Episode Title: Land of the Free
Season 01, Episode 07
Episode 007 of 344
Written by Clyde Ware
Directed by Nicholas Sgarro
Original Airdate: Thursday, February 7th, 1980
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): A motorcycle gang causes trouble for the cul-de-sac. Diana gets kidnapped by the group.
Oh boy, don’t say I didn’t warn you about this little piece of television history in my last write-up. With Land of the Free, we have come to not only our first just-plain-bad episode of KL, but also what is very possibly the worst episode of the entire series. That’s right, there are 343 other episodes besides this one, but I’m willing to bet right here and now that it’ll never get worse than this one; this is truly scraping the bottom of the barrel, folks.
What went wrong with this episode? I started watching it with the vague memory of it being utterly terrible, but upon this viewing, I really tried to hone in and focus on what made it so bad. It just feels like something went wrong right at the beginning and then the badness just multiplied and intensified and by the time the episode was completed and ready for broadcast, we had this horrible monster than had grown and become even more horrible as it was put together.
Oh yeah, now might also be the perfect time to mention that I am not watching these shows alone. I am, in fact, watching them with My Beloved Grammy. We watched and enjoyed (more or less) all fourteen seasons of Dallas, and obviously the very first thing I wanted to do after finishing that series was to start KL. In the little interim between the two shows, I got the idea to take notes on every episode and do write-ups and blog about them and, voila, that brings us to where we are now. I mention this because I feel it should be noted that I often pause the shows to get My Beloved Grammy’s opinion or hear her insights or get her help jotting down notes. In the case of this episode, I thought she had valuable insight and I shall provide some of that insight just a little bit later. For now, let’s dive right into this ridiculous episode.
Land of the Free starts, as many episodes from the first two or three seasons start, with fun and shenanigans at the beach. I think I mentioned this before, and if I did, please forgive me, but I definitely feel that these early episodes heavily emphasize the beach much more than, say, seasons four and onwards. After all, the beach figured significantly in Pilot as well as the very next episode, Community Spirit, and we even ended our previous episode, Home Is For Healing, with Gary, Val, and Lucy all running happily along the beach. It’s interesting that the very next thing we see as we start this episode is, again, the beach. Make no mistake, I think the characters continue to go to the beach for the entire series, but I just feel it’s not as common an occurrence as it is here, where so many episodes begin with the entire neighborhood gang lounging in the sun and sand. Heck, they go to the beach like three or four times in this one episode ALONE! Everything looks peaceful and happy on the beach until, oh no, A BIKER INVASION! This first scene sets the tone for the entire episode, the plot of every scene being that:
· First off, everything looks peaceful and happy
· Next, the bikers invade and everyone gets really scared
· The bikers assault and use violence against our beloved KL characters, generally harassing and frightening them
· Fourth, the bikers ride away before any kind of police or authority figure can show up to stop them
· Finally, we see that Karen is seething mad
· Repeat this device for basically every single scene of the episode
The first bike invasion is fairly standard compared to what is going to happen afterwards. Mostly they just drive around in the sand, throwing it up everywhere and making a mess, although they do come close to injuring Michael, if I recall correctly. This might be a good time to mention that, even though I just watched this episode less than a week ago, it’s sorta blurring in my mind because, as I said, it mostly follows the same outline from start to finish. Therefore, it’s hard for me to remember what happens in the first biker invasion scene versus, say, the 900th biker invasion scene. As far as I recall, in this first invasion, nobody is hurt, but the bikers (including the head evil biker, who is named, get this, Alien) cause general havoc and act like assholes, frightening and angering everyone. Oh yeah, I think it’s also significant to note that Karen does not take crap, even in this first scene. One of the very first things she does is march right up to Alien and give him a great big slap in the face. Go Karen!
Next up is a quick sequence with the ladies of Seaview Circle explaining to their men all the horror and shenanigans of the day. Richard does have a fantastic line to Laura when he says, “I don’t suppose with all this excitement, you’ve had the chance to make dinner?” Oh, it’s so nice to know I can always trust The Plesh to deliver great material even when trapped in a substandard episode. Too bad the same can’t be said of Claudia Lonow. In my memories, Diana was always an annoying character and sorta morphs into a mega bitch around season four, but I don’t remember her acting being so unbearable. Diana is especially bad in this episode, as she is auditioning for the school play. Because of that, we get a lot of her “acting” and using some sort of a goofy British accent. Maybe this is supposed to be endearing, but really it’s just annoying, and even poor Michele looks uncomfortable having to act alongside her whenever she pops on the British accent and gets very “theatrical.”
We return to the beach. The ladies of the cul-de-sac have obviously chosen to assume the bikers have left town. Just because they attacked once doesn't mean they will attack again, right? Nope, wrong, 100% wrong. The bikers return and immediately start terrorizing the ladies and the children. Poor Michael (played by future specimen of raw male sexuality Pat Petersen) is even injured by one of the bikers (I think it’s Alien again, I think, but please don’t quote me on that). Oh yeah, this might be the appropriate time to mention the “music” in this episode. What the hell is going on here? Remember how I said pretty much everything about this episode just goes hideously wrong? Well, the music is another one of those aspects. I have rambled on and on about the brilliance of the KL music, particularly in my still-favorite-episode-at-this-moment-in time, Let Me Count the Ways. That Karen theme brings tears to my eyes, man! In fact, while working on this blog, my research even showed that KL won an Emmy this season for best music, something I didn’t know beforehand. Let me just say it deserved that Emmy! But the music in this one….I just don’t know.
I did a bit of research, and the music for the entire episode is by Jerrold Immel, the same genius who created the amazing theme songs for both KL and Dallas (yeah, okay, he also worked on a few seasons of Walker, Texas Ranger, but let’s just ignore that one for now, okay?). Usually Jerrold delivers the goods, and whenever he does the full episode music for either KL or Dallas, the results are fabulous, but here? Mmmm, not so much. I don’t even know how to describe the music here except to say that Jerrold goes pretty heavy on the disco-sounding “wonka-wonka” effects, not to mention these real over-the-top blasts of music to punctuate the quote “excitement.” The music is probably at its worst during the thirty seconds or so right before they go to a commercial, when it just cranks up to an unbearable level and just keeps BLASTING into our ears. To my memory, there’s no other KL episode with music like this one; it’s an utterly unique failure of composition.
Michael is rushed to the hospital due to his injuries, but don’t worry, as he’s fine and will continue to be on the show until 1991. Poor Pat Petersen has to deliver some pretty wretched dialogue in this sequence, another example of the entire episode just sorta failing all around itself. Usually he makes any dialogue work, even in these early episodes where he’s just a little kid, but here? Not so much. Let me get a quick sample of what Michael has to say. See, Sid and Karen are driving him home from the hospital, and Michael is like, “Remember how I used to get a lollipop whenever I went to the doctor? Boy, I sure could use a lollipop now!” Karen and Sid laugh at this ingenious piece of wit and I find myself wondering if I accidentally put in an episode of The Brady Bunch.
After that horrible “lollipop” line, I jotted down in my notes, “Who wrote this episode?” Thanks to our modern wonders of computers and IMDb, I was able to get to the bottom of this mystery pretty fast. This episode was written by a man named Clyde Ware (pictured below), and I note with interest that this is his one and only KL episode. It looks like his most significant work would be writing seventeen episodes of Gunsmoke (which maybe sounds like a lot at first, but let’s remember that Gunsmoke had about five thousand episodes throughout its entire run) as well as the occasional random episode of some show here and there (including one episode of Dynasty from 1989). My conclusion? This man is a nobody, and perhaps it’s unfair to judge him without seeing something else he penned, but based on this script, I’d say it’s a good thing he never returned to KL again.
As they drive home from the hospital, Sid notices that two of the bikers (including that loveable Alien) are hanging out in front of a convenience store. One of the bikers goes into the bathroom to take a piss, so Sid parks the car right in front of the door to the bathroom, insuring that he will be unable to escape. With that taken care of, the Jerrold Immel music blares and Sid has a one-on-one showdown with Alien, eventually kicking his ass and getting him sent off to prison. The cops arrive promptly and take him away. But wait, let’s not bust out the champagne just yet, as we are still within the first ten minutes of the episode, so it would be rather abrupt for it to just end here, don’t you think?
No, instead complications set in, as we might have expected. During a lovely gathering of all my Seaview Circle friends at Karen’s house, Richard (dressed in a fantastic Hugh Hefner robe with lots of chest hair showing and an alcoholic beverage in hand) explains how this is a very small victory and, probably, Alien and his buddy will be walking the streets tomorrow. Obviously Richard is right, as one of the bikers shows up at the Fairgate doorsteps, scaring the crap out of Karen. He asks Sid and Karen to drop the charges on Alien so he can be released, and there’s a pretty obvious threat implied. Basically, if they don’t comply, he and his biker friends will make life very hard for everyone on the cul-de-sac.
Well, Karen and Sid don’t wanna play ball with him, so the result is another biker invasion, but this one happening, oh my God, right in the neighborhood! Now the horrors of the bikers are no longer confined merely to the sandy regions of the beach; now they are right outside of their front doors! This biker invasion is probably my favorite from the episode, as they really go to town. They throw trash around, they knock shit over, they defile property; it really goes on for awhile. Before we cut to a commercial, we get some fantastically bad acting from Michele Lee (who, as you know, I usually think is the best actress of all the cast members), who lets her face contort and turn red as she seethes with rage, unable to believe this terrible invasion that has occurred. Again, Michele is usually an expert actress and the best character on the show, but something went wrong here. Something went so wrong that even my beloved Michele can’t salvage it and comes out looking just as bad as everything else.
Oh, I should mention that there is at least one thing I like about this episode, and that would be the scene where Val explains to everyone why she distrusts police and authority figures, and it's not just the fact that they are corrupt and shoot every single unarmed black person they see five or six times in the back for no reason. She repeats the story that we saw acted out in Will the Circle Be Unbroken? You all remember that story, right? It’s the story of how her beloved Baby Lucy was stolen away from her by J.R.’s Good Old Boys and nobody, not even the police, would help her. It’s a small moment, but I cling to it and I appreciate it as it further demonstrates the rich past history of our lead characters, that they have history and experiences that go way back, much further than just the start of this series. In an episode that feels largely isolated and standalone, this is a nice link back to something older.
Now it’s time for Biker Invasion #4. This one actually occurs when Val and Karen are driving the station wagon back from the grocery story. See, this time some bikers, including a female biker (oooh, how modern!) attack the car, kicking it and basically trying to run the two ladies off the road. At this point, Jerrold busts out the sax and some sort of weird electronic synth instrument just to further mutilate the score. This scene even veers into sounding almost pornographic with its use of that disco and, again, that “wonka wonka.” Anyway, the bikers are really scaring the crap out of both Karen and Val, but fortunately they are spotted by a cop who chases them down and brings them to justice. Episode's over, right? Well, not just yet; we still have one final Boss Battle to occur before things can wrap up for the week.
Diana wants to go out with some friends to, I think, practice lines for the upcoming play. At first Karen is all like, “Oh no, you can’t go!”, but then she relaxes. This turns out to be a mistake, as Diana’s friends come bursting into the house screaming about how the bikers kidnapped her. Yup, shit just got real. No longer are the bikers content with throwing garbage and slashing tires; now they have actually kidnapped Diana and are going to do….what to her? This part is left vague, but I don’t feel it’s inaccurate to predict that there will probably be a smidge of rape in Diana’s future.
Fortunately, all of the KL men make it to the beach in time to kick ass. Diana is, like, tied to a wooden post or something, your classic damsel in distress, while Kenny, Sid, Gary, and, um, Richard kick ass and take numbers. I guess Richard doesn’t really kick much ass or take many numbers. He attempts to fight the lady biker, but she’s too fast and wily for him, and I suppose he also has some weird feelings about beating up a lady, even a totally mean and nasty lady like this one. But eventually order is restored, the cops arrive, the bikers are taken away, and we get some fantastically bad wrap-up dialogue from the gang, such as this classic from Richard: “We tried to give you a break, but some people gotta learn the hard way!” We conclude with the gang all standing in a circle and talking about how happy they feel, and Richard even gets the final line of the ep, which is, “I feel terrific!” We freeze frame and the show is over and, thank God, it did not get cancelled immediately after the airing of this.
If ever there were one episode of KL that you could simply skip and lose essentially nothing, this would be the one. While there are certainly some middling to bad episodes in our future (again, mostly concentrated within the first three seasons of the show, although I suppose a lot of fans think the 13th season is also pretty crummy; I'll see how I feel when we reach that junture in about six years) I can’t think of another episode that is so immediately disposable as this one. Not only is it stupid and goofy, but it also does nothing towards advancing the story; it’s not like you have to watch this episode to be able to follow what happens in the next 337 episodes. It’s self-contained, it wraps up at the end (in a very poor fashion) and I don’t think it’s ever even mentioned again. It’s not like you’ll be watching an episode from season eleven and Karen will be like, “Hey, remember that time when all those bikers invaded the neighborhood?” It comes and it goes and it seems to be immediately forgotten afterwards.
Thinking about it, I wonder if this episode would not seem out-of-the-ordinary for a primetime network show in 1980. This also reflects on my theory of the different “eras” of KL. Since we are still in the 1979-1980 season, the nighttime soap hadn’t quite taken off to mass popularity as it would a season or two later. True, Dallas was getting pretty great ratings at this point, but the rip-offs from other networks hadn’t started quite yet. Dynasty wouldn’t start until the halfway point of the next season, 1980-1981, and Falcon Crest, the other CBS/Lorimar nighttime soap, would premiere during the 1981-1982 season. My point? By the midpoint of the ‘80s, the serialized nature of the nighttime soap would seem very standard to most people watching television, but at this exact point, all we had was Dallas and KL, and it would still be a bit of time before KL made the switch into being serialized and an official soap. So I don’t think a random episode of a neighborhood being attacked by stupid, cartoonish bikers would have seemed so odd at the time of airing. Remember, this is just episode seven, so the show is still clearly finding its legs, figuring out what it’s really about, and it would be standard at this time for a drama show to have these bottle episodes and then wrap them up in the 48 minutes. Now, make no mistake; I am not saying this episode is good, just that it only seems particularly unusual when seen in the context of KL as a whole, as this 344-episode majestic experience. However, upon first airing, I doubt anyone thought there was anything too strange or too horrible about this one episode.
At the same time, I am going to confess that I don’t completely hate this episode. I don’t think I could bring myself to hate any episode of KL; I simply love these characters and the world so much that I kinda love everything that surrounds it, everything that the world entails, for good or for ill. So yes, while this episode is entirely stupid and horribly written, I still sorta enjoyed watching it, partly because I love these characters, but also because I was able to just enjoy the cheesiness. In fact, that’s precisely what My Beloved Grammy said after we watched. Her opinion was that the episode was stupid and the worst one we’ve watched so far, but that she still found it entertaining enough and easy to sit through. That’s pretty much my review, too, honestly. While it was goofy, I was never bored, you understand?
I am also able to give this episode a break because it’s episode number seven out of 344, so of course the show hasn’t completely found its groove yet. Let me repeat, I’m willing to bet that when this aired, there was nothing unique or special about it; this would have seemed like pretty standard TV-show fare for 1980, and My Beloved Grammy did tell me that bikers were, in fact, a major problem and threat at this time, something that people feared. If this episode was stuck somewhere in the middle of the series, it would seem even more bizarre, but since it’s so early on in the run and so easy to forget about as you get deeper into the series, I am more lenient towards it. And on a final note, if you are a person who enjoys high camp, the kind of person who has watched Showgirls not once, but several times, then you will probably get a kick out of this episode. The insanity is just cranked up to the max, the acting is pretty much bad all around, even from people you usually expect great work from (looking at you, Michele), the score is just out-of-control, and there are so many purely corny moments that you just have to laugh and enjoy it.
Oh yeah, one last little interesting note that I wouldn't have ever noticed if I wasn't paying such close attention for the purposes of this blog: This ep is the first one directed by Nicholas Sgarro, a name we'll be seeing a lot of while we power through KL. Looking at his name, I got the feeling that he directed more eps than anybody else, and IMDb confirmed it for me. Looks like he directed 54 eps of the show (significantly more than our second most prolific KL director, Lorraine Senna, who directed 25). Mr. Sgarro pretty much contributes to the show regularly nearly from the very beginning to the very end; looks like his last KL directorial credit is for the ep Farewell, My Lovely in 1993. So even if Land of the Free contains almost nothing of value, at least it gives us our first effort from a director who will be with us almost until the very end of the series and contribute 53 more, far superior, episodes to the show.
So anyway, yeah, quite possibly the worst episode of the series, and an easy one to skip, but not without a few moments that redeem it. My prediction is that we’ll never see a worse episode, so we can be grateful for that. In fact, most shows seem to hit their worst episodes really late in the run, when all the energy has died and nobody gives a crap anymore. Looking at it from a glass-is-half-full point of view, shouldn’t we be happy that we get our worst KL episode out of the way so quickly? As I said, we have 337 episodes left to go, but we will never sink as low as Land of the Free again.
Next week things return to some degree of normalcy as we get back to exploring our fascinating and intricate main cast members when Sid's duplicitous ex-wife comes to visit in Civil Wives.