Wednesday, March 03, 2010

CULT TV FLASHBACK #103: The Others (2000)

In the year 2000, veteran genre writers Glen Morgan and James Wong joined the staff of the Jon Brancato/Michael Ferris-created supernatural TV production, The Others.

The short-lived dramatic series concerned the frightening adventures of a sort of psychic "A-Team" investigating creepy cases of demons, ghosts and other denizens of the spirit world (much in the spirit of Poltergeist: The Legacy [1996-1999], but not nearly as cheesy).

The Others lasted for a dozen episodes on NBC (airing on Saturday nights from 10:00 to 11:00 pm EST) before a hasty cancellation brought the investigations to an end.

Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks executive-produced the genre program, and during its brief run, The Others saw episodes helmed by prominent horror directors such as Tobe Hooper, Bill Condon, Tom McLoughlin, and Mick Garris.
Also on board was one of my all-time favorite genre TV directors: Thomas J. Wright, who over the years has guided great episodes of Beauty and the Beast, Nowhere Man, Dark Skies, The X-Files, Millennium, Freaky Links, Dark Angel, Tru Calling, Angel and Firefly.

In terms of format, The Others revolved around a troubled college student named Marianne Kitt (played by Julianne Nicholson), and her decision to join a misfit group of psychically-inclined investigators (the titular "Others.") Kitt came to this decision after a case (in the pilot episode) involving her haunted dorm room, visions of the dead, and a realization about her own psychic capabilities.

On The Others, Melissa Crider played Satori, a New Age "sensitive." Gabriel Macht was Mark, a handsome young empath with medical training, Bill Cobb played the group's spiritual leader, the respected medium Elmer Greentree, and a pre-Enterprise John Billingsley was a professor in folklore and mythology, Miles Ballard. John Aylward was also aboard as the cranky blind-man and expert in ESP, Albert. Finally, Lord of Illusion's Kevin J. O'Connor portrayed Warren, the sort of "Mad Dog Murdoch" of this psychic bunch. The series approached the supernatural subject matter with seriousness, but -- as is the case in all Morgan and Wong efforts -- there was also a sly sense of humor in evidence.

One of the finest (and most harrowing) episodes of The Others was titled "Souls on Board," which aired February 26, 2000 and was directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre auteur, Tobe Hooper. Penned by Daniel Arkin, the story at first glance involves a cliche common to genre TV: the imperiled plane, and in-flight crisis. You've seen it before, perhaps, on The Twilight Zone ("Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"), The Sixth Sense ("Coffin, Coffin in the Sky"), Freddy's Nightmares ("Cabin Fever"), The X-Files ("Tempus Fugit") and The Burning Zone ("Night Flight"). Yet despite the familiarity to other horror shows, "Souls on Board" proves a tense, atmospheric and claustrophobic hour.

For director Hooper, "Souls on Board" represents a return to Poltergeist (1982) territory, as it involves the idea of restless spirits aboard Spartan Air Flight 602. It turns out -- our investigators learn -- that the plane was recently re-fitted with salvaged parts from a crashed plane, Flight 390, and the new airline may be haunted by the (dead) crew of Flight 390.

Like many episodes of The Others, "Souls on Board" is beautifully shot. It feature a slight blue-gray tint that makes everything in the mechanical world of the airliner interior seem cold, inhuman. A shiver-provoking prologue spotlights a black box that hauntingly broadcasts the moaning cries of anguished spirits. And a scene involving Elmer's flying phobia captures well the common fear of flying (which yes, I share...) In one thoroughly frightening moment, Hooper's camera captures the image of an ivory-white, open-palmed hand banging on the exterior of a plane window. The white- against-black night-time imagery is startling and highly unsettling.

Other episodes of The Others are just as macabre and creepy. Space: Above and Beyond's Kristen Cloke portrays a gorgeous demon in one episode, and the show's final installment is a real shock to the system. Without giving away the end of The Others, let's just say it shares much in common with Blake's 7's final episode. If you did happen to catch this climactic episode, let's just you probably never forgot it...

The Others aired during the reign of The X-Files, and so could easily be dismissed as another exploitative knock-off or rip-off (like Sleepwalkers, The Burning Zone, Fringe, etc.), but the talent involved here raises the bar, I think. And as I recall from my initial viewing (admittedly ten long years ago...), The Others was downright chilling at times.

As of yet, there's been no official DVD release of The Others, but dedicated fans of genre TV would surely welcome it.


  1. This was a damn good show. I revisited it last year and I found I liked it just as much as I had remembered. There were a couple episodes that missed the mark but when it shined it was legitimately creepy and I really liked the characters (particularly Julianne Nicholson). The Tobe Hooper episode you mentioned was a true stand-out and the finale was just downright scary. My favorite episode involved Nicholson's character confronting a demonic being that hid in the design of her wallpaper! If this show stayed on the air I probably would have become completely fanatical about it, the group dynamic was great, I loved that the characters were all of varying ages and it had this sort of cozy, rainy night in front of the fireplace feel to it. It really deserves to be out on DVD.

    If I remember right it was on the deadly Friday or Saturday night, I seem to recall people trying to get me to go out when it was on and me refusing.-Unk

  2. Hey John, Thanks for the review!

    I remember this show vagualy. Actually, I only remember 2 eps.- one in which a guy is having a laser surgery on his eyes and start seeing ghost or demons or whatever, and onother episode involving Jack the Ripper and/or one of his victims or something. I don't even know if they where good eps.- but they were the only two which stuck in my head, for some reason.

    I do remember it was a Pretty Scaryand dark series.

    I disagree with you about Sleepwalkers. I don't think it was an X-Files rip-off- I think it was actually a very original series with an interesting concept (entering dreams in a scientific manner, as opposed to the more common fantasy manner a-la elm street movies).

    And one more thing before I leave- a few days ago it was announced that the Max Headroom series is coming out on DVD(,
    and I was wondering if you could a series review in honor of the release. That would be so awesome!

    Thanks again,


  3. Kindertrauma:

    Glad to see that you also remember the series fondly. I haven't seen it lately, but at the time of broacast, I remember being severely creeped out by several episodes. I'm with you: I liked the characters enough to want to see the show continue.


    I was probably being a bit ungracious when I termed Sleepwalkers a rip-off of The X-Files. It's another show I'd like to re-visit today, and assess without bias. Thanks for keeping me honest! :)