As we watched tonight’s episode, “Fall of a Legend,” I noticed a couple of amusing similarities to an episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.. In “Brisco for the Defense,” our Harvard-educated pal introduced the people of that story’s community to the concept of fingerprints, which Bartok does here. Both shows also hold their trials in the town saloon, to save the expense of building a new set. Taking the budget issues even further on Legend, Robert Donner, in his final appearance as Chamberlain Brown, acts as both judge and prosecuting attorney, and explains that his medical testimony as town taxidermist will have to do because the real doc is miles away battling a flu outbreak. Three speaking parts for the price of one!
After the episode, we chatted a little about Legend, Bartok, and Ramos disguising themselves as traveling fortune tellers. They use the word “gypsy” at least twice in the dialogue and it’s also painted on the side of their wagon. That’s certainly a word that would have been used in the 1870s, and I’m not surprised that a program made in 1995 – you guys, that was a quarter of a century ago! – would use the word casually, even as they came up with a tamer-for-1995 word, “Mex,” for a bigot to use in place of several other, harsher words that a nasty creep in the 1870s might have actually said about a Spanish-speaking field worker.
I personally had no idea that many Romani people considered “gypsy” a crude pejorative term, if not an outright hostile insult, for several years after 1995, because I honestly knew so little about the Romani people. So we talked as a family about how we don’t need to use the term anymore; it comes with too much of a history of hate.
It takes a while for language to evolve and for people to quit using words. Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith all deployed “the N word” in well-known songs in the seventies, all in different contexts, but while two of the three still perform those songs in concerts, I doubt they’d use that word in a new song today. I’ve been known to sing along to “Oliver’s Army” or “Hurricane” but replace the word with “figure,” even when alone. “Gypsy” isn’t there yet. It’s not “the G word” yet. Changing the behavior of decades isn’t easy. Maybe catching these things at age eight will help.
I enjoy a good story where the attempted solutions keep creating bigger and bigger and more ridiculous problems. In tonight’s episode of Legend, our hero’s publisher dumps a Prussian baron on Pratt. The baron is in charge of distribution of the Legend novels in Europe, with all the attendant royalties, and has demanded that Legend take him on a buffalo hunt. Two problems with this: Pratt, Bartok, and Ramos really want no part of a big game hunt, and the only buffalo anywhere near Sheridan are on Arapaho land.
Negotiations, lies, baloney and subterfuge later, the Germans end up taking their leave when somehow, an Arapaho spirit called “Thunderhooves” makes a dramatic midnight appearance. All should be well, except three weeks later, the Germans return with a mob of gun-toting maniacs, one of them named Gizzard-Eating Williams, all of whom want to hunt this gigantic beast. Things continue spiraling out of control until a giant mechanical flame-throwing buffalo is storming down the city’s main street, and only Legend can save the day…
Give everybody involved in this one credit: they came up with a plot which I honestly cannot imagine on any other television program. This one was ridiculous and incredibly entertaining. Our son says it’s his favorite episode, and that he was reminded of Godzilla. It wasn’t that big a monster, really…
Tonight’s episode of Legend introduces Robert Donner in a recurring role as the mayor of Sheridan, the small town that Pratt and Bartok are using as Mr. Legend’s base of operations. Donner’s best known to me as the ridiculous Exidor on Mork & Mindy, but he’d appeared in MacGyver four times, so Marie probably knows him best from there. Donner’s character, Chamberlain Brown, is not only the mayor, but the undertaker and taxidermist as well.
The climax of the story comes when Bartok rigs an office safe with his fancy dynamite. The explosion propels it through the ceiling and across the street. The sound you may have heard around eight this evening was our kid laughing his guts out. You’d expect something like that from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, not a quirky western. What I’m getting at is that this show is a little sillier than I’d been led to believe so far, which is fine by us.
“Serenity” is a very silly and very cute little change of pace episode written by Stephen Kandel. The producers rounded up most of the show’s recurring actors – Bruce McGill, Teri Hatcher, Michael Des Barres – and a couple of players like Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert Donner who had shown up in other episodes, and shipped ’em off about six hundred miles east to the Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary to make a western.
So of course this is all a dream – MacGyver, exhausted from everybody demanding all of his time, collapses on his sofa in front of an old western VHS – but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a good excuse to let everybody play roles that are just so slightly different and have a “this town ain’t big enough for both of us” story in which Dana Elcar’s mean and desperate rancher contracts a hired gun – Des Barres, of course – to run MacGyver off the land that he wants. McGill is a “tin horn” gambler and Hatcher is the showgirl with a heart of gold. It’s good fun, with a few very amusing lines of dialogue.
Our son enjoyed it a lot, which is nice, because I told him that he’ll get to see Richard Dean Anderson in another western in about a year. He also provided the stunningly insightful observation that with all the snow on the ground, they must have filmed this in winter. One shouldn’t be too sarcastic to one’s children, so we congratulated his deductive reasoning with smiles. Then he wondered whether it might be hail instead of snow.
Speaking of a little song and dance, like we were last time, in this morning’s episode of MacGyver, Penny Parker lands the lead role in a hilariously eighties rock opera, and in the first scene, MacGyver visits an afternoon rehearsal. It’s all downhill from the end of the song.
I apologized to our son for missing out on another recurring character in MacGyver. When I was choosing episodes, I looked at the cast lists on IMDB and passed right over the ones with Michael Des Barres, because he’s an actor I don’t particularly enjoy, without it registering that he plays MacGyver’s arch-enemy, Murdoc. I wasn’t going to go for the obvious metaphor and say it would be like deliberately skipping all the episodes of Doctor Who with the Master, because I didn’t know the character, but darned if he’s not remarkably like the Master, particularly the eighties version played by Anthony Ainley that we’ll meet soon, all silly disguises and outrageous accents and hiding his true identity in clues for the hero, not to mention the unbelievably overcomplicated screwball bad guy schemes for revenge, revenge, revenge.
Although it must be said that as hairbrained and dopey as some of the eighties Master’s schemes were – I’m honestly looking forward to “Time-Flight” about as much as I’m looking forward to my next trip to the dentist – he never tried to stage a freaking rock opera to ensnare our hero. I know there’s been some competition, but this might just be the stupidest episode of this show we’ve seen.
Also, remember what I was saying a couple of weeks ago about naming the surprise actors in the opening credits? It’s cool to list Teri Hatcher and Robert Donner in the opening, but when you say “Michael Des Barres as Murdoc,” it kind of gives the game away. Eighties Who hid their guest villains in the credits with pseudonyms, so anybody picking up the TV listing would see names like Roy Trommelly (Terry Molloy) or James Stoker (Master’s joke) and not, ideally, be on the lookout for anybody wearing a fake mustache and beard! Eh, it fooled our kid, anyway.
Teri Hatcher’s character, the bad luck-prone Penny Parker, came back for another go-round in this silly and fun story. This time, she stumbles across a couple of hitmen, played by the very familiar faces of character actors Vincent Schiavelli and Robert Donner, at the same time that Mac is babysitting a Soviet defector. I liked this one because it’s a great example of the Maverick formula. Rather than a “serious but never hopeless” story, it’s “hopeless but never serious.”
Oddly, we thought that our son’s favorite bit was when Mac threw a flare on the roof of the hitmen’s van and our son exclaimed that it was dynamite. He wasn’t actually disappointed when it didn’t explode. He’d earlier seen the hitmen test their voice-activated bomb by blowing up a wheelchair, and that was a big enough bang.