Thursday, January 19, 2017

David Selby in SIAMESE CONNECTIONS, 1973

Believe it or not, DARK SHADOWS is not the weirdest thing David Selby has ever done.

Hot on the heels of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, UP THE SANDBOX (with Barbara Streisand) and THE GIRL IN BLUE (opposite Maud "Octopussy" Adams), Selby appears on stage in SIAMESE CONNECTIONS. This is usually the point in the post where a blogger would start getting snarky, but SIAMESE CONNECTIONS was a production that defies snark. Hold onto your butts.

Written by Dennis J. Reardon, the production originated at the University of Michigan before finding its way to the Actor's Studio in New York with James Woods. It was the recipient of the 1971 Avery Hopwood Award for Drama.

SIAMESE CONNECTIONS made its mainstream debut in 1973 at the Public Annex Theater in New York. In that production, James Staley played a farm boy envious of his elder brother, played by our own David Selby. When his brother is killed in wartime battle, Staley goes all murder happy, offing his grandmother and a farm worker. Despite his character's death, Selby manages to remain an active participant in the story, returning as a ghost to haunt his brother.

SIAMESE CONNECTIONS also featured two perpetually geriatric actors: Roberts Blossom and William Hickey. Blossom went on to play a creepy old geezer in a number of movies, such as CHRISTINE, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and, most famously, HOME ALONE. He plays Selby's grandfather in this play.

The leathery voiced Hickey plays Selby's grandmother, a point which confused many critics. "Why a man?" asked Michael Smith in The Village Voice. "Are we moving back to an all-male theater?" You might have seen Hickey in PRIZZI'S HONOR, CHRISTMAS VACATION and as "Doctor Finklestein" in THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

SIAMESE CONNECTIONS ran for 64 performances, closing on March 4, 1973. You can see a selection of stills from the production below.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Epilogue



My checkbook was stolen by a so-called friend and my stepmother died. I could deal with Stuff, I could watch BUFFY (cramming in far more per day than I should have), or I could write. Specifically, I dealt with two of those things, so forgive the lapse in writing.

What a great show! Pretty much. I get it.  Pretty much.

Once freed from the Procrustean Bed of high school, the storytelling took off. Dull characters were ejected. Spike and Finn were exactly the regulars we needed, and Anya’s Spock-like take on humanity had just enough Q to keep me loving her contribution. She also served as the antidote to Willow.  And call me whatever it is you want, but I found the series’ (arguably) most beloved character a predictably maudlin and cloying presence. But… people just love Alyson Hannigan. And she’s darned cute, I’ll give her that.  Anyway, the handling of the Slayer Council, the de-cartoonization of Giles back into a real character with dignity, the whole magilla… I enjoyed it. The soapy stuff? Not so much. DARK SHADOWS is a soap. Them’s the rules when you watch. This just felt like popsicle time.

Watching the arcs develop was a joy, even though it often felt like Joss had no real idea where he was going with them. But neither does life. BUFFY still stands with three, genre-oriented, arc driven shows of roughly the same era, and within them, you can feel TV shifting as a medium into the cable age, where the FCC is a joke and producers can tell short-but-long form stories with the same freedom that the first M-rated filmmakers had. I call it the SOPRANOS Era, and we’re still in it. The other shows are BABYLON 5 and DEEP SPACE 9. Each has a different focus, but taken together, DS9 still strikes me as the fusion of the best elements of both. But the monotony that BUFFY often flirted with (which equates to charm if you like hanging out with the characters) was something I never really experienced with my B5 XP of 2012, and I have never experienced with DARK SHADOWS. Why? Maybe the length. Maybe I just like the characters more.

I’ll give Whedon this. He didn’t mine DARK SHADOWS. Yeah, okay, reluctant vampires, but we’ve had so many under the bridge, that’s like saying that the latest Stephen King book is a ripoff of Gutenberg. Of course, I still prefer DARK SHADOWS.

My favorite characters? Xander and Giles, naturally. Finn is right up there. And I like Anya as well. Spike, of course, but he’s everyone’s fave, it seems.

Then there’s the big thing that made me sad. If you look at a text backwards, it’s all about the final actions. Everything is just a prelude to them. In this case, seven years of prelude. At the end of the finale, Willow unleashes a spell that will turn all potential Slayers into actual Slayers. And if I’d been a woman in middle or high school when this came out, I’d be fist pumping the air like an extra in a Bobby Seale biopic. But I’m not.

When these gender inequalities come up, I usually hear a few saws…

This is just the natural process of balancing things out. (No. Just… no. Balance does not mean counterbalancing to the point of an opposite imbalance. That’s called bullying.)
Well, men have had a monopoly on screen heroism forever. (Yes, true. And if a modern franchise, without question, posited men as cosmic saviors because of their testosterone? Whoo-boy.)

But let’s just say I’m some infantile manchild crying into his Paul Elam-embroidered handkerchief at missing out on being a superhero. Fine. Let’s look at it from another point of view. Other than Buffy, the other Slayers have had Issues. Kendra was emotionally repressed to the point that it led to a combat deficit that Buffy had to solve. And Faith? Do we really want even one more Faith running around? I’d argue that we lucked out with Buffy, and even then, it’s impossible to discount the supportive influence of Giles, Joyce, Xander, and Willow. To keep it official, let’s just whittle it down to Giles. Nowhere does Willow also conjure up an army of Watchers to guide these Slayers. Even then, they’re no bed of roses as an organization, with Giles being the wisest and most balanced of them. Given how unpredictable the other Slayers have (largely) been, even-tempered wisdom does not seem to be a criterion in their selection. So, once Willow’s spell hatches, we have a few likely scenarios on our hands, and I’m not crazy about any of them.

The best seems to be a Bad Slayer vs Good Slayer + civilian fight, probably exacerbated by demons and vampires looking to use the conflict as an excuse to wipe out as many Slayers as possible. Humans might even be harvested under the guise of protection by various, seemingly “benevolent” vampire groups.

The worst scenario I envision is the placement of humans and non-slayers as second class citizens as the Slayers, sans any real guidance, become corrupt with their power. I’m avoiding mentioning the overreaction of underpowered males, but you can add gender animosity to the mix for a real hootenany. Nor am I bringing up what will happen when select women who’ve been victims of abuse by men suddenly have godlike powers and near invulnerability.

From a thematic standpoint, this decision is ruinous for me as a viewer. Over and over again, the truly brave and noble characters are those whose only power is confidence in Buffy. You know what? They matter. And they are us. They are the ultimate audience surrogates.

In the end, this is Whedon’s show and he can do what he wants with it. But it doesn’t mean I have to like its implications. The message I took away -- up to that point -- was that superpowers were less relevant than the willingness to make impossible choices in the face of certain death. Man, Xander gets an eye gouged out and he doesn’t even blink the other one. He may not like Buffy’s plan to storm the vineyard, but he perseveres. Again and again, being a messiah only works because of the organized team of loving apostles gathered around. By focusing on Almighty Slayerhood, I feel that this is denigrated.

In DARK SHADOWS, both Angelique and Barnabas face their “big bad” sans abilities, revealing that heroism isn’t about what we can “do.” It’s about our willingness to take necessary action, despite personal risk. Do we really need to be messiahs to achieve greatness and defeat evil? Because that ain’t happening.

What if Buffy had been the last Slayer? Would Xander and Giles have given up? Or would a more dramatic story have resulted? You know, a story of ordinary people struggling to fight impossible battles with only an example to guide them. With the show going off the air, that’s exactly the same position that viewers are in. They don’t have superpowers, either. Just the memory of someone made a hero, not by the divine birthright, but by those who stood by her because of the choices she made. Instead, we get a sexist depiction of an elite group within one gender being elevated above all others… including those of their same sex not born “worthy.” And who determines that?

Not me. And I’m glad it’s not me. I’ll live in a world without messiahs, thank you. We can contrast this with Ben Sisko. He’s very reluctant to accept the mantle of messiah. It never occurs to him to make everyone Emissaries. It’s usually too much for him. What is his last messianic act? To eliminate the other messianic figure and then go away to leave humans to develop on their own.

Because TV shows end. And we are left alone to act on what we’ve gained from the storytelling. Our only superpowers are what we’ve vicariously learned. We are not “Chosen,” as much fun as the thought may be. To paraphrase the contrasting title of DS9’s last episode, we are “What They Leave Behind.” Personally, I measure a story on who I am after the tale is over compared what I can never be. Yes, I know that a story can follow any rules it wants. I’m already Frodo without the ring. How he fares at journey's end is ultimately the fate we share as humans. Dealing with that reality is my favorite type of story.

And Joss Whedon needs to tell his favorite type of story. Few people get the chance, and I’m glad he got his.

Train’s leaving for Collinsport. Time I went home.

Monday, December 26, 2016

BuffyLog Days 3 and 4: She, Buffy. You... Felon?


Covered -- Season 2, Episode 13-22. Season 3, Episode 1-14

So, this is what happened.

I became very wound up with what I thought was hypocrisy on the part of avowed feminist Mr. Whedon when Angel committed statutory rape with our heroine. If a law calls something ‘rape,’ I think it’s very dodgy for a show (starring someone who is a major role model for adolescent girls) to selectively depict that said rape law can be suspended... if the guy is hot enough. It sends just as bad a message to male viewers, “If I think myself hot enough, it’s not really statutory rape. Me, Angel. You, Buffy.”

No. She, Buffy. You, Felon. Even in 1997. In California.

I really tore Joss a new one on this in my first draft. Especially because the statutory issue isn’t really touched upon. Normally, artists aren’t really shackled with too many -- if any -- duties.  But the show relentless presents itself as a very political animal. I think it’s dirty pool to press pause on that when a moment is soapy enough. It’s the Cool Kid’s Prerogative, and I don’t like it. So there.

Paranoid that I was diving into a tar pit, I consulted everyone from lettered, feminist scholars to Satanists to vet the piece. I came through with flying colors. But it was becoming an epic that makes what I’ve written here look like a Burma Shave ad.

So, there. I pretty much said it. It’s out of my system again.

As I waited on the vetting, I kept watching. Not only did I still have a lot to say about a major day of developments, new ones were popping up all the time. I’ve lost count, which is a commentary right there. Christmas morning, an important relative died. Not geographically close, so there really wasn’t much I could do. I finished my viewing and am all caught up; it’s been a unique Christmas.

At present, the Mayor has begun his Hundred Days of Evil, and Buffy has a new Watcher. Inevitably, they took the easy route by making him a cowardly prig rather than someone who differs from Giles, but is effective. We missed out on a Captain Jellico, and that’s a shame. What if he'd shown backbone? What if he'd been made of stern stuff? Or had some other management style?

You know, all is well on the show. It is very solid television. I’m not sure it’s going to cure Bendii Syndrome, but it’s good. The reason I kind of damn it with faint praise is because of something my co-writer, David, said. He contends that when it’s good, there’s not much better. I can’t really say that, and that fact put things in perspective. Is it THE PRISONER? No. I, CLAUDIUS? No. SEINFELD? No. THE TWILIGHT ZONE? No. Doesn’t make it bad, but it does create a little relief. I think that statement is more about how humdrum genre television can get.

But it’s good. I’m even getting used to the sense of humor. The fans, I proffer, misled me in their zealous attempts to pull me into the flock for twenty years. All I heard about was its realism. A crock, methinks. Apologies. The show feels, more than anything, like a sitcom with serious and soapy moments. Heck, look at the title. Once I thought of it as a sitcom title rather than an exercise in twee irony, it worked fine.  

Okay, I’m going through an episode guide and free associating….

Evil Angel -- the character, not the studio -- is far more interesting than good Angel, and it’s nice to see the actor have fun. Both he, Marsters, and Landau really sell the show, and I’m very eager for the latter two to rejoin the cast.

The filler episodes come in two flavors -- dull (especially compared with ones that substantially contribute to the main story) and intensely interesting. As for the latter, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” and “Band Candy,” are standouts. They take sitcom situations to points so extreme that we see the horror and chaos possible in them.

Naturally, I’m going to really enjoy, “The Dark Age,” which is about the most instructive episode possible for people who want to know about the past lives of teachers. Still, only in mid-Season 3 does Giles get his S1 mojo back. In Season 1, Head is doing is finest James Mason, and I liked the dignity of the character. Then, as with Willow, he seemed to be relegated to the broadest cliche possible. Well, by where I am now with the series, he’s finally stopped stammering. Although Willow is becoming increasingly strange as a character, her cliche is an adorable cliche, and so all is forgiven.

Faith is, um, fine I guess. Despite what Sam Harris says.

“GIngerbread,” “Helpless,” and “The Zeppo,” form a trio of episodes that show just how versatile the program can be and just how confident the writers are with inhabiting it. “The Wish,” which is their “Mirror, Mirror,” is an episode that I will absolutely rewatch.

Predictably, I’m nutty about The Mayor. For years, I’ve been hearing about him, never knowing what an all-powerful goof he is. So far, it’s a descent into nuttiness that is the show at its freshest.

Lastly, I really cherish how devoted the show is to the unadulterated wackiness of horror’s tropes. Scarred cultists! Hooded acolytes! Jackbooted guardians of hell! Not only does the show refuse to apologize for them, it celebrates them. This (along with the color palette of the fashions) reminds me of how we were before 9/11. I miss it. I miss opening theme credits. I miss beige. I miss the days when stories about the end of the world weren’t so damned literal.

For me, the sadly nostalgic part of BUFFY has nothing to do with what it brought to the air. I get nostalgic when I realize what we lost in the years after it left.

Friday, December 23, 2016

BuffyLog Day 2: John Ritter, Killer Android? Come and knock on my door!


Covered -- Season 2, episodes 1-12

John God Bless ‘Em Ritter.

If even one of the Buffians had told me that this was the kind of show that would cast John Ritter as a religiously-inclined killer android, I would have watched every episode decades ago. Yes, in the episode, “Ted,” it happens, and it’s just a sight to behold. My acting teacher hated John Ritter’s style, and I think it was because John secretly beat him out for the part of Jack Tripper. Well, the script marvelously creates an opportunity for Ritter to key up his nice guy image and then smash it with results almost as disturbing as John Lithgow on DEXTER. More evidence that Ritter was a finer actor than most realized, and seeing him here is a chance to celebrate that. For me, “Ted” is a personal highlight of the first half of this season.

(And a trip to the woodshed for any Whedonian friends who pitched the show to me without mentioning this. We have met, right?)

After the first episode, in which the show seems mired in the worst of its own cliches, things pick up. In some ways, the characterizations, especially Willow and Giles, are sliding into predictable cartoons that betray the nuance of the first season. Xander, however, continues to round out, as does Cordelia, and I’m both happy and baffled to see them together as a couple. This is in counterpoint to Buffy and Angel. Buffy is on a downward slide into becoming a dour and moody bully, and Angel has a flatness that induces yawns of considerable magnitude. Hardly winning anchors for the series, and I’m thankful to Xander and Cordelia for, surprisesurprise, delighting with their playful and unpredictable contributions to the show. It’s almost as if there’s a law of conservation of characterization, and Buffy, Angel, Giles, and Willow are sacrificed to spend wit and time on the vibrant newcomers, Oz, Spike, and Drusilla. These are dynamic, bright, intensely interesting characters, and it’s in them that we see the really clever writing: the crafting of characters who rise above tropes and cliches and stand out as “human,” even if two of them are not. They’re not just breaths of fresh air; they are sea-changing typhoons. Seth Green goes for miles with very little to work with. James Marsters knows precisely what he’s doing with a villain obviously crafted with room to grow. And Juliet Landau? I was largely familiar with her from ED WOOD, where she played a dislikable ditz, and was made up and lit to showcase the most unlikely of her parents’ features. On BUFFY, not only is she an unparalleled knockout, but she also believably inhabits one of the truly and wholly unique characters in TV. As a wan, psychic, mad-as-a-hatter vampire princess, she is by turns pitiful, frightening, and profoundly sexy.

Giles is a mess, however. A character who started out with some dignity has very little at this point, and I’m growing tired of the rut that the writers have cast him into. That’s ironic, because “his” episode, “The Dark Age,” is nonetheless a favorite of mine. Although I don’t like where the character seems to be going, he goes there with appreciable depth, and I like how they justify his present through his past. It gives us a chance to see him as something other than an exposition engine or a chance to go “ha-ha-look-how-square-grownups-are,” which seems to be where they’re sticking him. Let’s hope for more as the series goes on. I feel for him as he deals with the acrimony from Ms. Calendar. Look, you’re a “cyber-pagan.” You took the chance of getting possessed when you put on that uniform.

The look and feel of the show have scads more polish than in season 1, and I assume it has to do with more money in the budget. Authorially, the episodes feel as if I’m watching life unfold between dealing with the monster of the week than watching a monster of the week with life unfolding in the background. At the midseason point, Spike is down, Drusilla is up, and I suspect both will be keen to cause our heroes maximum trouble tomorrow. I can say that in the space of a day, I’m far more eager to see what happens.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

BuffyLog Day 1: Does the road to Damascus pass through Sunnydale?


Covered -- Season 1, all episodes.

I’m twelve episodes in. Because I’d never seen these before, unlike DARK SHADOWS, it was understandably exhausting toward the end, but I commend Joss Whedon in the firmness of his vision. While the stories were a tad formulaic (excluding “Angel” and “Prophecy Girl”), he showed an extremely strong vision for the characters. So far, they seem to be both consistent-yet-dynamic, and I enjoyed tuning in to see them. Cordelia had a predictably humanizing arc, which I might have done without, but the rest are relatable and winning. The stories of the first season didn’t really help this, nor did the dialogue. It’s the kind of self-aware snark that plagues Straczynski. It’s like in ANCHORMAN, when Ron Burgundy enthuses to his crew, “Hey everybody, come in here and see how great I look.” I get the feeling it’s what the BUFFY staff had to do in Joss’ office more than once. There’s snappy dialogue, much of which actually belonged to the first principal, but then there’s line after line that felt shoehorned in to get a laugh or make someone Look Clever. That kind of writing may be the most delicate to execute, and to see it handled well, get thee to the works of William Peter Blatty. In this case, it feels self-conscious and takes me out of the show.

My hope is that he’s developing a distinctive flavor for the series, and I think that’s where it will be if the fans are accurate. At it’s worst, it’s emblematic of the show’s strange relationship with realism. On one hand, he seems to want a realistic, personal, sympathetic portrayal of twentysomethings in high school. On the other hand, that kind of arch dialogic treatment of stressful moments feels wholly engineered and removes me from the immediacy of the moment. The other place where helpfully focusing realism is abandoned in the pursuit of flavor regards the piebald presence of adults in the school. Adults are all over the place in schools, and even twenty years ago, played an active role. Too many moments and events go by with passive or completely absent grownups (save Giles). As Mission Control pointed out, that’s a Disney Channel treatment of a seemingly kid-run school and betrays the complexity of the power and relationships in that environment. It’s not about adults, but adults are intrinsic to where it takes place.

Highlights? For emotional messiness, I was especially fond of the relationships in the finale and how they criss-crossed regarding Xander’s pursuit of a date to the dance. I look forward to more of that, and if Whedon can keep it real and not maudlin, I’ll be happy. Joss certainly knows how to cast women. Both Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan anchor the show, and the relatably effete Anthony Stewart Head isn’t far behind. Unfortunately, I have no idea what his fascination is with slope-browed brunette men. Both Xander and Angel look like Malcolm Reynolds, and all three have a strangely neanderthalish quality that makes me dyin’ for some Seth Green. As an actor, Green has the sort of likably nerdy, Gilliganesque quality that Whedon seems to be going for with Xander. Unfortunately, all of the lighting in the world can’t keep this supposedly loveless nerd from looking about as square-jawed-male-modelish as Angel.

So, all I really know now is that the show gets better. And that’s saying a lot, because it wasn’t bad in this case. I put Whedon under a microscope, yes, but it’s commensurate with his reputation. I know he learns a lot about shaping snarky dialogue in tough situations; the well-honed dialogue in THE AVENGERS is proof of it. Onward!  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A Roadmap to the Scars


I had issues in 1997 or so.

I’d just moved and was paying attention to a Real Job. I never had cable nor good reception. I was apathetic toward the BUFFY movie. And the title? Dreadful. Newsflash: it ain’t ironic. Irony involves a certain tweak of expectation that allows the audience to do some mental math, hence why it’s so satisfying. BUFFY: THE VAMPIRE SLAYER isn’t ironic to me. It’s twee. Call it SLAYER and let me find out the slayer’s name is Buffy. THAT’S ironic. Yeah, yeah, I’d been told that it was an incredibly realistic depiction of high school, and I give that a golf clap. It may be a great depiction of high school, but I work in a high school. I get that all the time.

I kept forgetting it was on the air. But it wouldn’t go away. It got especially bad when I was developing a series around an occult hero. I went for several poignant months where I was told that every idea I had was one already featured on BUFFY.

And then there was the DARK SHADOWS matter.

Prior to 2012, it felt to me like being a DARK SHADOWS fan didn’t even have the patina of geek chic. It was like wearing a “kick me” sign around other genre fans. Those fans needed the approval of Tim Burton (even if he did screw it up) to let them know it was cool to crave Collinwood. But before then, people would groan at the mention of it. It seemed like all of them were BUFFY fans, who’d found “the real thing.” It was like opening a second French Laundry restaurant and being told that it was but a stuffy and turgid relic compared to the West Town Mall food court.

With a title like BUFFY, from the stills I saw, on a fourth or fifth-string tv network, with the obligatory, PC, lesbian chic plot thread (inevitably involving the nerdy-cute Wiccan girl), etc, etc, it really felt like the food court with the kids and cliches gathering at my table after pouring out of Hot Topic and Spencer’s in equal measure. Horror used to be the last bastion for the academic to be the hero while characters named “Buffy” and “Spike” got killed in the second reel. What was this madness? Worse, from what I could tell, there had to be some DARK SHADOWS in its lineage, but it went unacknowledged. If I could just find Joss saying ONE nice thing about DS, maybe that would have gotten the SHADOWS haters off my back. No dice, Chicago.

So, fine. Be that way. I’ll just… do other things.

And it wouldn’t go away. Then I watched FIREFLY earlier this year. I finally got roped into it, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t like it. Yes, some of the jokes were awfully proud of themselves. All of the groundbreaking gender politics, etc, had been old hat fifteen years before the show was made, but the show doesn’t know that, so shhhhhhhhhhhh. But it was still (mostly) fast-moving, exciting, witty, and charming.

A month or two ago, Wallace mentioned that he’d been reluctant to see the show, but a friend once talked him into it. Yet another Buffy fan was born. I began kvetching a blue streak, and he remarked that it might be like the Dream Curse. If he passes it on, the fever will stop.

So, he’s passing it on, and now I need to stop twenty years of passing on it. If I’m going to write about these matters, this is a vacuum of cultural literacy that is inexcusable. Cultural literacy curiosity is one of these things that separates us from pandas, and this just won’t go away. And if no one else is going to try to make connections re: DARK SHADOWS’ influence, then I will! If it doesn’t exist? Well… it’ll be official.

It’s been years since I had a successful “XP” project, where I watch a sanity-endangering amount of one thing over a relatively short period of time. Nowadays, they call them ‘binges,’ but does a binge typically last 8.8 hours a day for twelve days? Exactly. I think not. I did the math, and with taking off Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, I can fit everything in by the time the Christmas Break is over. Okay, Buffy. Do your worst. And by worst, I mean best. I’ll also be trying Penn Jillette’s strange, all-potato diet to get me back to my lean, 2013 fightin’ weight. We’ll know how that turned out by the 29th.

Want to follow along? The broadcasting day runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, sans the 24th and 1st, starting on December 21.

Wednesday, Dec. 21: Episodes 0-12 (season 1)
Thursday, Dec. 22: Episodes  13-24 (season 2)
Friday, Dec. 23: Episodes  25-36 (season 2 and 3)
Sunday, Dec. 25: Episodes  37-48 (season 3)

Monday, Dec. 26: Episodes  49-60 (season 3 and 4)
Tuesday, Dec. 27: Episodes  61-72 (season 4)
Wednesday, Dec. 28: Episodes  73-84 (season 4 and 5)
Thursday, Dec. 29: Episodes  85-96 (season 5)
Friday, Dec. 30: Episodes  97-108 (season 5 and 6)
Saturday, Dec. 31: Episodes  109-120 (season 6)

Monday, Jan. 2: Episodes  121-132 (season 6 and 7)
Tuesday, Jan. 3: Episodes  133-144 (season 7)

You can sync up your schedules, keeping in mind that I’ve calculated about a 44 minute running time, and I’ll be bounding ahead, one episode after the other, announcing progress on Twitter @theRealMcCray.

Check here and there for breathtaking details!

Monday, December 19, 2016

All roads lead to Collinsport

Believe it or not, Patrick McCray has never seen BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

Admittedly, it took me a while to catch the series, which ran for seven seasons on The WB and the the late UPN. I had a friend who stopped short of twisting my arm to make we watch the series, which always seemed to be on television whenever I was visiting him. Having already endured the original movie, though, I resisted. "It's like this generation's DARK SHADOWS!" he argued, and still I resisted. When I finally decided to give Buffy her day in court, though, the sight of Seth Green running around high school hallways in what's arguably the worst werewolf costume ever didn't help matters.

Bit by bit, though, the show wore me down. What finally tipped the scales was the charming, idiosyncratic dialogue between Willow and her mother in the third season episode "Gingerbread." After that moment, I stopped seeing the rubber masks, lo-rent special effects and vampire fu, and started paying attention to the characters. From that point on, I was hooked.

Patrick will be taking a more direct, more aggressive route to Sunnydale. He's going to mainline the entire series over the holiday break, and plans to blog about his experiences here and on Twitter. There will probably be a few bumps along the road ... BUFFY crosses over with its spin-off ANGEL a few times, so you might need to fill him in on what he's missing in those episodes.

The fun begins on December 21. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 16


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1177

In Quentin’s lab, the Staircase roars to life. The door at the top flies open. In silhouette, cast against the primal forces of the supernatural, we see a muscled, masculine, defiant figure, arrogantly erect. Julia sniffs the musk in the air, feels herself swoon in an unmistakable way, and knows that only one force in the universe can have such a profound effect on the human female. In other words, T. Eliot Stokes has arrived. He had waited in the playroom until the staircase appeared, having read in Flora’s journal of Barnabas’ disappearance. Julia gives an in-depth description of the situation thus far. The cover story for the Professor is that he is Ben’s nephew, newly arrived in town. Angelique is made privy to the truth. They split up and agree for Stokes to publicly arrive at 9:30 that night. Waiting, Julia has a dream in which Roxanne appears to say that Barnabas is dying. Waking, she and Angelique go on a hunt that leads to Lamar’s. Meanwhile, Stokes arrives at Collinwood. Gerard, threatened both as a power and as a man, grills Professor Stokes. He must have Stokes’ secrets. With his eyebrow cocked insouciantly, T. Eliot Stokes bests him at every turn.

It’s not hyperbole when I say that this is the single funniest episode of DARK SHADOWS. Why? Grayson Hall clearly lost a bet to her husband Sam, who wrote it. At least half of the episode is devoted to Julia doing her best to recap the incredibly complicated storyline of 1840. It goes on and on like a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, and I can only think of it as Sam’s revenge for some kind of domestic squabble.

When I wrote the Collins Chronicles, I knew how I wanted to handle the episode’s entry. I wrote it as a letter from Stokes to his affiliates in the notorious Hellfire Club. More than that… I wanted it to be a single sentence. When I wrote the live version for the 50th anniversary Festival and was asked to make it short and funny, I knew that a performance of it was the perfect stunt on which to end the show. Unfortunately, the events began to run over on the day of the performance, and I chose to cut the Stokes letter to keep the Festival as much on-schedule as possible.

Here’s “Stokes’ Letter”....
Here is the situation thus far:
Barnabas Collins has been missing for a week near Collinwood, whose master is now Gerard Stiles, but whose rightful master, Quentin Collins, is the subject of a witch trial where his cousin, Desmond Collins, served as advocate until being jailed for practicing the occult, himself, in a forced exposure probably engineered by Gerard, who suspects my friend Julia Hoffman rather than the witch, Angelique Bouchard, who has an obsession with Barnabas, a man once served by my ancestor Ben Stokes, who, when Julia first arrived, was one of the many live-on guests at Collinwood, along with the aforementioned Gerard Stiles who, at the time of Julia's arrival, was not the evil monster he would become but someone merely fabricating the details of the drowning of Tad Collins and Tad's father, Quentin, Gerard's best friend and husband of Samantha, a woman Gerard attempted to marry in the wake (ha-ha) of Quentin's alleged passing, and who would have done so, had it not been for the subsequent return of Tad and Quentin on their wedding day, causing interpersonal rifts which were furthered as Samantha chose the secretly gold-digging Gerard over Quentin, two men who later vied for the affections of Miss Daphne Harridge, a new governess to Collinwood, a house whose former master, Daniel, was dying at the time of the wedding, and who intended to bequeath all his wealth to Samantha, much to the consternation of Daniel's son (and Quentin's brother), Gabriel, an embittered malcontent in a wheelchair, who watched in glee as Quentin engineered strife between Gerard, his best friend, and Samantha, his estranged wife, by refusing to give up the son he had with her, Tad, a young man rendered helpless as Gerard moved to nearby Rose Cottage (with Flora Collins) but nonetheless maintained an odd friendship with Quentin, who still thought their friendship dear, while ignoring all of Gerard's bad qualities, such as his practice of witchcraft, a force insinuating itself into Collinwood in myriad ways such as the evil will of Judah Zachary, a powerful warlock decapitated centuries ago in Bedford, Massachusetts and the architect of mass chaos in Collinsport via the mental seizure of Quentin's cousin, Desmond (the man who brought the head to Collinsport as a gift for Quentin and who is now on trial for witchcraft), Letitia Faye (who has second sight and a keen singing voice), Dr. Julia Hoffman (a female physician who briefly attached the head to a body while under a hex), and now Gerard Stiles, supposed good friend to the one man Judah did not possess, Quentin Collins, despite allegations from the state that Quentin is carrying out Judah's grand design of revenge on the Collins family (whose patriarch, Amadeus, presided on the witchcraft trial that ended in his execution), and whose evil magic is powerful enough to overflow, causing strife with a neighbor whose cattle have died as well as a woman who perished with her forehead branded with the "mark of Satan" (hardly), which is a symbol also seen on the ring of Quentin Collins, a man later found kneeling over the body of his murdered brother-in-law, Randall Drew, a gentleman who resided in a cell managed by a sheriff whose wife was found dead outside its bars from occult means, a fact emphasized by Lamar Trask, a crazed mortician and the chief accuser of witchcraft, a citation he uses to hector his sworn enemy, Barnabas Collins, the alleged (and, as it turns out, true) murderer of Trask's father in 1795, the year when the elder Trask was walled up (for the public welfare) in the cellar of the Old House on the Collins estate, and the same house that Barnabas was leaving as he attempted to testify on Quentin's behalf, yet vanished in a manner as mysterious as the way in which governess, Daphne Harridge, changed her affections from Gerard to Quentin, a choice that made her sister to go mad after their infidelity some time ago.
Pardon me if I am late for brunch.

We will.

On this day in 1970, the Soviets were the first humans to land a vehicle on another planet… in this case, Venus. It’s time we went back, no?
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