Sunday, February 18, 2018

Taking the Longjohn Way Home



Trapper (Wayne Rogers): Full house. Ha ha!

Radar (Gary Burghoff): I guess that beats two pair, right?

Trapper: It sure does! What were they?

Radar: Tens.

Trapper: Yeah? Tens and what?

Radar: That's it. Two pairs of tens.

As the viewers of the 2018 Winter Olympics have been reminded, the winters in Korea are notorious for their severity, and the folks at Quartermaster Corps were forever sending the wrong things to the 4077th.

By "wrong," of course, I mean inappropriate.

In the latest round of harsh winter weather, the 4077th received a shipment of mosquito netting and summer underwear — items that would be useful in about six months when the rugged Korean summer set in. What everyone needed — and only one person had in the episode of MASH that aired on this night in 1973, "The Longjohn Flap" — was long underwear.

Hawkeye (Alan Alda) was that solitary individual. He had received some longjohns from home.

But he was an old softie at heart, and he gave his long underwear to Trapper (Wayne Rogers) when Trapper started sneezing.

That was only the beginning. Before the episode was over the longjohns had made their way around the camp and had, seemingly, been in everyone's possession — however briefly — at one time or another.

Trapper, in an attempt to make back what he had lost in poker, bet the long underwear against Radar (Gary Burghoff) — and lost. Radar, in turn, used the longjohns to score some points with a pretty nurse but changed his mind and swapped the longjohns to the cook for a leg of lamb and mint jelly.

That was when Frank (Larry Linville) entered the picture. Frank was giving the cook a hard time about the cleanliness of his kitchen and threatened to bust him a rank. That was when the cook decided to bribe Frank with the longjohns.

Frank ended up giving the longjohns to Hot Lips (Loretta Swit) to prove his love for her (after he declined, once again, to divorce his wife), but Klinger (Jamie Farr) stole the longjohns from Hot Lips when she wasn't looking.

Overcome with guilt, Klinger confessed his sin to Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) and left the longjohns with him. The priest took them to Henry (McLean Stevenson), who promised to stay close to them until he had spoken to everyone in camp in an effort to find the rightful owner.

"Look, I'm planning on conducting a very thorough investigation," Henry said. "It might take a couple of months."

Henry never got a chance to conduct a tent–to–tent search, though. Hawkeye and Trapper had to rush him onto the operating table before his appendix burst. They were successful, which was reported to the camp by way of the P.A. system. The announcement drew mild applause. Then it was announced that the longjohns had been saved. By the raucous celebration, one would assume peace had just been declared.

In gratitude, Henry returned the longjohns to Hawkeye.

It was a format that would be revisited about a year later when Hawkeye, in need of a new pair of boots, struck deals with everyone in the compound. The house of cards ultimately collapsed, and Hawkeye wound up on the losing end in that episode.

But in the episode that aired tonight, he was the winner — even though Trapper started sneezing again.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

There She Is, Miss Boston Barmaid



Cliff (John Ratzenberger): None of the girls have what I'm looking for, Normy.

Norm (George Wendt): What's that?

Cliff: Low standards.

The Sam and Diane Show was the primary attraction on Cheers! by this point in the series' first season.

And in the episode that first aired on this night in 1983, "No Contest," Sam (Ted Danson) had entered Diane (Shelley Long) in the annual Miss Boston Barmaid contest — without her knowledge — and she had been named a finalist.

It wasn't exactly a beauty pageant like Miss America, but the winner possessed decidedly more than barmaid skills, if you know what I mean, and the finalists tended to do a little flirting with the emcee, the judges and the audience.

Of course, a restaurant's staff does plenty of schmoozing anyway so I guess that could be considered a barmaid skill.

Diane loathed such contests and was prepared to withdraw until she learned that there would be reporters from major news outlets at the contest. She changed her mind, believing she could use the contest as a platform to air her grievances.

And she made plans to disrupt things.

At first she appeared to be sincerely trying to win the contest. It was being held at Cheers! and Sam clearly wanted someone from the bar to win. It was, after all, the 45th annual contest, and no one from Cheers! had ever won.

Sam had no idea what Diane planned to do if she won so he gave her pointers on how she should look during the competition.

But he found Diane's index cards on which she had written certain things she wanted to say in her victory speech. Things like how degrading she thought such contests were. That wasn't what Sam wanted to hear in his bar on such a noteworthy night.

Better to lose the contest than to allow that to happen.

So Sam set about sabotaging Diane — or at least he tried to — with a little psychological warfare. He casually mentioned Diane's tendency to get a facial tic when she was nervous.

Reminded of that, Diane began to twitch, but she managed to turn that to her advantage by making some remarks about overcoming obstacles — and she won the contest.

She was about to deliver her speech when the emcee began giving her the prizes that came with her victory. None really wowed her until the final one — a week in Bermuda for her and a friend.

She gave up on her plan.

Later, after everyone had left the bar, Diane lamented that she had "sold out womankind for a trip to Bermuda."

"Most people would have done it for the dry cleaning," Sam replied in a reference to one of the other prizes.

The really funny thing is, there was probably a lot of truth in that.

As a side note, this episode was one of many Cheers! episodes to feature famous people in cameo appearances. On this night, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill was featured in the show's opening segment.

A Hot Timepiece



Archie (Carroll O'Connor): This here tells me that it's morning in China. So right at this moment, 800 million Chinks are sitting down to breakfast.

Mike (Rob Reiner): Archie, in the first place they are called Chinese.

Archie: That's what I said, Chinks.

Everyone likes a bargain, and Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) was no exception.

And he rarely asked questions, especially if he was getting a really good bargain, such as the one he thought he was getting in the episode of All in the Family that first aired on this night in 1973, "The Hot Watch."

In that episode, Archie bought a watch from an acquaintance. The watch supposedly was worth $300, but Archie's acquaintance sold it to him for $25.

If Archie ever got a top–of–the–line commodity for a fraction of its price, Mike (Rob Reiner) became suspicious, and he was suspicious this time. He wouldn't accept Archie's suggestion that he had been at the right place at the right time — particularly when he learned that the person with whom Archie had made the transaction was a fellow from the docks, New York's "notorious grab bag" where valuable items disappeared only to reappear on the black market.

His suspicion grew deeper when Archie told him that the fellow who sold him the watch had been in jail once (and claimed to have been framed).

What Archie had, Mike told him, was a stolen watch.

To say Archie was skeptical would be an understatement, but seeds of doubt took root, especially when his watch started making a funny noise and then stopped working altogether when Archie did nothing more than hit the bottom of a ketchup bottle.

Archie decided to take the watch to a jeweler to be repaired, but he was dissuaded from doing that when Mike pointed out that the jeweler would compare the serial number on the watch to the list of serial numbers from stolen watches. If the number was on the list, Archie could be facing prison time.

So Archie needed to find someone who would fix watches "with no questions asked."

While he was trying to find such a person, Edith (Jean Stapleton) went ahead and took it to a neighborhood jeweler. Archie wasn't convinced that this jeweler would be as cooperative as Archie needed him to be, but he was reassured when the jeweler came by and told him the watch could be fixed for $21. He said nothing about it being stolen.

That was because no one would want to steal it. It was a fake. Archie thought it was an expensive Omega watch, but it was actually an Onega — with an N. The jeweler said it was only worth $8.

In one of the most entertaining exchanges of the series, Archie complained that being the victim of a racket cost him the equivalent of two weeks' take–home pay.

Mike pointed out that he was only out $17. He had spent $25 on an $8 watch.

But Archie was adamant that he had lost the equivalent of $300. He insisted that he was right.

"You want to be right?" Mike asked. "I'll show you how you can be right. You spend the $21 and get the watch fixed. You've already spent $25 so for a $46 investment, you've got your $300 watch back."

And that made sense to mathematically challenged Archie — at first. But then Edith reminded Archie that the watch was only worth $8.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Best Laid Party Plans ...



Early in the 2002–2003 season of the Frasier series, Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) finally tied the knot, and subsequent episodes examined their trials and tribulations as newlyweds.

But the episode that first aired on this night in 2003, "Daphne Does Dinner," was a real milestone in their relationship.

They decided to throw a dinner party.

Now, that is the kind of thing that couples, both married and unmarried, do all the time. Sometimes the parties are small, intimate, informal gatherings, and sometimes they are lavish productions. The Crane brothers, of course, leaned heavily toward the latter, and they had extensive experience, having successfully co–hosted numerous parties over the years.

But they seemed to have lost their touch. As the episode opened, guests were storming out of Frasier's apartment, and Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles were wondering why their parties were disasters.

Niles owned a painting by a reclusive Seattle artist that he was going to donate to a museum. Frasier suggested throwing a farewell dinner party for it, assuming that he and Niles would be co–hosting the event as always.

But Daphne thought it was time for her to co–host such parties with Niles.

So that is what she suggested to Niles, who acquiesced.

This represented an unusual twist for the series. Ordinarily, Niles or Frasier would be the one who was overwhelmed. In this case, it was Daphne who found herself being buried in problems.

She arranged for the party to be catered, but the Cornish game hens caught fire when Daphne was heating them, and Roz's daughter scrawled her name in crayon on the painting.

Daphne tiptoed deftly through that minefield. She sent Roz (Peri Gilpin) to an art restorer who could fix the painting, and she called Frasier for help with the food, and he agreed — even though, as she told Roz, Frasier's nose was still out of joint over being displaced as "lord mayor of Party Town."

Everything seemed to be under control when the guests began to arrive — and one of the guests was the artist himself. He had not been inclined to go until his gallery insisted that he attend.

He took a shine to Daphne's mother, and the two of them went upstairs to watch a boxing match on pay–per–view while the rest of the guests mingled downstairs.

But then, on top of everything else, Niles' father (the recently deceased John Mahoney) was mistaken for the artist — so Niles had to shuffle him out quickly. Poor Martin was only there to bring some ramekins to Frasier, but the description of the artist (white hair, plaid shirt, sweater and cane) was spot on for Martin. It was an honest mistake.

Things went from bad to worse until, finally, Daphne's mother and the artist came crashing down into the living room. They had been engaging in some apparently spirited interactivity on the bed where all the guests' coats were piled — presumably between rounds.

The party was over.

At that point, Frasier walked over to Daphne and put his arm around her. "Congratulations," he said. "You're now officially a Crane." Daphne burst into tears.

It wasn't the best Frasier episode, but it was far from the worst.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Double Blind Date to Remember



Coach (Nicholas Colasanto): Beer, Norm?

Norm (George Wendt): That's that sudsy amber stuff, right? Been hearing good things about it.

I don't know when it became apparent to the creators and writers for Cheers! that the TV show was not really, as advertised, the story of the characters in a bar. Sure, that was the emphasis in the first half–season, but, in the end, it became the Sam and Diane Show — and remained that way until Diane left.

I guess it was just too tempting, a kind of Hepburn and Tracy dynamic brought to the small screen on a weekly basis. Television programs are like that, though. The audience responds to something — in this case, the sexual tension between the blue–collar bartender Sam (Ted Danson) and the refined college–educated waitress Diane (Shelley Long) — and the writers give the viewers what they want.

It's what they did with Happy Days. Fonzie was intended to be a minor player at best, but audiences responded to him, and he became one of the show's stars — arguably its biggest.

Likewise, the West Wing was originally intended to be about the people who toil in the West Wing of the White House. The president was not intended to be an integral part of the show, merely an occasional character. That changed in the first season as well.

I've always kind of felt that the episode of Cheers! that first aired on this night in 1983 — "Diane's Perfect Date" — was the writers' first real acknowledgement of that fact.

They were sneaky about it, though.

When the episode began, Diane was returning to the bar after a weekend with a date whose special skill was to state, in a very Rain Manesque way, the number of letters in the last sentence that was spoken. For example:

Diane: "He's able to tell you instantly how many letters there are in any sentence you say."

Walter: "Sixty–six."

Sam: "That's quite a gift."

Walter: "Fifteen. We've been at it all weekend."

Sam: "How many days did it seem like?"

Walter: "Twenty–four."

And then there was my favorite. It was when Walter was leaving, and Sam stopped him.

Sam: "How was Diane on a scale of a hundred?"

Walter: "Twenty–nine."

Later, when Sam and Diane were criticizing each other's dating choices, Sam ridiculed Walter's ability to count the letters in sentences.

Diane countered that the "coterie of Betty Boops you squander your time, money and hormones on" could not form sentences.

They agreed to set each other up with the perfect date for the next evening after Sam boasted that he could arrange for the best date Diane ever had.

Diane said she had someone in mind for Sam, too, and she took their wager seriously, but Sam didn't really have anyone for her. When he realized that she was really going to respond to the challenge, he sought advice from Carla (Rhea Perlman) and Coach (Nicholas Colasanto). Carla wasn't much help; she recommended an old ballplayer friend of Sam's who, Sam recalled, was dead. "So she has to drive," Carla replied.

But it was Coach, of all people, who planted the idea of pursuing Diane in Sam's mind. Well, it may have been percolating in his mind all along, but it was the first time I can remember Sam acknowledging (thanks to the writers) what, as I say, just about everyone else already knew.

Coach said he thought Sam would be the perfect date for Diane, and Sam rationalized that that must be Diane's intention — to present herself as Sam's perfect date. He decided to return the favor.

But Diane really did have someone in mind — Gretchen (Gretchen Corbett), a "woman of substance" who was a grad student in kinesiology. When Diane asked about her date, Sam had to come up with one and made a frantic dash for the backroom, where he found a guy named Andy (Derek McGrath) and paid him to be Diane's escort for the evening.

It turned out that Andy had just been released from prison after serving time for manslaughter. Upon learning that, Sam suggested that they double date.

After dinner — and an apparently harrowing ride on Andy's motorcycle — the date came to an end, and Sam and Diane confronted what everyone already knew — that they were attracted to each other.

That conversation was only beginning.

Truly in the Eyes of the Beholder



Forty–five years ago All in the Family was in the midst of its second straight season as the top–ranked TV series in the United States. It would remain on top of the ratings for three more years.

The episode that aired on this night 45 years ago, "Class Reunion," was the first in a string of episodes that may well have played significant roles in cementing the show's standing.

After initially declining, Edith (Jean Stapleton) was making plans to attend her 30th high school reunion. Her cousin Amelia (Rae Allen) persuaded her with the news that the class heartthrob, Buck Evans (Bernie Kuby), was going to be there. Archie (Carroll O'Connor) had no interest in the reunion — until he heard Edith and Amelia reminiscing about Buck. He had been a track star, and all the girls had been wild about his physique and his golden hair waving in the breeze.

I guess there is at least one of those in every class — there certainly was one in mine — and the viewers learned that Edith had been one of Buck's admirers in school.

Curiosity — and a touch of jealousy — got the better of Archie, who was suddenly concerned about letting his wife go out alone after dark, and he gallantly offered to escort her to the reunion.

Buck hadn't arrived yet when the Bunkers made their appearance, leaving Archie to mingle with the other attendees. Obviously no one knew who Archie was — but everyone knew who Buck Evans was.

Funny thing was, though, that no one recognized Buck when he got there, probably because he no longer had a svelte figure, and he was bald.

Archie couldn't believe his eyes when he met Buck. He bore no resemblance to the stories Archie had heard, and Archie demanded to know the reason for the radical change.

Now, anyone who has ever attended a 30–year high school reunion can tell you that people change. The only reunion I have ever attended was my fifth–year reunion, and there were already changes in my classmates at that time.

But change is not always radical. In Buck's case, it was. He was not athletic. It was hard to picture him running on a track.

Buck confessed to Archie that he had married a gourmet cook. "Looks like she's in there with you," Archie replied.

Archie went to get Edith, who had been leading her classmates in some old cheers, and told her there was someone she would be happy to see — but he mentioned no names. He was anticipating her disappointment when she saw Buck again.

But it was Archie who was disappointed. Edith knew precisely who it was and broke into a big Edith grin.

Buck asked the question that was surely on Archie's mind as well. "How'd you recognize me?"

Edith said it was his eyes. "I'd know them anywhere."

There was never a more sincere soul on television than Edith Bunker.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Context Matters



I have enjoyed reading as long as I can remember.

My mother encouraged it, first by reading stories to my brother and me, then by urging us to read on our own as we developed that skill. As I say, it has been a lifelong passion for me, and two of my favorite books are Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." I have read them both several times.

I can't remember now, but I believe I read both books for the first time in school. I know they were required reading when I was in high school, but I can't remember if that was the first time I ever read them. It may not have been, but I know it was the first time for many of my classmates.

Unfortunately, those books — and others — are no longer required reading in Duluth, Minn., schools because they contain the N–word. This is not new. It has happened before.

What is new, I suppose, is that Duluth won't be taking these books off the shelves entirely. The schools just won't require the students to read them.

Thus I assume there will be no book burnings in Duluth.

I understand the reasoning behind this move — but I believe it is faulty and dangerous.

School districts feel they are showing sensitivity by not requiring students to read words they may find offensive.

But I think they are doing more harm than good.

You can't protect people from things that are offensive. The world is a messy place. And if kids are anything like they were when I was in high school, it's too late to protect them. They've been exposed to far worse than the N–word already.

Besides, you have to keep in mind the context in which the offensive word was used.

Twain wrote about 19th–century America. My grandparents were born in 19th–century America, and they used that word as an adjective, no different for them than describing the color of someone's hair. When I read "Huckleberry Finn" — and I have read it several times and plan to do so again soon — I can see and hear my grandparents.

Twenty–first–century readers see a racial slur, a noun, when they see the word nigger, and that is consistent with their times and conditioning. But people of the 19th century frequently used it as an adjective, a modifier — which was consistent with their times and conditioning.

And I'm certain they would have been appalled if anyone had suggested that they were racists. The N–word was simply a word that was in common use in the world in which they grew up.

I grew up in a different world. And in hindsight, by modern standards, perhaps my grandparents were racists.

But if they were, they were products of the world in which they were raised. I believe it is wrong to hold people from a different time to modern standards — and isn't that what school districts are doing when they take this kind of step?

As for Harper Lee's book — she wrote about the American South in the '30s. She told an important story that couldn't be told without that word. The people who used it in the book were, without a doubt, racists, but the book taught a valuable lesson and is regarded as perhaps the finest example of 20th–century American literature. If you scrub it clean of the N–word, you rob it of its impact.

I believe writers use words for specific purposes. In this case, the N–word provided insight into the reality of times and places the reader would never see. But I think it also was used by these writers — and others — to make readers feel a little uncomfortable. Before any significant change of any kind can come, people must feel uncomfortable.

I have heard of at least one publisher that has published an alternative version of "Huckleberry Finn" in which the N–word was replaced by the word slave. But if the issue is racism, that substitution is meaningless. Anyone can be a slave. Historically, it is not a condition that has been defined by race.

So let's stop tap dancing around the real issue. Let's have a long overdue conversation about race in this country. Let's be blunt and talk about the things that we have avoided talking about. Let's face facts, however unpleasant those facts may be. I'm not an advocate of rewriting history — and I am certainly not in favor of rewriting Twain (as if anyone could).

I love history for many reasons, but one of the most important is summed up in the words of philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Twain and Lee and similar writers help us remember our messy past so we don't have to make the same mistakes.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

An American in Paris



Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris," a French–Italian movie that premiered across the United States on this day in 1973, caused quite a stir — such a stir that Premiere Magazine included it in its "100 Movies That Shook the World" list.

It received an X rating, which has come to be associated with pornography but was initially given to legitimate feature films (1969's "Midnight Cowboy," for example) that had content deemed too extreme for children. That applied not only to sexual content but to violent content as well.

Film critic Roger Ebert gushed about "Last Tango in Paris" after its New York premiere in late 1972: It was "one of the great emotional experiences of our time," he wrote. "It's a movie that exists so resolutely on the level of emotion, indeed, that possibly only Marlon Brando, of all living actors, could have played its lead. Who else can act so brutally and imply such vulnerability and need?"

And need, Ebert wrote, was what the movie was really about. It had some explicit nudity and not–quite–as–explicit sex, which got all the headlines — and that was used as the promotional hook to lure audiences to theaters — but I think Ebert was on to something when he said the movie was about need.

"There is a lot of sex in this film," Ebert wrote, "more, probably, than in any other legitimate feature film ever made — but the sex isn't the point, it's only the medium of exchange."

Brando's character, a middle–aged American widower living in Paris, certainly had needs. And Ebert was right about his vulnerability. When the movie began, Brando's wife was already dead, a suicide victim, so the viewers never saw anything of the marriage other than what was said about it on the screen, and the reason for the suicide was never revealed so the viewers never really knew why she did it. Still there were some ominous clues scattered about the story.

That isn't the best way to judge a marriage, obviously, but the union clearly left a lot to be desired — and the vulnerability of Brando's character had deep roots in that. That was clear when Brando ranted while standing at his wife's coffin at her wake.

Brando's character had been abused, and it had been a lifelong story of abuse. It started with his alcoholic parents, and it continued from there into a marriage that was abusive, if not physically then certainly emotionally.

The role had its flaws, but I thought the character suffered from arrested development from his youth that carried into his adult years. That was why Ebert observed that Brando's character was "a man whose whole existence has been reduced to a cry for help — and who has been so damaged by life that he can only express that cry in acts of crude sexuality."

The nudity and the sexuality amounted to no more than stage props for the story. "Last Tango in Paris" wasn't about those things.

Well, let me amend that.

It was about sex in the sense that some people use sex as a haven and a weapon, not as an expression of love for another person, and the lovers in "Last Tango in Paris" were like that.

The relationship between Brando and a young French woman (Maria Schneider), though, was mostly physical. At Brando's character's insistence, they knew nothing of each other, not even each other's names. But that didn't mean they didn't use sex as a haven and a weapon as well, even as a physical release — but never as an expression of genuine affection.

I have heard people call it Brando's greatest performance, and I have my issues with that. It was a nuanced performance, I will concede that, but I am far more likely to align myself with Ebert, who wrote that he didn't know if it was Brando's greatest performance, but the movie "certainly contains his most emotionally overwhelming scene" — his rant next to his wife's coffin. Ebert wrote that Brando delivered "one of the most moving speeches of love I can imagine."

In that scene, Ebert wrote, Brando "makes it absolutely clear why he is the best film actor of all time. He may be a bore, he may be a creep, he may act childish about the Academy Awards — but there is no one else who could have played that scene flat–out, no holds barred, the way he did, and make it work triumphantly."

Brando was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (which he lost to Jack Lemmon). Bertolucci was nominated for Best Director (and lost to George Roy Hill).

Schneider, who later said she felt raped by the experience, received no Oscar consideration.

A Flying Dutchman of the Space Age



In 1993, "Groundhog Day" was a truly clever premise for a movie.

But it wasn't truly original.

With apologies to Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, I would submit for your approval the suggestion that Twilight Zone explored the concept of re–living something repeatedly less than a week after Groundhog Day in 1963 — 55 years ago today, in fact — in the episode "Death Ship."

It wasn't as clear in "Death Ship" as it was in "Groundhog Day." But that is how Twilight Zone operated. Viewers frequently had to wait until the very end to understand what had been going on.

A three–man crew (Jack Klugman, Ross Martin and Fred Beir) was on a mission to explore space in search of planets to analyze and determine if they could be colonized. In the course of carrying out this mission, the astronauts spotted a shining light from a planet. The possibility existed that the planet might be more than merely capable of supporting life; it might actually be doing so, and the astronauts decided to land on the planet and investigate.

On the surface of the planet, they discovered a crashed spaceship had been responsible for the sparkle they had seen from space. The spaceship looked remarkably like their own. Upon closer inspection, they determined that it was a ship from Earth — and they decided to enter it and assess the damage.

When they did so, they had a revelation — the ship was theirs, and their lifeless bodies were inside.

It goes without saying that this was an unnerving experience, and the crewmen were understandably shaken by it. But the commander (Klugman) kept his head and insisted that there had to be a logical explanation for what they had seen.

The commander concluded that they had bent time in such a way as to peek into the future. He reasoned that they could escape their fate by remaining on the planet and not going back into space, thus averting the entire crash. The crewmen grudgingly accepted the commander's version of events.

At that point, Beir's character was transported to a country lane on Earth where he met up with people from his past who were known to be dead. He ran to the home in which he and his wife had lived, but he found no one there. All he found was a telegram reporting his death.

Klugman brought him back and told him he had been having an hallucination.

Martin was having an hallucination of his own. In his hallucination, he was reunited with his wife and daughter, who had been dead for some time. Klugman intervened in that one as well.

But his theory of what had happened had changed. He believed the planet was inhabited by creatures with telepathic power but little else they could use against intruders. To avoid being colonized, they were using this power to plant terrifying visions in the minds of the astronauts to discourage them from recommending the planet for colonization.

He also believed that they should return to space. That would break the spell. So that is what they did — except when they returned to the planet, they still found the wreckage of the spaceship there. The crew members were convinced that they were dead, but Klugman wasn't, and he insisted that they would repeat the procedure as many times as it took for him to figure out the truth.

Thus the similarity between "Death Ship" and "Groundhog Day." in "Groundhog Day," the audience actually saw Bill Murray re–living the same day, and the humor (and, at times, poignance) was in the variations. In "Death Ship," the repetition was not seen, only anticipated — and there was nothing funny about it.

The first time I saw this episode, I had high hopes for it when I saw in the credits that the story was written by Richard Matheson, and he didn't let me down.

Not only was Matheson the writer responsible for "Death Ship," but he also wrote more than a dozen of the Twilight Zone's top episodes. Most were from the original series although Matheson did write an episode in the mid–'80s series reboot as well as some work for the 1983 Twilight Zone movie.

Whenever I see Matheson's name in the credits — for Twilight Zone or anything else — I am always assured of the quality of what I am about to see. His stories never had wasteful filler, which was frequently a problem for the one–hour episodes of the Twilight Zone in its fourth season.

If you are a fan of the Twilight Zone, you are sure to recognize some of Matheson's episodes. Probably the most famous was "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," in which a young William Shatner played a man recovering from a nervous breakdown who believed he saw a monster tampering with the wing of the airplane in which he was traveling.

My favorite Matheson–penned episode was "A World of His Own," the finale of the first season.

Playin' Those Mind Games



"The key to this game is being able to read people."

Ben (Matthew McConaughey)

When I was a boy, I had a big crush on Goldie Hawn. She was still young and beautiful in those days, had moved on from television work and had already won an Oscar in a still–nascent acting career.

Her daughter, Kate Hudson, co–starred with Matthew McConaughey in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," which premiered on this day in 2003. I would have regarded that title as an oxymoron if Goldie Hawn had starred in such a movie when I was a boy. I couldn't possibly understand why anyone wouldn't want to be with Goldie Hawn. I just thought she was so dang cute.

And, before I saw the movie, I found it pretty hard to comprehend about Goldie's daughter, too. Hudson looks a lot like her mother. She probably looked more like her mother a few years earlier when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (for "Almost Famous"). Unlike her mother, though, she did not win the Oscar — and she hasn't been nominated for one since.

It was hardly surprising that neither she nor McConaughey was nominated for "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," considering that it had all the elements of a screwball comedy, which are audience pleasers but seldom regarded as Oscar material.

Except it couldn't pull it off.

Hudson was a how–to writer for a women's magazine. McConaughey worked for an ad agency. They were thrown together by work–related wagers. Hudson was doing research for a how–to in reverse — all about the things that women do to drive men away. McConaughey's wager, to make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days, was tied to his pitch for a multimillion–dollar account.

Egged on by their respective bosses (Bebe Neuwirth and Robert Klein) Hudson and McConaughey pursued their hidden agendas, feeding off each other with reckless abandon — until that inevitable moment when they learned the truth — you know, the just desserts payoff that defines the screwball or romantic comedy and essentially justifies all that has come before.

From this premise, I will admit, the writers came up with some clever angles, and I do know a few young women who consider "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" the greatest romantic comedy of all time — but that's really a stretch when you consider the truly great romantic comedies of the past.

Perhaps in the realm of the modern romantic comedy (roughly, the last two decades), it might be considered the best, but that is because romantic comedies themselves have changed in that time — and not for the better, in the eyes of some. Modern romantic comedies tilt rather heavily toward stereotypes that, by their definition, exclude chunks of the audience. Classic screwball/romantic comedies relied on truly bizarre circumstances that were not exclusive.

Weird things happen. Really weird things happen in rom–coms and screwball comedies.

For instance, more people could relate to Cary Grant's conundrum in "My Favorite Wife," in which his wife, who had been missing for seven years and was presumed dead, showed up just as he was about to remarry, than to Hudson and McConaughey, two upper–class, well–paid and well–educated young people playing mind games with each other.

And when they weren't playing with each other, they were watching the NBA Finals from practically courtside seats. Sometimes they killed two birds with one stone. Pretty unrealistic.

Of course, rom–coms have always been unrealistic. It is their exaggerated circumstances that usually make them work. But there are those who believe they have taken a darker turn of late.

I have read of the unhealthy effects of modern rom–coms on real–life relationships and how they interfere with people's ability to communicate with each other. That makes sense to me.

Frankly, though, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" wasn't good enough, by those standards, to have that kind of influence on people.

I thought it was mostly silly — and, seen in that light, it may have been a worthy successor to the Rock Hudson–Doris Day flicks. Rom–coms are nothing if not silly.

But I really didn't feel that Hudson and McConaughey had that kind of chemistry.

Consequently, when their moments of comeuppance came, I found it hard to care. Their behavior may have justified those moments but not the two hours I invested in watching the movie.

(By the way award–winning composer Marvin Hamlisch made a cameo appearance during the comeuppance. I liked Hamlisch, and I suppose someone had to play such a role, but I lost a little of my regard for him when I saw him in this movie.)

Sometimes I wonder if that isn't expecting too much from a rom–com. The romantic/screwball comedy genre is and always has been escapism, and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" delivered in that regard.

Mostly.

It had that light–hearted wink wink nudge nudge kind of humor that is so characteristic of such a movie, but, in this case, it struck me as almost sad the way these characters reeked of insincerity.

I guess the joke was that neither was sincere to begin with.