Archive for the ‘Octavia L. Spencer’ Tag

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

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 the Sci-Fi Channel aired episodes out of order.

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 16: Man and Superman (2001)   3 comments

Above:  Captain Vigilant

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Man and Superman

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired February 8, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-114

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

Jon Briddell as Walter Smith

Len Cordova as Detective Hector Garibaldi

Terence Hines as Wayne Lamar

Trina Kaplan as Ida Jacobson

Brian Poth as Derek/Captain Vigilant

Behind the Camera

Writer = Henry A. Myers

Director = Adam Davidson

Above:  Derek

Brief Summary

A fake superhero is becoming popular in New York City in the middle of September 2001.  As both temperatures and the crime rate soar, a caped crime-fighter in tights and a mask puts in occasional appearances, flies away, and receives positive press.

At the beginning of the episode, the superhero prevents the mugging of an elderly woman, Ida Jacobson, on her way home (all of one block) from a grocery store to her home.  The next day, Ida goes on television and tells Wayne Lamar (modeled on Al Roker) about it.  He is barely interested in her story, and loses interest when she tells him that he superhero flew away.

Meanwhile, at the World Chronicle, Grace Hall is making plans to interview a ghost.  Her assigned story is about a spirit who, daily, takes a taxicab on the same route and arrives at a Disney theater (formerly an adult theater) promptly at 4:30 p.m.   She plans to drive the taxi cab one Abdul usually drives, intercept the ghost, and interview him.

Tucker Burns and Wes Freewald investigate the story of the superhero.  They interview witnesses and consult Sal the Pig-Boy.  They learn that the superhero debuted about a year ago, when he rescued a boy’s cat from a tree.  The superhero could barely fly then, though.  On the other hand, Ida thinks that the superhero’s mother raised him well.

Grace Hall, posing as a taxi cab driver, gets a passenger (Walter Smith, as she learns later), at a traffic light while en route to intercept the predictable ghost.  The passenger gets out of the taxi cab right before an accident that totals the vehicle and traps Grace.  Wes tries to get her out of the car, but cannot do so.  The superhero rescues Grace, however.  Then he flies away.  Donald pulls Grace off the ghost story and adds her to the superhero story.

Tucker is skeptical of the superhero.  He proves to be correct.  Grace and Wes find Walter, working as a waiter.  He agrees to meet them at his apartment in two hours.  Two hours later, the trio finds him dead in his apartment.  Detective Useless, er, Garibaldi, suspects the trio from the World Chronicle.  He has to let them go, however.  Then the detective resolves to investigate what is happening at the tabloid.  Walter Smith, actually, was an actor and an accomplice.  Ida was never in danger of a mugging; that was Walter setting up the situation.  And Walter sabotaged the taxi cab Grace Hall was driving.  His murderer was the fake superhero.

Tucker, Grace, and Wes briefly think Walter was the superhero until Donald Stern shows them a news report about a school bus that the superhero just prevented from careening off a bridge.  The trio goes to the site, where witnesses and police are still present.  Wes discovers that somebody cut the bolts holding up the railing on one side.  Wes also connects the dots.  He consults his collection of the complete run of Captain Vigilant comic books from the 1980s.  The fake superhero, taking the mantle of Captain Vigilant, is working through stories in order.  The next story entails some people dying in a bombing, and Captain Vigilant saving some lives.

Evidence leads the trio to Astro City Comics, a comic book story.  The culprit is Derek, a misfit with a fixation on Grace Hall.  He created the story about the predictable ghost as a way of luring Grace and rescuing her.  Derek also has a superhero suit, a bomb, telekenetic powers, and a gigantic chip on his shoulder.  For him, comic books are life, not an escape from it.  Derek throws Wes around and levitates him, but Wes eventually slugs him.  The trio calls the bomb squad.

Wes proceeds to sell his thousands of comic books online.  After this story, the only value they have to him is monetary.

Detective Useless, er, Garibaldi, has begun his surveillance of Wes, Grace, and Tucker.  Perhaps the detective does not give much thought to the homicidal Derek, who is NOT IN JAIL.  (See Hell Mall.)

Above:  Grace Hall

Character Beats

Wes Freewald grew up reading and preserving comic books.  Tucker Burns did not.

Tucker Burns grew up a hockey fan instead.

Above:  Ida Jacobson

Great Lines

Wes Tucker, on Iron Man’s suit:  It “lost power so much you’d think it got electricity from California.”  (Thanks a lot, Enron!)

Grace Hall:  “What is it about psychopaths that draws them to collage art?”

Wes Freewald, to Derek:  “Aquaman could have done better than that.”

Above:  Walter Smith

In-Universe

Man and Superman seems to occur in an alternative universe in which, in the middle of September 2001, in New York City, the main story was a fake superhero and the police had the luxury of conducting surveillance on employees of a tabloid publication.  (In reality, of course, filming of Man and Superman concluded prior to September 11, 2001.)  On the other hand, see Hell Mall.

Donald Stern should have hired a capable air conditioning repair company to fix the World Chronicle‘s air conditioning system.  He hired a Haitian voodoo priest instead.

Wes Freewald’s parents seem to have moved into or close to New York City since Touched by an Alien.  In Touched By an Alien, they visited New York City.  The implication was that they lived some distance away.  In Man and Superman, however, Wes and friends can drive over to the parental units’ house quickly.  They do so repeatedly.

Wes Freewald’s parents are away at “some convention.”  I am afraid to ask.  (See Touched By an Alien.)

We see a copy of the World Chronicle from the end of Take Me Back on a trash pile at the beginning of Man and Superman.

A ghost taking the same route to a former adult theater in a taxi cab is far from the most bizarre story in the universe of The Chronicle.

When the air conditioning breaks at the World Chronicle, the archives become very cold.

Wes Freewald correctly summarizes the Jewish folkloric character the Golem.

In a callback to Take Me Back, Tucker Burns, speaking to Detective Garibaldi, refers to his (Tucker’s) attorney.  That lawyer, of course, is Donald Stern.

Above:  Surveillance Photograph

Comments

Man and Superman is the fifteenth episode produced and the sixteenth episode of The Chronicle:  News from the Edge broadcast. Production order does not necessarily indicate proper viewing order of episodes, as I can prove merely by citing The Chronicle.  Consider, for example, the next produced episode, The Cursed Sombrero.  The internal chronology of The Chronicle places that story on an around May 5, 2021.  Man and Superman, however, occurs in September 2001.  The final scene occurs after September 15, 2001, given the date on Detective Garibaldi’s surveillance photograph of Tucker Burns and Kristen Martin.

The production number of the Pilot is 5009-01-179.  The other production numbers, in order, end in 101-121.  (Yes, I have prepared a list of episodes in broadcast order and another list of episodes in production order.)

Is it wrong to have a crush on Rena Sofer?  I hope not.

The investigation of the World Chronicle by Detective Clueless, er, Garibaldi, begins in this episode and continues through the final episode of the series/season.

This is an enjoyable episode that contains a plot twist crucial for most of the rest of the series’s brief run.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 15: I See Dead Fat People (2001)   2 comments

Above:  I See Dead Fat People

All images in this post are screen captures.

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I See Dead Fat People

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired February 1, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-103

Starring

Chad Willett as Tucker Burns

Reno Wilson as Wes Freewald

Rena Sofer as Grace Hall

Sharon Sachs as Vera

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

Main Guest Cast

Charlie Talbert as Royce Bickenberg

Sam Anderson as Dr. Emmanuel Fickas

Behind the Camera

Writers = Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec

Director = Jay Tobias

Above:   Grace Hall, Acting Editor

Brief Summary

Grace Hall, as the head reporter of the World Chronicle, is the editor when Donald Stern is away.  Stern is in South Korea for weeks, due to a Shingon Buddhist soul gone awry.  Grace naïvely assumes a laissez-faire attitude toward her editorial duties.  Make this issue of the World Chronicle your own, she tells the reporters.  Write the stories you want to write, she says.  By the end of the episode Grace realizes the importance of running a tight ship.

Tucker Burns and Wes Freewald investigate a story about possible poltergeist activity at a house at 15 Villard Street, Riverdale, New York.  The young couple, both physical fitness enthusiasts, fled the house on the morning of their second day in that house.  Exercise equipment flew through the air and crashed into walls in the home gymnasium, and the young bride suffered steam burns in the kitchen.

Tucker and Wes visit the house the first time.  While they are there, someone else in the house orders three large pizzas.  Tucker pays for the pizzas, which explode, spraying marinara sauce in the kitchen.  Tucker and Wes also discover that a television set will not stay off and will stay tuned to a cooking show.  They follow sounds to the basement, where they see ghosts of dead fat people in bath robes.  Our heroes flee the scene, but one spirit, that of Royce Bickenberg, follows Wes for much of the episode.

Until ten year prior (1991), the house was the site of a weight loss clinic.  Dr. Emmanuel Fickas closed the clinic after some patients died in the steam room.  He was not responsible, he claimed; an angry patient, Royce Bickenberg, was.  Royce’s parents, who sent him to the clinic against his will, have accepted Dr. Fickas’s word for a decade.

Grace Hall, under pressure to meet the publication deadline for the upcoming issue, publishes the story Tucker has.  She changes the headline on the cover story to, “FAT PHANTASMS FRIGHTEN!”  She also agrees to publish the second part in the next issue.  Tucker and Wes return to the former weight loss clinic.  They follow clues, find a key and the metal lock box to which it goes.  They discover Royce’s journal, which details the cruelty of Dr. Fickas.  He made Nurse Ratched look like Albert Schweitzer.  Fickas also locked some patients into the steam room and left them, causing their deaths.

Fickas tries to maintain his secret by locking Tucker and Wes in the steam room in the basement.  The ghost of Royce Bickenberg helps them escape, however.  In the meantime, the other spirits try to kill Dr. Fickas in the kitchen.  However, Wes and Tucker dissuade them from revenge.  The refrigerator door opens, a bright light shines, and the ghosts walk into the light.

Dr. Fickas goes to jail and Tucker gets the second consecutive cover story.  Grace assigns Ruby to edit the next issue.  Ruby is up to the challenge, obviously.  And Donald Stern will return in four days.

Above:  The Ghost of Royce Bickenberg

Character Beats

Wes Freewald, formerly obese, feels sympathy for fat people and for the spirit of Royce Bickenberg, in particular.

Ruby Rydell is a very organized person.  Grace Hall is not.

Great Line

Wes Freewald, speaking of the wrecked home gymnasium:  “Damn!  This is uglier than Billy Bob’s and Angelina Jolie’s bedroom.”

Above:  Dr. Emmanuel Fickas

In-Universe

This episode occurs in July 2001.

Ruby Rydell cannot read Donald Stern psychically.

Donald Stern has Ruby Rydell enhance the predictions in the horoscope each week.

Vinegar has cured a woman’s cancer.

Extraterrestrials influenced the presidential recount in Florida in 2000.

There are cannibalistic monkeys in the Bronx Zoo.

There is an extraterrestrial hot dog vendor somewhere.

Above:  Grace Hall, Head Reporter

Comments

In the real world, there is no such address as 15 Villard Street, Riverdale, New York.  There is, however, a house at 15 Villard Avenue, Riverdale, New York.  (Thank you, Google Earth!)

The Chronicle, set in the metropolitan New York City area, filmed in San Diego, California, as well as in Vancouver, British Columbia.

This is one of the more serious episodes.  As such, it has fewer funny lines to add to my “Great Lines” section.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 14: Tears of a Clone (2001)   1 comment

Above:  The Two Graces

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Tears of a Clone

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired January 25, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-117

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

Main Guest Cast

Adrienne Barbeau as Evelyn Hall

Scott Benefiel as Doctor

Behind the Camera

Writer = Hans Beimler

Director = Adam Davidson

Above:  Evelyn Hall

Brief Summary

For the sake of narrative clarity, I have rearranged the story to make it linear.

Early one morning, shortly after midnight, Grace Hall enters an alley.  She is answering a call and seeking a lead about a Puerto Rican succubus.  Her clone, a creation of Nemacoids (space aliens), attacks her.  The two Graces struggle.  The clone falls into water and nearly electrocutes.  The original Grace calls Donald Stern, who tells her to call 911.  Then he shelters her until he can find out who is responsible.  The clone, nearly electrocuted, forgets her imperative to kill Grace and that she is a clone.  When the clone awakens in a hospital bed, Donald Stern is only person present who knows she is a clone.  Wes Freewald, Tucker Burns, and Sal the Pig-Boy, for example, are in the dark.  So is Grace’s concerned mother, Evelyn Hall.

Evelyn does not believe any of Grace’s stories about experiencing abductions.  The mother also dismisses the World Chronicle as a “little paper.”  Out of concern, she tries to have Grace committed involuntarily.

A Nemacoid “cleaner,” disguised as a human male, tries to kill Wes, Tucker, and Grace.  The clone sacrifices herself to save the original Grace.  The Nemacoid “cleaner” teleports away with the corpse of the clone.

In a side plot, Sal the Pig-Boy temporarily changes his wardrobe and tries to find his inner pig.  The adds bling, too.  Wes calls him the “Notorious P.I.G.”  At the end of the episode, Sal is done with that phase, so he passes the clothes and bling to Wes and Tucker.

Grace and her mother make their peace before Evelyn departs.  Evelyn offers NSYNC concert tickets to Grace, who rejects them.  Grace tells her mother that “only teenage girls and gay men like NSYNC.”  Then Evelyn offers the tickets to Wes and Tucker whom she has spent the episode mistaking for a homosexual couple, despite their attempts to correct her.  (She is very open-minded, though.)  Wes really wants to attend the concert.

Character Beats

Evelyn Hall is really nice, concerned, and open-minded.

Kristen Martin is out of town for the weekend.

Above:  Sal, the Notorious P.I.G.

Great Lines

The Grace clone, to Evelyn:  “I am calm!”

Sal, to the Grace clone:  “Grace, pigs are loyal.  We don’t squeal on our friends.  We leave that to rats.”

Above:  The Committal Form

In-Universe

Why do Nemacoids want to kill Grace?

Nemacoids scale walls as spiders do.

We have heard Grace speak of her parents on occasion.

Grace and Evelyn seldom meet with or speak to each other.

Donald Stern once published a story about lesbian Lilliputians, but not as a cover story.  Maybe the story was running short on words.  (Ha!  That pun was not the height of my sense of humor. Jonathan advised me not to be so swift to pun.  I replied, “What a novel idea!”)

This episode includes a reference to Pig Boy’s Big Adventure.

Evelyn has been planning to have Grace committed for at least a month or so.  The date on the committal form is March 17, 2001.

This episode could occur before or after The Cursed Sombrero, set in early May 2001.

Above:  Partners

Comments

The first half-hour or so of this episode sustains the mystery well.  Then the story moves along well to its resolution.

Evelyn’s “No need to explain,” an expression of her toleration, is simultaneously sweet and funny.

This episode is simultaneously suspenseful and fun.

Error:  In dialogue, Grace’s shrink is Dr. Greenleaf, whom Evelyn says has signed the committal form.  Evelyn says she needs only one more signature to commit Grace involuntarily.  Yet, when we see the form with two signatures, one is Evelyn’s and the other is that of one Dr. Benson.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 4, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 13: The Cursed Sombrero (2001)   4 comments

Above:  The Cursed Sombrero of Izamal

All images in this post are screen captures.

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The Cursed Sombrero

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired January 18, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-115

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

Elaine Hendrix as Kristen Martin

Bonnie Brewster as Nancy Silva

Jordan Liddle as Brad the Frat Boy

Behind the Camera

Writer = Silvio Horta

Director = Sanford Bookstaver

Above:  Kristen Martin

Brief Summary

The Cursed Sombrero of Izamal is on the loose in New York City.

Apparently, the priest-kings of Izamal, a Mayan city on the Yucatan Peninsula, were evil.  According to Sal the Pig-Boy, researcher extraordinaire, they “made Jim Jones and David Koresh look like tour guides at Legoland.”  The evil priest-kings conducted many human sacrifices.  The souls of the evil priest-kings are trapped in colorful stones long buried in a Mayan pyramid yet excavated in the 1880s.  At that point, a peasant worker found the soul-stones, stole them, decorated his sombrero with them, wore the sombrero, and died.  Since that time, the souls of the priest-kings have caused all who have worn the cursed sombrero to die in the most unlikely of ways then harvested their souls.

Wes, Tucker, and Grace have to track down the cursed sombrero on Cinco de Mayo, 2001.  The quest to save lives becomes complicated when irresponsible fraternity boys steal the cursed sombrero and pass it around at a drunken party at a sorority house.  If that were not enough, many people are wearing sombreros at that Cinco de Mayo party, and there is a lookalike sombrero.  A sorority girl places the cursed sombrero on Tucker’s head.  He nearly dies at a restaurant where he and Kristen are dining.  Kristen witnesses the ritual whereby Donald Stern conducts the ritual to lift the curse from Tucker, free the trapped spirits from the stones, and destroy the sombrero and the stones.

In the B-plot, Kristen Martin is experiencing difficulty adjusting to having seen an alien space craft take off and fly away in Take Me Back.  She takes a week off from work, stays home, eats bagels, and watches The View.  Kristen also ponders breaking up with Tucker, despite his offer to help her adjust to the crashing down of her worldview around her.  By the end of the episode, Kristen adjusts somewhat (for a while, at least) and does not break up with Tucker.

The evil spirits escaped into a toilet.

Above:  Sal the Pig-Boy

Character Beats

Wes Freewald despises Jar-Jar Binks and opposes a fan cut of Star Wars Episode I:  The Phantom Menace (1999) that removes the annoying character.

Kristen Martin is proceeding on her character arc for this series.  She also prefers to ignore her problems.

Great Lines

Donald Stern:  “If people want something stale, they can buy a Mariah Carey CD.”

Kristen Martin:  “I’m having a nervous breakdown.  Bagel?”

Wes Freewald:  “Maybe that sombrero’s just misunderstood.”

Donald Stern, at the sorority house:  “It’s a good thing I don’t need the blood of a virgin for this ritual.”

In-Universe

The yard sale at the beginning of the episode is perhaps the most overpriced yard sale ever.  $7 for a glass ashtray?  $50 for a sombrero?

May is usually a slow month for supernatural news.

This episode occurs mostly on May 4 and 5, 2001, two months after the events of Take Me Back.

About eleven months have passed since the events of the pilot episode.

Above:  The Ritual

Comments

Prior to my recent binge-watching sessions of The Chronicle at archive.org, this was one of the few episodes I remembered, if only vaguely.  I remembered the cursed sombrero on Cinco de Mayo, mainly.

Much of the fun in crazy lines is due to the delivery.  The actors make the most of these lines, primarily by underplaying them.  Their characters have seen so much that they can be blasé about a cursed sombrero, for example.

The looks of shock on Elaine Hendrix’s face when she portrays Kristen Martin witnessing bizarre events are such that dialogue is not necessary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 2, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 12: Pig Boy’s Big Adventure (2001)   2 comments

Above:  Monica, Sarcastic Savage Simian

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Pig Boy’s Big Adventure

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired January 11, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-116

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

Lizette Carrion as Monica, the “Savage Simian”

Jim Chovick as Dr. Harcourt Fenton

Christopher Hoffman as Dr. Elias Fenton

Behind the Camera

Writer = Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Director = Michael Grossman

Above:  Fiendish Fentons, Dastardly Doctors

Brief Summary

For at least five weeks’ worth of issues, the World Chronicle has been publishing front-page stories about the “Savage Simian.”  Headlines have included, “Savage Simian Spotted in Schenectady,” “Savage Simian Stuns Scientists,” “Savage Simian’s Sinister Spree,” “Savage Simian Startles Schoolyard,” and Simian Sauvage Sieges Sous-Chef.”  Publisher Donald Stern enjoys speaking in alliteration.  He says, “This savage simian is a sensation.”  He informs the staff of his new money-making venture, 1-900-GOT-CHIMP, which collects tips about the Savage Simian while charging callers $4.95 a minute.  He tells the reporters, “I want the Chronicle to be one-stop shopping for Savage Simian scoop, speculation, and scandal.”  His goal is publish a story with the headline, “Savage Simian Speaks.”

Pretenders to the title of that precocious primate populate the area around the reception desk.  Vera the receptionist rebuffs one would-be Savage Simian, who, dejected, departs.

Grace Hall departs for two weeks of vacation in the Mediterranean.  She arrives at the beginning of a revolution.  She calls Donald Stern for help.  He calls in favors, for he has influence at the U.S. Department of State.

Wes and Tucker, investigating the story of the Savage Simian, keep seeing a sinister man, supposedly from Animal Control.

Sal and other hybrids prefer the term “manimal,” a term in use prior to the infamous, short-lived series from 1983Manimal (1983) was “unabsolvably inaccurate,” according to Sal.

Wes and Tucker encounter the Savage Simian and the sinister, sneaky fake Animal Control man at an empty theater.  The intrepid investigative reporters retrieve the Savage Simian’s dog tag and a device the faux-Animal Control agent used to inject the Savage Simian with a tracking microchip.  Wes and Tucker give the dog tag to Donald, who immediately swears them to secrecy.  He has a similar, secret dog tag for Sal.  Now the publisher begins to understand the importance of that object.

Wes and Tucker rescue the Savage Simian from the sinister, sneaky faux-Animal Control man at a park.  They take the sarcastic simian to the archives of the World Chronicle.  Donald Stern is stunned to see the snarky simian, who snaps about the negative press the World Chronicle has created about her.  The Savage Simian’s moniker is Monica, and she bemoans people trying to feed her bananas.

Twenty years prior, one Dr. Harcourt Fenton went to prison for fifteen years.  He had transplanted animal organs into the children of impoverished, desperate parents.  Sal learns that his mother was not a sow, but that he spent time in Dr. Fenton’s laboratory.  Monica, a militant anti-human activist, encourages Sal to leave the World Chronicle.  The two manimals wear fedoras and move about in Manhattan until agents of Dr. Ellis Fenton, Harcourt’s son, capture them and take them to a laboratory at the Elias Center for Advanced Animal Medicine.  Wes and Tucker are already there.

Dr. Harcount Fenton, a sinister surgeon, transplanted a porcine kidney into the young Sal, still dressed in diapers.  This operation caused Sal’s transformation into a manimal.  Furthermore, the fiendish Fenton deceived Sal’s destitute parents by telling them that their son had died.  Sal eventually went to live on a farm, where Donald Stern found and hired him.

Wes and Tucker rescue Sal, in mortal danger from the two fiendish Fentons, and liberate the other manimals from their menageries.  Sal is the sole manimal who does not want to kill the dastardly doctors.  The dastardly doctors die off-screen.  The other manimals manage to flee then to scatter around the world.  Sal returns to the safety of the World Chronicle.  Donald Stern publishes one last alliterative headline about Monica:  “Savage Simian Storms Science Sanctuary.”  Sal wants to find his parents.  Donald Stern states his support.

Marines escort Grace Hall into the offices of the World Chronicle.  She expresses how much she enjoyed their company on the aircraft carrier.  Donald Stern thanks them for returning her safely.  The Marines express their gratitude for what the publisher did for the Marine Corps in Grenada in 1983.  They salute Donald Stern, who returns the salute.

Wes, Grace, Tucker, Donald, and Sal eat out at a Chinese restaurant.  Each of the humans wears a pig snout.  Donald orders vegetarian food, pleasing Sal.

Above:  Simulated Savage Simians Sitting

Character Beats

Sal the Pig-Boy does not eat out (until the end of this episode.)  The mask takes an hour to put on and is uncomfortable to wear.

Wes frequently quotes Star Wars movies.  He quotes Episodes IV and V in this episode.

Dr. Harcourt Fenton’s name is mud.  He seeks to learn from his “mistakes,” who have pulses.

Above:  Manimals Moving About Openly in Manhattan

Great Lines

On a front page of the World Chronicle:  “Woman Gives Birth to Porcelain Geisha Doll.”

On a front page of the World Chronicle:  “Al Sharpton Wins ‘Dartboard of the Decade” Award.”

Vera, to a faux-Savage Simian:  “Get your filthy paws off me, you damn dirty ape.”  (Obviously, this is a reference to Planet of the Apes, 1968.)

Tucker Burns, to Grace Hall:  “I can’t believe it.  We have to go play Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler with ape monsters, and you get to go on a Mediterranean vacation?”

Later in the episode–Sal, to Wes Freewald and Tucker Burns”  “Didn’t you guys ever watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?”

Wes Freewald, after the fake Animal Control man disappeared the first time:  “Who was that masked man?” (Obviously, this is a reference to the Lone Ranger.)

Monica:  “What good is it being a half-woman, half-animal if you can’t make a joke?”

Tucker Burns, to Wes Freewald:  “You know, one of these days, you’re going to be stuck in a situation without a Star Wars quote.”  Wes Freewald, in reply:  “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Above:  Simian Sauvage Sieges Sous-Chef

In-Universe

Due to the video quality of the episode posted at archive.org, few dates on front pages of the World Chronicle are clear.  However, the date on the issue with the headline, “Simian Sauvage Sieges Sous-Chef,” is clearly February 6, 2001.  This episode, therefore, occurs after that date.

Donald Stern has a photograph of himself standing beside Pope John Paul II in his office.

What did Donald Stern do at Grenada in 1983 that won him the admiration of the U.S. Marine Corps?

Above:  Sympathetic Sapiens in Snouts

Comments

The passage of time within this episode is problematic.  At the end, Grace proclaims that she spent two weeks on an aircraft carrier.  If we take her word for it, this episode plays out in between two and three weeks.  That is possible, but improbable.

I am gob-smacked.  This great episode is full of geeky goodness.

“Dr. Harcourt Fenton” is, of course, a reference to confidence man Harcourt “Harry” Fenton Mudd, whom Roger C. Carmel played with roguish delight in Mudd’s Women (1966), I, Mudd (1967), and Mudd’s Passion (1973), in the live-action (1966-1969) then the animated (1973-1975) Star Trek series.  I prefer to ignore that bastardization, Star Trek:  Discovery, as much as possible.

Yes, I enjoyed writing this post.  The main alternative was watching the world go to hell in a hand basket.  Escapism has its place, I concluded years ago.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2020 COMMON ERA

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The Chronicle: News from the Edge–Episode 11: Touched By an Alien (2001)   4 comments

Above:  The Alien Mercenary

All images in this post are screen captures.

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Touched By an Alien

Canadian Television Rating = PG

Hyperlink to Episode

Aired January 4, 2002

Production Number = 5009-01-113

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

Main Guest Cast

Anna Maria Horsford as Jolene Freewald

Tucker Smallwood as Alonso Freewald

Duane Daniels as Smiley

Behind the Camera

Writer = Javier Grillo-Marxuach

Director = Sanford Bookstaver

Above:  Smiley

Brief Summary

One night, Donald Stern meets with Smiley, a mysterious figure wearing a fedora.  The publisher pays Smiley with a Tasmanian Tiger Snake.  Smiley warns Donald that something really bad, that somebody needs to stop, will arrive that night.  Donald knows what the dangerous something–someone, rather, is.  Off-screen, sayonara, snake.

An alien mercenary, or, as Donald describes it, a Sexually-Transmitted Assassin (STA) from the Orion constellation, arrives in a pod disguised as a meteorite that crashes into a strip club, Racks ‘N’ Rears.  Much of the episode consists of Wes, Tucker, and Grace pursuing the parasite assassin, a piece of gelatinous goo that dies when exposed to the atmosphere.  The STA has the ability to arouse anyone.  After the STA has transferred from one host to another, it destroys the body of the former host.

Wes Freewald’s “parental units” (a reference to the Coneheads) visit him in the office.  They are proud of him; they collect all the photographs he takes.  They claim to be in town for a Tom Jones concert.

Jessie Vance, the second host, drives to the offices of the World Chronicle.  He injures Donald Stern outside the building.  The publisher spends much of the rest of the episode recuperating in an alien biomorphic healing sanctuary located in the archives.  He is the target of the alien STA, supposedly because of a three-year-old published article about an alien royal family.  (Yet Donald Stern never published that article.)

Jessie Vance, possessed, drives less than a mile away, to the Grant Hotel, where the eighth floor is the site of the World Swingers Convention.  Most of the swingers are old and unattractive. The STA changes hosts twice, ending up inside Grace.  Grace resists arousal as best she can, but the STA overpowers her will.  Wes discovers, to his horror, that his parents are in town for the World Swingers Convention, not a Tom Jones concert.

Grace, possessed, returns to the archives of the World Chronicle and tries to seduce Sal.  The pig-boy is one of two individuals who can open the alien healing sanctuary; the other is Donald Stern.  The publisher has left the healing sanctuary, however.  He traps Grace in it.  Grace, possessed, attacks Stern by breaking glass and grabbing his throat.  Tucker and Wes arrive in time to rescue their boss.  Then Sal begins the procedure of removing the host from Grace.  The STA dies.  Grace lives.

Wes and his parents reestablish their peace.

Donald meats with Smiley again.  The publisher pays Smiley with a kitten.  Stern also asks that Smiley tell his contacts “that Donald Stern is packing heat” and is “not afraid to use it.”  Smiley agrees.  Smiley tells Donald, “Your’re a wonderful human being.”  The publisher replies, “I’d say the same for you, if you were.”  Off-screen, sayonara, kitty.

Above:  The Arrival of the Alien Pod

Character Beats

Tucker is still dating Kristen Martin.

Grace has not dated for eight weeks.

Sal the Pig-Boy is also desperate.  He reminds Grace that he may be half-pig, but that he is also half-man.  Grace retorts, “That’s about a fourth of what I need.”

In 1980, Wes Freewald’s parents took him to see The Empire Strikes Back nine times.  Grace Hall, hearing of this, asks if they received hazard pay for that.

Perhaps the alien biomorphic healing sanctuary explains why Donald Stern has not aged visibly in two decades.

Wes Freewald took his first photograph (of a Buick hubcap masquerading as a UFO) when he was seven years old.

Tucker’s parents do no know he works for the World Chronicle.  How far away from a grocery store checkout line do they live?

Above:  The Freewalds

Great Lines

Donald Stern:  “This alien has his mojo on so hard he could talk Mother Teresa into a threesome with Mahatma Gandhi.”

Donald Stern:  “Now let’s see where this Jacqueline Suzanne monstrosity is headed.”

Grace Hall, describing the World Swingers Convention:  “This is like the Red Shoes Diaries on Geritol.”

Wes Freewald, encouraging Grace Hall to resist arousal:  “Think of nuns, dead puppies, the dude who played Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Wes Freewald:  “I think I need to wash out my skull with soap.”

Wes Freewald:  “Man, after tonight, I’m going to pay off some shrink’s mortgage.”

Above:  Part of the Front Page

In-Universe

The Chronicle exists in the same universe as another Sci-Fi Channel series, The Invisible Man (2000-2002).  Yet Donald Stern dismisses that proposed story for the World Chronicle as preposterous.  Given what is not preposterous in previous episodes of The Chronicle, this is ironic.

Before Donald Stern reassigned Grace Hall to the STA story, she had been reporting on a man with an exposed brain.  (We will hear of this man again.)

Tucker once spent a night in a man-eating oven.

The Grant Hotel and the offices of the World Chronicle are less than a mile apart.

Donald Stern has an impressive alien arsenal in the archives of the World Chronicle.

Smiley is an extraterrestrial disguised as a human being.

Alonso and Jolene Freewald refer to some events from Here There Be Dragons.

Above:  Sal and Donald at Work

Comments

This episode combines the mysterious, the dangerous, and the funny well.  The soundtrack accents the appropriate mood at any given moment, and what needs to be off-camera is off-camera.  Human imaginations can fill in the other details.

“Racks ‘N’ Rears” is an unambiguous name for a strip club.

Touched By an Alien has more quotable lines than Take Me Back, the previous episode in both broadcast order and production order.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 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

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

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

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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