Tag Archives: smart people

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Episode 916: The One of Us

“There are two things you’ve got to know. One is that I think he’s slightly mad.”

And we’re back! Yesterday’s Dark Shadows episode was recorded three weeks out of sequence, and slotted into place in order to signal an upcoming storyline course correction. This is a situation that does not occur in nature.

They had this idea, you see, where Barnabas Collins, the main character of this daytime creeps machine, would suddenly swear allegiance to some kind of interplanetary invasion force of shapeless pre-prehistoric essence, which is plotting to replace the human race with a population of quick-growing four-headed snake monsters. Or something. It’s hard to explain, which I guess is the problem.

The kids who hang around outside the studio door after school said that a) they didn’t understand the storyline, and b) they wouldn’t like it even if they did, so the producers said I know what let’s do, let’s make a special episode where we explain that Barnabas doesn’t really want to be doing all the things that he’s been doing lately, and stick it in three weeks early, to signal to the audience that we’re aware that our story doesn’t make any sense, and we’ll change it as soon as we can. And then they went ahead and did it.

What I’m saying is, that’s a really not-normal way to run a television show, especially a high-rated show like Dark Shadows. Yes, the ratings have been slipping a bit since they started the Leviathan story, but that’s coming down from an all-time ratings peak that they hit only two months ago. There’s still a lot of people watching this show.

So what just happened was that the main character of a television show went to sleep, had a dream where the show apologized for the current storyline, and then woke back up and continued on as usual. I can’t think of anything to compare that to. That’s an approach that begins and ends with Dark Shadows.

Continue reading Episode 916: The One of Us

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Episode 899: The Fam Dram

“It’s a creature without a soul, that has to find one to be real.”

They say that art should hold a mirror up to nature, but the problem is there’s an awful lot of nature, and who has the time to just stand there and hold up mirrors? Plus, you go buy a mirror, and then you rustle up a decent patch of nature to hold it up to, and after all that hassle, what do you have? Backwards nature. Meanwhile, everybody else is holding mirrors up to superheroes and car chases.

But what the hell, just for today, let’s leave the blasphemous starbaby in his box, and partake in some good old-fashioned fam dram. Today’s slice of life begins with faithless father Paul Stoddard, recently returned to Collinsport, as he discovers that somebody has tattooed an ancient cult symbol on his inside left wrist, without his knowledge or consent.

Continue reading Episode 899: The Fam Dram

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Episode 889: It’s From the Past

“You mustn’t touch this, Julia. It happens to be very old.”

Barnabas was boring, is the problem. Around this time last year, they wrapped up all of his storylines — Angelique was banished back to Hell, Adam ran away, and all the other villains just burned or fell to powder. At last, Barnabas was triumphant — free from his vampire curse, surrounded by friends and family, universally respected and trusted. It was a nightmare.

With nothing else to do, he became Barnabas the butler, a facilitator for other people’s story progression. The show always faces a crisis when they don’t know what to do with the star attraction, and their usual response is to visit a different time period. When “toxic Barnabas” was getting too hot to handle in November 1967, we went back to his origin story, and when “tame Barnabas” ran out of story potential in March 1969, the show packed him off to 1897.

Barnabas is at his best when he’s on the defensive, struggling and scheming and making terrible mistakes. His trip to 1897 put him on the back foot immediately — no allies, a vampire once again, and generally confused about what he was even supposed to be doing. He had to ingratiate himself with a whole new family, and learn everybody’s secrets without letting on about his own.

And it worked! Even a month-long vacation didn’t diminish his charms; his miraculous return gave the show its all-time best ratings. But now he’s heading back home, where the outlook is even more drab than it was before he left: Quentin’s evil spirit is gone, and Collinwood is more or less at peace. The immediate future looks even more butlery than before.

So the writers, in their infinite lunacy, have decided to dodge the butler problem by making Barnabas the bad guy again. Instead of a happy homecoming, they’re giving him a mysterious new agenda, which splits him away from his friends and family.

It’s a risky idea, with the potential to squander all the good will that they’ve built up with the audience. But what is Dark Shadows except a string of terrible ideas, which sometimes turn out to be amazing?

Continue reading Episode 889: It’s From the Past

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Episode 888: Little Shop

“Something terrible is going to happen to us if we stay here!”

We’re back in the swinging sixties, and just in time. Barnabas’ trip to the nineteenth century was held over by popular demand, and if they’d kept it up for another six weeks, then by the time he came back it would be the 1970s, because of how time works.

The new storyline is just getting started — this is actually the first episode that takes place entirely in 1969 — so they’re still lining up the plot points. So far, Barnabas has been hijacked by some kind of ancient pyramid scheme death cult, Julia is anxiously awaiting Barnabas’ return from the past, and Carolyn is wearing a terrible clown skirt.

But today, we get our first big shock: Jason McGuire is back!

Continue reading Episode 888: Little Shop

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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

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Episode 370: A Woman Scorned

“You, and one handkerchief, are all I need to make him regret what he’s done to me.”

Vicki has traveled in time — she’s trapped in 1795, and so are we, for the foreseeable future. We’re here to learn the secret history of how Barnabas became a vampire, and how he lost Josette, the woman that he loved.

In the last episode, we met Angelique, a beautiful young maid who works for Josette’s family. She had a love affair with Barnabas in Martinique, before he knew that the wealthy Josette returned his affections. Josette is traveling to Collinsport for her wedding to Barnabas… but Angelique isn’t done with him yet.

Continue reading Episode 370: A Woman Scorned

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Episode 363: Anyone But You

“She’s lonely, very lonely. She’ll talk to anyone… anyone but you.”

The vampire, the doctor, the lawyer, the governess, the niece and the little boy who talks to dead people. For months, they’ve been scrambling around each other — a little chaos engine that chews its way through anybody who gets too close.

And now we’ve gotten to the point where it just can’t go on. Barnabas is the most popular character on the show, but he’s radioactive — every character that he touches ends up murdered, hypnotized, lost in the jungle, or packed off to an insane asylum.

So far, we’ve killed off Jason, Burke, Dr. Woodard and Willie. Pretty soon, we’re going to start losing members of the Collins family, and that gets expensive, story-wise. If you kill one of the kids, that’s a hard stop on any other plot development; the show just becomes one long funeral.

In fact, my estimate is that this storyline has about three more days left in it, and then they’re going to have to come up with a whole new idea.

Continue reading Episode 363: Anyone But You

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Episode 284: Doctor Who

“Our mistake is thinking that there are limits as to what can take place on this planet.”

Maggie’s still locked up at the Windcliff Sanitarium, recovering from her recent vampire abduction. Dr. Julia Hoffman — the noted blood specialist, psychologist and all-around smart person — is hypnotizing Maggie with a penlight, trying to bring her repressed memories to the surface.

They took a field trip to the Eagle Hill cemetery yesterday, and they found the Collins mausoleum, which triggered some frightening memories. Julia noticed that there was a grave marker for Sarah Collins in the mausoleum, and now she’s trying to learn if there’s a connection between the 10-year-old named Sarah who died in the 18th century and the little girl named Sarah who helped Maggie during her incarceration.

That is an incredible leap in logic, and I’m using the dictionary definition of “incredible”, as in: impossible to believe. Julia is going to make a lot of these intuitive leaps over the next week, making connections that no real human would ever make given the current information. And every single one of her batty conclusions is exactly correct.

Julia is therefore a completely unbelievable Sherlock Holmes type detective, who pulls insights out of the air and is right every time. And the audience loves her and believes in her anyway.

Continue reading Episode 284: Doctor Who