Sunday, November 29, 2015

KNOTS LANDING Episode 009 of 344: THE CONSTANT COMPANION


Episode Title: The Constant Companion

Season 01, Episode 09

Episode 009 of 344

Written by Rob Gilmer

Directed by Henry Levin

Original Airdate: Thursday, February 21st, 1980

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Ginger is terrorized by a mysterious person, whose odd gifts bring up a long-buried secret from Ginger's past.

 

                Uh oh, we’ve reached our very first Ginger-centric episode.  Bear with me, patient readers, and if we are strong, I know we can make it through this.  Also, it helps to note that, really, we’re not gonna have that many Kenny or Ginger centric episodes throughout their four-year-stay on the cul-de-sac.  True, every now and again we’re asked to care about, say, Kenny’s infidelity or Ginger’s boyfriend, the guy with the beard from Body Double, or perhaps, gulp, Erin Molly.  But, for all of that, Kenny and Ginger really don’t take up that much time throughout their four years on the series.  Also, despite all this griping, I didn’t think The Constant Companion was a terrible little episode of KL.

                Like I said, this is the first episode of KL to focus heavily on Ginger.  Let’s note that the original conception of the series was that we had four married couples on a cul-de-sac and each week we could focus on a different couple, sorta jumping back and forth.  We’ve obviously had a lot of Gary and Val thanks to their appearances on Dallas as well as episodes like Pilot, Community Spirit, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, and Home Is For Healing.  We’ve had some great Sid/Karen episodes with both Let Me Count the Ways and Civil Wives, and of course we’ve had fascinating material for Richard and Laura with The Lie.  So here we are with our ninth episode of the series, and it’s time to give Ginger some attention.  BIG ASS SPOILER ALERT CONTAINED RIGHT HERE IN THIS LITTLE BLOCK OF WORDS: As I’ve said before, this original conception of the series will be completely gone by the time we rev up and begin season five, as by that point Sid is dead, Richard has left town, Kenny and Ginger have both moved away, and Gary and Val are split up.  But that’s still a bit of a ways into the future, isn’t it, my dear reader?  END OF BIG ASS SPOILER; YOU CAN SAFELY READ ON NOW!

                The Constant Companion is actually something of a mystery episode, a little bit unusual for KL (although I guess we do have a few mystery type storylines in, say, seasons four and twelve and I'm sure there are more throughout the series that I'm not remembering).  See, the episode actually starts out with Ginger at work as a kindergarten teacher.  I’m trying to remember if, at any point in the last eight episodes, it was mentioned what Ginger did for a living.  Oh wait, sorry, I don’t care; let’s move on.  Anyway, Ginger is working, and it’s the first time we’ve seen her working, and she gets some flowers from a mysterious stranger.  Naturally, she assumes they’re from her husband Kenny, but they’re not.  Who could they be from?  Let’s just say the extremely gruff janitor is of absolutely zero help to her or to us in solving this mystery; mostly he just scoffs and makes little angry comments because he hates his life and wants to kill himself.

                From here, we jump to two characters I care much more about: Gary and Val.  Now, these two (well, mostly Val) definitely get the B-story here, sorta like how Eric’s little crush on Ginger formed the B-story for Civil Wives.  See, Gary is up early, coffee in his stomach, ready to head to work.  As soon as he leaves the house, Val runs into the living room and starts pulling out….BOOKS!  Yup, she’s got a secret stash of books hidden in a cupboard, so we know she’s doing something covertly, but what?  Well, we quickly learn that Val feels a little insecure having never finished high school, and she’s working on getting her G.E.D.  This obviously requires a lot of studying and hitting of the textbooks, but she’s a little embarrassed by her lack of education and is afraid of failure.  Hence, she studies in secret while Gary is at work, as if hiding a nasty little secret.  Honestly, I might have preferred an entire episode that focused on Val’s adult education (“Adult education is a wonderful thing; you meet a lot of interesting people!”) rather than having it sorta shuffled into this episode as a less important side story.  But whatever, I digress.

                The school day is over and Ginger is ready to go home.  Unfortunately, she discovers her car won’t start.  Hmmm, random automatic malfunction or a Machiavellian plot by some evil stranger?  I guess we have to keep watching to find out, but in any case, this really short guy shows up, and I guess he must work at the school (although doing what, I have no idea) and he offers to give her a ride home.  This little short guy (who I think might legally be called a “little person”) is named Arthur Sedley and Ginger seems familiar with him.  He is played by Alan Braunstein, a man who works, at least according to his IMDb, very very sporadically.  For instance, there’s a 12 year gap in his resume from 1980 to 1992, followed by an even bigger gap from 1992 to 2014.  Who is this person?  At first, it’s very obvious that we’re meant to think he’s the creep.  After all, he’s short, and we all know that short people are evil.  Secondly, he seems way too quick to help Ginger out.  He doesn’t just give her a ride home; he also invites himself into her house and starts nosing around and commenting on their records collection ("I just love your hip record producer husband's collection of public domain big band music!") and the décor of the house and what have you.  If that’s not enough, he also drops constant references to his mother, who he apparently lives with.  A little Norman Bates, perhaps?  However, even upon a first viewing, I knew Arthur was not the guy sending mysterious gifts to Ginger; it would be far too obvious.  Much like I never once suspected Leo Johnson of killing Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks (and, spoiler alert, he didn’t), I thought having Arthur be the mystery man would just be far too obvious.

                Anyway, Arthur is just sorta hanging around the Ward house, wanting to listen to records, clearly annoying Ginger a bit, and when Kenny shows up, he’s no help.  He obviously views Arthur as a silly, amusing little man, and he happily puts on one of his public domain records to play for him.  While Ginger is trying to hint to Kenny that she would like Arthur to leave, Kenny is either clueless or just doesn’t care about his wife’s feelings (or both). 

                Okay, the cycle repeats at least one or two more times.  Ginger shows up to work and finds flowers on her desk again, and at one point, she even sees Arthur peering creepily into the window of her classroom, bolting away as soon as she spots him (very subtle, Arthur).  Arthur also boldly announces that he bought her a pot-holder because she mentioned she didn’t have one, so naturally Ginger assumes that the other gifts are from him, as well.  However, she is mistaken, and later Arthur confirms it for her; he did indeed by her a pot-holder, but that’s it.

                Things quickly escalate towards the creepier.  In fact, there are portions of this episode that feel decidedly horror-movie esque.  I don’t know if it’s just the way 1980 looks when it’s photographed or what (after all, 1980 was a huge year for horror with the release of the original Friday the 13th, not to mention Prom Night and a ton of other exciting slasher movies), but there’s just something about the overall look and the overall sound of the episode that makes me feel like I put in When A Stranger Calls or He Knows You’re Alone or something.  See, the mystery person doesn’t stop with simple gifts to Ginger.  Around the halfway mark of the episode, she starts to receive these super creepy phone calls (and super creepy phone calls are just 100% super creepier when involving an old style rotary dial phone).  These phone calls pretty much just go over the same material again and again (see, if I was making creepy phone calls, I would go the more Black Christmas route and try to spice it up with something new for every phone call), mostly a little creepy voice repeating, “Mommy!  Daddy!” over and over again.  We the audience are left thinking WTF?

                MINOR SPOILER ALERT FOR THE UPCOMING EVENTS OF SEASONS TWO AND THREE CONTAINED WITHIN THIS PARAGRAPH.  Let’s return to Gary and Val for a moment.  It doesn’t take long for Gary to realize that Val is hiding something from him, but when he finds out it’s not a torrid affair or an addiction to prescription medications but, rather, just a desire to get a G.E.D., he is relieved, amused, and supportive.  Boy, is it just me or are Gary and Val like the model couple at this early juncture in the series?  It’s funny to note that we are only about a year away from Gary having an ongoing affair with that really dykey-looking broad, and we are about two years away from Gary dumping Val in order to shag Abby.  I only note this because, at this point in the series, boy is Gary supportive!  They make the model couple of the cul-de-sac, at least for this brief thirteen episodes or so.  Anyway, rather than force Val to study alone, he helps her out, gives her the support, checks on her at night when she is passed out on the floor, surrounded by educational textbooks; he’s ever the doting husband.  END OF MINOR SPOILER ALERT FOR THE UPCOMING EVENTS OF SEASONS TWO AND THREE.

                Val goes to take her test and she finishes ON TIME.  However, and I don’t know if this is just me not paying attention or what, but I can’t for the life of me remember if she actually passes or not; does she even mention it?  When Gary comes to pick her up, she makes a big fuss about how she finished with time to spare, but I don’t know if she tells him whether or not she passed.  Of course, I’m sure the tests haven’t been graded just yet, so I guess she has to wait, but I don’t think we’re ever told within the confines of this episode the outcome of her test.  I’m gonna just assume she does pass, cuz it would be kinda a bummer storyline if it concluded with her failing to get the G.E.D. and feeling really stupid and lame.  So, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s just assume she passed, okay?

                Returning to the main storyline of this episode, things get decidedly strange when Ginger calls the police and reports all the stuff that’s been happening to her.   At this point I invite any and all readers of this blog to write in to me at brettmroberts2@gmail.com or leave a comment to please explain to me just what the hell this scene is about.  See, the cop that’s helping Ginger out shows up at her house to speak with her.  This cop is played by, lemme see here…..Daniel J. Travanti, and I note with some surprise that he has nearly 100 acting credits on IMDb.  Oh yes, it looks like he was a series regular on Hill Street Blues, a show I’ve never watched but might be interested in (police shows aren’t generally my thing).  Anyway, she tells the officer that she got this creepy tape, so he asks her to play it, but there’s something somewhat lascivious in his tone, something creepy, as he’s like, “Go ahead Ginger…..play me the tape.”  Okay, so Ginger plays the tape, and we hear the same “Mommy!  Daddy!”  Then the cop gets up behind Ginger and is like, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” but it’s all super spooky and then she looks at him and says, “You bastard!” and throws him out of the house.  Um…..huh?  The scene plays out as if a plot twist has been revealed, almost like the cop is the one who’s been sending her the tapes and the gifts, and her random outburst at him and his general creepy demeanor just leave me confused, particularly as he has nothing to do with this, as we are going to come to reveal.  So if anyone can tell me what I was meant to take from this scene, please feel free to contact me and I will be ever so grateful.

                We still have a bit further to go before the mystery of the episode is solved.  See, Ginger starts to think the mysterious calls could be coming from an old boyfriend she broke up with eight years ago, John.  I guess she got pregnant by John and then chose to have an abortion, and she thinks he must be upset about it.  So, she heads off to visit with John’s mother, Mrs. Handleman, played by, um…..Priscilla Pointer?  Let’s take a big detour here so I can talk about what may very well be the biggest Transmorpher in the series history.  Follow me for a minute.

                Priscilla Pointer is a character actress who I’ve seen in many movies and television shows.  She is also, in real life, Amy Irving’s mother and even plays her mother onscreen in Brian De Palma’s brilliant Carrie.  In addition to that, she shows up in, oh gosh, a ton of movies.  I’ve seen her in a guest spot on E.R. as well as in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, in Mommie Dearest, and in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.  Why do I bring her up?  Well, in addition to her little guest spot here (which, by the way, is her only KL appearance), she was on Dallas for nearly three years playing Pam and Cliff Barnes’ mother!  She showed up for 44 episodes of that series during the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons (spanning from 1981 to 1983, for those having trouble keeping track).  In fact, in a bizarre bit of coincidence that I'll be paying attention to in the future, she will even be showing in three of our Brief Dallas Interludes in the future (for those curious, those Interludes will be The Split, Five Dollars a Barrel, and Jock's Will).  However, we should note that this would be after her appearance here, as her character was introduced on Dallas during the next season.  It’s a fascinating reminder that this was a simpler time for television.  I imagine the writers and producers knew Priscilla Pointer had been in a KL episode when they gave her a big role on Dallas, and they probably just didn’t care.  After all, these episodes would air and that was pretty much it.  I’m sure nobody thought we’d be watching these old nighttime soaps coming on 35 to 40 years later, now did they?

                Anyway, at first Mrs. Handleman seems nice.  She gives Ginger the sad news that John was killed in Vietnam years ago, which shows that he can’t be the one harassing her.   There doesn’t appear to be anything creepy about Mrs. Handleman at first, as she is polite and cordial to Ginger and they sip afternoon tea together and enjoy the sunshine.  However, a few scenes later, Ginger has that lightbulb moment and comes to realize it’s been Mrs. Handleman all along, so she goes to confront her.

                In an episode littered with creepy moments, none is creepier than Mrs. Handleman’s confession here.  She turns away from Ginger and pretty much peers into the distance as she recounts, get this, watching Ginger and John make love in the garden.  How’s that for a creepy pervert mom?  Then she goes on to say that after John died in Vietnam, Ginger went off and killed his baby, effectively ruining her chances at having any grandchildren.  It’s a creepy little speech and it’s delivered quite well by Mrs. Pointer, if I do say so. 

                Ginger returns home to Kenny for our final scene of the episode, and we actually end on a rather cryptic mysterious note, something I’m noticing occurring a lot with these early episodes (remember Laura and the cigarette in The Lie?).  What’s interesting to me is that she does not tell Kenny the whole truth.  She basically just tells him an abbreviated version of the story, that she had a boyfriend years ago, that the boyfriend died in war, and that the mother went a little cuckoo.  She doesn’t say a word about having an abortion, leaving Kenny in the dark about that little secret.  The two hug and, well, that’s it; the credits roll. 

                This is an interesting ending, honestly, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to make of it.  I also note with interest that Ginger has mentioned to Kenny her desire to have a baby, in a very fast, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene from Will the Circle Be Unbroken?  So I wonder what the writers were doing here by bringing up her desire for children in episode five and then giving her this abortion back-story in episode nine.  And does the ending imply that Ginger is ashamed about her abortion?  Does she not trust her husband to be understanding about her and her past?  I’m not really sure what it means, honestly, but it was a notable way to put the bow on this episode.

                In fact, let’s talk about abortion on TV for a minute.  I feel like there’s a period, spanning, say, 1972 to 1982 (although that might be going a little too far; perhaps it’s more like 1972 to 1978) in which abortions were everywhere on TV.  Also, if we keep track of the timeline, this is 1980, and Ginger says her abortion was eight years ago, which would be 1972, the year of the famous Roe V Wade decision, meaning that she probably got her abortion the second it became legal in the United States, right around the same time Maude was having her abortion (remember that?).  In addition to Ginger and Maude, though, we had a ton of abortions on Dallas.  In an early episode, we learned that Cliff Barnes had a girlfriend who got an abortion before it was legal and died, plus we had Lucy getting an abortion early in season six after being raped by her creepy but amazing photographer, Roger.  Abortions were very trendy on TV during this period, no? 

                This is hardly one of my favorite episodes of KL, even within the confines of the thirteen-episode first season, but rewatching it wasn’t too bad, actually.  As soon as I hear the words “Kenny and Ginger,” I usually fall asleep, so I approached this episode with real reticence, having to spend 48 minutes focusing on the two lamest characters in KL history, but I was a bit surprised by it, honestly.  Okay, James Houghton is still about as interesting to watch onscreen as a block of wood, but Kim Lankford surprised me here.  Her character has to deal with a lot of different emotional issues here, and she actually does pretty well, particularly in scenes of high emotion or crying, like when she has her showdown with Mrs. Handleman, for instance.  Also, I have to credit this particular ep for having a pretty unique flavor; this may be the most "horror movie" episode we ever get in the series (although we will get to The Three Sisters in season three and, um, yeah, we'll discuss it at that jucture).

                I’m racking my brain now and trying to remember if Ginger ever gets material this weighty to work with again, and I really don’t think so.  I don’t know what it is, whether it’s the writers not giving her material to work with, or if it’s the writers knowing that they had such better actors and characters on their show and just choosing to not really focus on Ginger, but I think this is really the most we get to know the Ginger character during her four years on the show.  Mostly, we’re gonna see a lot of her dealing with Kenny’s boring infidelities and giving birth to that baby with the stupid name, all this before the characters are unceremoniously shipped off to Nashville at the end of season four (I don't even bother to put this information in spoiler brackets because I simply can't imagine anyone in the world possibly caring about the fate of these characters in the future).  Therefore, I predict that this will be the most interesting Ginger ever gets to be on the series, the only time I sorta care about her character.  Perhaps future episodes will prove me wrong, who knows?  In any case, The Constant Companion is a serviceable episode of KL, but really nothing special.  Obviously it’s better than Land of the Free, but it’s still ranking fairly low at this juncture, mostly because I would rather focus on characters like Karen and Sid or Laura and Richard versus Kenny and Ginger. 

                So isn’t it lucky for me that our next episode is a wonderful Karen-centric episode concerning pregnancy late in life and all the turmoil that can cause?  That’s right, readers, our next episode is Small Surprises, and I predict a huge improvement over this particular episode.  See you next Sunday to discuss it!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

KNOTS LANDING Episode 008 of 344: CIVIL WIVES


Episode Title: Civil Wives

Season 01, Episode 08

Episode 008 of 344

Written by Jack Turley

Directed by Kim Friedman

Original Airdate: Thursday, February 14th, 1980

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Sid's ex-wife comes to town and attempts to disrupt his marriage to Karen.

 

                Remember a few episodes ago, back in Let Me Count the Ways, when Karen was feeling frustrated and came close to straying from her sacred marital vows?  Boy, that was a great episode (still the best episode we’ve watched and discussed so far), and now it’s time for the reverse of that….sorta.  See, Civil Wives is an episode that seems to exist to challenge Saint Sid to stray from Karen, showing an interesting mirroring of that prior episode, but done a bit differently.  Now, I always remembered loving Let Me Count the Ways, but I didn’t remember much about Civil Wives at all, aside from the basic outline of the plot.  How does this episode stand up, both as a standalone and when put up against Let Me Count the Ways?  Let’s explore.

                In classic KL fashion, we begin the episode with something very homey and very neighborhood-y, something that makes you feel safe and cozy, and that’s our three leading ladies, Val, Karen, and Laura, all moving some big shelf out of Karen’s station wagon.  Again, I feel like when you start a KL episode, even perhaps a later season episode where there’s more glitz and glamour and money flying around, you get an immediate sense of that realistic neighborhood atmosphere.  See, whereas Dallas would generally start with some sort of a boardroom or bedroom encounter (to steal a quote from Patrick Duffy) or perhaps just the Ewings gathered around the table and making nasty comments towards each other, KL starts with things we can all relate to.  Who doesn’t love going to the beach?  Who hasn’t hung out with friends in their living room drinking coffee?  Who hasn’t helped a neighbor move a huge shelf into their house?  It’s small little details like this that I appreciate.

                Our episode conflict is introduced pretty much straight away.  See, the ladies are moving the shelf when a mysterious new character appears, a fairly pretty middle aged woman who introduces herself as Susan Philby and then seems to wait expectantly for Karen to recognize her.  When this does not occur, she tells Karen that she is, gulp, Sid’s ex-wife.  So right off the bat, we the audience know that there will be some conflict with her presence here, and we get the feeling that she might be up to something.  Susan is not doing anything particularly nefarious in this sequence; in fact, she seems very kind and courteous to Karen, but it wouldn’t be good drama if she just stopped off to share some candy and cookies and then went on her way, would it?  We know that she is up to something, and we have to wait to find out what it is.

                Susan is played by Claudette Nevins, an actress that probably nobody besides myself cares about.  Well, I care about her because she seems to follow me around; no matter what I watch, she seems to pop up frequently.  Why, just the other day, my friend and I watched all six episodes of the brilliant but cancelled Police Squad!, and Ms. Nevins popped up in an episode of that as a vixen lady who ran a nightclub (a nightclub where Frank Drebin sings Judy Garland songs to standing ovations from the crowd, LOL).  Also, she showed up as Doug Savant’s mother on the KL ripoff series that I still sorta enjoyed, Melrose Place.  Why, not only that, but she also popped up in an early episode of E.R. and she even showed up for two episodes of the gloriously heinous 7th Heaven.  Oh, and I only just realized this from reading her IMDb, but she is also a Transmorpher, as she shows up in a 1990 episode of Dallas, playing Lizzie Burns (the episode is Season 13, Episode 21, and it is called Will Power, by the way).  So, Claudette Nevins, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to you. 

                Anyway, we move on from Karen and Susan Philby to the B-storyline for this episode, which is actually moderately interesting despite involving Kenny and Ginger (I know, I know, I’m biting my tongue).  See, this storyline involves Eric Fairgate developing a bit of a crush on Ginger.  I’m not really sure what the point of this storyline is, and it sorta goes nowhere, but it’s interesting, nonetheless, and relatable to those of us who were ever 15-year old boys.  We start the storyline with Eric being a gentleman and helping Ginger carry her groceries into her house.  Kenny’s not around (thank God for small favors), and Ginger is all like, “Thanks for carrying my groceries; why don’t you come in and hang out and listen to a record or something?”  So, Eric does that, and he takes a gander at their hot and hip record collection (although the public domain record that I’m so obsessed with does not get a mention).  Anyway, as we watch this scene, we can see that shy, awkward Eric maybe has a bit of a crush on Ginger.  I guess he likes chicks with big bug eyes or something, I dunno.

                Returning to the main storyline of the episode, we have Karen being ever the perfect hostess towards Susan, letting her come in and visit in the living room, I think even making her a cocktail (I might be hallucinating that part).  Everything seems very civil, and Susan says how she’s here for some sort of issue involving Annie.  Oh yeah, this is worth noting, because in my memory, Annie showed up in Pilot and was never seen nor mentioned again, but I am only half right in my recollections.  True, she’s never seen again, but she’s already been mentioned quite a few times.  It’s nice to know the writers haven’t forgotten this character, and here Val says to Susan, “Annie is a terrific kid.”  This line almost made me choke on my coffee, as we all saw how the neighborhood got along with Annie back in the first episode.  I found myself wondering: Is Val just saying this to be polite to Susan?  Or does she legitimately believe it?  At first I went for option one, but now I’m leaning towards option number two.  After all, even though Annie was a bit of a hellion while she was in town, Val took her down to the beach and the two had a real heart-to-heart and then danced around in the ocean while the theme song played, right?  So perhaps Val really does think of Annie as a terrific kid, I dunno.

                Anyway, Annie’s mostly a plot device here, as Susan has shown up to get Sid to sign some sort of legal documents that would essentially entitle Annie to a bunch of money right away.  Apparently she’s been getting a monthly allowance, but this document would mean she gets all this money in one big lump.  Seem like a great idea for a wayward teenager who parties and drinks and presumably does drugs all night?  No, I didn’t think so, but I also don’t think Susan really wants Sid to sign this document.  My theory is that she has created some false reason to show up in Seaview Circle and try to woo Sid back, and the best reason she can think of is this bogus legal document that she knows full well Sid will not sign. 

                I have to say I find Don Murray kinda hilarious in the early portions of this episode.  First, he’s working at Knots Landing Motors with Gary, and he gets the phonecall that his ex-wife is in town.  He’s talking on the phone with Karen, and she’s all like, “Hey, I’m cool with this; let’s invite her to dinner,” and then Sid poops his pants and is like, “No, don’t do it!”  Next time we see him, he’s running into the house like there are monsters outside chasing after him, slamming the door behind him all epic, clearly upset and anxious about his ex-wife’s arrival.  We immediately can tell that he doesn’t trust his wife, that she was probably a duplicitous person in the past and that the sooner she leaves, the happier Sid will be.  Indeed, as soon as she says why she’s here, Sid is like, “Are you crazy?” and rejects the stupid paper documents about Annie.  Now Susan should leave and the episode should end, right?  Mmmm, not so much, and I think we can predict where things are heading from here.

                Susan begins a very desperate and very transparent act of seduction on Sid.  Seriously, this chick is very obvious with her attempts to steal him away from Karen.  First, he’s getting a midnight snack in the kitchen, and she comes waltzing in wearing a bathrobe or something and gives this big speech about, “Oh, same old Sid, he always needed his midnight snacks.”  Take it from me, Claudette gets to go on a lot of long Shakespearean monologues in this episode, usually based around the theme of “Same old Sid.”  Honestly, she gets right down to business here, as Sid is just trying to enjoy his late night glass of milk, but she saddles up to him and plants a great big old kiss on him.  Oooh, how scandalous; will Sid be tempted?  We must continue watching!

                At the same time this is going on, we have some fabulous material for Karen, and Michele Lee does a tremendous job of erasing all her bad acting from the previous episode, Land of the Free.  Here, she’s back to her usual self, delivering a fantastic performance full of warmth and heart and character.  Just give her the Emmy; just do it!  I find Karen remarkably complex in this episode, and I still can’t quite figure her out.  She is so kind and polite towards Susan, going out of her way to make her feel welcome and at home, even inviting her to stay at the Fairgate house despite Sid’s vehement objections.  The title of the episode is of course Civil Wives, and Karen is nothing if not civil towards Susan.  But my question is: Why?  While at her core, Karen is a good person who strives to do the right thing, a character trait she never loses throughout the fourteen seasons, I do think there’s a little streak of immaturity running through her, and I think it’s on display here.  She feels a need to test Sid, despite knowing full well that her husband is a very fine and very honorable man who would not cheat on her, ever.  Why, then, must she test him?  It’s a complex thing, and I can see some viewers being aggravated with Karen’s behavior in this episode.  After all, Sid tells her not to invite Susan for dinner, and she does so anyway.  Then he tells her not to let her stay at the house, but she invites her to stay anyway.  When Susan starts to pull the seduction act on Sid, you do get the feeling that Karen is at least partly to blame, don’t you think?  Sid warns her that his ex-wife is trouble, but Karen ignores this and does her own thing.

                But wait, it’s time to return to the moderately interesting B-storyline of the episode, Eric and Ginger.  When we return to the pair, they are actually in Ginger’s bedroom (oooh, how scandalous), but before anything can get too saucy, Kenny-the-erection-killer comes walking in and immediately makes the scene more bland.  Of course, Ginger is all excited to see him, and covers his face with kisses, and poor Eric has to stand in the corner and watch the girl he is crushing on make kissy with this….specimen.  Eric looks all sad and, well, that’s pretty much it.  One certainly gets the sense, in my opinion, that Eric is the one with the crush and Ginger is just woefully oblivious to his crush.  Probably she just views him as the cute little teenage boy from the Fairgate house, nothing more.  However, being invited to spend time one-on-one with her leaves Eric a bit confused and probably more than a bit horny. 

                Oh wait, but how could I almost forget about the C-story for this episode?  Oh my, and I completely forgot about it until I went through my notes!  See, we have a third and, arguably, best storyline in this episode involving Richard and Laura.  As we saw back in Home is For Healing, Richard is getting a bit fidgety and looking to have a little affair.  He tried unsuccessfully to screw Lucy, and he’s back in the saddle this week.  See, we start off with Laura saying she wants to go to Pittsburgh to see her father (who I think we actually see physically in an upcoming episode), and she wants to take Jason along.  At first, Richard is all like, “No, no, no, no, no.”  It’s classic asshole Richard, who I believe is sipping a cocktail as he delivers the line.  There’s really no reason in the world to forbid Laura from seeing her dad, but he’s just doing it because he can, because she will listen to him, because we are still at the point in the series where Laura is weak and does whatever Richard says (oh boy, will that ever change). 
 

                I also have to note that Richard is once again rocking his fabulous Hef attire.  In addition to drinking his awesome cocktail (which, I think, is just brandy or maybe bourbon; it’s something brown, in any case), he’s also wearing the red robe with the chest hair showing, looking like a boss.  The only Hef-instrument missing is the pipe, which is a shame, as we actually saw Richard smoking a pipe back in Pilot.  We know you own a pipe, Richard, so where is it?  The Hef ensemble is not complete without the pipe!  Anyway, Sid gives Richard a call and asks him to come over and look at the documents.  Richard takes his little drink and his amazing robe and heads over to the Fairgate house, where he meets Susan and everyone watching at home can actually hear the sound of his penis hardening.  Why look, this woman is the perfect person to have an affair with!  Richard returns home and immediately tells Laura that of course she can go to Pittsburgh and see her daddy, how nasty it was for him to forbid her beforehand.  Isn’t that kind of Richard?  Laura is all like, “Oh Richard, thank you!”  We obviously know that Richard has some ulterior motives to this sudden act of generosity. 

                Susan probably can smell Richard’s horniness dripping off of him, but she still has eyes only for Sid.  If I recall correctly, the next attempted act of seduction is when she visits him at Knots Landing Motors and gives a soliloquy that lasts, oh, let me look at my notes here, approximately seventeen hours.  This speech also revolves around the theme of “Same old Sid,” with her extolling the virtues of his tremendous work ethic and general kindness and human decency.  The scene concludes with her basically laying the cards out on the table, saying how she would like to sleep with Sid, but she doesn’t intend to steal him away from Karen and his children; all she needs is one night of unbridled Don Murray passion.  Even so, Sid does not bite, and good for him.

                I’ll take this moment to say that I would also not sleep with Susan, either.  Sorry, Claudette, but Michele is just so much hotter than you, that’s all, and this is actually news to me.  In my entire experience of watching KL the first time, I loved Karen and she was my favorite character from first episode to last, but I didn’t really think of her as sexy, you know?  However, watching these early episodes again, she is really quite the babe, particularly when she got all dressed up and sexy in Let Me Count the Ways.  I would take her over Claudette any day of the week, no question (if I haven't mentioned it yet, I should probably take a second to say that I am, in fact, gay, and wouldn't actually sleep with either Michele or Claudette but I would definitely sleep with Pat Petersen circa 1985 or so, and if any of you are wondering why, look no further than the photo below).  Of course, Sid is a much more ethical man than me, and he’s not rejecting Susan because she’s not hot enough for him.  No, he’s rejecting her because he loves Karen and does not want to destroy the life they’ve built together.

                While we’re on the subject, this episode really helps us to understand a bit more about the relationship between Karen and Sid.  We learn that they’ve been married for seventeen years (so they got married in 1963, presumably), and that, as we already know, Annie is a product of Sid’s first marriage to Susan.  We realize officially that Diana, Eric, and Michael are Karen and Sid’s children biologically, which makes sense as I think Diana is fifteen or sixteen at this point in the series.  We also learn, and this is most interesting, that Susan left Sid.  If we’re gonna be in any suspense about whether he will cheat on Karen or not, this is the most important thing to note.  Perhaps he still has feelings of love for Susan that never went away?  Perhaps he still feels rejected when he looks at her?  Certainly Susan refers to the Fairgate lifestyle as “Middle class,” and even though she tries to say it like, “Oh, how nice,” we can sense the true tone underneath, that she is a richie rich and thumbs her nose at “Middle class.”  Why have a cozy neighborhood cul-de-sac when you can have a mansion and a butler and lounge around drinking by the pool all day? 

                The most startling scene of this episode, in my opinion, occurs when Karen looks Sid in the face and says, “Whatever you need to do, do it.”  Um…..huh?  Is Karen encouraging an affair here?  Is she telling Sid to get the affair out of his system so that they can all move on?  Or is this just a continuing part of her testing?  Is she trying to push Sid to the very edge to see if he succumbs to Susan’s seduction?  I’m really not sure, but the scene is very striking.

                Before we get to the climax of the episode, we have to wrap up the little story about Eric and Ginger.  In conclusion, the story goes pretty much nowhere.  He comes over with a record, all excited to spend time with Ginger, and then she pretty much deflates his boner with one simple suggestion: That he should meet and go out with her fifteen year old sister.  As soon as Eric hears this, he runs home like a little whiny bitch and, well, that’s pretty much it.  Again, I must ask if the writers were playing the long game, because we do finally see Ginger’s sister way near the end of season two, and Eric does indeed date her briefly, in the episode called Man of the Hour.  Were the writers really looking that far ahead?  Doubtful, but it’s still interesting to note that Ginger’s line about her sister does plant seeds for an episode that won’t air for about another year. 

                We are about to go to our last commercial break, but before that, we have a dinner sequence featuring Karen, Sid, Susan, and Richard.  Laura has been nicely shipped away for the time being (I think we even get a scene of Richard on the phone with her, encouraging her to stay in Pittsburgh longer), so he’s ready to cheat.  But first Susan and Sid dance and she, again, tries to seduce him and, again, fails.  Sorry, Susan, but you were married to the guy and you know he’s decent and you know he won’t cheat.  Sid handles her like a pro and she instead goes off with Richard, who takes her on a nice drive and to a classic make-out spot where they can observe the beauty of California at night.  Of course, after this, they drive off to a motel and, well, you can imagine what happens there.

                The next day, we see Susan and Richard in the cheap motel, getting dressed after their night of passion.  There’s a lot of boner-deflation going on in this episode, and we have one here, as well.   See, Richard is like, “So that was fun, how about we start having an ongoing affair like the one I’m gonna have with Abby in season two?”  Susan completely rejects this and reminds him that all she needed was one night of passion, and now she’s satisfied (more or less; obviously she truly wanted to screw Sid) and she can return home.  Richard is left feeling, well, I dunno, maybe a little rejected? In any case, I think this I notable as the first affair we see Richard having on the show (his first affair ever, though?  Who’s to say?).

                Next up, we have another just-give-Michele-her-Emmy scene, and this one is very very great.  See, it takes place in the cozy Fairgate kitchen.  Like a good hostess, Karen gives Susan some coffee and lets her sit down at the table to visit, but then she gives this tremendous speech about how she truly feels about Susan.  Michele plays this scene perfectly, as she’s really quite cutting towards Susan, but it’s not in a mean or nasty way; it’s all very calm and mature.  She basically shuts her down completely and insures that she will be leaving town, but she just does it with such elegance and grace.  Oh Karen, how I love you, and Michele, how I love your brilliant brilliant acting.

                Anyway, Susan leaves town and, spoiler alert, we’re never gonna be seeing her again (but, again, I remind you that Sid will only be with the series until the very start of season three).  Our final scene of the episode is a lovely and touching one between Sid and Karen.  I’ll go ahead and say that, at this super early juncture in the series, Sid and Karen are my favorite couple (although they are getting strong competition from Laura and Richard, who I find endlessly fascinating) so I cherish every sequence between the two.  The episode ends in a very loving way, with Karen confessing that she was being a bit of a schemer, testing Sid even though she knew he would pass the test.  So why test him at all?  She’s wonderfully frank about this, and apologizes for any hijinks she may have caused, and Sid reminds her that the last seventeen years have been very happy for him.  The two kiss, we freeze frame, and the episode concludes.

                I note with interest that this episode aired on Valentine’s Day of 1980, and I have to believe that was intentional.  The entire theme of this episode is love, marriage, fidelity, all that crap, so it’s very fitting that it air on this particular holiday.  Not only is that theme prevalent with Susan/Karen/Sid, but also in Eric’s crush on Ginger and Richard’s cheating on Laura.  I think all three stories from the episode tie into the same general theme about love, which is nice and tidy.   

                As I said at the head of this essay, I didn’t really remember much about this episode one way or the other, but I’ll say now that I enjoyed it much  more than I thought I would.  Perhaps this is the result of watching it directly after Land of the Free, which would make anything look better by comparison.  If there’s a flaw to the episode, I’d say it’s that I felt no suspense, but perhaps that’s just because of my familiarity with the characters?  I simply can’t believe that Sid would ever cheat on Karen, no matter what.  I have this same problem much later in the series when they seem to return to “Will Mack have an affair with fill-in-the-blank?” over and over and over again and, once again, I don’t see Kevin Dobson’s character ever hurting his wife in such a way.  It’s the same here; Sid would never do this, so I’m not watching with my breath bated to see what happens.

                But is that a flaw?  I don’t think this episode is about suspense; I think it’s just about characters.  Since I love these characters so much, I could probably watch them do anything and I’d find it fascinating.  With this episode, it’s interesting to see how Karen behaves while testing Sid, and it’s interesting to see how he reacts to Susan’s obvious attempts to get him.  Even Susan, who is just a one episode character, is pretty interesting to watch.  Claudette Nevins plays her not as a vamping sex-pot, but sorta a pathetic, washed up middle aged woman desperate for attention.  I feel the other nighttime soaps would make her this really sexy lady, a true temptress for Sid, but KL is deeper and better; it presents her more human, a real character and not just an obstacle faced for this episode. 

                I probably could have gone with a little bit more to the Ginger/Eric storyline, some sort of culminating point, but if I imagine the writers just planning way ahead, I find the storyline much better.  Also, I love that we get the first Richard affair in this episode and I also love that it’s played so blasé.  Again, the other nighttime soaps would probably make a big thing out of this affair, but in this episode, it happens and then we move on, knowing that Richard will likely cheat again. 

                While this isn’t the greatest episode ever and is not a classic like Let Me Count the Ways, I was surprised by my level of enjoyment of the episode and I thought it had plenty of good qualities worth talking about and discussing.  Will I feel the same way about our next episode?  After all, this will be our first, gulp, Ginger-centric episode, and we all know how I feel about this character.  But let’s talk about that when we talk about that, next week, in a discussion of our next episode, The Constant Companion. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

KNOTS LANDING Episode 007 of 344: LAND OF THE FREE


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.