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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.




The Chronicle: News From the Edge–Episode 1: Pilot (2001)   5 comments

Above:  Angry Siamese Triplets

All images in this post are screen captures.


The Chronicle:  News from the Edge

Series Creator = Silvio Horta

Executive Producers = Robert Greenblatt, David Janollari, Gina Matthews, and Silvio Horta

Composers = Tom Harriman and Donny Markowitz


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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Above:  Wes Freewald Photographs the Brooklyn Bloodsucker

This Episode

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired July 14, 2001

Production Number = 5009-01-179

Main Guest Actress

Lori Rom as Shawna Fuchs

Behind the Camera

Writer = Silvio Horta

Director = Marc Buckland

Above:  Chad Willett as Tucker Burns

Brief Summary

A creature known as the Brooklyn Bloodsucker comes out only after dark.  It claims a victim, Chuck, a reporter for the World Chronicle, a tabloid, before the opening credits.

Tucker Burns, who graduated from the Columbia University School of Journalism five months prior, applies for and gets the job to replace the departed Chuck almost immediately.  This is the only job he can get in his field.  He as received 47 rejection notices.  There is a good reason for this.  The previous year, Tucker temporarily became a hero and won a Student Pulitzer Prize for a story about a professor who allegedly harassed female students sexually.  The university, bowing to protests, fired the professor.  The allegations, however, were false; the students making the allegations wanted to ruin the professor.  Tucker lost the Student Pulitzer Prize and sabotaged his career.

Tucker’s girlfriend, Shawna Fuchs, expresses concern that he is making a terrible mistake.  His new job ends their relationship.

Tucker learns quickly that the stories in the World Chronicle are true.  He also learns that, in the archives in the basement, Sal the Pig-Boy conducts research and uses the “Rosetta Stone,” an alien computer, to translate extraterrestrial languages.  Furthermore, Tucker works with photographer Wes Freewald on the story of the Brooklyn Bloodsucker, who kills a cat and a boy off-screen, but is actually a galactic spiritual leader.  The creature’s “people,” thinking humans have kidnapped him, nearly destroy Manhattan, Tucker, Wes, and reporter Grace Hall take the alien to Central Park in time for the galactic spiritual leader to catch a ride home instead.

As the episode ends, Wes and Tucker head out to an Arby’s, to report on an angry ghost.  This scene sets up the beginning of the next episode, What Gobbles Beneath.

Above:  Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

Character Beats

Grace Hall, a reporter for the World Chronicle, objects when anyone questions her accounts of at least six alien abductions.

Sal the Pig-Boy justifies his inappropriate behavior with, “What do you expect?  I’m a pig!”

Donald Stern, publisher and editor of the World Chronicle, hires only reporters with bad reputations.  This is the only way he prevents the loss of journalists to other publications.  He also considers his work a high calling.

Donald Stern is a kind, patient, and understanding employer.

Sal the Pig-Boy, who is short, resents the “height-centered establishment.”

Great Lines

Vera:  “I’m sorry.  The alien autopsy contest has ended.”

Vera:  “Reincarnation of Mother Teresa, Line One.”

Above:  Curtis Armstrong as Sal the Pig-Boy


Somewhere in New Jersey, a girlie poster of Madonna Ciccone in a boy’s bedroom has been bleeding since Britney Spears entered the top-ten charts.

The Polka Massacre of 1978 happened.

Space aliens invented the internet.

Donald Stern prefers that Ruby the psychic predict only events that will happen after the next issue goes to newsstands.  Sal, Tucker, Wes, and Grace prevent Ruby’s prediction of alien devastation of Manhattan from coming true, so Ruby’s powers of prediction are not infallible.

The elevator moves both horizontally and vertically.

Above:  Jon Polito as Donald Stern


The cast is excellent.  For example, the way Jon Polito, portraying Donald Stern, refers nonchalantly to Britney Spears as a sign of the end times is hilarious.

The Chronicle:  News from the Edge plays like a mish-mash of Kolchak:  The Night Stalker, The X Files, and Northern Exposure.  The series’s mixed tone plays better in some episodes than in others.  I know, for I watched all 22 episodes before writing one note.  I write this post about the pilot episode with all episodes in mind.  In this episode, I notice the abrupt tonal shift with regard to the Brooklyn Bloodsucker, who, despite being a stranded galactic spiritual leader, has still killed at least two humans and one cat.  I do not accept the episode’s explanation that the Bloodsucker is mainly misunderstood.

The cover stories at the beginning of the episode are funny.  “THERE’S A DEMON IN MY TOILET AND HE WON’T LET ME FLUSH!” is hilarious.

Perhaps I am overthinking the reference to 47 rejection letters, but I cannot help but think about the many instances of that number in Star Trek:  The Next Generation (1987-1994).