Tales From the Darkside 208: Distant Signals

Yay, it's one of the episodes I've been waiting for! Not the terrifying one whose title I can't remember, of course, but rather the one where Darren McGavin plays... actually, why get ahead of myself? Let's just handle the episode like normal, huh?

A man in a fancy suit shows up in a Hollywood agent's office with an offer that no man could refuse. He wants to contact the writer of a detective show called 'Max Paradise' from the mid-sixties, and he's willing to pay a suitcase full of gold just for the meeting!

Ah, a suitcase full of gold. There are just so many reasons that wouldn't work...

Naturally the rich man representing some 'foreign investors' gets his meeting. “Smith” wants something simple - for the show's creator to put the show back into production. It was canceled with six episodes left in the season, and Smith would like them to write and film those episodes, including the finale that reveals the resolution of the mystery that hung over the entire show - just who was Max Paradise, amnesiac detective?

He's even tracked down the show's star, Darren McGavin, who'd become a washed-up drunk in the decades after the show went off the air. The show's creator agrees to come back in exchange for two million dollars, so long as Smith can get everything else back into place.

Smith visits with Darren, now a pathetic drunk, eking out a living as a bartender in a run-down joint. He's skeptical about the idea of coming back to the entertainment industry, but Smith insists that the show can't go on without him - and his investors are very keen to see the show go on. Smith even offers Darren a set of 'vitamin pills' which he guarantees will get Darren whipped back into shape in time for the start of shooting!

Smith walks through the old soundstage with the show's creator, and explains that while the creator might have thought of Max Paradise as nothing but failed, cliched piffle, there was a raw poetry to it that has resonated among a certain audience - he can even quote the show's dialogue by heart, despite the fact that the show was aired some twenty years earlier, and Smith couldn't have been more than a few years old when it aired! So, have you figured out the twist yet?

The show begins filming again, with a newly youthinated McGavin ready to recreate his greatest (and only) role-

Hard-boiled detective Max Paradise! Except he can't do it! There's too much pressure, and he breaks down during a table read. Smith goes to visit him at his rat-hole, offering a pep-talk. It seems that Darren's alcoholism has taken away all of his confidence, leaving him too weak and cowardly to act. It seems that Smith has an answer for that problem, too - his version of a Vulcan mind-meld!

With all of Darren's problems solved, the show is ready to shoot, and it looks surprisingly good for people shooting on a Tales From the Darkside-sized budget. Although maybe they were doing so many one-room shows this year in part to pay for this one. Who knows?

Seriously, now - why aren't more things shot in black and white? I really don't get it.

Everything goes well, and the last episodes of the show are in the can, giving Smith the satisfying resolution that he's been craving all these years. Now just one question remains - who, exactly, is this show intended for? Smith remains oblique, but he offers just enough clues for Darren to develop a theory.

His idea? That there's a planet on a nearby star who's been getting television signals around twenty years after they were originally sent out - and for one reason or another Max Paradise spoke to them profoundly enough that when it was canceled, they used all of their futuristic technology to ensure that the story got an ending. Ah, if only that sort of thing could happen here, right?

And yes, before you ask, I'm fairly sure that that episode of Futurama was a parody of this - which isn't a huge surprise, given that this is by a wide margin the best episode of Tales from the Darkside I've yet seen.


Anthony Ho said...

Not surprisingly, this episode and "Seasons of Belief" are the two best episodes for me, primarily because they feature incredible and often underrated actors.

Digicorp said...

Distant Signals is the exception that proves the rule of the TFTDS Universe - the music especially gives it the emotional, nostalgic center needed. I never forgot this episode and it suited each actors talent perfectly. It has been ripped off so many times since and of course, the 'alien's name is Smith. It is very poignant, even more so due to its simplistic production value (even though back then, an outdoor shot at the end was pretty big). Glad to see how many others out there really appreciate its creation.

Digicorp said...

Haunting and beautiful episode. Unforgettable to those who really are, "watching".