28.2.11

Tales From the Darkside 118: If the Shoes Fit


The episode begins with a maid cleaning a hotel room, then stealing a bite from an apple before the guests arrive. Will this episode contain a message about putting trust in the wrong people, or is this just a funny bit of business before we get to the plot? Only time will tell!

The room's inhabitant arrives, and proves to be 'Gumbs', a contemptible caricature of a corrupt southern politician - so loathesome that he 'tips' the hotel staff by giving them campaign buttons! Who knows what kind of damage he'll do if actually elected governor of this generic South-Eastern state!

The bellhop, Peter, puts up one of Gumbs' pointedly satirical posters:

As the man himself makes a call to Louie, his campaign manager. Gumbs' main complaint? The hotel is creepy an uninhabited. Louie brushes this off, telling Gumbs that he needs to start announcing his stance on prominent issues of the day, like the equal rights amendment! Hey, remember when that was a thing? I don't, but the Doonesbury collections I read growing up assure me that people used to care pretty profoundly about it. Gumbs speaks for the modern politician when he announces that people don't care about issues, they just want to feel like they're voting for a good guy.

Man, I wish this random episode of Tales From the Darkside from the mid-80s wasn't so dead-on about politics almost 30 years later.

After the call is over Gumbs is momentarily shocked to discover that Peter, the bellhop, never left the room, and overheard the incriminating conversation. Deciding that he can spin away the villain, he puts on a performance explaining that all of life is a stage, and he's just someone who's willing to exploit that fact. Peter seems creepily willing to accept Gumbs' point of view, as this screenshot will attest-

Gumbs' explanation of the realpolitik of modern American life is interrupted by the arrival of the maid, who Gumbs explains that he can charm just as easily as he will the state's populace. This leads to a dance sequence so off-putting and broadly comic that it causes me to wonder whether this show is supposed to be horror-themed at all.

Later on, a freshly-bathed Gumbs calls for his clothes to be cleaned and his shoes shined - which will no doubt lead to the circumstance that the title suggests, although I'm unable to immediately predict what that circumstance will be. A reverse-cinderalla, perhaps, where he gets a murderer's shoes back, and winds up being charged with a crime and his political career destroyed?

It's bound to be something creepy, anyhow, since Peter seemingly teleports into the room and grabs the clothes and shoes just a moment after Gumbs shuts himself away in the bathroom.

Gumbs, dressed in an undershirt, practices the speech he's going to make in front of the crowd at a state barbecue celebration in the near future. The speech is interrupted twice, first by the sound of a calliope playing traditional circus music, and then by Peter, who arrives with Gumbs' outfit. Nothing seems out of order, but when Louie calls to tell Gumbs that the barbecue is almost ready to start the music starts up again - and when he checks the closet for his suit, he discovers that is tasteful white summer wear has been replaced by a clownish parody of same!

At first Gumbs believes this is simply a joke being played on him, but when Peter arrives at the room he insists that the clown outfit is the exact one Gumbs provided him with. Peter even insists that Gumbs try them on, which quickly proves that the clown getup fits him perfectly! It's at this moment that the satirical point of the episode becomes incredibly apparent.

Gumbs attempts to call some authority to get his suit back, but the formerly-functional phone now contains a spring snake! He demands to know what's going on, but Peter responds simply by placing the titular shoes on his feet!

Gumbs struggles to escape the shoes and outfit, but he can't manage it, and the attempt leads him into a series of hilarious pratfalls. Louie arrives to check on him in mid-pratfall, trying to collect him for the rally. Gumbs protests that it was all the magic bellboy's fault, and that he never meant to dress up as a clown - and that's when the twist arrives-

He isn't wearing a clown suit at all! It was all in his head! Or a ghost-vision or something. Whenever he looks in the mirror he sees a clown, and it will forever remain so, as long as he doesn't take politics seriously! That's what Peter explains anyways, when he magically reappears. Naturally this leads to the only logical conclusion, as Gumbs finds himself dancing for the crowds in a metaphorical three-ring circus. Which may or may not be all inside his head.

Take that, political establishment!

You know, it's possible that satire might not be this show's strong suit. Although I can't complain about the lead performance by Dick Shawn in this episode. He was perfectly fine with the blustering and pratfalls - but could you expect any less from an old pro like him?

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