“I mean, the very idea of people cavorting in and out in time periods would be amusing, if it weren’t so preposterous.”
Sometimes I see a big event on a daytime soap opera — a wedding, or a black-tie charity fundraiser, or a serial killer holding a group of teens hostage in a police station during an earthquake while one of them is having a baby — and I think, it is seriously unbelievable that this is the same genre, the same medium and the same timeslot as Dark Shadows. It’s the budgets — I just can’t get my head around where all that money is coming from.
I understand that the technology has advanced — filming and editing and effects are easier than they used to be. But how can they afford all those people? When modern soaps do those big episodes, they just throw dozens of people at the screen — main cast, recurring players, guest roles, plus all those extras standing around in the background, pretending to dance or eat or tend to the wounded.
Dark Shadows could afford five and a half people a day. That’s it. If you’re lucky, we’ll get a guy to wrap some bandages around his head, and we’ll call him an ancestor. I mean, it’s not like people suddenly got less expensive. There can’t be that many out-of-work waiters willing to appear on a television show while they wait for something to open up at a restaurant.
But here we are in 1968, and Roger Collins is falling in love with a portrait. That’s how bad it was back then. Imagine showing up to work, and they tell you that they can’t afford a co-star for the day, so you have to stand there and strike up a conversation with the decor.
Still, if anyone can pull it off, I suppose Louis Edmonds is your guy. As far as I’m concerned, he can do anything. Just look at the way he’s standing here. He was playing the tragic, flint-hearted patriarch a week ago.
But something unearthly is going on here; we’re getting some weird echoes of the Collins family’s past.
Roger: Have you ever seen a more beautiful face?
Julia: She’s very pretty.
Roger: Ah, pretty — too many women are described as being pretty. The beauty of that face is unique! I should think that you, being French, would be only too glad to acknowledge such beauty, Countess Du Prés.
So that’s a thing. One thing that’s nice about Dark Shadows these days is that they really don’t have the time for a lot of vague foreshadowing. If they want you to worry about something, they don’t beat around the bush. They just go ahead and do the weird thing they’re planning to do.
And speaking of weird things, guess who shows up at the door. It’s the lovely and adorable Ben Stokes, the downtrodden 18th century servant.
But this is actually the latest model, Professor Timothy Stokes. Vicki’s taken aback when she sees him, and she has to explain, “You look rather like someone I once knew.” Luckily, the professor is too well-bred to call her out on this obvious lie. Stokes doesn’t look like anything in the world except Stokes. The world doesn’t make a matching set of faces like this; it’s one to a customer.
If you’re lucky enough to find a Stokes, then you need to lock that down, because there isn’t going to be another one coming by any time soon. Happily, Dark Shadows is now a good enough show to recognize value like this when they see it.
So here he is, another member of the menagerie. Other soaps are issuing desperate casting calls for handsome, dynamic and charming late 20s bad boys, and good luck to them; I’m sure they’ll find one sooner or later.
Dark Shadows has no interest in that sort of thing. Give us eccentrics, they say. Give us your quirky, your odd, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. You’d have a hard time finding a mass more huddled than this.
Stokes is here — and he’s always Stokes, by the way; he eventually acquires a different first name because everyone forgot that he already had one — because the antique shop owner told him that Vicki had bought the portrait.
Stokes is researching the life of his ancestor Ben, who worked at Collinwood in the late 18th century, and he has reason to believe that the woman in the portrait was also living at Collinwood at that time. Stokes has been reading the memoir that Ben wrote in his old age.
There are so many improbable things going on in this scene that it’s hard to tell which one is the more puzzling — that Ben took up a literary career, that Ben had descendants, or that it takes Stokes a full sixty seconds before he pulls a monocle out of his vest pocket and sticks it in his eye. The man is clearly a monocle waiting to happen.
It doesn’t take long before the art appreciation salon gets into full swing, and just look at this gathering of lunatics. It doesn’t even matter what they’re talking about at this point; I would watch these three guys do absolutely anything. They could do a spinoff where they live together in a New York townhouse and raise a pair of adopted kids from Harlem, and call it Diff’rent Stokes.
Yes, I admit that was kind of a long walk to get to a stupid joke, but who cares. I’m just in a really good mood this week.
Because the last four days have seen a positive shift in the show’s development. Things were starting to feel a bit claustrophobic towards the end of the 1795 trip, as the cast dwindled down to about six people and a bat puppet. But the return to 1968 has been a dream so far, and even the dreams have zombie guardian angels in them, bellowing and rolling their eyes with a feverish intensity. They’re having fun. The show is fun again.
It won’t last; I say that every time we hit a happy groove like this. There are some slow times coming up that will test our patience like nothing ever has before. But we have Stokes now, and a mean painting, and that has to count for something.
There’s a rising tide of creative eccentricity on Dark Shadows, and the baseline for quality has noticeably improved. The average episode in 1968 is way more interesting than the average 1967 episode. It doesn’t always sparkle, but keep your eye on that monocle, and vice versa.
They didn’t have to keep Stokes on the show. Their decision to backfill Dr. Woodard’s spot in the cast with another unpredictable eccentric means that they’re starting to get a handle on what kind of show Dark Shadows should be.
Tomorrow: The Best of All Possible Worlds.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, a fly crosses Angelique’s portrait just before Barnabas slices it with a knife.
Vicki is wearing a sleeveless dress; apparently the bullet wound in her shoulder healed right up.
And this isn’t a blooper yet, but it will be — Stokes says that Ben died at the age of 75. We’ll see Ben’s tombstone in episode 756, and it’ll say 1756-1816 — putting Ben’s age at 60 when he died. Then in episode 1119, we’ll actually see Ben die onscreen, in 1840 — which would make him 84.
Tomorrow: The Best of All Possible Worlds.
— Danny Horn