Saturday, June 09, 2018

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: "Puppy Love"

In “Puppy Love,” Johnny (Johnny Whitaker) and Scot (Scott Kolden) drive Sigmund home to their Clubhouse in their “Ecology Wagon,” but he falls out on the street, and is nearly discovered by a neighbor, Peggy (Pamelyn Ferdin), and her dog, Fluffy.

Back at the Clubhouse, Sigmund confesses his love for Fluffy, despite their different species. Johnny, meanwhile, as a crush on Peggy.

Meanwhile, back at the cave, Big Daddy Sea Monster hatches a plan to bring Sigmund home at lat. Slurp will dress up as the Sea Monster movie star, Diana Demon, and lure him home.

Things take a dramatic turn at the Clubhouse, however, when Zelda (Mary Wicke) sees Sigmund there, and mistakes him for a ball of sea weed. She sweeps him up and puts him in the trash. A trash truck takes Sigmund way, and now it is up to Fluffy to find Sigmund and help him come home.

In “Puppy Love,” the second episode of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973-1975), Sigmund falls in love with a dog, and has his heart broken when Fluffy, the object of his love, decides only to date within her own species. This subplot is mirrored by the one involving Johnny and Peggy.  At the end of the episode, Johnny sings a song about falling in love, and being rejected.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to note about this episode is that it guest stars Pamelyn Ferdin, a child actress who starred in literally everything, it seems, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In the sixties, she guest starred on Star Trek (1966-1969) in “And the Children Shall Lead.” And in the seventies, she was widely seen on Saturday morning television, including programs such as Shazam! She was one of the leads in Filmation’s Space Academy.

This is the episode in which Archie Bunker knock-off Big Daddy calls one of his sons “Meathead,” Archie’s favorite put-down of his Polish son-in-law, Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner). Big Daddy’s plan this week involves Sea Monster pop culture, and a sea monster matinee idol that Slurp dresses up as.  The plot doesn’t work any better than it sounds.

Still, at this point, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters is a fun watch. It isn’t as loud or frantic as Lidsville, and the characters are more interesting than those found in The Bugaloos.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Kolchak Blogging: "The Vampire" (October 4, 1974)

In “The Vampire,” an old friend of Kolchak’s (Darren McGavin), James “Swede” Brightowsky (Larry Storch) visits Chicago’s INS office and tells Carl about a series of vampire-like killings in Las Vegas.  This piques his interest, and when Kolchak is assigned to interview a Far Eastern transcendental guru in Los Angeles, he makes some side-trips to Las Vegas.

When Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) demands the story about the guru, Kolchak gets a former bush-league journalist-turned-real estate agent, Fay Krueger (Kathleen Nolan) to write it, while he investigates the vampire. In this case, the vampire is a woman, Catherine Rawlins (Suanne Charny), a former show-girl who is now using her job as a call-girl to claim victims.

Although the local police detective working the case, Lt. Mateo (William Daniels) grows enraged with Kolchak’s insistence that a vampire is responsible for the body count. But Carl tracks Catherine down to her baronial estate in the Hollywood hills and plans to drive a stake through her heart.

Relatively early in the series run, Kolchak returns to a rerun monster: the vampire. Here, the “night stalking” takes the journalist back to the very haunts where he killed another vampire, Janos Skorzeny (in the popular TV movie, The Night Stalker).   The story is not particularly memorable in terms of the details, but “The Vampire,” like many episodes of the series, features a lurid, sleazy quality that separates it from most of the homogenized programming of the series’ era.

Here, the vampire is a showgirl turned hooker turned vampire, which is a descent from dreams to nightmares, if I’ve ever witnessed one. In some way, it’s a commentary on Hollywood, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. These are all places of enormous wealth, and also enormous vice. People like Catherine Rawlins go from pursuing a job in the entertainment industry to using their bodies to satisfy vices. Eventually, they become a bottom-feeding vampire, eking out a meager existence on the periphery, as a vampire.

As we have seen before, the supporting cast can make or break an episode. William Daniels -- the voice of KITT on Knight Rider (1983-1988) -- is Kolchak’s police detective foil this week, Mateo. Daniels is great at playing a slow-boil, and one can practically see the rage taking over his face, a step-at-a-time, as he contends with Kolchak’s wild theories. Kathleen Nolan is also great as Faye Krueger, a real estate agent who traveled west to pursue her dreams of wealth. In her previous life, she was a small-time journalist in North Carolina. Here, Kolchak teams up with Faye to write the article for Vincenzo that he doesn’t have time to write, but Faye sprinkles her news story with the architectural details one might expect of someone trying to sell houses.  Mateo and Faye add a lot of quirky humor to the story, and elevate “The Vampire” above its familiar monster of the week.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the casting is that Larry Storch only gets one scene as Kolchak’s slick friend, Swede, and doesn’t play a larger role in the overall adventure.  Storch, of course, would soon have his own supernatural investigations to handle on the Filmation Saturday morning series, The Ghost Busters (1975).

One weird note about “The Vampire:” the episode culminates with Kolchak burning a giant cross on the equivalent of the vampire’s lawn. That’s a loaded image, historically-speaking.  Though it makes a powerful visual, the story doesn’t really merit the use of such a racially-coded visual.

Next week: “The Werewolf.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Star Trek: The Next Generation 30th Anniversary Blogging: "We'll Always Have Paris" (May 2, 1988)

Stardate: 41697.9

The U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a strange time-hiccup, and traces the phenomenon to the work of Dr. Paul Manheim (Rod Loomis), a disgraced scientist, and also the husband of Captain Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) old flame, Jenice (Michelle Phillip).

Years earlier, Picard failed to show up at a rendezvous with Jenice at a café in Paris, fearing that if he saw her again, he would not have the wherewithal to return to Starfleet and continue his career. Now, after all these years, he has the chance to make amends.

The localized time distortion, however, is growing stronger, and is dubbed “The Manheim Effect.” Data determines a way to stop Manheim’s time experiment, which opens a door-way to another, alternate universe.

Fortunately, his attempt is successful, repairing the space-time continuum, saving Manheim’s life, and giving Picard and Jenice the opportunity to have their café meeting, decades later, courtesy of the holodeck.

“We’ll Always Have Paris” is not widely remembered as either a particularly strong or notably weak episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994).  

In general, I agree with the consensus that it is a relatively average show.  In terms of the Next Generation’s positive momentum at the end of the first season, it is actually something of a set-back, however.  “Heart of Glory,” “Arsenal of Freedom,” “Symbiosis,” and “Skin of Evil” are all notable and inventive episodes, for a number of reasons.  After “We’ll Always Have Paris,” two strong episodes follow: “Conspiracy,” and “The Neutral Zone.” In this company, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” is pretty forgettable.

Part of the problem is that Michelle Phillips, a good, charismatic actress, is given an impossible role. Jenice is Picard’s lost love, and apparently feels the same way about him. Yet she also loves her husband, and through the bulk of the episode, he is in sickbay, dying.  Given this fact, it’s natural that her mind is not fully on resolving the Picard subplot. I understand that the intention was to make a romantic episode, but the episode feels anti-romantic. There is no passion between the two characters, or those who play them. 

Picard is obsessed with the relationship (and his behavior ending the relationship), but Jenice is obsessed with reality, and her husband’s well-being. Early drafts of the script reportedly had Picard and Jenice consummating their relationship.  Thank goodness saner heads prevailed. Had Picard and Jenice slept together in the course of these events, Picard would have looked like a cad and an opportunist, and Jenice would have appeared uncaring towards her husband. The structure of the story, with Jenice caught between Paul and Jean-Luc, simply doesn’t permit for a real sense of romance.

Also, just how many men (and Starfleet officers) in the 23rd and 24th century left their partners/lovers behind without saying goodbye, to pursue their ambition of Starfleet Command? In Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Captain Decker (Stephen Collins) left Ilia (Persis Khambatta) without saying goodbye, to follow his Starfleet ambitions.  Then, in “Encounter at Farpoint,” it is established that Riker (Jonathan Frakes) left Troi (Marina Sirtis) on Betazed, without saying goodbye, to pursue his career.  Now, we learn from “We’ll Always Have Paris” that Picard did the same thing, missing his date with Jenice so he could stay in Starfleet and climb the ladder to a captaincy.  So, are all men cowards, or what?

There are some good individual moments in “We’ll Always Have Paris,” though not any that stand-out, across the whole series.  It’s nice to see Picard fencing in his off-time, giving us a sense of what the captain likes to do when not on the bridge. In later episodes (“Pen Pals,” and “Starship Mine”) he rides horses, instead.  Finally, the closing set piece with Data avoiding booby traps in the lab, and sealing the time rift are visually-impressive, and a lot of fun.

“We’ll Always Have Paris,” but the question is, do we want it? The episode is okay, but I can’t imagine picking it to be in either the top fifty, or bottom fifty episodes of the series. It’s just a thoroughly mediocre viewing experience, and a modern re-watch doesn’t reveal any perspectives or ideas.

Next week, one of the early TNG greats: “Conspiracy.”