Thursday, October 03, 2013

NG Is NG?

I've been watching reruns of Night Gallery on MeTV.  Night Gallery has long been considered The Twilight Zone's sad cousin.  Both were anthology shows hosted by Rod Serling, featuring episodes often written by Serling, and both aired supernatural stories, though Gallery focused on horror.  But, in general, Gallery was dumber, duller and cheaper. (To be fair to Serling, he didn't produce the later show.)

Night Gallery lasted from 1970 to 1973, sometimes at an hour, sometime a half-hour, like TZ. Most stories were serious, but sometimes the show went for humor, like TZGallery also featured shorts, unlike TZ.

It's fascinating to see how these old episodes hold up.  Most of them don't look so good today, if they ever did, while some aren't bad. But I'm not going to review the series as a whole.  Instead, I want to look at a particular episode--"The Different Ones"--to show how ridiculous the show could be.  It's written by Rod Serling (and was heavily rewritten by others) and is an obvious rip-off of the famous Twilight Zone episode "Eye Of The Beholder" also written by Serling.  In the original story, a young woman is getting surgery to fix her deformity, but it doesn't work.  The bandages are taken off and we see a beautiful woman--turns out everyone else in this world has ugly faces, by our standards, with pig snouts and so on.  A pat lesson and cheap reversal of the kind Twilight Zone loved, but done with a fair amount of imagination and flair.  It's also coherent.

"The Different Ones," on the other hand, doesn't make much sense. and goes a long way for very little impact.  It's got about three minutes of story, leading to an obvious "surprise," padded out with ridiculous stock footage and unnecessary plot inventions.

The episode starts with a futuristic drawing that we're apparently supposed to believe is a real view of the world.  Well, at least we know it's not the present. (We later learn this is the brave new world of 1993 or even a bit later!) Then we see some sort of monorail footage taken from Disney World or who knows where to signify once again how futuristic everything is.  Then we see a truck with a loudspeaker on top driving down a modernistic (yet old-fashioned) row of houses announcing that curfew will be at 6 pm today because some aliens have landed, so 1) the future will be sort of fascist, 2) information will still be spread by trucks with loudspeakers, 3) aliens are an everyday thing now.  By the way, this footage (with new sound) is taken from Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 so I guess Night Gallery had some sort of deal.

This is followed by absurd-looking flying cops also taken from Fahrenheit 451.  These cops don't really add anything to the show, but hey, the shot alone probably cost more originally than what they spent on the actual episode.  Now we get an establishing shot of a ranch house--nothing particiularly futuristic, but I guess they've already made their point. Once inside--on a set no doubt being used for some other show--we hear kids outside shouting "ugly" and "freak," so I guess bullying is still big in the future.  Lead actor Dana Andrews goes to the window (we see a fake tree outside) and tells the kids to go away.  We cut to outside the house and see some weird tinted footage of kids running around, but they're not shouting anything or paying attention to anything, so it's sort of weird.

We finally get to the action when Andrews goes to his son, sitting down with a bag around his head.  He knows what he looks like and so does his dad, so why should he be covering up inside?  I guess they're waiting for the big reveal, and saving on makeup.

Andrews and his 17-year-old son discuss the kid's deformity.  His son says there's nowhere for him to go and knocks over the modernistic chess pieces in front of him (the only modernistic touch in the room that otherwise could be from the 1950s).

Andrews goes to another room with a TV built into the wall, as we'll all have in the future.  He uses his fancy touchtone phone and visually contacts an information lady (who sounds fairly robotic for some reason).  He wants the government office who can work with deformed children and is transferred to the Office for Special Urban Problems. Of course.  No one cares about those deformed rural kids.

The lady there has two younger ladies working on something behind her, though she must be their superior since they're not allowed to look into the TV screen and talk to Andrews.  He explains the problem and the son overhears. The kid rushes to the screen, pulls off the bag, and shows it to the lady. "Ugly, Ugly!" he says.  She has to turn away. The best thing is we get an over-the-shoulder shot from her side and it's clear she's not looking at a TV screen, but a hole in the wall of the set covered by glass.

What does the boy look like? Well, his skin is mottled and discolored and his hair is veiny and matted with a sort of molten look. Maybe that hair is actually arteries or brain or something, but in any case, even if there's no decent cosmetic surgery in the future, a little make-up and a toupee would do wonders.

Back to more monorails and more loudspeakers and a mirror image of the row-of-houses shot.  Apparently the aliens have been identified as friendly. That's a load off--you'd think it'd be bigger news in general.  Another futuristic drawing, followed by a variety of stock footage of actual fancy buildings and computer stuff with magnetic tape (which is also used in other episodes, such as the soon-to-follow "Little Girl Lost"). Then Dana Andrews visits the futuristic government office staffed by another lady who tells him nothing can be done to help him.  She does suggest a solution--put him to sleep.  Because, after all, in the future, that's how we deal with funny-looking people.  As dad is walking out, the lady gets news there's been an offer from these friendly aliens whom they've talked to but not seen, and who live on a planetoid 1/50th the size of Earth just beyond Mars that no one knew about before the 80s.  They want a cultural exchange, and especially want males because they're underpopulated.  No restrictions on whom we can send.

Okay, I can buy cultural exchanges with other planets are normal by the 90s. I can buy that you have videophones at home but talk to aliens without looking at them (even after it's announced they've landed).  I can buy that the kid will be able to deal with the lack of a gravitational force he's become used to.  I can buy that the lady emphasizes the aliens have no restriction to assure the dad that they won't mind if we don't send them a normal-looking human.  But they want males to increase the population?  Serling knows we can't reproduce with other species on this planet, why does he think we'll buy aliens expect to be able to use us to reproduce? (Also, if you want more reproduction, you mostly need females--a few males can take care of their side of the deal.)

We return from the commercial with the son packing to go.  Dad is worried the place might be no good, but the kid assures him anything would be better than what he's living through now.  (So the aliens haven't bothered to tell anyone what their planet is like--it would be nice if for no other reason than the kid can dress accordingly.)

This is followed by a lengthy--and I mean lengthy--segment almost entirely made up of NASA stock footage, with a bit of animation showing a cloudless Earth from space, that makes up the kid's trip to the planetoid.  There's no drama--we don't have any reason to expect he won't get there.  Meanwhile, Andrews goes back home and has flashbacks to literally all the scenes of the show so far.  Since we just saw them, we don't need to be reminded--this is all padding and money-saving.

The kid finally lands (the mission includes footage of landing on the moon and for some reason footage from an old movie of an approach to Earth) and enters into a futuristic, alien walkway where he meets a handsome young man who's apparently making the trip back.  He's an alien who also couldn't wait to get away. Why?  Don't be kind, he says.  He leaves and then, in a surprise everyone sees coming, some hot babes with the same exact look as this freak greet him.  In fact, young hot women seem to be the only ones at the station.  They giggle, say he's gorgeous and surround him. He's going to be very happy here.

Or will he?  He looks great to them, but don't they still sort of disgust him?

Anyway, I guess they can't all be gems.  You gotta put something on each week, but I assume Serling must have tried to forget this one.

5 Comments:

Blogger New England Guy said...

I don't know, I really remember that episode in detail 40 years later (admittedly I didn't see the TZ pigface episode until just recently), so it made a mark. I recently bought my son a DVD of the Night Gallery (After we had gone through all of the old Twilight Zone episodes)and while I liked some, I couldn't believe how slow they were & we didn't make it through. I think it was emblematic of the early 70s style, long ponderous closeups conveying inner something. Of course, I never learn- remembering a show that seemed to freak out my junior high in 1975/76, I just ordered Karen Black in "Trilogy of Terror"
We'll see if it bores or enraptures my son's friends (they do like the Bill Bixby Hulk TV show and the $6 million Dollar Man so you never know).


[OK I had to retype this because Google wanted my phone number [to "protect" my account against hacking, sure], I wouldn't give it to them so they showed me by deleting my comment]

5:56 AM, October 03, 2013  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I suppose it is a function of the mind to remember the good and forget the bad (and even painful). By the time Night Gallery came around, i was actually watching TV in prime time (unlike Twilight Zone). And seared into my memory is the pilot episode featuring Roddy McDowall as the evil nephew who murders his rich uncle and then is terrorized by a changing portrait on the mansion walls that shows his uncle rising and coming for him. I've told this story around campfires and on Halloween, though I've never bought the DVD (I probably should get season 1, huh NE Guy?).

8:13 AM, October 03, 2013  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

As long as it's approaching Halloween, I also have an indelible memory from the '70s of Karen Black in the "Terror Trilogy," a made for TV movie that was really like a three part Night Gallery. One part featured a killer doll better than any Chucky, imho.

8:16 AM, October 03, 2013  
Blogger New England Guy said...

My son did like the NG season 1 opening episode and I have seen that replayed several times on commercial tv--Ossie Davis' finest.

Porterfoy! Porterfoy!

9:33 AM, October 03, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. DG, are you sure that's not a Columbo episode?

SWMBCg, etc.

2:50 PM, October 03, 2013  

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