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?
The fifth episode of Eerie, Indiana was preempted by NBC at the last minute across most of the country. It was there in the newspapers that morning – you can check October 13, 1991 yourself at all sorts of sites – but I think that the football game ran late and it was skipped.
Conventional wisdom has it that the episode wasn’t screened for more than two years, when it showed up on a repeat run on the Disney Channel, which then led some well-meaning fans to call it the program’s nineteenth and final episode, which then led the good people at Fabulous Films, who put out the DVD, to stick it on the third disk instead of where it belonged. But conventional wisdom isn’t always accurate. There were video traders in 1992 who had copies of this episode. The big name blowhard trader that I mentioned back in this post? He had a copy. He claimed that it did air on one or two of the NBC affiliate stations, which is where the VHS copies that made the rounds came from.
Well, I’d never seen it before tonight, anyway. “The Broken Record,” written by the show’s co-creator José Rivera, was inspired by the Satanic panic of the eighties and the mad parental fear that heavy metal records had subliminal messages in them. As it turns out, the Pitbull Surfers – who are two weeks away from playing an allegedly history-making show in Indianapolis – do have a subliminal backwards message in their LP, but it’s not at all what the stressed-out dad in this adventure thinks it is. Tom Everett, who’s made a career of playing high-ranking government officials and military officers, plays the high-strung father in this episode, and I was struck by how unlike Mark Metcalf in the Twisted Sister videos he was.
Our son enjoyed some rather obnoxiously loud belly laughs over things that he found funnier than anybody else did, especially an accident on Main Street involving a stolen milk truck. He was also guffawing over bits that made me chuckle, without understanding what was actually funny about them. There’s a classic running gag about Simon being so out of tune with Eerie’s rock-loving teens that he’s singing Carpenters songs while they’re headbanging. You be yourself, Simon. Thurston Moore says the Carpenters are all right, and he’d know.
I have to say… as wonderful as it is to have this fun show on DVD, I’m less than thrilled by the quality of the prints they used. I remember the series being much more vibrant and colorful when it was shown, and the prints, at least the ones of episodes three and four, have been cut by about thirty seconds. They lack the “Elvis / Bigfoot / man’s best friend” spoken section of the title sequence*. Perhaps these were copies prepared for syndication? Hopefully if some company ever decides to reissue this on Blu-ray, they can find the original masters and work from those.
Anyway, our son cheered when we told him we were watching another episode tonight. He really enjoys the young protagonists, but he simply sums it up by saying “It’s just so weird!” Joe Dante was back to direct episode four, and he brought along a pair of fabulous character actors: Henry Gibson and Dick Miller. Astonishingly, we’ve been doing this blog almost daily for close to four years and I don’t think that we’ve run into Miller before.
Gibson and Miller play employees of a top-secret government project called the Bureau of the Lost. They’re out to keep the economy stimulated by making sure people keep having to buy replacements for the things they misplace. But the hapless citizens of Eerie aren’t actually misplacing anything; Miller’s just creeping around swiping socks, lug nuts, pen caps, random pages from the phone book, and so on. The Tellers get selected for a run of bad luck, and Marshall’s dad’s briefcase vanishes. Dad’s in a state because it contains the formula for a petroleum-based banana flavoring, and Mom’s furious because he’s forgotten that it was an anniversary present.
Marshall and Simon’s scheme to deliberately lose something and see what happens leads them to Eerie’s bike gang, a laundromat stocked with the old Warren Eerie comic, and to the goofy bureau itself, where the word “found” causes Gibson’s character to get antsy. It reminded me of one of the lands from The Phantom Tollbooth! Our young heroes don’t quite save the day, the economy keeps ticking, and now we’ve got a very good explanation for the next time our son loses an important brick from a Lego set. Everyone wins!
*I might have got ahead of myself… the title sequence wasn’t quite formalized this early in the show, and later episodes on the set have the full version.