Friday, December 30, 2011

SyFy New Year's Eve Marathon 2011


Here we are, on the cusp of a brand new year. To ring it in, SyFy is airing a whopping 44.5 hours of The Twilight Zone! Here’s the schedule….

12/31/2011

09:00 AM Escape Clause
09:30 AM In Praise Of Pip
10:00 AM Ring-A-Ding Girl
10:30 AM And When The Sky Was Opened
11:00 AM The Silence
11:30 AM The Hunt
12:00 PM I Am The Night - Color Me Black
12:30 PM The Rip Van Winkle Caper
01:00 PM Queen Of The Nile
01:30 PM Caesar And Me
02:00 PM Probe 7, Over And Out
02:30 PM Mr. Dingle, The Strong
03:00 PM A Kind of a Stopwatch
03:30 PM The Little People
04:00 PM A Hundred Yards Over The Rim
04:30 PM The After Hours
05:00 PM Little Girl Lost
05:30 PM A Game Of Pool
06:00 PM Long Distance Call
06:30 PM A Most Unusual Camera
07:00 PM Stopover In A Quiet Town
07:30 PM Number Twelve Looks Just Like You
08:00 PM A Penny For Your Thoughts
08:30 PM I Sing The Body Electric
09:00 PM Night Call
09:30 PM Five Characters In Search Of An Exit
10:00 PM Nick Of Time
10:30 PM Night Of The Meek
11:00 PM Kick The Can
11:30 PM Where Is Everybody?

1/01/2012

12:00 AM The Midnight Sun
12:30 AM People Are Alike All Over
01:00 AM Walking Distance
01:30 AM I Shot An Arrow Into The Air
02:00 AM Two
02:30 AM Uncle Simon
03:00 AM A World Of His Own
03:30 AM Hocus-Pocus And Frisby
04:00 AM The Lonely
04:30 AM A Short Drink From A Certain Fountain
05:00 AM A Thing About Machines
05:30 AM The Arrival
06:00 AM The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine
06:30 AM The Brain Center At Whipple's
07:00 AM Judgment Night
07:30 AM The Last Rights Of Jeff Myrtlebank
08:00 AM The Four Of Us Are Dying
08:30 AM The Jeopardy Room
09:00 AM Black Leather Jackets
09:30 AM A Piano In The House
10:00 AM A Nice Place To Visit
10:30 AM Twenty-two
11:00 AM King Nine Will Not Return
11:30 AM The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms
12:00 PM The Grave
12:30 PM Death's Head Revisited
01:00 PM One For The Angels
01:30 PM The Old Man In The Cave
02:00 PM It's A Good Life
02:30 PM Dead Man's Shoes
03:00 PM The Hitch-Hiker
03:30 PM The Dummy
04:00 PM Third From The Sun
04:30 PM The Invaders
05:00 PM The Bewitchin' Pool
05:30 PM The Midnight Sun (2nd airing)
06:00 PM The Masks
06:30 PM The Howling Man
07:00 PM The Odyssey Of Flight 33
07:30 PM Living Doll
08:00 PM The Obsolete Man
08:30 PM Eye Of The Beholder
09:00 PM Time Enough At Last
09:30 PM A Stop At Willoughby
10:00 PM The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
10:30 PM To Serve Man
11:00 PM Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?
11:30 PM Nightmare At 20,000 Feet

1/02/2012

12:00 AM The Shelter
12:30 AM Mr. Bevis
01:00 AM Mr. Denton On Doomsday
01:30 AM The Fever
02:00 AM Nightmare As A Child
02:30 AM What's In The Box
03:00 AM The Prime Mover
03:30 AM Mr. Garrity And The Graves
04:00 AM Perchance To Dream
04:30 AM Long Live Walter Jameson
05:00 AM What You Need


Thoughts:

“The Midnight Sun” is airing at…. midnight. Nice touch. But then they’re showing it again 17 ½ hours later… not sure why.

Since no hour-long episodes are included in the marathon, a total of 88 half-hour episodes are being shown (it would’ve been 89; thanks, “The Midnight Sun”). There are 138 half-hour episodes in the series’ run, which means 50 half-hour episodes have been left out. Here are 11 of the most egregious exclusions:

The Purple Testament
Mirror Image
A World of Difference
A Passage for Trumpet
Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room
Shadow Play
Nothing in the Dark
The Fugitive
The Changing of the Guard
Steel
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

Meanwhile, SyFy is including such clunkers as “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” “Caesar and Me,” and… yep, the reviled, putrescent stinkfest that is “Mr. Bevis.” The mind reels. And why are the hour-long episodes being ignored, exactly?

As with any other TZ marathon… I won’t be watching. I have the entire series on blu-ray, so I don’t need to sit through hacked-up syndication prints interrupted by commercials. Still, I wish more thought went into the selections. The thought of such an extensive marathon excluding beloved episodes like “Mirror Image” and “Shadow Play” just makes me sad.

And… that’s a wrap for 2011. On to 2012, where many surprises await… including Kanamit Week, coming up in March….

Thursday, December 29, 2011

TZ Promo: “A Quality of Mercy” (12/29/1961)


Season 3, Episode 15 (#80 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4809


50 years ago tonight, a glory-hungry lieutenant in the final days of WWII found the tables turned on him on a genetic level (I almost typed “quantum” there, which would’ve been a cute joke; read on…) when he finds himself inexplicably transformed into that which he hates most: his Japanese counterpart. The DNA, as they say, is on the other helix. Or something like that.


“A Quality of Mercy” stars Dean Stockwell, probably best known to genre fans as Admiral Al Calavicci, hologram advisor to Scott Bakula’s time-skipping Dr. Sam Beckett on TV’s Quantum Leap (now do you get the “quantum” joke above? Hey, c’mon, that’s gold!). Here he’s… well, much younger, and his voice is much higher. He’s appropriately loud and obnoxious (and fittingly contrite later on) as Kattel, the young lieutenant with a hard-on for blood.



Albert Salmi, last seen in season one’s “Execution” (and who will pop up again in season four’s “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”), is quite good as the war-weary sergeant who just wants to stop fighting and go home…. However, I would’ve liked to see him reprise Joe Caswell just long enough to treat Kattel to a knuckle sandwich.

Spock to Enterprise...

Everybody’s favorite Vulcan, Leonard Nimoy himself, appears here in a bit role. And furthering the Star Trek connection: Stockwell appeared in the “Detained” episode of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2002 (which starred Scott Bakula! A-ha!), plus he appeared in the 80’s Twilight Zone revival series (“Room 2426”). I’m not sure this qualifies as a “six degrees” situation, but there you go.



“A Quality of Mercy” was semi-remade in Twilight Zone: The Movie as “Time Out,” the catastrophe-laden filming of which cost the lives of actor Vic Morrow and a couple of Vietnamese children…. a horrific tragedy to be sure, made even more tragic by the fact that the resultant film wasn’t even very good.


Eine Kleine Nacht.... Morrow?


War is hard enough. Do you have to be a dick too?

“A Quality of Mercy” is another WWII-in-The-Philippines script from Rod Serling, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (he lived it, after all; the core idea might be someone else's, but Serling totally makes it his own). It’s impossible not to compare this episode to his earlier “The Purple Testament,” and yeah, it’s probably not quite as good… but it stands up pretty well on its own. It has that vague “been there, done that” quality that the series will regularly exhibit for the rest of its run, but it’s certainly not a bad effort. I’d probably rate it somewhere smack dab in the middle, and when it comes to The Twilight Zone, that’s still better than most TV, then and (most certainly) now.



Next: The Twilight Zone rings in the New Year with another appearance by Mr. Death, only this time he’s kinder and gentler… not to mention painfully handsome.




Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rag Status: Master Archive Collection complete!



As I reported recently, I was two issues shy of completing my "master archive" set of the entire 61-issue run of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine (1981-1989). I am happy to report that I have acquired those elusive two issues.

August 1988. You shall elude me no more.

April 1989. The final stitch in a arduous tapestry of acquisition.


Stacked by year, 1981-1989.

Each issue is in at least "very good condition," but most are "fine" or even "mint." And, in the parlance, each issue is "bagged and boarded"... but I'm considering storing them in binders. For now they're residing in the box shown above, but I'm planning at least upgrade to a sturdy plastic tote for long-term storage.

And this mission is by no means over! As previously reported, I'm collecting a second "utility" set for casual reading/scanning, of which I'm still missing 14 issues. So the search continues. The main set, the "fine-to-pristine" master archive collection, is finally complete, so I'm not in a big rush.... uh-huh, yeah, right. Truth be told, I'm just aching to complete the secondary set (the OCD monkey in my brain has been awakened). In fact, I recently took an afternoon off and headed to downtown Portland to reliable old Periodicals Paradise, where I previously acquired many issues for both sets, only to be greeted with the following:


D'oh! Oh well, it's less than a week away, and I just happen to have January 2nd off.... so of course I'll be there and, with any luck, plug some of the remaining holes in my second set.


Merch Spotlight: Twilight Zone Cigarette Case!



Christmas has come and gone. Santa didn't bring me anything TZ-related this year, but fear not! I gave myself something quite nice....

eBay is a great place to find weird items that you never knew existed (more specifically, unauthorized products that aren't available through regular retail channels). Case in point: the Twilight Zone pub light sign, which I picked up early last year. It came from Hong Kong, where copyright laws don't seem to apply. Several years back I picked up a Rod Serling lightswitch cover, which is either deep in a box in the garage or was lost in our last move. It was obviously a homemade product, but I loved it nevertheless. This newest item to join my TZ collection is also clearly homemade, but it's a slick, professional job. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you.... the Twilight Zone cigarette case!


I've owned this exact graphic in poster form twice in my life: when I was a teenager living with my parents, and more recently in my home office at our last house (our current digs unfortunately lack an extra room, so my poster, along with lots of other cool stuff, languishes out in the garage). Here, it's sharp as a tack and coated with a hard coat of something glossy to protect it.


On the right side we have a simple latch-and-spring mechanism. Press a button, and the case springs open.


I'm not a smoker, but I bought a pack for the express purpose of illustrating the case in action. These are standard 85-mm Marlboro Reds, but the case will accommodate 100s. And no, it doesn't hold two rows of cigarettes... the interior is a mirrored stainless steel.

The item was advertised as a cigarette case, but it can also be used as a money/ID holder. I guess it's more interesting than a wallet, and it might spark a few conversations.


The back of the case is blank. I suppose one could have it engraved. Hmmm.....

I just checked eBay, and there's only one TZ cigarette case listed, and it's a completely different one from a different seller. If the case depicted here is something you feel compelled to track down, check eBay on a regular basis. I'm sure it'll pop up again.



Thursday, December 22, 2011

TZ Promo: “Five Characters In Search of an Exit” (12/22/1961)



Season 3, Episode 14 (#79 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4805


“Where are we? What the hell is going on?”
(Imogen Heap, “Hide and Seek”)


50 years ago tonight, five disparate souls found themselves in the middle of nowhere… quite literally. It’s an utterly blank room with curved walls, which stretch up twenty, maybe thirty feet high. There are no doors, no windows. A deafening gong sounds every so often, shaking the entire room and knocking the unfortunate occupants to the floor.


And then there’s the matter of our five characters. They are enigmatic and generic: army major, clown, ballerina, hobo, bagpipe player. They know what they are. But who they are, and how each of them arrived in this small pocket of nowhere… these things remain hidden, from both themselves and us.


Rod Serling’s teleplay for “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” is adapted from an unpublished short story by Marvin Petal called “The Depository.” The episode consists mostly of our five human question marks trying to make sense of their surroundings, and ultimately agreeing on a plan of action that may mean escape, enlightenment, or both. Whether the ultimate revelation is satisfactory will depend on the viewer’s requirement for a neat, tidy ending. I state this because, while the denouement does explain much of the mystery, it does so superficially; the deeper questions are never really answered and, further, an entirely new mystery is brought forth.


They could be damned souls. The giant cylinder they’ve been dropped in could in fact be a hell of sorts. The answer we are ultimately given certainly doesn’t preclude this possibility.


Like “The Lonely” and “The After Hours” before it, “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” serves as a meditation on identity; specifically, the uncertain line separating that which we perceive to have identity versus that which we define as an object. Dialogue from the episode, along with Serling’s closing narration, suggests that love is the key factor in this type of determination. Corry loved Alicia, which made her more than a robot. Our five characters may be blank slates only because they are, for the moment, unloved. Perhaps they are intended as walking, talking metaphors for loneliness. In this light, the damnation angle seems a bit harsh.

Our hero makes it to the top, only to discover the impossible truth of his existence.

Lamont Johnson’s direction is effective (given the essential nothingness of the setting), but what really elevates the episode is the interplay between William Windom and Murray Matheson as the army major and clown, respectively.



An action figure rendering of the Clown by Bif Bang Pow! was scheduled for May 2012, but it’s been delayed. Rumor has it that he’ll reappear in set of all five characters… which presents an awesome packaging option (toy donation barrel! Oh damn, there’s a spoiler….).



OMELETTE DU HOMAGE


J.J. Abrams’ TV series Felicity (1998-2002) paid loving homage to “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” in the episode “Help for the Lovelorn,” which was shot in black and white and directed by… you guessed it, Lamont Johnson. I can’t recommend the series, as I avoid these types of romantic dramas like the plague, but this particular episode is quite well done.


As of this writing, "Help for the Lovelorn" is available on Netflix streaming. Thankfully, Abrams has gone on to bigger and better things (including TV’s Lost and the big screen Star Trek reboot). He wrote the Felicity episode in question, so he must be a TZ fan. Hey, I wonder if he reads this blog….? Okay, probably not.


A RENEWED SENSE OF (RE)PURPOSE

The gigantic semi-cylinder that comprises the main set would appear on TV again in my second-favorite series of all time: The Outer Limits (in two episodes: “The Inheritors, Part 2” and “The Probe”). Thanks to Martin Grams Jr.’s gloriously exhaustive The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic for this tidbit. Oh, and speaking of The Outer Limits.... well, stay tuned.


"Five Characters in Search of an Exit" is certainly one of the more bizarre excursions into The Twilight Zone, and I like it a great deal. It did rank in my top 40 favorites two years ago, but didn't quite make the cut when I narrowed it down to 20 earlier this year. Might need to do some revising to that list yet again....



Next week: War is hell. Yet again.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

TZ Promo: “Once Upon a Time” (12/15/1961)



Season 3, Episode 13 (#78 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4820)


A warning, before we proceed: I’m gonna phone this one in. Christmas is next week, I’ve got a million things to do, and frankly…. I just don’t give a damn about this particular episode.


“Once Upon a Time” is writer Richard Matheson’s love letter to silent film comedian Buster Keaton, whom he presumably grew up watching (and who stars in the episode). It’s a slapstick comedy involving a disgruntled janitor in 1890 who travels to 1960 and finds that the world sucks even worse in the future. 50 years ago, this was offered up as a nostalgia piece, and since I wasn’t around 50 years ago, I have no idea whether or not it was successful in that context. I can report that now, today, it’s unfunny and tedious. It doesn’t speak to me on any level. The Twilight Zone can be whimsical, even comedic, and still work, but slapstick has no business rearing its goofy, obnoxious head on this show.


Is it a total loss? I dunno. The segments that take place in 1890 are altered to mimic a silent film, with jerky motion and text cards to convey dialogue, and it’s a pretty clever approach.


And the time travel helmet looks sufficiently like something you’d see in very early science fiction (in other words, it looks ridiculous, but in an oddly charming way; kinda like Georges Méliès’ rocket crashing into the moon’s eye).


But…. well, that’s pretty much all this episode has to offer. Since I’m not a fan of early silent films (well, outside of Fritz Lang’s German output), I don't get a warm fuzzy feeling seeing Buster Keaton coming out of retirement for something this lame. All I see is a confused guy standing in the middle of a busy street in his underwear, holding a chicken. Yawn.


I should note that is the 78th episode of The Twilight Zone to air, which means we’re exactly halfway through the series. The remaining half does hold many treasures (some of the series’ finest offerings are still to be seen), but the overall quality of the series is gonna decline from here on in. In that respect, "Once Upon a Time" is most certainly a harbinger of things to come.




Next week: Five strangers wake up in a strange place with no memory of how they got there. And no, it’s not The Hangover 3-D: Christmas Vacation.



Saturday, December 10, 2011

WTF???



An interesting tidbit of information to close out our seven-day spotlight of the latest Bif Bang Pow! Twilight Zone merchandise... it seems their Clown action figure (from "Five Characters in Search of an Exit"), due out in May 2012, has been delayed. An entirely new (and unexpected) figure has replaced it in the lineup: Cyclops, the gigantic inflatable fake alien from season five's "The Fear."

I'm sorry... how's that?

I'm taking this as bad news. "The Fear" is a third-rate episode with a fourth-rate "alien." It's basically an astronaut with an oversized eyeball for a head. Well, that's what it looks like; in actuality it's A FUCKING PARADE BALLOON. Have a look:


God, what a retarded monstrosity. All the iconic TZ characters that they haven't touched yet, and they choose THIS? Ugh. Well... who knows, maybe I'll end up loving it. Bif Bang Pow! does have a history of making excellent action figures out of characters that I hate. But it needs to be said: this is the single most confounding choice they've made yet. I just don't get it.

Here's my concern: we're heading into the 4th year of Bif Bang Pow!'s TZ line. By my count, only three TZ items have sold out, and all of them are bobbleheads. This means that EVERY SINGLE TZ action figure is still available and easily obtained. I'll take that to mean that sales haven't been exactly brisk. I'll extrapolate a bit further and speculate that, eventually, the line will peter out due to underwhelming sales. The Twilight Zone isn't Star Wars, or Star Trek, or even fucking Doctor Who... the built-in fan base tends toward older men who don't buy action figures (I'm, ahem, an exception). This can't last forever. Given this, it seems like maybe they'd front-load the line with important, iconic characters. As great as their respective figures turned out, nobody was clamoring for Jason Foster or The Three-Eyed Venusian. Where's Anthony Fremont? Where's Marsha the Mannequin? Where's Robby the Robot, who appeared in two different episodes with two different heads? Nowhere, because we're getting Cyclops.

I'm a bit deflated by this news.

I know what you're thinking. If the prospect of a Cyclops figure doesn't interest me, I could just opt to not buy it...right? Wrong! Because Entertainment Earth only sells the figures in pairs, and since it's paired with Alicia (from "The Lonely"), one my most wanted figures... well, do the math. I'm gonna end up with Cyclops whether I want it or not. The preorder page over at Entertainment Earth has been revised to include Cyclops... but the figure itself isn't shown (yet). Gee, can't wait.

The general consensus (aka unsubstantiated rumor) regarding the Clown, by the way, is that he's being held back for inclusion in a multi-pack of all five of the "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" gang (Army Major, Hobo, Bagpiper, and Ballet Dancer round out the bunch). Time will tell.


Spotlight: The Invader action figure (Bif Bang Pow!)



Day 7 of our annual Bif Bang Pow! Celebration Week brings us to their Invader action figure. Longtime readers of this blog are undoubtedly aware of my deep and unfathomable love of the miniscule Invader, who was first seen in season two's "The Invaders" menacing poor Agnes Moorehead. Now, The Invader is actually human (yikes, spoiler alert!), so he's not really miniscule at all; nevertheless, Bif Bang Pow! has utilized the child-size body (6" tall), which sets it apart nicely from the other figures. It was the right choice.


CHARACTER LIKENESS


Well, there's no mistaking this guy for anything but an Invader. The sculpting of the head/torso is spot-on. The likeness isn't the problem... it's the overall proportions. Bif Bang Pow! uses generic bodies as the base for each figure, then adds character-specific heads and outfits. While The Invader is indeed human, his spacesuit is decidedly bulbous, almost inflated-looking... rubenesque, if you will.

The upper half of the figure is sufficiently plump. The real problem with The Invader figure is the legs. They're just too damned skinny. The clamshell armor could've been designed to extend down to the knees, which would have eliminated this issue. Bizarrely, Bif Bang Pow!'s earlier Invader bobblehead is much more faithful to the overall character design. This has gotta be the first time a bobblehead, with its inherent exaggeration of features, trumps an action figure:


Is this a deal-breaker? Well, damn it, no. It's a flaw, certainly, but not a fatal one. The figure still looks great.


The upper-body armor is a two piece clamshell affair. I pried mine apart, assuming that it would just snap back together, and was horrified to discover that the pieces wouldn't stay in place. So.... DON'T take the armor off, kids. Thankfully, a few dabs of super glue saved the day.



Under the armor, we have a metallic body suit with a Velcro strip running down the back. Oh, and NO FREAKIN' HEAD.


Topping off the outfit are a pair of boots, which unfortunately extend up under the pant legs. Taller boots, with the pants legs tucked inside, would have looked more accurate. The boots, along with The Invader's hands, are painted metallic silver, while adds to the metallic armor effect nicely.


ACCESSORIZE ME!

Nope. Nothing, nada, zip. Well, unless you count the clamshell-style armor that adorns the figure's upper half. I'm not counting it. The Invader SHOULD have come with at least one (but preferably two) laser guns. I can't deny that I'm a bit annoyed by this glaring omission. Christ, even the bobblehead has guns!


PACKAGING


The Invader arrives in the usual blister pack, heat-sealed to a card. The dimensions of the figure require a different bubble; therefore, this one is short but much deeper. The newest figures are depicted on the front of the card (all five of which we are spotlighting this week).


The back of the card features a delightful diorama featuring every single TZ action figure released so far, along with six figures not yet released (Santa Claus, Alicia, Maya the Cat Girl, Alien, Clown, and Nurse; those should hit in mid-2012). The Bob Wilson/Don Carter hybrid figure is marked as a Comic-Con exclusive; interestingly, last year's Willie the Dummy/Talky Tina pair is NOT marked as such. The wrecked spaceship in the background looks like it came from season five's "Probe 7 - Over and Out," which is a nice touch (wonder if we're getting a Richard Basehart figure at some future point...?). The new figures are limited to 1704 pieces each... my Invader is number 444.

The Invader comprises half of "Series 5" in Bif Bang Pow's ongoing Twilight Zone action figure releases. The Invader, along with the Three-Eyed Venusian, can be purchased from Entertainment Earth here. Each action figure is limited to only 1704 pieces, so don't delay, order today!


FINAL THOUGHTS


I was so prepared to hate this figure. And I should hate it, dammit, for the various reasons listed above. And yet ---- against all reason and logic --- I love it. Like, irrationally so. I don't know if it's the power of The Invader itself, or if Big Bang Pow! has me under some kind of spell, but whatever it is.... well, I'm not complaining. I'm happy to have The Invader action figure in my collection.... as I'm sure you'll be too.