Tag Archives: too broad and too deep

Episode 1074: Future So Bright

“Charting the future is not a whim with me.”

Gentleman vampire Barnabas Collins is terribly concerned about the future, and for good reason; he’s been there, and it sucks. He spent a couple weeks trapped in the 90s, where he found his house tore up from the floor up, and he’s desperate to counteract the oncoming calamity.

But we all know that he’s going to fail; the future for Barnabas Collins is not going to be on ABC-TV at four o’clock in the afternoon. Collinwood will fall, and the family will move to a series of temporary shelters in paperback novels and comic strips and audio plays. That future is fast approaching — not today, and not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of his life.

And he might have figured that out, if he’d bothered to learn anything about the world in 1995. He didn’t even crack a newspaper; the name “Bart Simpson” means nothing to him. He spent the entire time running around the house, looking for ghosts.

Dark Shadows has spent the last year and a half turning inward, gradually losing touch with the world outside the great estate. Even the town of Collinsport hardly matters, these days. Barnabas came back to the present with the name “Rose Cottage” on his lips; nobody’s ever heard of it, but I’d bet money it’s going to turn out to be somewhere on the Collinwood grounds. It’s the only place they care about.

But this isn’t the only example of Barnabas Collins flash-forwarding on a mission of purely parochial interest. In November 1971, he shot a whole hundred years into the future, and you’ll never guess what he was looking for. Nope, don’t even try. Whatever it is you’re thinking, it’s dumber than that.

Continue reading Episode 1074: Future So Bright

Episode 1068: Just a Girl

“I did it from right here — with this coin.”

Tumbling through time, Barnabas and Julia have come to a hard stop at 1995, lured by the siren call of alternative rock and Richard Linklater movies. No one has a mint-with-tag Beanie Baby or anything, but you can tell it’s 1995 because everybody keeps dying hard, with a vengeance.

The Collinwood of the future is in ruins, abandoned and left to rot after a particularly brutal cancellation twenty-five years ago. The main characters who aren’t dead are irretrievably insane, stumbling through a devastated ABC Studio 16, waiting for someone to turn on the cameras again. They don’t cancel soap operas like this anymore; they have a much more humane system, where actors who can’t be placed in foster soaps get their own web series.

Here in 1995, Carolyn Stoddard Hawkes, Dark Shadows’ signature twenty-something sweetheart, is now pushing fifty, and apparently she’s been pushing it with her face. She looks awful. She’s spent the last couple decades becoming that loneliest of creatures, a cat lady who doesn’t have cats.

But from our perspective, this is still the Carolyn Yet to Come, and if Barnabas and Julia can find out what caused all this daytime trauma, then maybe it’s avertable. Like A Christmas Carol, The Terminator and 12 Monkeys, the question of this story is whether the future can be changed if everybody stops acting like a jerk for five seconds.

Continue reading Episode 1068: Just a Girl

Episode 952: Something Evil People Are Afraid Of

“Human, yes… except for his hatred! That’s what makes him so dangerous!”

Yesterday, sporadic vampire Barnabas Collins burned down the local antiques store, because his enemies turned him into one of the living dead, and then they didn’t know where the off switch was. This should be a lesson for us all.

But this isn’t the first time that Barnabas has been revamped, and it won’t be the last, not by a long shot. He’s been bouncing back and forth between the living and the dead for a couple of years now, and every treatment is only a reprieve, not a cure. Barnabas may long to be human again, but the audience wants fangs, and we cannot be denied our simple pleasures.

So it’s no surprise that the Gold Key Dark Shadows comic books have gone through the same cycle this year. In February 1970, the same month that flappy bat reclaimed TV Barnabas, comic book Barnabas was suddenly freed from his curse with no explanation, apparently sprung on a technicality. He mentions “the day Angelique’s curse dissolved,” and then he’s human for four issues, or as close to human as Barnabas ever gets.

But a year later — issue #8, February 1971 — the bat came back. “Barnabas Collins… the VAMPIRE!” says the caption. “Caught in a web between the lust for blood and the peace of normal life, Barnabas Collins laments his fate… even as he PREPARES TO STRIKE!”

So this is an opportunity for us to look at Barnabas’ current difficulties from another angle, and since the antiques shop is still smoldering, we might as well see what’s cooking at Gold Key Collinwood.

Continue reading Episode 952: Something Evil People Are Afraid Of

Your Lies and Spells (Blood & Fire)

“What demon have you summoned up with your lies and spells?”

Soap opera is a hungry beast. It chews through stories, as fast as you can write them. It eats ideas and feelings and relationships — stripping them down to the bone, and beyond. Creators retire and actors die, fashions change, networks rise and fall. And the soap opera keeps going, driven by its remorseless hunger for more story. You can cancel it, but it will be replaced by another, just as ravenous. Soap opera can not be stopped.

In its day, Dark Shadows was the hungriest of all, chewing up stories and characters and whole generations, every few months. And that’s why it stopped, in the end. The writing team stuffed the beast with tears and wit and English lit for all of 1969, but found their cellar depleted within a year.

Here on the blog, we’ve just reached the Leviathan story, an ambitious tale for a washboard weeper, and one of the first signs of trouble. The show will go on, for another sixteen months or so, but we’re already starting to line up suspects for the Who Killed Dark Shadows murder mystery dinner theater. As we go along, we’ll uncover a lot of different explanations for why the show eventually got itself cancelled, but the most important one is the simplest — they just ran out of stories to tell.

Dark Shadows flourished because they thought outside the box, busting out of the normal confines of a 1960s daytime soap, because it was fun and they didn’t know any better. They built themselves a new box — a mystery box, stranger and more exciting than anyone else’s — and they spent a few years exploring all its dark corners and secret passageways. But once they’d investigated the contours of that space, it turned into a familiar toy box, with a particular set of tropes and a limited set of characters. After a while, there just weren’t any new stories left to tell.

So that puts Big Finish in something of an awkward situation, because they’ve spent the last ten years making more than 60 new Dark Shadows audio dramas, continuing and expanding on a franchise that ran out of juice four decades ago. If the original creators couldn’t think of anything new to do with this story, then what hope does anybody else have?

Continue reading Your Lies and Spells (Blood & Fire)

Episode 880: The Further Adventures of Other People

“I like Collinsport. There’s all this stuff going on all the time. Weird stuff.”

The 1897 storyline is coming to a close this week, and once again Dark Shadows is tying up a time trip by murdering everybody who isn’t nailed down. Do you remember how they killed everybody at the end of 1795, and then went back eight months later because they realized they hadn’t killed Natalie? Well, they’re not going to make that mistake again.

This scorched-earth approach is hard on everyone, but it’s especially tough for the folks at Big Finish, who watch these episodes, and all they can see is the lights going out on one spinoff after another. Big Finish has been producing new Dark Shadows audio plays for the last ten years, and every character that gets exterminated is just money taken out of their pockets.

I mean, this is a production company that’s made twelve box sets worth of audio stories about Jago and Litefoot, two secondary characters from a six-episode Doctor Who story made in 1977. Now, I don’t think they would have squeezed that much juice out of The Adventures of Evan Hanley and His Assassin Associate Aristede, but I’m sure they would have appreciated the opportunity to try.

Continue reading Episode 880: The Further Adventures of Other People

Episode 876: The Curse of the Caffeinated

“How strange to think that such a place could trap one forever!”

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, says Beth, as she slips off the cliff, and into something less comfortable. Running away from her lover, she throws herself off of a mountain and into the sea, which is just like what happened to Josette, except this time it’s Beth and nobody cares.

So Love is dead, as a motivating force behind soap opera storytelling. It had a nice long run, but nothing lasts forever, especially in this town. Beth is dead, and Amanda is gone, and Angelique has vanished, and Kitty is turning into Josette, and Judith has decided to concentrate on vengeance and nothing else. As far as heterosexual love stories go, there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver.

We’re currently stumbling through the dying days of the 1897 storyline, and this week is especially grim. The next five episodes are wall-to-wall villains and henchmen, each one entirely devoted to exterminating all of the others. Count Petofi, Reverend Trask, Charles Tate, Evan Hanley, Tim Shaw, Aristede — it’s the entire 1897 rogues’ gallery, minus the ones that we like.

In fact, tomorrow, one of the villains decides to kill another villain by using a third villain to summon a brand-new fourth villain, who then marches around for the rest of the week strangling literally every single person that he sees.

Dark Shadows is currently taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, with the few scattered survivors driving around in the desert, and challenging each other to Thunderdome cage matches. So, fine, if that’s how they feel about things, we might as well skip the show today, and go read another comic book.

Continue reading Episode 876: The Curse of the Caffeinated

Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 1: The Tortured Undead

“I thought there were only two Collinses left. That means there are three who must be destroyed!”

Now, I know that Quentin Collins is at a particularly thrilling crisis point right now — forced to wear jewelry that he doesn’t particularly care for — but I’m afraid we’re going to have to put his problems on hold for a minute, because I’ve got problems of my own. I’m leaving the country for a conference, and I won’t have time to write regular episode posts for the next two weeks. But I can’t just jump forward into the future and leave the rest of you behind, at the mercy of gypsies.

So I’ve come up with another crackpot idea for what to do over these two weeks, namely: write about the Dark Shadows comic strip, which ran for one year, starting in March 1971. These will probably take me longer to write than the regular posts would have, but I wanted a chance to cover the comic strip anyway, and you only live once, probably.

Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 1: The Tortured Undead

Episode 782: Don’t Leave Home

“When you were putting Miss Balfour’s room to rights, did you find a dead snake on her dresser?”

Shadows of the night, falling silently. “Quentin’s Theme” is steadily climbing the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and pretty soon everyone’s going to be humming that tune, whether they want to or not. In this world that we know now, Quentin Collins is a bona fide Dark Shadows phenomenon, with a hit record and everything.

And this phantom melody is even starting to intrude on the hazy parallel world of the Paperback Library gothic romance novels. This peculiar line of spinoff books has been spinning its own cracked version of Dark Shadows for several years now, first chronicling the adventures of an ersatz Victoria Winters, and then tumbling head over heels for Barnabas Collins.

We last checked in with the Paperback Library four months ago to read Barnabas Collins vs the Warlock — the 11th novel in the series, and the sixth to feature Barnabas. By that point, the PBL was following clear editorial guidelines that the greatest human being who ever lived is named Barnabas Collins, and everybody else can go to hell. His only flaw is that his hands are cold, and hands are not everything.

But even the Paperback Library can’t ignore Quentin forever. They can ignore consistency and common sense and the limits of human patience, but Quentin Collins requires a response.

Continue reading Episode 782: Don’t Leave Home

Episode 764: Straight Outta Collinsport

“The sensible option isn’t always the most interesting.”

When you get right down to it, what is a Dark Shadows story, anyway?

A couple months ago, I passed the blog’s halfway point, which means there’s now more Dark Shadows behind me than there is ahead. I mean, we’ve stll got plenty of time — it’s only 1969, and what does time really mean anyway — but it makes me start to wonder about what happens when there’s no more Dark Shadows.

One thing that I know for sure is that trying to retell the story over again is a bad idea. They’ve tried three times — the failed 1991 show, the failed 2004 pilot, and the failed 2012 movie — and there’s just no point to it. This is a story that can only be told once, and it’s not like it even made that much sense the first time.

But there’s another path for post-Dark-Shadows Dark Shadows which is marginally more sensible, and that’s the road taken by the Big Finish audio dramas, the Lara Parker novels and the Dynamite comics.

Instead of trying to squeeze the original story into a new shape, they say: Okay, it’s April 3rd, 1971. Now what?

Continue reading Episode 764: Straight Outta Collinsport

Episode 720: Halfway

“And there it was… a MYSTERY BODY!”

The story so far: I began writing this blog two Labor Day weekends ago, starting with Barnabas emerging from the mystery box in episode 210. Now it’s Labor Day weekend again, and by some cruel trick of time, my journey into the past has reached the halfway mark.

This is the midpoint between episode 210 and the end of this uncertain and frightening television show, and to mark the occasion, I should probably say something profound and clever about this episode that sums up what these last two years have taught us about vampires and storytelling and character development and natural selection and chromakey and why you should never give a gun to an actor, even an unloaded prop gun, because honestly, they will find a way to hurt themselves.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I don’t have very much to say about today’s episode, except that this is the one where, for one tantalizing moment, it looks like Quentin and Barnabas are about to kiss.

Continue reading Episode 720: Halfway