Wednesday, April 11, 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 ...

It was only this morning that I came to the realization that -- absolutely everything about it to the contrary -- I genuinely love the USA Network's 1991-1993 Swamp Thing television series. If a work of entertainment is meant to entertain, then does it really matter by what virtue it entertains? What elements of the show that aren't "so bad they're good" are unironically, if campily, done well. Like all creative works, there are moments of frustration, confusion, the dismissal of plot or character in pursuit of something higher and more important, only to fall short and want for the plot or the character again ... but then there are moments of surprise, appeal, and amusement. Characters burrow into your comfort zone, despite any plethora of annoying tics and deficiencies. You come to wonder about the world of Houma. Folks. Folks? Folks, this is my Deadwood. This is my The Wire. Depressing, but true. I love Swamp Thing. More than I love you, anyway, sorry.

Whatever the case, the universe was clearly opening my heart to Swamp Thing so that I would be better suited to appreciate this episode. For the first time in a long time, this episode involves almost exclusively the four core human characters -- even Swamp Thing is pushed to a side role!

Just a real quick reminder of Graham's genuinely disquieting face.
We open on Arcane's lab, loaded to the gill with all kinds of old-timey monster movie machines. Mark Lindsay Chapman really comes alive when he's messing with the monster movie machines, his Arcane is tremendously smug.

Arcane is unleashing a special sonic weapon upon the swamp, intended to drive the mind of Alec Holland insane. I feel like an INSANE swamp monster who hates you is probably a lot worse than a sane swamp monster who hates you but knows that killing is wrong but, hey, I'm clearly not the scientist here.

Graham has a great series of scenes with Arcane, capitalizing on a new rapport between Chapman and Quigley -- it's the product of being given more time together in a scene, I think. We learn that Graham was born in Cleveland, and I thought that was going to pay off a little better than it did but, again, I'm not the scientist here.

They kept switching to this shot and it played out like an '80s video where Swamp Thing was a stern dad who hated hair metal.
The sonic weapon does indeed drive Swamp Thing nuts, which manifests itself as Swampy rolling around on the ground against a tree holding his guts and moaning. I think it might have been the Brown Frequency. But while Holland's mind is lost, Arcane's is saved -- He's sane, and as nice as Mister Rogers now!

I will admit that I had expected a Freaky Friday thing, and I was losing my shit about it until I remembered that they already did that once and it was okay. I can accept a Guy Gardner punch-out story instead, please proceed.

I'm Anton, would you like to hear the specials? Okay, "This town, oo-oo, is lookin' like a Ghost Town," haha
A little time passes, and we're made aware of Arcane's exceptional change of heart. No longer plagued by the mood disorder which he'd previously been described to possess,  and his mind liberated by the eight thousand series' villains who'd used voodoo or hypnosis or whatever to haunt Arcane's brain, he's become super-nice! He's got a sweater around his shoulders! His hair is slicked back a little. He doesn't remember Shakespeare that much. Enh, he's okay.

Among the many townspeople who gossip about Arcane's philanthropy, there's this waitress who is just comically blunt about her role in the exposition. She tells him during his meal "When I first came here, I heard things about you. Bad things." Like. Wow lady, that is super judgmental. And you just got here! What kind of tip are you expecting ... ?

"And I heard a lot about your dick -- all small."
Tressa and Will are following Arcane around, trying to suss out his insidious plan and, thereby, find their lost swamp pal. Tressa and Will are being used here in some fashion that I do not think I understand -- like the nosy next-door neighbors in a sitcom. Or Team Rocket. Anyway, it just makes it look even more like they've started fucking.

The episode will exclusively feature Graham, Will, Tressa and Arcane interacting in different configurations, and it is actually exceptional writing as I think about it. We learn a lot about these characters based entirely on how they react towards one another. It's like a check-in point -- except for Will, all of these actors have been on the show since the beginning, and how they interact now versus the genuinely shows some character development at which I realize now the show had been hinting.

Looks like that Electric Company bit.
More on that later, as the only other character in this episode is doing most of his stuff solo. Durock seems both entertained and annoyed by his role in this one. He affects something simultaneously poised between "Why am I even here if all I'm going to do is run around like a crazy moron?" and "Well at least I get to run around like a crazy moron!" Weighed against the commute and the time in the makeup chair, you gotta wonder if he thought the screentime was worth it.

As for the four primary players, they're doing some quality interaction. Graham makes it clear to Will that Arcane's plan to reverse the sonic weapon's effect -- while keeping his newfound sanity -- is something that he plans to sabotage at any cost. Tressa finds some sort of desperate possibility in Arcane's transformation, wholly investing herself in a future with Good Arcane. Meanwhile, Will proves to have absorbed great wisdom from Swamp Thing, even though things like "Something out of balance cannot survive!" coming out of his mouth seems so weird. Oh, and Graham is so creepy and oozily protective of Bad Arcane that he repulses Tressa, becoming maybe the only male villain in the show's history who didn't at least warrant a minigolf date.

(I hate to mention this -- again -- but you know how almost every scene Will has with another male character adopts a kind of homoerotic quality? It is so much worse when it's Will and Graham in a scene together. That's sexual energy the same way that dry heaves are kinetic energy...)

I mean, come on.

It's time to save the day, and Arcane gets to leap from his chair announcing "I'm going to build an electromagnet!" as orchestral music swells, which has got to be a career highlight.

As we ramp up to the final experiment which Graham is clearly going to sabotage, we have to deal with the insane Swamp Thing, who gets to UM GUYS HE EXPLODES OUT OF THE GROUND AND THEN TEARS THE SKIN OFF OF HIS BRAIN. There, what am I going to do, build up to it? Why the fuck would you need suspense for a swamp monster ripping his own head off and blasting through three feet of soil? Sells itself.

It's lettuce! It's literally lettuce!

They capture Swampy, put him in some machines, Graham fucks with one of the machines, Swampy is no longer insane and Arcane is again a-a-a-and, scene. The bad guys screw right off and the heroes wander off defeated in this, the Empire Strikes Back of Swamp Thing episodes. Or the "Episode of Sesame Street Where They Had To Explain Mister Hooper's Death to Big Bird" of Swamp Thing episodes, because it actually ends with Swamp Thing giving Tressa one of his tired-ass homilies and she is not re-cei-ving nuthin', the end.

And I hate to say this about Carrell Meyers at the end of all of this, but I really mean this as a compliment: The one scene in which she really excelled was the one she played alone.

Good episode, really.

1 comment:

John said...

Thanks for the Specials joke.

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