Destruct that ship, General!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (Introduction to Season Two)

The departure of series creator/executive producer Leslie Stevens, producer/writer Joseph Stefano, and composer/production executive Dominic Frontiere at the end of The Outer Limits’ first season should have been a death blow sufficient to end the show… but it wasn’t. Perhaps out of spite more than anything else, ABC renewed the series for a second season without them.

The shakeup wasn’t as simple or as close-ended as a walkout. Stevens and Frontiere were still attached to the series as, respectively, Executive Producer and Executive Vice President of Daystar Productions, but they’d no longer contribute creatively to the series. Stefano, meanwhile, was out of the picture entirely (despite “A Villa De Stefano Production” still appearing in the end credits every week). His replacement was Ben Brady, who had no experience with science fiction (though, in his former capacity as Vice President in charge of Programming for ABC, had a hand in getting the series on the air in the first place). Associate Producer/ Story Editor Louis Morheim either left of his own accord or was given the boot (my research didn’t turn up anything definitive); installed in his position was Seeleg Lester, who also had little-to-no experience with science fiction.

The creative heart of the series was gone, replaced by strangers who had no idea how to fly the rocket. To add insult to injury, the decision was made to completely excise the show’s existing musical identity, despite the fact that Dominic Frontiere’s impressive library of cues (from both season one and Stoney Burke) was readily available at no cost. The new gang opted instead to spend money to bring in Harry Lubin and his Theremin and start over from scratch. In all fairness, Lubin did contribute a fairly impressive body of stock music; however, since none of it is episode-specific, there’s a generic quality to most of it (there are exceptions, which we’ll get to as we go).

Season one's deft melding of sci-fi and Gothic horror was audacious, if not downright shocking, in its originality and unpredictability. By contrast, season two feels like a giant step backward with its tendency toward tamer, more traditional sci-fi and, despite the relatively impressive array of scientific concepts on display, the scripts frequently disappoint with their superficiality. There are of course exceptions: a few season two episodes are quite marvelous in their own right ("Demon with a Glass Hand" and the two-part "The Inheritors" are the most obvious triumphs) but, taken as a whole, the 17 episodes herein comprise a weaker, less impressive animal.

Season two does attempt to tackle a number of fascinating, forward-thinking scientific concepts: human cloning (“The Duplicate Man,” mind-expanding drugs (“Expanding Human”), identity questions in artificial beings (“Demon with a Glass Hand”; “I, Robot”), intelligence without corporeal form (“Cry of Silence”), and even the illusive paradox of human emotions (“Keeper of the Purple Twilight”). Unfortunately, more often than not, these concepts are saddled with underdeveloped scripts and hamstrung by insufficient budgets.

The new season brought a few cosmetic changes as well: most significantly, the series’ original prologue format was restored, which meant the end of the pre-title teasers that, more often than not, had served as unwelcome spoilers. The text of the episode-specific titles looks different; I’m not sure if it’s simply a slimmer version of the same font, or a different font entirely, The “magic wand” sound effect heard during these titles is gone (it was Frontiere’s, after all), so now all we hear is that familiar buzzing sound. The opening titles and end credits look the same (but of course feature different theme music).

How will these changes affect this blog? First and foremost, I imagine I’ll be harping and bitching and heckling a lot more than I did before. The “Aural Pleasure” section may look a bit different, since there aren’t any available soundtracks I can pimp. Oh, and since most of season two has never been represented in the various trading card sets over the years,  the “Trading Card Corner” section will now only appear when applicable.


Without further ado, let’s proceed.


4 comments:

  1. It's great that you are going to grind it out. I'd have to call out "Demon With a Glass Hand", "Cry of Silence", and "The Inheritors" as my favorites of Season 2. But I also really enjoy "Keepers of the Purple Twilight", and to a lesser extent, Shatner's overacting tour de force, "Cold Hands, Warm Heart".

    And jaw-droppingly enough, I have some old notes to remind me that I really enjoyed gulp! "The Brain of Colonel Barham".

    I'm looking forward to this very much. Thanks!

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  2. Glad you're still on board! I haven't seen "Col Barham" in probably 20 years. Who knows? Maybe I won't hate it as much through older, wiser (?) eyes.

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  3. Again I agree with whitsbrain -- so finally I'm not alone in my fondness for "Cry of Silence". Everyone else I. ever mentioned it to thought it was ridiculous. Craig, you've already resumed the "tell it like it is" policy that made your Season 1 blogs so worthwhile. A sad thing about Season 2 is that they almost established their own style or "feel" in their better episodes. Still, I remain a 1st season guy for whom TOL ended in Spring of 1964.

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  4. I had a bit of an epiphany when I place "Col Barham" ahead of "Tourist Attraction" as worst OL episode ever. I was wrong. "Tourist Attraction moved up one and now "Col Barham" is at the bottom...and I STILL watch the damn things. Some highlights mark this season. "Demon" is the best overall. Certainly Lubin's best work. "Keeper" wins best of monster suit of Season 2 and "The Inheritors" takes the cake for being so well written. It is right up there with "Demon". Culp, Duvall, Ihnat? Who ya gonna choose actor wise? Michael Ansara was great in "Soldier". It is nowhere Season 1 but there ARE some highlights. Watch "Cry of Silence"...a sleeper.

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