Night Gallery 1.6 – They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar / The Last Laurel

For years and years, I’ve heard people say that “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” is one of Rod Serling’s greatest moments. I’ve looked forward to it for ages. On the visual level, it doesn’t disappoint at all. There’s a lot going on here, from Bert Convy’s brighter-than-the-old-guy clothes, to the older beat cop going flatfoot while younger officers get a car, to a downright amazing shot right at the end when William Windom, playing a 48 year-old has-been, stumbles through the gray dust of the construction site and the first two people we see in long shot are two women in mini-skirts, followed by a guy in a fire-engine red 1969 Mustang.

Otherwise, this episode annoyed me so much I wanted to tear down Tim Riley’s bar with this sad sack still in it. Windom is yet another soppy-mouthed Serling soliloquizer moaning on about the good old days. If his lachrymose wishes – Serling’s word, of course – to stop one more time at Willoughby weren’t bad enough, poor Diane Baker, who is far better than this script, gets the thankless role of the besotted woman from “Young Man’s Fancy” who has somehow fallen in love with her boss and spent years pining for him, when her boss is a pathetic alcoholic who lives in the past.

There’s nothing, nothing in this story that didn’t leave me furious with this character. Me, I’m 48, the same age as him, and I know a thing or two about nostalgia. My favorite place to be on a Saturday afternoon is a 102 year-old restaurant that’s still in family hands. I know so much about a chain of seafood restaurants that failed forty-five years ago that when I go to libraries to learn more, the staff brings me articles I already published. Heartaches and losses? Ask me about my older son sometime. I’ve hit what I thought was rock bottom five or six times and I got up. I was downsized from the best job in the entire world, spent years singularly failing to find a full-time non-profit position in this one-horse town before deciding to go make some damn money again instead, and exactly three of our friends in Atlanta or Nashville have bothered to come visit us since we landed here. You don’t see me taking three-hour three-martini lunches while moaning about nickel beers and Glenn Miller.

Yeah, life sucks sometimes and it hurts like daggers when it doesn’t, but if you can’t find one single tick in your win column in the eighteen years since your wife died, then you’re not going to convince me that your beautiful secretary has fallen in love with you, which is why I can’t believe this stupid story. Windom’s character is breathtakingly unsympathetic, the wish fulfillment in this story is obnoxious, and the ending is so phony that it screams of network intervention. Amazingly, it apparently wasn’t some dumb NBC directive, but it’s so absurd that even the incredibly talented director couldn’t make it feel like it flowed naturally from the story.

Dispirited and depressed, I perked up because the next story started and it said that it starred Jack Cassidy. I said that thank God Jack Cassidy is here because he’ll put a stop to all this. He’s always drunk and violent. And if you caught that reference, you’ll know the look on my face when I ejected this DVD. Okay, so nobody was singing “Paint Your Wagon,” but I wasn’t expecting astral projection either. Tomorrow will be better.

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