Thursday, May 26, 2011

TZ Promo: “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (5/26/1961)

“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (5/26/1961)
Season Two, Episode 28 (64 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3660

I’ve observed many times that Rod Serling couldn’t write comedy. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but most of the time his attempts at lighter material fell flat. 50 years ago tonight, he gave us one of the exceptions.

“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” is a tongue-in-cheek variation on the classic British mystery story in which a wanted criminal is hiding in plain sight in a room full of innocents. The detective, using the process of elimination and his own power of deductive reasoning, ferrets the culprit out and solves the crime. The detective here is represented by a pair of state troopers. They’re following tracks in the snow that originate at the site of a crashed flying saucer and lead to… a diner.

There are nine people inside this diner. One of them isn’t who they appear. Commence mystery.

The comedy comes mostly from the increasing tension among the suspects, a wacky old man in particular. Serling keeps things light partly by avoiding the obvious questions: why is the alien being hunted at all? Has he (or it) done anything wrong? Why do we always assume the worst of that which we don’t understand? Serling will tackle the theme of xenophobia again, in season three’s “The Gift” and season five’s “The Fear.” His effort here is by far the superior of the three, surprisingly enough.

John Hoyt (last seen in “The Lateness of the Hour”) and Barney Phillips (last seen in “A Thing About Machines”) are delightful as always. Bif Bang Pow! is about to release an action figure based on Phillips’ character. I can’t really show him without risking a spoiler, but… well…. okay, screw it.

Product placement alert! During season 2 of the series, Serling did plugs for Oasis Cigarettes, a product of sponsor Liggett & Myers (these plugs usually appeared right before the end credits, and they are happily preserved on the blu-rays). At the climax, a certain character pulls out a pack of smokes…. which just happen to be Oasis. It seems Martians really dig the cigarette with “the softest taste of all.”

Oh man, there’s another spoiler. Sometimes it really can’t be helped.

Next week: Season two ends on a high note (the best season finale of the series’ five years). Burgess Meredith redeems himself after the awful “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” with one of the greatest performances of his career. He’s a librarian, in a future society where books have been outlawed, and he’s just been found…. ob-so-lete. Not to be missed.

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