I thought that this episode might prove to be memorable, because the DVD comes with two separate audio commentaries. I was right. I had an initial giggle when one of ITC’s resident American-born actors, David Bauer, got called upon to play a psychiatrist with a German accent. Gerald Flood, who also did three or four of these shows, also has a small role in this one.
Then I stopped giggling and we all started roaring. Jeff gets hypnotized, in the TV way of hypnotizing that isn’t terribly realistic, and the only way that Marty can communicate with him is by speaking in Bauer’s accent. Making matters sillier, Jeff can’t do anything whatsoever without express direction from Marty. He can, however, win fights pretty handily, because he’s been conditioned to do whatever the German-accented voice tells him to.
“A Disturbing Case” is hilarious. Mike Pratt co-wrote the goofball adventure with Ian Wilson, and I thought for a moment or two that he was giving himself a break, because Jeff spends several minutes of screen time laid up in a private nursing home while Marty does all the actual work. When things pick up, we were all incredibly amused. Marie felt compelled to tell our son that hypnotism really, really doesn’t work this way – and she also wondered just how many psychiatrists were running around hypnotizing patients in the London of this world – and I’m pretty sure that he knows that, but I’m also pretty sure that he might soon be seen jauntily hopping down a hallway with a silly “hypnotized” grin on his face like Jeff.
Now it’s back to 1982, and never mind the low budget, in the eyes of a kid, Into the Labyrinth is “a crazy show where anything can happen.” This time out, people get turned into dogs, shrunk, and zapped in the rear with magical bolts. There are swordfights and Victorian-age floozies and all the usual mayhem. Bob Baker wrote the first episode and Robert Holmes wrote the second. This time, the music is full of womp-womps and cues that say “comedy.” Honestly, they should have gone the whole hog. I started pretending there was a laugh track and enjoyed it more.
The plot this time is that one of the kids – HTV wisely figured there was really no need to pay for three leads when one would do – gets pulled into a parallel time track called Delta Time which runs through our world’s fiction. There, he meets a fast-talking time traveller and small fry magic user called Lazlo, and he’s got another macguffin that the evil witch Belor covets. So in episode one, they battle with Long John Silver and in episode two, Lazlo becomes Dr. Jekyll and Belor takes over his alter ego’s gang as “Fanny Hyde.”
I was surprised by that turn of events, actually. Lazlo is played by an actor named Chris Harris, who was very well known for his stage work in the UK, both highfalutin’ and pantomime. The second sentence of his Wikipedia entry says that he was a pantomime dame, so when I saw the title of the second installment, I expected him to don drag as Mrs. Hyde. So while our kid enjoyed the two episodes enormously, and was both thrilled and amused, the only surprise that they had for me was that they didn’t stick Harris in a dress.
A couple of things to note about tonight’s Christmas episode. First, there’s a tip of the hat to the immortal Twilight Zone story “The Night of the Meek”. This story introduces us, briefly, to an alcoholic department store Santa who is barely able to sit up straight. I think that was cute. I also think that “The Night of the Meek” is about sixty million times more entertaining than this thing, but that’s neither here nor there.
Also, in this show’s first season, actor George O’Hanlon Jr. had played Ned Nickerson, who was a dreamboat all-American football type in the original books and a nervous assistant to Carson Drew in season one. While they had recast Nancy’s best friend George with another actress, they did a complete retool of Ned, and introduced him in this story as a brand new character played by heartthrob-to-be Rick Springfield. This Ned works for the Boston DA and is an obnoxious creep with downright hideous taste in clothes.
Finally, our son is now singing “Deck the Halls.” Hot freaking dog.
Our son managed to lock the guest bedroom door, as kids are known to do. He showed his mother a safety pin. “I tried opening the door with this, but it’s much harder than it looks on television.” I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.
Anyway, Tony Williamson’s “The House on Haunted Hill” doesn’t break the mold too much. It’s a pretty funny story that explains that even though he’s a ghost, he’s still afraid of haunted houses. Other ghosts might not be as agreeable as him. There could be something out of Macbeth creeping around in an old property that Jeff’s been commissioned to investigate. Naturally, the law of television conservation means that this case has something major to do with another case, where Garfield Morgan is playing an uptight corporation dude. Peter Jones is also in it, briefly, and while there actually isn’t anything out of Macbeth in the old house, there is a goon dressed like a Scooby-Doo villain, just in case anybody gets too nosy.
Tom Chehak’s “Steel Horses” is one of my favorite episodes of the show, and I was glad that our son enjoyed it as much as he did. Some prototype motorcycles get pinched in order to be used in a robbery, and our slightly skeptical heroes are hot on the trail. Professor Wickwire offers some remarkable improvements to one of the prototypes, including mounting a sidecar for Lord Bowler, who isn’t happy about any of this. Neither is Brisco’s grouchier-than-ever horse Comet, who takes to this latest example of “the coming thing” with hilarious jealousy.
That’s all for Brisco County, Jr. for now. It’s going back to the shelf for a little while to keep things fresh, but we’ll be back in the nineteenth century in October, so stay tuned!
Literally the very first lines of this episode are Larry Storch, playing a fading nightclub comedian, delivering some awful old fortune cookie jokes in a me-so-solly accent. I was immediately reminded of that Simpsons where Krusty the Klown dusts off his old comedy club act for the first time in thirty years and everybody cringes. You have to forgive the past for being the past, and goofball voices and celebrity impersonations were Storch’s stock in trade. Reminding us just how huge Columbo was in the cultural landscape, Storch actually shows off the second Peter Falk impression in this program’s season, although time and editing robbed us of the second half of the act. Columbo was meant to be arresting a murderer played by Paul Lynde, but we didn’t get to see Storch do his Lynde voice.
Anyway, so last time, Nancy Drew was in LA-pretending-to-be-Vegas, and this time it’s Frank and Joe’s turn. The stakes are a little higher – Storch and his accomplices are setting off bombs in Vegas and extorting casinos to play off his debts – and there’s a bit more intrigue and action, so our son enjoyed this one much more.
My favorite part of the experience was something I noticed in the Nancy Drew story. The casinos are always paging guests. It’s part of the overall sound mix along with elevator music and the quiet ka-chings of slot machines, a constant voice saying “telephone for Mister Johnson… telephone for Mister Johnson…” I don’t think that casinos allow phones, and I’ve never been in one, so it may still be like that, but it certainly sounds strange to modern ears.
I enjoy watching old TV for lots of reasons, but one of them is learning little conventions about life in the past or in other countries. It might not be all that important, but look at how this police lineup is staged, compared to the indoors / behind windows lineups that you see in modern crime and detective TV. Even more remarkable, the uniformed policeman in charge of the lineup actually calls his two witnesses by name to step outside and make their identification.
As it happens, this particular criminal’s gang already knows who the two witnesses are – they’ve sent a pair of thugs played by Dudley Sutton and Norman Eshley around to rough up Jeff, in case you spotted his black eye in the photo above – but man, is this ever a good bit of evidence why this procedure has evolved over the years. Police lineups have to keep the witnesses anonymous.
Donald James’s story is strangely down-to-earth for this show. There aren’t any treasure hunts or larger-than-life baddies or vengeful relatives bent on inheriting everything, and certainly no robots like last time. It’s about two warring protection rackets and the jargon and understated threats required me to pause the episode and explain to our son what the characters in the opening scene were talking about. I figured out where the gang had stashed one of the witnesses and enjoyed challenging our son to solve the puzzle. “Do YOU know where she is?” I asked. That got him thinking, and he was initially disappointed when he turned out to be wrong, and pleasantly surprised by the neat revelation once Jeff and Marty stumble upon the answer.
It’s a good enough story for a detective show, but the best episodes of Randall and Hopkirk have a few funny scenes. Because the last one was so absurd, they were probably due for something more mundane, and I guess it’s hard to fit some screwball comedy in something this ground-level.
It used to be that networks would order thirteen hours of a new drama, see how it performed, and then decide whether to order enough to finish the season. With that in mind – and counting episode one as two hours – this was probably the original end point of Brisco County, Jr., with a conclusion to John Bly and the Orb story. It’s not a particularly strong conclusion, as it leaves lots of questions unanswered, but it would have done had this been the end. Happily, Fox liked what they saw even though the ratings were not very good, and asked for more than this. So there’s a tacked-on epilogue that John Bly escaped, and more adventures the following week.
Interestingly, after the initial thirteen, a “back nine” was the style in those days, because 22 hours was the standard for a season of TV drama. Brisco got one of the largest seasons of a network show in the nineties, with Fox ordering fifteen additional hours, 28 in all. It was like the sixties again.
Joining our heroes for this roundup, it’s the surprise casting of pop star Sheena Easton as a bounty hunter named Crystal Hawks. Despite what Carlton Cuse and John McNamara’s script tells us, it really doesn’t look like Easton had ever thrown a punch in her life before making this, because man alive, does she ever telegraph her next moves. A few other colorful bounty hunters make tiny appearances in this episode, which kind of feels like a missed opportunity in that regard. On the other hand, there’s a terrific chase through a city street with piles of extras and horses, and Billy Drago’s so downright amazing that at one point he briefly ends up with some pink longjohns in his face and he still doesn’t lose his dignity.
Nancy Drew finally gets a solo outing this season… and it’s dreadful. Marie hated it because Nancy comes up with one dumb lie after another to explain why she’s secretly tailing a tennis player she went to high school with. And she has a point: this story did not need the complication and potential embarrassment. It could have been an interesting case with three believable suspects without it. If Nancy and two other characters just quietly talked about the problem before the show pretended to go to Las Vegas, it would have been a stronger story.
The episode tries to wring some humor from other characters acting on Nancy’s lies, leading her to lie further to maintain her cover. But it isn’t funny. Marie absolutely hates this kind of comedy; I’d never ask her to watch that Fawlty Towers where Basil tries to fib his way around a surprise anniversary party for his wife because I know it would be torture for her. Our son picked up on her distaste and turned on the show with alacrity, choosing to hide behind the sofa when there wasn’t anything frightening, but Mom didn’t like it and so why should he?
For trivia’s sake, this was the first episode to feature Susan Buckner as the second George, and the guest stars include Maureen McCormick, Jack Colvin, and Roger C. Carmel, who is by miles the best thing about the episode.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned – many, many, many times – that our son is that age where the sight of anybody smooching drives him batty. Tonight’s episode really had him sympathizing with Marty. Donald James’ “Just For the Record” features Marty stumbling upon the silliest and least plausible robbery ever, involving a pair of spectacles with a hidden blade, a beauty contestant being photographed by paparazzi, a robot, and a highfalutin’ claim by some fellow in a Rolls to be the rightful king of England. It is the most ridiculous thing ever, and blasted Jeff has to have a gorgeous girl in his apartment now of all times.
Marty. Chill. This can wait a minute.
Anyway, this episode does feel a lot like they’re running out of money – you can always tell when the villains mock up a fake test room that is somehow precisely like the real room they’re going to rob – but we all laughed a lot, especially when Marty is dumbstruck by the unlikely sight of the robot reaching across the room. But there was one great use of savings toward the end of the story. I’d enjoyed hearing the tale, in the documentary about The Champions on its DVD, of how producer Monty Berman had arrived at the Elstree Studios where ITC worked just as the fire department had been called to battle a burning warehouse across the street. Berman grabbed a camera and filmed the blaze, and used the footage in the episode “Happening.” As soon as the bad guys in this story start a fire in a warehouse, I knew exactly what was coming next. I wonder whether any warehouses get set on fire in Department S… ?