Wednesday, February 7, 2018

IF YOU SEE SWAMP THING, SAY SWAMP THING: NEVER ALONE

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 ...



We're only moments into this episode when viewers are confronted suddenly with the hyperventilating, sweat-polished, scene-chewing face of Dr.Alec Holland, dashing at panicked, deer-like speed through the glades -- sort of. If you're a Swamp Thing fan with a long memory, anyway, you'll recognize this actor on sight as Ray Wise, formerly Dr.Alec Holland in the 1982 Wes Craven-directed debut of Swamp Thing on the big screen! Crossover! Maybe! I hope! (I will be disappointed).

(Just as an aside, I'd like to point out that the fandom for USA Network's 1990-1993 Swamp Thing television series is so negligent and apathetic that Wise's dual roles aren't even mentioned in the Trivia section. Nothing's mentioned in the trivia section. There is no trivia for this episode of USA Network's Swamp Thing, the one episode which most deserves some got-dang trivia. Do better, fandom of USA Network's 1990-1993 Swamp Thing TV series, of which I believe I might constitute the entirety)

My mind was blown, you guys.

(Wise appearing on this episode got me thinking about the phenomenon of actors who'd played a character on film showing up on the TV show of the same franchise, as a different character -- and I can't think of many! Reeve and Kidder were on Smallville, of course, and Helen Slater is presently on Supergirl -- with Dean Cain and Linda Carter, but those were actors who already played TV incarnations, and they're from the wrong franchises. I know Collyer and West voices their characters in cartoons, but those weren't film-to-TV.

ANYWAY, that's a lot of riders to say that I think this might have been the first case of the guy who played the title character (sort-of) in a superhero movie playing a different guest role in a later TV series of the same franchise. Unless this definition includes Dick Durock. I ... I need to assemble an advisory council on this)

SO

Ray Wise (playing an apparent escaped lunatic named "Guthrie") dashes through the swamps of Houma, eventually landing on the doorstep of the Kipp clan and waking them with incessant pounding. "Incessant pounding" might've actually been the theme of the night, because Will and Tressa emerge from their individual bedrooms at the top of the staircase with the cadence and proximity of lovers just alerted, but not awakened, from their beds. By which I mean they're fuckin'. This is canon as far as I'm concerned, they make beautiful receptacles for each others' vibrant lack of chemistry.



Guthrie busts his way into the Kipp house, ranting and raving about Aliens! Coming to get him! But he got the leader! The big alien! He ran him down with his car! He's dead! Congrats to Will for piecing together these exclaimed fragments in such a way as to correctly realize that Ray Wise just ran over Swamp Thing with his car.

Since "The Return of LaRoche," Swamp Thing has seemed badly depowered, which appears to be one of the very few nods to continuity that this show has ever maintained -- remember, for instance, they aired all of the episodes featuring Swamp Thing's girlfriend Dr.Ann Fisk out of order, so they broke up first and flirted later. I bet that's how Millennials do it. "Millennials are Killing First Dates!" or something moronic like that. Someone ask the New York Times.

"Well, this gives me an opportunity to really review my decisions."

In this case, Swamp Thing isn't fast enough to dodge a car, strong enough to get out for under it, or smart enough to look both ways before crossing the street.  The car genuinely kicks his ass. Besides knocking him down and pinning his arm under a tire, the car just collapses for no reason right on the trapped arm, just crushing Swamp Thing's whole shoulder. This is good TV.

Eventually, Swampy pulls his own arm off and wanders into the swamp to heal, leaving a trail of Totally Radical Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ooze behind him. He's also doing that thing where they hide the actor's "severed" arm inside their shirt -- or a lettuce wrap, in Swamp Thing's case -- but Durock is so overwhelmingly broad that it looks ridiculous. He looks like a kudzu-claimed billboard.

"He's BROAD!"
It was a bad decision for Swamp Thing to wander, because Will has been driving around looking for the poor pumpkin-head. Relating the information to Tressa that he's found Swamp Thing's, uh, spoor. As with all of his other radio communications, Will oscillates pointlessly between speaking like a human being and screaming in outrage. "Hey Tressa, come in" is followed by "DAMMIT TRESSA PICK UP ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?" and then "Hey Tressa, I'm picking up Popeye's for lunch, you want anything" and so on ...

As for Tressa, she's staying back at the house with the maddened Ray Wise, which has not worked out with her in any fashion whatsoever. In fact, it's been a grimly amusing trend in this episode that, as soon as Tressa says that she'll be fine, don't worry, she can handle herself -- Ray Wise jumps up and slams her against a wall or slugs her or something. It's not funny funny, but it's nauseatingly absurd...

"Don't worry, Will, no one will violently strangle me the moment I finish this senten--"
Guthrie's story, meanwhile has evolved: He's escaped from an asylum, thinks he's an alien, and now has a gun trained on Tressa. And for the first time ever, Tressa uses her power of barking awkward lines unconvincingly for good, as she aggressively questions Guthrie on the specifics of his planet. "You got nations? States? You got kids? How many?" She fake-geeked him, and it was great, except I think it earned her a choking or something else inappropriate.

The end of the episode finds all four players at the site of Swamp Thing's inevitable death, dying armless under a tree while Guthrie rants and raves. "You broke the law" he shouts at Swamp Thing, still believing him to be some sort of alien, "You came here looking for answers! You found a planet where animals run wild! Animals! What kind of answer is that for our world??" This is literally the kind of thing a guy in a Twilight Zone episode would say, only from the perspective of the weird aliens from the surprise reveal. This is what it must have felt like for all those doctors with the weird faces when that one patient with the weird face freaked out because her face was weird.

He spends the whole episode threatening to tear his shirt, and he never gets around to it.

Swampy convinces Will and Tressa to leave, so that he may conserve his energy and try to save his life. He's bluffing, but Guthrie stays with him. Also it turns out Guthrie really is an alien, and a plant alien t'boot, and he's so sad to find that Earth is a planet of living meat that he surrenders his life force to repair Swamp Thing's arm and save his life.

I have to admit, I'd hoped this was going to be Swamp Thing of Two Worlds or a totally meta Moore/Veitch-esque story wherein Swamp Thing had to help make the next Swamp Thing by helping this Alec Holland burn, you know. Something lighthearted.

"He better not have gotten chlorophyll on my new finish!"

4 comments:

neofishboy said...

Dammit, now I want to go and dig out those issues where Swamp Thing fights the underwater vampires. That shit was off the hook. Unfortunately my old longboxes are in a portion of the garage that is currently under the control of the black widows. I should really do something about that.

Jonathan Morris said...

That just sounds really thematically appropriate.

Noah Riggs said...

I know a couple of movie to tv examples! Timothy Brown played Judson in the MASH movie and Spearchucker Jones on the tv show. Also Diane Ladd played Flo in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and then played Belle (Flo’s replacement) in the show Alice.

Jonathan Morris said...

Nice! I especially like the Diane Ladd one! Thanks!

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