Tales From the Darkside 111: All a Clone by the Telephone

It seems like we've finally reached that Harry Anderson episode that I mistook for 'Word Processor of the Gods'. Let's see what this one is about!

Harry plays a frustrated writer who, in the parlance of the industry, 'can't get arrested in this town'. Insult is added to injury when it turns out that his agent (genre stalwart Dick Miller!) is more impressed with the funny message on his new answering machine than anything Harry's written in the past six months.

The problem? Harry doesn't remember leaving any funny message... uh-oh, this could be trouble...

Harry arrives home, hoping to reprogram the monstrosity he calls an answering machine:

Then discovers that everyone who calls the machine has been receiving different messages - his agent got a Bronx cheer, his girlfriend receiveda cruel insult about her mother... Harry storms off after disconnecting the machine, but that doesn't stop it from firing up and, in Harry's own voice, announcing that now it's going to be in charge of things.

Not really sure who it's announcing this to. Or why the episode is letting us know exactly what's going on just two minutes in - maybe there's a twist coming?

Turns out Harry was rushing over to his girlfriend's apartment to apologize, whew he finds out that the machine is leaving complex insulting messages - which we already knew, making the whole sequence kind of a waste. Hell, that night the machine flat-out starts talking to him - revealing that it's possessed by a force from an alternate universe, whatever the hell that means. On the upside, all the machine claims to want is to be plugged back in and left alone. Half-believing that he's asleep Harry acquiesces, then watches in puzzlement as it calls a movie theater's automated listing services and starts sweet-talking the computer voice.

I've got to say, this is exactly the face you'd expect someone to have when discovering that there's a secret society of machines talking to one another when you're not listening to them. Excellent acting there, Harry!

Harry's agent gets him a few interviews with producers, but he botches all the meetings, but things aren't all bad - his answering machine called his girlfriend and fixed their relationship! Unable to accept the olive branch that's being offered Harry snaps, revealing the insane situation he's in:

Before smashing it all over the floor! At least he thought he did - it was actually the VCR he grabbed in the dark room and destroyed. Harry's quickly deteriorating mental state drives his girlfriend away, leaving him alone... with the machine. Furious, Harry unplugs the machine and erases its tape, thinking that he's finally defeated it. It turns out that the answering machine has friends, however, and for the rest of the night the phone rings off the hook as various automated messages dial him and read off their scripts - which is an odd thing for them to do, since we've already seen that they can say new things...

Also left unexplained is just why Harry doesn't simply unplug his line. Not that it would do him much good - the next day he's getting calls on other people's car phones and at his agent's office! Harry's stuck in a bind - he can't answer the phone for fear that it's another automated line, but he can't not answer because his livelihood depends on being at the beck and call of producers? What's a man to do? He grabs the phone and finds his agent on the line - a big-time producer wants him to write a hot new miniseries!

Harry heads in to talk about it, and discovers that he supposedly called the producer's answering machine in the middle of the night and left the whole pitch as a message! You know, if the answering machine didn't want to be unplugged he might have mentioned that he'd done this when Harry was reaching for the wire. Harry goes home to apologize to the device, and after a little begging, the two come to an arrangement - the answering machine will do all the writing, with Harry just acting as stenographer.

The stenographer who collects all the money and gets the public credit. Maybe that's a little harsh, but given that Harry's career was entirely in the dumps when this half-hour started, the fact that he's becoming a success at the end doesn't seem like the terrifying ending that the producers may have been hoping for:

Okay, now this is a little weird – my memories of watching TFTD episodes from my childhood left me convinced that Harry Anderson was the star of one of them, but I can guarantee I’ve never seen this half-hour of television before tonight. So what convinced me that I’d seen Harry Anderson, causing my memory to trick me into thinking he was the star of Steven King’s magic computer episode? Is there another episode starring Harry Anderson that caused the conflation? Or is Willard just that forgettable? This is really going to bug me if I'm not able to figure it out...

Also, before we close it out, let me just pause to shake my head sadly at that title. Lame pun, guys. Especially because the episode was light on clones.

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