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.

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