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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 21: Hell Mall (2002)   3 comments

Above:  The Ghost of Velma Jacob

All images in this post are screen captures.


Hell Mall

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired March 15, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-120


Chad Willett as Tucker Burns

Jon Polito as Donald Stern

Reno Wilson as Wes Freewald

Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

Curtis Armstrong as Sal the Pig-Boy

Sharon Sachs as Vera

Main Guest Cast

Kelly Biddlecome as Brandi

Ellen Cleghorne as Esperanza

Len Cordova as Detective Hector Garibaldi

Stephen Dunham as Louis Phillips

Elaine Hendrix as Kristen Martin

Myrna Niles as Velma Jacob

Mark Perkins as Anthony

Rebekah Peace as Danielle

Behind the Camera

Writers = Michael Shear and Patrick Sean Smith

Director = David Barrett

Above:  Danielle

Brief Summary

The Staten Island Fashion Square Mall has become a dangerous place to be in June and July 2002.  In the last month, three employees have gone out of their minds briefly killed people.  Off-screen there was an “unfortunate incident at the piercing kiosk,” followed by someone getting impaled at Weiner on a Stick.  And, before the opening credits, Brandi, an employee at Fashism, attacked Stefaney, her manager, with a pair of scissors.  Brandi, in the back room at the story, asked Stefaney, “What are you doing in my room?”  Then Brandi complained, “I don’t want people touching my things.”

Two days later, valley girl Danielle, daughter of a copy editor at the World Chronicle, speaks to Tucker Burns, Wes Freewald, and Grace Hall in the conference room.  She tells them about Brandi.  Donald Stern adds more information.  Wes asks if the cause of the attacks could be demonic possession or a government experiment that has gone wrong.  Stern rejects those theories and proposes psychoactive mutant worms instead.  Tucker Burns suggests that there may be a rational explanation.

Wes, Grace, and Tucker work on the story. Tucker goes undercover at the mall as a spritzer.  His supervisor is Anthony, another stereotypical homosexual.  Grace and Wes briefly interview Brandi in jail, until Detective Hector Garibaldi tells them to leave.  Brandi remembers nothing of the attack on Stefaney.

The new man in Grace’s life is Louis Phillips, an architect she meets when he accidentally drives into the back of Wes’s car, in which she is a passenger.  By the end of the episode, Grace and Louis are dating.

Detective Oblivious, er, Garibaldi, is back.  He meets with Kristen Martin in his office.  Garibaldi refers to the events of Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns, Take Me Back, and Man and Superman.  He says the police made no arrests in these cases.  Garibaldi suspects Donald Stern of being responsible for those murders, at least.  Kristen rejects this.  The detective shows Kristen an Iranian newspaper from 1981.  Stern’s photograph is obvious.  According to Garibaldi, the headline, in Farsi, announces Stern’s death.  The detective goes on to compare the staff of the World Chronicle to the Heaven’s Gate cult and offers Kristen an opportunity to help Tucker Burns before it is too late.  Kristen leaves Garibaldi’s office.

The ghost of Velma Jacob, an elderly nurse, keeps appearing to Tucker and leading him into restricted areas of the fashion mall.  She asks him to help her.

Anthony the chief spritzer goes nutso.  He sets some customers of fire.  Then he says, “Goodbye, Blue Door,” in German and jumps off the highest level of the fashion mall.

Tucker, based on evidence, suggests that ghostly possessions have caused the problems at the fashion mall.

Donald Stern warns Grace, Tucker, and Wes to “use their heads” around Garibaldi, whom Grace refers to as a “Sipowicz-wannabe.”  That, of course is a reference to Andy Sipowicz, whom Dennis Franz portrayed in NYPD Blue.

Louis Phillips comes to offices of the World Chronicle.  He holds a copy of the issue from the end of The Mists of Avalon Parkway.  Grace accuses him of being a stalker.  He denies that allegation.  The roses are from Grace’s mother, who sent them after learning of the break-up with Dennis.  Louis explains that he has been calling Grace because his insurance company needs a statement from her.  Furthermore, Louis explains, he is at the office because he needs to sign forms for Wes’s insurance company.  No, Louis explains, he is not there to ask her out.

Research in the archives yields helpful information.  There is nothing suspicious about the site of the mall.  In fact, it was the site of an Indian mall in antiquity.  However, the “Blue Door” is a reference to the Shady Oaks Sanitarium for the Criminally Insane, the decaying ruins of which are 15 miles away from the mall.  The sanitarium, which had large blue doors, was the site of excessive electric shock therapy until the State of New York closed the facility in the late 1950s.  The spirit of Klaus Hauser, a pyromaniac who jumped to his death from the room of the sanitarium, possessed Anthony.  The ghost of Frank Silva, who jabbed a spoon into his doctor’s eye socket, possessed Brandi.  And nurse Velma Jacob was a sweet old lady until she vivisected three of her patients.

Wes, Grace, and Esperanza visit the ruins of Shady Oaks.  The psychic pronounces the structure devoid of spirits; it is a “ghost’s ghost town.”  The spirits, attached to items, have moved to the fashion mall because the “art” at the mall consists of objects from Shady Oaks.

The spirit of Velma Jacob possesses Tucker Burns.  Neither Grace, Wes notice this immediately.  Kristen never notices it.  Nevertheless, the possessed Tucker has been trying to kill them.  At the fashion mall, at night, Wes and Tucker realize that Tucker is possessed after he attacks them.  Ghosts of the criminally insane try to prevent Wes and Grace from electrifying the “art” fixture, but our heroes succeed.  Velma flees Tucker, and all the spirits leave the mall.  Tucker gets electrocuted, but he recovers.

Louis Phillips and Kristen Martin are waiting at the World Chronicle when our heroes return from the mall.  Louis had lied when he denied going to the office previously to ask her out on a date.  Grace asks him out to dinner.  Tucker and Kristen go out to dinner.

Later, Kristen sits in Detective Garibaldi’s office again.  He holds a copy of the most recent issue of the World Chronicle.  The headline reads, “GHOUL, INTERRUPTED.”  Kristen agrees to cooperate if Garibaldi will protect Tucker.

Above:  Kristen Martin

Character Beats

Off-screen, Grace Hall has recently broken up with Dennis, who has moved to Canada.  We met Dennis in Hot from the Oven (the ninth episode produced and the seventeenth one broadcast), set in late September 2001.  Their relationship lasted much longer than three weeks.

Kristen Martin has resolved her crisis regarding what to believe.  She, despite witnessing the alien spacecraft take off and fly away at the end of Take Me Back and the ritual at the end of The Cursed Sombrero, has chosen to believe that Donald Stern is merely a harmless huckster.

Kristen Martin and Tucker Burns have been dating for more than a year.

Above:  Louis Phillips and Kristen Martin

Great Lines

Danielle, addressing Tucker Burns, Grace Hall, and Wes Freewald:  “Hi!  Okay, so I was at my friend Dawn’s house, and Dawn was, like, dating this guy who was going out with this girl named Brandi, who works at Fashism, in the mall.  Anyway, he told Dawn, and Dawn told me that Brandi was acting kind of strange and stuff.  Then, a couple of days ago, she went, like, totally nutso and jammed a pair of scissors in her manager’s eye.  And the really strange thing is that I almost applied for a job at Fashism, like, a couple of months ago.  It could have been me.”

Kristen Martin, to Tucker Burns:  “I rarely know what’s going on with you–late-night calls from jails, smashed cars.  I mean, it’s like I’m dating Jason Priestley.”

Wes Freewald, to Grace Hall:  “This is a mall, not the Starship Enterprise.”

Above:  Louis Phillips


Anthony is correct; the “art” in the fashion mall is hideous.

The “United We Stand” banner in the fashion mall confirms that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred in the universe of The Chronicle.  This is interesting, with regard to continuity, especially given the events of Man and Superman, set about that time.  (The real-world answer, of course, is that banner was present in the filming location in San Diego.)

Above:  Shady Oaks Sanitarium for the Criminally Insane


Hell Mall is the twenty-first episode produced and broadcast.

I have known a number of openly homosexual men and women over the years.  I have attended church with some, been classmates of others, and taught others.  Not one has been a stereotypical character.

What of Brandi’s fate?  It was not her fault that a homicidal ghost possessed her temporarily.

We last saw Kristen Martin in The Cursed Sombrero (the sixteenth episode produced and the thirteenth one aired), set in May 2001.

Hell Mall sets up the next episode, A Snitch in Time.

Hell Mall combines elements of comedy and horror well.  It also relates several previous episodes to the events of this episode effectively.




The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 18: The Stepford Cheerleaders (2001)   2 comments


All images in this post are screen captures.


The Stepford Cheerleaders

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired February 22, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-104


Chad Willett as Tucker Burns

Jon Polito as Donald Stern

Reno Wilson as Wes Freewald

Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

Sharon Sachs as Vera

Main Guest Cast

Christopher Glenn as Sperry

Nicholas Gomez as Lyle

Bryan Greenberg as Damon Furberg

David Purdham as Lionel Carson

Alicia Leigh Willis as Alexis Carson

Kathy Wagner as Jennifer

Behind the Camera

Writer = Henry A. Myers

Director = Perry Lang

Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Above: Too Old to Pass for Teenagers

Brief Summary

Something is odd at Robertstowne High School, Robertstowne, New York.  Recently, someone has bent parking meters, ripped off locker doors, and torn a metal bleacher in two.  Last week, in August 2000, someone also beat up a drunken, randy quarterback (Lyle) who was assaulting a cheerleader (Jennifer) and hung him by his shirt from the top of a football goal post.

Donald Stern sends Tucker Burns, Wes Freewald, and Grace Hall undercover as high school students for a few days.  Tucker is concerned that they are too old to pass for adolescents.  Grace, however, cites the example of the high school students in Beverly Hills 90210.  How old were they?  The publisher has two theories of the cause of the recent, unusual events in Robertstowne.  The culprit may be either a mutant swamp monster from New Jersey or an extraterrestrial acting out adolescent aggression.  The culprit, Stern insists, cannot be a pixie, for pixies have not been in the United States since 1982.

The undercover reporters split up and pursue leads.  Tucker makes contact with Damon Furberg, the editor of the campus newspaper.  Damon cares nothing about journalistic integrity; he wants to get the story, win awards, and get ahead.  Tucker offers Damon a joint credit on a story in the World Chronicle.  The high school newspaper editor agrees.  Wes Freewald meets a bullied geek, Sperry, and follows a chemistry teacher, Lionel Carson.  Grace Hall meets the injured Kyle, cheerleader Jennifer (who takes the same hormone supplement Mark McGuire did) and her best friend, head cheerleader Alexis Carson.

Something is suspicious about Mr. Carson; acid does not burn his hand.  He has a bionic limb.  He has had that limb for a year and a half, since an automotive accident.

Grace tries out for the cheerleader squad, but Alexis declares her moves too “Paula Abdul.”  The current moves are “Britney Spears.”  However, Grace does notice that Jennifer exhibits physical weakness.

One night, after Damon and Tucker break into an office and read personnel records pertaining to Lionel Carson, someone attacks Damon’s vehicle, rips the roof open, and attacks him.  The next day, Wes discovers evidence that the attacker had a prosthetic arm.  Our heroes immediately suspect Lionel Carson, formerly the Head Designer for Experimental Bionics at Dynomec.  They read that he resigned after his wife died of cancer.

Wes, Tucker, and Grace drive to the Carson residence.  They peak through a window and observe Lionel Carson remove one of his daughter’s artificial arms, to repair a damaged hand.  He also tells her she should control her temper and stop attacking people.  Alexis attacked Kyle and Damon.  Damon is still unconscious in the hospital.  Alexis lost both her arms in the automotive accident a year and a half prior; Lionel fitted her with artificial limbs.  Now she feels like a freak.  She would feel less like a freak if someone else (other than her father) were like her.  Wes’s cellular phone gives our heroes’ location away.  They escape, with some difficulty; Alexis briefly prevents Wes’s car from leaving by holding the front bumper.

Jennifer, the only other person who understands Alexis, wants to become a cyborg.  Jennifer despises her weak body.  That night, our heroes return to the Carson residence.  In the laboratory in the basement, Mr. Carson is preparing to transform Jennifer into a cyborg.  Alexis lifts Wes and Tucker with one arm each.  She finally releases them before they choke.  Then Alexis attacks Grace.  Lionel prevents Alexis from harming anyone else by using a remote device to disable her bionic arms.  Jennifer does not become a cyborg.

A few days later, Tucker mails the newest issue of the World Chronicle to Damon Furberg, wearing a neck brace.  Damon sees the joint byline.  Lyle, reading the story in another copy, turns to Lionel Carson and makes a request.  Lyle’s injury sidelined his plans for a football scholarship.  Would Mr. Carson give him two bionic arms?

Above:  Lyle, Hanging from the Goal Post

Character Beats

Tucker Burns was the editor of his high school newspaper.

Wes Freewald was overweight in high school.

Grace Hall was a cheerleader in high school ten years prior, before her first alien abduction.

Above:  Lionel and Alicia Carson

Great Lines

Wes Freewald, on Damon Furberg’s vehicle:  “Man!  It looks like the canned ham minus the ham.”

Tucker Burns:  “Great!  We have a six million dollar science teacher here.”

Grace Hall:  “It’s always been my experience that the deepest, darkest secrets come packaged like Mayberry.”


Above:  Wes, Tucker, and Damon’s Damaged Vehicle


Tucker Burns and Wes Freewald are roommates at 7657 Main Street, New York, New York.  (In real life, this is commercial property.)

Donald Stern and Vera are hilarious on the telephone as they pretend to be Tucker’s parents.

The registration of Damon Furberg’s vehicle expires in May 2001.

Above:  Jennifer


The Stepford Cheerleaders is the fifth episode produced and the eighteenth one broadcast.  The temporal setting is late August-early September 2000.  I recommend watching The Stepford Cheerleaders immediately after Baby Got Back, for reasons of internal chronology.  Baby Got Back is the third episode produced and the fourth one broadcast.

In I See Dead Fat People (the fourth episode produced and the fifteenth episode aired), Tucker learned that Wes Freewald had been an overweight teenager.  The temporal setting for I See Dead Fat People is July 2001, however.  Now the internal chronology does not work on this point.

For more commentary on screwy internal chronology and production order versus broadcast order or episodes, see Hot from the Oven.

Watching guest actors who were 23 or 24 years old at the time of episode filming play high school students is not a new experience.

At the time of filming, Chad Willett was 29, Reno Wilson was 32, and Rena Sofer was 33 years old.

David Purdham played the noble and patriotic Captain James at the tail end of the fourth season of Babylon 5.  Captain James was captain of the E.A.S. Agamemnon, succeeding John Sheridan in that post.  Captain James and the crew signed on with Sheridan’s rebellion against the evil Earth Alliance President William Morgan Clark, who had his predecessor assassinated then transformed the Earth Alliance from a republic into a xenophobic, totalitarian state modeled on 1984.  After President Clark committed suicide rather than accept arrest and trial, James helped Sheridan save the Eastern Seaboard of North America from destruction by the planetary defense system, which Clark had turned against the Earth.

The Stepford Cheerleaders is odd to watch in broadcast order.  It feels like an early episode because it is one.  The balance of the serious and the whimsical holds up well, though.