Wednesday, July 18, 2012

#3B: The Eerie Triangle

Book #3:  "The Eerie Triangle"

Release Date:  October 1997

Front Cover:  A boy and a girl (Marshall and... Janet?) sit on a bench in a park.  "Eerie's history..."

Inside Cover:  Zebediah Eeire's statue is surrounded by Grey Martians.  And his eyes appear to be human, for some reason.  " an out-of-this-word mystery!"

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Marshall's research into the founding of Eerie uncovers a vast conspiracy involving the U.S. Government and the 1947 Roswell UFO crash.

While learning about the Bermuda Triangle in history class, Marshall realizes that he has never heard anything about the history of Eerie.  Aside from a park statue of the town's founder Zebediah Eerie, there has never been any reference to Eerie's past in any class or in any town events.  The boys head to City Hall where the woman at the information desk (named Miss Information) hands them a skimpy pamphlet that covers the "entire" history of Eerie.

According to the pamphlet, Eerie was founded in 1812 by Zebediah, who lent his boots to General Harrison during the battle of Tippecanoe and, as a reward, was given the space that would eventually become Eerie.  Not satisfied with this story, the boys go to the cemetery for more info.  There, the kindly groundskeeper Digger shows them to the mausoleum used to house Eerie's body.  He mentions that a woman named Priscilla Bartlett had also been interested in the grave not too long ago.  Back at home, Marshall brings up Bartlett's name and Syndi recognizes her as a woman who went missing a few months ago.

She lends them the article about her disappearance and they notice that she was researching Eerie's history for her upcoming second book.  The boys decide to check out Bartlett's first book about UFOs at the school library.  Her book discusses the theory that the 1947 crash in Roswell, New Mexico was a government cover-up for an actual alien landing.  Her book includes images of the damaged craft, weird bodies being taken away on stretchers, and a sinister man in a black suit overseeing the operation.  The boys ask the librarian for any additional material about the founding of the town.  She is able to present them with old photographs of City Hall and the original World O' Stuff from 1812.  They notice that the original mayor and store owner look exactly like Mayor Chisel and Mr. Radford.  They also notice the sinister man in black present in a group photo with Zebediah Eerie.  This, combined with the fact that Eerie doesn't appear on any maps until 1947 leads Marshall to believe that Eerie and Roswell are connected.

The boys go back to City Hall at night and break in to the information office for more clues.  There, they notice the phone has a speed dial button for "Zebediah," they push it and a secret passageway opens up.  It leads them to a small holding cell where Priscilla Bartlett is being kept.  She explains that she made the discovery that Eerie was a fake town built to hide the aliens from the Roswell crash.  But she made too much commotion and got locked up by the men in black.  She tells them to contact National Weirdness, a tabloid that occasionally features true tales of weirdness.  They escape the underground lair through a second entrance, Zebediah's grave.  As they leave, they get attacked by a couple men in black but manage to escape.

Finally, Marshall gets in contact with the magazine and they send a reporter out right away to meet with him.  As it turns out, he is part of the conspiracy and working for the sinister man from the photos, named Specter.  Specter explains that the boys know too much, but when Marshall asks if this explains all of Eerie's weirdness, Specter is none the wiser.  In exchange for their release, Marshall agrees to send the government notes on all of the evidence of weirdness he has collected, since they have not managed to find what he has found.  They let him and Simon go, but they erase Ms. Bartlett's memory anyway.

Evidence Locker Item:  Maybe the pamphlet or the "1812" photographs, but most likely it is the textbook Marshall receives the next day in his history class: The History of Eerie: Revised Edition by Mr. Specter

The X-Files - This whole story is basically one big homage to the supernatural TV show that some believe was inspired by Eerie, Indiana.  So EI is giving it's blessing to the show.

"So the government knows all about Eerie?"

I enjoyed this story a lot as a kid because it promised to answer all of the questions about the show.  Yet, I never seemed to remember what those answers were, and it turns out it's because the ending is quite rushed.  Very quickly we get confirmation that, yes, Eerie was a town made to hide aliens, but no one is sure whether that caused Eerie's weirdness, or if the weirdness attracted the alien conspiracy.  Also, Specter teases Marshall by not answering is question about Chisel and Radford being aliens.  So, it's kind of a big let down overall.

What especially hurts this story is the fact that it is basically an X-Files episode, yet it doesn't try to do anything original with it.  As soon as Roswell enters the story, you know exactly how the rest will follow.  Specter seems like a creepy fellow, but then he loses his mysteriousness as soon as he talks.  And the rest is just padding to get to the inevitable.

And then the ending is really bizarre.  Marshall uses all of his Eerie evidence as leverage and agrees to work for the government by updating them regularly.  That really defeats the whole purpose of the series, doesn't it?  I mean, he is supposed to be saving this evidence so he can bring it to an authority figure and have his suspicions confirmed.  Now he's going to aid the government in keeping everything a secret?  Why?  Don't worry, this plot point never comes up again for the rest of the series, so why even bother?

My other issue is that this story seems to completely ignore the mythology set up in the television series.  Apparently the town was built in 1947, despite episodes such as "The Dead Letter," "Mr. Chaney," and "The Loyal Order of Corn" featuring characters who lived in Eerie since at least the beginning of the 20th century.  It would have been fine if Eerie already existed and was just used as a cover up for all alien visits, not just Roswell.  But by picking one date and claiming that the two are closely interconnected, the story feels forced and not at all what we've come to expect from the show.

It could have worked had they not built up the significance so much.  But as it stands, it is a huge let down.

Random Observations:
- Why does Specter erase Bartlett's memory?  He and Marshall struck a deal.  He basically just threw away all of the information Marshall promised he'd give him.  I liked Specter better when he was creepy and seemed intelligent.  He would have made for a good recurring villain.

- If any story needed Dash X in it, this is the one.  Aliens!  We could have finally received some much needed answers!

- Perhaps the authors of the book series weren't allowed to officially answer any of the mysteries from the series.  That leaves us with these pseudo-mythology stories.  What a bummer.

Conspiracy Theories:
- Eerie was founded by aliens.  Wait, that's already in the book.

- Digger, the friendly groundskeeper, is actually one of the Roswell aliens.  But he either received brain damage or a lobotomy.  Or he is genuinely interested in helping the boys uncover the truth, while the government and the town founders are the mean ones, keeping the aliens oppressed.

Grade:  If you ignore the inconsistencies, the final reveal of Specter, and the damage done to the overall mythology, the story is fairly interesting.  C+

Sunday, July 8, 2012

#2B: Bureau of Lost

Book #2:  "Bureau of Lost"

Release Date:  October 1997

Front Cover:  A boy (Marshall?) sits at a soda fountain counter (the World O' Stuff?). "Come on inside for a taste..."

Inside Cover: Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and a cowboy (Jesse James?) split a sundae. "...of wild adventure!"

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Five legendary criminals escape from the Bureau of Lost's Missing Persons Department and arrange an epic heist on the Eerie Railroad.

Marshall and Simon notice that they haven't been losing items as much as they used to and wonder if Al and Lodgepoole from the Bureau of Lost have been slacking.  They manage to track the two down and discover that they have been kicked out of the Bureau after a couple of escapees from the Bureau of Missing took charge.  Apparently, there is a wing that keeps track of all Missing Persons and keeps them in cryogenic chambers.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid escaped and freed everyone else.  The Losers sealed them inside the Bureau and are afraid to return since the escapees have weapons.

Marshall and Simon are roped into helping the two infiltrate the security system so that a gas can be released to knock out the escapees, allowing them all enough time to put them back in their place.  After navigating the complex and ludicrous system, the gang manages to get everyone back in their chambers, except Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Jesse James, the Flying Dutchman, and D.B. Cooper.  Fearing that these notorious criminals will be planning something sinister, the four spread out to hunt them down.

Marshall manages to locate the escapees at the World O' Stuff and learns that they plan to knock over a shipment of gold that is headed for Fort Knox via the railroad.  Marshall alerts the others and they decide that the best way to stop the criminals is to enlist the help of Dash X.

The train stops in Eerie just as a Wild West festival is occurring.  The criminals stop the train on the bridge over the Eerie River.  The patrons all assume that the criminal crew is part of the festivities and gladly hands their possessions over.  The valuables are lowered down to the Dutchman in a get away boat.  However, Dash X intercepts the loot via hang glider(!) and Lodgepoole and Al manage to tranquilize the thieves.

The Losers return the Missing People and agree to ensure that Marshall and Simon never lose anything ever again.  They also agree to talk with the higher-ups about their Missing Persons policy, which Marshall deemed inhumane.  Although it seems like they weren't going to follow through with it, Marshall receives a postcard from Amelia Earhart, thanking him for the vacation.

Evidence Locker Item:  Unknown, possibly Earhart's postcard

"Looks like some weird kid in a crazy flying contraption."

First, this story is a major improvement over the last one.  Things start happening quickly and each chapter gets crazier and crazier.  There is a little lack of focus as the boys navigate the inner workings of the Bureau of Lost, but at least it stays interesting.  But then, things get a little too crazy and the story is unable to withstand all the weirdness it created.

Everything about the story works just fine during the first 4/5ths of the book.  I think it was smart to have D.B. Cooper as part of the gang of criminals, acting as a bridge between the modern world and the old west.  That way there can be fish-out-of-water humor, but not so much that it slows the story down.  This makes for a great turn in which Marshall realizes they have to use technology made after Cooper's time in order to beat them.

And they come up with Dash on a hang-glider with a chainsaw.

While that is a funny image, it is too much.  The whole time, Dash is hesitating to hang glide so the reader is led to believe that he was just lying about his skills and was going to crash horribly and ruin the plan.  But then, he does it flawlessly with a working chainsaw.  It's like the author John Peel was going to write a normal story and then had to meet a deadline and rushed the ending.

Still, it's nice to have familiar characters back actually acting the way we remember them from the show.  Even Mr. Radford appears, happily serving the criminals their milkshakes.  I wanted to see the Bureau of Lost again and I got my wish.  So, for that, I applaud the story.  Even if it did get unnecessarily complicated.

Random Observations:
- Apparently there is another cryogenic chamber reserved for Elvis that has been empty for years in the Bureau of Missing.

- When I picture the hang-glider scene, I can't help but imagine Dash flying in front of a green screen, since that's how it would have looked on the show.  That makes it somewhat tolerable for me.

Conspiracy Theories:
- Dash's first request from the Losers is for them to return his memory.  But they don't deal with memories.  Maybe there is another department that handles the loss of intangible items.

Grade: A step in the right direction for the series, but the ending comes out of nowhere.  B

Friday, June 29, 2012

#1B: Return to Foreverware

Book #1:  "Return to Foreverware"

Release Date:  October 1997

Front Cover: A boy (Marshall?) rides his bike, delivering papers.  "There's a well-kept secret on this street..."

Inside Cover: A boy (Marshall? Simon?) is trapped behind a Foreverware lid.  "...and they're going to keep it FOREVER!"

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Marshall and Simon meet a Foreverware-using couple who plan on kidnapping Simon and keeping him young FOREVER!

It's summer and a year since Marshall originally moved to Eerie.  His parents encourage him to get a summer job and he chooses the not-at-all suspicious classified ad asking for a young boy to help with an odd job, "no questions asked."  He and Simon visit the house of the employer who is a woman in her 30s who still acts, dresses, and models her house as if it were the 1970s.  Her name is Martha Stewart (yes, really) and she lives with her equally '70s-ish husband James.  The job entails cleaning out the attic and she hires both boys, even though she "only needs one."

While moving things in the attic, the boys discover a large number of toys and child's drawings for a supposedly childless couple to own.  Among these items is the picture of a boy who looks similar to Simon, receiving a puppy for his birthday.  They take the photo to investigate and discover that it was taken in 1976.  When they return to the attic, they find a photo album filled with similar photos, each with a different boy in them.

The next day, Marshall has to come late, and when he arrives at the Stewarts' house expecting to find Simon, the Stewarts tell him that Simon never showed up and that they no longer require their services. Marshall searches around town for Simon but eventually learns that Simon has been kidnapped by the Stewarts.  Since Marshall knows the police won't help, he goes straight to the library for answers.  There, he discovers a couple newspaper articles from 1976, one featuring the Stewarts winning a dance contest (and looking the exact same age as they do currently) and one discussing the death of their son Rodney on Christmas.

Marshall sneaks into the Stewarts' home where he finds them calling Simon "Rodney" and preparing for his "birthday."  They catch Marshall, who decides to play along with the situation, lest he get hurt.  Marshall eventually realizes that this family uses Foreverware to stay eternally young, and they are obsessed with recreating Rodney's birthday and missed Christmas with Simon.  Marshall manages to escape before "Christmas" and tracks down Bert and Ernie Wilson for help freeing Simon from the clutches of Foreverware.  The twins explain the full story of the family, saying that Rodney had a disease that would lead to an early death.  His parents hoped Foreverware would keep him alive but, on Christmas Eve, he snuck out of his container to get a glimpse of Santa and he died.

When Marshall returns, he is punished for escaping by being placed in the freezer-line of Foreverware containers kept in the basement, where all the other kidnapped boys from the other photos are kept (since they also tried to run away).  Marshall breaks free in time for Bert and Ernie to break into the house dressed as Santa and an elf.  They knock out the Stewarts, free the frozen children, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Evidence Locker Item: Marshall puts the two 1976 newspaper clippings into the locker halfway through the story, along with the original Rodney photograph.  Then, at the end, the Stewarts send the boys the petrified Foreverware Christmas fruitcake along with Simon's version of the Rodney photograph.  I don't know why they sent them that, seeing as how they kind of left on bad terms but, oh well.  That's plenty of evidence right there.

"My mind reeled as I thought back to something that Simon and I encountered right after I moved to Eerie.  Something so strange, so weird, so bizarre that no one would ever believe it in a million years.  And now it was back again."

There is a point in most stories in which the characters of the story catch up with the knowledge that the audience knows from the title.  Some fans dub this the "Ghost Ship Moment" based on the movie Ghost Ship in which the characters finally figure out, "Hey, we're on a ghost ship!"  This is often unavoidable, as the audience encounters the title before the story, and they are already slightly ahead of the characters.  Sometimes this dramatic irony is used to the writer's advantage, or it could be used to set up false expectations.  Other times, it doesn't matter because the story is told so well that the audience doesn't care/notice.

This is not one of those cases.

Right away, we know that Foreverware is going to be a major component of the novella.  Yet, it literally takes Marshall half of the book to make the connection that the '70s-trapped family is using Foreverware.  So many clues are laid out that it becomes a chore following Marshall as he makes wrong assumptions and can't put two and two together.  The story basically can't move forward until Marshall knows what's going on, and he takes his sweet time getting there.

This was an odd choice to kick off the book series.  It is one of the few that is directly based on an original episode, so it wasn't going to attract anyone unfamiliar with the series.  After Marshall finally understands what's happening, he retells the whole "Foreverware" episode, which is tedious for those of us who saw it and confusing for those who haven't.  Oh, so there is this magical device that was introduced in some older story that is crucial to understanding this one?  And that story sounds far more entertaining than this one?

The slow pace in which anything happens is made worse by the way Marshall and Simon talk and behave.  The book series had a few writers and each have their own style.  Mike Ford wrote this one and he seems to have sucked the life and joy out of Eerie's mysteries.  Our two investigators are not as intelligent as their television counterparts.  Case in point: the Rodney picture.  The duo discover it in the attic, take it home for further investigation, look at it for a couple hours, and then turn it over and read the phrase "Summer, 1976."  Why?!  Why did it take them so long to turn it over?!

My only positive about this episode is that it tried to tell a different story, albeit one that was much darker and involved parents driven mad over the loss of their child.  But again, it's a strange book to kick off the series.  The Stewarts' aren't just weird, they are disturbing.  Too disturbing for Eerie, which is usually playful with its weirdness.  I would feel really sorry for these characters, if they weren't such horrible people.

This is a low point for the series, but hopefully it can only get better from here, right?

Random Observations:
- Each Eerie, Indiana book in the original dozen has a "ripped" normal cover that reveals a portion of the weird cover beneath it.  That's a clever idea, but my parents always told me to get a better copy of the book when I bought it since these were obviously damaged.

- I didn't include "References" because there are too many to count.  Every character's name, every street sign, every remark about the '70s contains some sort of reference.  I did appreciate "Twin Peaks Lane" and the Nehi soda, but others, like the librarian named "Mr. Poe" who is trying to find a rhyme to "nevermore," are too on the nose.

- The Wilson twins return, although now they are seventh-grade teachers as opposed to paramedics like in the show.  Also, they've continued creating Foreverware products, including a microwave used to rapidly age the victims of the freezer Foreverwares.  That is just stupid.  There is no reason for them to want any part of Foreverware after what they went through.  And why even have the need for a microwave?  Just make the freezer Foreverwares act like the regular containers, Mr. Ford!

- Sgt. Knight is nowhere to be seen.  In his place is Chief Hoffa, who never believes Marshall's stories. Right.  You do know that no one believes Marshall's stories, Mr. Ford.  That's his whole schtick.  No need to make a character specifically for that purpose.

- Elvis (called "The King") also appears, along with Marilyn Monroe, for some reason.

- Why does Marshall take so long to remember what Foreverware is?  It was his first encounter with weirdness, and it wasn't as if it went away after that episode.  We've seen that the World O'Stuff continues to sell it and there are families who still use it.  This book acts as if the Stewarts are the last ones to own it, but almost every family in Eerie is trapped in their own era.  Marshall shouldn't find this family to be out of the ordinary in Eerie.

- I'll never understand why the Stewarts decide to become nice and send the boys that Christmas gift.  It's a stupid conclusion for a stupid story.

Conspiracy Theories:
- After living in Eerie for a year, citizens get progressively dumber/brainwashed.  Only Simon is immune.  How else can we explain Marshall's behavior?

Grade: The story is just reheated leftovers (not the good kind found in Foreverware containers) and every character behaves inconsistently and obnoxiously.  D-

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Eerie, Indiana: Original Series Recap and Other Stuff

So, in just 19 episodes, we have seen werewolves, mummies, ghosts, aliens, and tornadoes that hold grudges.  We've also had stories about young love, abusive households, loss of faith, unhealthy friendships, and the dangers of blindly following authority.  Eerie, Indiana managed to blend the bizarre with the mundane, revealing apt truths about everyday life.  It challenged us to reconsider what we consider to be normal and abnormal.  I still have some remaining thoughts about this iteration of the series before I tackle the books and the "Other Dimension," so please allow me to indulge for a bit.

The 11 Main/Recurring Characters (Ranked from Least Favorite to Favorite)

11) Fred Suggs, a.k.a. The Impostor Mr. Radford - Archie Hahn (6 Episodes)
Best Episode: "The Hole in the Head Gang"
One of the main problems with the first Mr. Radford was that he wasn't John Astin, which is kind of a dubious criticism.  But after seeing Astin in the role, I can't help but enjoy that version of the character.  Mr. Radford needed to be a kindly, old man to make the World O'Stuff a safe haven in Eerie.  Suggs's character was too erratic, appearing in a different disguise every episode (complete with different accent and personality).  It was too silly for the character, and he never seemed like a right match for the suburban utopia that Eerie was supposed to present itself as.  Moving him to the Eerie Bank was a better fit for the character, where he could be shady without disrupting anyone.

10) Elvis Presley - Steve Peri (4 Episodes)
Best Episode: "Heart on a Chain"
Despite appearing in the opening credits every episode, Elvis only appeared a few times, usually in the background to remind the viewer that Elvis is still around, which is a nice touch.  The people of Eerie show that they are aware of Elvis (as evidenced by Simon's lamp and Syndi's middle name), yet they never seem to make the connection that their neighbor is the King.  According to IMDB, the actor only played Elvis in this show and in another movie, meaning he's probably just an Elvis impersonator.  Or maybe he's Elvis himself.

9) Sergeant Knight - Harry Goaz (5 Episodes)
Best Episode: "Who's Who"
Despite a great introduction, in which he behaved like a lifeless machine spouting off highly-detailed personal information about Marshall Teller, Sgt. Knight unfortunately never kept that level of mysteriousness up.  He remained rigid, but his intro implied that he knew everything about everything and was just a public servant keeping everything in order or else.  This character needed more time to shine.

8) Marilyn Teller - Mary-Margaret Humes (19 Episodes)
Best Episode: "Foreverware"
The problem with Marshall's normal family was that they often had very little to do, other than be unaware of the weirdness.  With the rest of the show being so weird, their scenes were often the least interesting aspect of the show.  They were still fully developed characters, however.  I picked "Foreverware" as Marilyn's best episode because there her "normalness" was used as a stark contrast to the "normal" housewives of Eerie.  Seeing her behave like a real person who was messy and had flaws made for an interesting dynamic.  It would have been fun to see more of her life outside of the family.  She was a party planner and we never once saw her throw any parties!  That was a wasted opportunity.

7) Mayor Winston Chisel - Gregory Itzin (4 Episodes)
Best Episode: "Mr. Chaney"
The sleazy, conniving mayor was a great aspect of why Eerie was the way it was.  But I particularly love his disregard for his own public as he allows them to be killed off one by one, turning a blind eye to the dangerous weirdness that surrounds his city.  Like Sgt. Knight, he would have benefited from an episode devoted to him, but at least he had a big role in the "Mr. Chaney" storyline, where he is finally confronted about his misdeeds.

6) Edgar Teller - Francis Guinan (19 Episodes)
Best Episode: "Marshall's Theory of Believability"
Like Marilyn, Edgar was underused and stuck with the "boring" scenes.  But, he had hints of a more interesting life with his job at Things, Inc.  We never got to see his workplace, but he was always referencing his work, so at least that was something.  The "Believability" episode is great for him because it explores his relationship with Marshall and shows how difficult it is for them to connect, especially considering Marshall's belief in the paranormal and supernatural.  It was a good dynamic that should have been fleshed out a bit more.

5) Syndi Teller - Julie Condra (18 Episodes)
Best Episode: "Tornado Days"
While Edgar and Marilyn usually kept to themselves, Syndi actually embraced her new life in Eerie.  For her, it wasn't a weird place, it was a place where she was part of a community.  From her trips with the Eerie Police to her stint as Miss Tornado Day, Syndi was comfortable in Eerie.  Not to sound like a broken record, but this would have been another great side to explore in the series.  If Syndi had some storylines in which she not only encountered weirdness, but enjoyed it, then there would have been a fun element that involved her more.  She was always good for a quip here or there, but she was completely under utilized.

4) Dash X - Jason Marsden (6 Episodes)
Best Episode: "The Loyal Order of Corn"
Some people believe that the addition of Dash killed the series, but I thought he was exactly what the series needed.  He was a bag full of mysteries and he allowed Marshall someone to play off of when discussing the town's weirdness.  Here was a person who not only saw the abnormal side of Eerie, he exploited it when it benefitted him.  Like Marshall, he had lots of questions, and his snarky behavior made his interactions with the town provide some much needed humor.  Marshall was too serious for this "comedy" show.  Dash had some fun.  And yes, I fully believe he is Marshall's evil twin.

3) Mr. Radford - John Astin (5 Episodes)
Best Episode: "Zombies in P.J.s"
He had even less screen time than Dash and the first Mr. Radford, yet I could not imagine Eerie, Indiana or Eerie, Indiana without him.  What else is there to say, other than John Astin is great?  When he gets that glimmer in his eye, you know you're in for a treat.  And while I listed the Faustian "Zombies" episode as his greatest episode, his best scenes are his existential pep talk in "Reality Takes a Holiday" and his whimsical creation of the werewolf cure milkshake in "Mr. Chaney."

2) Marshall Teller - Omri Katz/Eric Christmas (19 Episodes)
Best Episode: "The Lost Hour"
Despite only being 13, Marshall undergoes the typical mythical hero's journey throughout the series.  We begin with him complaining about leaving his home in New Jersey behind.  He claims to have enjoyed it because it was full of crime, implying that he had an adventurous streak in him.  When he starts noticing Eerie's weirdness, he reluctantly faces off against it, but he still wants to leave.  It isn't until "The Lost Hour" where he journeys to the "otherworld" and he accepts his fate.  He and Eerie are linked by destiny.  By the end of "Reality Takes a Holiday" he is sure that he must stay there, because that is his new home.

1) Simon Holmes - Justin Shenkarow (19 Episodes)
Best Episode: "The ATM with the Heart of Gold"
Like John Watson and Sancho Panza before him, Simon is a great, level-headed sidekick.  Yet, by being a kid, he still have a sense of play and adventure.  He usually provides some of the series' best lines and his knack for stating the obvious is often the critical element that helps him and Marshall out of their sticky situations.  He is a character with a dark past which is often alluded to and one can't help but wonder/fear what his life would have been like had Marshall not come to town.  It's a shame he only got one episode devoted to him.  And, unlike a lot of child actors, he still felt like an average 9-year-old, even when he was encountering more mature situations.  He was the character I most identified with as a 9-year-old kid.  Like him, I wanted to be just like Marshall.  But I still had some growing up to do.

A Frank Discussion of the Three Openings of Eerie, Indiana

1) When the series ran on Fox Kids, the show only had one opening that was used, so this was the one I was most used to.  It was basically just the intro to the "Foreverware" episode, where Marshall rides his bike on his paper route, discussing his odd neighborhood.  It was a great way to set up the premise and atmosphere of the show.  The Fox Kids airings cut out the theme song, so seeing it for the first time on the DVD's was a little jarring at first.  I have since grown used to the bizarre theme music (that seems to blend old-timey Americana nostalgia with an over-the-top "spooky" vibe), but I feel the opening was stronger with only Marshall's introduction.

2) The second opening was only used in "The Retainer" and it modified the original introduction with a few items of weirdness. Specifically, "Item: A guy that looks suspiciously like Elvis lives on my paper route. Item: Bigfoot eats out of my trash. Item: a bizarre housewife cult in town has been sealing up their kids in giant rubber kitchenware so they don't age."  They show the clip of Elvis getting the paper from the first intro which originally received no commentary from Marshall.  I felt that was a better, more subtle approach because it allowed the viewer to figure out the joke for themselves, rather than have Marshall repeat it.  This intro ends with a set up into the dog storyline of the episode, and also ends with a morbid line: "Better weird than dead," which is very out of place and doesn't match the tone of the original intro.

This intro was used only once during the Fox Kids run, either as part of the episode or just as a promotion for the show.  But the Bigfoot clip would always be used in the commercials, and it always bothered me since I didn't know which episode it came from.  The "Foreverware" clip and the Elvis clip I had seen in their proper context.  But Bigfoot in the trash always made me think I had missed some episode along the way.  It was frustrating.

3) The third opening was kind of a combination of the first two and it would be used in every other episode in the series (save for one or two which had no intro).  The monologue from the first was used, with the items from the second mixed in, except instead of "Foreverware," we got the stupid, "Item: Even man's best friend is weird," featuring a dog chasing it's tail.  It breaks the established syntax pattern of the first two items, it doesn't say or show anything about why dogs are weird, and it references one of my least favorite episodes of the series.  Needless to say, I hated this intro and it was the one used on 90% of the episodes.

Every Episode of Eerie, Indiana Ranked from Worst to Best

The Dead Letter
- Every single character behaves like a stubborn fool and no one acts logically, dragging out the simple task of delivering a ghost's letter to an absurd and frustrating length of time.

Moral: Take a chance, reveal your feelings, and don't hesitate, or else you'll be killed by a milk truck.

18) The Retainer - This is the one where they all turn out to be dogs or something.  And by "they" I mean, "the sinister voices bent on world domination."  It's as ridiculous as it sounds.
Moral: Face your fears and take good care of your teeth, or else you'll be killed by dogs.

17) No Brain, No Pain - An interesting story about a mind-swapping device created by a homeless lunatic/genius is ruined by overacting guest stars with laser guns.
Moral: Don't be quick to judge someone as crazy, or else your mind will end up on an 8-track tape.

16) Scariest Home Videos - A solid tale about literally switching places with a horror movie monster on Halloween is padded out with pointless tangents that detract from the story.
Moral: Keep a close eye on those you babysit, or else they'll get sucked into the television.

15) Just Say No Fun - The Orwellian school nurse brainwashing children into behaving is a witty idea, but it is derivative of much greater works, resulting in a mediocre episode for the series.
Moral: Sometimes you need to break the rules, or else you'll become a mindless, four-eyed drone.

14) Tornado Days - Even though a sentient, killer tornado is the stupidest idea the show has ever done, the episode is still quite enjoyable but it suffers from ignoring its own made-up rules.
Moral: Honor your community, or else you'll be killed by a spiteful tornado.

13) Who's Who - A pencil that makes dreams come true is a great plot-driving device for the artist tortured by her own family, but the episode trips over its own message to justify a happy ending.
Moral: Be happy with the family you've got, or else you'll receive a magic, wish-granting pencil.

12) Mr. Chaney - The episode takes a dark look at the deadly customs of the Eerie leaders and citizens, and then it loses focus and becomes a run-of-the-mill werewolf story.
Moral: Don't blindly follow ancient traditions, or else you'll be killed by a werewolf.

11) Marshall's Theory of Believability - Marshall loses his faith in Eerie weirdness when a respected hero is revealed to be a sham in an episode that doesn't feature much originality, but is still quite deep.
Moral: Seek the truth and trust in your beliefs, or else you'll miss out on the UFO crashes...of life.

10) The Hole in the Head Gang - The "main" story of the inept bank-robbing ghost is pushed aside as the episode introduces Dash X and the real Mr. Radford, but it still manages to be quite entertaining.
Moral: Don't play with guns, or else you'll shoot your geist out.

9) The Losers - This episode introduces us to the Bureau of Lost, a great and funny location where all lost items end up.  But with so many interesting ideas, the episode is forced to rush through the story.
Moral: Accept your losses, or else you'll have to deal with the bureaucracy of getting things back.

8) Foreverware - A good start to the series that establishes everything you need to know: Eerie is secretly weird, Marshall is normal, and the neighbors sleep in Tupperware containers.
Moral: Don't live in the past, or else you'll age rapidly when someone forgets to burp your seal.

7) The Loyal Order of Corn - The answers to Dash X's past lie behind the doors of the Eerie Corn Lodge, and unfortunately, they are still there.  But at least there is a teleporter to a distant planet!
Moral: Don't stress out about learning all of life's answers, or else your hair will go gray.

6) Broken Record - A submissive nerd becomes a rebellious punk by listening to rock and roll music.  This simple premise takes a chilling turn in a poignant episode with a powerfully emotional ending.
Moral: Be careful what your child listens to, or else he'll hear the wrong message.

5) Reality Takes a Holiday - The final episode of the series fails to explain anything, but it instead takes us behind the scenes of Eerie, Indiana, as seen through the eyes of its main character.
Moral: Enjoy your life, no matter how weird it gets, or else you'll be killed off your own show.

4) Heart on a Chain - Love and death make for great dramatic elements in a young teen's world, especially when the heart of your rival gets placed into the love of your life.
Moral: Let go of those you have lost, or else the heartbreak will kill you.

3) Zombies in P.J.s - You can't go wrong with a "selling your soul to the Devil" story, and this one manages to rise to the cream of the crop as it introduces a horror even worse than the pits of Hell.
Moral: Always read the fine print, or else the souls you've stolen might end up in the wrong hands.

2) The ATM with the Heart of Gold - A boy befriends a generous ATM who steals from everyone's accounts just so it can keep the boy happy.  How could that not be one of the greatest stories ever?
Moral: Don't try to buy friendship, or else you'll bankrupt the city.

1) The Lost Hour - The spacetime continuum is destroyed as Marshall learns what happens when he tries to leave Eerie and take charge of his own life.  It's the only episode I wish was twice as long.
Moral: Don't run away from your destiny, or else you'll be saved by a milk truck.

And For Fun, My Recommended Viewing Order (with My Ratings)

1. Foreverware - A-
2. The ATM with the Heart of Gold - A+
3. Scariest Home Videos - B-
4. The Losers - A-
5. Broken Record - A
6. Tornado Days - B
7. Heart on a Chain - A
8. Just Say No Fun - B
9. Who's Who - B+
10. Marshall's Theory of Believability - B+
11. The Lost Hour - A+
12. The Hole in the Head Gang - B+
13. Mr. Chaney - B+
14. The Loyal Order of Corn - A-
15. Zombies in P.J.s - A+
16. Reality Takes a Holiday - A

I've skipped my least favorite episodes and stuck mostly to the original production order to keep the main story intact.  Then, I alternated some of the lighter popcorn-fare with the heavier dramatic episodes to create a nice balance.  So, if you're wondering whether or not to get into the series, this would be my suggested approach.  You can skip any you wish or add the ones I took out, but I don't know why you would need to see a young Tobey Maguire that badly.

*      *      *

And that's all I have to say about the original series.  But the adventures of Marshall and Simon are far from over.  Now I shall head into the first dozen books in the Eerie, Indiana young adult series to see what happens next for our heroes.  But be forewarned, things are going to get stranger, weirder, and less-well written before it gets better.  I also remember these stories fondly, but, unlike the television series, the books don't age well.  Still, there should be a few diamonds in the rough.  Let's start some summer reading!

Thank you, little paper boy.

Friday, June 22, 2012

#19: Broken Record

Episode 1005:  "Broken Record"

Original Date:  December 9, 1993

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Marshall's nerdy friend undergoes a radical personality transformation after listening to a punk rock album and starts rebelling against his abusive father.

Shopping at the World O'Stuff, Marshall introduces his geeky friend Todd to the Pitbull Surfers, a heavy metal punk rock group that plays loud, incoherent, rebellious drivel that all parents hate.  They purchase the album and Todd takes it home to try it out on his old turntable.  As soon as they start playing the music, Todd's recently unemployed father (Tom Everett) comes barging into the room and yells at him to turn it off (among other threats and insults).  Marshall and Simon awkwardly excuse themselves, leaving Todd to his music and family.

That night, Todd listens to the music with headphones and again, his father reprimands him for it.  Todd's mother tries to intervene and explain that his father is just going through a rough time, but Todd doesn't buy it.  He instead turns up the music and locks himself in his room, preparing for a massive redecoration.

The next time Marshall sees Todd, he has completely remade himself, acting and dressing like a punk.  He returns home, where he is not met with open arms, and he runs away, choosing to leave his family forever.  He ends up hijacking a milk truck with Marshall inside and totals it, injuring himself.  Marshall feels that the record has had some weird effect on Todd and accompanies the police to Todd's house to learn the truth.

While there, Todd's father locates the record and, seeing the police, realizes that Todd has done something horrible.  He rants and raves about there being hidden, backwards messages on the record which have been corrupting his son's mind and in order to prove it to everyone, he puts the record on the turntable and starts playing it backwards manually.  The hidden message reveals itself, but it is not what anyone expects.  Everyone sits in silence as they hear the garbled voice of Todd's father emerging from the record, repeating every insult, every slam, every bit of verbal abuse that he had ever given to Todd.

First (and Last) Subplot Summary:
Syndi begins a ride-along program with the Eerie Police for her journalism project.  Her parents find it to be too dangerous and try to get her to stop.  Eventually, Syndi does, because she grows tired of the cop repeatedly trying to impress her with his power.  She instead chooses to do her project on the Eerie Fire Department.

Evidence Locker Item:  Todd's record player, Tag #???

Butthole Surfers - The Pitbull Surfers seem to be based on this alternative rock group from the '80s.  However, their hit song "Eardrum Lobotomy" is inspired from groups that were more heavy metal.

The Carpenters - Simon reveals his taste in music as he sings "We've Only Just Begun" repeatedly throughout the episode.

Priscilla and Lisa Maria Presley - Syndi's full name is "Syndi Marie Priscilla Teller," after Elvis Presley's ex-wife and daughter.  I wonder if she's met the man on Marshall's paper route.

"This is what's ruining my kid."

This was the misplaced episode of Eerie, Indiana.  It was supposed to be the fifth episode of the series, but it got pulled from it's original broadcast.  It wasn't until the series reran on the Disney Channel, and later Fox Kids, that this episode finally aired.  And so, we go back to the early days, before Dash X, before Mr. Radford, before the big Eerie conspiracies.  Back when the show took an average suburban concept and made it disturbing.  And the truth was already disturbing to begin with.

The theme of parent-on-child abuse is at the heart of this story, so it's no wonder NBC shied away from airing it so early in the series' run.  There is no physical abuse, but Tom Everett's words cut deeply, making Todd and the audience jump every time he yells.  Like "Heart on a Chain," nothing truly weird happens until the very final moments.  Todd's rebellion could be seen as a natural response to the way his father was treating him, and this episode decides to make the metaphor literal.  The awkwardness of seeing a friend get bullied by their parents is something many children unfortunately have to grow up with.  When I saw this episode as a kid, I saw myself in Marshall and Simon's shoes.  Simon sympathizes with Todd, saying their fathers would get along very well.  That's dark, and just reminds us of Simon's horrible life.

The crux of the episode is that pivotal scene right at the end.  Seeing this episode for the first time as a kid, I had no idea what to expect.  Nothing weird had happened yet, so I was scared to hear what evil, Satanic messages were going to be heard on the record.  Making it Todd's father's voice was shocking. Everyone in the scene remains speechless, which was also my reaction.  This scene stuck with me long after the series had ended.  Sure, I'd always remember the funny Foreverware containers, the creepy Mr. Wilson ATM or the rascally Dash X, but it was the look on Todd's father's face as he can't help but listen to his own venom that will always remind me of what this show was capable of.

This is strangely the only episode with a subplot, giving Marshall's family something more to do than just sit there.  Unfortunately, it is dull and unfunny.  But, it runs as a nice parallel to how lucky Marshall is to have caring parents.  When Syndi gets in trouble, it's clear her parents are looking out for her.  It's a shame we didn't get more elements like this, where they could grow and become more interesting.

Even though "Reality Takes a Holiday" should be considered the last episode, "Broken Record" is last in the DVD order, making for a weird ending for the uninformed viewer.  It leaves the series on a darker note, but it also shows Marshall and his family in a state of happiness.  They love each other and will protect each other.  And, we close with Simon singing "We've Only Just Begun."  How charming is that?

Random Observations:

- There was another lost episode called "The Jolly Rogers."  It concerned a group of pirates who ransack Marshall's house, looking for the treasure buried there.  It was supposed to air after "The Lost Hour" but was instead replaced with "Who's Who."  Looking at the script number, it was actually the second episode written, meaning this idea was around from the very beginning.  Alas, it never came to fruition.

- The cop that Syndi rides along with is not Sgt. Knight and actually has a normal (and obnoxious) personality.  This subplot does explain why Syndi was so enamored with the police later in the series, but having Sgt. Knight as our only window into the Eerie Police Dept. made for a more interesting dynamic.  This is the only upside to this episode being pulled.

- The Eerie Milk Truck is back!  Remember, this was supposed to air before "The Lost Hour," likely as a way to plant the seed in the audience's imagination.  I miss the milk truck throughline.

- I'll admit it.  The "backwards record" scene is one of my television-tear-triggers, right up there with "Fry's dog" from Futurama and "Sam Weir gets an Atari" from Freaks and Geeks.

Conspiracy Theories:
- Marshall couldn't get the record player to recreate the phenomenon.  Perhaps it only works when a child's life is in danger, making it the first item in the Eerie Evidence Locker that is purely used for good.

Grade:  Despite a shaky subplot, the pivotal moment of this episode makes for an important episode of television, rivaling any episode of The Twilight Zone.  A-

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#18: Reality Takes a Holiday

Episode 1019:  "Reality Takes a Holiday"

Original Airdate:  April 12, 1992

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Marshall ends up behind the scenes of Eerie, Indiana and learns that this is the episode in which his character will be killed off.

On an average day in Eerie, Marshall's family makes plans to go see a movie while Marshall would rather stay behind, investigating weirdness.  The family (including Simon) leaves without him and he checks the mail, discovering the script for this very episode, "Reality Takes a Holiday."  He goes back into his house and finds his family again, repeating the same lines from the first scene.  When Marshall questions what's going on, the director cuts, revealing Marshall's house to be just a set on a studio lot.

Marshall's family breaks character and begins referring to each other by their actual actors names.  When Marshall doesn't respond to his actual name, "Omri Katz," the director suggests they break for lunch while "Omri" collects himself.  Marshall wanders around from set to set, discovering that more and more of his life is just a television show.

He finds the "World O' Stuff" set and sees Mr. Radford, working like usual.  Marshall is glad to see him acting normally and explains how weird this day has been.  Mr. Radford proposes that when ever he is unsure of what to do, he always checks the script.  He pulls it out and the two find the rest of the pages to be blank.

Determined to find out what is happening, Marshall visits the script writer's office.  Inside he finds the writer discussing the episode with Dash X (who appears to still be Dash X, and not an actor).  Dash reveals that he has convinced the writer to include a scene in which Dash "accidentally" kills Marshall, resulting in Dash becoming the new star of the show.

Word spreads that Marshall is getting written out of the show, and Marshall escapes from the set in order to sneak into the writer's office and write a new ending.  The new pages are sent out in the nick of time and this time, when Marshall's family asks him to go with them to the movies, he agrees to go, causing the television world to fade away as he snaps back to reality.

Evidence Locker Item:  Probably the edited script page, which remains in Marshall's living room.

"It seems to me we're doing exactly what the script says."

We have reached the last episode of Eerie, Indiana, production-wise.  There is still a misplaced episode left, and also the rebooted series.  But this is the episode where the cast and crew knew it would be the last they would ever film.  So, rather than wrap up the loose ends or provide any sort of answers, the episode pulls us out from the Eerie we know and takes us on a tour of the creative process, the magic that went into making every episode.

The A.V. Club featured this episode in their "Very Special Episode" series, and while I disagree with the choice of showcasing the last episode of a series (especially one that's as self-referential as this one) to represent the series as a whole, I understand why it was selected.  This wasn't just a special episode of Eerie, Indiana, it was a special episode of television.  We get the chance for a television character to become self-aware.  This has been encountered in various forms of media before, but here, Marshall's very existence has been threatened and he gets a chance to save himself.

By stepping outside of his universe, Marshall basically gets the chance to play God and "redo" the moment in his life that would have led to his death.  The title even alludes to this narrow run-in with his planned demise, spoofing "Death Takes a Holiday."  This title is usually assigned to stories in which characters find themselves living through a period of time in which death doesn't occur.  Here, death can occur, but fortunately, Marshall is genre-savvy enough to avoid it.

The comedy of the cast and crew portraying their "real" lives is a little over the top, but it would almost half to be in order for the rest of the episode to work.  I enjoy that Dash remains exactly the same (if not more sinister), which only furthers the questions about who he actually is.  One wonders that if the show were to continue, would he have taken on a more villainous role?

Overall, this is a bittersweet ending to the series.  The nostalgia of the series looms over the entire episode, and one can't help but wonder if we were actually seeing the set being taken down in real life. Marshall at least gets to return home where, for now, Eerie is the most normal place he can be, and that's as good an ending as we are going to get.

Random Observations:
- That is Joe Dante himself playing the director, of course.

- Out of the "real" actors, I enjoyed that Julie Condra (Syndi) was an intelligent feminist who found her "one line per episode" deal degrading.  Also, Justin Shenkarow (Simon) is a horrible, spoiled child actor who acts like Baby Herman from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

- It's unclear whether Marshall is talking to Mr. Radford or John Astin.  Perhaps he is just method acting.  Either that, or Radford is actually reading the scripts of every episode and just playing along in Eerie.

- All things considered, I find Dash's proposed killing of Marshall to be really stupid.  Apparently, Marshall will be shot (repeatedly) by Dash, who is aiming for Bigfoot.  All because Marshall didn't go to "Revenge of the Corn Creature."  It's completely random and unpoetic.  No writer would have found that to be a good ending to Marshall's character.

- On that note, we know that Marshall lives to be an old man, so he can't die at this age.

Conspiracy Theories:
- The episode is called "Reality Takes a Holiday," both in and out of the episode itself.  Was the whole thing, with Marshall messing up the filming and changing the script, actually...scripted itself?  Makes you think!

- Since Marshall made a decision at the beginning that would ultimately lead to his death, I believe Eerie (the town) was course correcting and kicked Marshall out of reality for a bit just so he could save himself.  Because Marshall is Eerie's protector, and Eerie, Marshall's.

- Dash tears up the script at the end when everything is back to normal, meaning he actually remembers the events that transpired.  No theory here, but that opens up a world of possibilities.

Grade:  An experimental, existential episode that pays off as a love letter to Eerie, Indiana (even if some of the jokes are a little clunky).  A

Sunday, June 17, 2012

#17: Zombies in P.J.s

Episode 1018:  "Zombies in P.J.s"

Original Airdate:  April 12, 1992

One-Sentence Synopsis:  A mysterious salesman arranges a deal with Mr. Radford, offering him an opportunity to get rich quick, and it only costs the soul of every Eerie citizen.

Marshall heads over to the World O'Stuff to return a disguise kit that he forgot to pay his mother back for buying.  However, Mr. Radford explains that he won't be making any returns because he is being audited by the IRS for tax evasion very soon and will be broke unless a miracle occurs.  Out of nowhere, a slimy salesman appears, calling himself "The Donald."  He tells Radford that he can help him sell every item in the store within 3 days, allowing Radford to retire with riches beyond his wildest dreams.  Rather than ask how exactly he plans on doing that, Radford gleefully signs the Donald's lengthy contract, happy that his financial troubles are behind him.

The Donald notices Dash X shoplifting and hires the kid as his assistant, promising him a cut of the pie (and he has him sign another contract).  That night, the Donald and Dash premiere a commercial on every television channel, urging customers to come to the World O'Stuff where everything can be bought easily with store credit.  The commercial manages to lull Eerie into an early sleep, and, as Marshall observes, his dreams continue to urge him to go shopping.  He forces himself awake, only to find everyone sleepwalking their way over to the World O'Stuff.

Everyone starts buying random items, while remaining asleep.  The Donald flits around having everyone sign more of his contracts while Marshall tries in vain to prevent his family from purchasing unnecessary items.  Marshall and Simon spend the rest of the night keeping each other awake so that they don't succumb to the Donald's hypnosis, but in the morning, they fall asleep anyway.

After the two sleepwalk to the World O'Stuff and purchase the last two items, Radford and Dash prepare to bask in their riches.  However, the Donald just blows Dash off, and Dash tracks down Marshall and Simon to finally put an end to the shady business.  The two look at the fine print of one of the Donald's contracts, and discover even smaller print located in a tiny dot on the page.  Apparently, if people are unable to pay for their purchases, the Donald gets to repossess their souls!

The Donald starts wrangling the Eerie sleepwalkers onto a bus that is headed for "the Mall," as a way of collecting their souls.  The boys try to stop him, but Radford tells them that a contract is a contract and unfortunately, this is their fate.  But before they can be carted of to "the Mall," the IRS auditor arrives to take all of Radford's earnings.  This means all of the souls end up in his possession and the Donald returns to Hell empty-handed.  However, it turns out that the auditor was just Marshall using the amazing disguise kit that he bought earlier, and everyone in Eerie is able to return home peacefully in their pajamas.

Evidence Locker Item:  Not shown, probably Marshall's impossibly good disguise kit, "Disguise Yourself So Even Your Own Mother Won't Recognize You."

Dawn of the Dead - This probably isn't an explicit reference, but George Romero's 1978 horror classic also featured the themes of "zombies as consumers," which is what this episode is all about.

"Just Can't Get Enough!"

This is a fun one.  As soon as I hear the premise, I am on board.  Many stories and television shows featuring small towns love showing the mob-mentality of simple-minded folk, and while we've seen their holidays and traditions in "Tornado Days" and "Mr. Chaney," this is the first time when a new weirdness actually takes the entire town by storm.  All of the weirdness we have seen up until this point centered around Marshall and his peers.  Yes, the town was weird, but the entire town becoming shopping zombies is out of the ordinary even for them.

Usually, Marshall's parents can explain away any weirdness that comes before them, but now, when they wind up with loads of merchandise in their house or when they find themselves on bus in their sleep clothes, they have no choice but to find it odd.  And for once, Marshall himself even falls victim to the weirdness.  If Dash hadn't have gotten ripped off, he wouldn't have saved the day by waking up Marshall and Simon.  That's much better than the repeated "learning life lessons" Dash who always feels bad for his actions.

The themes of this episode are very subtle, as I remember this being the only episode from my childhood where I had absolutely no idea what was going on.  Taxes?  Store credit?  Selling souls?  This wasn't stuff that would normally be featured in a kids show.  In fact, I legitimately thought that the Donald wasn't involved in the Eerie zombies, and it was just a weird occurrence.

The writing for this episode may possibly be the sharpest it's ever been.  Mr. Radford's resignation to the whole ordeal is hilarious, and it fits very well with his laissez-faire attitude.  The fact that he is more scared of the IRS than the actual threat of eternal damnation is a wonderful tidbit.

The twist of having the IRS guy appear to claim the souls is very clever, even though it's revealed to be Marshall in the end.  It would have probably been too dark to have the actual IRS walk off with a town's souls.  But other than that, everything works, there are some welcome changes to the status quo, and we get the funniest episode of the series.  I want more!

Random Observations:
- Dash X starts sporting a ponytail just like the Donald once he becomes his assistant.  Now we know who not to trust in life.

- Dash X also tries to get Syndi to buy skimpy outfits when she's in her zombified state.  This makes me even sadder that he's only around for one more episode.

- The Donald doesn't appear to be Satan himself, but he is certainly one of his minions.  He remains in contact with "the Big Guy" via an early '90s cell phone (and the conversation is overheard by Dash on his cell phone, which I didn't know cell phones were capable of).

- For 15 years, I've had the "Just Can't Get Enough" jingle stuck in my head.

- In case you didn't catch it, "the Mall" isn't really the Mall.  Watch the bus stop sign as it flashes from "MALL" to "HELL," right before the camera moves away.  I'm pretty confident that this scene didn't appear in the Fox Kids airing of this episode.

- During the closing credits, we are treated to an extended scene of Marshall and Simon slapping each other to stay awake all night long.  Simon starts to laugh right as the camera cuts away.

Conspiracy Theories:
- So, Radford still owns everyone's soul, right?

Grade:  A solid, funny episode with great writing and a great conceit that manages to make the show fresh again.  A+