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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Get On With It!

Jerry: This is like that "Twilight Zone" episode, where the guy wakes up and he's the same, but everybody else is different!
Elaine (or maybe it was George): Which one was that?
Jerry: Ah, they were all like that

The Solipsist thinks that Google Adsense is messing with him.  Just when he thought he had cracked the code, they post some seemingly random ad for "customized themes" for your child's first birthday.  What's that all about?

Well, regardless of what THAT's all about, that's not what today's post is about.  (C'mon, you've gotta give points for segues!).

So the other night, the Solipsist was watching "The Outer Limits" (don't ask), and he found himself becoming impatient.  In this episode, Jon Cryer was playing this guy who goes out on New Year's Eve 1949 to buy himself and his young bride some champagne.  On his way home, his car is bathed in a flood of light, causing Cryer to swerve out of control and end up in a ditch.  When he comes to, it's morning, and, hitching a ride from a helpful passerby, our hero makes it home.  But his key doesn't work, and, when his young bride comes to the door, she is not quite so young anymore.  It seems that (get ready for it). . . .


Yes, as unbelievable as it may sound, Jon Cryer has returned home on New Year's Day 1960!  Of course, he has no memory of the intervening ten years, but he eventually manages to convince his wife that he had not run off with some other woman, that he seriously thought he had left home just the night before, and that she should welcome him back.  (Somehow, the fact that he looks exactly the same while she has aged ten years doesn't seem to strike his wife as strange or even, apparently, noticeable.)  Anyway, they return home, do the wild thing, and go to sleep.

While, he is sleeping, though, Jon Cryer is bathed in the same eerie light.  This time, he awakes in some strange otherworldly place that looks like a set from the old "Land of the Lost" series, except moister.  But soon thereafter he awakes back in his bedroom, only (wait for it). . . .


This time, at least, his wife (who by now has remarried none other than the guy who picked Cryer up after his accident ten years earlier) notices her (first) husband's non-changing features.  Luckily, her new husband is a devotee of science-fiction, and so he begins to figure out that somehow Cryer must be traveling through wormholes.  (Oh, by the way, mysterious disappearances seem to have done wonders for Cryer's sperm count, as he managed to father a child with his wife on that one magical night.)

Well, you see where this is going.  

And, of course, in order to get us more or less up to the present day, our hero has to undergo three more disa-reappearances.  By the last occurrence, which brings us up to the year 2000, his wife has become a full-fledged expert in hypno-regressive therapy, so she is able to put Cryer under and get the full story from the aliens who have been borrowing her husband so as to learn from him.  They have no sense of time, though, so they can't comprehend concepts like "before" and "after," so they don't know the toll that these abductions have had on our hero's psyche.  (As WOS commented: "They can open up wormholes, but they can't understand 'before' and 'after'?  Give me a break!")  In the end, though, these are basically friendly aliubs, and they finally return Cryer to his home back on New Year's Day 1950, so he is able to pick up his life where he really left off.

Now, here's the thing.  The concept itself is not a problem.  And for those who like science fiction, it's no problem to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.  The problem is that, once Cryer disappears the SECOND time, you know what the "mystery" is all about.  Now, we just have to wait around until everything gets explained.  But since his second disappearance occurs about 17 minutes into an hour long show, this means we have to sit through approximately 40 minutes of heartrending dialogue, inane speculation, and schmaltzy reunion scenes with first the wife, then the wife and son.  (Thank heaven for DVR's or this would also include commercials.)  The urge to yell, "give us the payoff already" is overwhelming.

But the problem is, the whole premise of shows like this (including "Twilight Zone," "Night Visions," and some episodes of "Tales from the Crypt") is that "SOMETHING WEIRD IS HAPPENING."  Sometimes the weirdness gets explained up front (a gypsy curse, for example, or an ill-advised trip into a hedge maze).  But often the whole plot (such as it is) consists of putting the protagonist through a series of strange events (the basic pattern of which is established fairly early) and delaying the gratification of finding out just what's going on.

Now, in the very best of their kind, these movies and TV shows either keep you unaware that you're waiting for a payoff ("The Sixth Sense"), or else provide you with enough interesting "filler" that you're willing to sit around while they feed you morsels of plot development ("Lost"--but as we've noted before, this strategy has its risks, namely, that whatever payoff is ultimately provided CAN'T live up to one's expectations).  But in the more mediocre realm, it just gets annoying and/or repetitive.

So what is to be done?  ("Well, Solipsist, you could stop WATCHING these shows."  Yeah, right!)  Would it be possible for the TV guide to just give us the payoff upfront?  "It all turns out to be basically friendly aliubs with a vastly different comprehension of time."  Or is that too much of a spoiler?

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