As I planned and pencilled the schedule for this blog, I certainly didn’t intend to replace a program that our kid is mostly ambivalent about with one of his absolute favorites, but I did. I told him the other night that we were shelving Barbary Coast for a few weeks and resuming Eerie, Indiana and he’s been hopping around like Santa’s on the way. He appeared at the top of the stairs this morning and asked “Is it time for Eerie yet?” And good morning to you, too, son!
When Eerie was first shown in 1991-92, and when 22 episodes was the standard number for a season, networks would often start an order for a new program with 13, and then, if it was successful, order what was called “the back nine” to bring it to 22. This is the only show I’m aware of that had an order for a “back six.” The timeslot was terrible and the ratings were just about at the bottom of the Nielsens, but the show had its champions at the network and among TV critics, and it wasn’t like NBC had very many other programming options other than more news shows, so the show lucked out.
There are a couple of small, but neat cast changes in the last six. Perhaps most obviously, Jason Marsden joins the cast as a weird, gravel-voiced, amnesiac kid who acts as antagonist to Marshall and Simon. The character doesn’t know his own name, but he has a minus sign tattooed on the back of one hand and a plus sign on the other, which will lead to him getting a name of sorts. But I like the other change even better. Our young heroes get to see the character they thought was Mr. Radford getting dragged out of the World o’Stuff by the cops. It turns out Archie Hahn had actually been playing the role of a “compulsive imposter” named Suggs who had the real Radford tied up in the basement. And the real Radford is played by the mighty John Astin, and he’ll take a little larger role in the show for the last few segments.
“The Hole in the Head Gang” was written by the series’ co-creator Karl Schaefer, and it guest stars Claude Akins as the ghost of an incompetent gunslinger who haunts his old gun. It’s got the return of Forever Ware, a nun with a million dollars, a new job for Suggs, and a reference to Shrimpenstein. It’s completely delightful and our son was as happy as a kid can be to back in his favorite weird town.
NBC originally ordered thirteen episodes of Eerie, Indiana. If they hadn’t extended the show with a late order for six more, then the series would have ended with this magnificently silly installment. Most right-thinking people agree that Eerie‘s eventual final episode would be as triumphant as a final episode can be, but had it ended here, I’d still argue in its favor. “Tornado Days” is incredibly fun and weird.
The story’s built around a local superstition that a tornado that tends to spring up every year like clockwork is in fact the same tornado. Its name is Old Bob. Further, local lore has it that Old Bob won’t actually strike Eerie if everybody attends the annual Tornado Day Picnic. But Marshall decides to buck the trend because he thinks it’s stupid. And because he’s been afraid of tornadoes since he saw The Wizard of Oz as a child.
But the superstition is true. Old Bob is alive, and Old Bob really gets pissed off by Marshall skipping out on his picnic. So when Matt Frewer, playing one of those roles that Matt Frewer was born to play, gets dumped into Eerie with a recording of Old Bob’s winds translated into speech, everybody’s in for a big surprise.
Everybody else in town gets ushered into the World o’ Stuff as the storm looms. This is the final appearance of Archie Hahn as Mr. Radford, and he gets a last gag with Sgt. Knight, wondering whether they might appease Old Bob by sacrificing Syndi! Fortunately, it doesn’t come to that.
Much to our son’s displeasure, we’re going to pause there for a few weeks to keep things fresh, but we’ll be back in Eerie, Indiana in April for the last six episodes. Stay tuned!
There’s a delightful in-joke in this episode. A con artist calling himself Professor Zircon brings his traveling Museum of the Parabelievable to Eerie and boasts that among his other accomplishments, he has regularly appeared on The Tonight Show. It’s true that Johnny Carson did have a number of… well, let’s just call them flim-flam men on his program, Uri Geller possibly being the highest profile one. And Carson would give them enough rope to hang themselves. More often, Carson would invite James Randi on his show to debunk the claims of so-called psychics and magicians. Professor Zircon wouldn’t last five minutes against the Amazing Randi.
Naturally, Zircon has a con in mind for Eerie, a scheme involving some space junk crashing in the woods outside town. But the “professor” hadn’t reckoned on Eerie being a little more weird than he had in mind!
Back to the normal routine and rotation here at our blog… well, as “normal” as it ever gets in Eerie, Indiana. One of the many great things about this show is that the producers decided early on that their show wasn’t weird enough, and so it ramps up the strangeness and the humor almost every week. It’s one of those very rare series that gets better as it goes on.
In “Who’s Who,” Marshall and Simon meet an exasperated young artist called Sara Bob and her three godawful younger brothers, Lou Bob, Moe Bob, and Bob Bob. Sara Bob is very lonely and is expected to do all the work in her horrible house, but she dreams of a perfect family and wonders what the mother that she never met might be like. Then she gets a special Eerie No. 2 pencil from the World o’ Stuff and every sketch that she signs alters reality and comes true. She does Marshall’s chore of having to paint his garage for him in exchange for a heavy price. She wants a mom and is envious of Marshall’s.
It’s curious that we should watch this the night after a Twilight Zone with a similar plot about reality being altered around the characters. Our son adored last night’s Zone and he also thought this was terrific. They pulled off a couple of neat visual effects for a low-budget show, but it’s all carried by the hilarious dialogue and acting. There’s one moment where Dad Bob starts bellowing about one of the boy Bobs running around naked thanks to Sara Bob’s art and my son and I about passed out from laughing.
Another note about the recurring cast: we’d seen Harry Goaz once before, in “The ATM With the Heart of Gold”, but he’s back as Sgt. Knight in this episode, and he’s in three more after this one. Goaz is best known as Deputy Brennan in Twin Peaks.
I realize there’s not a lot of room in a twenty-five minute episode to tell a full story and catch every possible subplot, but this episode begins with Marshall and Simon on the run from Syndi, who vows revenge after they’ve played a practical joke on her, and there’s no payoff! Where’s the fun in that?
Anyway, “Just Say No Fun” features the rules-obsessed Nurse Nancy, a villain in horn-rimmed glasses played by Lucy Lee Flippin. The only defense against her conformity-hypnotizing machine is a pair of Groucho glasses, and fortunately Mr. Radford at the World o’ Stuff happens to have a pair allegedly molded from the nose of the master himself, which is a little unlikely!
Our son is loving this show, and tells us that every episode is better than the previous one. He particularly loved this installment, in which an ATM with an interface that’s somewhere between Max Headroom and Steve Urkel gives all the money from every account in the Eerie Savings & Loan as a gift to his “friend,” Simon, which causes instant bankruptcy for everybody in town. The episode actually makes a passing reference to the then-ongoing Savings and Loan Crisis, but Eerie’s so weird that not even the FDIC will insure the bank’s depositors.
This episode is the first one to visit Eerie’s general store and soda fountain, the World o’ Stuff, and introduces a recurring character, the shop’s proprietor Mr. Radford, played by Archie Hahn. Or at least we think he’s Mr. Radford. He might be in the witness protection program… or he might be something even stranger.