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-

1 comment:

  1. I just watched this episode for the first time in my life (being from Finland!), and it was truly awesome "ending" for the series which I - a grown-up man - loved every minute of.
    Thank you for the background information. ~(;^)~