Episode Title: The Block Party
Season 04, Episode 12
Episode 065 of 344
Written by Sara Ann Friedman
Directed by Nick Havinga
Original Airdate: Thursday, December 30th, 1982
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com): Mack's father Pete comes to visit him. Pete says he wants to make up with Mack, but then tells him he's dying, and doesn't want to linger, so he wants Mack to promise to pull the plug. This makes Mack mad, and he tells Karen that Pete cheated on his mother and was physically abusive to him and his sister Megan. Later, Mack decides to give Pete a chance and they hug. Chip wants Ciji to sign a contract giving him 25% of her earnings. Karen throws a benefit party in the cul-de-sac. Chip has Ciji sing at the party. Diana, recuperating, watches the party out of her window, and sees Chip and Ciji kissing.
Hmmmm, after such a run of incredible quality episodes lasting, I would say, pretty much from Letting Go near the end of season three all the way through, say, The Best Kept Secret a few weeks back, I guess it’s reasonable to expect we might come to a few less-than-stellar eps at some point. I enjoyed Emergency but also found it a little harder to get into than previous eps, and then last week we discussed Abby’s Choice and I talked about how it left me feeling a little underwhelmed, not totally delivering the goods the way I’m starting to expect KL to. Well, this week we have The Block Party and what did I think about it? Read on to find out.
By this point in the saga, KL is officially a full on, serialized, nighttime soap opera just like its contemporaries Dallas, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest. At this point, you can’t really afford to tune out for a few weeks and then jump back in, because everything is building and growing and things are happening with all the characters week to week that build to a greater story. The days of, say, Land of the Free or Moments of Truth or The Three Sisters are now gone. However, The Block Party really feels bizarrely singular and standalone at this point in the series. While there’s certainly stuff going on that builds towards the bigger picture (and I’ll discuss all that stuff), the main story of the ep is very standalone and, to the best of my memory, is basically forgotten about as soon as we jump into next week and the hundreds and hundreds of weeks still left to come. I’ll start by sorta powering through the main plot of this episode, which involves a visit to the cul-de-sac from Mack’s father (or “Pop,” as Mack constantly refers to him) and all the shenanigans and emotions that result from this visit. As we begin The Block Party (after our thirty second preview and classic opening credits, of course), we get to hear Mack talking to the Fairgates about how Pop is coming to visit, and how he rode a bus all the way from New York to California. A few scenes later, Mack runs into Pop outside his apartment complex and is a little confused about why he’s there. He asks if he was late to pick him up at the bus station or if he misunderstood what time he was arriving, and basically the two are off to an awkward start right away.
As soon as Pop showed up onscreen, My Beloved Grammy said, “This guy’s got eyebrows that won’t quit,” and she’s certainly right, as they are positively Eugene Levy-esque in the bizarre way that they take over his entire face, like two gigantic caterpillars living peacefully above his eyeballs. Pop is played by Jeff Corey, who I immediately recognized from one thing, an early episode of Roseanne in which he played a door-to-door salesman who dropped dead in the Conner’s kitchen. However, his IMDb shows a whopping 234 credits before he died in 2002 at the age of 88. In addition to being in episodes of every television show ever made, he also appeared in True Grit, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and even the original Miracle on 34th Street (the last two I actually just saw in the theater the other day; how cosmic). Check out the photo of him I've put below to see if you recognize him, though I should note this is not a photo from the ep and he looks quite a bit different in the photo than he does in the actual ep.
Anyway, as soon as Pop showed up onscreen, I immediately had some problems with him, but I don’t believe that’s a reflection on the way that Jeff Corey played him, but rather on the character himself. I had somewhat forgotten that this episode existed, and I was getting comfortable in thinking that the days of characters being shipped in out of the blue for one episode and then shipped out again were behind us, that they finally did that just about as much as they possibly could throughout the third season, but no, here it is again. I’ll just say right away that we haven’t heard Pop mentioned before this and we never see him again. I’m tempted to say that he’s never even mentioned again, but there are a lot of episodes left in front of us and I can’t be certain as to whether that is true or not.
Okay, so Pop shows up and he visits with the neighborhood a bit and seems to take something of a fancy to Lilmae (at this point, My Beloved Grammy, not yet knowing that Pop is merely a plot device to be shipped permanently out of the show after this ep, started to theorize that maybe he would become Lilimae’s new romantic interest), who even gives a rousing rendition of her song (“The prettiest thing I ever did see…”) to all the gathered neighbors. The sweet sounds of Lilimae’s autoharp delight (sorta) everyone in the house, even drifting up to the bedroom of a recuperating Diana, who is lying there with Chip, the two of them being all “cute” together (I hated this scene, by the way). After Lilimae’s performance, Mack and Pop disappear into some really sleazy bar where a stripper who looks like Barbara Eden is gyrating away (but remember this is 1982 CBS, so we ain’t gonna get any boobage) and a bunch of other people are acting like loud drunks. Pop and Mack take a seat and Mack orders a simple beer (“Any Mexican beer,” he tells the bartender), but his father orders whisky and starts pounding them back, one after the other, declaring, “Drinking fast is the fastest way to get drunk.” Mack has this sad look on his face and expresses some disappointment that, instead of chatting and getting caught up with each other’s lives after so many years apart, his father is more interested in getting really drunk really fast. Before we go to a commercial, we did get a quick shot I appreciated in which we start in on Mack and Pop at the bar and then slowly pull back. It was a stylish little bit of cinematic filmmaking that I appreciated since they could have easily just faded to commercials without any such flourish.
Anyway, when we get back from commercial, Pop is somewhat drunk but not, you know, angry belligerent drunk, and he even declares, “This whisky’s not doing anything for me,” although that could just be due to the fact that he is Irish and therefore it would take about a metric ton of hard liquor to even get him to feel a slight buzz. At this point, he tells Mack that he’s sick but he’s in remission. In my notes, I wrote “Sick with what?” and I kinda went along not knowing for awhile, but later they say it’s leukemia. Anyway, Mack is a little upset to hear about this but seems to be taking it pretty okay, and then something very strange happens.
To the best of my knowledge, my bootleg DVD copies of the series are pretty much uncut. They are recorded off the SoapNet from when they ran the whole series a long time back, and I know there might be small, minor little differences or changes and every now and then we’ll get a time compressed episode (which I hate, but what are you gonna do?), but this next scene is so bizarre and out of left field that it made me wonder if something had been cut out, either something that was written and never filmed, or filmed and never broadcast, or filmed and broadcast and then removed from the SoapNet versions. Follow me along here. These two ladies come utterly out of the blue and are kinda hanging around Mack and Pop. I don’t even know that we see either of the two gentlemen speaking with these two chicks, but as soon as Mack says they’d better get going, the ladies get all pissed and are like, “You lead us to believe that you were going to go out with us and have a good time.” Okay, so they’re whores? I mean, I guess? Things only get stranger when the whores (?) start to complain to the bartender and reiterate that they thought Mack and Pop were gonna take them home and insert their penises into their vaginas. I’d kinda expect the bartender to be like, “Prostitution is illegal and I want you two whores to go away,” but instead he takes their side and tells Mack that he really ought to have sex with the girls, and then suddenly this big fight breaks out. This brought back flashbacks of all the barroom brawls that were always occurring over on Dallas, because one second everything is calm and nice and then suddenly there’s this big fight going on. This all escalates very quickly and the reason I’m confused is because we don’t ever see a scene in which Mack or Pop even speak to the girls or lead them to believe that they are interested in their services. So what’s the deal? Did Mack run off to the bathroom and then Pop started talking to these whores and making promises he couldn’t keep? Was something cut out? Does anyone know? Can anyone help me out here? Anyway, I thought it was a bad scene because it was confusing and also just kinda stupid.
Okay, moving on to the next day, now both Mack and Pop are lounging around Mack’s super cool bachelor pad with the fireplace (I am going to miss this set when he and Karen tie the knot). Now Pop reveals his real reason for being in town, and it’s not that he wants to be around his son in his last few months or years on this earth, but rather it’s that he wants his son to kill him. He says how he doesn’t want to turn into some sad old dying man lying in a hospital bed waiting for it to all be over, and he says if he ever reaches such a state, he needs to be able to depend on Mack to kill him. Mack is understandably upset, and I don’t blame him. He hasn’t heard from his dad in years and, as he tells Karen a bit later in the ep, his dad was also an abusive alcoholic who cheated on his mom constantly, which sucks, and now the abusive alcoholic serial cheater dad is back in town only to request that his son murder him while he lays on his deathbed.
Sitting here, working on this essay right at this very moment, it suddenly occurred to me what problem I have with this scene and, to a degree, the whole episode, and it is this: Mack starts to go on this big soliloquy about how he thought Pop was coming to reconnect with him and Bob Loblaw. Basically, instead of us the audience getting to understand Mack’s feelings, he just narrates them to us. I generally trust the KL writing staff to have a little more subtlety with the characters and all their feelings, but here we just have it explained to us in this big monologue that, really, I’m not sure I believe Mack would just spit out so suddenly at Pop. In any case, the basic gist of the scene is that Mack is not gonna kill his father, the two fight a bit, and then that’s it.
As you could probably figure from the title of the episode, there’s this big block party going on, all initiated by Karen, of course. It’s quite well attended, making me wonder just how many neighbors there really are in the vicinity of Seaview Circle, and during all the drama and shenanigans of the block party, Pop is nowhere to be seen. Mack returns to his apartment and finds the drawers and closets emptied out of Pop’s belongings, and he actually cries a little bit. I’m not sure if I like this scene or not, though I will say I have no problem with the performance of The Dobsonator, who is trying his best.
I think the basic problem, as I’ve already reiterated, is that I’m not feeling invested. I know Pop is gonna vanish off the face of the earth soon, so who cares if he and Mack reconnect right now? I find myself wondering if I would have similar problems with, say, the introduction of Lilimae back in season one with Will the Circle Be Unbroken? In that instance, if Lilimae had only showed up for that one episode and then never been seen or mentioned ever again for the entire series, I would probably feel rather negative about that particular episode. However, when I watch that one, I know that Lilimae is going to be an important character and show up in 165 (ish) episodes, so her appearance carries a lot of weight. I just can’t feel the same way about Pop and, therefore, I can’t feel the same way about the emotions that Pop is bringing out in Mack, even though I love Mack’s character and I do care about what’s going on in his life.
Okay, after the block party is all finished and the sun has gone down, Pop comes wandering back to the cul-de-sac, adorned in a kilt, and he has a nice little chat with Lilimae, who is walking around and sorta cleaning things up a bit. She tells him about how she and Valene didn’t get along for years, didn’t even speak for a good long while, but now they are very close. She gives a bit of advice that I’m not entirely sure I agree with, but I’m also not entirely sure I disagree with, basically saying that what’s in the past is in the past and that she and Valene get along so well by not talking about all those things. She says, “You can’t change the things you’ve done in the past, so we don’t talk about them; we just don’t do those things anymore.” I agree with that, I think, but I’m not sure I like the idea of bottling up a bunch of repressed emotions and not talking about things that happened in the past. I’m more the believer that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, you know? What do you think, my beautiful readers?
Anyway, Mack peeks out the window and sees his Pop dancing and having a good time with Lilimae, so he goes out to talk to him. He basically says, “You show up with a kilt and dance around a bit and all is supposed to be good between us?” The two have a little chat and Mack makes his dad promise not to die. I wrote this down in my notes along with a little question mark, because I’m not so sure about it. Okay, I get it that Mack is asking his father to keep on fighting and to live another day, but you also can’t control when you’re gonna die. What if his father makes this “no dying” promise and then a bus comes speeding into Seaview Circle and creams him? This is actually the last scene of the ep and then it just sorta ends, certainly not one of the most exciting or dynamic KL endings we’ve ever seen, but whatever. Now that we’ve covered the Mack/Pop portions of this ep, what’s going on with some of other characters? Well, like I said, the majority of the focus was on Mack and Pop, and I kinda feel like the other characters are getting the shaft this week, although they are still around and doing stuff. Perhaps the most important characters to pay attention to this week are Diana, Chip, and Ciji. I mentioned earlier how Diana is in bed recuperating from that whole kidney operation and how Chip goes up to visit with her. The two start kissing, which I didn’t love. I hate that wet kissing sound and there was a lot of it in this scene until Chip puts a stop to it and gives some weird explanation for why they should stop making out. I think he’s trying to use a circuitous logic to get Diana to spread her legs for him, but I could be wrong. In any case, the scene serves a function to show that Diana is really going head over heels for Chip (remember “I love you” from last week?), but he’s such a con artist that there’s no way he feels the same way.
At some point during the block party, Ciji is getting ready to perform and she and Chip are chatting and then he lets his guard down and plants a bit wet kiss on her. You’d think that, being this expert con artist and trained liar, Chip would be smart enough to not kiss Ciji in the middle of a crowded cul-de-sac in full view of tons of people during a big block party, but whatever, it’s a quick kiss and how is he supposed to know that this would be the exact moment that Diana chooses to look out the window and see him? So yup, Diana sees the kiss and, presumably, is smart enough to see what’s going on here, but we actually don’t get any further development of this plot point within the confines of this ep, so let’s just be patient.
While on the topic of Ciji, she rocks with not one but two songs this week. One of her songs is a lovely duet with Lilimae of Will the Circle Be Unbroken? This was a joyous little scene and maybe my favorite part of the episode, mostly because everyone looks so happy and seems to be enjoying the music so much, and there’s an almost improvisational feeling to watching Lisa Hartman and Julie Harris sing together (oh yeah, and also My Beloved Grammy started singing along with this song, which of course made me very happy).
In addition, Ciji also busts out New Romance (It’s A Mystery), which is actually one of my fave songs that Lisa ever gets to sing on the show. This comes right off of her Letterock album and is actually a cover of a song by the band Spider. I did a bit of research and discovered that Spider was a short lived band that was only together from 1977 to 1984 before they disbanded. I have also listened to their version of this song and I can confirm that Lisa’s is, of course, better, the same way that all her covers are better than the original versions. I’ve always had a special fondness for this song, which is gonna pop up a few more times throughout the season. It’s got a real ‘80s sound to it and I love the instruments that kick in just as the song starts and, of course, Lisa’s singing, which is very joyous and full of life.
Boring white guy Jeff Munson is also at this block party, where he uses the opportunity to walk into Val’s house and harass her. Spoiler alert, but as far as I can recall, Munson serves as Val’s romantic interest for the latter half of this season, and I could really live without him. Next season we are gonna get Douglas Sheehan as Ben to be Val’s love interest, and he’s hardly the greatest ball of excitement to ever walk the earth, but he’s definitely a big step up from this guy, who is just dull as dishwater. I don’t mean any offense to this actor (Jon Cypher), and it’s really not his fault; this character is just a dud. He certainly doesn’t feel imported into the show the way that Pop does, because he’s becoming heavily involved with lots of the characters, but as far as his romance with Val, I just plain don’t care. He comes into the house, he’s charming and romantic with her, she likes him, let’s move on.
Honestly that’s about all I got for the characters this week. I’m trying to remember if anyone else does anything particularly interesting, and I got nothing. I just had a really weird moment where I was looking at the IMDb page for the ep and noticed that Donna Mills is listed along with “Credit Only” in parentheses. Is this true? To the best of my knowledge, Donna Mills appears in every single episode from season two all the way through season ten, with the only exception being the very last episode of season ten, since her character left the episode beforehand, but now IMDb is telling me she wasn’t in The Block Party and, you know, for the life of me I can’t remember her having any significant scenes. Was she there? Can anyone confirm or deny? I suppose it makes sense that Karen wouldn’t invite Abs to the block party, but are you telling me she wasn’t even in a single other scene throughout the ep? Someone help me out!
I think you can tell that I didn’t really like The Block Party that much. Abby’s Choice and The Block Party both served as the first two episodes on the disk of five episodes that My Beloved Grammy and I watched on our last visit, and after this particular one, My Beloved Grammy even said, “These last few episodes haven’t been as good as the ones before,” and I have to agree with her. Please don’t mistake me as saying that the show is going downhill in any way, since that would be ridiculous. I think it’s just a very minor mid season slump (these would be episodes 11 and 12 out of a 22 episode season) and the show will quickly get back on track with our next batch of episodes. I’m actually gonna be bold and go ahead and declare The Block Party as the worst episode of season four, mostly because it felt too standalone, too isolated, and it really didn’t propel any plots forward. Even the stuff we get of, say, Munson getting a boner for Val or Diana witnessing the kiss between Chip and Ciji, those are all minor things that aren’t that exciting, you know? Also, if IMDb is accurate and Donna Mills really sat out this episode, that certainly goes a long way towards explaining why I’m feeling a bit of a low energy this week; I’m missing my Abs and all her conniving and wicked behavior! For me, the only time this episode really felt like it came alive was when Ciji was singing, and that’s it. I didn’t like Pop and, even though I bitch about how he’s gonna disappear and never be mentioned again, I’m also sorta glad cuz I just found him unappealing to watch and hard to care about. The Dobsonator gives a pretty good performance but I just didn’t really care much. Despite what might sound like a lot of whining, the episode is certainly not terrible. It’s nowhere close to the bottom of the barrel that currently contains Moments of Truth, Reunion, or my vote for all-time worst episode, Silver Shadows. It’s perfectly watchable and, when doing a big binge watch, it’s easy to just get through the episode and then move on to the next one, but when I’m honing in and really focusing on the ep and all its details, that’s when a lot of these problems really start to pop out at me. My basic conclusion is it’s not great and it’s the worst episode of season four, but it’s not a contender for one of the worst episodes of the entire series in any way. Much like last week with Abby’s Choice, I would just say it’s a little meh.
That pretty much wraps up my thoughts on this ep, but before I finish, I think it's important that we note that this is the last KL ep of 1982, so as I have been doing for previous years, I'd like to talk a bit about what was going on in the world (which, for me, mostly boils down to movies and TV shows) during the year of 1982. Well, on the movie front, my hero Brian De Palma actually didn't have anything coming out in 1982, but one of my other heroes, Steven Spielberg, had two mammoth hits that year with both Poltergeist (and yes, I am one of those people who completely believes that Spielbs directed this movie and not Tobe Hooper) and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, which both came out within just a few days of eachother. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which everyone knows is easily the best movie of that whole franchise (and which I had the pleasure of seeing in the cinema just the other day) also came out that year. Michael Jackson released the brilliant and perfect Thriller album, which could possibly get my vote for the greatest album of all time (in case you all are curious, my favorite song from it is Wanna Be Startin Something followed by Beat It). Stephen King was exceptionally busy that year, releasing three books, The Running Man (as Richard Bachman), The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (kicking off that mammoth and bizarre series) and one of his best collections of novellas ever, Different Seasons. As for King on film, this is the year of one of the most enjoyable King movies ever made, in my opinion, the hilarious and stylish Creepshow, directed by George A. Romero. As for TV, the top ten shows of the 1981-1982 season (going from #10 to #1) were One Day at a Time, MASH, The ABC Monday Night Movie, The Dukes of Hazzard, Too Close For Comfort, Alice, Three's Company, The Jeffersons, 60 Minutes, and Dallas. As for things that don't involve books, music, movies, or TV, I scanned a "What happened in 1982?" list and I didn't see anything too terribly interesting, plus who gives a crap about real world events anyway when you could be watching TV? So let's just go ahead and say that about does it for 1982.
Even if I wasn't having a deep love affair with this episode, I predict we’re gonna get smoothly back on track with our next episode, full of lots of drama and excitement, with Cutting the Ties That Bind.