Monthly Archives: January 2018

Catweazle 2.4 – The Sign of the Crab

Me and my weird coincidence-creatin’ mouth. In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the Avengers parody of The Maltese Falcon, which I anticipate we’ll see a little later this year. And in tonight’s episode of Catweazle, there’s a guest appearance by Ronald Lacey, who played the Peter Lorre role in that very parody.

While not anywhere as madcap and ridiculous as the previous episode, this is still pretty funny. Lacey plays a burglar who uses a tramp disguise, Tearful Ted, to case potential homes for robbery. There’s mistaken identities and a late night chase with three policemen, lots of police whistles, Moray Watson running around with a knobkierie to boff somebody on the head, and Elspet Gray wishing all these silly men would go home so she can go back to bed. Our son had some big laughs over the slapstick.

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MacGyver 1.3 – Thief of Budapest

So I picked this episode because Terry Nation wrote part of it, and because both Michael Constantine and Sid Haig – yes, two Electra Woman villains – are in it. I did not realize that The Italian Job is also in it.

This is all kinds of shameless. As soon as I saw the red, white, and blue Minis that MacGyver and his Hungarian chums would be using for their getaway, I said “Oh, cute, The Italian Job,” expecting a winking little in-joke. I wasn’t expecting a good five minutes of footage culled from the movie! The entire climax is old footage and the actors in the studio in front of rear screen projection. And as for the footage, if southern California didn’t look anything like Hungary already, 1969 Turin doesn’t look a blessed thing like 1985 Budapest either.

Still, our favorite six year-old critic has not yet seen The Italian Job, and he thought this was one of the most fun car chases ever. “Oh my goodness, they’re on top of a building!” he shouted at one point. He concluded by letting us know that this was so insane that they need to invent a new word to tell you how insane this is.

Did they do this on MacGyver regularly? I’d kind of prefer for our son to see the original feature ahead of either a case where an old movie gets cannibalized or a parody, which is why I intend to show him The Maltese Falcon a couple of weeks before we watch that Terry Nation-written episode of The Avengers that spoofed it. I guess I should confirm with my wife that there aren’t any episodes where MacGyver goes looking for a Big W, huh?

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Children of the Stones 1.7 – Full Circle

Regular readers may recall that last spring, I raved about a terrific book called Scarred for Life, which looks at the frightening and odd pop culture of the 1970s. The book hasn’t found a permanent home on any of our shelves because I’m still dipping in and out of the wonderful thing, and reading chapters I had set aside for rainy days. Since Acorn’s DVD of Children of the Stones has been sitting here waiting for my son to get old enough to watch it since we started this blog, I skipped that essay, coming back to it tonight after episode seven blew my mind.

The funny thing about hyperbole – and I say this as somebody prone to going way overboard myself, and often – is that if you read something that gets a breathless recommendation with any kind of skepticism in your eye, you’re bound to question it. I’d have questioned the love that the writers give to Stones if I hadn’t seen it, because they really shovel on the praise. But it’s earned! This is great television. It never talks down to the audience and it never gives simple answers to this very, very complicated problem.

Also, I love how the heroes apply real-world science in a sensible way, even when confronted with a problem whose background is one of ley line mumbo-jumbo. I like to see heroes who can disassemble a situation and look for the right way out of Hendrick’s trap. Adam and Matthew have been great characters to watch and cheer for.

And I love how they can’t win. The painting gives the clue of two people escaping from the circle, but first there’s the downright horrifying fate of the villagers, also foretold in the painting. Then there’s a twist which they learn the following morning. What happens at night is jawdropping. What happens in the morning is tragic.

I enjoyed the devil out of this. I shouldn’t have waited twenty-eight years to see the blasted thing since reading about it. We’ve got another of these spooky seventies British kids’ serials on the agenda to watch late next month – not, sadly, another Third Eye presentation – and if it’s a tenth as good as Children of the Stones, I’ll be pleased.

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Children of the Stones 1.6 – Squaring the Circle

Our son says that he’s enjoying this story, and I’ve no reason to doubt him. He’s not shy about telling us when he doesn’t! During our recent three days off due to what was allegedly snow somewhere up a nearby mountain, I put on The Shape of Things to Come for a second spin, and he was pretty emphatic he never wants to see it again. Me neither, in fact.

But he is oddly incurious. During parts five and six, we finally see Iain Cuthbertson acting more like a traditional villain, some actual person that our heroes oppose instead of a chain of supernatural events. We still don’t know the specifics, but he’s the baddie, and so we can pose more direct questions: do you think Matthew and Adam will stop him? Can they rescue Sandra? He’s not all that concerned. This is a story in which to get swept up and carried away, and we’ll see how it ends next time.

One thing he did note was “Hey, I saw a funny green and black flash there.” As some of these screencaps suggest, the presentation on Acorn Media’s Region 1 DVD hasn’t really been reconstructed or restored. I’m not sure that HTV had the greatest technical facilities when this was first made in the fall of 1976. The master tapes definitely show their age. They don’t look as bad as many of the 1970s Sid and Marty Krofft videotape programs look, but it’s kind of a humbling thought just how close we’re getting to losing a lot of the television from this period entirely. Most American drama from the 1970s was made on 35mm film, and the more successful and demanded shows have been restored already. But the lousy quality of this, and the Krofft series, makes me wonder about the videotape comedy shows that didn’t succeed and were quickly canceled. Has anybody in any archive anywhere checked on The Waverly Wonders or On the Rocks or Hot l Baltimore lately to see whether the tapes even play?

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Children of the Stones 1.5 – Charmed Circle

Hey, John Woodnutt shows up in this one! He plays Iain Cuthbertson’s character’s butler.

There’s a television trope that I have always hated, where the hero goes to fetch authorities after the discovery of a body, and when they get back, the body has vanished. It aggravated me particularly this time, because Adam goes to get help… and the other characters who could have stayed behind, where Dai’s body was, went back to the museum. About which, I was incorrect last time. Dai wasn’t crushed; Adam believes that he had a heart attack.

But there’s still something going on with time. That clay amulet that Dai had been using, and which had shattered, has only three shards remaining. The other three shards were unearthed years before, along with the skeleton of the man who had been crushed and killed centuries ago.

And we finally have a better understanding of what’s turning all of the villagers into the “happy day” zombies. Everyone who dines with Hendrick, as Margaret and Sandra do this time, get to experience a white light from space coming into his house at a precise second… this is so creepy and so entertaining, and whatever Hendrick is up to, I love the way that Iain Cuthbertson plays him so formally and makes him seem so ordinary. He’s a great villain.

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Catweazle 2.3 – The Heavenly Twins

Conventional wisdom suggests that the second series of Catweazle doesn’t click quite as well as the first, but as much as I enjoyed that first series, tonight’s episode has been the funniest episode of the show so far. We all laughed like hyenas tonight as Catweazle crosses paths with a stage magician played by Paul Eddington. Eddington thinks he’s in the trade like him, and invites him to work as his assistant at Cedric’s birthday party. Chaos ensues, and it’s wonderful.

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MacGyver 1.1 (pilot)

In good improv, you never say “No.” You say “Yes, and.” And so, some years back, I told my wife Marie my idea about this blog. She said “Wonderful, we can show him MacGyver,” and I said “Yes, and… we’ll certainly do that.”

This is a program I know nothing positive about, beyond the admission that when she was a teenager, my wife watched it on ABC because she thought Richard Dean Anderson was dreamy. For the sake of balance, I freely admit that I remember that this was on ABC because at about the same time that my teenage wife-to-be was watching Richard Dean Anderson on Jacksonville FL’s ABC station, teenage me was in Atlanta watching Alyssa Milano on Who’s the Boss? and Khrystyne Haje on Head of the Class and frequently seeing commercials for MacGyver. And now that we’re up to speed on the objects of lust for teen viewers in the mid-eighties, let’s move on.

So MacGyver debuted in 1985. It was created by Lee David Zlotoff, who was then best known as a writer and producer on NBC’s private eye show Remington Steele, but he doesn’t seem to have worked much on it after putting it together, with Henry Winkler and John Rich apparently in charge after that. Other notable writers and producers include Stephen Kandel, who wrote for just about everything, John Sheppard, who contributed to more than sixty episodes, and, surprisingly, Terry Nation, who had semi-retired to California after contributing to practically every single British adventure series of the sixties and early seventies. Nation is only credited on three episodes, it seems, but apparently he touched on most of the first season’s scripts while working in the program’s writers room.

MacGyver got a reputation really early on for being a show where the hero rewires complex security systems with a piece of string, a coffee maker, and an aerosol spray can. Since I’ve seen exactly one episode of this show, from its second season, I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, but I admit that I am going into this a little bit skeptical. I picked a few episodes with promising guest stars – Winkler and Rich didn’t seem to hire many of my favorites – and Marie added a few more to make an even ten episodes from each of its first four seasons. MacGyver ran for seven years, but I’m not committing to that many; we’ve got a lot of programs to watch before this kid gets too old and jaded.

Well, there is one unexpected actor who shows up in the first episode. I didn’t look at the pilot’s cast list on IMDB since we were going to start with episode one, so seeing the veteran character actor Olaf Pooley was a pleasant surprise. There are a few cast shuffles after this pilot, which features Michael Lerner as Mac’s boss and Dana Elcar, who would take the boss role later, as a completely different character. MacGyver lives in the Griffith Park Observatory – seriously, it is his house – and is a mentor to a “Little Brother” named Reggie, who’s also dropped after the pilot. But some things they got right from the start: Darlanne Fluegel plays the first of a hundred guest star women who don’t follow Mac’s instructions and get into trouble.

They spent a crapload of money on this pilot. The sets – mainly an underground research base that’s been blasted by plastique charges and leaking both sulfuric acid and some kind of gas – are amazingly detailed, full of rubble and running water. There isn’t a helicopter chase as I suggested last time, but there are two different choppers. Our son, who was kind of annoyingly overcharged with energy tonight, was hopping around way too much and has picked up a tedious catchphrase: “Now that’s what I call a helicopter!” “Now that’s what I call a missile!” “Now that’s what I call a secret entrance to the elevator shaft that’s full of lasers!” and so on. We finally had to tell the kid to clam it.

He liked it more than I did, though to be fair, the only honest objection I had was to the godawful incidental music, which is to be expected, because almost everything on television in the eighties had terrible incidental music. Certainly MacGyver improvises some ridiculous get-out-of-this gadgets with binoculars, allergy capsules, and chocolate – I’m actually not kidding this time, though they are three separate gadgets – but if we can overlook the Mythbusters team’s objections, some of these gimmicks are pretty amusing. We’ll look at another in a few days.

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Children of the Stones 1.4 – Narrowing Circle

Well, I am just incredibly pleased with this story. It’s magnificently creepy and cerebral, and, sadly, a little above our son’s head. Because we don’t know what is destroying the identities of the villagers, because we can’t say “It’s Azal, last of the Dæmons, turning everybody into ‘Happy Day’ zombies,” I think that he’s not sure that there’s a threat, just a series of weird occurrences. He says that this is weird, and then realization that this really is menacing comes after we go over the episode with him.

The midpoint of the story, for the original commercial break, is downright chilling, with Freddie Jones’ tramp character, Dai, huddled before a fire, clutching his clay amulet, terrified of something. And this leads into the revelation that there’s apparently a time travel component to the story as well. Centuries ago, one of the stones fell over and crushed a man, who was buried underneath it for the many, many years it took to unearth his skeleton. It’s now part of the village museum. Dai realizes, before any of the others do, that Kevin Lyle and his father – the 50th and 51st residents of the village – have been taken over. His amulet cracks and he flees.

The kids catch sight of Dai on a hill, but when they get to the top, they see only another giant stone on the plain below them. Sandra’s mother assures them there can’t be a stone there, and when they all go to look again, there’s only Dai’s crushed and dead body. Did a stone travel through time to repeat the events of centuries before?

I’ll tell you what’s got me worried: Sandra and her mother make 53 inhabitants, and there are 53 stones. Adam and Matthew make 55… and that strange painting shows only two people making it out of whatever’s happening. This doesn’t look like it’s going to end well.

We will leave it there for a couple of days and give our son a little break to watch something that may be more exciting, possibly with a helicopter chase or something. You might be surprised what’s coming up tomorrow night.

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