Tag Archives: backacting

Time Travel, part 14: It Is What It Is

“People I love haven’t always loved me back.”

Six months ago, in July 1970, the Firesign Theatre released a record called Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, an avant-garde slice of psychedelic, time-traveling radio comedy that was mostly about a ’50s teen movie spoof called High School Madness. In the spoof, young Peorgie and his pal Mudhead investigate the theft of their school, Morse Science High, by their rivals, Communist Martyrs High School. Infiltrating Commie Martyrs, the two buddies find the mural from their school in a storage room, labeled “Mural: Auditorium, right rear. Heroic Struggle of the Little Guys to Finish the Mural.”

Meanwhile, six months later, as we cross the chasm between 1970 and 1971, that is exactly what lies ahead for Dark Shadows: a 13-week heroic struggle to wrap up this wild, untamed soap opera that has broken free of all ties to civilization as we know it. Dark Shadows has never really been about a girl on a train, a mad family and a lovestruck vampire. It’s about some writers, a mad producer, a cast of eccentric New York stage actors, and a lonely boom mic trying to break into show business, working feverishly on a shoestring budget to produce the strangest possible television show, for as long as they can get away with it. In the three months left between January 1st and April 2nd, they are going to finish this mural or die trying, or both.

Continue reading Time Travel, part 14: It Is What It Is

Episode 1179/1180: Communication with the Dead

“You and he have always been in league with one another!”

“Trask held you prisoner?” says Quentin, from his prison cell.

“Yes,” answers time-traveling eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins, who is acting in Quentin’s defense. “He forced me at gunpoint into an alcove in the basement of his chapel, and he bricked up the alcove, and left me there to die.”

Quentin is astonished. “But why didn’t you tell the judge what he had done?”

“Because I chose not to!” declares Barnabas, proving once again that he is essential — not just to Dark Shadows, but to our quality of life in general.

Continue reading Episode 1179/1180: Communication with the Dead

Episode 1173: The One Where Everybody Finds Out

“I will be your ghost tonight. I will be your ghost twice.”

“Oh, Julia, if you could have seen his face yesterday,” Angelique breathes.

“I did.”

Angelique whirls around. “And his eyes?”

Julia doesn’t respond, so I assume she’s thinking, You know what? I saw his face, but I totally forgot to look at his eyes. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Continue reading Episode 1173: The One Where Everybody Finds Out

Episode 1017: The Struggle

“He is my cousin, as you are my cousin, in this time or any other time!”

“The countryside near Collinwood,” says Nancy Barrett, “lies quiet and serene on this night, in Parallel Concurrent Time. But in the great house, the web of evil being woven by Angelique will begin to ensnare its first victim — Maggie Collins — who will be placing herself in double jeopardy by her presence at her husband’s side, for Angelique is not the only force that could conspire for Maggie’s destruction.”

So, a few things. First, nobody calls it Parallel Concurrent Time. Second, the first victim of Angelique’s web of evil was Alexis, and the second victim was a random day player handyman, so Maggie is either the third victim or the fourth, depending on whether you count Dameon or not. Also, that’s not what “double jeopardy” means.

Still, Nancy’s talking about a character that we recognize doing things that we more or less understand, so hooray, Dark Shadows is saved.

Continue reading Episode 1017: The Struggle

Episode 981: The Clone Wars

“You see, I came to this time hoping desperately to escape what I am.”

And now it’s this! Hooray! The dreadful Leviathans are now and evermore squeegeed from our lives, scrubbed from the world and leaving only the laundry-fresh scent of pine, because here in soapland, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed by a good all-temperature detergent.

Continue reading Episode 981: The Clone Wars

Episode 919/920/921: The New Neighbors

“That’s right, I’m a werewolf, and that’s why you’re gonna start painting right now.”

Here we are, in another haunted mansion, and sitting at the front desk is an audio-animatronic Charles Delaware Tate. He speaks, he turns his head, and his chest moves up and down like he’s breathing; I’d estimate this action figure has maybe six points of articulation. But it can’t be the real Chuck D, because he should be seventy-two years older than this.

Quentin and Chris are visiting this weird wax museum because they’re hoping that Tate can paint a picture for them. But Tate laughs at them, just laughs and laughs, until Quentin picks up a vase of flowers and hits him square in the chest with it.

And that’s how Charles Delaware Tate dies laughing, the target of a floral drone strike. He falls face first onto the desk, and then his head pops off and rolls across the floor.

Continue reading Episode 919/920/921: The New Neighbors

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

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