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Friday, October 3, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Behold Eck!" (10/03/1964)




“Behold Eck!”
Season 2, Episode 3 (35 overall)
Originally aired 10/03/1964


They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, and that everything you need to know about a person can be derived from a prolonged study of their oculars. Fifty years ago tonight, The Outer Limits introduced us to a creature with four eyes; unfortunately, its plethora of peepers betrayed nothing of its shallow, flat essence. Yeah, I know, that wasn’t ecksactly poetic or even clever, but I refuse to blow my A material on D-grade crap.


Dr. James Stone, optical geometry eckspert and glorified optometrist, arrives at work and finds that his lab has been ransacked (the police inform him that several local optometry labs have been similarly defiled). Stone has created Prescription 109, a special type of eyeglasses for nearsightedness whose lenses are ground from meteoric quartz. When he puts them on, he is startled to see a two-dimensional, four-armed creature before him, rooting through his files. When the creature realizes that Stone can see him, it rushes him and knocks the glasses from his face, then vanishes by turning sideways and passing through the nearest wall.




Stone goes to visit his brother, Bernard, to discuss the mysterious creature; Bernard angrily dismisses him and throws him out of his office because, well, he's a dick. Meanwhile, the creature tracks down three of Stone’s patients, all of whom wear Prescription 109, and destroys their eyeglasses (one is injured, and another drops dead of a heart attack). The mounting evidence convinces Bernard that Stone’s tale is actually true, and suspects that his brother may be harboring the monster.

The creature returns to Stone’s lab, where Stone and his assistant (the lovely Miss Dunn) don the remaining two pairs of Prescription 109 glasses and establish communication with it. He is Eck, a denizen of a neighboring two-dimensional world who wound up on Earth by stumbling through a dimensional rift that hangs in the sky “above the public square" or some bullshit. He cautions that the rift will open wider and quite possibly destroy the world should something fly into it (both Eck and Stone mention “a bird or a plane” as the likely candidates, at which point all self-respeckting viewers should shout “Superman!” at the TV). Eck wants to seal the rift, but he can’t find his way back to it because of his limited vision. A subsequent run-in with Stone’s TV set charges him with elecktricity and renders him visible to the naked eye.




Stone constructs a makeshift lens to correct Eck’s vision; however, Bernard arrives with the police before he can utilize it. They attempt to ecksterminate Eck with a flamethrower, torching Stone’s lab in the process. Eck reappears after the authorities are gone, having sidestepped their attempts to kill him. He tries to leave, but finds that the three-dimensional lens cannot pass through the wall with him. Stone and Miss Dunn take the lens and agree to meet him in the town square, where he’ll close the dimensional hole and save the day.

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RANDOMONIUM


“Behold Eck!” is season two’s attempt to replicate the awe and wonder of season one’s “The Galaxy Being,” which introduced us to a glowing and friendly (but unintentionally destructive) alien who befriends a helpful scientist but arouses the ire of the authorities. I suppose the two could serve as bookends of a sort… if “Behold Eck!” wasn’t so tremendously inferior in every possible respeckt, that is. But then again, maybe this disparity is fitting, given season two's stunted stature and diminished aspirations.



“Behold Eck!” is direckted by Byron Haskin, who helmed series classics like “The Architeckts of Fear” and “A Feasibility Study” (not to mention the upcoming “Demon with a Glass Hand”), and it’s a goddamned bummer that a man of his talents got stuck with this assignment (however, this injustice pales in comparison to the great Gerd Oswald being saddled with next week’s “Eckspanding Human”). Haskin doesn’t necessarily embarrass himself, but there’s little here that rises anywhere near the lofty heights of his other Outer Limits work. The same can be said of DOP Kenneth Peach, who isn’t given any opportunities for photographic innovation by the mundane script. There are a couple of nice visual touches, including a great shot of Eck reflected in Stone’s Prescription 109 lenses (which graces the VHS cover; see below) and the surreal bit in which Eck plucks out his own eyeball and drops it into Stone’s outstretched hands, but they don’t add up to much against 52 minutes of uninspired tedium.





The cast tackles the proceedings with earnest seriousness (and don’t forget that a lady straight up dies fer chrissakes); however, the dramatic tone is fatally undermined by a number of factors. The Eck-shaped hole* left in a brick wall is a lame sight gag used in countless Looney Tunes cartoons and, frankly, doesn’t really match his shape anyway. Eck himself, a simple outline of an optical effect, is impossible to accept as a serious threat, even before we learn that he’s more or less benign (it doesn't help that he's never seen in the same shot as any of the human characters, making it difficult to accept him as physically existing in the same space). And the antagonistic interplay between the Stone brothers, while entertaining, is played too broad and winds up extending into comedy (a bit more subtlety here would’ve made a big difference).


The episode’s biggest problem lies with its script, which was written by John Mantley (whose only other contribution to sci-fi was to ecksecutive-produce the oft-maligned second season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in 1981) from a story treatment by William R. Cox (whose limited résumé includes no other genre work to speak of), who used Edwin Abbott’s 1884 novel Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions as a springboard. Sounds promising enough, particularly if you've read Abbott’s book (which you can do here for free); sadly, the final script is only intermittently clever and positively riddled with logic problems. How does Eck know to search optometrists’ offices at all, or even what an optometrist is to begin with (I have to assume that life in the two-dimensional realm doesn’t include optometry, since there’s no depth to perceive)? Despite being immensely disoriented and nearly blind, Eck is somehow able to perceive Stone’s notepad, deduce that the writing thereon constitutes residential addresses, and that those addresses correspond to the wearers of Prescription 109 eyeglasses (some extremely baseless assumptions that somehow turn out to be 100% correct). He then takes the notepad page (which isn’t seen again; I guess he has two-dimensional pockets on his two-dimensional person) and proceeds to visit those addresses, without a map and despite being handicapped by a complete lack of ability to navigate in a three-dimensional environment. There’s lazy writing, and then there’s straight up asininity.

If Eck is a two-dimensional being, then why is his eyeball a three-dimensional object when it’s removed? And if he has the ability to create his own eyes, why the hell can’t he give himself better vision? And why is it necessary for him to travel through the wall to leave Stone’s lab at the end of act four? He can obviously fly (since he biseckted that building about halfway up), so why can’t he take Stone’s magic monocle and just go out the window? Speaking of which, how is he able to fly in the first place? He hails from a two-dimensional world, the physical laws of which would make flight impossible… so how does his stumbling into our 3D realm suddenly give him that talent?

I’m not clear why fire presents a problem for Eck; it seems more likely that it would strengthen a being made of energy (but hey, what do I know?). I’m much more confounded by the fact that the authorities take the eckstreme step of incinerating Stone’s lab (to the point where support beams are hanging precariously from the ceiling) and then simply leave the premises. Do they search the charred wreckage, to perhaps verify that they’ve successfully vanquished the fearful monster? No. Do they cordon off the area to prevent curious onlooker types from wandering into the site and sustaining injuries? Nope. Do they at least apologize to Dr. Stone for torching him out of a job? What do you think?

No. The disappointing, aggravating answer is no. “Behold Eck!” doesn’t want you to consider these things; it would prefer that you simply turn your brain off, kick back and enjoy the silly ride… you know, the ecksact opposite of season one, which required--- at times demanded--- that you consider its concepts and themes. It’s crushing how far the show has fallen since then, and we’re only three weeks into the new season.

One more thing: before his elecktrification thanks to Stone’s TV set, Eck is invisible and silent…. however, Prescription 109 allows Stone to not only see Eck, but it somehow lets him and hear the elecktrical crackling sound emanating from the creature too. Maybe Prescription 109 is so special and revolutionary that its awesomeness actually bleeds over and enhances the other senses, I dunno. No, actually, I do know: it’s just one more bullshit element playing out before our weary eyes. I actually can’t blame the script for this one, since I’m pretty sure it was an editorial choice in post-production. It’s dumb with a capital D, which is the grade I’d likely give this episode if I were inclined to assign ratings (which I’m not).

Wah Chang's original design sketches of Eck are way cooler (and certainly more menacing) than the final animated character seen in the episode. Have a look:


Outer Limits guru and all-around cool cat David J. Schow has both of 'em in his possession, and he's graciously provided me (and, by eckstension, you) with proof:




When I was a kid, I was a huge Fantastic Four fan, and I was almost delirious with eckcitement when I learned that a new animated TV series was in the works (this was 1978, so I was almost nine years old). Imagine my shock and horror to learn that Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm was replaced by a goofy robot named H.E.R.B.I.E., a incomprehensibly boneheaded choice which I still resent to this day. Why am I talking about this here? Because I recently had a very soap opera-y dream in which Eck joined the Fantastic Four, and ultimately turned out to be the missing Human Torch, brainwashed and reduced to two-dimensions by the nefarious Doctor Doom. Ridiculous? Yes. Sillier than that goddamned robot? Certainly not. Stupider than "Behold Eck!"? Debatable.

Behold The Fanteckstic Four! Oh, the humanity.

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DEJA VIEW

There’s a marvelous moment in act two when Miss Dunn suggests that perhaps Eck may ultimately return to Stone’s lab… at which point there’s a knock at the door. I was reminded of a similar bit in season one’s “Corpus Earthling”… which immediately depressed me as I reflected upon those glorious early days. Eck’s speaking voice is eerily similar to that of the Box Demon from season one’s “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” (both creatures are voiced by Robert Johnson, who did frequent vocal work throughout both seasons of the show), and it’s not just the identity behind the voice that connects the two: the familiar audio processing applied to Eck’s dialogue makes him an aural dead ringer for that lumpy, stumpy Blob in a Box.

Related?

And speaking of “The Galaxy Being”: a newly-elecktrified Eck crashes into a radio tower at time stamp 35:40, allowing for a very brief insert shot of the KXKVI tower, heaving and undulating (and then ecksploding) as Andy the Andromedan destroys it. Blink at the wrong moment and you’ll miss it.





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AURAL PLEASURE

Harry Lubin’s music for “Behold Eck!” includes a recurring shimmering elecktronic cue (“Magnetic Shield”) that will be called into service again--- to substantially greater effect--- in “Demon with a Glass Hand” in two weeks. Other Lubin library cues heard this week include "Hallucination," which is heard repeatedly throughout the episode, and.... and.... well, I couldn't identify the others. I mean, I could have, but I'm in the middle of moving as I write this, so time is a bit precious right now. Maybe someday I'll come back and flesh this paragraph out a bit (not promising anything though).

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

The impressive career of Peter Lind Hayes (Dr. James Stone) was almost ecksclusively comprised of down-to-earth roles (meaning he didn’t do much sci-fi, fantasy, or horror stuff), but he did appear in “Body in the Barn” on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour the same year he did “Behold Eck!”; before that, he starred in Dr. Seuss’s The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T in 1953, which I guess kinda sorta falls under the fantasy umbrella.




The other Doc Stone, Bernard, is played by Parley Baer (my new favorite name). Baer’s other genre credits include the “Help Wanted” episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and two Fugitives (“Bloodline” and “The Other Side of the Coin”; okay, I guess technically Fuge isn’t sci-fi, fantasy or horror, but goddammit, there are far too many cast connecktions between it and The Outer Limits to ignore; plus it’s probably my all-time favorite non-genre show, so…. you know what? I’m not gonna apologize for it anymore). More recently, Baer appeared on The New Twilight Zone (“The Storyteller”) in 1986 and Star Trek: Voyager in 1996 (“Sacred Ground,” which is incidentally his last acting credit).


Joan Freeman is mostly adorable as Miss Dunn, Doc Stone’s assistant. Genre fans can also find her in “The Bat Cave Affair” on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a series which starred TOL alum David McCallum (this particular episode also featured fellow TOL vets Martin Landau and Whit Bissell). Horror fans may recognize her as Mrs. Jarvis in 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (which, as horror fans can tell you, was most certainly not the final chapter).


Douglas Henderson (Detective Lieutenant Runyon) is on hand for his third and final TOL appearance (he was Dr. Paul Fredericks in “The Architects of Fear” and Dr. Tillyard in “The Chameleon”). Henderson can also be seen in two episodes of The Invaders (“Quantity: Unknown” and “The Captive”) and one Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Diagnosis: Danger”). He also played a Staff Sergeant in 1953’s big screen adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which was helmed by this week's director Byron Haskin.




Marcel Hebert (Miss Willet) had a very short career in Hollywood (1963-1966), but in that time she landed roles on high-profile series like Dr. Kildare, The F.B.I. and yes, The Fugitive (“Not with a Whimper”; incidentally her last acting credit).


Eck’s first victim, the goateed George Wilkinson, is played by Sammy Reese in his second Outer Limits role (he played Clyde Wyatt in season one’s “O.B.I.T.”). Reese has another tangential series connection: he appeared twice on TV’s I Spy, which starred three-time TOL leading man Robert Culp (“Rome… Take Away Three” and “Night Train to Madrid”). He also found time to appear in an impressive four episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (including Ray Bradbury's notorious “The Jar”).


Taggart Casey has a brief appearance as Fire Chief Rogers... trouble is, you never get a good look at him, so I really have no idea which of the six fire department personnel passing hurriedly and blurrily through the frame at time stamp 46:40 is actually him. I thought maybe the guy in the white hat looked a bit more officious, so maybe it's him...? Fuck, I dunno. Anyway, as the elusive Chief Rogers, Mr. Casey completes the second leg of a triathlon of cheesy sci-fi productions: he appeared in the Roger Corman opus It Conquered the World in 1953; in 1966, he’d wrap up his acting career altogether with The Navy vs. the Night Monsters. That’s not to say his entire career was laughable: he did appear as “Shaving Man” in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), so at least he’s got a little Hitch in his résumé.





Paul Sorenson (Grayson) has a smattering of genre roles on his résumé: he appeared on The Invaders (“The Watchers”) and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (“Horror in the Heights”), plus two Fugitives (“Tiger Left, Tiger Right” and “A Taste of Tomorrow”). Sorenson also co-starred alongside an impressive pair of Klingon breasts in 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock as a disgraced human captain colluding with the Klingons (spoiler alert: he’s only in one scene and he gets blown up).






The unnamed TV Newscaster who reports on Eck’s building-slicing shenanigans is played by Richard Gittings, whom you may remember from his role in season one’s “The Hundred Days of the Dragon,” in which he played Briggs.

And finally, inside the Eck suit (wait, what? There’s a fucking person in there?) is Lou Elias, who apparently never left the set after last week’s “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” wrapped (I’m kidding; the episodes were actually shot almost a month apart). I recounted his major genre credits last week and, while I’m certainly not above repeating myself, it’s just too damned soon for a copy-and-paste job. Just re-read last week’s post and… hey, stop hassling me about it, willya?

Lou Elias, elecktrified again.

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HOME VIDEO RELEASES



“Behold Eck!” hit VHS in mid-1990, which was shortly after I had stopped collecting them (I amassed exactly half of the run; 24 out of 48 individual volumes). While there's no comma present in the title as seen in the episode, MGM apparently felt it was necessary to add one (similar to their addition of the word "The" to last season's "Production and Decay of Strange Particles"). While the box features Peter Lind Hayes' name on the front, that's actually not Hayes pictured....it's Parley Baer (Hayes isn't pictured on the back of the box either, so MGM probably owes his estate an apology or something). The cover image is actually an artful combination of three different shots from the episode, all from the end of act two:




When "Behold Eck!" was made available via the Columbia House mail-order club, it was paired with next week’s “Eckspanding Human,” creating a strong candidate for the least desirable tape in the entire collecktion.


“Behold Eck!” never saw a LaserDisc release, but it’s been done to death on DVD, along with the rest of the series. MGM has foisted its failure-prone double-sided discs on a trusting public a total of three times (two volumes in 2001-2002, three volumes in 2007 and, finally, one big volume in 2008) and, if you bought all three eckspecting some sort of improvement along the way, you should be filled with righteous anger. I ended up having to buy the third 2007 volume to replace a faulty disc in my 2002 season two set, and as fate would have it, it was “Behold Eck!” that wouldn’t play all the way through. Many have ecksperienced similar problems with these releases, but do you think MGM has ecknowledged the problem, much less apologized for it and offered a replacement program? Anyone?


No. The disappointing, aggravating answer is no. So I say fuck ‘em. If you don’t already own the DVDs, do NOT buy them. You can watch all 49 episodes, at DVD resolution, absolutely free thanks to Hulu. You’ll have to contend with a few commercials, but that’s a relatively small price to pay (I’m streaming the episode as I’m typing this, and I just heard an ad for online eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker, which makes me suspeckt that the commercials are artificial-intelligently tailored to the main content).

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MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT


Like most Outer Limits aliens, monsters and robots, that scoundrel Eck is available in a 1/8-scale resin model kit, sculpted by Tony Del Grosso and Danny Soracco (really, it took two people?), from Dimensional Designs (DD/OL/EK-33). It certainly lacks the intricate detailing and dynamism of many of DD’s kits, but that can be attributed to the simple character design. It’s a more or less perfect rendering of the little guy, right down to his four eyes, but I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t go with his more elaborate “elecktrified” appearance from the episode’s second half.



My pal Bill Huelbig has something of a soft spot for Eck (perhaps because he too suffers from some ophthalmological issues? I dunno) and, as I first pondered creating this blog in late 2011, I decided that the Eck model would be the perfeckt Ecksmas gift for him. My wife Teresa was kind enough to assemble and paint it for me (since, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly in these pages, I’m a stone cold klutz when it comes to such tasks). See here and here for more. Readers with photographeck memories (or browsers that refuse to refresh) may recall that the masthead of this very blog included a shot of me and Bill's Eck model up until around December of last year, when I changed it to the more familiar shot of me and my good friend Martin ScorZanti.



Outer Limits model-builder eckstraordinaire Mr. Enamel took a slightly different approach with his. I find his choice of blue quite lovely.


Not to be outdone, Chinxy takes his Eck in yet another colorful direcktion:



If you’d like your very own Eck, it’ll set you back $49.95 plus shipping.
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THE WRAP-UP

It brings me no joy to bash an episode that my friend Bill holds dear, but dammit, I just can’t give “Behold Eck!” a pass. It’s poorly developed, its tone is confusing (is it a comedy, or perhaps a horrific cautionary tale about the hidden horrors of mixing dimensional planes? I can’t tell), and its characters are impossible to like, much less root for. Eck himself is admittedly charming in a cartoon sense, but this isn’t a cartoon: it’s The Outer Limits, so I eckspect something more substantive. This just leaves me wanting and hungry… and I find myself casting a hopeful eye (or four) toward next week’s offering. Will my mind and soul find sustenance? Tune in seven days hence--- same Eck time, same Eck channel.





*Or “Eckhole” for short, which I’m totally going to start using instead of… well, you know.

10 comments:

  1. This is a perfect opportunity to thank you and Teresa again for my Eck. I'm proud to have it. I've always liked the episode, as you said. I even suspect you might like it too, on some level. A very deep level. You went to a lot of trouble putting all those "ecks" in your review. And then there's that dream. I'm envious - I wish I could have a dream about Eck.

    The only halfway-rational explanation I can find for liking some of these episodes is that I was 9 or 10 years old when I first saw them. That goes for "Expanding Human" too. On a visit to LA a few years ago, I got a special thrill when I suddenly came upon the Sunset & Vine office tower, which features importantly in the episode, and was sad to see it was now deserted and probably slated for demolition.

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  2. I'm sure that's ecksactly it ---- I have a very soft spot for all kinds of things that I loved when I was a kid (The Greatest American Hero, not to mention the cheesefest that was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century). I don't hate "Behold Eck!"... I just have trouble reconciling it with the rest of the series.

    And the Eck model? Our pleasure, my friend.

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  3. I checked Google Maps. As of August 2014, the Sunset & Vine Tower is still standing, but it's covered on all four sides by 20-stories-tall billboards for the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. This is sad in more ways than one.

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  4. " its tone is confusing (is it a comedy, or perhaps a horrific cautionary tale about the hidden horrors of mixing dimensional planes? I can’t tell), "

    According to David Schow, "Behold Eck!" was meant to be a comedy. However, it's hard to tell from the finished episode, which is one of its major problems. And you know what's really sad? Despite its suckitude, "Eck!" is still better than 90% of the revival series.

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  5. I am a fan of the 1960s The Outer Limits, as i grew up with them as a kid.
    I now own all the original series on dvd.
    Of all the episodes from that era "Behold Eck!" is the one i want to like the most because of the basic story idea,but i like it the least.

    Guess like everyone else, i cannot figure out how it is classified as a comedy.
    I also agree it beats the hell out of most of the revival series.

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  6. Eckzactly Craig Beam. It's not a comedy and it's not a drama it's Behold Eck. It's not the worst thing ever put on television but no emmys either. I did dig the chick and the convertibles and the interdimensional concept but nothing more I'm afraid. I do marvel at all of your research though. Very good CB!

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  7. This episode was cool and compelling when I was seven years old. Now, it's just sadly frustrating in a way that is very common of Season Two episodes: there's a spark of an interesting idea that is never developed into a decent story, or even a halfway-decent premise. I would rank it as the third-worst episode of the original series.

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  8. After a few viewings over the years, there is no doubt that it is a story trying to be funny. From the goofball lead, Dr. James Stone, to the four-eyed alien Eck, there are many efforts made to be funny here. Peter Lind Hayes as Dr. James Stone was actually a fun character especially early in the episode. His all-business demeanor and preoccupation with his own studies make him appear to be lost in his own little world. His assistant, Elizabeth Dunn, seems to worship the ground he walks on. She brings the focus (no pun intended) to Dr. Stone's practice. Without her, it is doubtful Dr. Stone would last a day.

    The idea of a two-dimensional creature in a three-dimensional world is attractive. It is unfortunate that it was executed like this. The alien Eck is a disappointing special effect, even for early '60s television. Actually, he seems to be a pretty stupid alien and it's not hard to see (again, no pun intended) how he could have gotten lost. Dr. Stone and Miss Dunn help Eck in his attempt to return to his world by making him a special lens that will allow him to see where he is going. Eck is not able to see well and has caused a number of inadvertent injuries and deaths (not funny) because of it.

    A couple of appealing effects is a still shot of a skyscraper sliced in two and, as I'm a Wile E. Coyote fan, the hole in a wall left by a hastily escaping Eck. All in all, "Behold Eck!" is a dismal entry in the Outer Limits run, but I am still strangely fond of it.

    By the way, those MGM VHS boxes couldn't not be any cooler.

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  9. After jumping through many of the Star Wars lapses of judgement, there are no leaps of imagination in Eck that are at all troubling! I still like the little guy and think of him whenever I put my keyboard down to pick up pen and paper!

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  10. Man, when a season 2 episode is bad, it's just BAD! Eck just doesn't make it for me. I find this to be an unfunny comedy of an episode. Couldn't they have worked a little harder to get the bear just right? It's just all so dumb! The dialog, the bear, the whole thing. Wow. One of the worst of the worst. Hard to like any parts of it, in my opinion.

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