Monday, February 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 10


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 960

How is Chris Jennings the key to Bruno’s plan for world domination? Ask the talkative zombie! Bruno: Michael Stroka. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Jeb is increasingly smitten with the notion of human life. Bruno takes this as a cue to plan his eventual plan to replace Jeb as the Leviathan leader. All he needs to do is chain up Chris Jennings, trick Jeb into getting locked into a room with him, and then wait for the full moon.

High School Confidential captures two Zeitgeists at once, and I’m not sure if they disagree, agree, fuse, or simply enjoy a cool, smooth cigarette and agree never to talk about it. Russ Tamblyn has that effect. He’s either hipper than the room (Babylon 5), only thinks he’s hipper than the room (The Haunting), or doesn’t even dig the limiting scene of calling it a room, man, because all that’s about is walls and not a framework for windows, dig (Twin Peaks)?

Did you notice how forced and awkward that was coming from me? I could never get it off the ground. Not one bit. And there’s only one thing more painful than a square guy in a world o’ cool, and that’s a square guy in a world o’ cool who thinks he’s passing. It’s one of the reasons why Spider-Man 3 is so painful. Peter is projecting an image of cool that doesn’t work because he has no idea what he’s doing.

Welcome to the Spider-Man 3 of Dark Shadows — Leviathan Prime. Aka, the Russ Tamblyn of the series. To me, being the Russ Tamblyn of anything would beat a GBE after my name, every time.

I hate to say that I love this uncomfortable foray into “modern” culture by Dark Shadows, but it’s marvelously illustrative of how impossible it became for establishment media to keep up with any kind of youth-oriented culture or fashion. One of the fascinating elements of the series is its display of that cultural numbness. When it began, just thirty-one months earlier, youth culture was driven by adult culture. JFK might have been six feet under, but Camelot still drove fashion. Sinatra was turning fifty, but he was still in the prime of his comeback. James Bond was a colossus, and the man kept snappy and wore a suit. Thirty-one months earlier, Burke and Joe defined angry (kinda) “youth” on the show. Of course, the arrival of middle-aged Barnabas skewed the show’s chronological compass even further away from youth culture, kicking those long-hair, rockabilly, yeah-yeah types to the back seat and letting the Canadian drive.

Quentin’s arrival shakes it up a bit, but you’re only going to get so much hipness from a West Virginia boy with a Ph.D. Don’t get me wrong; David Selby goes far beyond human conceptions of cool, but that’s the point. I’m not sure that mattered as much as it did even a year before. Maybe it didn’t matter at all for youth appeal. But someone thought it did, because we get Jeb and Bruno, and what results is a show by middle-aged writers in youth drag. Now, we don’t get Charles Napier cracking his knuckles and jumping for joy because he has a new lease on life for William Malloy, but we get Jeb, Bruno, hair higher than Joan Bennett’s, and a lot of people calling each other “man,” man. Meanwhile, the now-zombified Sheriff Davenport staggers away with the episode, far more interesting and talkative as a zombie than he was before, proving that nothing’s cooler than being room temperature in Collinsport.

That’s my takeaway from this episode, a platonic orgy of male unbonding. With no Barnabas and no Quentin, there’s not a lot for Jeb to push against except for Bruno. Bruno shows a plucky knack for class mobility when he proposes to himself that he, Bruno, a human, would nevertheless be the ideal next leader for a race of timeless immortals so vast and ancient they have flecks of god on their dental floss. We can’t deny that Jeb wants to be boss as much as have the freedom of one, but with Bruno on one side and Barnabas on the other, he’s learning that management means having all of the responsibility and none of the power. All he can do is threaten the frustrated management figure opposing him, one Roger Collins.

Now that Roger is back from Louis Edmonds’ vacation, Edmonds represents the silent generation with a ferocity they rarely allow him. It’s foreshadowing the establishment backlash to come, and given what a bullying lout Jeb can be, the establishment is sorely needed. And that’s another dimension of showing hipsters by way of the unhip.Cool was redefining itself so quickly that even Roger Corman’s youth epics expired seconds after the projectionist cracked open the cans. The angry establishment doesn’t need to worry about any of that because it defines itself by its defiance of cool.

The timing is predictably atrocious. Just when DS tries to find a sexy antihero in the guise of a shaggy haired cult leader, Charles Manson became a walking wake-up call that the sixties were over before they were over.

The message? Wear a tie. Trim your muttonchops. And call Russ Tamblyn in situations like this.

This episode hit the airwaves Feb. 27, 1970.

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