Tuesday, September 20, 2016

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: THE WATCHER

With superhero television programs blowing up in the last few years, recaps of superhero television shows have become all the internet rage. Other sites, however, are hobbled by the need to cover shows which have been "recently broadcast" or which are "any good at all." But who covers the uncoverable? That's why Gone&Forgotten chooses to cover the 1991-1993 USA Network live-action Swamp Thing television series in a feature I like to call "Swamp Thing For The Boys" or...

If You See Swamp Thing, Say Swamp Thing
Dried flattened banana fights evil, film at eleven
Season Two / Episode Five : The Watcher

Robo-hillbillies on the march!


I’ve written seventeen of these things now, can I just take a mulligan? Is there any way to just pass one? Is there a Get Out Of Jail Free card for tv show recaps? I ask because this episode is a masterpiece of contradictions.

In its second season, USA’s Swamp Thing clearly took some notes from the comics which had preceded it. The addition of General Sunderland, Woodrue and Abigail to the roster veered the show away from the moribund legacy of the two films which preceded it – the second of which poisoned the Wes Craven well – and its new material recalled the wild potential of a comic book starring a swamp man fighting aliens and monsters.

Apropos of nothing, that briefcase in the upper left hand corner is there for no reason and isn't mentioned ever.

In this way, The Watcher comes pretty close to capturing the vertiginous and grimy horror of the Pasko Swamp Thing era, combined with the absurd establishment critique of Veitch, while hitting wrong notes along the way.

Tressa opens up her boating business to two of the most stage-hillbilly motherfuckers that this show – set in a swamp as it is – has yet had the temerity to introduce. “A morning like this makes you want to bear hug good news” mutters one in a Gomer Pyle voice, adding “The muffins are good enough to make you want to go to the church and marry up.” This is a hate crime. It’s also not helped by the fact that the microphone is picking up everyone’s labored breathing as they descend the stairs into the boat.

Tressa’s clients turn out to be some sort of hillbilly cyborgs … I say “some sort,” but that is literally what they’re called halfway through the episode. Don’t praise me for the brilliance of the term, is all that I’m asking. Her discovery of their robotic nature is that one of them cuts right through his finger while cutting bait for the fishing trip, which means they may be two of the most poorly-built cyborgs in history. He’s using a paring knife, for crying out loud, and it cuts his finger clean off.

The cyborgs, naturally, are products of Anton Arcane’s science and are wandering around the swamp looking for survivors from Dr.Woodrue’s exploding tugboat (see season 2, episode 1, The Death of Popeye). After Swamp Thing destroys them in the midst of trying to drown Tressa – as if being on this show wasn’t punishment enough, now she has to get shoved under swamp water too – we get one of the few entertaining scenes of the episode; Arcane and the disembodied cyborg hillbilly head sass one another for a few frames. It’s a charmer and Chapman’s tired disgust is … well, it mirrors my own, I suppose.

"Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded."

Am I supposed to be rating these episode, a la the AV Club? Can I start? And do they make grades lower than ::checks old report card:: “Jon could benefit from some time with a therapist, and threats of that nature are not acceptable in Home Ec class or anywhere else.” That’s good, right?

As Tressa recovers from her near-drowning, surrounded by the terrible actors whom she loves, we learn that test tube fruitcake Abigail never had a birthday party. This is the worst idea for an episode of a show of this type. It’s a horror/action show, and we’re going to have to watch Swamp Thing in a party hat try to hit a piñata (I take it back, that is a GREAT idea).

I, uh ... I'm coming around on Abigail's character, tbh

Elsewhere, the hillbilly cyborgs stab a cop for no real reason. Actually, the “no real reason” business is why the cop stopped the robobillies in the first place – they’re just walking down the road and the cop starts givin’ ‘em shine, so they desiccated him. This is a metaphor for America’s institutionalized racism.

The scene is probably intended just to show how the robohicks have a stick which turns people into beef jerky, which is very terrifying and everything but they already cut a finger off and tried to drown someone, so let’s not gild the lily here. As they break into Tressa’s house, after all, they bust through walls, survive getting smacked in the face with all sorts of pots and pans, jump off of roofs --- the thing where they dry dudes out for no reason, it doesn’t really pay off in this scenario, you know?

She held this face for a solid thirty seconds.

A special mention should go out to Arcane’s assistant Graham, an actor who apparently can only remember eight words at a go. If you’d like to imitate Graham’s delivery, try saying anything for between four and eight words, take a breath, and go for the next half a dozen words. Announce your engagement to your family that way. Order at a restaurant. Recite the pledge of allegiance. It’ll make you sound like an asthmatic muppet, and you’ll have captured the flavor.

Technorednecks chase Abigail into the swamp – seeing as how she’s one of Woodrue’s lost experiments which they’re meant to be recovering – where she finally makes the acquaintance of Swamp Thing. This also leads to the following exchange, which betrays the writers’ persistent fascination with characters who are clearly psychopaths but they get treated like harmless eccentrics:

Swamp Thing: “I know it’s hard to believe, a voice on the wind.”
Abigail: “I hear voices all the time.”

THAT’S NOT A GOOD ANSWER TO THAT FIRST SENTENCE.

The inside of one of the cyborg hillbillies, apparently having been constructed of Silly String and Taco Bell wrappers.

Swampy takes Abigail to his sexy love cave in a forgotten part of the everglades, and which is also loaded with Indonesian stone carvings. I shit you not. It looks like a wet Pier One Imports. Big carvings of elephants and buddhas. You ever been to the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland? Looks like that one part outside the Indiana Jones ride.

But, speaking of wet imports, that appears to be the larger part of the reasoning behind this scene, as Kari Wuhrer wanders around in soaking wet short-shorts and JC Penney summer collection top. Just in case you thought she might be off-brand, though, she does mutter unforgivable nonsense the whole time.

Why are there elephants carved on that back wall? What ancient Floridian civilization knew of elephants?

Flushing Abigail to safety, Swamp Thing takes on the sauce-sucking trucker-cap-droids in an exchange which seems frankly pornographic in isolation. “I can’t pull it out, it’s like he’s holding it in!” “Where’s he getting all this fluid, he should be dry by now!” “It’s quality, not quantity” “We’re only built for human fluid!” Then they start ejecting thick white liquid from their mouths. I swear to god, you guys.

These are the kinds of PornHub videos that I can't bring myself to watch.

Everything resolves with the destroyed cyborgs having falsely reported that they killed Abigail (I dunno why they reported that or what I wouldn’t root for ‘em if they did), and the heroes of the show having a big swamp birthday party for Abby. They didn’t invite Swamp Thing, but then again he wanders off into the swamp muttering “Birthdays never meant anything to me before, but now it’s the things I can’t have anymore that seem so important,” so it sounds like he’d be a real downer.


"What do you think ... of my giant face? I ... just had it ... installed."


2 comments:

neofishboy said...

Oh my God, that android head! It's Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin if Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin had worn a red wig for most of the show to hide his secret baldness like Gene Hackman's Luthor!

I'm sorry, I think I've been on the internet too much today. Maybe a nice walk outside ...

David Hanson said...

Everglades? Are they not in Houma anymore? Still no reason for a giant Olmec head, though...

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