The most interesting part of the story is the Nightmare Man himself. He’s played by Julian Bleach, the most recent actor to play Davros in Doctor Who, and he seems to have borrowed his body language from the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I thought it was quite a fun performance.

The story ends with Luke driving off to Oxford to start university with K9 in tow. I wonder how he’s going to explain the tin dog to his dorm’s resident assistant.

Stargate SG-1 4.9 – Scorched Earth

Picking up where we left off with Stargate SG-1 earlier this month, this one is a very intelligent and very entertaining episode. The team gets caught between two peaceful but desperate races who are both at the brink of extinction and who have both claimed a planet to move their species. The more technologically advanced race begins terraforming the world, initially unaware that anybody else had moved there. Their species is sulfur-based; the two cannot coexist and neither has the capacity to move anywhere else. It’s a really neat puzzle with all sorts of new obstacles and there’s no apparent way to compromise. One can’t even breathe the same air the other does. The writers did a very, very good job looking at every possible solution before landing on an unexpected one. We all enjoyed this one a lot; it’s really well done.

(The same can’t be said of the next one, which is completely terrible and so we’ll skip it, but episode eleven is really clever and fun.)

Xena: Warrior Princess 3.4 – The Deliverer

It would be overstating things somewhat to call this great television, but it has several moments. I picked this one because it’s got both Ares and Julius Caesar in it – this is Karl Urban’s second turn as his other recurring character in the show – and then got a little discouraged because it turned into another story of Gabrielle about to get her heart broken by another cute boy, this one a follower of one of those new-fangled “one God” sorts, and ended up very impressed by the number of tricks it pulls. There are some downright delicious twists in this one, not the least of which is Gabrielle straight up killing somebody to defend the cute boy.

Ares pulls Xena aside for another one of his parlays, which is a bit selfish of him because Xena’s supposed to be working with Boadicea to march against every one of Caesar’s legions in Britain. Xena reads between the lines and figures Ares and the rest of the Olympians are really frightened of the new “one God,” because he’s going to do to them what they did to the Titans. Marie’s about tired of Ares and wishes this show would consign him to history as well. I’m afraid we’re nowhere near done with him yet.

But speaking of recurring characters, the really strange thing is that Boadicea doesn’t become one. The actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand looks totally like she’s being set up as a player in a multi-part arc, but Boadicea’s rout of Caesar’s forces takes place offscreen while Xena and Gabrielle have to deal with other matters. It’s weird storytelling, but I appreciate the show pulling the rug out from under me.

Doctor Who: Fury From the Deep (parts five and six)

As much as I’d like to claim that I’ve spent the last three evenings completely lost in the fun of escapism and remade lost sixties TV, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the future, because this release of “Fury” is attached to the real world in a specific way. I haven’t spoken much in the pages of this blog about the pandemic. We’re very, very fortunate to have good jobs and can work from home and are earning enough to pay off bills and set a little bit aside just in case the economy were to start taking a crash dive. Ordering DVDs from another country is a luxury.

I’m worried about what might start happening in the near future. Amazon UK’s international shipping prices went from “incredibly cheap” to “unbelievably exorbitant” overnight, and so I ended up ordering “Fury From the Deep” from Base.com. Within two weeks of my package arriving, Base sent a follow-up email to North American customers announcing that they are no longer shipping outside of Europe. It feels like a harbinger of bad times coming.

Sorry to have a downer of an entry. We did enjoy the story very much, and I’m so pleased with the great work by the animation team. I hope that they’re able to release another classic serial in 2021, and maybe they’ll release it to a happier world. Fingers crossed!