Monday, August 10, 2015

Two-Part Episodes Revisited

In the Comfort TV era a “special two-part episode” was promoted as a big deal. Sometimes it actually turned out that way. Sometimes it didn’t.

As we explored back in March, there are good reasons to double the running time devoted to a story, such as character introductions and marriages, big-name guest stars and Emmy-bait scripts. But there were also times when the attempt to create something memorable only resulted in something twice as long.

Let’s take another look at some more two-parters from the Comfort TV era – 5 that worked, 5 that did not.

Good: Charlie’s Angels: “Angels in Paradise”
My first blog on this topic exposed “Terror on Skis” as a shameless cash grab padded into two episodes to justify a road trip to Vail, Colorado. But Charlie’s Angels could also deliver a first-rate two-part show. “Angels in Paradise,” the Hawaii-set adventure that introduced audiences to Cheryl Ladd, would be on any fan’s short list of the series’ very best moments. There’s a great jailbreak sequence, a charismatic adversary played by France Nuyen, and bikinis everywhere. 

Bad: The Dick Van Dyke Show: “I Do Not Choose to Run”/’The Making of a Councilman”
This season 5 story was sunk by its premise – Rob Petrie is recruited to run for a vacant city council position. It didn’t work because viewers of the previous four seasons knew Rob as an intelligent, eloquent, civic-minded gentleman who would probably make a great public servant. That didn’t serve the comedy, so he was presented as a dithering, uncertain candidate. Not buying it. 

Good: One Day at a Time: “J.C. and Julie”
The Norman Lear shows usually had a reliable sense of when to go two-part and when to keep it simple. One Day at a Time offered more than a dozen multi-part stories over its nine seasons. I’ve singled out “J.C. and Julie” because it pulls off a tricky concept – Julie joins a Christian youth group and annoys her family – in a way that is consistently funny without offending believers or non-believers.

Bad: Wonder Woman: “Mind-Stealers from Outer Space”
Yes, it delivers on the kitschy sci-fi promise of its B-movie title. There is an alien invasion story that leaves the fate of mankind in the hands of Dack Rambo, and flying saucer special effects that wouldn’t make the cut on Jason of Star Command. 
Wait – was this one in the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ category?
Like a lot of old cheese it can be fun if you meet it halfway, but any show that releases a two-part episode where the special guest star is Vincent Van Patten is just asking for trouble.

Good: That Girl: Mission Improbable
Unifit Sleepwear hires Ann Marie to go undercover as a seamstress at Sleeptight Fashions to find out who is stealing the company’s designs. She takes the job, despite the danger of discovery and the fact that she can’t sew. “Mission Improbable” justifies its two-part status as a clever genre departure from typical That Girl stories, and in the presence of such familiar comfort TV faces as Sandy Kenyon, Lou Jacobi and Avery Schreiber.

Bad: The Waltons: The Outrage
Some shows don’t know when to go away. By its ninth and final season, The Waltons had lost several beloved cast members but soldiered on, with World War II-era stories and a fake John-Boy (Robert Wightman) with the personality of an eggplant. The story in this season premiere two-parter focused on one of the family’s neighbors, a sure sign that writers had run out of ideas for the remaining Waltons.

Good: Bewitched: “My Friend Ben”/ “Samantha for the Defense”
A standard Bewitched set-up – Aunt Clara tries to summon an electrician but zaps up Benjamin Franklin instead – is elevated into the series’ best two-part outing on the strength of its shrewd scripts and guest star Fredd Wayne. Wayne takes a gimmick and gives it real depth – he captures Franklin’s wit and principles as well as the scientific curiosity and wonder that you’d expect to see in a man suddenly transported 200 years into the future. 

Bad: Diff’rent Strokes: The Hitchhikers
It’s customary for a sitcom to get serious every so often, especially in those “very special episodes” that inspire two-parters, but I doubt family audiences were all that pleased when Arnold and Kimberly are kidnapped by a mentally ill child molester.

Good: Battlestar: Galactica: “The Living Legend”
Remember, this is Comfort TV, so we’re celebrating the original series with Pa Cartwright and not the critically acclaimed but relentlessly grim remake. In “The Living Legend” the Galactica encounters the Pegasus, a long-lost starship with a legendary leader in Commander Cain (Lloyd Bridges). The philosophic sparring between Lloyd Bridges as Caine and Lorne Greene’s Adama provides a substantive counterpoint to the show’s signature action scenes. 

Bad: Starsky & Hutch: “Murder at Sea”
Aaron Spelling shows were never above cross-promotion, so here we have our two streetwise cops sailing on a thinly disguised variation of the Love Boat, in the undercover roles of entertainment directors Hack and Zack. It’s doubtful this adventure’s tired antics inspired anyone to spend more time on the Pacific Princess. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Mr. Hofstede, the first pilot for "The Love Boat" did air in 1976, which was the same year that "Murder at Sea" aired. However, Aaron Spelling had no involvement in that initial pilot. Spelling did work on the second pilot for "The Love Boat" (entitled "The Love Boat II," if I'm not mistaken), but it didn't air until January of 1977.

    Also, both "Murder at Sea" and "Angels in Paradise" were initially given two-hour time slots, were they not? There's no doubt in my mind that each one of those two episodes was split into two parts for its rebroadcast on ABC. I know some footage of "Angels in Paradise" was missing from the DVD version, Mr. Hofstede, but did the second part of the DVD version include a recap of what happened in the first part? Was the missing footage from the second part of the episode in question? I have a feeling that the DVD version of "Angels in Paradise" is not one that was edited specifically for syndication, but one that was edited for its initial rebroadcast on ABC. I can't prove this, of course, but I have a feeling that some footage from the second part was edited out to make room for a recap of stuff that happened in the first part. I used to have on VHS the Columbia House version of a feature-length episode of "S.W.A.T." entitled "Deadly Tide," but the second half of the Columbia House version had no recap of what happened in the first half.