Sunday, June 3, 2012

#12: Tornado Days

Episode 1013:  "Tornado Days"

Original Airdate:  March 1, 1992

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Marshall angers a destructive tornado named "Old Bob" by refusing to attend the town's annual picnic in its honor, leaving it to an eccentric meteorologist to tame the beast.

It's the 87th Tornado Day in Eerie and the whole town has gathered in the town center to celebrate the arrival of "Old Bob," a tornado that appears every year.  Marshall refuses to attend the picnic, on the grounds that it is weird to celebrate a destructive force of nature.  Marshall's parents assure him that Old Bob is just a town legend, there are no tornados reported in the news, and that the celebration just a community event that will be fun.  Nonetheless, Marshall and Simon stay home while their family leaves.  Moments later, Old Bob shows up right on schedule and passes right over Marshall's house, opening the doors, messing up the living room, and leaving behind a strange, large, metal canister outside.  The boys investigate the contraption and a strangely dress man emerges from inside.

The man introduces himself as Howard Raymer and explains that he is a meteorologist who has made it his life's goal to follow Old Bob around the country.  Whenever he gets the chance, he rides Old Bob in his canister.  He has a theory that tornados and other weather storms are actually sentient beings and his proof is a recording of Old Bob's wind howls.  When the sound is manipulated, the howls sounds as if they are saying Howard's name.  He suspects that Old Bob may be angry at Marshall because the next recording says, "Marshall Teller."

At the picnic, everyone is in good spirits, save for Marshall's parents who were surprised that the tornado actually showed up.  Still, the Eerie citizens are used to the visit and continue their celebration with the announcement of a raffle contest to win a camper trailer.  Back home, Marshall fears that Old Bob will return to damage the city, looking for him, so Howard agrees to try and communicate with the storm.  They climb a tower that links to the speaker system throughout the city, used to signal emergencies.  Howard emits his own recording, which sounds like more wind howls.  The sound confuses the citizens as they take it as another warning.  Marshall believes it was meant to scare Old Bob away, but Howard reveals that he was actually taunting Old Bob to return.

Old Bob changes his course and starts heading back towards the city, more powerful than before.  Howard explains that he has a long history with Bob, going back to the time he killed all of his friends and coworkers.  He surmises that if he can ride in Old Bob one more time, he can steer it over Lake Erie where the water would cause Old Bob to break apart and be destroyed.  Unfortunately, Old Bob destroys Harold's riding canister before he can get to it.  The group heads to the picnic so that they can steal the camper trailer for Harold to use instead.  With everyone else bunkering inside the World O'Stuff, the group takes the trailer and Harold prepares to leave.  As Marshall rushes to return Harold's recording device to him, Old Bob picks up the trailer, with Marshall dangling outside.

He holds on to Harold as long as he can, but ultimately, Old Bob rips Marshall away.  Back at the picnic, Marshall's family discovers his jacket falling from the sky and they rush home to see if Marshall is okay.  They encounter Simon who tells them that he last saw Marshall going out into the storm, but before they resign to their loss, Marshall appears high up in their tree, shaken, but safe.  That night, the news reports a UFO that looks like a trailer heading towards Lake Erie.

Evidence Locker Item:  Not seen, but Marshall ends up with one of Harold Raymer's gloves.

"You mean to tell me a twister's mad because I missed a picnic?"

This is a very confusing episode.  As strange as the premise is, I'm willing to accept that in this universe, tornados are like wild animals with human intelligence.  It reminds me of the Pecos Bill story where he has to tame a tornado.  That's a story that's rooted in American folklore, so it's fine that Eerie has a spin on it.  And the Harold Raymer character is great, exactly the kind of person you would expect to be riding around in tornados.  But it's Old Bob's behavior and the other characters' perception of him that confuses me.

First, Marshall's father insists that Old Bob is just a myth, for a tornado couldn't possibly appear on a set date every year.  Yet, everyone else in Eerie knows for a fact that Old Bob does appear every year.  Surely, there must be official records of this.  Did Edgar just not bother to check?  Second, Simon tells a story about a man who didn't attend a picnic one year and so Old Bob picked him up and carried him away.  Even if this is just a legend surrounding the picnic to get everybody to come, why would Marshall not believe it?  He knows weird things happen, and if anything, that would be reason enough to go to the celebration.  Maybe he just feels that going to the picnic would mean he was officially an Eerie citizen and he was just not ready for that.

Then, Old Bob comes and his movements aren't consistent with what people are saying about him.  If he was out to get Marshall, why does he just blow through town once, like he does every year?  Why does Harold have to call him back?  It seems like Old Bob did his thing, and has moved on from Eerie. No one else was in danger, so why was Marshall acting like they were.

In order for this episode's flaws to really stand out, replace "tornado" with "large bear," since the characters all treat it like an animal anyway.  We have a town that has "Bear Day" and every year, Old Bob the bear ventures through town and people throw a picnic to celebrate, before he moves on.  This year, Marshall refuses to go to the picnic, Old Bob the bear still comes through and leaves, only this time, the bear tracker says that the bear is out to get Marshall.  They call the bear back into town where it causes a lot of damage, it attacks the bear tracker, who then rides off on it.  See?  That makes no sense!  There is one interpretation that does work, but it is briefly touched on in only one scene which is cut in the syndicated version.  (I'll discuss it in "Random Observations.")

I do like a lot of the elements of the story, especially the idea of the town rallying together for this celebration.  Harold is a great character (played by Matt Frewer, a.k.a. Max Headroom), and his contraptions are pretty cool.  The voice of Old Bob is delightfully spooky.  But there are too many moments where I have to pause and ask, "Wait, why is this happening, again?"

Random Observations:
- Um, what does Old Bob do the rest of the year?  Does he stick to the same path?  Does he disappear and reappear?  Wouldn't the entire country be aware of this constant tornado?

- Also, tornados aren't named.  Hurricanes and other tropical storms are.

- Syndi's Miss Tornado Day outfit makes me wish more people were aware of this show because it would make for a great Halloween costume.

- Speaking of Syndi, she is the subject of the scene that should have been the focus of this episode.  She's really gung-ho about Tornado Day, and it's clear she has fully accepted being an Eerie citizen.  But, as the town takes shelter in the World O'Stuff during Old Bob's second visit, Mr. Radford and Sgt. Knight consider the possibility that something must be done to stop Bob's rage.  They decide that Old Bob probably demands a virgin, debutante sacrifice, and they both turn to look at Syndi.  That would have been a radical direction for the episode to take.  Treating Old Bob like an ancient god would have been a much better approach.  It could have started like a fun neighborhood picnic, but then we realize that the town still operates on these outdated beliefs that require human sacrifices.  A couple of later episodes play with this theme, but it would have worked so well here.

- The "special effects" in this episode are pretty underwhelming.  All tornado shots are clearly just stock footage.  It really takes you out of the episode.

- Apparently, Old Bob had a hand in Amelia Earhart's disappearance (and sudden residence in Eerie).

- I do love the raffle ticket scene.  Simon's just so excited to win.

- The "Marshall's death" scene could have been expanded on as well, since it was the one time that his parents were aware that the town's weirdness nearly killed him.

Conspiracy Theories:
- Based on Radford and Knight's conversation, human sacrifices have taken place in Eerie, and have occurred within their lifetimes.  They probably still occur to this day.  Maybe Eerie is the meeting place for an ancient society of weirdness deities.

Grade:  The story has several issues and hints at topics that should have been explored more fully, but the characters and premise remain fun and funny, resulting in a mixed bag.  B

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