Reader Bonus: Fighting Cage (Renegade)

Renegade lasted 5 seasons for reasons that will forever elude me, but I will admit these episodes (two-parter) were a lot more entertaining than I expected.

It was one of those shows that was considerate enough to tell everyone the premise at the beginning of every episode: “He was a cop, and good at his job, but he committed the ultimate sin—and testified against other cops gone bad. Cops that tried to kill him, but got the woman he loved instead. Framed for murder, now he prowls the badlands…an outlaw hunting outlaws…a bounty hunter…a RENEGADE.”

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This isn’t even an added graphic. It just appears when you look this 90s.

The main characters were Reno Raines (Lorenzo “My last name sounds like Alpaca” Lamas), his Native-American partner Bobby Sixkiller (Branscombe Richmond), and Bobby’s sister Cheyenne Phillips (Kathleen Kinmont) who were working to clear Raines’s name and hunt down Donald “Dutch” Dixon (Stephen Cannell), the man who framed him, while earning money as bounty hunters. Raines uses the alias Vince Black, because everyone on this show has an awesome name.

Seriously, Reno Raines, Bobby Sixkiller, Dutch Dixon, Lorenzo Lamas, Vince Black? It’s like the festival of St. Kickass of Lastname.

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The 3rd Most Bad-ass Saint

This episode starts with Reno receiving an anonymous call that his brother, Mitch renegadejohnkreese.jpg(Martin “I’m the Sensei from Cobra Kai” Kove), who he thought died almost 20 years ago, is alive and literally kicking as a cage fighter. However, the person who calls him is killed after delivering a tape of Mitch. Then, in order to find out where his brother is, Reno has to enter underground kickboxing matches, because the 90s were awesome at times. So, the team heads to Mexico. Also, they have Charles Napier and Mitchell Ryan in the cast as the bad guys, presumably because they were in Rambo: First Blood Part II and Hot Shots: Part Deux (which came out the next week), which RenegadeBadGuys2parodied Rambo III. I know that’s not the real reason, but it’s why I would have put them in the episode.

Raines beats up three guys, because why not, then he’s offered a team death match, which he accepts. They give Raines a truth serum, because those exist, apparently, and he tells the fight organizers his backstory and that he’s looking for his brother. However, he apparently doesn’t remember doing this, because truth serums also do that, I guess. The organizers contact Lt. Dixon and offer him Raines if they can hold the fight at his palatial estate (apparently no one has ever questioned how a police Lieutenant affords a mansion). Reno is then put into the ring against his next opponent…

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Pause for people who don’t know how TV works…

His own brother, Mitch!

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Dun DUN DUUUUUUUUN!!!!

They fight, Reno is winning, but the fight is declared a draw so they can make it a headline fight for later. It turns out that Mitch has amnesia, and is being manipulated by the organizers. Reno then attends a party to promote the fights, which includes a bizarre scene of underwater day-glo bikini knife fighting. Reno makes contact with Mitch, whose memory starts to return. The organizers, knowing their relationship, threaten to kill Mitch’s Thai wife and Cheyenne if either Mitch or Reno refuse to fight. This fails almost immediately after the fight begins, due to Reno’s and Mitch’s abilities to round-house kick all of the people in the face. All of them. Dixon kills one of the organizers, and Reno and Mitch machine-gun down the other’s helicopter in a very cost-effective scene. Mitch then leaves to be with his new family, and Reno eats a hamburger.

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The Burger was the Real Hero

Not gonna lie, I liked these episodes. I re-watched a few other episodes of Renegade to see whether I’d just forgotten that it was a good show, but, no, it was mostly just the set-up for these episodes. It was like watching a mid-range budget ’90s action movie starring Lorenzo Lamas. It pretty much just gives the main characters an excuse to punch and kick each other for a solid 20 of the 80 minutes. The plot’s super generic, sure, but it was the ’90s, that’s what we had back then. There’s amnesia, a brother who was thought dead, a lot of round-house kicks, and some bikini knife-fighting. If you had replaced Lamas with Chuck Norris, this would have easily been an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. Replace him with Michael Dudikoff, and it’s an episode of Cobra. It probably could also have been an episode of Street Justice. The point is, it was very ’90s, it was very fun, and it’s all about how brothers love each other, like me and the brother who made me watch this episode.

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I was the ’80s. Sorry, kids.

My only real question here is this: Why is there not a role for William Zabka? This could have been the Cobra Kai reunion which we were desperately seeking in the 90s, and don’t tell me that Zabka had other stuff going on, because we all know that he didn’t. Hell, why didn’t they put Steve McQueen’s son who played Dutch in Karate Kid in the episode? He’s a martial artist, and the bad guy is already named Dutch. This just seemed like a missed opportunity. But, overall, I actually enjoyed this.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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36) The Last Newhart (Newhart)

Bob Newhart was already on this list (#78) for his other show, The Bob Newhart Show. And, if you read that one, you already know that:

“One of the biggest themes of the [Bob Newhart] show is that Bob Hartley (Newhart’s character) is constantly questioning if the reality presented to him is genuine, or if the craziness surrounding him is just a vivid hallucination.”

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Or a nightmare beyond anything H.P. Lovecraft could conceive of.

Newhart was an even more exaggerated level of this theme. Bob Newhart’s character Dick Loudon is a writer of self-help books who moves to a town in Vermont to run an inn. However, the town is populated by some of the most abnormal people ever put on film. A café owner who is a pathological liar. The maid at the Inn is from a ridiculously wealthy family. Three redneck brothers named Larry, Darryl, and other Darryl (William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss, and John Voldstad).

NewhartLarryDarryl.jpgThere’s a group of women in the “Daughters of the War for Independence,” who repeatedly protest the fact that the Inn was a brothel during the Revolutionary War. A random professional clown who marries one of the main characters. A handyman who is completely incapable of rational thought. A guy who speaks in alliteration. Every episode of this show introduces more and more incredibly quirky characters who all seem to operate on a logic that are all their own, and plots that are often so surreal that, just like in the Bob Newhart Show, Newhart’s character can’t tell if he’s insane or if he’s the only sane man in a crazy world.

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It even works a little bit better in some ways than in the Bob Newhart Show, because Dick Loudon was much more sane and rational than Bob Hartley, but was often in situations that completely defy any normal logic. What do you do when you agree to host a Senator’s press conference, and then it turns out his wife actually called it to announce their divorce? What about when the community blames you because a prisoner read one of your self-help books and it led to his escape? Or when a random visiting dignitary loses his wallet and decides to grant you a lordship to settle his bill? These aren’t things that happen to normal people.

After eight seasons, even more than the original show, Newhart finally came to a close. But, if you’re going to spend 14 years (6 on one show, 8 on another) on a theme, you have to try and end strong. Newhart decided not just to end strong, but to try the ultimate in surreal finales.

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Okay, second most surreal

First, they wrote a completely fake ending. In order to keep the ending from being revealed to the staff and, more importantly, the press, they wrote that the show would end with Bob’s character dying and going to heaven to talk to God. They even dispensed names of actors they were considering for the role of God. Then, they performed most of the episode in front of a live audience exactly as written.

SUMMARY

After 8 years of living in the crazy town, a Japanese tycoon buys the entire town to turn it into a golf course. Only Dick and his wife, Joanna (Mary Frann), refuse to sell on principle. Everyone else reveals that not only did they accept, but that they have sold their property for huge amounts of money. Even more bizarrely, they reveal this in a tribute to Fiddler on the Roof.

The show then skips five years, showing Dick’s Inn in the middle of a golf course, when the now unbelievably rich townspeople all return for a reunion. All of them, still insane but now with enough money to act on their quirks, start to argue and cause chaos within the Inn until finally Dick snaps. He storms out, shouting “You’re all crazy!” only to immediately be hit in the head by a golf ball. Now, the audience had probably heard the leaked plot up to this point, and were anticipating seeing Bob Newhart in heaven with George Burns.

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Morgan Freeman? Who dat?

Instead, the set that was revealed was the bedroom from the original Bob Newhart Show. What follows is a scene that’s been dissected, analyzed, copied, parodied, referenced, and critiqued at nauseam. Bob Newhart wakes up in bed, now back to his Bob Hartley persona, and wakes up his wife, revealed to be not his wife from Newhart, but his original wife from the Bob Newhart Show, played by Suzanne Pleshette. He then proceeds to describe his “dream” of the last 8 years of the show, saying how much nothing made sense. His wife dismisses the entire thing, right up until he mentions that, in his “dream,” he was married to a beautiful blonde, which draws her ire. He then proceeds to insist they go back to sleep, ending with a last reference to his “dream” wife.

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Honestly, he out-kicked his coverage in either life.

END SUMMARY

This could have been corny. Honestly, it should have been corny. In most shows, this kind of lame cop-out would be offensive to the viewer. But, given how both shows had worked, it made more sense than any other ending proposed. Of course Newhart was all a dream, that’s why logic was so often twisted and the people so strange. Of course Bob Hartley dreamed about himself in a different life, but still had to define himself as the only sane man in a crazy world. That’s who he is!

This was the punchline to a joke that took more than 20 years to set up, even if nobody knew they were doing it. And maybe that’s how you know you’ve done good work: when the greatest jokes set themselves up organically.

PREVIOUS – 37: The Office

NEXT – 35: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

The Ending:

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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37) Diversity Day (The Office)

I’m gonna catch crap for this one. People often have their choice for the best episode of the US version of The Office and will defend it fiercely. As such, I have to clarify: This isn’t my favorite episode of The Office, and you will never hear me state which actually is my favorite episode. However, I think this episode the one that most distinguished the series and also managed to make some important points on modern America. This was the second episode of the series, but since the first one was basically lifted directly from the UK series that it’s based on, this was the first episode to unveil what this version of The Office was going to be like, and it took some bold steps… some of which it would later have to walk back a little.

The show focuses on a documentary crew watching over the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company’s Scranton Branch. As this was the first real episode of the show, there hadn’t been much in the way of character development: Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is the boss, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) is a very odd, uptight, and ambitious salesperson, Jim (John Krasinski) is a more laid-back and mischievous salesperson who often uses Dwight as a target of pranks, and Pam (Jenna Fischer) is a receptionist who is both overqualified for her job and the subject of Jim’s crush. Other characters who appear in the episode would get much more development later, and most of it would be amazing, but these four were the ones that were developed at this point.

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Pam, Jim, Michael, Ignore Ryan (You’ll thank me), Dwight

SUMMARY

The episode starts with Michael announcing that Corporate has sent a speaker for their “Diversity Day.” Meanwhile, the feud between Jim and Dwight keeps getting in the way of Jim completing an annual renewal that accounts for over a quarter of his yearly sales. That’s basically the perfect set-up to play with the A and B plots.

Watching Steve Carell in the show is amazing, but in this episode his performance is a treat. As Michael, he is the most glorious lack of self-awareness on film. He is not a stupid man, by some standards, but he so avoids most levels of introspection that he seems naive to the point of being insensitive. And that’s where this episode starts to get going. After the presentation by the corporate speaker for “Diversity Today,” Mr. Brown (who Michael refuses to call by his name, thinking that it’s racist), Michael is told that the presentation was required because of Michael’s own actions: Namely, retelling, nearly verbatim, Chris Rock’s 90s routine “Ni**as vs. Black People.”

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The routine’s not called “Bring the Pain” for nothing!

Up until this point, Michael had actually been attempting to take control of the presentation, believing himself qualified to administer the program. Now that he has been told that he was reported to Corporate for racist actions, he is left with two choices: A) Undergo deep introspection and resolve to address his personal flaws or B) deny that he did anything wrong and go overboard trying to prove that he isn’t racist.

Michael picks A and the episode ends with him monologuing ab- oh come on, you know he picked B because it’s what everyone picks.

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What follows is Michael doing a presentation called “Diversity Tomorrow,” with full sincerity, and it is beautiful. It is a bloody trainwreck made by Van Gogh, a work of art whose subject is so atrocious that only its magnificent execution keeps you from looking away. No description of what happens can give it the credit it is due. You just have to watch it. Ultimately, Michael keeps escalating things until finally one of his employees is forced to stop him.

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Sorry, I meant “Slap Him.”

Meanwhile, in the B plot, Jim finds out that Dwight has stolen his massive sale out from under his nose, devastating him and potentially ruining his entire year. However, the episode ends on a positive note, with Pam falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder, and Jim, despite his massive loss, noting that it was “not a bad day.”

END SUMMARY

This episode is as well-written as it is provocative. It addresses several pretty complex issues and manages to not be horribly preachy about it.

Is Michael racist? Well, he doesn’t think so, but throughout the episode he progressively says more and more objectively racist things in his quest to prove that he’s not. He argues that he knows about diversity because he’s 2/15ths Native American (this is not a typo). He asks one of his employees if he prefers a “less discriminatory term” than Mexican to describe his heritage, because of the “connotations.” He gets slapped in the face for repeatedly imitating an Indian salesperson asking people to try his “googi googi.” He believes they’re called “colored greens,” instead of “collard greens,” because he thinks they’re not eaten by “collard people.”

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Stanley sometimes is all of us.

But, the thing is, Michael doesn’t usually treat people much differently based on their skin color once he gets to know them, and throughout the episode he isn’t really a “bad guy,” in the traditional sense. He respects Martin Luther King, Jr. If you asked him if he believes that people are defined by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, he would say yes, and he would mean it. He’s aware that both slavery and the holocaust were bad. In other words, he’s basically every middle-class northern white guy.

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Okay, not EVERY middle-class northern white guy.

Here’s the thing: Everyone’s a little bit racist. There’s a whole song about it in a show that won a Tony for Best Musical.

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It has puppets! Also porn!

And not in a way where you wouldn’t hire a black guy, or you wouldn’t want your daughter dating an Indian guy, but in the way that, if you’re honest, you tend to consider either your own race or, occasionally, the most dominant local race to be the “norm.” Not necessarily superior, just, normal. And that’s okay, because it’s something that basically nobody can help. But, you need to be aware that you’re doing it so that you don’t fly completely off the handle when it causes you to make a stupid assumption or unintentionally say something really inappropriate and you get called out on it.

This episode managed to address a big issue in a clever, funny, and ultimately, not that judgmental way. Not bad for what’s essentially episode one.

PREVIOUS – 38: I Love Lucy

NEXT – 36: Newhart

Michael Getting Slapped:

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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38) Job Switching (I Love Lucy)

Lucille Ball sold more televisions than anyone else in history. I Love Lucy was so popular in the 1950s, people went out and bought their first television sets in order to watch it. That’s a record that will almost certainly last forever. Or until Holo-screens start coming out.

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Like they’ve been teasing us with for a while.

Okay, so, getting it out of the way now, the premise of this episode hasn’t exactly aged well within society. It’s based on swapping gender roles, and nowadays those aren’t as strictly defined as they were in 1952. It also has some lines based on the idea that women can’t handle money, which… well, they didn’t age well. To its credit, this episode does depict a number of working women, from line workers to supervisors. It’s only Lucy and Ethel that are depicted as incapable of working a “normal job.” Similarly, there are lines about male cooks and housekeepers in the show, so it’s only Ricky and Fred that are somehow so incompetent at basic “home economics” skills that they manage to destroy much of the house. The depiction of other members of both genders being able to switch roles successfully is probably attributable to the fact that the episode was actually written by a male-female writing team (Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr.). Still, it’s going to bug a modern audience a little bit. Let’s just go ahead and say that both stereotypes are played up just for laughs, recognize that this show made a woman the most famous comic in the US, and consider the implications no further.

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The show had a pretty general premise. Lucille “Lucy” Esmeralda McGillicuddy Ricardo and Enrique “Ricky” Alberto Fernando y de Acha Ricardo III (Ball and Arnaz) are married and they live in an apartment in New York, where they frequently interact with their friends and landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). Ricky is a popular bandleader and singer at a club. Lucy is a housewife who dreams of stardom, despite her complete lack of talent, leading her to do things that usually are described with “Hi-jinks Ensue.” Also, credit to her, Lucille Ball’s greatest talent is her incredible ability to play someone without any talent.

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Granted, there was a ton of talent on this show.

While she and Ricky were portrayed as deeply in love, her antics still had a tendency to get on his nerves, usually denoted by him breaking out into rapid-fire Spanish. Lucy also frequently was irresponsible with money and time, something that usually caused friction between the two. Ricky, meanwhile, sometimes indulged in the nicer side of being a popular bandleader at a burgeoning nightclub, which made Lucy want celebrity all the more, which, in turn, led to more antics.  This episode focuses mostly on their marriage.

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It was a fun band to lead.

SUMMARY

When Ricky finds out that Lucy has bounced a check, he snaps at her for being irresponsible. Lucy and Ethel try to downplay the issue, but Ricky and Fred both respond by mocking their wives for sitting home all day while the men go to work. I assume this happens in the episode because the men already slept in separate beds from their wives, so they weren’t planning on ever getting laid again. Otherwise, mocking your wife is considered a bad idea. But, Lucy and Ethel respond with a challenge. The men and women will switch places for a week.

Splainin

At first, Ricky tries to one-up Lucy with a fabulous breakfast in bed, only for Lucy to discover that he just bought it at the corner diner and carried it upstairs. Ricky and Fred don’t fare much better at any of the other things their wives usually do. They break dishes, ruin most of the clothes trying to do laundry, and manage to destroy the kitchen trying to make dinner. Ricky even falls over his own rice and injures himself… which wasn’t part of the script. Desi Arnaz actually fell on accident, and the audience loved it, so he did it again on purpose. He also apparently bruised himself badly doing it, but it’s funny nonetheless.

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Meanwhile, Lucy and Ethel go to an employment agency, and, out of a long list of unattainable potential jobs, they blatantly lie to get jobs at a candy factory. Hopefully, after reading that sentence, every one of you now remembers this episode. If not, hopefully you have time to watch the video below. Lucy and Ethel each get assigned to various jobs around the factory, failing spectacularly at all of them, while being yelled at by the ultra-strict foreman. Finally, they’re put on the chocolate-wrapping assembly line, and the pair are told that, if even one piece of unwrapped candy makes it all the way down the line, they’ll be fired. At first, the chocolate coming down the conveyor belt is at a reasonable pace, and the two manage, but it quickly speeds up to the point that the pair are unable to wrap, and can only grab chocolates from the belt and hide them. Despite this, the foreman congratulates them on not letting any unwrapped chocolates get to the end… and tells them that now they’re going to have to do it at high-speed. As the chocolates come careening down the line, the two completely abandon any attempt at wrapping and instead just stuffing the chocolates in their clothing or eating them.

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Ironically, they both were terrible at Hungry, Hungry Hippos

Arriving home later, the pair are sick from all the chocolate they ate. The ladies see a note telling them not to go into the kitchen, but Lucy’s curiosity overtakes her. She immediately starts screaming and comes out rambling about how there’s a mess all over the walls, the floor, even the ceiling. The men come home and ask to end the bet, conceding that they’ve lost, while the women confess they also didn’t fare well on the job market. The men apologize for thinking that running a house is easy, and offer the girls a gift… of 10 pounds of chocolate.

END SUMMARY

This episode is remembered for a few reasons. The first is that it contains some amazing physical comedy. Lucille Ball studied clowning for years before she got this show, and it paid off in spades. Her expressions during most of the scenes are so over-the-top that you can’t help but find them funny. While the conveyer belt scene is the best known, I honestly recommend that you watch the episode in its entirety, because the physical humor goes beyond just that one scene. I didn’t even remember the near-silent scene in which Lucy is pretending to copy a professional candy dipper with all the skills of a chimpanzee. She has such enthusiasm for it, however, until the fact that she’s screwing it up finally starts to hit her. Then, she swats a fly on a woman’s face, causing the woman to hit her back, covering Lucy in chocolate. Ball, afraid the other woman wouldn’t hit her hard enough to be funny, intentionally hit the other woman much harder than they had rehearsed, so that her reflexive response would daze Lucy. That’s how you suffer for your art. Vance, Arnaz, and Frawley are no slouches, either, each managing to hold their own against Ball in every scene they’re in.

The second reason is that the candy factory is basically the best representative of employment problems on film (aside from maybe Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times”). When Lucy and Ethel go to the employment agency, they are qualified for literally no jobs, because all of them require some form of training or education. So, they lie in order to get a job. Then, when they show up at that job, they’re given no form of training, and immediately put into a wide variety of positions, with no introduction. Eventually, they end up on the conveyor belt, with everything coming at them too fast. They manage to cope with it well enough, which just leads to a massive increase in workload to the point that they can’t handle it, at which point they’re fired. Almost every step in the employment process is needlessly complicated and done wrong. At some point in your life, you’ve probably been on that conveyor belt being inundated by tasks at a pace that you can only barely handle, only to find out that, congratulations, because you handled it, you’re going to get more. And all to get slap-dash candy out to the consumer.

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When the joke goes back to black and white TV, is it still funny?

Either for the subtext or the slapstick, it’s always worth watching I Love Lucy.

Here’s the scene you’re all waiting for:

PREVIOUS – 39: The Outer Limits

NEXT – 37: The Office

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39) Demon with a Glass Hand (The Outer Limits)

The Outer Limits was the Twilight Zone without the unbelievable talent of Rod Serling. Unfortunately, that’s like the 90s Bulls without Jordan. It’s awesome, but it’s still missing that one little extra kick to put it on top. However, it also managed to get the great Harlan “my bibliography is huge and influential but you still don’t know my f*cking name” Ellison to write an episode or two, and that was enough to close the gap.

Ellison meme.jpg

SUMMARY

This episode begins with the narration: “Through all the legends of ancient peoples — Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian, Semitic — runs the saga of the Eternal Man, the one who never dies, called by various names in various times, but historically known as Gilgamesh, the man who has never tasted death … the hero who strides through the centuries …”

Our protagonist is Trent (Robert Culp), an amnesiac man who has a clear plastic hand that contains a supercomputer. That hand is also missing 3 fingers, and the computer refuses to tell him anything about who he is or why he has a missing hand until he gets the fingers back from the aliens chasing him known as the Kyben. Trent is stuck in a sealed office building with his only ally being a woman who got caught in the building with him, Consuela (Arlene Martel), who slowly becomes his love interest.

Demon with a Glass Shocker.jpg

Throughout the episode, as Trent manages to avoid and ambush the Kyben, Trent is told that the Kyben are actually from 1000 years in the future, having taken over the Earth, but found one day that all the humans disappeared, having set off a “radioactive plague” that’s killing the Kyben. Trent, however, remained until he got sent back in time. To find out what happened to the humans and if there’s a way to cure the plague killing them, the Kyben took his missing fingers and followed him back. Eventually, Trent sends all the Kyben back to the future, and destroys the time portal. After putting his fingers back in place, the computer reveals the truth to him: He’s an android, and all of the DNA of every surviving human, as well as the method for bringing them back, has been stored in him. The humans did indeed poison the earth against the Kyben, and then left Trent to wait 200 years for the radiation to leave before bringing them back. Finding out that he’s not really human, his love interest runs away horrified. Trent sadly realizes that, with the time portal broken, he now has to wait 1200 years, rather than just 200, completely alone.

The ending narration really nails it: “Like the Eternal Man of Babylonian legend, like Gilgamesh, one thousand plus two hundred years stretches before Trent. Without love. Without friendship. Alone; neither man nor machine, Waiting. Waiting for the day he will be called to free the humans who gave him mobility. Movement, but not life.”

Demon lonely.jpg

END SUMMARY

Unlike many episodes, this one doesn’t contemplate what Trent’s place in the world is, or what it could be, as a sentient being. It doesn’t contemplate whether or not he can avert the invasion in 1000 years, or whether that’s even possible. It just focuses on what it’s like to be completely alone in the world, forever the outsider for something you can’t control. It’s an existential nightmare earned by a guy who we watched be the hero for the episode, and Robert Culp manages to sell every aspect of it perfectly. If this episode doesn’t hit you in your heart, you might be an android.

PREVIOUS – 40: Supernatural

NEXT – 38: I Love Lucy

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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40) No Rest for the Wicked (Supernatural)

As I said yesterday, this is the first episode (aside from the bonuses) that I wrote after chemo. Yay.

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Sometimes what makes an episode amazing is when the people making the show know the rules for scriptwriting, and intentionally avoid them. Supernatural does this pretty often, but never have they taken as sharp a divergent turn as in this episode.

The premise of Supernatural has changed slightly over the years. In the beginning, the show was about two brothers on the road finding supernatural monsters and phenomenon while trying to find their father. Since then, the show has had to escalate multiple times, and what was once a show where the presence of a single demon was a season-long arc has become a show where the main characters regularly kill demons, angels, and various gods. They’ve managed to prevent the apocalypse, kill the mother of all monsters, kill the monsters God created before humanity and trapped in purgatory, make a mockery out of Satan, dethrone Hell multiple times, kill the Grim Reaper, and somehow prevent God’s own sister from ending creation.

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At the end of the first season of Supernatural, the main characters, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), managed to complete their quest to find their father, signifying a hopeful new chapter in their journey typical for a TV show. A slight aversion of the traditional narrative is that, shortly after this, they are hit by a semi and rendered nearly dead in the last moments of the season. At the end of the second season, in order to resurrect his brother, Dean makes a deal with a demon that gives him one year to live before he has to surrender his soul, setting the stage for season three.

Supernatural-1DeadSammy.jpg
Wow, they were so young back then.

Throughout the season, the audience is shown how the situation affects the relationship between the two. Dean, who is the older brother, has entered a state of nihilistic hedonism, not particularly caring to work to avert his fate. Sam, on the other hand, feels that he is obligated to save his brother’s life. This pretty much inverts the characters. Dean has dedicated his life to looking after his brother. Sam has been trying to live his own life, but circumstances keep pulling him back in due to his own sense of honor or indebtedness. Granted, after 12 seasons, this has evolved, but that was the start. Of course, Dean’s acceptance partially comes from the fact that, by literally giving his soul to bring his brother back, he’s finally truly “looked after Sammy,” the words his father first spoke to him in the series. Sam, meanwhile, cannot move on with his life if he knows the cost of his freedom, even if Dean says he’s okay with it. Eventually, Dean is convinced to save himself after being shown how much he’ll be missed by his brother.

Supernatural-2Bobby
But apparently not Bobby (Jim Beavers), even though he loves him.

With 30 hours left, the brothers have been told the only way out of the deal: To kill the demon holding the chit, Lilith (Rachel Pattee). And so, the episode starts.

Supernatural-3Lilith
She’s the cutest demon of the bunch.

SUMMARY

The reason why this episode works is that, for the most part, every episode of Supernatural ends with the brothers managing to pull something out of their collective ass at the last minute to overcome whatever they’re fighting. It’s pretty formulaic, and this episode is no different. The brothers manage to find the one weapon that can kill the demon, they manage to track her down in the body of a young girl (now played by Sierra McCormick), set a trap, and after a number of bad turns, manage to actually get themselves in the room with their target. This, as often happens in the show, is a trick, and the little girl is no longer possessed.

Supernatural-4Lilith
Admittedly, it’s a trade up.

The clock strikes, and the literal hellhound that will kill Dean to satisfy the contract is summoned. In a great performance by Jensen Ackles, Dean actually is shown to accept his fate… and then decides to run for his life anyway. He manages to get back to Sam and Lilith, who has switched bodies again (Katie Cassidy), with just a few moments to kill her and save himself, and then… he doesn’t. Lilith overpowers both of them easily and lets the dog eat Dean.

That’s it. He dies. The last shot of the season is him, suspended by meathooks in a Hellraiser-esque torture sequence calling out for his brother in anguish and despair.

Dean in Hell

END SUMMARY

It’s a moment born from watching two characters that have consistently managed to escape from such problems in a formulaic manner. It’s the moment when the Scooby Doo villain actually manages to get away with it, despite those meddling kids. It’s the moment when Doctor Who doesn’t come up with a clever plan (I know he’s “The Doctor,” but it made it obvious who I meant, so shut up). It’s when NCIS actually doesn’t solve the case. Yes, in recent years, all of these things have actually happened on their various shows, and they were earned by years of commitment to using a firm formula to entertain, which makes it so much more meaningful when they avert it. And so much more tragic when done in this manner.

PREVIOUS – 41: Peanuts

NEXT – 39: The Outer Limits

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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The End of An Era

Alright, so, this is just a note that this marks the transition. Friday was the last article written while I was either in the hospital or dealing with a heavier amount of Chemo-brain to the point that it sometimes caused me to have severe memory lapses, blackouts, emotional instability, or other cognitive impairments that would possibly have impacted my writing. I still deal with some of the effects, but on a smaller scale.

What does this mean for you?

Well, hopefully that means that the writing is about to get a bit better. So, enjoy the last 40 of the list (plus some of the bonuses).

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like the feedback.