Sunday, February 28, 2016

KNOTS LANDING Episode 019 of 344: STEP ONE


Episode Title: Step One

Season 02, Episode 06

Episode 019 of 344

Written by Loraine Despres

Directed by Kim Friedman  

Original Airdate: Thursday, January 1st, 1981

The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com):.                Diana is having difficulty with her new boyfriend as she feels a pressure to sleep with him. Karen, Diana, Val and Ginger are performing in an ERA benefit. Val asks Gary to help, but he's too preoccupied helping Earl Trent. Diana needs Karen's support but she is too busy rehearsing. In frustration, Diana pulls out of the ERA. Meanwhile with Laura preoccupied with work, Richard spends his time with Abby and they end up in the hot tub. Karen and Diana make up and sing, "Put on a Happy Face."

 

                As I sit down and prepare to write my thoughts about this episode of KL, entitled Step One, I thought I might take a moment or two to explain the context of how I am watching the series.  For instance, if you, the reader, were under the impression that I watch one episode and then immediately go to write about the episode in question, that is not accurate.  Rather, My Beloved Grammy and I try to get together about once a week and we just power through a solid disk.  Now, with season one, it was a smidge easier because there were three episodes per disk, but with season two (which, as of this writing, is sadly the last season of the series available on DVD; for the rest of the series I resorted to bootlegs), there are five episodes per disk.  So, just so you understand what we watched in our last viewing, we watched the entire disk two of the second season (which comprises Step One through Choices) and we also squeezed in A Brief Dallas Interlude by watching End of the Road: Part Two (this was viewed in complete chronological accuracy; as we put this episode in-between the KL eps A Family Matter and Choices).  So, basically, we watched six episodes of television in the most recent viewing. 

                Now, I only tell you this to explain the exact hows and whys of the KL viewing, and to remind you that if I seem to gloss over some details or forget little things, well, it’s because we watched a whole disk of episodes and, as I sit here and try to think about the first episode we watched, it’s sometimes a little hard to remember, so please forgive anything I forget to talk about or dissect.  Of course, nobody else on the internet is bothering to write about this wonderful show in excruciating detail from start to finish, so I guess you’re stuck with me, huh? 

                Actually, the way we view the episodes is, for me, very helpful, because we watch enough that I’m able to notice the flow of the stories and the way the plot advances, but we don’t watch too much that all the eps just become a big blur in my mind, you know?  I make it a rule to never watch more that one disk per visit, because I know if I did that, I would most certainly not remember all the little details that make each show special. 

                Anyway, if you’ll recall, our previous episode, Kristin, was most assuredly not one of my favorites of the series (I believe I even declared it the worst episode up to that point, did I not?), so I was hoping Step One would be a, shall we say, step up from our last episode. Was it?  Well, kinda, but not a big step up, if you know what I’m saying.

                Maybe I’ll just say right now that whenever an episode focuses really heavily on Diana, I tend to lose interest.  Now, there is one glorious exception to this rule, and it comes in the form of a certain fantastic character named Chip Roberts who will figure prominently into seasons four and five of the series, but he’s a ways away at this point, and certainly in the first three seasons, anytime Diana is the center of attention, I just don’t really care.  Therefore, you’ll understand that I groaned a little bit inside as we started this episode and I realized how Diana-centric it would be.

                We start with Diana and her friends hanging out and exchanging gossip about, what else, sex.  Looks like one of Diana’s friends finally lost her virginity the night before or something (I honestly wasn’t paying that much attention at this point, as me and My Beloved Grammy were kinda chatting a bit and talking about her recent trip to the doctor and stuff like that).  I note with interest the STAR STUDDED guest cast surrounding Diana as we start this episode.  For instance, is that not a very young Helen Hunt?  Why, it is, and she is playing Brenda.  Wait a minute, Brenda?  I’m gonna point out a flaw here, as we have previously seen Helen Hunt in the episode Hitchhike: Part Two, and in that episode, her name was Betsy!  Looks like the writers lost their notes at some point, because now she’s Brenda.  Of course, I don’t think they ever actually say her name in either episode; it’s just listed in the end credits that only psycho nerds like me actually sit and watch the entire way through, so it’s not really all that important.  Oh yeah, and less of a big star but still someone I recognized, we also have Wendie Jo Sperber playing one of Diana’s friends.  I know my dad really liked this actress and thought she was very funny, but honestly the only thing I recognize her from is playing Marty McFly’s sister in the first and third Back to the Future movies.

                Diana is dating some guy and they are allegedly “in love.”  This strikes me as rather strange considering this is the first time we’ve seen this guy (and, I think, also the last time; yup, a quick glance at IMDb confirms that we will never be seeing this actor or this character again).  But anyway, even though this character has only been invented for the purposes of this particular episode, Diana is very much in love with him and is considering losing her virginity to him, immediately setting the tone for what this ep will be about.

                However, even though the ep is clearly gonna be all about Diana, that doesn’t mean we aren’t getting some good stuff from the rest of the cast, as well.  Indeed, the second scene of the episode is one that, to me, is iconic, and that is Karen, Abby, and Val all working out together on the floor of Karen’s living room (is it Karen’s living room?  I apologize, dear reader, as it may have actually been Abby’s living room).  This scene starts with a closeup of Abby’s face and she just looks so positively unenthused about having to work out, which has always amused me, and then we zoom out to reveal the three women all doing their exercises together.  I don’t know why I find this scene so iconic, perhaps simply because it’s put into the opening credits sequence starting next season, perhaps simply because all three women look good and the scene is funny and has energy.  It also goes a long way towards adding to that homey neighborhood atmosphere of the show; that these three women who are neighbors and spend a lot of time together are just teaming up to do their exercises; the scene makes me feel warm and comfortable and among friends.

                Now, if Diana and her virginity are the A story this week, I would say the B story is definitely Abs and Richard.  Their affair is heating up nicely and this is the episode where we officially see them consummate their physical relationship.  Now, we know Richard is no stranger to a bit of adultery as he slept with Sid’s ex-wife back in Civil Wives, but for the last five episodes, it’s been a lot of very delicious flirtation between him and Abs.  My God, the list is endless; we had Abs inviting him over for a swim and his classic response of “Do I need my trunks?”  In addition, we had them doing some sexy gardening in Kristin and we also saw them enjoying dinner and wine together in Chance of a Lifetime, when Abs very subtly went on about how her first husband couldn’t sexually please her.  Now, as we reach Step One, we are actually in for a big treat: a scene between Richard and Abby that I’ve always thought was one of the most classic KL scenes of the entire run, but we’ll discuss that when we discuss that.

                Oh yeah, and one last thing before I return to Diana and her boyfriend: There are some very interesting little dropped hints that establish future storylines.  For one thing, even though Gary and Val are barely in this episode, we do see a quick scene of him receiving a phone call at night from that drunken Earl (you’ll recall that we met him and his lesbian-looking wife in Remember the Good Times) and having to go out and rescue him from whatever drunken situation he’s gotten into.  It’s just one quick scene here but it’s going to accelerate to propel storylines for quite a few episodes into the future (beginning with our next one, Breach of Faith) and I like that. 

                Also, and perhaps more interestingly, we have some major hints that something is not right with Michael.  Now, in a few episodes (Scapegoats, to be precise), we are going to find out that Michael has A.D.H.D.  In my memory, I thought that storyline came completely out of nowhere for the purposes of that episode, but actually they start dropping little hints leading up to it pretty early in the second season.  We’ve already seen him spill some milk and make a complete mess out of it, plus we’ve seen him fighting and being difficult at school.  In this episode, he is continuing to act a tad askew, prompting Karen to say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with Michael.”  Well, we won’t find out what’s wrong with him this week, but we will very soon, and I appreciate the writers for clearly having that storyline planned out well in advance and giving us some clues that it’s developing without being too obvious about it.

                Okay, so back to Diana (snore).  The boyfriend (his name is Bobby and he is played by Dan Shor, pictured below) tells her how his parents are going out of town and he has the house to himself; would she like to come over?  Diana agrees and her buddies drop her off at the house.  There’s a nice little scene where her friends are like, “Diana, you don’t have to do this,” and Diana just has this sad face.  I kinda liked that, and then she goes to the door and disappears inside the house and we go to a commercial; I guess if I was a viewer in 1981 (the very first day of 1981, no less), I would be curious enough to wait out the commercial and see what happens when Diana gets into that house.

                What ends up happening is a mystery for awhile; we the audience are not privy to whether Diana sleeps with Bobby or not.  Now, even though I don’t particularly care about these characters or this storyline, I’ll pay a quick compliment to this scene by saying that I really enjoyed the acoustic guitar soundtrack that’s going on in the background.  I note that Jerrold Immel is credited with doing the score for this ep, so good on him; I always enjoy when he pulls out the guitar.  It’s a quiet scene and both actors play it fairly well, I suppose, but what really struck me was the fabulous guitar.

                The next time we see Diana, she is being dropped off by Bobby and seems very upset about something.  Did they or didn’t they?  That’s our Mystery of the Week!  Now personally, I never thought they did it, but it sure does take awhile to find out for sure, because for the rest of the episode, Diana pretty much hangs out at the beach and feels sorry for herself.  This again reminded me of just how often the characters go to the beach in the first three seasons or so; it really does start to feel like every episode has heavy beach content, and I’ll be curious to see when/if this starts to fade away.  But anyway, at the beach Diana makes a new friend, some dude named Roger who is played by John Dukakis (and I actually did recognize this actor as he was in Jaws 2).  He offers her some beer, which she gladly accepts, and the next time we cut back to her, she’s good and drunken. 

                Roger is telling her about how he just moved out to California and, just like Val back in the first episode, he’s never seen the ocean before.  They chat for awhile but things turn a bit strange when he invites Diana to come and hang out in his hippie van.  At first she accepts, but for whatever reason, when she sees the van, she sorta flips and goes running off.  I think it has something to do with the fact that he’s got a bed set up in the back of his van, and perhaps Diana assumes he’s gonna try to get busy with her, and she just ain’t in the mood, so off she goes.  She drunkenly drives home (and, since we are still in an era where nobody really cares about drinking and driving, Karen only scolds her for being drunk and says nothing about her operating the motor vehicle) and then goes running off to her room like a little whiny brat.

                Oh yeah, how could I forget about this part?  Throughout the whole episode, there’s this lingering talent show coming up, and Karen is working really hard to get her little song-and-dance routine with Diana perfected.  I found myself asking just how many talent shows this damn high school has per year, as we already saw that crazy KISS looking show in Hitchhike: Part One, and that was only a few episodes ago.  Is the talent show like a weekly thing at Knots Landing High School?  Oh well, why harp on it?  For the purposes of this episode, there’s another talent show, and it really doesn’t matter that they just had one five minutes ago.

                Now, the episode is plugging along, and it’s not really doing too much for me.  While it’s a clear improvement over Kristin, it’s still ranking pretty low in my list of episodes viewed so far, except for one stellar sequence that is plopped right into the middle of the show like this wonderful little diamond in the rough.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am referring to Abby and Richard in the hot tub.  See, it’s the middle of the day, Richard is out of work and does not appear to be looking hard for a new job, and Abby is home all day and more than willing to service him.  We begin this classic scene with Abs grabbing some champagne for the two of them and making her way over to the hot tub.  Even the very shot of Abs in her bathing suit proudly holding that bottle of champagne up over her head is, for me, a very memorable image, and another one that they put into the opening title sequence next season.

                After she plops into the hot tub with Richard, things get decidedly steamier, but also goofier at the same time.  You know that trope you see in many an erotic movie where people pour champagne and/or other liquors all over each other rather than simply drinking the alcohol?  We’ve got that here, as for some reason Richard just starts to pour the champagne into the hot tub.  This to me seems very wasteful, but then he starts to massage Abby’s back and, yes, pour some champagne down her neck and lick it back off.  I gotta say this is all fabulously risqué, even for nighttime TV.  In particular, when Richard licks her neck, Abby lets out this almost orgasmic shudder that seems quite daring for TV in 1981, in my opinion.  While it’s obviously goofy that they waste so much champagne, that’s also part of the fun and magic of the sequence, which has always stuck with me as one of the most iconic in KL history.  Even if I absolutely hated everything else about this episode, I would still declare this a classic scene that everyone needs to see.

                The culmination of the episode involves Karen and Diana at the talent show.  Their act is coming up next, but it’s at this particular moment that Diana chooses to speak with her mother about what happened the other night.  She cuts right to the quick, saying, “The other night I went to Bobby’s house and his parents weren’t home.”  We get some fantastic acting from Michele Lee here, as she sorta takes in that information and chews it over for a second or two, and then she just goes, “Oh,” and then says perhaps they should talk about this after the show (I actually agree with her, FYI), but then Diana gets mad and is like, yelling and stuff.  In any case, this is the scene where we find out that no sex occurred, rather she and Bobby tried to have sex and it just didn’t quite work out.  “Oh Mother, it was awful!” she declares in her typically over-the-top acting style, adding that neither of them knew what they were doing.  Karen gives her some big speech and it is A Touching Moment, I suppose, although I didn’t feel particularly touched. 

                Anyway, that little mother/daughter chat is actually the penultimate scene of the episode.  The very last scene is, how should I say this, a bit odd.  Honestly, this entire last scene has always haunted me as one of the worst KL episode endings in the series run, a truly unsettling and very not cute song-and-dance number between Karen and Diana.  I wonder if this whole sequence was simply included to show off Michele’s pipes; I know she is a professional singer and even has a few albums on vinyl from way back when (I’ll keep my eyes open for them the next time I hit Silver Platters), so perhaps she just wanted an opportunity to sing in an episode.  Well, singing is one thing, and I actually have no problems with listening to her sing (Put on a Happy Face is the song, by the way). My problem is with the fucking creepy makeup that both Karen and Diana wear.  They are in full white face, like they are mimes or something, but with these super spooky black dots on either side of their cheeks and these Joker-looking lipstick faces; I honestly can’t describe how creepy the whole thing is.

                And it’s not just the look that’s creepy; it’s the whole production, the dancing especially, which strikes me as a tad too sexy for a mother/daughter pairing.  I also forgot to mention that their outfits are basically nothing; it looks like they are both dancing around in their underwear.  Honestly, there’s really no way to properly describe the total creepiness of this production number aside from just watching it; perhaps I’ll see if I can get a clip of it pulled up for all of your viewing, erm, pleasure? 

                Yeah, I hate this ending, and speaking of things that end up in the opening title sequence, for whatever reason the super creepy freeze-frame ending of this episode makes it into the classic scrolling squares opening starting next season.  Why?  This is a scene I want buried; I don’t ever want to be reminded of it, yet I’m gonna be looking at it constantly during the third season every time I see that opening title scene.  Yuck!  So, right here and right now, barring some unforeseen event in the future, I am declaring this WORST ENDING TO A KL EPISODE EVER!  That’s right, folks, you heard it here; I don’t think we ever get a worse last five minutes to a show; this one is the bottom of the barrel, really the pits.

                But what about the episode overall?  Honestly, this is such a huge improvement over Kristin that I’m kinda giving it more of a break than it deserves.  The main storyline did almost nothing for me, as it focused to heavily on Diana and, what with the subject of virginity and teenaged sex and all that, struck me as rather After School Special or maybe a less awful version of 7th Heaven.  Now, this is the main storyline that takes up most of the episode’s time, and I had almost zero interest in it, which is pretty bad.  At the same time, I wasn’t enraged by the plot; it wasn’t complete insane and stupid like Land of the Free; it just didn’t really grab me and engage my interest.

                I’ll forgive that though for a few reasons, one of which is that so many seeds have been planted and are growing along nicely.  We are seeing hints of a rift forming between Gary and Val, which will pay off in the coming episodes and seasons, plus the hints at Michael’s A.D.H.D. and some generally uninteresting stuff involving Kenny and Ginger’s marital woes.  In addition, I just can’t not recommend an episode that has Abs and Richard in the hot tub; that’s just such a wonderful scene of soapy deliciousness that, for me, exemplifies KL at its trashy best.  There was definitely no scene nearly that good in Kristin, and even though it’s a quick scene, it’s one of those that just burns into the memory.  Overall, however, despite that one amazing and sexy scene, the episode is fine and that’s it.  I’m pleased to announce that I don’t think we have to see another big Diana episode for quite awhile, and I know the upcoming four episodes will all be terrific, so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice. 

                Coming up next is one of my personal favorite episodes, one that greatly expands on all the storylines that we’ve got kicking into high gear at this point in the season.  Next up, we have pretty much everyone committing a lot of adultery in Breach of Faith.

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