Archive for the ‘Naren Shankar’ Tag

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

Above:  ROBOT CHEERLEADER TERRORIZES!

All images in this post are screen captures.

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The Stepford Cheerleaders

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired February 22, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-104

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

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.”

Headline:  “SNIPER HIRED TO THWART CRAZED POST OFFICE TERRORISTS.”

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

In-Universe

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

Comments

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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 17: Hot from the Oven (2001)   4 comments

Above:  HOT FROM THE EVIL OVEN!

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Hot from the Oven

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired February 15, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-108

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Shawn Christian as Dennis

Maurice Godin as Dumont

Jeff Kelly as Kenny

Bob Papenbrook as Cole Nelson

Behind the Camera

Writer = Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Director = Jay Tobias

Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Above:  The Evil Oven

Brief Summary

In New York City, on a Sunday in late September 2001, Monsieur Dumont, a graduate of the Cordon Bleu, is making final preparations before opening his very expensive restaurant.  Mr. Fussy’s helper in getting everything ready is Kenny, his long-suffering nephew.  Dumont calls in Cole Nelson, an oven repairman, to get the newly-acquired antique oven working.  Kenny witnesses a light of unknown origin emanate from the oven immediately before the repairman disappears into the oven.  Kenny calls the police, much to his uncle’s chagrin.

Donald Stern pages Tucker Burns, Wes Freewald, and Grace Hall shortly later.  Grace is in the middle of breaking up with her newest boyfriend, Dennis.  He is handsome, police, and kind.  Dennis is also a rocket scientist.  He is confused about why Grace is breaking up with him.  Grace’s problem has nothing to do with Dennis or any other boyfriend.  As those who know her well understand, she has not had a boyfriend for longer than three weeks since high school because she fears rejection once a man learns of her alien abductions.  Grace fears that he will break up with her, so she breaks up with him.

The police are still on the scene when Tucker, Wes, and Grace arrive.  Given the relatively low production number of the episode, Detective Hector Garibaldi is not one of the officers.  (His first episode was Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns, the twelfth episode produced and the eighth one broadcast.)  The police on the scene are just as clueless and useless as Garibaldi, though; they reject Kenny’s eyewitness testimony and think that Cole Nelson simply walked away.  Kenny points out, however, that Nelson’s tools are still in the kitchen.  Why would a repairman abandon his tools?

Susan Nelson, wife of Cole Nelson, fills in her husband’s background.  Cole used to be a truck driver.  One night years ago, he drove drunk and killed someone.  Cole dried out in prison for a year.  He also learned how to become a repairman.  Cole, released, has married Susan and remained sober.

Donald Stern knows which oven this is, and he has a vendetta against it.  The appliance is rare and occult.  It has consumed gourmands, including one of his friends.  The oven is also a portal to another realm.  One previous victim, Orlando Franchetti, a sous-chef, returned from the oven a few eggs short of a dozen.  The publisher takes great interest in this story.  He brings Ruby Rydell, the staff psychic, along to the kitchen, to detect the presence anyone who has passed through the portal and remains.  She perceives the presence of Cole Nelson.  The oven doors fling open, and a slime-covered shoe emerges.

In the archives, Donald Stern identifies the slime as P.E.S.–Pan-dimensional Emotional Secretion, or the emotionally-sensitive mucus membrane that separates dimensions.  Wes likens it to “a nose blow from another plane existence,” but Grace prefers to compare it to a “supernatural mood ring.”  Donald Stern unveils a vial of super holy water.  Every pope since the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy has blessed this holy water, so this papal holy water makes ordinary holy water “look like Fruitopia.”  The publisher intends to fire the super holy water, “the ecclesiastical equivalent of Draino,” into the oven, thereby causing the appliance to release anyone there “like a backed-up sewer pipe.”

The attempt to use the super holy water on the oven fails, and the oven claims Wes, Tucker and Grace instead.  There are human skeletons on the other side of the portal.  The only way one can escape is to overcome one’s greatest fear.  Wes overcomes his fear of clowns.  Grace overcomes her fear of rejection.  Tucker overcomes his fear of not being able to save everyone from danger.  Cole Nelson, sadly, never overcomes his greatest fear.  Dumont hires two Italian-American workmen to remove the oven.  Donald Stern buys Tucker, Grace, and Wes time by dissuading the workmen from removing the oven prematurely.  He, speaking Italian, promises to pay their expenses and buy airline tickets for them and their entire families to the Vatican, to meet the Pope.

Wes, Tucker, and Grace, covered in slime, emerge from the oven.  Then Donald Stern has the appliance disconnected and transferred to the archives at the World Chronicle.

Later, at the offices, after everybody has cleaned up, Dennis brings flowers for Grace.  He also accepts the existence of extraterrestrials.  This relationship will last longer than three weeks.

Above:  The Balloongram Clown

Character Beats

Wes Freewald’s greatest fear (until late in this episode) is of clowns.  This fear has its origin in the drunk clown at his sixth birthday party.

Donald Stern’s background becomes more mysterious.  He refers in the present tense to an ally in the Vatican.  Stern and this ally fought in a war not recorded in history books.  The result of this war affected “the Papal Encyclical of ’73.”  Given that Pope Paul VI did not issue an encyclical in 1973, this seems to be a reference to Quartus Supra (1873), from the time of Pius IX.  How old is the publisher of the World Chronicle?  And how old is his ally?

Wes Tucker quotes Star Wars Episode IV:  A New Hope (1977) again.

Donald Stern is fluent in Italian.

Above:  Donald Stern

Great Lines

Headline:  “LOCH NESS MONSTER EATS HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT!”

Headline:  “MUMMY TO FILE CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT ON SEATTLE ROCK BAND FOR INFRINGEMENT.”

Wes Freewald, speaking of a clown delivering a birthday balloongram to the office:  “Tuck, tell this John Wayne Gacy Krishna to get out of my face now!”

Donald Stern:  “What?  Do I look like Betty Crocker to you?”

Donald Stern, threatening Monsieur Dumont with coverage that will attract occultists from all over the world:  “They will stake this place out like a weenie roast at Stonehenge.”

Above:  Grace and Dennis

In-Universe

In the broadcast order of episodes this is the last time we see Ruby Rydell.

We will never see Dennis again.  (See comments for a note about the production order versus the broadcast order.)

Donald Stern taught John Paul II how to ski.

Donald Stern has enough pull with John Paul II to arrange for someone to meet the Supreme Pontiff.

Above:  On the Other Side of the Portal

Comments

Hot from the Oven is the ninth produced and seventeenth broadcast episode.

The events of Hot from the Oven occur in late September 2001, shortly after those of Man and Superman, the fifteenth produced and sixteenth broadcast episode.

Five episodes remain after this one.  The next one is The Stepford Cheerleaders, the fifth episode produced and the eighteenth one broadcast.  The last four episodes broadcast are the last four episode produced.  I am sufficiently observant and close to the end of The Chronicle to write authoritatively about chronological hiccups and discrepancies when some episodes go to broadcast wildly out of production order.  In Touched By an Alien, the fourteenth episode produced and the eleventh one broadcast, Tucker Burns says that the last time Donald Stern became so involved in a story, he (Tucker) spent the night in a man-eating oven.  That description fits this episode.  Noticing such issues is what I get for being observant and taking notes in longhand.  My hypothesis is that, early in production, not everybody working behind the cameras agreed on whether The Chronicle, which debuted in July 2001, was supposed to start (in-universe) in 2000 or 2001.  Eventually, a timeline of June 2000-July 2002 became the internal reality of the series, with a few hiccups and discrepancies.

To my case I add this wrinkle:  In Hot from the Oven, Wes Freewald refers to the previous year’s office Christmas party, at which somebody spiked the punch with truth serum.  Tucker was not there.  Ockham’s Razor, applied to production numbers and circumstantial evidence, points to inconsistency regarding the internal timeline of the series early in production.

Hot from the Oven is an enjoyable episode with some wonderful lines.  It adds to the mystique of the internal universe of the series.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 10: Take Me Back (2001)   5 comments

Above:  The Departing Alien Spacecraft

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Take Me Back

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired September 15, 2001

Production Number = 5009-01-112

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Elaine Hendrix as Kristen Martin

Len Cordova as Detective Hector Garibaldi

Robert Crow as Detective Chiklis

Steven Flynn as Max

Mike McCafferty as Averill

Melissa Reneé Martin as Sylvia McKenzie

Erika Napoletano as Officer Quinn

Charley Rossman as Officer Martin

Behind the Camera

Writer = Naren Shankar

Director = Krishna Rao

Officer Quinn and Tucker Burns, Dressed as an Extraterrestrial

Brief Summary

The episode starts at a later point in the narrative, contains flash backs, jumps back and forth, then catches up with itself before proceeding to the end of the narrative.  In this summary, I tell a linear story.

On the first day….

Sylvia McKenzie, en route to alien abductee support group meeting at a community center, wanders into a store.  She sees a mask that freaks her out.  She begins screaming.  The customers flee.  The story manager uses cable ties to restrain her then calls a mental hospital.  Grace Hall and Wes Freewald from the World Chronicle get to the store first.  Grace, abducted six times, bonds with Sylvia, who invites her to the group therapy session.  Then Tucker Burns walks into the store.  Sylvia hallucinates that he is an alien, so she freaks out again.  Grace comforts Sylvia.  The two women go to the group therapy session.

The therapists are Max and Averill.  Grace is initially skeptical of them.  She says she has a “pretty good psychobabble detector.”  Grace is especially skeptical, initially, of Max’s suggestion that Tucker help Sylvia reenact her first alien abduction.  Max suggests that helping Sylvia confront her fears and change the outcome will prove helpful.

Tucker and Kristen are in her kitchen.  He realizes that they are a couple when he knows the organization of Kristen’s kitchen.  The date ends immediately after Grace interrupts it.  In the archives of the World Chronicle, Sal the Pig-Boy hands Tucker the preserved skin of an extraterrestrial.  In a warehouse, Tucker, dressed as an alien, helps Sylvia reenact the abduction.  The therapy works.  Later that day, she disappears, though.

On the second day….

Off-camera, police officers find Sylvia’s corpse, minus the brain and the spinal column.

At the World Chronicle, Donald Stern assigns Tucker a story about aliens performing surgery in a warehouse.  Tucker and Grace are concerned that, if the publisher were to learn of the alien abductees support group, he would publish a story about it, thereby disrupting the group.  The reporters also know that the story is a non-story.  Tucker ignores the assignment.

Max and Averill tell Grace that Sylvia has left town.  That night, Grace, alone in her bedroom, hallucinates that a space alien is there, too.

On the third day….

At the World Chronicle, Grace hallucinates that Tucker is an alien.  She tells him that she remembers her abductions as if they happened to another person.  Donald asks how the reporting on the assigned story is going.  Wes stonewalls the publisher better than Tucker does.

Max encourages Grace to engage in abduction reenactment therapy, too.

That night, in the same warehouse, Tucker, dressed as an alien again, helps Grace reenact her first abduction.  N.Y.P.D. Officers Quinn and Martin (Get it?  Quinn Martin!) interrupt the production.  (That was a good choice of words, was it not?)  Grace runs away.  Officer Quinn unmasks Tucker, who says, “I can explain this.”

On the morning of the fourth day….

Grace runs off to see Max and Averill.  She tells Max that she remembered more than she had.  Max and Averill are extraterrestrials following up on test subjects.  Averill, on Max’s orders, sedates Grace.  Then he starts chittering.  Max and Averill have also been triggering hallucinations.

At the police station, Tucker is in a room with a one-sided mirror.  The police are holding the reporter for questioning.  Detectives Garibaldi (a recurring character) and Chiklis suspect Tucker of having assaulted Grace and murdered Sylvia.  Kristen arrives at the police station.  Tucker tells her that Grace may be the next murder victim.  He asks Kristen to find Grace, to save her life.

Donald Stern learns about what Tucker has been doing.  He is not terribly upset about the lying, though.  The publisher is also an attorney.  He takes Tucker out of the police station as Kristen goes off to find grace.

The real story is more interesting than the one Donald thought he had.  In the archives of the World Chronicle, Sal detects an alien signal emanating from the community center.  Wes, Tucker, and Donald go to the community center.  Donald uses a really big gun to kill Averill before he can attack Tucker and Wes.  Our three heroes rescue Grace before Max can remove her brain and spinal column.  Max escapes through the ceiling.  Sal calls; the alien signal is a launch countdown.

Tucker, Wes, and Donald escort Grace out of the community center just as Kristen arrives in a taxi cab.  All of them witness a spacecraft launch into the sky and fly away.  Detectives Useless (otherwise known as Garibaldi and Chiklis) suspect Wes, Tucker, and Donald of having harmed Grace.  She tells them that Max and Averill killed Sylvia and tried to kill her, too.  Grace also tells the detectives that Wes, Tucker, and Donald saved her life.  Garibaldi wants to take statements from everybody, but Donald, as an attorney, prevents that.

Later….

In the offices of the World Chronicle, the latest issue reveals that Donald is making the most of the real story.  He is also focusing much of the attention on his heroics.  This will continue into the next issue.

Kristen visits Tucker at work.  She is feeling insecure in her worldview, given what she saw recently.  However, she feels secure dating him.  Grace tells Tucker that Kristen is a keeper.

Grace looks at Donald and, momentarily, sees an extraterrestrial.  It is just a hallucination, probably, she tells herself.

Above:  Sylvia McKenzie

Character Beats

Tucker, Wes, and Grace take care of each other.

Donald Stern is always eager to rescue an employee and to print a really good cover story.

Donald Stern is a renaissance man.  He is a journalist, a publisher, an attorney, an exorcist, and an expert in retrofitting space stations.

Above:  Averill and Max

Great Line

Wes:  “I’m not going to let some Alpha Centaurian Hannibal Lector get busy with our girl.”

Above:  Donald Stern, Wes Freewald, Grace Hall, Tucker Burns, and Kristen Martin

In-Universe

This episode follows Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns narratively.  Let Sleeping Dogs Fry, the episode aired immediately prior to Bring Me Back, properly belongs to a time previous to Bring Me the had of Tucker Burns.

Donald Stern’s middle initial is “Q.”

Donald Stern being a space alien in disguise is not the wildest accusation one could make.  After all, he has not aged visibly in at least two decades.

Above:  Kristen Martin

Comments

Take Me Back is one of the better written serious episodes of The Chronicle.  Naren Shankar deserves much praise for his script.

Finally, Kristen saw something bizarre she could not immediately dismiss as hooey.

Above:  Part of the Front Page of the World Chronicle at the End of the Episode

A Final Note

The Chronicle:  News from the Edge is difficult to find on physical media.  A fan-made DVD set is available, but, to the best of my knowledge, NBC/Universal has not issued the series on physical media officially.  The only website I know of that offers streaming of The Chronicle is archive.org.  The episodes on that website are versions a fan recorded from Canadian television.  I am thankful that the series is available for viewing at archive.org.

I notice, however, that the video quality is consistent with VHS–not as clear as one gets from most physical media and from paid streaming services.  This irritates me only whenever I try to read certain details from the series.  What, for example, is the date on the front page above?  I have a guess, but the image is not clear.

Even if I did know for sure, the date might not prove helpful in ironing out the proper viewing order of episodes.  My attention to details reveals that dates on front pages of the World Chronicle can be unreliable for that purpose.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 9: Let Sleeping Dogs Fry (2001)   4 comments

Above:  The Ghostly Face of Luther Stubbs

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Let Sleeping Dogs Fry

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired September 8, 2001

Production Number = 5009-01-101

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Cliff De Young as Sheriff Baxter

Clayton Blocker as Brett Masters

LeAnna Campbell as Emmy Masters

Jennifer Morrison as Gwen Williams

Monica Louwerens as Jane Johnson

Sean McEwen as Robby Johnson

Geoff Stults as Luther Stubbs

Behind the Camera

Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Writer = Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Director = Bruce Seth Green

Above:  Gwen Williams

Brief Summary

Three rich men in North Hampton, New York, have died via appliances during the previous six weeks.  A food processor electrocuted Alex Harrison.  An electric toothbrush asphyxiated James Williams.  And a blade from an air conditioning unit impaled Robby Johnson.  At the offices of the World Chronicle, Donald Stern as assigned Tucker Burns, Grace Hall, and Wes Freewald to the story.

In North Hampton, Grace, Wes, and Tucker check into a motel and proceed to investigate the story.  Sheriff Baxter seems friendly, but he is not helpful; he keeps declaring these deaths accidental.  Tucker briefly reunites with Brett Masters, a former classmate.  Then Brett dies via his Casio electronic organizer while speaking to Tucker on the telephone.  Sheriff Baxter expels our heroes from the scene of the death, but not before Wes photographs the screen of Brett’s laptop computer.  When Wes prints out the image, he sees a human face on the screen.

Wes and Tucker go to a bar, to gain information.  Wes learns the identity of the man on the screen:  Luther Stubbs, who disappeared recently.  Tucker goes home with merry widow Gwen Williams, whose husband died via electronic toothbrush.  She is glad to be a widow; she was planning to become a divorcée anyway.  Gwen seduces Tucker.  Electronic items in her house go haywire, but she refuses to leave.  Tucker, who has seen Luther’s face in Gwen’s television screen, leaves.  He takes some crucial evidence with him.

All the men who died via appliances belonged to the North Hampton Gun Club.  He compares notes with Wes outside the motel room.  Inside the motel room, electricity is going haywire; Grace’s hair dryer gives her an electric shock.  Luther was a very popular pool boy who tried to blend in with the rich.  None of the rich men accepted him.  Their wives, however, took him as a lover.  They did not care about him; they used him.

On the light-hearted side, Grace initially refuses to hand over her hair dryer as Tucker, afraid of electricity, unplugs and puts away as much as possible that comes with a plug.  The next day, Grace is self-conscious about her hair.  Then she gets her hair dryer and her preferred hair style back.

Sheriff Baxter and the members of the North Hampton Gun Club were responsible for the murder of Luther Stubbs.  Baxter, who has incriminating photographs of Luther with Gun Club members’ wives, has been extorting money from the remaining members of the Gun Club.  He has used these funds to finance his new swimming pool, the one by which he hosts a party one night.  At that party, a hose arises from the pool and drags him down into it.  Then a string of lights drops into the pool, electrocuting the sheriff.

Wes, Grace, and Tucker confront Gwen, whose cover story crumbles when the ghost of Luther Stubbs speaks to her from her television screen.  He shows Gwen, Wes, Grace, and Tucker his murder, as he saw it.  The Luther tries to kill them, but they get away to the scene of Luther’s murder.  There, Gwen apologizes to him, and he crosses over.

Above:  Emmy and Brett Masters

Character Beats

Class conflict is a theme in this episode.  Tucker is so poor he has difficulty scrounging up enough quarters to use a laundromat.  Luther Stubbs resents the rich, even in death.  Most of the wealthy residents of North Hampton look down upon the less fortunate.  And Grace Hall, an heiress, resents her parents, her upbringing, and materialism.

Tucker Burns enjoys reruns of Barnaby Jones (1973-1980).

Grace’s father invented Squeezy Cheese, a popular processed food product.  She has never consumed the product, however.  She has “issues with parental authority.”

Tucker lived off crackers and Squeezy Cheese during his undergraduate days.

Above:  Jane Johnson

Great Lines

Donald Stern (to Tucker Burns):  “That dental tool had a mean streak a mile wide.”

Wes (to Tucker Burns and Grace Hall), referring to the German automobiles in North Hampton:  “The last time I saw this much German hardware, I was watching the History Channel.”

Grace (to Tucker):  “You’re freaking out.  You’re like Dan Rather on election night.”

Grace (to Tucker):  “A hair dryer is not a material possession.  It’s a way of life.”

Tucker (to Grace):  “You know, Grace, processed cheese isn’t just a snack.  It’s a way of life.”

In-Universe

In Sonora, Mexico, a volcanic eruption kills a World Chronicle correspondent and liberates a demon.  Donald Stern leaves to cover the story and assist in an exorcism.  (His exorcism-related skills also feature in Baby Got Back (the next produced episode yet the fourth one aired).

The date on the front cover of the World Chronicle at the end of the episode is March 19, 2001.

Above:  Tucker Burns and Grace Hall

Comments

This, the second produced episode, flows best, in terms of narrative, some time prior to the previous aired episode, Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns.  Tucker is still Wes Freewald’s rooomate and has not become Kristen Martin’s boyfriend yet.

This episode is enjoyable and worthy of watching again.

Rena Sofer has wonderful comic timing.

Reno Wilson could read the telephone book and make it funny.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 8: Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns (2001)   7 comments

Above:  The Headless Biker

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired August 25, 2001

Production Number = 5009-01-111

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Paul Lane as the Headless Biker

Mark A. Shepherd as Nitro

Elaine Hendrix as Kristen Martin

Casey Biggs as Dick Blanston

Len Cordova as Detective Hector Garibaldi

Behind the Camera

Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Writer = Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Director = Sanford Bookstaver

Above:  Tucker Burns and Kristen Martin

Brief Summary

At midnight each day, for a few days, a headless motorcyclist wearing a jack-o-lantern helmet beheads a person with an annoying job that makes the lives of ordinary people miserable.  The first three victims are, in order, an employee of the state Department of Motor Vehicles, a meter maid, and a tax auditor.  The episode begins with the execution of the meter maid.

Tucker encounters Kristen Martin again as both of them join the gaggle of journalists at the scene of the meter maid’s beheading.  The lead detective in the case is Hector Garibaldi, who misses many vital clues and becomes a recurring character.  At the crime scene, Kristen asks Tucker if he thinks alien head hunters are responsible.  He jokes, “Nah!  LBJ kicked all the alien head hunters off the planet once they got Jayne Mansfield.  Bad scene.”  Kristen replies, “Cute.”   They agree to share leads.  Sharing leads leads to dating during the episode as Tucker focuses on romancing Kristen, thereby allowing the investigation to fall to Wes and Grace.

Grace had been working on a story about a scientist who claimed to be cloning the Rat Pack, minus Joey Bishop.  Allegedly, the cloned Rat Pack would be ready to start performing in Las Vegas by the end of the year.

In the archives, Wes and Grace uncover a plethora of legends about headless horsemen, bikers, et cetera, from all around the world.  Wes explains that some of these headless spirits merely wreak the same kind of havoc they did in life.  He continues, “Many people think this legend explains the Reagan era.”

Wes and Grace uncover a lead about a Hell’s Angel (Clarence, known as “Hellboy”) accidentally decapitated a few years prior.  They interview Clarence’s brother, Nitro, who sells motorcycles.  Nitro tells Wes and Grace that Clarence, a veteran of the U.S. invasion of Panama, got drummed out of the Army for reasons related to conduct, then became a bounty hunter.  Nitro also tells our heroes from the World Chronicle that Clarence enjoyed frightening children by wearing the jack-o-lantern helmet.  Nitro affectionately describes his late brother (whose skull he later admits to having kept) as “a whore-monger, a gambler, and a drunk.”

Shortly thereafter, Wes and Grace attempt to save the life of the third victim, a tax auditor.  They succeed, however, in locating the Headless Biker’s lair.  Then the call the police.  Detective Garibaldi proves to be useless.

Wes and Grace uncover a vital clue:  all the victims have sequential driver’s license numbers.  They would use the Rosetta Stone to hack into the DMV’s computer, to identify the next possible victim.  Why not?  The Rosetta Stone does interpret extraterrestrial languages.  Yet, as Wes explains, “nobody screws with the DMV.”  Fortunately, Vera the sex-starved receptionist has a former boyfriend who works at the DMV.  She uses phone sex to get the essential information for Wes and Grace.

The next possible victim is Dick Blanston, a cable guy.  Wes and Grace get to him just in time for the Headless Biker to drive into the apartment.  They take Blanston to relative safety at the offices of the World Chronicle, but the Headless Biker drives into the tabloid’s headquarters.  Wes and Grace hide with Blanston in the elevator, but the Headless Biker abducts Tucker and leaves a note (written in blood) threatening to kill Tucker unless our heroes deliver Blanston by dawn.  Blanston, from Hell (literally), takes the file on the case of the decapitations.  Off-screen, he beats up Nitro and takes Clarence’s skull.  Then Wes and Grace visit Nitro.

Clarence is the Headless Biker.  He is also still a bounty hunter.  Blanston and the other victims are prisoners.  They are souls of discord who escaped from the eighth circle of Hell.  The soul of discord who got a job at the DMV set up everyone else with new identities and with sequential driver’s license numbers.  Clarence is working for Satan, I guess.

Kristen ceases to deny the existence of a biker after she and Tucker witness him exit the offices of the World Chronicle.  However, Kristen denies that the Headless Biker is headless, for she saw him wear a helmet.

Blanston goes to the Headless Biker’s lair.  Wes, Grace, and Nitro meet him there.  Nitro rides a motorcycle and wears a jack-o-lantern helmet.  Blanston tosses the skull to that cyclist, who removes his helmet to reveal that he is Nitro.  The Headless Biker returns Tucker, safe and sound.  Then Clarence drives up and decapitates Blanston.  Nitro tosses the skull to Clarence, who removes he helmet, puts the skull on, then puts the helmet back on.  Nitro says his farewell to Clarence, who drives off and never beheads again.  Next, Nitro thanks Wes and Grace for helping him find closure and offers each one a deal on a motorcycle.  Then he, in a good mood, rides away.

The useless police, tipped off by Kristen, show up.  Kristen is glad to see that Tucker is alive.  They are now boyfriend and girlfriend.

Above:  Ruby Rydell

Character Beats

Grace does not know who the Hessians were.

Donald Stern is an expert in retrofitting space stations.

Tucker decided to become a journalist because of the example of his grandfather, a reporter.

Kristen decided to become a journalist because of the example of Lois Lane.  (Was Lois Lane a good reporter?  How sharp were her powers of observation?)

Great Lines

Wes:  “Who wouldn’t want to ice a meter maid and a DMV clerk?”

Wes:  “I knew an elementary school education would come in handy.”

Wes:  “Now, I know what you’re thinking:  It’s impossible, you know, Germans making war and all that.”

Kristen:  “Why do all men think that women want to be Lois Lane?  And don’t get me started on Supergirl.”

Wes (at Dick Blanston’s door):  “We know you’re in there watching reruns of Suddenly Susan, buddy.  Open up now.”

Above:  Detective Hector Garibaldi, N.Y.P.D.

In-Universe

This episode marks the first appearance of Detective Hector Garibaldi, a police officer yet hardly one of New York’s finest.  The journalists at the World Chronicle are better detectives than he is.

Donald Stern is in Russia, helping the team retrofitting Mir.  Apparently, the crash of the space station into the ocean on March 23, 2001, was a cover story.  (March 23, 2001, was in the recent past in the present day of this episode.)

Wes and Grace once chased a disembodied hand down the Holland Tunnel.

On the other hand, Wes finds going to New Jersey creepier than chasing a disembodied hand.

Kristen Martin begins continues down the path of struggling with the possibility of the world be a stranger place than she assumes.

How many other escaped prisoners from the eighth circle of Hell work in annoying jobs?  And which bounty hunter(s) will pursue them?

Above: Kristen Martin Sees the Biker, Whose Existence She Had Just Denied

Comments

I detect open hostility to the Department of Motor Vehicles in this episode.  I understand this.  In Georgia, we have the ironically-named Department of Driver Services.  I have my own story about that agency, staffed with Vogons.  (Yes, I have read Douglas Adams.)

This episode is worthy of watching many times, and not just for the swipes at the DMV.

Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns is not the first episode of a television series to feature a headless motorcyclist.  I know of one other, Chopper (1975), from Kolchak:  The Night Stalker (1974-1975).

Nothing in this episode is gratuitous.  The camera cuts away (sometimes to shadows) at certain moments.  Leaving some details to one’s fertile imagination suffices.

I binge-watched this series and made mental notes before I commenced this rewatch project and started making written notes in preparation for blog posts, such as this one.  The Chronicle would have been a different series–whether better or worse, I cannot say for sure–had Tucker stayed with Shawna Fuchs.  Take my word for that, or do not, O reader.  But do watch the series, if you wish.

Casey Biggs played Damar, an intriguing character, on Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine.

Mark A. Shepherd portrayed attorney (later President, briefly) Romo Lampkin on the Ronald D. Moore reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 26, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 7: Only the Young Die Good (2001)   1 comment

Above:  Dr. Suzanne Gorham

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Only the Young Die Good

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired August 18, 2001

Production Number = 5009-01-109

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Eric Balfour as Mark Griffin

Jack Banning as Dr. Ronald Copeland

Nora Dunn as Dr. Suzanne Gorham

Eugene Roche as Arnie Campbell

Behind the Camera

Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Writer = Peter Hume

Director = Adam Davidson

Brief Summary

Unethical and immoral policies reign supreme at the Gorham Longevity Institute, Nyack, New York.  As the episode begins, an elderly man, whom orderlies identify as Mr. Copeland, attacks an orderly and flees to a nearby convenience store.  The old man speaks to the store clerk, a young man, and identifies himself as Mark Griffin, who worked in that store last summer.  (Mark Griffin is 21 years old.)  The elderly man begs for help as three orderlies drag him away; they will kill him, he insists.  The clerk, an avid reader of the World Chronicle, shares the surveillance video with the tabloid.

Donald Stern pulls Tucker Burns and Grace Hall off their assigned story about a murderous meter maid.  The publisher wants a cover story, and within a few days.  While Tucker goes undercover as Tucker Jones, Patient Care Technician (orderly), Grace goes to the archives and conducts initial research with Sal.  Patient Care Technicians, paid $35 an hour, must live on the grounds for the first few weeks.  Few last longer than a few days or two weeks, though.  Mark Griffin, 21 years old, has a long criminal record.  Sal’s computer hacking reveals that Griffin worked as a Patient Care Technician from April 1 to April 14, but has recently been working at a coffee shop.  Furthermore, Sal informs Grace of the dubious professional record of Dr. Suzanne Gorham, founder and head of the Gorham Longevity Institute.  Her background is in research related to the brain and dementia, but, Sal learns, “undisclosed moral concerns” led to the corporate termination of that research years ago.

“Tucker Jones” gets the job and his assignment:  Arnie Campbell.  Arnie is an obnoxious, sexist, racist, and homophobic dirty old man.  He openly objectifies women and says he can identify “fruits” by the way they walk.  He is also able to pay the $5 million to get into the Gorham Longevity Institute.

Orderlies, on orders from Dr. Gorham, kill “Dr. Copeland.”  Millionaire clients pay Dr. Gorham pay Dr. Gorham to grant them new life.  A client wakes up inside the body of a former Patient Care Technician and the former orderly wakes up inside the body of an elderly person.  Then the staff murders the elderly person and the client leaves the institute.   Arnie wakes up inside Tucker’s body.  Tucker is horrified to wake up inside Arnie’s body.

Meanwhile, Grace has been speaking to Dr. Ronald Copeland, living inside the body of Mark Griffin.  The new Mark Griffin is charming.  He refers to his grandfather, by which he means Copeland.  The new Mark Griffin plays lawn bowling with his “old friends,” all elderly men.  His grandfather taught him the game, he says.

Dr. Ronald Copeland was a brilliant cardiologist whose career and research stalled after his hands began to shake.  Dr. Gorham had no qualms about accepting his payment and about killing Mark Griffin.

Wes picks up “Tucker” from the Gorham Longevity Institute.  Wes immediately realizes that something is wrong.  Arnie, inside Tucker’s body, does not recognize Tucker’s taste in music.  Also, Tucker propositions random women and charms Vera.  The receptionist enjoys the attention initially.  Then she flees “Tucker.”  Then Tucker, inside Arnie’s body, enters the offices of the World Chronicle and confronts Arnie, inside Tucker’s body.  Arnie threatens to kill Tucker’s body.  Then Arnie, inside Tucker’s body, flees.

Dr. Copeland, inside Mark Griffin’s body, finally admits his actual identity.  He helps Grace subdue Arnie, inside Tucker’s body.  Arnie is offending even the “old friends.”  Then Grace and Wes force Dr.  Gorham to reverse the transfer of consciousness.

Arnie’s plan had been, as Tucker Burns, to resign from the World Chronicle within a week.  He intended to move to Chicago and accept a position as a junior executive of Campbell Pharmaceutical, with a goal of running the company in less than a year.

Dr. Gorham and her main orderlies have to contend with homicide charges.

Dr. Copeland admits his moral culpability.  Grace encourages him, as Mark Griffin, to attend medical school (his plan), become a cardiologist, and save as many lives as possible.

Arnie plays lawn bowling with Tucker.  Arnie apologizes to Tucker.  Then Arnie hands the reporter a bottle of pills to take in case Tucker feels a burning sensation.  (Was that supposed to be funny?)

The B-plot is about Wes and Vera trying to uncover Donald Stern’s birthday and place of birth, two of his many secrets.  Wes, up for his two-year review, wants a raise, and Vera tells him that knowing those two secrets about the publisher are essential for that purpose.  Wes and Vera convince themselves that Stern is an ageless extraterrestrial alien softening up the human population for an alien invasion.  Besides, the employees have proof that Stern looks the same in late 2001 as he did in 1981, right before he disappeared for six years.  The publisher tells them that he merely hates birthdays, birthday cakes, and the “Happy Birthday Song.”   Wes and Vera seem to believe him.  Maybe they do.

Wes keeps his job but does not receive a raise.

Above:  Arnie Campbell

Character Beats

Vera really needs a romantic partner.

Donald Stern is fluent in German.

Grace Hall describes the World Chronicle as an “irreverent journal of popular culture.”

Above:  Vera

Great Lines

Vera, on the telephone:  “Black eyes with green skin or yellow eyes with gray skin”  (pause)  “Oh, that was a gray, then.  Lucky you!  I hear they’re insatiable.”

Donald Stern:  “Excellent!  Where there’s stink, there’s ink!”

Grace Hall:  “Oh, my God!  Tucker’s turned into Dean Martin!”

Above:  The Recapture of Mark Griffin, Inside the Body of Dr. Ronald Copeland

In-Universe

Given what is proven to be true in the continuity of this series, Donald Stern being an extraterrestrial alien bent on world domination is plausible.

Why has Donald Stern not aged visibly in two decades?

Tucker recently wrote a story, the headline of which was, “WOMAN GROWS HORNS AFTER CATCHING MAD COW DISEASE.”

Did Dr. Gorham have to reverse any other transfers of consciousness?  This is an unanswered question.

Above:  The New Dr. Ronald Copeland

Comments

Transfer of consciousness from one human body to another is a trope in science fiction.  Off the top of my head, I recall this trope being present in Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling (The Prisoner, 1968) and Turnabout Intruder (Star Trek, 1969).  The transfer of human consciousness into an android body is a related trope, for which I can think of a longer list with little effort.

I wish there had been an episode about the woman who grew horns after catching Mad Cow Disease.

I give this episode a mixed review.  I like the Wes-Vera-Donald half of the episode.

On the other hand, Eugene Roche was a character actor I enjoyed seeing play about any role.

Arnie and Dr. Copeland are monstrous people, but the episode downplays that aspect of the story.  True, Dr. Copeland admits his moral monstrousness to Grace at the end, but the episode makes an unconvincing case for sympathizing with him nevertheless.  And Arnie is always unsympathetic.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 6: Bermuda Love Triangle (2001)   1 comment

Above:  The Atlantean Fiancée

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Bermuda Love Triangle

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired August 11, 2001

Production Number = 5009-01-110

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Lori Rom as Shawna Fuchs

Yvonna Kopacz as Atlantean Woman

Salvator Xuereb as Roger Noland

Behind the Camera

Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Writer = Henry A. Myers

Director = Krishna Rao

Above:  Roger Noland, After and Before

Brief Summary

As Vera the receptionist berates elevator repairmen confused by elevators that more side-to-side, Grace opens the seventh anonymous love letter (left at the front desk) she has received in as many days.  Grace finds these annoying, but Vera would like to receive such attention, even anonymously.  Grace speculates about who might be sending her these letters.  She never guesses correctly.

Meanwhile, off-camera, Wes has been lucky at love and/or lust.  His new girlfriend, Alicia (never seen) is a yoga instructor.  Unfortunately for Tucker, Wes is an inconsiderate roommate when Alicia spends the night, and Tucker cannot sleep properly.  He does, however, get a reminder that he is unattached.  Tucker, sleep-deprived, nods off at the office.

Tucker and Grace compare notes.  His assigned story is about a sea monster that has attacked two fishermen on the Jersey Shore.  Grace’s assigned story is about Roger Noland, a U.S. Navy pilot recently rescued after disappearing in the Bermuda Triangle seven years prior.  Grace’s frustration is that Noland is difficult to locate; he keeps disappearing.  Fortunately, Sal the Pig-Boy is an expert hacker, so he tracks the credit card the Navy recently issued the pilot.

Tucker meets Wes at a park, where one of the fishermen the “sea monster” (actually Noland) attacked is waiting after getting out of the hospital.  (The other victim, Stu, is still in the Intensive Care Unit.)  Prior to the interview, Tucker speaks with Shawna, his former girlfriend (from the first episode).  She apologizes for dumping him.  They agree to go out to dinner soon.  Then the witness tells the reporter and the photographer that a gill-man attacked.

Shortly thereafter, at the Jersey Shore, Wes and Tucker see a man emerge from the water.  The man has gills.  Wes takes a photograph before the man returns to the water.  Back at the office, Grace sees the photograph and identifies the gill-man as Roger Noland, who had told his rescuer that he had spent seven years on a desert island.

Grace and Sal conduct research in the archives while Wes goes to spent time with Alicia and Tucker goes to have dinner with Shawna.  On-screen, Grace calls Tucker, who has to leave dinner and go to fish hatchery on the Jersey Shore.  Off-screen, Grace calls Wes, who also goes there.  On-screen, Tucker and Wes wait for more than an hour for Grace to show up before they decide to investigate.  Grace never shows up because Sal traps her in the elevator with him.

Sal is Grace’s secret admirer.  She is flattered and surprised.  She is initially angry that he trapped her in the elevator, though.  Nevertheless, they spend the night in the elevator.  They converse and play Yahtzee.

Wes and Tucker find Noland’s breathing machine and him at the fish hatchery.  So does an Atlantean woman.  Wes and Tucker take Noland to the offices of the World Chronicle.   Roger tells Wes and Tucker that the Atlantean, his owner, wants to kill him, to keep the secret of Atlantis.  The reporter and the photographer return to the fish hatchery and retrieve the breathing machine when they realize that Noland needs it to survive long outside of ocean water.

The Atlantean woman walks into the offices of the World Chronicle.  She kisses Noland, who says, “I can’t,” then flees.  Down in the archives, the Rosetta Stone translates the Atlantean woman’s speech.  She is the one who saved Noland seven years ago and implanted him with gills.  She is his fiancée. She cannot bear to be apart from him.  She also needs to get to the short immediately.  Wes takes her to the shore while Tucker and Grace retrieve Noland from a bus station.  Noland explains that he ran away from his fiancée because he wanted his normal life back.  Tucker rebuts that this is impossible, for Noland cannot breathe on land for long without a device on his shoulders.  A lovelorn Atlantean has the option of transforming into a siren.  Roger gets to the shore too late to prevent his fiancée from becoming a siren.

A few days later, at supper again, Shawna and Tucker realize they are no longer in love with each other.  They part amicably.  Then Tucker joins Grace, Wes, and Sal at the shore where the Atlantean woman became a siren.  She is still singing.

Above: Grace Hall

Character Beats

Sal understands who Grace is. He loves for who she is, an awkward person with whom he is compatible.

Sal carries a Yahtzee game around with him.

Roger Noland is a liar.

Shawna, in contrast to how she was in the first episode, is diplomatic about the World Chronicle.  She does not dismiss it, at least.

Above:  Sal the Pig-Boy

Great Lines

Tucker, to Grace:  “I’m not sure Dwain [an intern] can handle the higher motor functions required to use a pen.”

Fisherman, to Tucker and Wes:  “Poor Stu.  If it hadn’t been for him, I might not be here right now.  I could have died.  Lost my best net, too.”

Grace, to Sal:  “I’m not in a Yahtzee place right now, Sal.  Okay?”

Sal, to Grace:  “Why can’t anyone love me for the man-pig that I am?”

Sal, to Grace, defending himself for breaking the elevator:  “I can’t help it; I’m a pig.  It’s in my porcine nature.”

Grace (angry that Sal broke the elevator):  “Squeal like a pig, you slimy piece of bacon!”

Above:  Shawna Fuchs and Tucker Burns

In-Universe

Atlantis is real.  Its civilization is more advanced that the civilizations on the surface of the planet.

Atlantean voices are screeches that break glass.

The Atlantean race has evolved into a human-fish hybrid.

Vera the receptionist has met women who look “freakier” than the Atlantean woman.

Sirens sank the Titanic and the Lusitania.

The computer in the basement of the World Chronicle contains a record of Atlantean folklore and culture.

This is the last we see of Shawna Fuchs.

Comments

This episode ranks high on the rewatchability scale.  Bermuda Love Triangle balances whimsy and pathos well.  Furthermore, nothing is creepy.

The Atlantean woman was too good for Roger Noland anyway.

Vera must have seen some “freaky-looking” people, for she barely noticed the Atlantean woman at first.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 22, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 5: He’s Dead, She’s Dead (2001)   2 comments

Above:  Tucker, Wes and Grace

Grace holds a package containing the ashes of her ferret, Pookie.

All images in this post are screen captures.

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He’s Dead, She’s Dead

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired August 4, 2001

Production Number = 5009-01-106

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Elaine Hendrix as Kristen Martin

Leigh Hennessy as Homeless Woman

Shawn Lane as Reanimated Corpse

Karen-Eileen Gordon as Dr. Evelyn Elkins

Joe Nesnow as Dr. Harry Cooper

Justine Miceli as Helen Cooper

Todd Patrick Breaugh as Clark Jensen

Behind the Camera

Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Writers = Erin Maher and Kay Reindl

Director = John Kretchman

Above:  Donald Stern and Kristen Martin

Brief Summary

Young daredevils Brad, Todd, and Lee are drinking in a cemetery at night.  After Brad falls into an open grave, Todd and Lee flee.  They are terrified after seeing a hatted man stab a corpse then run away.

Tucker, Grace, and Wes work on the corpses story while Kristen researches a story about the World Chronicle for The New York Times.  Donald Stern ensures that Kristen gets the story he wants:  that the World Chronicle is not a legitimate publication.  The world is not yet ready to believe otherwise, he tells Tucker.  Besides, Kristen’s story will constitute good publicity.

Three corpses have gone missing from the cemetery during the previous month.  There was the exchange student from the beginning of the episode.  He attacked Tucker in the morgue, but waited for Kristen to leave before doing so.  There was also a homeless woman, who attacked Kristen on a sidewalk at night.  The third disinterred corpse was that of Dr. Harry Cooper, who had been interested in the occult and the reanimation of corpses.

Helen Cooper, Harry’s daughter, is still angry with her father.  She still considers the reanimation of corpses immoral.  Nobody has the right to cheat death and play God, she insists.  She, therefore, cooperates with Clark Jensen, one of Harry’s few allies, to reanimate her father.  Then she kills him again.  (Talk about resentment!)  Police officers arrest Jensen, apparently for robbing graves.  Helen will probably be fine, legally, for killing the dead is not a crime.  Kristen arrives on the scene too late to witness the brief resurrection of Dr. Harry Cooper.

Donald Stern, after reading Kristen’s article dismissing the staff of the World Chronicle as delusional, breaks out the bubbly.

Above:  Helen Cooper

Character Beats

Vera has the hots for Tucker.

Tucker is desperate for Kristen to think of him as a legitimate journalist.

Grace mourns the death of Pookie, the ferret she adopted while in junior high school.  (Ferrets are illegal in New York City.)  Grace’s mother mails the ashes to Grace, who scatters them in Central Park.

Great Lines

Todd, offering an obvious excuse to flee the cemetery:  “I think I want to go home and watch Felicity.”

Wes:  “This guy is so full of holes he makes Noriega look like a Noxzema model.”

Dr. Evelyn Elkins, introverted medical examiner:  “Live people just get in the way.”

In-Universe

An army of vampires bent of world domination exists.

Tucker compliments Kristen on her story about Yamaguchi Wireless (What Gobbles Beneath).

Ruby has real psychic powers.  Nevertheless, Donald Stern insists that she mix false and true predictions, so she does.  Besides, people deal better with her predictions when they do not know if they are true or false.

Comments

This episode is the first so far to use the alternative, mysterious theme, instead of the standard, whimsical one.

This episode has a lighter tone (despite the alternative theme) than the previous episode.  I would rather watch this episode again and skip the previous episode during subsequent rewatches.

Pookie the ferret was a delightful companion, I am sure.

Kristen is a recurring character with an arc.  I am not a militant anti-spoilers person.  Rosebud was a sled.  There, I said it!  The Maltese Falcon was a fake.  There, I said it!  And this series is two decades old.  The statute of limitations on spoilers expires long before twenty years.  Nevertheless, I choose not to reveal Kristen’s character arc in this post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 20, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 4: Baby Got Back   5 comments

Above:  Julian Tally with a Demon

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Baby Got Back

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired July 28, 2001

Production Number = 5009-01-102

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Richard Karn as David Tally

Merritt Hicks as Rosie Tally

Romy Rosemont as Reba

Behind the Camera

Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Writer = Silvio Horta

Director = John Kretchman

Above:  Rosie and David Tally

Brief Summary

David Tally is the founder and leader of Headway, a pyramid-scheme business indistinguishable from a cult.  It is a cult–a Satanic one.  Headway is recovering after losing half of its customers because of negative publicity resulting from an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.  David will do anything to help the business rebound.  He will even sacrifice his one-year-old son, Julian, who has a demon gestating inside.  That is part of the deal David made with Satan.

Rosie Tally, Julian’s mother, will do anything to save her son.  She escapes from the Headway compound in Manhattan on the night on August 19, 2000, and takes Julian with her.  She leaves Julian and a bag at the front door of the World Chronicle offices.  The bag includes a book (Tommy the Tuna and the Magic Sea Lion) and a note signed “a desperate mother.”  Off-screen, agents David sends recapture Rosie.  Donald Stern assigns Tucker Burns to investigate the story.  Tucker investigates Headway while Wes then Grace babysit Julian.  Rosie, back at Headway headquarters, calls the World Chronicle and reveals her son’s name to Grace.  When Grace and Tucker visit Rosie, she cannot speak openly, for cultists in matching shirts are watching and listening.  She does, however, ask Grace and Tucker to read the book to Julian.  That book contains underlined words that read, “The beast is within him.  Exercise him before it is too late.”  Tucker replaces one letter in “exercise” to make the word “exorcise.”  Our main characters already know the child is possessed, for Wes has seen a shadow of a demon and the demon has tried to kill Sal the Pig-Boy.

To make a long story short, David tries and eventually succeeds in retrieving Julian.  David tries asking.  Mainly, though, he sends people to seize the child.  Some of them eventually succeed, while Donald Stern is trying to exorcise the baby.  Shortly thereafter, Grace remembers why Reba, one of David’s associates, looks familiar; Reba is a documented Satan-worshiper.  On the night of August 21, Julian’s first birthday, David plans to “baptize” his son with blood, thereby bringing the demon within him to full power, followed by human sacrifices.  David plans to substitute Wes, Grace, and Tucker for the two Headway salespeople who had volunteered, for the good of the company.  Wes and Tucker, tied up, until Grace, who grabs Rosie’s locket and places it on Julian in time to prevent the “baptism.”  The demon flees Julian and enters David, who explodes. Rosie rescues Julian.

A few days later, after the story has run in the World Chronicle, Grace sees a divorced man who is out and about with his infant son in a stroller.  As Grace walks away, the baby’s eyes change, revealing he has a demon inside.

Above:  Headway

Character Beats

Grace, despite being anti-procreation and happily childless, has strong maternal instincts.

Sometimes Donald’s employees have to talk him into helping someone at the risk of sacrificing a story.

Dogs are good judges of character.  All the dogs who pass by the possessed baby Julian bark at him.

David Tally gets what he deserves.  He, willing to sacrifice others, including his son, becomes a sacrifice.

Great Lines

Grace, to Tucker:  “God, this place is so bizarre.  Did you see their outfits?  The color is hideous.”

Wes, to Tucker:  “Hey, I’m not taking a moment anywhere near Damien.”

In-Universe

Above:  Television Channeling

Grace reports on a story about a man who claims that spirits of deceased television actors speak to him.  He wishes they would stop.  Grace realizes that not one of the actors has died, but that their television careers have.  The actors include Charlotte Rae (1926-2018), Joyce Dewitt (1949-), Charles Nelson Reilly (1931-2007), and Tina Yothers (1973-).

Between episodes, Grace reported on a 700-pound man in Kuala Lumpur.  After he complained about the photograph, Grace told Wes,” I told you not to use a wide-angle lens.”

Above:  Demonic Eyes

Comments

This is the darkest (tonally), most serious episode yet.  Scenes of babies with demonic eyes are creepy.  Brief moments of levity help the episode, though.  I want to see an episode about the man channeling living actors with dead television careers.

The most famous guest star is Richard Karn.  This episode follows his time (1991-1999) on Home Improvement and precedes his stint (2002-2006) as the host of Family Feud.

This episode plays out from the night of August 19 to the night of August 21, 2000.  Within the episode, those days were Tuesday-Thursday.  In reality, they were Thursday-Saturday.

The Chronicle:  News from the Edge is at its best when the episodes tilt toward the humorous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 19, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 3: Here There Be Dragons (2001)   4 comments

Above:  George Takei as Mr. Shen

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Here There Be Dragons

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired July 21, 2001

Production Number = 5009-01-107

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

George Takei as Mr. Shen

Yuki Kudo as Mina Shen

James Hong as David Lo Pan

Brian Tee as Neo

Dax Griffin as Sam

Behind the Camera

Writer and Consulting Producer = Naren Shankar

Director = Sanford Bookstaver

Above:  Grace Hall and Mina Shen

Brief Summary

Donald Stern assigns Tucker Burns to investigate rumors of a fire-breathing dragon in the sewers of Chinatown.  Something is down there, emitting flames; drug dealer Neo has a scarred face to prove that much.  Tucker, having adjusted to having his mind blown after working at the World Chronicle for two months, accepts that a fire-breathing dragon may be loose in Chinatown, but he insists on proof.  Many residents of Chinatown accept the existence of the dragon, but Don Corleone-like restauranteur (and boss of Neo, not at the restaurant) David Lo Pan remains skeptical.  Lo Pan threatens Tucker and Wes with violence and a lawsuit as easily as he gives them egg rolls.

Tucker comes to believe then doubt then believe again that the story is really about destructive cultural taboos, not a fire-breathing dragon.  He is correct.  Mina Shen, daughter of widower Mr. Shen, is pregnant and unmarried.  Mr. Shen believes that she has dishonored the family.  He asks Lo Pan to arrange an honor killing of the dragon, the alleged father of the new grandson, who has a skin disease.  Lo Pan insists that Mr. Shen do it himself, and sends Neo with him into the sewer to commit the deed.

Wes, Tucker, and Grace, having learned the truth, stage the “slaying” of the dragon (actually mechanical) and the death of Mina.  Mr. Shen, thinking his daughter is dead, weeps.  The father is Sam, a homeless Caucasian man with a skin disease living in the sewer.  He is as kind as Neo, who has designs on Mina also, is not.  Our three heroes send Mina, Sam, and the newborn son upstate, to Mina’s aunt, who has not spoken to Mr. Shen in years.  (Why not?  Mr. Shen, having met his grandson, insists that he has no grandson.)  The two reporters and the photographer permit Donald to think that there was actually a dragon in Chinatown, and to print that story.  The new family gets a fresh start, after all.  And it will be safe from Mr. Shen, who uses morality to justify his immorality.

Character Beats

Donald Stern keeps his promises.

Mina uses the story of the dragon to protect Sam’s identity.

Great Lines

Grace, to Tucker:  “Well, if a sewer is your idea of a romantic getaway, that might explain your success with women.”

Wes, to Tucker:  “I’m sorry about that, man.  After all those Jet Li movies, I should have seen that coming.”

Above:  The Mechanical Dragon

In-Universe

This episode is a sequel to Big Trouble in Little China (1986), in which James Hong originated the character of David Lo Pan.  Lo Pan, no longer a ghost, has moved from Chinatown in San Francisco to Chinatown in New York City.

About two months have passed since the end of the previous episode.  During that time, Tucker has encountered “a Whitman sampler of demons.”

The medical insurance policy for employees of the World Chronicle does not cover “immolation by reptiles.”

Donald Stern is objectively wrong about the causes of many of the incidents about which the World Chronicle reports.

The internal chronology of this series in inconsistent yet mostly consistent.  The date on the issue of the World Chronicle at the end of the episode (the eighth one produced and third one aired) is August 20, 2001.  Yet, Baby Got Back, the third episode produced and fourth one aired, is set in August 2000.  When did Tucker start working for the World Chronicle?  And when had he been working for there for two months?  The March 2001 dates referenced in Bring Me the Head of Tucker Burns (the twelfth episode produced and the eighth one aired) and Let Sleeping Dogs Fry (the second episode produced and the ninth one aired) point toward Tucker going to work for the World Chronicle in the summer of 2000.

Comments

This episode, with a heart, is easily rewatchable.

Naren Shankar is a veteran of Star Trek:  The Next Generation, Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek:  Voyager.  One of his better episodes is The First Duty (1992), in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard tells Cadet Wesley Crusher that the first duty is to the truth.  Tucker Burns begins Here There Be Dragons with that attitude then decides that the first duty is act compassionately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 18, 2020 COMMON ERA

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