Tag Archives: self-sabotage

Episode 982: Bad Marriages

“I’m in an unfamiliar time, without a touchstone.”

It’s narrative collision time on Dark Shadows, as a brand-new storyline begins, using brand-new second-hand stories. By now, the Dark Shadows writers have fully acclimated to the idea that this is how you write a soap opera, throwing together bits and pieces of other people’s stories, and when the end comes, as it will, they’ll spend the next several decades patiently explaining that they couldn’t continue writing the show, because they’d run out of source material to plunder. They believe it, too. This is all they know.

Continue reading Episode 982: Bad Marriages

Time Travel, part 8: She’s Me

“The cards — they have anticipated you!”

But that’s the thing about epic tragedies, you know? You don’t need spoiler alerts, because everybody knows how this is going to go.

Against all odds and two decades later, Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis managed to sell NBC on a prime-time revival of the show, reintroducing the characters and the stories that America once loved so deeply and temporarily. But this time, the show would have prime-time network production values, like shooting on film and doing retakes and thinking about things in advance. And they could tell the story properly now — introducing the vampire right from the start, and making sure that Josette is the lookalike of the right person.

And it’s here, in episode 8, when the show gets noticeably better. They’ve got some grown-up writers at last, and a tighter focus on the more appealing members of the cast. They know where the story’s going, and they don’t waste time trying to introduce two simultaneous female vengeance fire demons, like they did in episode 4. Things are finally starting to go uphill.

But we know what happens when things go uphill, especially if it’s Widow’s Hill. That road leads to a messy death on the rocks below, which is exactly what happens to our star-crossed revival.

Yes, the show gets better, here in the back half of the season, but not better enough, and it’s too late anyway; the ratings have sagged to such an extent that the gods have already decided the series’ fate. After this, NBC gives 9pm Friday to some equally doomed comedies, and then the NBC Friday Night Movie, and then Dateline. Twenty years after the lights go out on the great estate at Collinwood, NBC will finally manage to put a successful fantasy drama in this timeslot, but I’m afraid it’s going to be Grimm.

Continue reading Time Travel, part 8: She’s Me

Episode 885: Not in Canvas Anymore

“I want you to do nothing. Promise me that, and I will not use the coffins.”

Now, from Josette’s point of view, it’s a weird decision either way, but it gets weirder the more that you think about it, which personally I was planning never to do. But let’s take a moment.

Kitty Soames — a living human woman, in the year 1897 — has discovered that she is the reincarnation of Josette DuPres, who toppled over a cliff in 1795. Reincarnation means that it’s the same spirit, reborn in a new body. Right? That’s what this story point has done to me; it’s made me question what reincarnation means.

So Kitty is Josette, in some kind of fictional necrobabble way. And listening to Josette’s music box put her into a kind of fugue state, where she remembered being Josette. I’m okay with that part.

But now Kitty is trying to suppress those memories, because she’s worried that the Josette persona will take over. So she goes to Josette’s room in the Old House, and argues with the portrait.

“I’ve got to go away to live my own life, and you can’t come with me!” she says. “You’ve got to let me be myself! I’ve got to forget Josette DuPres!” And then the portrait sasses her back, saying, “It is Kitty Soames you must forget!”

Now, obviously, if she’s really Josette, then who is she talking to, but it’s metaphor, it’s stagecraft, it’s a vampire soap opera and who even cares. And then there’s the floating.

Continue reading Episode 885: Not in Canvas Anymore

Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 10: The Do-Over

“Suddenly, a violent gust of wind erupts, wrenching Esau Collins from his own tombstone!”

I thought it would be fun. You know? I had to go away — to Germany, for a conference, not that it matters — and I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with an episode post every day. So I thought, I’ll spend two weeks writing about the 1971 Dark Shadows comic strip. That’ll be fun and easy, I can write them on the plane (which I didn’t, really) and I won’t have much to catch up on when I get home (which I really did).

The thing that I didn’t realize was: this comic strip is a wake. It started just before the show ended, and then kept going for a year, a drawn-out death rattle. This fun little two-week sidebar has turned into my first real encounter with the end of the show, a vision of April Third and what lies beyond: a Christmas Yet to Come.

I’ve written about other post-mortem spin-off material — the 1991 revival, the Big Finish audios — but this one feels different, because the comic strip was there, at the scene of the crime. And right now on the blog, I’m in the 850s, right at the peak of Dark Shadows’ popularity, and just before things start to go wrong. The comic strip is a vision of the near-future, and not a promising one.

But what is Dark Shadows, if not a contemplation of death? Yes, the show will be cancelled. The nighttime revival will fail, and the teen-drama reboot, and the several disappointing movies. Dark Shadows will never come back. I will die, and everything that I love will die. But at least I’m going to outlive this goddamn comic strip.

Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 10: The Do-Over

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 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

Episode 818: The Green Light

“When I saw myself rising from the dead — with those fangs!”

There are eight turning points in the story of Dark Shadows — moments when the focus and direction of the show changed forever. Four of them are character introductions, and four are backstage events. Here they are, in order of appearance:

  • the introduction of Barnabas,
  • Julia’s offer to cure Barnabas,
  • writer Sam Hall joins the show,
  • the introduction of Angelique,
  • Jonathan Frid’s ten-city publicity tour,
  • writer Ron Sproat leaves the show,
  • the introduction of Quentin,
  • and MGM greenlights House of Dark Shadows.

Here we are in mid-August 1969, and we’ve reached that final turning point — the moment when a grown-up movie studio agreed to distribute a feature film about a daytime soap opera, using the same cast and crew, while the TV show is still in production. Everything that happens over the next year and a half of the show will be affected by that deeply peculiar decision.

The story that people tell about House of Dark Shadows is that creator Dan Curtis, like all artistic visionaries, was deeply misunderstood. He had a burning ambition to turn his vampire soap opera into a feature film, and nobody at the studios would believe in his dream. Finally, Dan found a kindred spirit in James Aubrey, the president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who recognized the value of a Dark Shadows movie and eagerly gave it the green light.

Once the film was greenlighted, the only headache to figure out was how to get the cast off the show for six weeks, while they filmed the movie. Dan and the writers came up with a way to focus on the actors who weren’t part of the movie cast, until the shooting was over. That way, the movie wouldn’t have a negative impact on the show, and when shooting wrapped, everything went back to normal. On release, the movie was such a success that it saved MGM from closing down.

That story is almost entirely false. This is actually the story of the destruction of Dark Shadows. It’s also the story of the destruction of MGM. And like all Dark Shadows stories, the line between hero and villain is not necessarily clear.

Continue reading Episode 818: The Green Light

Time Travel, part 7: Here We Go Again

“You know of such things as zippers and machine wash, and you do not even know the year?”

Vampire playboy Barnabas Collins has been out of his box for six weeks now, and to be perfectly honest with you, he has not used his time productively.

Twenty years ago, Barnabas was bound up in chains and sent into cold storage, because ABC Daytime couldn’t think of anything else to do with him. In 1991, he was released for good behavior, and given a sweet prime-time slot on NBC. Yes, I know it’s on Friday nights, but think of all the starving vampires in Africa who don’t even get a show on Fridays.

The way that I understand it, this new iteration of Barnabas is supposed to be a charismatic bloodsucking charm machine, fascinating and sexy and passionate. What we’ve got is more in the area of mopey and spiteful, a self-involved bully who’s unable to form emotional connections with other people. He’s murdered at least four people so far, including a member of the Collins family, and last week he turned another Collins girl into his blood slave, and made her commit crimes that absolutely would have resulted in a prison sentence, if she’d turned out to be any good at it.

Barnabas’ big redeeming feature is supposed to be that he’s pining for girl governess Victoria Winters, who reminds him of his long-lost love Josette. But apart from a couple candlelight dinner dates, he’s hardly even talked to her, and instead he’s been using up all his romance time on blood-fueled makeout sessions with his own descendants.

Fortunately, Dark Shadows comes equipped with a built-in escape hatch, constructed in 1967 because the original series couldn’t figure out what to do with Barnabas either. It’s a custom bespoke time portal, carrying Vicki back to the late 18th century, on a sightseeing tour of the Collins family history.

So Vicki goes tumbling down the ruby slipper hole, to take another shot at rebooting the reboot. Look out below!

Continue reading Time Travel, part 7: Here We Go Again

Episode 740: Local Parlor Tricks

“The evil here always follows you, doesn’t it? The evil here never stops.”

As today’s episode begins, eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins emerges from the basement, and wouldn’t you know it, the gypsy’s on the fritz again.

“You should leave tonight,” she mutters. “Tch, I am not permitted to tell you what to do, am I? What do I care what you do?”

She sighs, and throws her hands in the air. “I should not have said that, I should go and talk to Sandor, and say, let us hitch up the wagon and go! But you have taken Sandor from me. When they find you in your coffin down in the cellar…”

See? This is what happens when you leave your gypsy running all day. He needs to get an EnergySaver or something.

Continue reading Episode 740: Local Parlor Tricks

Episode 734: The Tragedy of Tim

“Children are animals, but with one important difference.”

The schoolteacher sighs. “Ah, Jamison, why?” he says to a recalcitrant pupil. “Why did you do this? To hand in a blank sheet of paper… I know that you knew some of the spelling words, and the mathematical sums really were very simple.”

It’s a sad moment, but not because of Jamison. I mean, if the mathematical sums are really that simple, then I’m sure he’ll pick it up somewhere. Jamison will be fine.

The problem is Mr. Timothy Shaw, the mild, fussy tutor at Trask’s malevolent punishment school. Tim is played by werewolf teen idol Don Briscoe, who used to be the hottest thng on the show, breaking new ground in afternoon sex appeal by regularly tearing off his shirt on camera.

They spent all winter building Don up as a tormented bad boy serial killer, and then when the 1897 story started — nothing, for two months. He just disappeared from the show.

This week is his return, and it’s a damp squib if I ever saw one. His shirt is buttoned all the way up to his chin, and he’s got wire rim Benjamin Franklin spectacles.

And worst of all, as far as the young set is concerned, he’s scolding a child about not doing his math homework. This feels like deliberate sabotage of a once-rising star.

So it looks like it’s time for another round of our backstage guessing game: Did He Fall, or Was He Pushed?

Continue reading Episode 734: The Tragedy of Tim