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!
So the other day, we watched a Twilight Zone segment about people displaced in time, and here’s the Eerie, Indiana equivalent. The state of Indiana, sensibly, didn’t observe Daylight Savings Time in the early nineties. They finally stopped fighting the good fight in 2006, sadly. Anyway, Marshall, demanding his extra hour, sets his watch to what he considers proper New Jersey time anyway in protest, and wakes up almost totally alone. The only people in Eerie are some strange, violent removal men, a 105 year-old milkman driving one of those accident-causing Eerie Dairy trucks, and a 13 year-old girl who ran away from home a year ago.
“The Lost Hour” is absolutely excellent, and it introduces a wonderful concept or three that make the show’s early cancellation even more regrettable. It’s the first episode of the show written by Vance DeGeneres, better known as the guitarist in Cowboy Mouth, and better known still as Ellen DeGeneres’s older brother. The girl who is also trapped in the other time zone is played by Nikki Cox, who later starred in a couple of long-running sitcoms on the WB and a show called Las Vegas that suggests I wasn’t paying a lick of attention to American TV in the early 2000s, because I had no idea that James Caan starred in a prime time drama for four years on NBC.
Anyway, our son completely loved it, although the main point of comment was a strange visual effect when Marshall is running up his staircase as the lost hour is almost up and the roof of his home has vanished, leaving a music-video-looking weird sky. He couldn’t quite explain what about the shot seemed unreal to him, so he could only say “they did that in a studio because those aren’t real clouds.” But honestly, for a show with a small budget for special effects, the integrated animation of Marshall calling Simon from the missing child panel on the side of a milk carton is really excellent!
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.
In the previous episode, we learned that one of Marshall’s friends met a grisly accident when he was run down by a milk truck. And this evening, we learned that wasn’t the first time such a fate befell a young man in Eerie. In 1929, a kid named Tripp was on his way to deliver a love letter to a girl named Mary when he stepped in front of a milk truck. The letter was tucked into a library book which was never again checked out.
Sixty-two years later, the library sent a couple of shelves of books to the World o’ Stuff to raise some money. Marshall runs across the letter and opens it, releasing Tripp’s ghost. Tripp is played by Tobey Maguire. It’s an early role for the future Spider-Man actor, but he doesn’t get to shine as a fish out of water. The script, sadly, doesn’t address the situation of a ghost suddenly in the world of his future, or maybe I’m just thinking about that because we’ve finished watching Adam Adamant Lives! and miss it already.
Okay, sure, I could have actually illustrated this post with a photo from the actual plot of the story. “Heart on a Chain” is an old urban legend retold with an Eerie twist. Marshall and a buddy, Devon, both fall for the new girl in town. Her name’s Melanie, and she needs a heart transplant, and in a grisly turn of events, it’s Devon’s heart that she gets after he’s killed showing off on his skateboard.
The little love triangle is sweet and funny while it lasts, and Marshall’s family has too much fun at his expense when they realise he’s got a crush on somebody. That burnin’ love gets so hard to bear that when Marshall bumps into that guy from his paper route who looks like Elvis, sitting at the World o’ Stuff’s counter eating his weight in peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, he asks him for advice. The guy who looks like Elvis suggests that Marshall buy her a Cadillac…
“Heart on a Chain” was written by the show’s co-creator José Rivera and was the fourth story to be directed by Joe Dante, who had a ball with some quiet blink-and-you’ll-miss-them gags. There’s a tip of the hat to the original 1958 version of The Fly at one point, and a delightful little silhouette in the background of the local cemetery, which, to be fair, really does undercut the drama of the scene a little bit. But the most impressive thing about everybody’s work on this episode is that they sold the doomed romance so well that our son, probably for the first time ever, didn’t grimace and groan when anybody on screen smooches.
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!
In tonight’s brilliantly funny episode, Simon’s little brother manages to zap himself into a cheesy 1940s mummy movie, while simultaneously zapping the mummy into the real world. At least that’s what everybody initially thinks in Karl Schaefer’s delightful script. The mummy isn’t a mummy, it’s a long-suffering and long-dead actor, played by Tony Jay, who somehow found his afterlife consisting of an endless repeat of the same dopey film.
Our son completely loved it and howled with laughter at the midpoint revelations of what the heck is going on. Afterward, he told us how he’d love to zap himself into the original Godzilla. We asked why in the world he’d want to go someplace so remarkably unsafe. To ride Godzilla, of course. Why didn’t we think of that?