Monthly Archives: April 2016

Episode 853: Head Games

“Don’t touch me! Let his eyes tell me what to do!”

It must have been hard, over the last several years, to always play the good girl on a show increasingly inhabited by loud ladies. Kathryn Leigh Scott started out on Dark Shadows as waitress Maggie Evans, who was originally supposed to be a tough cookie, but mellowed fairly quickly into the sweet girl next door, and stayed there.

The show’s writing team turned over several times, early on — from Art Wallace to Francis Swann to Ron Sproat and Malcolm Malmorstein, in less than six months — and when the writers change rapidly on a soap opera, you’d better have a really firm grip on your character, or you risk drifting into just playing a version of yourself. That’s what happened to Roger, who started out as a villain and got himself nerfed all the way into harmless gay uncle. Maggie was a cynical young woman taking care of her alcoholic dad, but those rough edges got sanded off clean by the time Barnabas emerged from the mystery box.

And then Julia happened — a high camp trickster, whose priorities are finding her light, getting her hands in the shot, inventing facial expressions and paying attention to other actors, in that order. She was the pioneer loud lady on Dark Shadows, establishing a no-holds-barred theatrical style that chased all the nice girls off the stage.

In 1795, other actresses got to be louder and crazier — witch-vixen Angelique, obviously, and angry Aunt Abigail, and the eternally teetering Millicent. After a while, loud lady became the default setting for new characters — Eve and Magda and Judith and Jenny and Laura and Minerva and Charity Trask, all of them strutting and scheming and getting into fights on the regular.

But Kathryn Leigh Scott was stuck in the nice girl persona — the kidnapped Maggie, the spellbound Josette, the innocent Rachel. She’s spent the last two years being upstaged by one vixen after another. And then there’s Kitty.

Continue reading Episode 853: Head Games

Episode 852: Who’s Afraid of Violet Welles?

“We have both faltered, Edward, and a mad child has finally done our work for us.”

Kitty:  Ah! Good evening, Edward.

Edward:  Good evening, Kitty.

Kitty:  What a dump!

(Edward ignores her.)

Kitty:  Hey, what’s that from? “What a dump!”

Edward:  How would I know?

Kitty:  Oh, come on, what’s it from? You know. What’s it from, for Chrissake!

Edward:  What’s what from?

Kitty:  I just told you. I just did it. “What a dump!” Huh? What’s that from?

Edward:  I haven’t the faintest idea.

Kitty:  Dumbbell. It’s from some damn Bette Davis picture, some goddamn Warner Brothers epic.

Edward:  Kitty, I can’t remember all the pictures that came out of Warner Brothers.

Kitty:  I’m not asking you to remember every goddamn Warner Brothers epic. Just one. Just one single little epic, that’s all.

Continue reading Episode 852: Who’s Afraid of Violet Welles?

Episode 851: Everybody Hates Quentin

“The only future she has with you is death!”

When we last left historical heartthrob Quentin Collins, he was in what should have been a rock-solid position. He’s been released from his werewolf curse. The prophesied date of his death has come, and gone. He’s shaken off his irritating old girlfriend, and he’s running away from his terrible family with his cute new girlfriend, which by the way, both of them are immortal now. All the charts are pointing up and to the right.

But Quentin’s the lead character in a soap opera, so obviously things don’t really work out that way; there’s no such thing as a happy ending for this man. Still, today he gets to beat up the two most annoying characters on the show, so it’s not all bad.

Continue reading Episode 851: Everybody Hates Quentin

Strange Paradise, Episode 5: When Raxl Attacks

“Killed? Revenge? We?”

Okay, one more lap around the track, and then we’re done with this forever, I promise. This week, we’ve been taking a break from Dark Shadows to watch the first week of the failed 1969 Canadian knockoff, Strange Paradise, and it’s even stranger than I expected it would be. This is the fifth episode — here’s the other Strange Paradise posts if you want them, and if you’d like to watch along, there’s a YouTube channel that can scratch that itch. But I have to warn you that there’s a strong possibility that the show does not actually exist. We may be experiencing a shared dream, and this is all an illusion.

Because when you think about it, the whole concept seems unlikely. Dark Shadows is on television every single afternoon, fifty-two weeks a year, minus a few days off for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Apollo splashdowns. And the people who like Dark Shadows really like it a lot; when Strange Paradise debuts in September 1969, it’s the high point of Dark Shadows’ popularity.

So if you’re launching a second half-hour daily supernatural soap opera at that time, then there are only four possible theories that might justify such a thing.

#1. The people who are currently enjoying Dark Shadows for 30 minutes every day would like it even better if there were 60 minutes of supernatural drama in the afternoon.

#2. There’s an untapped audience of people who don’t currently watch a daily spookshow soap opera, who might turn on your show by accident and get hooked on it.

#3. You think that you would be better at making Dark Shadows than the people who are already making Dark Shadows, very successfully.

#4. You have a television production company, and you know that Dark Shadows is popular, and you honestly can’t think of a single other thing to do.

So what we have here is the Shadow of Shadows, a muck-encrusted mockery of a mad-science duplicate, trying to capture somebody else’s lightning in a bottle. They’re tampering in Dan Curtis’ domain, with predictable results.

Continue reading Strange Paradise, Episode 5: When Raxl Attacks

Strange Paradise, Episode 4: The Cryonic Woman

“I do believe you need me, to jack you up by the bootstraps.”

“Place it there, please,” says the man from the Cryonics Institute. He’s addressing three hulking men, who are lugging a heavy coffin-sized piece of science down into the ancestral basement crypt of the cursed Desmond family, here on this tropical island paradise where we, as you know, currently are.

The man from the Cryonics Institute is directing two underlings — large, late middle-aged balding men in turtlenecks — plus Quito, the silent man-brute who lifts all the heavy things around here. I don’t know what the Cryonics Institute would have done if the Desmonds didn’t already have a third large late middle-aged strongman on the premises. They’d probably have to pop somebody out of the freezer to pitch in. That’s the nice thing about working at the Cryonics Institute, you’ve always got another pair of hands if you need it.

Continue reading Strange Paradise, Episode 4: The Cryonic Woman

Strange Paradise, Episode 3: Church and Estate

“We can only hold ourselves to the secret dreads and confessed fear of an evil soul seeking to control a saddened heart!”

But enough foolishness; let’s get down to business. We’re taking a break from Dark Shadows this week, to watch the opening episodes of the contemporary Canadian knock-off Strange Paradise. This daily supernatural soap opera aired for ten months in 1969-1970, to progressively smaller audiences.

It’s easy to imagine why a production company in fall 1969 would look at Dark Shadows, and want to take a crack at trying their own version. DS is at the height of its popularity during this period, and they’re making it look easy. Five or six characters per episode on a limited number of sets, taped as a stage play without retakes or editing, and using a mix of Freshman Lit and Universal Monsters for story ideas. That seems doable.

And if you’re a busy professional in 1969, you’re probably not watching Dark Shadows very closely. They didn’t have VCRs back then, to tape episodes and watch them at a more convenient time. You had to sit down in front of a television at 4 in the afternoon every day, which is a lot easier for housewives and teenagers than it is for people working on a medium-to-low-budget daily TV show in Ottowa, where I’m not even sure DS was being broadcast.

So it would be easy to miss Dark Shadows’ insanely detailed narrative complexity during this period. There’s probably a dozen overlapping story threads on the show right now, and the writers are expecting the audience to remember complicated plot points from more than six months ago.

Barnabas explains to Julia that Chris Jennings is stuck as a werewolf, locked in the secret room of the mausoleum, because he’s the grandson of Quentin’s infant daughter Lenore, who’s being raised in town by Mrs. Fillmore because Quentin’s wife Jenny went mad and couldn’t take care of them, and Quentin’s werewolf curse is being passed down to the male children of each generation — and four out of five of those characters haven’t even been on the show for months. We haven’t seen Chris since late February, and it’s currently mid-September and counting. For a daily soap opera in late 1969, the required cognitive load on the audience is staggering.

In other words: Sure, try and make your own Dark Shadows. Good luck with that.

So I’m not spending a week looking at Strange Paradise just because I want to have a new set of things to make fun of. I mean, that’s part of it, obviously. But I also want to know what a failed version of Dark Shadows looks like right now, to see what we can learn about why the actual show is currently a smash hit.

If you’re just joining us mid-week, here’s the other Strange Paradise posts, and if you’d like to watch along, there’s a YouTube channel with all of the episodes. I’m not saying that you should do that, necessarily. But it’s your life, and you can waste it however you want. Now that I think about it, that’s actually the motto of this blog. “It’s your life, and you can waste it however you want” T-shirts are now available in the Dark Shadows Every Day store, which does not exist.

Continue reading Strange Paradise, Episode 3: Church and Estate