Archive for the ‘Sanford Bookstaver’ Tag

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

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

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 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

Sharon Sachs as Vera

Octavia L. Spencer as Ruby Rydell

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 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 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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