Attentive readers will recall from last week's article my harrowing ordeal at the hands of alleged thespian Eric Roberts via his televised appearance in last week's episode of Fear Itself. What I neglected to include in my review, however, was the aftermath of this shameful incident. Apparently, in an Roberts-induced state of delirium, I began wailing and howling in a manner more befitting an animal than a man, and these odd vocalizations of mine were audible throughout the apartment complex in which I currently reside.
I was, as they say, "pretty far gone" by the time the local police knocked on my door to make inquiries as to my safety and sanity. These law enforcement officials were responding to a 911 call made by my neighbor, an elderly widow named Viberta Wigfall. Fortunately, Mrs. Wigfall is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and her call to the police was merely an act of motherly concern rather than one of spite or malice. Regaining my composure under these admittedly embarrassing circumstances, I managed to convince both the police officers and Mrs. Wigfall that everything was perfectly all right, and we all adjourned to our respective dwellings.
The next afternoon, however, Mrs. Wigfall dropped by my apartment to ask about the circumstances which had led to the previous evening's unpleasantness, and I explained to her all about "Project: Fear Itself." She was a little perturbed that I had not mentioned it to her earlier. You see, Mrs. Wigfall and I get together every Sunday afternoon for tea and conversation, and I had never mentioned Fear Itself to her, assuming she would not be interested. The only topic in which Mrs. Wigfall has ever shown lasting interest is herself. Over countless Sunday afternoons, she has regaled me with vivid and presumably apocryphal stories of her past, from her days dancing for Ziegfeld to her stint on the 1940s radio drama "For Good or Ill," as well as her four marriages to various showbiz luminaries. To a woman like Viberta Wigfall, who loftily claims not even to own a television set, an endeavor like "Project: Fear Itself" must seem hopelessly vulgar, I feared. Nevertheless, she insisted upon joining me for the airing of the next episode, Ronnie Yu's "Family Man." What follows is an itinerary of my experience watching this program with Mrs. Wigfall. (Note: all times listed are Central Standard.)
8:55pm: Mrs. Wigfall appears at my doorstep, staggering noticeably and carrying a bottle of Ol' Hacksaw, a potent and quite affordable brand of liquor. I gladly accept this gift, despite the fact that the bottle is half empty and its neck features several prominent lipstick stains in the exact shade of salmon pink Mrs. Wigfall favors. I go to the kitchen and fetch two large plastic tumblers -- regrettably the last two clean cups in my apartment. Throughout the evening, Mrs. Wigfall and I will down quite a bit of Ol' Hacksaw, along with a newly-opened package of Raspberry Newtons.
8:59pm: The program's lead in, Last Comic Standing, is just going off the air. Mrs. Wigfall comments that her third husband was a comedian, and she finds comedy to be "an entirely ghastly and undignified occupation." She snorts distastefully at the mere mention of Las Vegas, the site of the competition, and makes some comment about Gomorrah, which I do not entirely catch.
9:00pm: Fear Itself finally begins. An announcer warns, "The following program contains scenes of an intense nature." Mrs. Wigfall seems shocked by this and asks if this is "some sort of blue movie." I tell her it is not. "It had better not be," she replies. "I have a reputation to uphold."
9:01pm: The episode proper begins with a scene set in a church, assuaging Mrs. Wigfall's fears as to the moral turpitude of the endeavor but leading her to inquire whether I had not accidentally tuned in to some sort of religious program. I assure her that this is indeed Fear Itself, though she remains skeptical. My case is not helped by the fact that the program's theme song and opening credits are not immediately shown. Our discussion of the matter causes me to miss a great deal of the opening sequence, though I am dimly aware of some mention of pancakes. It is a struggle to convince Mrs. Wigfall not to sing along with "Amazing Grace," the hymn being sung by the congregation on TV. Ol' Hacksaw is already working its magic, I see.
9:04pm: A car accident in the show catches both of us off our guard. "Oh good heavens!" we exclaim in unison. Have our minds already begun to meld? Mrs. Wigfall then adopts a scolding tone, "Well, that is what you get for driving distracted! Eyes on the road, mister!" she harumphs loudly to punctuate this statement.
9:08pm: Finally, the theme song and opening credits appear. Mrs. Wigfall is not impressed by the music. "Give me Bix Beiderbecke any day!" However, as a member in good standing of the Audubon Society, she does approve of the flocks of birds, which appear randomly during the title sequence. Neither she nor I recognize any of the names in the opening credits. "What is this, The Ted Mack Amateur Hour? Where are the stars, dear boy? Where are the stars?" I cannot answer.
9:10pm: An animated commercial for Met Life Insurance features Snoopy. "Finally, a real star!" Mrs. Wigfall comments ruefully. I begin to feel woozy. Powerful stuff, Ol' Hacksaw. Sneaks up on you, then WHAM!
9:15pm: Mrs. Wigfall is again outraged, this time by the appearance of a toilet on-camera. "Never such a thing in my day!" she shouts. I hiccup rather too loudly.
9:20pm: By this point in the program, we are deeply immersed in the plot of the show. At least I am. Mrs. Wigfall is hopelessly confused. I explain to her that the souls of a killer and a family man have switched bodies. She asks how this is possible. I say that it isn't, literally speaking, but that this program is a fantasy. She is still confused. I try to diagram the plot on a cocktail napkin, but this only serves to further muddle the situation.
9:26pm: Another church scene and another rendition of "Amazing Grace." Mrs. Wigfall is certain that my television is broken, causing entire scenes to be repeated. This I do not dignify with a response. The Ol' Hacksaw is running dangerously low, though the Newtons remain relatively plentiful. I begin to drift in and out of consciousness. So... heavy. Feel so... very... heavy...
9:41pm: I awake with a start! Onscreen, there is a dispute between characters over a parking space, and Mrs. Wigfall is vocally taking sides, shouting words of encouragement to one character and condemnation to another. She is an octogenarian, but anger rejuvenates her.... or seems to, anyway.
9:50pm: Yet another use of "Amazing Grace." By this time, Mrs. Wigfall and I are both singing along. An upstairs neighbor is pounding on the floor, either in an attempt to silence us or add some sort of percussion accompaniment. We decide that the latter is true and continue singing.
9:51pm: A child has bloody, stigmata-like markings on her hands, and by the mere power of suggestion I become convinced that I, too, bear the wounds of Christ. I look at my palms, and there they are. I show my palms to Mrs. Wigfall, and she sees them, too. A miracle! A miracle!! (AUTHOR'S NOTE: These "wounds" would later turn out to be the fillings from the Newtons, which I had apparently crushed in my hands. At the time, however, they seemed genuine.)
9:54pm: Snoopy, like our Saviour, has returned - and after only 44 minutes instead of three days. Another miracle!! God bless Met Life Insurance.
10:00pm: The program has climaxed with a rather grim and nihilistic finale, severely "harshing" our "buzz," but our mood is quickly restored by a cheerful promo for The Tonight Show. Mrs. Wigfall and I vow to stay up and watch the program (which she claims not to have seen since the Jack Paar era), but we both pass out mere seconds later.
I awoke the next morning, nude, in a bed other than my own. I thought back to the events of the previous night, and I realized I was in Mrs. Wigfall's boudoir with its familiar, musty Gay Nineties furnishings. Viberta Wigfall, however, was nowhere in sight, and the place was eerily still. I started to climb out of bed when I found my limbs oddly non-functional. Still groggy from the Ol' Hacksaw bender, I gradually became aware that my wrists and ankles were, in fact, tied to the bedposts. Alarmed at this state of affairs, I called out to my absentee hostess.
Again, this was met with silence. Suddenly, I heard footsteps. A shadowy figure appeared in the doorway.
"Mrs. Wigfall? Is that you?"
Then laughter. Cruel, mirthless laughter. The crack of a whip.
I will spare you the gruesome details of what transpired in the next half hour, most of which you can probably guess. (If you are in doubt, ask the nearest degenerate.) I can tell you that my real-life experience surpassed anything you might see on the National Broadcasting Company, that's for certain. Now that I am truly acquainted with fear itself (the emotion), I am fully qualified to deal with Fear Itself (the television show). I hope that you, faithful reader, will join me on this increasingly perilous journey.
P.S. I wonder if Viberta and I are still on for Sunday?
After reading Mr. Blevins's account of his most recent brush with Fear Itself (and with his neighbor, Mrs. Wigfall), I would be tempted to say that it horrified me more than anything I've seen on the show itself thus far, but this is simply not so. Quite honestly, the scariest thing about this week's program was the bug in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen that read:
WEDNESDAY 9/8 C
The Baby Borrowers, for those of you who have thus far avoided NBC's advertising blitz, is a "reality series" about teenage couples that are entrusted with real live human infants. I don't know whether there's some sort of prize involved or what the teenagers expect to get out of the experience, but I'm petrified to find that I live in a society where seemingly rational adults are willing to let their impressionable young children take part in some sick behavioral experiment that has been repurposed as a bread and circuses-type entertainment for the masses. And the biological parents of the babies should be ashamed of themselves, too.
I wish I could tell you something about "Family Man" -- this week's installment of Fear Itself -- but for once my colleague appears to have gleaned more from it than I have, for I confess that I spent the entire hour focused on the Baby Borrowers bug, attempting to will it away is if that would somehow cause the program to no longer exist as well. The only times it disappeared were right before a commercial break, though, and since NBC saw fit to run a full-screen commercial for The Baby Borrowers during each it was far from the reprieve I was looking for. I can only hope that the novelty of baby borrowing has worn off by next week's show, for it is the one that has been directed by John Landis, a filmmaker of some skill and talent, and I would very much like to be able to concentrate on the images and dialogue that comprise the story and not the (in this case highly upsetting) words superimposed in the corner of the screen.