Fear Itself: "Something with Bite" -- reviewed by Joe Blevins and Craig J. Clark

By Joe Blevins and Craig J. Clark

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." - KARL MARX (1852)

"Reunited and it feels so good." - PEACHES & HERB (1979)

And so we meet again, Fear Itself, under circumstances neither of us could have foreseen. It's been a while, my erstwhile muse. Have you lost weight? Or do you just look smaller because now I'm watching you on the Internet? The last time we met, of course, you were on the National Broadcasting Company. Then you lost your coveted network time slot to the Beijing Olympics and completely dropped out of sight. I heard not long ago, you were peddling yourself on DVD, all dolled up in a cheap plastic case bearing the image of what appears to be a skeleton with priapism. How sad! I don't know how that turned out for you, but now here you are streaming for free on the FEARnet website.

The move suits you. These new, more humble digs are just your style. Let's face it, NBC was no kind of a home. It was an untenable situation from the get-go. Audience members have certain baseline expectations for network television, expectations you could never hope to match. But on the Internet, all people expect is to see idiots getting hurt, and that's something you've always been able to provide, Fear Itself.

Take "Something With Bite," your previously unaired werewolf episode, as an example. Not that the show's protagonist, a veterinarian and bumbling family man turned lycanthrope, is a dunce. On the contrary, he seems to be in full possession of his mental faculties and remains pretty zen about his situation, despite the fact that he now needs a flea collar and a distemper shot. But during the course of episode's 43 minutes (so THAT'S how long you are without commercials!) , we get to see a few bozos Get What's Coming To Them. Namely, there's this one smug blond guy so insufferable that he even smirks in his employee ID photo. Worse yet, he frequently blows off work to play video games, and you just know he uses the word "bro" frequently as part of elaborate pormanteaux like "bromance," "brobot," and "brotisserie chicken." Always with the fist-bumps and the Dave Matthews Band and the ironic t-shirts, this guy. Well, not to spoil things, but he suffers big time here. I thank you for that, Fear Itself. However, in this same episode, you also give us a couple of aging hippie characters who do not suffer to my total satisfaction. Work on that, would you?

Overall, though, "Something With Bite" is neither unwatchable nor embarrassing, which distinguishes it from many of its episodic brethren. (I'm looking in your direction, "Community" and "New Year's Day.") The show's obviously low makeup and effects budget betrays itself in, well, frankly every scene involving werewolves (and there are many, this being a werewolf episode), but the acting is mostly strong - especially the lead performance by Wendell Pierce - and Ernest Dickerson's direction is assured enough to overcome slight defects in Max Landis's occasionally choppy script. By and large, this was a lot more palatable than some of the Fear Itself installments which did manage to crawl their way onto television screens last summer.

But just so you won't think I've gone mushy on you, Fear Itself, I have one last gripe: I thought we as a society were done with the trope of taking an obviously stunning-looking young woman and trying to pass her off as "dowdy" simply by pulling her hair back in a ponytail and giving her gawky-looking Buddy Holly glasses. C'mon, Fear Itself. Who's zooming who?

* * *

Once again, Mr. Blevins and I approach an episode of Fear Itself from completely different perspectives - and I'm not just saying that because he watched it online and I actually shelled out for the DVD set (the cover of which I doubt I will ever again be able to look at the same way). He sees "Something with Bite" merely as an entertainment to be enjoyed or pilloried (or maybe even a bit of both) whereas I view it the way one would a documentary, or at the very least one of those shows that does dramatic re-enactments of real-life events. Yes, strange as it may seem, I saw much truth in the plight of Wendell Pierce's portly veterinarian-turned-ravenous wolf-beast.

For starters, he goes through many of the stages that the newly bitten frequently experience. First there is the enhanced sense of smell, which can be overwhelming at the outset but eventually one learns to temper it (and to not be so obvious about sniffing things). Then comes the realization that your bite (which Pierce receives from an injured werewolf that is brought into his clinic by the truck driver who ran it over) has healed much faster than it would normally. And one shouldn't forget the new-found self-confidence and the wellspring of animal aggression that a fledgling lycanthrope draws from. Before you're able to fully process what is happening to you, it all seems so unreal and alien that you simply can't comprehend the subtle changes your body is going through.

Then, of course, there is your first full-on transformation, which can be both disorienting and exhilarating, and often at the same time. As far as your mind is concerned, there's the person and there is The Wolf, but while you're in between states it has to work overtime to reconcile the two. And there's also the important question of identity. Once you've become The Wolf for the first time, do you ever truly go back to being human or are you simply a wolf in man's clothing? The starter werewolf has so many questions and so few people to talk to about them, it's a wonder any of them ever make it past their first lunar cycle. Luckily, the protagonist in "Something with Bite" has a few things working in his favor.

For starters, it may take our lycanthropic vet some time to realize what he has become, but unlike, say, Lawrence Talbot or the Dr. Pepper guy in An American Werewolf in London, he's not too tormented about it once he does get clued in. In fact, the only thing he has lingering doubts about is the string of animal attacks that have been plaguing the city where he lives (and which have hit uncomfortably close to home, drawing unwelcome police attention). Since he doesn't remember everything that he does while he's The Wolf, it's entirely possible that he could be responsible and have no way of knowing (short of waiting to see whether any human bones or other remnants manifest themselves in his stool). All works out in the end, though, which is rare for an episode of Fear Itself, but I guess they can't all be relentless downers.

The upbeat conclusion aside, it's disheartening that writer Max Landis willfully misrepresents certain aspects of lycanthropy. For example, his protagonist doesn't have to wait for the full moon to change, which I didn't believe when I saw it in Teen Wolf and I don't believe it now. Call me a traditionalist, but a man becomes a werewolf when the wolfbane blooms, not whenever the notion enters his fool head. And neither does he transform every night just for shits and giggles, as Pierce claims to do. And what's the deal with the injured werewolf dying in the veterinarian's office and not changing back into a person? Doesn't Landis know that there are rules? I imagine his father must have given him a serious talking-to when he saw the completed episode.

Ultimately, though, I can excuse these lapses because Landis and company get so many other things right. For example, take the existence of what are called, for lack of a better (or more PC) term, "fur-chasers." These pathetic creatures idolize (and idealize) werewolves to an absurd degree and sometimes go to disturbing lengths to emulate them -- and I'm not talking about howling at the moon, either. The fur-chaser in "Something with Bite" is such an odious individual, I hope I never meet anyone like him in my own travels. I tell you, some people just take all the fun out of being a werewolf.


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Well, then. With this entry, "Project: Fear Itself" appears to be back on track. And with any luck, we'll have one of these reviews up every week until the middle of December. I hope someone is still paying attention to them at that point.

Incidentally, if you're curious about the order in which Joe and I are attacking the unaired episodes, we are going by the original air dates as listed on the Internet Movie Database. Of course, for the episodes that were never shown in the States, the dates listed are for when they aired in Hungary back in January. Also, according to the fount of knowledge that is Wikipedia, all episodes of the show have been seen in the Middle East and Latin America, as well as the countries of Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania. Kinda makes you wonder what they know that we don't...

Great as always guys. Nice to see these reviews up and running again. I especially like the Peaches and Herb reference.

Also, Regarding the werewolf/full moon thing, I completely agree. Might as well let vampires sun bathe while they're at it.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Blevins and Craig J. Clark published on November 12, 2009 4:14 PM.

"Repo! The Genetic Opera" -- reviewed by Craig J. Clark and Joe Blevins was the previous entry in this blog.

Fear Itself: "Chance" -- reviewed by Craig J. Clark and Joe Blevins is the next entry in this blog.

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