The Ray Bradbury Theater 1.1 – Marionettes, Inc.

And now back to 1985, and Ray Bradbury Month at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time continues as we look at a selection of episodes from The Ray Bradbury Theater. This was a show with a very weird life. HBO, who didn’t, then, have very much original drama programming, ordered six episodes of this idea for an anthology series, then didn’t seem to understand what they were meant to do with them. They ran three in the summer of 1985, and the other three in one evening in February 1986. Then they cancelled the show and it turned up again two years later on the USA Network, where they presented 59 more installments over four years. Bradbury is credited with the teleplay for every one of them, so he didn’t have to worry about anybody rewriting him. I think that most of the episodes were filmed in Toronto, but a handful of installments were made in the UK and France. (I picked eight for our little visit to the series.)

First up, “Marionettes, Inc.”, which is a little evidence that the hideous, unpleasant, Lockhorns-like marriages so often seen twenty-five years previously on The Twilight Zone were still providing fuel for writers who’d rather come up with a science fiction resolution to them instead of counseling or divorce. Oh, we had a lot to unpack after this one. This marriage is so broken, and, frankly, so ridiculous, that we had a very, very long conversation with the kid once it finished.

This is the sort of marriage we’ve seen before – “Time Enough at Last” came to mind – where you can’t imagine what in the world brought these lovebirds together. All Jayne Eastwood’s character wants to do is talk without pause and all James Coco’s character wants to do, miserably, is escape her yammering and go to work. Leslie Nielsen’s company targets him with an aggressive sales pitch. They can replace him with a robot who will put up with the yammering while he enjoys life. This would mean – I’m not kidding – movies and bowling.

If things are so bad today that you need a robot to let you bowl a few lanes, then they were that bad when you were dating. I swear, marriages in the Silent Generation must have been made randomly. Why aren’t they bowling together? If she doesn’t like bowling, why doesn’t she have her own hobby on league night? Of course, the big twist is visible from space: the robot figures out that she isn’t happy either and resolves to fix things and do away with the human. I’m not sure who I was rooting for: the robot to win, or the robot to travel back in time and match these unhappy people with somebody compatible in the first place. Come on, Bradbury, you already had the robot, why not give it a time machine?

Police Squad! 1.1 – A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise)

Here’s an idea. If you don’t have a kid of your own, borrow somebody else’s. Tell ’em you’re going to watch a cop show. Put on Police Squad!, but don’t tell ’em it’s a comedy. About the point where Abraham Lincoln stands up and returns fire, that kid’s going to sit up straight and have a ball.

Police Squad! starred Leslie Nielsen and Alan North. It ran on ABC for six weeks in the spring of 1982 and Kathryn Leigh Scott was the main guest star in its first episode. It later inspired three successful movies called The Naked Gun, and the locksmith gag in episode five made me stop breathing recently. I don’t actually intend to blog about this show, but I am going to sprinkle the episodes here and there over the course of the year, maybe on an evening I don’t feel like writing. It’s a show that loses its shine very, very quickly; watching all six in even a week gets pretty old really fast. But I’ll treat the kid to one every once in a while, and I do mean treat. Even with a good half the gags sailing over his head, he was wide-eyed and glowing. “That was HILARIOUS,” he shouted.