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The Twilight Zone 5.7 – The Old Man in the Cave

Speaking of MacGyver, here’s the actor who played his grandfather, John Anderson, along with James Coburn and John Marley, in a 1963 Twilight Zone written by Rod Serling from a story by Henry Slesar. It’s an agreeably bleak look at the grim, post-apocalyptic future of 1974, but the twist is so remarkably dated that this is the sort of story that can only have been told in old books and television. It’s fair to say that I didn’t see it coming; it’s difficult to remember how frightened people used to be of ordinary technology that Anderson’s character would want to keep it locked away from the rubes. Our son was absolutely baffled, and left only with a dislike of Coburn’s very “mean” character.

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The Twilight Zone 4.14 – Of Late I Think of Cliffordville

Strange little coincidences with this morning’s episode of The Twilight Zone, which Rod Serling scripted from a short story called Blind Alley by Malcolm Jameson. As regular readers may recall, I picked most of the new-to-me episodes for our viewing based on whether I knew the actors, and I always enjoy seeing the people who would later play villains on Batman in these roles. So the other day, we watched an episode with Burgess Meredith as the devil, and this morning, we watched Julie Newmar as the devil. I genuinely didn’t know when I picked these what the plots of these tales were!

The other nice surprise was that title. As we started watching this show, I quickly became bored of Rod Serling’s use of the good old days trope of old men’s nostalgia for simpler times. I don’t think even Julie Newmar could save yet another one of these tales of men looking starry-eyed at old town squares. But that’s not what this is about at all, mercifully! Albert Salmi plays a downright sadistic robber baron who, having made his final, ultimate, screw-turning “deal,” has thirty million in the bank and is bored. The devil, here in the guise of a travel agent named Miss Devlin, offers him the chance to go back to 1910 and do it all again, only this time with all the memories of his past and about $1400 in his pocket. But memories are fragile, imperfect things.

Once again, our son really didn’t enjoy this story. Salmi’s character is just too darn mean. Even when we pointed out that this is a story about a mean guy getting his comeuppance, he wouldn’t budge. But he did understand even the talkiest bits. The story opens with Salmi twisting the knife into a very old rival and letting him know his only way out is bankruptcy, and we paused it to clarify what went on, but he recapped it very well for us. On the other hand, none of us spotted that the very old rival was played by gravel-voiced John Anderson, who we’ve seen twice as MacGyver’s grandfather Harry, so pobody’s nerfect.

Actually, I’ll tell you who really wasn’t perfect, and that’s the makeup artist for this story. Sure, they had a chore making Salmi, Anderson, and Wright King all look fifty years older for the stuff set in the present so they could appear as their normal ages in 1910’s Cliffordville, but you’d have to have been watching with a bent antenna in a snowstorm on a very small TV set in 1963 to ignore Salmi’s unbelievably phony bald cap!

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MacGyver 2.11 – Phoenix Under Siege

I’m still not entirely sure what the heck the Phoenix Foundation actually is. They keep calling it a “think tank,” but the actual scripts seem to keep using it as a place full of bomb disposal experts and MacGyver seems to keep getting the sort of missions that real world think tanks like the Rand Corporation never send people to solve. Maybe Phoenix just hoovers up all the veterans and mercenaries and adventurers and soldiers of fortune they can find, just in case they run into a story that needs one or two.

But I’m just nitpicking. It’s not like anybody ever lost sleep over an episode of The Champions wondering what the heck Nemesis actually did. In Stephen Kronish’s “Phoenix Under Siege,” we learn that the Phoenix Foundation keeps disarmed bombs in a lab on the fifth floor of a Los Angeles office building. It’s December 14, 1986, and the Edmonton Oilers are in town to play the Kings. MacGyver’s grandfather Harry, who we met last season, has come to town to see his grandson and see Gretzky, and Mac left the tickets in the office. (This can’t have done the North Stars’ PR people any good, suggesting Minnesotans would rather take a bus to Los Angeles than see the North Stars at home.) Simultaneously, a terrorist employed by a nebulous “liberation front” arrives with three lackeys to reactivate one of her dormant explosive devices.

For a low-budget “running around an office building at night” story, this wasn’t bad at all. It seems logical that they would balance some of the all-location stories with some that were made almost totally in a studio with a smaller cast, and this one worked well. Tricia O’Neil is really entertaining as the believably ruthless terrorist, and Jack Anderson is fun as Harry. I actually picked this story last year because John Davey, the second actor to play Captain Marvel in Shazam!, is in it. Unfortunately, it’s just a two-line blink-and-miss-it part as a state trooper in one of the story’s several flashback scenes.

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MacGyver 1.10 – Target MacGyver

Our son really enjoyed tonight’s episode, which introduces John Anderson in the recurring role of MacGyver’s grandfather Harry. It’s co-written by Stephen Kandel, and it’s the first of the episodes that we’ve watched that actually has some relation to the pre-credits “gambit.” In this season, each installment opens with a five or six minute “gambit,” usually a quick rescue with some improvisation. Terry Nation is credited with this gambit, in which MacGyver rescues a military general, who is gagged and handcuffed while wearing full dress uniform in the ocean-view room of a beach house right in sight of all the people playing volleyball. Not in the basement, in the main room. Good for Terry. I’m not sure I’d want my name credited on something that silly.

Anyway, the rescue leads into a demolition job, and the demolition job leads into MacGyver being stalked by a contract killer and seven very eighties teevee mercenaries, the ones who wear great big Ray-Bans and carry AK-47s and who were usually being covered with tar or bubble gum in The A-Team. The cat and mouse chase through the desert of Colorado leads them to a backlot ghost town for a final standoff. Our son gave this two thumbs up and said it was almost awesome.

I learned something about the series this week. I remember that in 1993, CBS’s Murder She Wrote ruled the Sunday 8 pm time slot, and the other networks decided to bash heads and split the younger audience. ABC offered Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and NBC offered seaQuest DSV, a show executive-produced by Steven Spielberg. These two shows sort of ended up in the middle of the Nielsens every week. I remember it well because I was pretty active in Usenet’s Lois & Clark fandom then.

If I ever knew this, I must have forgotten: this was actually history repeating itself. In 1985, ABC and NBC first split the potential younger audience against Murder, with MacGyver opposite Amazing Stories, which was also executive-produced by Steven Spielberg. Both shows barely made it into the top 50, just like L & C and seaBore would end up eight years later. Television executives back then just didn’t look beyond the previous season or two, did they?

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