Star Trek and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Tribble Episodes

Once upon a time, there was a Star Trek fan club in Atlanta that did not have enough members, and it did not have enough rules. So they had an idea: they were going to organize every other fan club in Atlanta with their rules and give them each a planet. So there would be a Doctor Who planet and a LARP planet and an RPG planet and an anime planet and so on.

And each of these planets would appoint ambassadors to visit the other planets and report back to their own planet, and to the Star Trek planet, which was the most important planet, what every other planet was doing. Because that’s exactly what you want to do before you spend your afternoon in the game shop playing BattleMech: stop for half an hour to listen to your planet’s ambassadors report what episodes of Forever Knight they watched at the vampire planet’s last meeting.

But in the interest of goodwill, some friends of some friends put an anime music video together for the Star Trek fan club to show at their table at some con. This was the early ’90s, when Akira was hot and people were saying things like “that Japanimation is totally bitchin’.” I don’t remember what song the editors originally chose, but the Star Trek fan club decided that it needed to be a much more totally bitchin’ song and so they overdubbed it with MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”

I’m not making any of this up, I swear.

Word got back, and we were aggrieved and offended and amused, and so I decided to retaliate. I phoned a friend who had some Star Trek on video and a couple of us got together and edited, deliberately, the worst fan video ever made. You thought that songtape of Kirk and Spock exchanging meaningful glances to the tune of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was bad?

Okay, that one I made up.

Well, this was worse. It didn’t have a storyline, I dumped video effects into it just because one of my decks could do that, and once I finished the master, I recopied it back and forth twice more with the tracking screwed up to make it look like the work of an enthusiastic idiot.

The scenes were picked almost entirely at random from six episodes of the original show and Next Generation, plus the movie where Spock gives a nerve pinch to the guy on the bus with the boom box. It was four minutes of shots of people in hallways, except I made sure to include Denise Crosby in a sexy costume, and when all the Tribbles got dumped on Kirk’s head, I fast forwarded and rewound and fast forwarded and rewound. And then the finishing touch, delivered with a chef’s kiss: the soundtrack to this eyeball-punching monstrosity was a song by the then-popular boy band New Kids on the Block.

The people who were in on the joke chuckled for maybe thirty seconds before it lost any charm. People who were not in on the joke were annoyed just being in the same room. The video was made to aggravate anybody who saw it, like going to a comedy club to see Andy Kaufman, that funny man from TV, and all he does is read a book at you until his voice gives out. Some joke, huh?

But the joke was on me, because when you spend half an hour making your Tribbles dump and jump, up and down, back and forth, as terribly as two VHS players can make them hop, you have, forever, associated the Tribbles with “You Got The Right Stuff” by New Kids on the Block. And David Gerrold, who wrote this episode, is such a nice man and such a good writer that even though I don’t care for Star Trek, I feel terrible that I did this to his script. And the original episode has those fine actors William Schallert and Stanley Adams in it. The guest stars and series regulars all deserved better than the New Kids on the Block. David, if you’re out there, I’m really sorry. We should have used Harlan’s episode.

Of course the kid loved it to pieces. “The Trouble With Tribbles,” I mean, not that terrible video. And that bit where Scotty asks Kirk whether his answer is on the record really is funny. But he howled throughout as the situation escalated, especially because it wrong-footed him completely. I successfully kept this one a complete secret, and when Cyrano Jones is selling Uhura on the wonder of Tribbles, one goes and munches on Chekov’s grain. Our kid said “It’s going to grow into a giant!” And boy, was he wrong. We’ve seen this kid lose it completely laughing, and I’ve reported to you good readers that he was in stitches, but this was next-level. Every subsequent revelation that the Tribbles are getting everywhere had him on the floor choking with laughter. Watch old shows with kids, friends. You might just have a really good time.

And then I seriously wrong-footed him by sending him out of the room and setting up the 1996 sequel episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, telling him that what happened next on Sherman’s Planet was resolved in this show. What actually happened was they made a thirtieth anniversary special and had a Klingon villain jump back in time a century to the events of “The Trouble With Tribbles,” planning to change history somehow. So Avery Brooks and Terry Farrell and their gang dig deep in the closet for some old Star Fleet uniforms and tech.

Honestly, the “gee-gosh-wow that’s really the Mister Spock!” business gets a little tired, but the production is remarkable and the visual effects to insert the 1990s actors into 1960s footage makes for some great little jokes. Say, that guy wasn’t there when we watched this scene half an hour ago! The time travel stuff is the really amusing part. Avery Brooks’ character is being grilled by two bureaucrats from the Federation’s time travel division, who really don’t want to have to clean up another mess involving that blasted Captain Kirk again, and one poor fellow thinks he may be caught in a Grandfather Paradox and is obliged to meet up with a lady on the Enterprise to ensure his own existence. And of course there are Tribbles. Tribbles everywhere.

That’s all the Star Trek I’m going to watch, but the kid enjoyed the heck out of it and he’ll probably want to start getting spaceship ornaments for our Christmas tree just like his uncle. He can get his own Blu-rays though. We’ll watch one more thing on the CBS streaming service before they bill me, so stick around for Saturday to see what that might be.

The Twilight Zone 3.13 – Once Upon a Time

If I might risk being accused of echoing the same good-ole-days-isms that Rod Serling kept coming back to in season one of The Twilight Zone, the audiences of 1961 had one big advantage over the audiences of 2018. Just about everybody who sat down to watch Richard Matheson’s “Once Upon a Time” knew who Buster Keaton was. And it’s not as though he’s unknown today, but I think that even when I was six years old in 1977-78, I knew who Keaton was, if by stunts and not necessarily by name, and what silent films were. But since time has marched on, and since there’s simply so much more film and television being made today than in the 1970s, audiences have to make more of an effort to go back and see something old. When there were only eight channels, you’d run into older stuff without trying.

My son needed a crash course, so before we watched this morning’s episode, we spent nine minutes watching a 2015 episode of Every Frame a Painting on YouTube. He enjoyed a few good chuckles and got a quick handle on the title cards and player piano language of silent movies. I had never seen this particular episode of Zone, so I wasn’t sure what specifically to emphasize. I was right to point out the physicality of Keaton’s work. He was 65 years old when this episode was made, and still pulled pratfalls and stumbles that looked like they really could have hurt, and he ran down the streets of the backlot chasing one fellow or another with the energy of a man in his twenties.

The episode is a charming delight, and our son really got into it. He loved the slapstick and the physical humor, and got amusingly outraged when some juvenile delinquent on roller skates pilfers Keaton’s Time Helmet. His character, who’s sent on a half-hour trip seventy years into his future, even gets to do some Catweazle-like gags about the baffling technology of the modern day, and our son had definitely seen those sort of yuks before.

One final note just to praise the co-star: casting Stanley Adams was a stroke of genius, because when the episode goes from silent movie to noisy modern day, who better to cast than an actor with as deep and booming a voice as Adams? It makes the juxtaposition even funnier. And one thing I didn’t specifically point out to my son when we watched the YouTube episode was that in Keaton’s old movies, the characters within the frame could only see what the audience could see. There’s a terrific set of gags that require Keaton to hide behind Adams’ larger body, making him completely invisible to a policeman who in reality would certainly have seen him. But it works so well because everybody making this comedy is telling a classic, well-worn joke to an appreciative audience. Since our son likes silly things much more than serious things, except when there are explosions, he certainly appreciated this one.

Batman 2.50 – Batman Displays His Knowledge

The last time we saw Catwoman in this series, I wondered whether they might have run her last two stories in the wrong order. I’m completely certain of it now. Whatever bonehead at ABC decided that they wanted to get a few viewers on the back of the latest Lesley Gore single and juggled the episode order really should have been kicked in the head. Sure, as continuity errors go, this isn’t as bad as, say, every third week watching Firefly on Fox, or that episode of Homicide: Life on the Street which mentioned one of the characters being dead before NBC showed the hour where his body was found, but it really rankles.

American television in the 1960s just didn’t have continuity like this, and what Stanley Ralph Ross wrote for Catwoman is a genuine arc with progression of her character across three stories, from December 1966 to February 1967, and ending with her tragic demise, choosing death over prison. So for this to open with her in prison and accepting Bruce Wayne, who shows no emotion over this situation after being quite openly – and surprisingly – devastated by her death, without addressing her – and let’s be blunt – attempted suicide, is a mockery of what Ross intended.

I’d strongly suggest that anybody watching these DVDs to swap the order around; watch this story in between the two three-parters in season two, and then watch the “That Darn Catwoman” two-parter in place of this one. You’ll still get the Penguin and the Joker hopping in and out of jail like the door’s a revolving one, but you’ll see the stories in the order the producers intended.

As for the content of what was meant as the second act and not the finale, it’s great fun. Daniel, who was restless and wild last night, was calm and awesome and enjoyed the show, asking me to pause only to get an explanation of what in the world Catwoman was wearing (a mink stole) in the climactic scene, which is set in a real estate agency’s model home with a staircase almost exactly like the one in the Brady Bunch house. Ah, the sixties. Stanley Adams has another scene in this episode, but the real acting surprise is having Jacques Bergerac show up as French Freddy TouchĂ©, a fencing instructor who’s also a fence. Bergerac, beloved to fans of bad old movies as the “Gaze into…The Hypnotic Eye!!!” guy, had been married to Ginger Rogers, and he’d retire from acting a couple of years after this to take a job as a high-ranking executive at Revlon, which is an awfully strange career arc.

So, this was Julie Newmar’s last appearance in the show. When Catwoman returns in season three, she’ll be played by Eartha Kitt. One note on that point: the story that everybody repeats is that Newmar was not available for the three weeks in November 1967 that they filmed those three Catwoman half-hours because she was filming the Western MacKenna’s Gold, which has one of the most amazing casts of any film, ever: Gregory Peck, Telly Savalas, Omar Sharif, Ted Cassidy, Burgess Meredith, Edward G. Robinson, and more are in that movie. But I don’t buy that explanation. MacKenna’s Gold wasn’t released until May 1969. I figure that November in the desert might can look a lot like any other time, and they could have shot it then, but spending a couple of months shooting a Gregory Peck film and letting it sit on the shelf for seventeen months wasn’t how movies were made or distributed in the sixties, I think. Hmmmm….

Batman 2.49 – Catwoman Goes to College

So of course, happy tender moments like the one shown here never last. Robin rushes in and spoils Batman and Catwoman’s milkshake date with the news that the police are after our hero! Stanley Adams, whom we saw a couple of months ago in a Ghost Busters episode, and who would get to have his pair of iconic guest star roles in Star Trek and in Lost in Space in the next TV season, has this very oddball guest part as Captain Courageous, an officer on exchange from Los Angeles who has never heard of Batman, and arrests him because twenty eyewitnesses saw him rob a supermarket.

This is all part of Catwoman’s plan, of course, to get him out of the way while she leads a student riot, and slips away in the confusion to steal some jewels. Things don’t go quite as planned, there’s a Batfight, and the episode ends with our heroes tied up in a giant coffee cup on a motorized billboard, with sulfuric acid about to be poured over them.

So yes, this is a suddenly silly installment for Catwoman, and it has one of the funniest moments in the series, when Bruce Wayne knows that the Batphone is about to ring, and just pauses with his hand above the receiver. I had to pause the DVD from laughing.

Daniel was in little mood for any of this tomfoolery, especially Batman and Catwoman sharing a milkshake. The boy just cannot stand the mushy stuff.

The Ghost Busters 1.5 – The Flying Dutchman

Another big win for the family this evening. Daniel roared with laughter all through the slapstick and silliness. Of principal interest this week is Tracy’s newfound interest in cooking, including cartons, wrappers, dinosaur eggs, whatever can be dumped in a big bowl, and a recurring gag about a whale.

The ghosts this week are Cap’n Beane and Scroggs from the Flying Dutchman, and they’ve brought an offscreen whale called Moby along. Moby repeatedly blasts the cap’n with a blast of water, via the special effects magic of a seltzer bottle right beside the cameraman.

I didn’t recognize either of the guests. Scroggs was played by Philip Bruns, who was a familiar one-shot guest star in lots of 1970s TV before landing his best-known role, George Shumway in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Stanley Adams is very well-known to cult TV fans: he was Cyrano in the famous Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” and Tybo the Talking Carrot in that Lost in Space where Jonathan Harris gets turned into asparagus. Looking at their credits at IMDB, I see that we’ll be seeing both actors again in a few months…