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

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