Well, the first season almost-completely SUCKED!
Amazon will notify me if/when the second season (of this mid80s television show created by Steven Spielberg) becomes available on DVD. Twenty-two of the twenty-four amazing tales of fantasy and imagination play like premise pitches or flat jokes told by Spielberg to a writers’ room that faithfully recreated twenty piles of shapeless goo lacking satisfying endings; exactly like the worst SNL sketches that simply peter-out and conclude. Rumor has it that the second season was more Amazing than the first, but plenty of season-one critiques at Amazon and elsewhere praise its vapid stereotypes and meaninglessnesses to the skies, presumably because Steve was the executive producer.
None of this bodes well for the entertainment value of the second season (if/when), and the only saving graces involved the season one contributions of illustrious/celebrity directors (Spielberg, Balaban, Eastwood, Scorsese, Glatter) and the fact that episodes 22 and 24 were based on stories and written by Richard Matheson. The Doll and One for the Books didn’t totally suck, and The Amazing Falsworth and Guilt Trip came within spitting distance of story ideas that might have been interesting (in other hands). In (wait for the chortle) The Black Shield of Falsworth, Gregory Hines and Richard Masur turned in very effective performances because they were excellent actors, and probably overjoyed to be working their magic for Spielberg — but in the closing moments of the episode, Hines locks himself in a closet. There’s even an insert of the in-knob thumbturn in the vertical position (like you’d find on the inside of a bathroom door). Who would install a bathroom doorknob backward on a bedroom closet door? Probably a versatile handyman like Steven fucking Spielberg. That’s a minor example of the salient details that clearly got neglected along with minor issues like; if Harvey Keitel can paint his way into a joyous future with his dead wife, can he sell any of his paintings of her? or does he have to choose between creating wealth and painting marital bliss with the dead chick? THAT kind of question, had it been posed, might have been worthy of obedient compliance with the ridiculous dictates of appointment television.
Since I don’t have to wait a week between episodes, I’m probably a good deal less forgiving than I would have been 26 years ago during my/our patient-obedient phase, when sitcoms and pseudo-dramatic nonsense (Dallas?) ruled the trackless waves between treasured, tiny islands of provocative science fiction, or near-miss slop like this that passed for same. Back in ’85-87, I regretted my failure to chain myself in front of a screen to watch this stuff I actually longed to see. Silly me. Silly us. Silly television. What do you want to do tonight, Marty? It seems as though somewhere between The Richard Boone Show and NYPD Blue we settled for less and less pith and wound up watching reruns of the infantilzingly sappy Isles of Gilligan. Adventures in Paradise seemed pretty adult, hard-hitting and gritty when I was 12. I’d like another look now that I’m 60. But…NO! Why is that? Route 66 seems markedly overwrought now, but it still puts me to sleep.
Conversely, The Velvet Alley absolutely kicked my ass by presenting the predicament of an serious New York screenwriter confronted with the intoxicating, corrupting power of his first Hollywood success. The printed remnant of the film looks and sounds like an unreconstitued kinescope, but the speeches, relationships, pace, varying tones and powerful performances make up for every shortcomming. This was amazing television, courtesy of Rod Serling, whose osterized feelings about fame, wealth, reputation and success are beautifully portrayed in less than 90 minutes — and remain at least as vitally relevent to a hungry audience as they were in early 1959, probably more.
Now I’m anxious to get a load of whatever remains of Reginald Rose’ work, excluding 132 hour-long episodes of The Defenders. He must have stuck something explosive up the butt of a really important and immortal asshole.
(Thanks to NetFlix, the six disks of the Studio One Anthology will rotate past me next week. I kinda figured $40 for The Criterion Collection: The Golden Age of Television and The Velvet Alley would crash and burn my monthly budget — [but I still say what the fuck!]) This medium can teach.