Friday, May 25, 2012

#6: Just Say No Fun

Episode 1008: "Just Say No Fun"

Original Airdate:  October 27, 1991

One-Sentence Synopsis:  The new school nurse begins hypnotizing students into becoming obedient zombies, choosing schoolwork and orderly behavior over fun.

Marshall and Simon have been on a bit of a prank kick lately, using gag items to pull one over on their family members and schoolmates.  When a bully ingests some of Simon's ultra-hot chewing gum, the principal intervenes and sends the boys to the school nurse for an eye exam before they start fighting.  The bully is seen first and after the sounds of a struggle, he exits the nurse's office with a new pair of glasses and a fresh attitude.  He apologizes to Simon for his behavior.

Creepy Nurse Nancy introduces herself and calls in Simon next.  After a while, he too exits with a pair of glasses, a monotonous voice, and a desire to study hard.  Marshall realizes that something weird is happening (yet again), so he skips out on his eye exam.

Later, at the World O'Stuff, Marshall and Mr. Radford observe a large number of bespectacled children (including Simon) buying school supplies instead of toys and games.  Radford understands that something must be done about it, so he directs Marshall toward his supply of joke items.  Since desperate times call for desperate measures, Mr. Radford unearths a secret pair of novelty Groucho-Marx glasses called the GM2020s, guaranteed to put a smile on anybody's face.  Marshall tests them on Simon and he instantly reverts to his happy, fun-loving self.

At home, Simon recounts his exam, explaining that Nurse Nancy had used a special psychedelic eye-testing device that allowed her to brainwash him, using the repeated phrase, "All work and no fun make Simon a good boy."  Marshall decides that he will go into the exam with the GM2020s and an undercover Simon will record Nancy's attempted brainwashing on video.  Unfortunately, Nancy calls Simon at home, repeats her trigger phrase, and Simon becomes a zombie again.

At the exam, Marshall taunts Nancy, knowing that he has the upper hand, but when the brainwashing begins, Zombie Simon turns over the camera and Groucho glasses to Nancy.  Marshall finally manages to reach the glasses and puts them on to break Simon from the spell, but as they turn to escape, the entire zombified school prevents them from leaving.  Instead, Marshall turns his funny face on Nurse Nancy and she falls into the examination chair.  Simon turns on the brainwashing machine and Marshall uses it to hypnotize Nancy into laughing uncontrollably whenever she hears the phrase "Womp-bomp-a-do-domp."  He places the GM2020s on her face and she ventures into the school repeating the new phrase, causing everyone to break down into a fit of laughter.  Marshall instructs her to laugh her way to the North Pole and we last see her crossing the border into Canada, annoying the Canadian border guard.

Evidence Locker Item:  A plastic bag filled with the zombie glasses Nurse Nancy prescribed. (Tag #38)

Just Say No - This was a phrase associated with the anti-drug movement born in the 1980s, encouraging kids to say "no" to drugs.  It eventually was used to cover other topics such as violence, or in this episode, fun.

B.F. Skinner - A behavioral psychologist well-known for his invention of the "operant conditioning chamber" a.k.a. the "Skinner box" which studied reinforcement theory by placing a rat inside with the ability to receive a treat every time it successfully pulled a lever.  A myth involving him also testing these experiments on his baby daughter has caused a stigma around the invention.  Either way, his practices on reinforcing behavior fit in neatly with this episode and it makes sense that the Eerie junior high school would be named after him.

Groucho Marx - One of the Marx Brothers, a team of sibling comedians who were famous for their films during the first half of the 20th Century, Groucho was the most iconic, comedically with his quick wit and sarcastic humor, as well as visually with his bushy eyebrows, thick mustache and glasses.  Novelty glasses complete with nose, eyebrows, and mustache based on his appearance began selling in the 1940s and have become synonymous with comedy.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. - A proverb from the 17th Century that was popularized in the 1980 movie The Shining in which the lead character goes mad, writing this phrase over and over again.  Nurse Nancy tweaks the line to produce a more "positive" effect.

Tutti Frutti - The trigger phrase that Marshall uses to make Nancy laugh is based on the opening line of scatting that occurs in this Little Richard hit.

"These days demand a certain simplicity.  A certain shallowness."

To me, this episode is the most basic Eerie, Indiana can get.  The plot is simplistic and there aren't any surprises.  It's still a good episode, but it doesn't aim to reach the heights of other episodes.  The school nurse is brainwashing kids and during them into mindless drones?  That's right up Eerie's alley, and is found in nearly every other dystopian science-fiction story in existence.

What makes Eerie's take on the story unique is the use of glasses.  Both are used as a symbol of "correcting one's vision."  One is bland, sterile and promotes conformity and the other is fake, silly and promotes individuality.  Neither actually help with eyesight, but when one is donned, the user sees the world completely differently.  That's a fun idea, but they never really move beyond that point.

Nurse Nancy as a character is very over-the-top and doesn't feel like an actual threat.  The actress who played Betty Wilson in the "Foreverware" episode had a great evil stare that could send chills up your spine.  Nurse Nancy looks goofy in her own glasses even before donning the "silly" ones, so her attempts at eradicating fun are kind of moot when she looks like a character in a comedy.

Like "The Losers" this is an episode that could have used more time to explore the effects of a zombified school.  We rarely see anyone else besides Simon in the glasses acting strangely.  But maybe the story feels rushed because of the way it's resolved.  I like that Nancy gets a taste of her own medicine (although, there really is no other way this story could have ended), but the way Marshall gets out of his predicament is just stupid.

When writing the summary, I had to hide this fact so it didn't seem as dumb as it appears on screen.  Zombie Simon steals Marshall's Groucho glasses and turns them in to Nurse Nancy.  She scolds Marshall for his behavior, turns the brainwashing machine on full blast and...places the Groucho glasses within arm's reach of Marshall allowing him to easily escape put them on.  That's really, really dumb.  It's like if James Bond was trapped in a cell and his multifunctional super lock pick was confiscated and then placed on a table right outside the cell.  We came to see Bond use his ingenuity to figure his way out of this sticky situation, not to have him stretch his arm a little bit.  The episode is basically fine all the way through, but that resolution just makes me shake my head.

Random Observations:
- Marshall's family, despite appearing in every episode, get very little screentime.  In the first scene, after a series of pranks, Syndi vows revenge on Marshall, then nothing ever comes of it and we never see her again.  They should have given these folks more to do!  They are good actors and the main characters of the show!  Syndi must be working on some very elaborate prank that will hit Marshall when he least expects it.

- Simon's prank spicy gum actually produces steam and sizzles when it hits the pavement.  Is this a cartoon show or is it just another case of Eerie weirdness?

- Why is Simon going to B.F. Skinner Junior High?  He's three years younger than Marshall!  Maybe the elementary school is on the same campus and shares the same principal and school nurse.

- Mr. Radford is actually aware of something weird happening in Eerie, which is a first for the series.  Usually characters besides Marshall and Simon who experience Eerie's weirdness firsthand (and don't ignore it) get killed or disappear.  I'd nitpick, but fortunately Radford retaliates with a weapon of weirdness of his own, so I'll call it a wash.

- Also, here is another case of weirdness existing beyond the borders of Eerie.  Nurse Nancy apparently successfully brainwashed a couple other schools before coming to Eerie.  I guess we're just supposed to forget about them.

Conspiracy Theories:
- Mr. Radford is always aware of the weirdness in Eerie and he is watching over Marshall and Simon to ensure their survival.

Grade:  A very by-the-numbers episode that gives you exactly what you expect from an Orwellian school nurse.  B

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