Wednesday, January 17, 2018


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 used to like to call a dumb pun kind of title, but I've run out of those, so I just call it ...

This one might be a little difficult to cover, inasmuch as really nothing of note happens in the episode aaaaaand I think this was just an inventory script that they slapped a Swamp Thing-colored patina over. Hey, that'd be verdigris, right? I've been wondering how they make that stuff...

Vicious killer Ryson (Robert S.Woods) strongarms a pair of his fellow prison inmates -- the handsome and recalcitrant Citrano (John Loprieno) and the made-for-TV Leonard Small named Seifert (Bryan Michael McGuire) -- into staging an escape. Citrano has his misgivings and Seifert is terrified of the alligators populating the Houma swamps, but they allow Ryson to call the shots. After the murder of one of the least-attentive prison guards in television history (Geoff Koch), the trio escapes into the bog. Oh and, naturally, they're intent on retrieving a stash of stolen loot which Ryson had previously hidden after a big job.

"...or behind the Water Stunt Show set."

Swamp Thing happens to witness the escape, although what he was doing at the prison is a whole other question. I like to imagine that it was visiting day and that he knows a fern in there who's in for mail fraud. Thanks to the magic of television, anything's possible!

Despite witnessing the escape, Swamp Thing decides to let the killers flee unimpeded into the swamp, so that he can teach them some ambiguous lesson about making better choices in life instead of stopping them. I will tell you now that one guy has already been murdered because Swamp Thing wanted to wave an after-school special under these guys' assorted noses, and another one is gonna eat it about twelve minutes further into the episode, and those deaths are on Swamp Thing's mossy hands.

Entranced by the chain-link fence, Officer Lookaway meets his fate.

Like I say, it's hard to describe this episode because it's boilerplate television. Three cons escape from prison, go after the hidden cash, and increasingly come to blows, murdering some folks along the way. What mixes it up is the hovering, disapproving presence of Swamp Thing, judging the baddies and picking them off one by one as they travel. It's like Predator meets Down By Law starring a bunch of congenital idiots.

Personality-wise, Citrano is a man full of regret for the crimes he'd committed, including the unwitting participation in the murder of a bank guard or something. What was particularly odd about Citrano was that he so resembled Will Kipp (Scott Garrison) -- not literally, but in the sense that he was the same kind of generically handsome basic cable actor -- that I wondered if this might have ever been considered as a Will-centric episode. If you recall, Will was complicit in the near-deadly assault on a video store owner back in Philadelphia, and this script might have been penned under the idea that Will's arc would have landed him in prison, if just for a little while (which would have explained why Swamp Thing was hanging around). But then again, if the career of Mark Wahlberg has taught us anything, you can badly assault any marginalized individual and still get to be on TV if you really want to.

One of the great things about this show is the set is so small, you have to huddle up to walk through the "swamp."

Seifert is the lumbering man-child so common to these types of stories. He's the Delmar. I'm always taken back by the inevitable scene involving these characters in which they longingly describe what their lives will be like once they get the money -- all the people they'll show up, thinking about the looks on their faces. Whatever, the guy's an idiot, he's gonna spend it all on lottery tickets. He also really is obsessed with alligators, to the point that his constant alligator conversation seemed to imply a Chekov's Alligator situation which never materialized.

Lastly, Ryson, as deadly as his homophone implies. Ryson is overly aggressive, hot-headed, and continually gurning in that fashion of TV psychopaths. He'll also be responsible later in the episode for murdering a fisherman whose only error was stumbling across the cons raiding his campsite.

"Seifert turning himself in for the murder of the fisherman" is the modern day "Truth Emerging From Her Well To Shame Mankind"

Swamp Thing manages to scare Seifert and Citrano straight using little more than the intimidating quality of fresh fruit, but Ryson requires time travel and solid light holograms. I DID NOT KNOW THAT SWAMP THING COULD DO THESE THINGS, but he does, so I guess I'm the dope. Ryson is shown the disapproving hallucinations of his pre-adolescent self and his childhood dog, both of whom express their deep disappointment in adult Ryson's criminal activities.

Then, Swamp Thing uses Superman: The Movie powers -- or Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut powers -- to reverse time and put everybody back in prison. Seifert and Citrano have learned their alternate-timeline lesson, but Ryson does not, and he gets murdered. Swamp Thing lacks a lot of imagination to not be able to find a way out of this prison escape without someone being murdered.

You come to me, on the day of my daughter's wedding ...

I had some time to think about Swamp Thing as a whole as I watched this episode, and I began to realize that it is absolutely wrong to suggest that Swamp Thing (the series) fails in its primary goal: to entertain. The fact is that it's insanely entertaining, in the same sense that Schumacher's Batman & Robin, or the classic Manos The Hands of Fate are entertaining -- they don't just pass the "so bad it's good" bar, but rather they're so bad that they cannot be judged by critical standards, but spur a lot of thought about critical elements of the show. It's entertaining, this show! And that's what it's out there for. It just so happens it's not very good, most of the time, but who cares? Mission accomplished, USA Network's early 1990s Swamp Thing television show, I think you're all right.



Bram said...

TIL "gurn."

Jonathan Hendry said...

The remarkable thing about this show is that I never see anyone I recognize. Nobody who went on to bigger things. It's like a community theater production.

Jonathan Morris said...

This is absolutely true, and the exceptions to the rule only highlight it. I do follow up on some of the actors to see where their careers took them, and it's usually to small and unremarkable roles in other cheap TV shows. It's marvelous, like a Shadow Hollywood or a Canadian television lineup ...

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