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Episode 943: From Within

“To think that on this night, this strange night, you might have come back to us in that dreadful condition.”

Well, Maggie Evans is all locked up again, as part of the Leviathan party’s continuing war on women. Well, on one woman in particular.

Three weeks ago, Maggie found herself on the far side of a door in the strange desert otherworld known as Collinwood’s secret passages, being menaced by an untamed teenage slime god who was pursuing some kind of board-game related vendetta. After three days of confinement, Maggie managed a daring escape by waiting for somebody to open the door for her.

Now she’s locked up again, this time in a crypt, by a zombie and an assassin and a guy with a box. So it’s just like the good old days, isn’t it, when Ron Sproat would bring the story to a screeching halt by locking up a pretty girl and keeping her there, while everyone else walks in circles and talks to police officers over the phone.

Continue reading Episode 943: From Within

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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 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

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Episode 668: The Aristocrats

“Sometimes I get scared to like people, because I’m afraid.”

There are five more Ron Sproat episodes, and then, I swear to you, he is out of my life for good.

To catch up the uncaught: Over the last three months on Dark Shadows, there’s been a behind the scenes tug-of-war between two of the writers, Ron Sproat and Sam Hall. Ron’s been on the show since November 1966, and he lkes to slow things down and take his time. He writes a lot of recap scenes, and a whole week can go by without anything really happening. Sam joined the show in November 1967, and he’s the opposite. He’s smart, fearless and easily bored, and he wants to make the show faster, funnier, and more interesting.

Ron and Sam have been out of synch for a long time, and their disagreements are getting worse. That’s why the last few months have been a patchwork of exciting episodes and boring episodes, even more than usual.

By now, Sam has won, and Ron is on his way out. There’s only a handful of Sproat episodes left — and based on today’s episode, it sounds like he’s already cleaned out his desk.

Honestly, he’s not even trying anymore. I mean, he never really tried that hard in the first place, but now he’s not even trying to look like he’s trying.

Continue reading Episode 668: The Aristocrats

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Episode 664: Sproat’s Last Stand

“Don’t ask questions. Now, you mustn’t panic, or ask — or be afraid, or ask questions, because something unexpected may happen. And you mustn’t panic! Do you understand?”

So where do I even start with this? Barnabas Collins has handwaved himself back into his own history, where girl governess Victoria Winters is still awaiting execution for witchcraft. You’d think the statute of limitations would run out after 170 years, plus she’s already been hanged for this, so it’s double jeopardy. Also, it’s not even the real Vicki.

But Barnabas is doing what the Collins family does best, namely: rewrite their family history with a black magic marker, powered by authentic black magic.

This is the start of a challenging run of episodes, because Sam Hall and Gordon Russell — also known as the good Dark Shadows writers — are taking a week off to figure out what they’re going to do with the show following this little cul-de-sac in story progression.

So the next five episodes are all written by Ron Sproat, who’s not a very good writer, and directed by Dan Curtis, who’s not a very good director, and it’s smack in the middle of nine consecutive episodes featuring Jonathan Frid, who’s not very good at remembering his lines. It’s like the perfect storm of barely adequate television production.

Continue reading Episode 664: Sproat’s Last Stand

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Episode 656: Unspooky

“No human hand has touched these clothes since I took them away.”

Okay, the Ron Sproat script countdown continues; we are currently at nine episodes and holding.

Sproat, if you haven’t read my other posts on the subject, is the third-best out of three on the Dark Shadows writing team, and he and I have been engaged in a tense standoff since April 1967. He’s got one month left until he leaves the show, and it’s going to come down to the wire on which of us is going to crack first.

Now, I’m going to write today’s post as if there’s somebody out there who still likes it when I spend the entire day complaining about Ron Sproat and his terrible scripts. “Oh, boy,” this make-believe person might say, passing by in a hot-air balloon. “These are my very favorites. I shall read today’s entry with particular relish.”

But now that I’ve written that down, it doesn’t sound super likely. I mean, does anyone even talk like that? And why a hot-air balloon?

Continue reading Episode 656: Unspooky

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Episode 644: Phoning It In

“It doesn’t necessarily mean something.”

David and Amy, two young kids prowling the halls of the enormous haunted house where they live, are currently the subjects of an escalating struggle between two ghosts — Quentin, who wants to lure the children into a sinister scheme, and Magda, who’s trying to protect them. So far, we haven’t actually seen or heard either of these spirits, and there’s still a chance that this might all turn out to be one big misunderstanding.

The kids make their way through a secret passage to the west wing, where Quentin is silently urging them to go. Suddenly, a busted old grandfather clock tips over, and faceplants right in front of them with an unholy clatter.

This could be a symbol of today’s generation trying to avoid being trapped by the fears and prejudices of the past, but it’s probably not. Sometimes a child-endangering poltergeist clock attack is just a child-endangering poltergeist clock attack.

Continue reading Episode 644: Phoning It In

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Episode 616: The Great 1968 Wrap-Up

“I said you were my friend, and how I wish that were the truth. But I am past the point when friends are possible.”

Signs that your life may not be going the way that you hoped: You walk into your best friend’s house, and you find him moaning in an armchair. You reach out to touch his collar, and you see bite marks on his neck, and the only thing that you can say is, Oh, man. Not this again.

Barnabas Collins has been chewed on by his ex-wife, vampire soap vixen Angelique, and now his friends Julia and Willie have to figure out what to do about it. They stand around the scene of the crime and spitball ideas for a minute — they want to hide Barnabas someplace, but the next time the vampire summons him, he’ll go. They need to store him someplace safe, where she can’t get at him. But where?

Then Julia says, “Downstairs, Willie — the cell!” like that’s suddenly the greatest idea ever. So they hoist Barnabas to his feet, wrangle him downstairs to the basement, and lock him up in the dungeon cell, because today’s episode was written by Ron Sproat, and he never does anything else. God damn it, Sproat!

Continue reading Episode 616: The Great 1968 Wrap-Up

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Episode 601: The Last Days of Ron Sproat

“It’s happening, Julia! The spirit of Philippe Cordier is killing Adam!”

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present — for one night, and one night only — the insubstantial spirit of Monsieur Philippe Cordier.

Now, for people who are just joining us, I’d like to give you a brief introduction to Philippe, so that you understand his role in the current storyline. Unfortunately, this is impossible. He only showed up at the end of Friday’s episode — and by “showed up”, I mean he possessed Barnabas at a seance and ranted in French for two minutes — and in today’s episode, he’s banished forever, immediately following the opening titles.

An explanation of who Philippe is, and why he’s on the show right now, would involve at least six character names, two Universal Monsters references, an anagram, the French Revolution, the phrase “life force”, and maybe a couple of Doors songs. You basically need a Ph.D. in Dark Shadows to approach this particular plot point.

Continue reading Episode 601: The Last Days of Ron Sproat