Tag Archives: backacting

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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.

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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

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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

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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 836: Murder, She Wrought

“I thought killing him would help me release from loving him. But it didn’t.”

Terror stalks the great estate at Collinwood this night, just exactly as it has for the last 189 nights in a row. The terrifying specter of Quentin Collins still rules the silent halls, while the family is couchsurfing at the Old House, waiting for it to blow over. Young David is still leaking get-up-and-go, teetering semi-permanently on the brink of death.

Hoping to resolve this difficult problem, Barnabas Collins used an ancient Chinese divination technique to contact the spirit of Quentin, and negotiate a cease-fire. It’s now six months later, and the problem has not been resolved in even the tiniest way. I think Barnabas needs to step aside, and let somebody else take a crack at it.

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Episode 834: The What’s-Thatters

“Death runs faster than any man.”

A memo from young Icarus to his father, re: altitude. What are you talking about, Dad? These wings that you made from feathers and wax are working great. Why do you say that I’m flying too high? You’re supposed to fly as high as you can, that’s the whole point of flying!

And so, as Icarus sinks slowly in the west and learns some valuable lessons about swimming, let’s turn to Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis. In defiance of good taste and common sense, Dan has turned his poky little soap opera into a five-alarm spookshow spectacular, delighting the teenagers and housewives of America with larger-than-life characters, hair-raising plot twists and inventive special effects. The ratings are still climbing, which makes Dan wonder: What can I do for an encore?

Today, we see Dan’s first answer to that question — Dead of Night, a primetime pilot for ABC that tried to adapt the Dark Shadows formula to an hour-long nighttime drama. Dan produced this pilot in late 1968, with several members of his Dark Shadows family — director Lela Swift, writer Sam Hall, composer Bob Cobert, and actors Thayer David and Louis Edmonds.

ABC finally broadcast the hour-long pilot in late August 1969, because they’d already paid for it and you might as well. While he’s been waiting for it to air, Dan’s scaled his ambitions up even further — he’s currently pursuing a deal with MGM, to make a Dark Shadows film. So before that kicks off, it’s useful for us to take a look at this pilot episode, “A Darkness at Blaisedon”, and see Dan’s first attempt to bring Dark Shadows to a wider audience.

Constructed haphazardly out of feathers and wax, Dead of Night introduces a trio of new characters — psychic investigator Jonathan Fletcher, his live-in chum Sajeed Rau, and the beautiful young heiress Angela Martin — and throws them onto a haunted house set, to see how far they can fly. Icarus, you are cleared for takeoff.

Continue reading Episode 834: The What’s-Thatters

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Episode 816: Midsummer

“You said we could be together forever, now that I’m dead like you.”

“Barnabas Collins and I have been at war for quite a long while,” says Count Petofi, tapping on the chained coffin that he’s keeping in his basement lair. “This is one more battle in that war.” And then he turns, and stares directly into the camera. “But it is the last one, and it will go on until he gives me what I want.”

We cut to a different camera, with Petofi and his henchman Aristede in a two-shot. Aristede says that it won’t be easy to convince Barnabas to forget the mission that brought him back in time to 1897, but Petofi says he can do it. Aristede asks how, and Petofi turns, and stares directly into the camera.

“Military strategy, my boy!” he announces. “I shall do what one does to win any crucial battle… Increase the pressure!” The camera moves from his clenched fist to another close-up.

Aristede asks how Petofi’s going to increase the pressure, and the mad Count takes a few steps downstage. “So far, only those whom Barnabas Collins cares for in this time have suffered,” he says, and stares directly into the camera. “Now, I shall attack from another side!”

This is all taking place in a tiny basement, by the way. Petofi has turned away from the person that he’s talking to for the fourth time in the last sixty seconds, and he’s not looking out a window or anything. According to the logic of this set, he’s announcing his fiendish plans to a brick wall, which is approximately two inches in front of him. We’ve seen backacting before on Dark Shadows, but this really is the frozen limit.

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Episode 718: Other Than My Wife

“You are such a coward that the only way you can kill is with dolls!”

Ladies and gentlemen of the Dark Shadows audience, I would like to introduce to you a new member of our cast: slow doorknob.

Good ol’ slow doorknob actually made its first major appearance at the end of yesterday’s episode, because that’s where the career opportunities are, doorknob-wise. Let’s say you want to end an episode with an unexpected character at the door, but you don’t have the money to pay the actor just for the last two seconds. Who do you turn to when nobody turns up? A slow-turning doorknob, that’s who.

A twist to the left, a twist to the right, a couple rattles, a slow glide open, and then you cut to a cast member looking surprised, or horrified, or whatever actors are supposed to look like once you’ve stopped filming the fixtures. It’s kind of an IOU for the actual surprise, payable tomorrow.

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Episode 683: The Very Last Ron Sproat Episode

“I want you to tell me what you know of a tall blonde woman in a long, flowing white dress.”

On February 5th, 1969, ABC aired what is generally considered to be the worst half-hour of network television, the first episode of a sketch comedy show called Turn-On. The show managed to be both offensive and incomprehensible, which is quite a trick, and on at least one station, it was cancelled during the first episode.

The conceit of Turn-On was that it was produced by a computer, which spliced together lots of little shards of not-funny. The show didn’t have any sets; it was just filmed against a stark white background. An odd-looking character would appear and do something strange, and then they’d cut to something else.

Almost all of the jokes were about sex, and sometimes they just flashed the word SEX! on the screen, in various colors. They also flashed captions with jokey references to sex and gay people, including “God Save the Queens,” “Free Oscar Wilde,” “Make Love Not Wine,” and “The Amsterdam Levee Is a Dike.” Sometimes the screen would be divided into four comic-strip panels, and the sketch would be performed in discrete chunks, one in each panel. The ending credits were split up into pieces and aired throughout the show.

WEWS, an ABC affiliate in Cleveland, took the show off the air during the first commercial break, and just didn’t show the rest of the episode. I don’t know what they filled the extra twenty minutes with, but it was better than Turn-On, so it could have been literally anything.

And on the same day — February 5th, 1969 — ABC also aired the last episode of Dark Shadows written by Ron Sproat. ABC was just having a bad day overall.

Continue reading Episode 683: The Very Last Ron Sproat Episode