Monthly Archives: March 2016

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Strange Paradise, Episode 2: Crypt Kicker

“We must send that demon back to Hell. The mystic drums must sound again!”

This week, we’re taking a break from Dark Shadows to watch the first week of Strange Paradise, a strange Canadian/US knock-off supernatural soap that began here, in fall 1969. If you need the links, here’s the other Strange Paradise posts and a YouTube channel that has all the episodes, although you can consider this a week-long warning label, rather than a recommendation.

What I’m interested in is figuring out what happens when somebody decides to make a Dark Shadows-like show, using the same format and timeslot as Dark Shadows, with similar resources, and with exactly the same cultural context, and still winds up with something that doesn’t feel like Dark Shadows at all. I’m not sure what the rest of you are interested in.

Continue reading Strange Paradise, Episode 2: Crypt Kicker

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Strange Paradise, Episode 1: Dry Ice Burns

“Mr. Desmond, please! Has the Devil taken your SOUL?”

Dreamed in darkness and filmed in Canada, the Shadow of Shadows was dragged from the earth. The creatures scratched at the well-worked soil, pulling what little they could from the oft-defiled graves. Look! A rag, and a bone, and a hank of hair. Isn’t it beautiful, they said. We have given it a name.

In the fall of 1969, a show called Strange Paradise shambled onto the air — a Canadian soap opera with supernatural themes, conceived at the height of Dark Shadows’ popularity. The daily show premiered in America in September, with the Canadian debut six weeks later.

In the US, Strange Paradise aired around 7pm on local stations owned by Metromedia and Kaiser Broadcasting, but not for long. A month after its debut, Metromedia pulled the low-rated show from New York and Los Angeles, and Kaiser stations moved it to the early afternoon.

In an attempt to save the show, the production company replaced the producer and writer after the ninth week of production. When they finished the first 13 week cycle, the show was extensively retooled, ditching most of the cast and moving the setting from the Caribbean island of Maljardin to the Desmond family’s ancestral home in North America. It didn’t work. They managed to scrape through another 26 weeks, and then gave up.

Strange Paradise enthusiasts talk about the show’s “three 13-week arcs,” but that’s just a fancy way of saying that it was cancelled after ten months. In Dark Shadows years, that’s just at the moment that they would have hired Jonathan Frid, and saved the show.

As a Dark Shadows fan, I’ve seen Strange Paradise mentioned in books occasionally, and I always thought it was a DS clone created by ex-Shadows staffers. That’s not actually how it happened. The creators were Jerry Layton, a producer who’d mostly done crime dramas before moving into romance, and Ian Martin, a soap writer who’d worked on Search for Tomorrow, Young Doctor Malone and The Nurses. The pair had worked together on the successful NBC soap The Doctors, before being hired for Strange Paradise.

The Dark Shadows people were brought in later, following the Metromedia and Kaiser disaster. Producer Robert Costello was brought in to replace Layton at week 9, and Ron Sproat joined the writing team for the second 13-week cycle, with occasional scripts by Joe Caldwell.

So this is a weird footnote in the history of Dark Shadows, and since the show started during this period, I’m going to watch the first week with you, to see what people do when they think they’re making Dark Shadows. All of the episodes have been posted on YouTube, so you can watch along, if you like.

I figure it’ll be fun — we’ll take a week’s vacation from Dark Shadows, and see what it’s like on the other side. What could possibly go wrong?

Continue reading Strange Paradise, Episode 1: Dry Ice Burns

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Episode 850: Proof of Your Perfidy

“When I have proof of your perfidy, I will make your life miserable!”

Hey! Trask’s back. It’s been a month since we’ve seen the rotten Reverend Gregory Trask, and I’ve missed him terribly. Sam Hall wrote today’s episode, and he loves writing dialogue for Trask. I love listening to it, so today I’m just going to sit back and enjoy some Trask trash talk.

Continue reading Episode 850: Proof of Your Perfidy

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Episode 849: Here Today

“Where have you been? To Boston, for some new finery?”

Honestly, what can be done to rid this town of Josettes?

We kidnap them, we shoot them, we hang them, we throw them off a cliff onto the rocks and the raging sea, and they always come back — sighing, fretting, and making a nuisance of themselves. The problem, really, is that the Collins family insists on hiring governesses, which is a Josette-heavy industry.

The latest Josette is named Kitty. It turns out she was a governess once, and she married her employer, Lord Hampshire. Her husband is dead now — suicide, obviously — and the child is nowhere to be seen, which is all par for the course when you let a Josette into your house. Ruin and devastation, as far as the eye can see.

Continue reading Episode 849: Here Today

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Episode 848: Drawn to You

“It’s one thing to apply black magic to someone’s portrait. It’s quite a different thing to paint someone, and have that someone come to life!”

Stop the presses: Quentin Collins is in love again. At least, he says that he is, and he should know; he’s been in love one hundred and eighteen times so far, occasionally with the same person twice in a row. This time, the lucky lady is Amanda Harris, who I think he’s had maybe five scenes with so far.

Amanda is a Graphite-American, part of a vanishingly small minority of people who were created by that well-known hysterical painter and head-clutcher, Charles Delaware Tate. A couple years ago, Tate drew a picture of his dream girl, and the picture came to life, wandering the streets of New York City with a dress and a hairstyle, and precisely no idea where she came from. Recently, Amanda learned the truth about her secret origin, and she watched Tate create a brother for her, out of thin air and a magic marker. Naturally, this was upsetting for Amanda — nobody wants to see their parents having sex, especially if your parents are Charles Delaware Tate and some art supplies.

It’s kind of like the story of Pinocchio, if Gepetto was furious all the time and wanted to have sex with the puppet, which for all I know maybe he did. There isn’t a Blue Fairy in this story who can turn Amanda into a real woman, but Quentin’s willing to take a whack at the problem.

So let’s begin today with Quentin and Amanda in the Collinwood drawing room, making themselves comfortable. Quentin’s got some music playing — his own hit record, naturally, because Quentin is a baller — and they’re finishing up a passionate kiss. He stares into her eyes and says, “I love you, Amanda,” and she gets up and walks across the room. So that’s strike one.

He follows her, smiling, because he’s Quentin Collins, and he knows precisely how irresistible he is, down to three decimal points.

“We can’t have it this way,” she sighs. He asks why not, and she says, “Tim, you don’t know enough about me,” which pretty much puts a period at the end of that sentence.

Continue reading Episode 848: Drawn to You

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Episode 847: … And Carry On

“Having Charity Trask drive a stake through his heart was a stroke of genius.”

They say that the DEATH card in the Tarot deck doesn’t really mean death — not the actual literal physical death, as in: this card means that you’re going to die. In the deck, Tarot enthusiasts say, DEATH is sort of a generalized shorthand for change, or transition, or the end of something old, which brings new life in the spring. DEATH means quitting your job, or ending a relationship, or selling your couch. Or changing your mind. It’s a metaphor. DEATH is a magazine subscription about to expire, or finally dropping that karate class you never go to. DEATH is giving up on the idea that Joss Whedon will ever make another decent television show. DEATH is running out of coffee, but Starbucks is closed, because there was a gas leak and all the baristas died. Wait, that’s a bad example.

They’re wrong, of course; Tarot people are idiots. DEATH means death. You know what death is; it’s the thing that you mean when you say the word death. If you’re talking to someone who’s passionately explaining why death isn’t really death, you should probably remove sharp objects from their immediate vicinity, just in case they want to demonstrate.

Continue reading Episode 847: … And Carry On

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Episode 846: Plan Meets World

“I have powers, I guess. I didn’t used to have, but I do now.”

On Friday afternoon, fluorescent floozy Charity Trask followed Quentin along the shoreline, until he entered a cave. She waited until he left, and then investigated the cave herself — and discovered the coffin of fugitive vampire Barnabas Collins, asleep and unprotected.

Picking up the hammer and stake that Quentin had conveniently dropped on the ground, Charity opened the coffin, and stared at the unholy ghoul who’d killed the only man she’d ever truly loved. And then she got down to business, hammering the stake through the creature’s heart, and putting an end to him once and for all.

As Monday’s episode opens, she staggers into the Blue Whale, vaguely traumatized and entirely thirsty.

“I done it,” she moans, a single tear trailing down her heavily rouged cheek, and then she bangs on the bar. “I need a drink!”

Tim Shaw, doing some work at a nearby table, suggests, “Why don’t you try getting some sleep instead? You can’t carry the party on indefinitely, you know.”

“Party!” Charity giggles, cuddling a bottle of bourbon. “It wasn’t no party, luv, believe me!” And then she laughs and laughs, until she collapses into sobs, and never recovers.

So: Mondays, huh? I guess they’re tough on everyone.

Continue reading Episode 846: Plan Meets World

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Episode 845: Barnabas Collins Must Die

“I just can’t remember all the reasons why we should get rid of the vampire.”

Well, here we go again. Vampire fugitive Barnabas Collins — on the run, and spending his days sleeping in a cave, apparently — pirouettes into his secret headquarters at the old rectory, and tells his friend Julia — who has recently channeled the zeitgeist in order to travel back in time and help him — that they have to change their plans to defeat the mad old wizard who’s threatening the future of the Collins family, and all of the people that he loves. Why? Because he just ran into somebody who reminds him of Josette. That’s why.

It’s maddening, and just imagine how Julia feels. She came all the way here from the 20th century for this. Barnabas is the one who convinced her that they need to stay in this time so they can counter the wicked Count Petofi, and now, quelle surprise, he’s going off-script.

He was just out rambling around in the woods, like he shouldn’t be, when all of a sudden who should come along but Lady Hampshire, a brand-new character who’s played by the same actress that played his long-lost love a couple years ago, and therefore she is the actual reincarnation of Josette, according to rules that only seem to apply to this specific instance. And you know how Barnabas gets, when he thinks he’s found a reincarnation. This is his third consecutive swing at that particular plot-point piñata, and it’ll probably end the same way, with gunfire.

You know, I’m starting to see Count Petofi’s point. Barnabas Collins must die.

Continue reading Episode 845: Barnabas Collins Must Die

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Episode 844: Those Meddling Adults

“I must go. I have a feeling that there are evil forces at large tonight.”

As you know, it’s September 1969, and our vampire soap opera is reaching the peak of its popularity. After school, the kids all hurry home to check in with Collinwood, and find out what the vampires and witches and mad scientists are up to. Dark Shadows owns Mondays through Fridays — but on Saturday mornings, where we least expected it, a new creature is born. It has five heads and twelve legs, and it will run forever.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! is an occult-tinged mystery-adventure cartoon sitcom about four hep teens and a talking Great Dane, who travel around the country in a van called the Mystery Machine. Each week, they visit one desolate tourist attraction after another — an abandoned circus, a deserted mansion, an old marina or a haunted hunting lodge — where they inevitably find a ghost, a witch, a Frankenstein, a phantom (which is a kind of ghost), a mummy, a zombie, a killer robot, or a snow ghost (which is also a kind of ghost).

The monsters are thrilling, but they aren’t real; the creature is always caught at the end of the episode and unmasked, revealing that they’re actually someone that the teens already know. This is a comforting, rational world, where there’s no such thing as a monster — there’s just your Uncle Stuart, or that nice archaeologist, or the curator of a local museum, and they’re dressing up as monsters because they’re committing a crime, and they want to murder you.

On Dark Shadows, of course, there are actual monsters, and the real mystery machine is the television, which is broadcasting directly at a defenseless audience of housewives and children with twenty-two minutes a day of black magic and werewolf attacks. For the last two and a half years, we’ve been asking the question, “How did they get away with this?” The answer, as far as I can figure, is that nobody actually cared. Everyone thought that Dark Shadows was perfectly acceptable children’s television; that’s why they made trading cards and View-Master reels and joke books.

But as summer wanes, that begins to change. The fall of 1969 is where we start asking the flip side of that question, namely: How did they stop getting away with it?

Continue reading Episode 844: Those Meddling Adults

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Episode 843: I Can Make You a Man

“I am puzzled by the meaning of shadows.”

Yeah, it happened to me, too — that weird summer, when everything that I drew on a sketchpad came to life.

I remember how it started: I was drawing a picture of a Chinese funerary urn, kind of squat stoneware with an olive green glaze, maybe 3rd century, Western Jin dynasty, with a balcony of molded figures around the rim, like a tortoise supporting a memorial stone, some bears and monkeys and immortals riding dragons, plus a row of Buddhas sitting in meditative postures on thrones surrounded by lotus petals — you know, just doodling — and all of a sudden, I look up, and there it is on the table.

Seriously. The funerary urn that I’d scribbled on the drawing pad. It was right there, just like I drew it — bears, Buddhas, Western Jin, the whole shebang.

Well, I was stunned, obviously. I didn’t think it was possible. I had to see if it would happen again, so I drew another funerary urn — this time with more bears on it, just to make sure — and when I looked up, there they were. The two urns that I’d sketched, three-dimensional and big as life.

Naturally, after a while, I got tired of funerary urns — I probably had about three dozen by that point, and things were getting cluttered around the house — and I figured maybe I should try and draw something else.

So I drew a guy. And then there he was, in the room with me: a new man. Maybe five foot nine, brown eyes, dark skin, one ear a little bigger than the other. Not really up on current events. I mean, you know what human beings are like. He was one of those.

He turned out to be a nice guy. A lot of birthdays to catch up on, obviously, so I had to scrounge up some last-minute presents. I was hoping he would take some of these funerary urns off my hands, but no dice. Getting him a social security number was a hassle, too.

After a while, we kind of lost touch. You know how it is sometimes, you drift apart. God, I haven’t thought about him in forever. I wonder how he’s doing.

Continue reading Episode 843: I Can Make You a Man