Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Unshakeables: The Bionic Woman Saves the World

 

A television show succeeds if it holds your attention for the time it’s on. But some episodes stay with you long after the credits roll. The emotions they generate do not dissipate for several minutes – sometimes several hours. And when you think about them months or even years later, you find the imprint they left on your mind remains as formidable as ever.

 

These are the “Unshakeables.”

 

A great twist ending is tough to pull off, but so satisfying when it works. The Twilight Zone was a master of these compelling climaxes, and over the years we’ve seen other memorable examples ranging from the last episode of St. Elsewhere to Bob Hartley waking up from his dream of being a Vermont innkeeper at the end of Newhart. 

 

When they work – and even when they don’t – they stick in our minds.

 

Not sure if I’ll be alone in this memory, but the ending of the two-part Bionic Woman episode “Doomsday is Tomorrow” made a profound impact on me when I watched it back in 1977. And it’s returned to my memory many times since, especially after the series was released on DVD. Even now, watching it again when I know what’s coming, the “reveal” has lost none of its potency. 

 


 

The story begins when eminent nuclear scientist Dr. Elijah Cooper (Lew Ayres), announces that he has created “the most diabolical instrument of destruction ever conceived by man,” a bomb that would “render the entire world lifeless.” The United Nations takes the threat seriously, though it can’t understand why a gentle, soft-spoken, elderly man would make such a terrifying revelation.

 


Turns out he did it because he’s fed up with all the war talk constantly emerging from different countries, so he hopes to blackmail the world into peace: his doomsday device will trigger only in the event of a nuclear detonation anywhere in the world. When one nation thinks he’s bluffing and explodes a nuke over the ocean, the countdown to the end of life on earth begins.

 

Jaime Sommers tries to talk Dr. Cooper out of his plan, bur he dies soon after and control of the bomb is turned over to ALEX 7000, a super-computer that controls the huge underground facility where the device is kept. Series creator Kenneth Johnson, who wrote, produced and directed this episode, clearly modeled ALEX after the HAL 9000 computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, right down to its mannerly but menacing voice. “So it’s a duel between you and me,” Jaime says. And that’s where part two begins.

 


The set-up is right out of a James Bond movie: Jaime must reach the lowest level of the facility, one mile below the surface, to deactivate the device, while ALEX launches floor after floor of lethal automated defenses to stop her.

 

Kenneth Johnson’s DVD commentary track on this episode reveals that the episode was mainly shot at the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant in Los Angeles. While that setting sounds like it would be more smelly than scary, Johnson creates a sinister mood through the use of lighting, and by shooting Lindsay Wagner from a distance as one woman surrounded by huge industrial equipment that can be programmed to attack her.

 


It’s a memorable and entertaining episode even before we get to the final twist. While her bionic enhancements give Jaime advantages that ALEX could not have anticipated, the computer’s defenses were designed to hold off an army. But as we learned from Lord of the Rings, sometimes a single determined individual can access places where a legion might fail.

 

The only misstep for me was making ALEX too chatty. Since most of part two is the confrontation between Jaime and the computer I understand Johnson’s desire to have more dialogue as the story plays out, but this was a case where less would have been more. As Mission: Impossible proved, long stretches of silence can heighten dramatic tension.

 

How does it end? It wouldn’t be a spoiler to reveal that all life on earth was not extinguished, especially as The Bionic Woman returned with a new adventure the following week. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Jaime was successful in her mission.

 


And now here’s my dilemma – to divulge that memorable twist ending, or to refrain from spoiling its surprise, even if this is a show that aired 43 years ago. In my previous “Unshakeables” pieces on episodes of Lou Grant and The Bold Ones: The Lawyers, I left my readers unspoiled – and I think that is the best course of action here as well. Perhaps that way you’ll appreciate the profundity of how the story ends as much as I did – and still do.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Halloween Comfort TV: Crowhaven Farm

 

The calendar says its October and usually that means I’d start delving into my go-to Halloween-themed classic TV episodes…but I’m just not feeling it this year. Maybe 2020 has been scary enough already.

 

But for those still eager to embrace the holiday, I have one recommendation you might enjoy. I missed it the first time when I was a cowardly kid in the 1970s, but redsicovered it recently as part of a piece I started for this blog and later abandoned, though I’ll probably strip it for parts over the next few months.

 

Crowhaven Farm was a movie-of-the-week that aired on ABC in 1970. It was one of several memorable TV horror movies from that era, including The Night Stalker (1972), Satan’s School for Girls (1973), Trilogy of Terror (1975) and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981). 

 

 

What is interesting to me about all of these films is how they had to comply with broadcast standards that placed strict limits on violence, yet they continue to linger in the nightmares of ‘70s kids nearly 50 years later. They are triumphs of artistry over gore, and subtlety over shock value.


As Crowhaven Farm opens, Maggie Porter (Hope Lange) is at the reading of a relative’s will, where she discovers that the title property would be bequeathed to her only if a different beneficiary does not move there. Said beneficiary heads out to the farm the next night, only to die after driving his car off a bridge. 

 

That is sign number one that this may not be a great place to relocate.

 


Undaunted, Maggie and her husband Ben (Paul Burke) drive out soon after to take possession. There, Maggie meets a creepy handyman played by John Carradine.

 


That is sign number two that this may not be a great place to relocate.

 

As she walks through the old, rambling farmhouse, she feels unsettled, and later reaches instinctively for a lever that opens a secret room, despite the fact that she’s never been there before.

 

Sign number three.

 

So Maggie is ready to head back to New York – but Ben has gone all Oliver Wendell Douglas, and is convinced that farm living is the life for him. Against her better instincts, she agrees to stay.

 

A few weeks later, at a party held so the Porters can meet their rural neighbors, a local historian tells Maggie that Crowhaven was once the site where a coven of witches performed satanic rituals.

 


This is where the rest of us would have finally got the message and left before the party was over. But the Porters stay, and they suffer the consequences.

 

I’m reluctant to reveal any further plot details, because the story’s surprises should be discovered without spoilers. 

 


 

Viewers were familiar with seeing Hope Lange in supernatural situations after her three seasons on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. She won two Emmys for that role, over such formidable competition as Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Barbara Feldon (Get Smart) and Marlo Thomas (That Girl). But there’s no romance with a ghostly sea captain this time around. There’s not even much romance with her husband, or with an on-the-make neighbor played by the always skeezy Lloyd Bochner.

 

Instead she’s a woman mostly alone in a place she does not want to be. There’s a scene early on when Maggie is awakened by voices in the middle of the night. She wanders outside through a forested area, still in her nightgown, wind rustling through the trees, trying to find out where those voices are coming from and what they are saying. The scene reminded me of one in the film Cat People, where a woman feels as if she’s being stalked while swimming in an indoor pool. The atmosphere and the amplified sounds and the way the sequences are shot create an eerie sense of foreboding, though little of consequence actually happens.

 

But if you prefer your scares more visceral, the last fifteen minutes of Crowhaven Farm do not disappoint.

 

As good as Lange is, the performance that lingers longest in the memory belongs to young Cindy Eilbacher, whom you should know if you aced our Know Your Eilbachers quiz. She plays an angelic young waif who the Porters adopt on impulse, proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished. It’s definitely one of the great creepy kid performances of all time.

 


So if this year hasn’t satiated your desire for horror stories, take a drive out to Crowhaven Farm. Preferably on John Carradine’s day off. 

 

 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Ten Perfect Classic TV Punch Lines

 

I’ve mentioned Entertainment Weekly magazine before in this blog, usually in disparaging terms. But inexplicably I’m still a subscriber, and recently I received their 30th anniversary issue, which included a collection of the best punch lines from TV comedies over the past 30 years. Not a bad idea.

 

The choices cited provide another opportunity to contrast how current TV differs from the classic shows of the past, and to choose some of my favorite punch lines from the Comfort TV era.

 


Let’s start with the most obvious distinction: half of the magazine’s picks could never have been uttered in the pre-cable era, because of their subject matter or the language used. And many of those that clear that hurdle would still have been unthinkable, because the humor emerged from a sentiment that would never be expressed.

 

Example: EW chose a rant by Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm about how he’d rather have thieves in his house than his neighbors:  “The thieves don’t impose! The neighbors want your time. The thieves want your things. I’d rather give them things than time.”

 

Putting aside whether a diatribe that long actually qualifies as a punch line, at least we’re dealing with a situation common to TV characters in any era: annoying neighbors. Ed Norton frequently strained Ralph Kramden’s nerves on The Honeymooners; on Bewitched, Samantha was frustrated by Mrs. Kravitz peeping through her windows; on The Donna Reed Show, even Donna had her patience tested by Mrs. Wilgus, a neighborhood busybody played by Kathleen Freeman.

 


But can you imagine any of those characters echoing Larry David’s preference for thieves?

 

Still, it wasn’t all sweetness and light back in the innocent Comfort TV era. Then as now, great punch lines often emerged from a well-crafted insult. I promised ten perfect classic TV punch lines – here’s the first one, from an episode of The Honeymooners entitled “The $99,000 Answer”. Ralph is going on a game show and is determined to hit the jackpot:

 

Alice : “For the last time, Ralph, I'll be very happy if you win the 600 bucks.”

Ralph : “$600? Peanuts, peanuts! What am I gonna do with peanuts?”

Alice : “Eat 'em, like any other elephant.”

 

And if characters aren’t attacking each other, they’re putting themselves down.  The magazine turned to The Larry Sanders Show for its selection; I’ll go instead to The Bob Newhart Show. In the classic episode “Over the River and Through the Woods,” before the epic drunk scene that closes the show, Elliot Carlin explains his plan for avoiding depression on Thanksgiving.

 

Carlin: “Stay awake between now and Thanksgiving, and then I’ll be so exhausted I’ll sleep right through it.

 

Bob: “Good plan.”

 

Carlin: “I think I may do that for all the holidays. The only one that worries me is Lent.”

 


As I read the EW list again, I realized that the crafting of a great laugh line is a higher priority now than it used to be. On Comfort TV sitcoms, humor emerged more from putting characters into challenging or uncomfortable situations and observing how they react to them. Today the writer’s voice is more prominent, when the story pauses so a character can deliver a clever and funny line of dialogue.

 

That contrast can be illustrated by the fact that some great Comfort TV era laugh lines won’t make sense by themselves out of the context of the scene in which they are heard. Take this one from Get Smart:

 

Max: “That’s funny…it doesn’t look it.”

 


Not amusing at all by itself. But In “A Tale of Two Tails” Max learns that the infamous Cone of Silence was invented by Professor Cohn, which prompts Max to look up at it and then say that line.

 

Okay, so there’s three great classic TV punch lines so far – I owe you seven more. Not saying these are the best ever, but they were the first ones I recalled, which at least says something about their impact.

 

The Dick Van Dyke Show: “Three Letters From One Wife”

 

Alan Brady: Mel, I'm thirsty.

Mel Cooley: Oh, you want a drink, Alan?

Alan Brady: No, a glass of dust.

 

While Buddy’s insults of Mel were always funny, Alan’s putdowns always had a little extra bite.

 


The Mary Tyler Moore Show: “Chuckles Bites the Dust”

 

There were more than ten great punch lines in just this episode. Let’s go with one from Ted Baxter’s on-air remembrance of Chuckles’ passing:

 

Ted: “Chuckles liked to make people laugh. You know what I'd like to think, I'd like to think that somewhere, up there tonight, in his honor, a choir of angels is sitting on whoopee cushions.”

 


Do we need one of Hawkeye’s putdowns of Frank Burns on this list? I think we do.

 

MASH: “The Bus”

 

Frank: “I can plug an ace of hearts at fifty feet.”

Hawkeye: “I’ll remember that if we’re ever attacked by a bridge club.”

 


Earlier this year I did not give a very favorable review to the DVD release of Our Miss Brooks. But that doesn’t mean the show couldn’t deliver a great punch line:

 

Daisy Enright: “When I was in my teens, there weren’t many stars on television.”

Connie Brooks: “When you were in your teens, there weren’t many stars on the flag.”

 


You Bet Your Life, the quiz show hosted by Groucho Marx, delivered more laughs than most situation comedies, especially when Groucho interviewed a character as memorable as Pedro Gonazlez-Gonzalez:

 

Groucho: “If we got together as an act, what would it be called?”

Pedro: “It would be Gonzales-Gonzales and Marx.”

Groucho: “Do you believe that? Two men in the act, and I get third billing!”

 

But this one is too legendary not to include:

 

Groucho: “Why do you have so many children?”

Female Contestant: “Well, I love my husband very much.”

Groucho: “Hey, I enjoy a good cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.”

 


Another of my favorite go-to series for great comedy is The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. I’ve quoted this exchange in the blog before but it’s good enough to deserve an encore:

 

Gracie, on her Uncle Harvey: “You don't want to hear about the job he had helping that plumber? Well, the only reason he lost the job is because he did what the plumber told him to.”

George: “That's why he lost it?”

Gracie: “Well, yes. You see, what happened was they were trying to hammer some pipe through a hole in the wall, so the plumber held it and he said to Uncle Harvey, ‘Now, when I nod my head, you hit it with that big hammer…’”

 


The more I write the more I realize how many more I want to include from shows like Taxi and Designing Women, and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Perhaps another time. I’ll close with a perfect punch line that needs no introduction, and that will likely be heard in many homes once again in another month or so:

 

“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

Monday, September 21, 2020

Reflections on The Twilight Zone's "A Nice Place to Visit"

 

During this seemingly endless pandemic I’ve taken to watching the sermons of Bishop Robert Barron on YouTube.

 

A few weeks ago, he spoke at length about a painting in Paris’s Musee d’Orsay by Thomas Couture called “The Romans of the Decadence.” It shows a large crowd of people engaged in all sorts of carousing and debauchery; but at the center of the canvas is a woman who looks directly out toward the viewer, and seems utterly bored with the revelry that surrounds her.

 

The message, according to Bishop Barron, is that all of the pleasures this world can offer, wonderful and wicked, legal and illegal, will eventually not be enough to satisfy us. We were made for something greater.

 

To me, that sermon was a reminder of a classic TV episode that communicated  a similar message. “A Nice Place To Visit” aired on April 15, 1960, near the end of the first season of The Twilight Zone

 


 

As the show opens we meet Rocky Valentine (Larry Blyden), a career criminal in the midst of robbing a safe in a pawnshop. He is shot and killed by the police while trying to escape. Seemingly moments later, he wakes up and meets Mr. Pip (Sebastian Cabot), a debonair man in a white suit, who introduces himself as Rocky’s “guide.”

 

 

 

A clearly confused and suspicious Rocky is given a luxurious apartment, a new fancy wardrobe, and piles of cash. Taking stock of “the joint, the clothes, the booze,” he figures he must be in heaven, and Pip is his guardian angel. “Anything I want,” he says, gleefully rubbing his hands together, and it’s off to the casino. As beautiful women cheer him on, he tries roulette and the slot machines and he can’t lose. 

 


 

Still, Rocky is curious as to why he was allowed into Heaven: "I must have done something good that made up for all the other stuff.” Pip takes him to the Hall of Records to review his file, which provides no answers: Rocky has been a rat since he killed a dog at the age of six. But if God is fine with the decision, he figures he’s happy to keep living the good life. 

 


 

But one month later, Rocky finds that everything he used to enjoy now brings no pleasure at all. Even the prospect of robbing a bank fails to interest him, as he already knows he’ll get away with it.

 

“I don’t think I belong here,” he finally tells Pip. “If I have to stay here another day I’m going to go nuts! I don’t belong in heaven. I want to go to the other place.”

 

“Heaven?” Pip replies. “Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This *is* the other place!”

 

And that cues up Rod Serling’s close: “A scared and angry little man who never got a break. Now he has everything he’s ever wanted. And he’s going to have to live with it for eternity…in the Twilight Zone.”

 

Did you guess the outcome when you first saw this episode? Whether you did or not, it’s the message that I find most interesting. And while The Twilight Zone routinely delved into provocative questions related to ethics and philosophy, it was not the only series from the Comfort TV era to contemplate the same set of circumstances described by Bishop Barron and painted by Couture. I can think of two other series, both among the era’s most popular situation comedies, which also explored this scenario.

 

Guesses? If not, I will humbly recommend my forthcoming book, out next month, which I’ll talk about more in my next blog.

 

As I write this, the Emmy Awards are being presented on ABC. I’m not watching – I haven’t watched in more than a decade. See previous Emmy-related blog entries for those reasons. But I do know a little about some of the shows deemed worthy of Emmy recognition. And I wonder what messages those shows are sending, or if that’s even a relevant question.

 

One might think that some lessons would remain pertinent in any era of entertainment. But if we could count on that being the case 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, I’m not sure we can still count on it now. To illustrate I give you The Good Place, a recent Emmy-winning series that closed out its first season with a twist similar to the one in “A Nice Place to Visit.” But on that series, the inversion of good and bad destinations was not the end but a starting point, from which the show asked questions that never would have occurred to previous generations, such as whether “the good place” was really good for everyone. What times we live in.

 

Here is a look at the Couture painting:

 


 

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Divine Diana Rigg

 

In 1987 I visited England for the first time. The weeks leading up to the trip were filled with difficult choices on what to do in those ten days, amidst a seemingly endless selection of historical sites and castles and monuments and natural wonders.

 

But one thing was certain – one of those nights would be spent with Diana Rigg. 

 

 

She was performing in a West End production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Back then I was not as conversant in musical theater as I am now, so the show itself held little interest. All I knew is that for a few hours I’d be in the same room as Mrs. Emma Peel. To me that was as important as seeing Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the British Museum.

 

In many ways The Avengers was my introduction to London. Long before I went there I fell in love with the city as it was portrayed in this classic ‘60s series.

 

Was there really a place this civil and sophisticated, where men dressed as nattily as John Steed, and were so well versed in fine wines and cricket and vintage Jaguars? And were the women really as stunning as sexy as Emma Peel? If so, visiting might not be enough – I may have to move there.


Of course, London wasn’t always like it was shown in The Avengers, then or now. But there are still places in its winding streets and hidden corners where reside little antique shops that could appear in an episode like “The Correct Way to Kill.” I was delighted every time I found one.

 

 

One thing is sure: no city ever had a better endorsement for tourism than London had in The Avengers, or two more ideal ambassadors than Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.

 

When I think of the show now I don’t remember stories or villains. It’s the moments around the plots that linger most vividly, when Steed and Emma are trading banter and barbs like no other couple since Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man films. The chemistry between the two actors has never been surpassed.

 

Emma Peel: Would you like a drink?

John Steed: Intravenously!

 

John Steed: I've driven across this road, oh, a hundred times during the war.

Emma Peel: Well, since you know it so well it's remarkable you couldn't stay on it.

 

Emma Peel: [referring to Steed's watch] That's new.

John Steed: Legacy from my uncle.

Emma Peel: Pity it's dented.

John Steed: Battle of the Somme, 1916.

Emma Peel: German bullet?

John Steed: Canadian mule.

 

Emma Peel: What have we got, so far?

John Steed: Two black roses, three corpses...

Emma Peel: Four white feathers...

John Steed: And a partridge in a pear tree.

 

Emma Peel: The invitation came from a mutual friend – Jeremy Wade

John Steed: That’s the fellow that deals in old prints and manuscripts. Is he still after your first edition? 

 


Rigg enjoyed a long and impressive career that enhanced British institutions from Shakespeare and Charles Dickens to James Bond and Doctor Who. But with The Avengers, she accomplished the rare achievement of adding a character to that iconic roster.

 

It takes more than beauty to do that – even if we’re talking about beauty so exceptional it can reduce a young man to a catatonic state of staring at a TV screen in abject wonder. Mrs. Peel was not just an exquisite face, long legs, and a leather catsuit. She was a journalist and a scientist, a fighter and a femme fatale. She was a civilian who gladly joined a top British agent on missions that could bring down a nation. She was Steed’s equal in wit and style and derring-do. And what a voice: so deep and resonant yet still beguilingly feminine. 

 


So while this is a sad time when we mourn the passing of a quintessential English rose, it helps to believe that perhaps now she’s sharing another glass of champagne with her debonair costar. Maybe Mrs. Gale will join them. 

 


 




Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Purchase or Pass: The Immortal

 

Before we get started, one quick note: If you recently left a comment on one of my posts and it was not published, my apologies. Over the past few weeks this blog has been inundated with hundreds of attempts to leave spam comments, many of them advertisements for porn sites. In attempting to screen them out, some actual responses were caught in the crossfire. I’ve since made changes to how comments are received and published that will make it easier to separate your responses from the garbage. Please keep commenting as I always enjoy hearing from you.

 

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program. 

 

I’ve talked about The Fugitive before in this blog as one of my favorite classic TV shows. 

 

It was something new for TV at the time, and like anything new and successful it inspired attempts to replicate its premise. One of the least heralded and least successful was The Immortal, which debuted with a pilot movie in 1970 and was canceled after just 15 episodes. 

 


 

Surprisingly it’s out on DVD. I bought it with the expectation that even if the show were bad, there would be enough ‘70s TV touches to enhance the viewing experience. And they were all there – homes with bright red and blue carpeting, boat-like sedans from the glory days of Detroit steel, and banks of beeping super-computers with blinking lights and spinning reels. 

 


 

The Immortal opens on the private plane of an arrogant jerk of a millionaire named Jordan Braddock (Barry Sullivan), and his hot young trophy wife (Jessica Walter). Electrical trouble downs the plane, and Braddock is not expected to survive, an outcome that upsets neither his wife nor his doctor (Ralph Bellamy): 

 

Doctor:  “How much will you inherit?”

Wife: “25 million – and I’m worth all of it.”

 

But Braddock not only survives, he begins to look and feel younger. 

 

 


 

His baffled physician wonders if that miraculous transformation was caused by the blood transfusion Braddock received, and tracks down the donor. That would be Ben Richards (Christopher George), an automotive test driver who works for one of Braddock’s companies. 

 

After running tests, he discovers that Ben’s blood gives him immunity to every illness and disease, including old age. Because of a “chance meeting of the right genes,” he will likely live hundreds of years. The doctor then tells him, “If word of your existence should leak out, your life would be over.”

 

Sure enough, when Braddock discovers what happened, he has Richards tossed into a security-monitored enclosure beneath his estate, so he can get another transfusion when needed. But Richards escapes – and the chase is on. 

 

 

 

In the episodes that followed, the reasons this series did not work as well as The Fugitive become immediately apparent. First, there is no clear end game for Ben Richards’ plight. Where Dr. Richard Kimble searched for the one-armed man, Richards just ran because he didn’t want to be used as some millionaire’s personal blood bank. A few episodes reference Ben searching for his brother, who may have the same rare blood – but even in the show where he believes he’s found him (“My Brother’s Keeper”), he doesn’t specify what they should do next. 

 

Another problem – my guess is a lot of viewers looked at the bargain Braddock initially offers as pretty tempting – live rent-free in beautiful surroundings, have all your needs catered to, and enjoy a life of pleasure and leisure, in exchange for a pint of blood once a month. 

 

Ben finds that arrangement odious; as he says in the show’s opening credits, “Everything they’re offering me I don’t want. I gotta live free.” Well, okay, but if the cops catch Kimble he’s headed back to death row. If Richards is nabbed, his punishment is…a comfortable villa and the best of everything? Poor guy. 

 

And what about all of the other people he could help? Terminal cancer patients, kids with life-threatening illnesses, people with diabetes, heart disease, lung disease – should his desire to live free trump his ability to save countless lives? He couldn’t find one honest doctor who could find a way to replicate his immunity? 

 

Next criticism – Braddock only appears in one more episode (“To the Gods Alone”). Richards’ new pursuer is Arthur Maitland (David Brian), another wealthy tycoon who wants to live forever. He barely registers as a character.  

 

Playing the Lt. Gerard role is Don Knight as Fletcher, whom Maitland dispatches to find Richards wherever he runs. 

 


 

 

The Immortal has no interest in exposition: each episode opens with Richards in a new place, and then Fletcher and his goons turn up to capture him. How do they keep finding him? At least on The Fugitive there were “Wanted” posters on Kimble in every police station and post office, so viewers could understand how it would be difficult for him to remain at large. 

 

Last but not least, there is Christopher George, who does not elicit the same viewer empathy that David Janssen did on The Fugitive.  Where Janssen convincingly conveys the pain and desperation of his solitary existence, George just seems mildly miffed. I’ve always liked George in The Rat Patrol, and he was great as a detective on the take in the Police Story episode “Cop In the Middle.” But here he can’t do much with a poorly developed character.

 

All that said, there were some positives. The Immortal offers more action than The Fugitive, usually in the form of car chases and fist fights. Christopher George isn’t quite Robert Conrad in The Wild, Wild West, but he performs a lot of the physical aspects of the role and throws a mean right cross.

 

Guest stars help to elevate some of the average episodes – Sherry Jackson in “Sylvia,” Vic Morrow as a corrupt small town sheriff in “The Rainbow Butcher,” and George’s wife Lynda Day George as a computer expert hired by Maitland to track down Ben Richards in “Man On a Punched Card.” 

 

But out of 15 episodes I found only one I’d rate as excellent. “Paradise Bay” has Richards driving into a town that seems deserted. Eventually a few people turn up, including Howard Duff as a local bigwig, and they all want Ben to leave as soon as possible - willingly or not. 

 

Tisha Sterling, one of those actresses that always stands out to me whether she’s in Batman, Get Smart or Columbo, plays a dual role as twin sisters: one the practical manager of the town’s only motel, the other a free-spirited beachcomber traumatized after accidentally killing a man who might be Ben’s brother. 

 


 

There are TV fans that seek out short-lived rarities like The Immortal, and I’m sure they’re delighted to have this chance to see it again, or for the first time. But those who just want to watch a smart, suspenseful and entertaining series, I’d recommend looking elsewhere. Purchase or pass? This time it’s a pass. 



 

Monday, August 24, 2020

Comfort TV Quiz: The Answers

Well, how did everyone do? Here are the answers to last week's character quiz. 

 

1. Margaret Lanterman

 Also known as the Log Lady on Twin Peaks

 

 

 

2. Letitia Lawrence

 The role that brought Kristy McNichol two Emmy Awards on Family

 

 

 

3. Herman Glimscher

 Sally Rogers’ fallback boyfriend on The Dick Van Dyke Show

 

4. Christine Chapel

 Dr. McCoy’s nurse on Star Trek

 

 

 

5. Alexander Cabot III

The manager of Josie and the Pussycats

 

6. Beverly Ann Stickle

 Played by Cloris Leachman, she replaced Mrs. Garrett on The Facts of Life

 

 

 

7. Dominic Luca

 A member of the S.W.A.T. team from ABC’s popular ‘70s series

 

8. Barney Hefner

 Friend to Archie Bunker on All in the Family

 

9. Dana Lambert

 A member of the IM Force on Mission: Impossible

 

10. Sindy Cahill

 She hung out with Ponch and Jon on CHiPs

 

 

 

11. Craig Carter

Lucy Carter’s son (and Lucille Ball’s son) on Here’s Lucy

 

 

 

12. George Wilson

 The much put-upon neighbor of Dennis the Menace

 

13. Wally Plumstead

 Freeloading friend to David and Rick Nelson on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet

 

14. Millicent Gordon Woods

 Nicknamed “Penny,” and played by Janet Jackson on Good Times

 

15. Ed Brown

 The “man” in Chico and the Man, played by Jack Albertson

 

16. Matthew Fordwick

 The reverend played by John Ritter on The Waltons

 

17. Thelma Harper

 The “Mama” in Mama’s Family

 

18. Walter O’Reilly

They called him Radar at the 4077 on M*A*S*H

 

19. Gordon Sims

 Better known by  his radio name, Venus Flytrap, on WKRP In Cincinnati

 

 

 

20. Lillian Bakerman

 One of Bob Hartley’s group patients on The Bob Newhart Show

 

21. Harry Hoo

 The “famous Hawaiian detective” who assists Max and 99 occasionally on Get Smart

 

 

 

22. Gladys Ormphby

The purse-swinging little old lady portrayed by Ruth Buzzi on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In 

 

 

 

23. Peggy Fair

 Joe’s faithful secretary on Mannix

 

 

 

24. Charley Pratt

 He ran the Cannonball on Petticoat Junction

 

25. Beth Davenport

 Jim Rockford’s long-suffering attorney on The Rockford Files

 

26. Nostradamus Shannon

 The bailiff on Night Court, also  known as Bull. 

 

27. Rosalie Totsy

 Nicknamed “Hotsy Totsy” one of Mr. Kotter’s students on Welcome Back Kotter

 

28. J. Arthur Crank

Resident grouch on The Electric Company

 

29. Dixie McCall

A nurse at Rampart Hospital on Emergency

 

 

 

30. Jet Screamer

He sang that big hit “Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah” on The Jetsons