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The Chronicle: News from the Edge (2001-2002): Final Thoughts on the Series   Leave a comment

Above:  Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

A Screen Capture

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The entire series is available here, for free.

My recommended viewing order, hyperlinks to posts about individual episodes, and my notes on the internal chronology of the series are here.

The Chronicle:  News from the Edge (July 14, 2001-March 22, 2002) was one of those series that should have lasted longer than it did.  Its home was the Sci-Fi Channel, before that channel became Syfy.  The Chronicle, alas, did not garner sufficient ratings to get a second season.  The series, therefore, ended on a cliffhanger, as some other science fiction series I watched also did.  Who else remembers Earth 2 (1994-1995) and The Invasion (2005-2006)?  And let us never, ever speak of The Starlost (1973-1974), who probably plunged headlong into that “Class G solar star” because their would-be saviors were idiots.

The Chronicle had potential.  The actors delivered otherwise ridiculous lines well.  Stories were wonderfully unlikely yet, in the universe of the series, true.  The concept of the stories at a tabloid modeled on the Weekly World News being true provided fodder for a series that could have run for seasons.  The major characters fit well in that crazy world.  Jon Polito’s Donald Stern was properly authoritative and mysterious.  Curtis Armstong, as Sal the Pig-Boy, stole most of the scenes he was in.  Reno Wilson, as Wes Freewald, quoted Star Wars movies better than anyone else. Chad Willett, as Tucker Burns, fit into the bizarre universe of the World Chronicle very quickly.  And Rena Sofer was really cute.

At the end of the last episode, A Snitch in Time, our characters were at turning points.  Grace Hall had run off with boyfriend Louis Phillips, in the witness protection program of the twenty-fourth century, to 1945.  Tucker Burns had broken up with Kristen Martin.  Detective Hector Garibaldi had served a warrant on Donald Stern, who he suspected falsely for murders.  What would have happened at the beginning of the second season that never was?

I have a few ideas, all of them rooted in the only season produced.

  1. Donald Stern, the series established, is very well-connected.  All he needs to do to get himself and all others falsely accused out of legal troubles and cause Garibaldi to have many regrets is to place one telephone call.  That plot line would have resolved in the first episode of the second season.  Why not?  The U.S. Marine Corps owes him favors.  Stern taught Pope John Paul II how to ski.  Stern can also intercede with the Supreme Pontiff to get an audience for someone.  And who knows how many U.S. government black operations programs he Stern has been involved in over the decades, perhaps centuries? And he has alien devices and weapons in the basement.
  2. Grace Hall would not have returned.  She had found her soulmate, a time traveler from the twenty-fourth century.  Grace had long feared that no man would accept her after hearing her stories of alien abductions, so she kept ending relationships after three weeks, at most, for years.  Dennis stuck with Grace for the better part of a year before he moved to Canada off-screen.  Grace Hall and Louis Phillips were supposed to be in relationship.
  3. Tucker Burns may have remained apart from Kristen Martin.  His previous girlfriend, Shawna Fuchs, may never have accepted The Chronicle as an accurate publication, but, at worst, she would have blithely tolerated it.  Kristen, however, briefly considered accepting the truth of what she had witnessed before choosing to reject that truth.  That decision helped to set the stage for her cooperation with Detective Garibaldi.  So did her love for Tucker, though.  Tucker should have recognized that, to be fair to Kristen.

I prefer to write about series I like.  Nevertheless, I do not pretend that any series is perfect.  A review of my episode posts reveals some gently critical comments.  I would have preferred to skip some of the episodes produced and seen episodes about stories either mentioned in passing or that constituted subplots.  For example, I wish there had been an episode about the woman who grew horns after contracting Mad Cow Disease.  And an episode devoted to that man who channeled living actors with dead television careers would have a hoot.

C’est la vie.

I will return to The Chronicle one day.  It is a series worthy of repeated viewings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 22: A Snitch in Time (2002)   3 comments

Above:  Swedish Gangsters from the Future, Surrounded by Federal Agents from the Future

All images in this post are screen captures.

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A Snitch in Time

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired March 22, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-121

Starring

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

Len Cordova as Detective Hector Garibaldi

Stephen Dunham as Louis Phillips

Elaine Hendrix as Kristen Martin

Von Schauer as Head Swede

Behind the Camera

Writer = Hans Beimler

Director = Krishna Rao

Above:  Grace Hall and Louis Phillips in 1945

Brief Summary

It is late July 2002.  Grace Hall has been dating Louis Phillips (Hell Mall) for several weeks.  Meanwhile, since May, a few people have been combusting, seemingly spontaneously.  Grace has written a story about one of these incidents, and found that story boring.  One day, in the offices of the World Chronicle, Louis abruptly breaks up with Grace.  Wes Freewald, Tucker Burns, and Vera try to comfort her.

Tucker Burns and Kristen Martin are growing closer to each other.  She gives him a key to her apartment.  Later in the episode, he tells her, “I love you,” for the first time.”  He does not yet know that she is recording conversations for Detective Dense, er, Garibaldi.  The detective really wants to nail Donald Stern (for murders) legally and to take down Grace Hall and Wes Freewald (as accessories to murders) along the way.  Garibaldi promises to work to make the law go lightly in Tucker’s case.  Kristen presses Garibaldi to persuade the District Attorney to grant Tucker immunity, but the detective will not go that far.  Kristen cooperates out of love for Tucker and out of fear for herself; Garibaldi threatens her with arrest, too.

Louis is being mysterious.  He quit his job at the architectural firm a week ago.  His boss was surprised; Louis’s designs were nearly sculptural.  Grace follows Louis to the offices of a dentist, Dr. Sheila Shelton.  After Louis departs, Grace notices that Dr. Sheldon’s body has combusted.  Grace concludes that Louis is a serial killer.  Dr. Sheldon had been the dentist for the other people who combusted.

Sal the Pig-Boy explains to Wes, Tucker, and Grace how these combustions could have occurred:  agitation of water molecules.  To demonstrate, he uses a Brownian motion accelerator to blow up a watermelon remotely.

Louis visits Grace at the World Chronicle.  He tells her that the last month has been a deliriously happy time for him, and that he has become miserable.  He also says he cannot explain why he must leave.  That night, Grace follows Louis to a mausoleum.  She is so noisy that he detects her presence easily.  Men with guns that cause targets to melt appear in the mausoleum.  Louis and Grace get away, but Louis loses a crypt key.  One of these men, listed as “Head Swede,” has the key.  The man have tracked Louis via a molar that is really temporal beacon.  Louis removes this tooth at Grace’s apartment.  She takes it to the archives at the World Chronicle.  Two hit men teleport into the archives and start shooting melty guns.  Then Donald Stern shoots them with a really big gun.

It is time for the exposition dump, so Louis sits down with Wes, Donald, Tucker, and Grace.  After the Great Polar Meltdown of 2060 left Scandinavia underwater, Swedish refugees scattered around the world.  Many came to North America.  They sold boxy cars, furniture one had to assemble, et cetera.  Some became active in organized crime and took over all the syndicates.  Louis is part of the federal witness protection from 2314.  After he saw the head of the Swedish mafia melt a federal judge “in cold blood,” Louis testified against the don in court and broke the back of the Swedish mafia.  In the future, the only people with access to time travel technology seem to be federal authorities and vengeful Swedish gangsters.  Louis has been living under the cover of an architect from Minnesota, but hit men have been pursuing him. All those who combusted (not spontaneously) were support personnel to the witness protection program.  Dr. Sheldon was also Louis’s main link to the future.  When he needed to send a message to federal authorities in the twenty-fourth century, he took that message to her.  Now the only way left for him to send a message to the future is to leave in a particular crypt at the mausoluem, one of the few buildings left intact after the Walt Disney corporation turned New York City into the world’s largest theme park in 2090.  But Louis needs the crypt key back.  Louis also sought out the World Chronicle, to look out for tips of anyone pursuing him.

Wes, Grace, and Tucker cooperate to get the crypt key back.  Where do Swedish gangsters from 2314 hide out in 2002?  At an Ikea store, of course! Wes and Tucker pretend to be a homosexual couple bickering about colors.  They also destroy a pillow.  When the Head Swede is covered with feathers, Wes gets the crypt key back.

At the crypt, Louis places his message inside the specified crypt.  Immediately, Swedish gangsters, led by the Head Swede, teleport in.  Immediately after that, federal agents from 2314 teleport in around the Swedish gangsters.  The federal agents shoot the gangsters, who disappear.

Tucker, who had overhead part of a conversation between Kristen and Garibaldi at her apartment door, returns to her apartment.  He does not enter.  No, he breaks up with her and returns the key she had given him.

Shortly thereafter, the time has come for Louis to depart.  The witness protection program relocates him.  Grace, initially reluctant to go accept his invitation to go with him, does accept.  First, however, she says her goodbyes at the World Chronicle.

Donald Stern comforts the staff members, who wonder what happened to Grace.  Grace can take care of herself, the tells them.  Once, in the Amazon rain forest, cannibalistic pygmies abducted her and held her hostage for six months.  Now all those pygmies are vegetarians.

Then Stern asks who has leads for stories for the next weekly issue.  Tucker has a lead about a man with magnetic skin.  Wes has head that the world’s tallest man is missing.  Then Detective Stupid, er, Garibaldi, and uniformed police officers enter the conference room.  Garibaldi serves a warrant.  Grace, it seems, got away just in time.

She and Louis went to 1945, in time to witness the famous photographed kiss on VJ-Day.

Above:  Donald Stern

Character Beats

Kristen Martin likes fruity wines.  Grace Hall does not.

Grace Hall usually dumps a boyfriend before he can dump her.

The Head Swede is homophobic, using the slur “fairies.”  Does one expect a violent criminal to be socially progressive?

Above:  Detective Garibaldi’s Raid

Great Lines

Headline:  “NEW HERBAL INTERGALACTIC LAXATIVE BANNED IN FRANCE.”

Vera:  “Men!  They’re all dogs.  Wes Freewald:  “Why are you always chasing ’em?”  Vera:  “Dogs make good pets, once they’re housebroken.”

Above:  Kristen Martin

In-Universe

All of the federal agents from 2314 we see are beautiful women who wear berets and sunglasses.

Did the federal agents from 2314 kill the gangsters or return them to the future?

Wes jokingkly tells Tucker that the man with an exposed brain is engaged to marry a woman with an exposed liver.  In the universe of the World Chronicle, that not being a joke is plausible.

Above:  Louis Phillips

Comments

A Snitch in Time is the twenty-second episode produced and broadcast.  It is also the last episode of The Chronicle:  News from the Edge.  Given that the Sci-Fi Channel cancelled the series when it did, The Chronicle ends on a cliffhanger.

Von Schauer, usually a stage actor, had a few other on-film credits.  Perhaps the most famous of these is Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978), in which he had such memorable lines as, “Incredible!  A kamikaze tomato!” and “God!  Who would have thought?  All I wanted was a bigger, healthier tomato.” Ah, the classics!  “Rosebud.”  “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.”  “How fast was I going, officer?” “What we have here is a failure to communicate.’  “Incredible!  A kamikaze tomato!”

A Snitch in Time artfully combines elements of humor and science fiction.

I wish that the Sci-Fi Channel had renewed The Chronicle for a second season.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

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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.

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Hell Mall

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired March 15, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-120

Starring

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

In-Universe

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

Comments

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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

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