Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “All Shook Up”/”Witness”
Chris: Hey hi, welcome once again to Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie, your one stop shopping destination for Lois & Clark analysis with as many Seinfeld references shoved in as possible. This week we’re covering episodes 11 and 12 of the first season, “All Shook Up” and “Witness”. “All Shook Up” serves up the L&C spin on the classic TV trope of temporary amnesia, and in “Witness” Clark has to hide Jimmy in Amish Country after he sees a cop murder a guy in a train station bathroom. I assume, I haven’t watched it in a long time. Anyway. In “Shook” it turns out there’s an asteroid heading to Earth and the best hope is for Superman to fly into space and punch it into little harmless pieces with his super fists. Which he does, or tries to do anyway, as the pieces he punches the asteroid into are still dangerously large and the impact of slamming into it causes him to bounce back to Earth with an explosive case of amnesia. The result is a planet still facing extinction and a Man of Steel with no idea that he’s the only hope to stave it off.
Look, no one watches this for the effects, all right?
While the “Clark has amnesia” subplot wasn’t terribly compelling on it’s own, it made for a decent enough excuse for the part of the episode that I did enjoy: seeing how everyone reacts to the end of the world. Perry and Jimmy bond over searching for clues to Superman’s whereabouts, and their discoveries lead to Jimmy’s first byline. Lex reveals to Lois the existence of an underground bunker capable of sustaining 300 humans for 3 years complete with a creepily accurate reproduction of her own apartment should she choose to join him. And Cat, well, Cat uses her remaining time trying to trick Clark into fucking her. She tells him they’d had a torrid affair that Clark wanted to keep on the downlow out of fear of how Lois would react and tries to pressure him into spending their last night on Earth together. After Clark regains his memories Cat tries to explain it away with “can’t blame a girl for trying,” and I’m pretty sure you can, and it’s what the SVU is specifically for.
This was another “good not great” episode of L&C for me, about on par with last week’s “Honeymoon in Metropolis.” It’s frustrating that the show doesn’t seem to be able to rise above about a B-, but a B- is still a B-, it’s still mildly diverting television. It’s got a science fiction problem that only Superman can solve, which is a change of pace from the previous few entries. I kind of liked the ticking clock gimmick, and the whole thing has a pleasantly melancholy air. I’m also enjoying how they’re keeping Lex active without making him responsible for whatever the crime of the week is. Last week he sought Superman out in order to save Lois and this week he’s making a completely reasonable argument for saving herself from almost certain death. It makes him a little less ridiculously evil while still never losing sight of the fact that he’s a monster. He cares about Lois because she’s a thing that he wants. But to her it looks like genuine concern. You can see how she’d start taking him more and more seriously as a potential romantic partner as time went on. How about you? There’s still no new supervillains, but at least this week there’s a problem only Superman can solve. That’s gotta be worth something.
Christopher Lloyd looks rough.
Ronnie: The interesting thing to me about “All Shook Up” is that it’s actually a remake of an episode of Adventures of Superman, the 50s series starring George Reeves. Seeing as how I’m a packrat who owns every season of Adventures of Superman, I thought I’d do some extracurricular work and watch “Panic in the Sky”. The plot is pretty much the same: there’s an asteroid headed for Earth, Superman goes to deal with it, and when he returns to Earth Superman somehow forgets his identity as either Clark or Superman. Instead of ending up on Earth naked he still is wearing the Superman costume. How he has the wherewithal to put on Clark’s suit before wandering the countryside is beyond me. I like how Perry’s method to get Clark to snap out of his amnesia is to just sort of yell at him until he remembers something. There’s also an egregious instance of people not getting Superman’s secret identity when Clark has a horrific glass shattering shower accident and there’s not a scratch on him. Adventures of Superman benefits from being only 26 minutes so there’s only so much time to fill. I like the interpretation that facing the asteroid left Superman with severe brain damage because sometimes he’ll go beyond memory loss into abject stupidity, like saying the remains of the asteroid are just the moon. He seems to forget things from scene to scene too. Like in the Lois & Clark, he shakes off the brain damage long enough to stop the residual danger of the asteroid. Overall, I had a fun time with Adventures of Superman, and the special effects are about the same as Lois & Clark. RIP George Reeves.
As for the actual episode, eh. It’s a little early to be doing amnesia plots, isn’t it? We don’t know Clark Kent well enough for his loss of identity to mean something. Like a lot on the show, it’s an excuse for jokes of questionable quality, like Cat’s attempt at making Clark think they’re together. Again I ask: what is Cat Grant’s purpose on Lois & Clark? As far as I can tell it’s to inject sexiness in a time slot that doesn’t allow for it and to provide examples of every kind of sex crime to the uninitiated viewer. Remember, SVU didn’t come on the air until 1999, so people were otherwise in the dark as to what would require the intervention of the dedicated detectives of the Special Victims Unit. Beyond that, there’s cutesy humor like the police shrink saying Clark suffers from “Superman Complex” and Jimmy going to a psychic with a piece of Superman’s costume.
Exactly the same plan as Dr. Strangelove’s.
All that said, I did like some aspects of “All Shook Up”. I’m always game for Jonathan and Martha Kent to appear, and them heading to the big city to find their boy is sweet as well as ups the stakes. Speaking of stakes, the 24-esque countdown clock that starts when the military brass announces they have 55 hours left and pops up occasionally is a nice touch. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with the fact that there’s 32 hours left, but I know there’s 32 hours left! Back to the Kents. Their confusion and realization that Clark doesn’t know he’s Superman is gold, as are their attempts to remind him of that. “Why would I have a Superman costume?” is up there with Walken asking Bruce Wayne why he’s wearing that Batman costume in Batman Returns. Finally, when Jonathan decides “fuck it” and hits his son with a baseball bat, prefacing it with “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it’s going to hurt you”, I almost stood up and cheered. Kents for Lois & Clark MVPs now and forever.
Chris: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head regarding Cat’s purpose on the show and why she’s not long for it. It’s funny, I remember when the second season retool happened and they cut Cat and recast Jimmy. I remember actually feeling bad for Tracy Scoggins and Michael Landes as I’d grown attached to them. I liked Cat and Jimmy. And I still kind of feel bad for them–nobody wants to lose their jobs. But what was I seeing in these characters then that I’m not seeing now? There’s still ten odd episodes to go, so maybe there’s something coming down the pike that will dazzle me but I don’t know. It’s also a little different for Landes than it is for Scoggins I think. It’s one thing to say a character isn’t working. I’m sure that she was aware that she wasn’t getting much to do and that her character’s function had been negated by the higher ups. It’s quite another to say the character is necessary but the performer has to go; that’s just personal. And I think Landes does just fine with the material he’s given. He’s basically a foil for Perry and he’s good at it, he’s the cub reporter being mentored by the old pro. He’s not macking on Lois’s sister or trying to work “smooth” into casual conversation anymore, what else do you want from the guy?
Alternatively, I agree that the Kents are among the best used characters on the show. I’ve mentioned before that my wife Desi has enough sense to recognize that looking for the good in L&C is, at best, a waste of time and tries to not be in the room when it’s on. But occasionally she sits through an episode and even more occasionally she finds something she likes about what she’s seeing. All this is to say she really enjoyed watching Eddie Jones hit Dean Cain with a baseball bat and we had a small wager over which parent got to shove him off the roof in an attempt to get him to fly. I won. I thought the physical comedy aspect of the show, often a weak point, actually worked well with the amnesia plot. Having Clark “accidentally” break something because he randomly misjudged his strength for no good reason is forced and lame; but him not knowing he has super breath and causing a minor car accident by sneezing is enough to get a smile out of me.
I hope subsequent episodes we see the tree bigger and bigger until it’s a fucking redwood.
Ronnie: I guess I’m just disappointed that we’re only half a season in and we’re already using stock plots like amnesia. Stock plots the show from the 50s waited until its second season to deploy, let me remind you. I do see your point about how the characters react to a possible apocalyptic event; the Perry and Jimmy stuff was well realized. I just can’t get over the amnesia. How about the fact that it’s poorly explained in both shows? I don’t really know how you for real get amnesia–in cartoons it seemed to be a bowling ball to the head–but blowing up an asteroid seems like a nonsensical path to me. Isn’t Superman doing this on a fairly regular basis? Shouldn’t he become amnesiac OFTEN? I’d like to see that. Once a season he has to be bailed out by a kindly hobo.
Next, “Witness”, guest starring Elliott Gould and directed by the mind behind the cinematic atrocity Yellowbeard. Can’t wait.
Odds & Ends
-Richard Belzer Tracker: 1. Richard Belzer as, what else, a police officer. He kind of freaked Desi out because “his face looks just as old as it does now, but his hair looks much younger.”
-The doctor who finds the lost and confused Clark diagnoses him with “Superman Syndrome” explaining to Lois that he’s a “chronic do-gooder, always trying to fix things”. Apparently in Metropolis altruism is a mental illness.
-Cat Grant goes to confession about her sins that stem from chronic/ loneliness. It’s almost an emotional scene that goes to explain her behavior over the course of the series, but Lois & Clark cannot resist her hitting on the priest. [foghorn] Tracy Scoggins isn’t a bad actress, but when given the option between letting her give a real performance and reducing her to a slut joke, this show will choose the latter every time. Imagine on Frasier if Niles insulted Roz and Roz never had a snappy comeback.
-In 2016 Michael Landes starred in a British adventure show called Hooten and the Lady along with Elementary’s Olivia Lovibond, Spaced’s Jessica Hynes and Jane Seymour. This doesn’t have anything to do with anything, except I’ve wanted to mention it for the longest because Hooten and the Lady is unquestionably the worst name for a television show, or anything really, of all time.
The ol’ “spill water on the woman’s dress” bit. Smooth, Elliott Gould.
Chris: And just like that we’re back in Toontown. On a plot level, “Witness” is a pretty straightforward episode of television; Lois witnesses a murder while chasing down a story and becomes a target of the assassin. The assassin is a Chameleon/Day of the Jackal type who can make himself look like anyone so everyone is a potential threat. Clark (and by extension Superman) is determined to keep Lois safe from harm and Lois is equally determined to go about her life as usual, unwilling to acknowledge any fear about the omnipresent threat to her life.It’s fine, right? That all sounds fine, and it basically is. There are no Robot Boxers, Smart Kids, or Love Potions to be seen. It’s a straightforward thriller plot that the show seems to go out of its way to undermine with confusing stunt casting, bizarre plotting, and utterly confusing filmmaking choices. I’ll explain.
The episode begins with Clark shanking balls at a driving range, he gets a little advice from the guy one spot over and literally launches a ball into space. The guy who gives him the advice is golfing legend Phil Mickleson, a golfer so famous even I knew who he was by sight, and this is when he was twenty eight years younger. Phil never appears again and is never even specifically named and golf doesn’t have anything to do with the plot either, he’s just there and then he’s gone. For some reason. What the plot does have to do with is Lois’s meeting with a famous reclusive scientist played by Elliot Gould. I know what you’re thinking, hey Elliot Gould, that’s cool, it’ll be fun watching him run around with the gang for an hour. I can’t wait to see him in a scene with Superman! Slow down. He’s in one scene and then he’s dead. Now you’re probably thinking, why go to the trouble to bring in an actor of Gould’s profile if he’s only going to be in one scene? Fucked if I know. But that’s what happens. Lois goes to visit Gould and he tells her about a plot to destroy the rainforest and is killed while Lois is in the bathroom.
Did I mention that Gould wants to save the rainforest because he thinks there’s something down there that will give old guys boners? Because that’s what he tells her. He wants to increase the stamina in older men. That little detail, like Phil Mickelson’s cameo, doesn’t figure into the larger plot either. It’s just swept to the side and every once and a while you think, what was the deal with Elliot Gould and the boner pills? Is that the sort of thing Phil Mickelson might buy? He’s dead though, so who cares. Killed by the deadly assassin known only as Mr. Makeup. That’s right, Mr. Makeup. Chameleon is a good name for an assassin because chameleons symbolize the ability to blend into any surrounding. Jackals are vicious bloodthirsty killers. Mr. Makeup is a guy who gives makeover tutorials at the mall. I could go on; I haven’t even gotten to the fight scene where the film is sped up so it looks like a fucking Keystone Cops sequence, or that the whole episode seems to take place around Christmas for some reason, but I want to give you the chance to get your licks in too. Have at it.
I don’t get it either.
Ronnie: Know how I’ve bitched about the quality of antagonists thus far? Well, I’m finally getting what I wished for with a Chameleon knockoff, the amazingly named Mr. Makeup. Really, the extent of the whimsy is in the name. Otherwise he’s just an assassin who was part of a scientist sex commune decades ago. As an antagonist he’s fine enough; he fulfills the purpose of providing a problem Superman cannot immediately solve. Everybody is a potential assassin, be it Babu Bhatt or Elliott Gould’s executive assistant. He’s first introduced to the show by Lois mistaking him for a photo of Frank Sinatra. So what I have to assume that before he got into the business of murder Mr. Makeup would pose as people, use their reputation for free drinks and sex by deception. I’d watch a Mr. Makeup flashback episode. Wouldn’t you?
I don’t really know what to make of “Witness”. It’s straightforward in its logline–Lois witnesses a murder and people try to keep her safe– but it takes some odd paths to get there. The whole plot behind it is suspect. It’s all about viagra plants in the rainforest that are being wiped out by the head of a Rainforest Consortium? I definitely recall more uses of the phrase “male potency” than I believe was necessary. There’s also a moment in which they deduce Elliott Gould’s notebook is in Greek and Perry asks Jimmy to sort it out. Now, is this because Jimmy is the gofer for the Daily Planet, or is his being the greasiest staff member got Perry thinking Jimmy might be Greek?
How amazing is it that in an episode with a master of disguise assassin a completely different character poses as the cleaning lady in order to try to kill Lois? She’s gotta be paranoid for weeks after this.
You touched on the cold open at length so I don’t want to reiterate. Yet I will say I like them as a concept because they allow the show to do one-off scenes that have nothing to do with the rest of the episode, like the first act of a Simpsons episode. In one, Clark plays baseball by himself. In this one he’s helped by a golf legend. Who knows what lays in store for these cold opens? Remember, Chris, when Lois saw that pig? That was great.
Chris: Oh yeah, I like the cold opens too. I think I even happily texted you while watching the episode about how much I enjoyed Clark’s snappy Superman Red golf sweater. There’s lots of little moments in any episode that are fun or interesting or even kind of moving. It’s how the moments work together, or don’t, that’s so odd and elliptical about Lois & Clark, even this late in the season. Like, we’re always talking about Cat and how she’s a useless character who seems only to exist to slut shame, right? Well in this episode she actually gets a good meaty scene with Lois that works. Mr. Makeup has finally been apprehended and Lois appears to be out of danger, Cat asks her if she was ever afraid and Lois sort of blows her off, asking why she would care? And Cat says that it’s hard to be in Lois’s shadow, that Lois is great at everything and is everyone’s favorite and it’s intimidating and it would be nice to know that even the great Lois Lane sometimes gets frightened. Lois sees that Cat is being genuine and tells her that she was in fact often really scared and the two get to have a genuine scene that’s not cruel. It’s nice.
But a few scenes earlier, when Mr. Makeup tricked his way into Lois’s apartment and tries to strangle her, the footage is sped up, or frames or cut, or something so it all plays herky jerky and comedically instead of seriously or dangerously. I don’t know how we’re supposed to square the genuine expression of anxiety in the Cat/Lois scene with the Benny Hillesque “Guy Chases a Lady Around a Room All Sped Up” scene from five minutes earlier. What am I supposed to think happened this week? Was it a character recognizing her own frailty and learning to appreciate the people around her as a result, or a slapstick farce about golf jokes, lecherous old farts, and silly harmless action. I don’t think those two vibes can co-exist, or if they can, L&C isn’t pulling it off.
Ronnie: You’re right about the Lois/Cat scene, that was probably my favorite of the entire episode. I don’t know why Cat Grant has become my personal hobby horse, but she is, and I feel heartened when her presence at the Daily Planet is explained and she’s given something to do besides stale jokes about how many men she sleeps with, which doesn’t even seem like a lot. Her reputation precedes her in that respect. Anyway. Next week we’re on break, but next time in this little slice of heaven we’ll be covering episodes involving magicians and computer viruses, two threats of equal importance in the 90s. Safe travels!
“Restricted Load Ban Modified On Main Roads”? Now that’s news I can use!
Odds & Ends
– Richard Belzer Tracker: 1. Belzer again, as the same cop as last week. How many people in real life just think he’s an actual police officer as opposed to an ex-stand up slash conspiracy wacko?
– Seinfeld Alum Tracker: 1. Brian George AKA Babu, the man whose business Jerry destroys and eventually accidentally gets deported, as Mr. Tracewski, Lois’s building super and Mr. Makeup assassin.
-Hal Sparks also shows up for a second as a cool skater, dressed like the costumer just watched Matt Dillon in Singles and ran out of inspiration so just did that. He’s also wearing a helmet and pads, the international wardrobe of cool skaters everywhere.
– We tend not to discuss wardrobe much here at L&C&C&R because our style canbest be described as “Laundry Day Every Day”, but in one scene Lois is wearing an oversized mens work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, tied up well above her waist to expose her midriff and with the top three buttons unbuttoned to expose cleavage. What exactly is the point of putting someone in an oversized top and then showing as much skin as possible? What I’m saying is, I don’t understand fashion.
– Landes’s character was named Ulysses Hooten. ULYSSES HOOTEN. The family name Hooten is bad enough, why saddle a kid with “Ulysses” on top of it? And why is his name in the title and Lovibond just gets “The Lady”? Is it some kind of reference to Jake and the Fatman? It must have something to do with “Lady” being a title in England, but how am I supposed to figure that out just looking at the name of the show? I didn’t even know it was an English production until I looked it up online! Maybe it made sense when it aired in England but did no one think to change the name when showing it overseas? Shows change names all the time. Maybe it would have lasted more than a season if it had a name that didn’t sound like the guide had mistranslated something someone said aloud. What were they thinking? And why are we wasting time writing about Lois & Clark when we could be writing about that show?