"This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun." - CLARK GRISWOLD
Doc, you gotta help me!
It's this TV show, Doc, this Fear Itself. Yeah, that's right, Doc, the NBC horror anthology airing Thursday nights at ten, nine central right after Last Comic Standing. Boy, you sure know your TV shows, Doc. I didn't think anybody but me was watching... and judging from the ratings they ain't. So you been watching it too?
Oh, just heard about it somewhere, huh? Still, I'm impressed.
Anyway, Doc, here's my problem. I've been watching this turkey since day one. Day one, Doc, and I ain't missed an episode yet. Loyal as Greyfriars Bobby, you might say. And what do I get in return, Doc? Zilch, that's what. Zero. Nada. Nothing. El blank-oh.
What do I want from it? How about a genuine scare every once in a while! The title is Fear Itself but I haven't experienced any actual fear itself. Boredom itself, yes. Disappointment itself, definitely. Confusion itself, frustration itself, curiosity about what's on the other channels itself, you name it. Everything but fear itself. I want the fear, Doc. I crave it like the junkie craves his needle. You grok, Doc?
Take last night's show as a "for instance." It was called "Community" and it starred that kid from the last Superman movie. Brandon something. Blandly handsome in that "Sears catalog model" kind of way and with acting chops that would almost pass muster in the Podunk High School production of You Can't Take It With You. In this show, they got him paired with some dame I didn't recognize. They're young marrieds eager to buy their first home, and lo and behold, they find a honey of a place in an exclusive gated community. It all seems too good to be true, and Superman, Jr. smells a rat. But Wifey's just gaga for the dump, so in they move.
Well, you can guess where it goes from there, Doc. Actually, you don't have to guess. They all but tell you in the first five minutes. It starts with Kal-El making a mad dash on foot for the city limits, the prerequisite angry mob hot on his trail. Most of the rest of the episode is then told in flashbacks, telling you what led up to that chase scene. If your prediction is that the "community" turned out to be a bunch of creeps and whackjobs and that Supes soon regretted ever having moved there, then congratulations are in order, Nostradamus. You are correct, sir.
Fear Itself loves the twist ending, Doc, and I guess the twist here is that the show plays out pretty much like you think it will, except kind of low-key and deflated like somebody'd let all the air out of it. It just seemed kinda half-hearted and perfunctory. Like there's one scene where the villagers publicly shame a woman by dressing her up in a pig mask and throwing apples at her. Funny, right? But nobody's really into it. They're just kind of going through the motions. They looked bored, Doc. Later, the kids in town do the same thing to one of their own, only with snowballs instead of apples. But they show one of the kids throwing a snowball, and she just kind of lobs it underhand. I'm not even sure if it made it to its intended target. The whole show was like that, Doc.
I actually felt sorry for the lummox, Brandon what's-his-name, Captain Hairdo. I mean, as if the kid didn't already have problems being unfavorably compared to Christopher Reeve, at one point in the episode they actually show him in a wheelchair! A wheelchair, Doc! I crap thee negatory. Maybe next they came have him star in a remake of Monsignor. You ever see Monsignor, Doc? Not bad at all, despite what you may've heard. Plus Genevieve Bujold gets 'em out in one scene. Not too shabby, Doc. Not too shabby.
It feels good to talk about this stuff, Doc. When I came in here, I was all upset because Fear Itself had stolen another hour of my life. But now that I've gotten all this off my chest, I feel great. Well, not great exactly but better at least. Ready to go write another blog post slagging Fear Itself. Thanks a million, Doc.
Say, this is some swell office you got here, Doc. I never really noticed it before. You must be awful excited about the Beijing Olympics. All those posters on your wall, I mean. "8-8-08." I guess that's when they start televising it, huh? Hey, is that a Heroes coffee mug on your desk? Hmm. I never noticed that lapel pin of yours, Doc. Colorful. Looks like a little bird. A peacock, huh? Cute. You know, Doc, I've never told you this before, but in this light, you look uncannily like Jeff Zucker, the President and Chief Executive Officer of NBC Universal. The glasses, the bald pate. You guys could be twins.
Say, Doc, why are you looking at me like that? I didn't say anything to offend you, did I?
Well, folks, here we are in Week 7 of Fear Itself, the midway point of the series, commonly referred to in television circles as Make or Break It Week. Less commonly known as Hump Week (at least in this age of political correctness), Get Your Act Together Week or Where's the Damned Werewolf Story Already Week. Let's face it; they've already done vampires, ghosts, serial killers (two of them), voodoo, zombies and (this week) a whole Stepford Wives kind of deal. They're going to do a werewolf story sooner or later. Why not make it sooner so I have a chance of seeing it before NBC pulls the plug? (And more and more I'm thinking they will one of these weeks, although I shudder to imagine what NBC would pull out of its vaults to replace an underperforming summer replacement show such as this.)
This week's episode, as Joe has told you, was called "Community." I like to call it "Count the Allusions, References and Outright Steals." In addition to Ira Levin's fictional town of Stepford, which has been depicted in no less than two feature films and three TV movies and was the obvious inspiration for the exclusive gated community The Commons, the episode also featured transitions stolen from Kubrick's The Shining ("Two Days Later," "Four Weeks Later" and so forth -- I was waiting for one that just said "Wednesday") and strong allusions to Rosemary's Baby (another Ira Levin influence), Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Truman Show and even Shock Treatment, the less-than-successful follow-up to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At least Shock Treatment had songs, a satirical point to make about American values and a vision of life as a reality TV series that was amazingly prescient. "Community," on the other hand, just chugged along, refusing to offer up any surprises or chills or, well, anything of interest, really.
The sad thing is it didn't have to be this way. "Community" was directed by Mary Harron, who previously helmed the features I Shot Andy Warhol (which - SPOILER ALERT - is about some chick who shoots Andy Warhol), American Psycho (which can be found in the $5 DVD bin at your local Wal Mart), and The Notorious Bettie Page (which didn't stick around in theaters long enough for me to see it) as well as a slew of television shows. Clearly if anybody could bridge the gap between the big and small screens and do so with a certain amount of élan, it was she. Sadly, Ms. Harron was sandbagged with a substandard script (which is, as far as I can tell, the standard modus operandi for this show) and some barely adequate thespians. Still, the one guy who jabbed a pair of scissors into the evil real estate agent's neck was good. If there's one thing this episode lacked, it was more scenes of people jabbing scissors into other people's necks. Would have certainly relieved the tedium.
But getting back to the werewolves, is it really too much to ask for them to give me a decent werewolf story? I make no apologies; I really like the hairy beasts. And after Masters of Horror disappointed me by containing not one werewolf episode, I'm ready for Fear Itself to redress this egregious oversight. If they choose to include a transformation sequence, though, I hope they abstain from using CGI. There's nothing worse than a crappy CGI transformation sequence. Hell, I'd take lap dissolves between progressively shaggy makeup effects over CGI (which has ruined more werewolf movies in the past decade and change than I frankly care to think about).
Unfortunately, I don't think next week's Fear Itself will deliver the werewolf story I'm waiting for. Of course, it's hard to tell since the teaser was no more than a few seconds and didn't give any indication of what the episode is about. If the IMDb is anything to go by, though, it will be "Skin & Bones," directed by Larry Fessenden from a script by Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan, who wrote both of John Carpenter's Masters of Horror episodes. That's a reasonably good sign, but the plot description ("When a cattle herder returns home to his family after being lost in the woods for days, he just doesn't seem the same. Soon, a terrible mortal struggle ensues against the terrifying monster possessing him.") doesn't scream "werewolf" to me. Werewolves don't possess you; they are you. Oh, how I wish that were so.
Anyway, we'll be back next week with another installment. At least I know I will. I can't say for sure whether Joe made it out of Jeff Zucker's office alive. Television executives can be notoriously sensitive when it comes to unasked-for criticism.