Wednesday, October 31, 2018

My favorite Halloween TV episode

It’s always hard to write Halloween episodes. Especially in sitcoms. How many costume party mishaps and botched attempts at scaring people can we write? Dramas at least can do spooky episodes if they fit within the genre. I’m sure you will want to keep the lights on the night the CRIMINAL MINDS Halloween episode airs.

But there’s always the danger that the Halloween show will get just a little too weird and go off the rails. Such was the case with my favorite idiotic Halloween episode (although I don’t know if it were designed specifically for Halloween) – THE MAN FROM UNCLE – “The Deadly Games Affair.” It aired in late October, 1964 so I’m guessing that’s why it was slotted there.

First some background for the (overwhelming majority) of readers unfamiliar with THE MAN FROM UNCLE. In the early ‘60s James Bond movies were first introduced and were a huge sensation. So naturally television wanted their version. Thus, THE MAN FROM UNCLE starring Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo on NBC. In fairness, the first year was pretty good. It was still in black-and-white and attempted to be gritty and suspenseful (for the most part). In later years it went to color and became more camp and was less James Bond and more Austin Powers.

However, “The Deadly Games Affair” was a first season episode. It was an early episode so I give them the benefit of the doubt that they were still trying to nail down the tone of the series.

But…

This was the plot. Some Nazis in suburban New York had Hitler’s body in suspended animation. To reanimate him they needed someone with the same blood type. Namely Napoleon Solo.

Now this Nazi mad scientist, like I said, lived in a New York suburb and somehow has a secret laboratory underneath his house. Imagine Rob Petrie kept Adolph Hitler in his basement.

This Frankenstein plot is so absurd on every level that it’s my favorite Halloween show and no other has come close.  And no, I won't tell you how it ended up.   It would keep you up nights for weeks!

Happy Halloween and as you trick-or-treat (I'm going to trick-or-treat with my granddaughter) be careful of houses that have secret underground labs.

31 comments :

E. Yarber said...

There have been no trick-or-treaters in my neighborhood since I moved here, but I still keep a bag of rubber eyeballs by the door every year just in case. They haven't spoiled after all this time.

James Van Hise said...

UNCLE went off the rails in the third season when it tried imitating the Batman TV show! Viewers hated that so much that it course corrected in season 4 and went back to the straight action adventure format of season one and some of the series best episodes are in season 4. I only have the dvds of seasons one and four. Some of the UNCLE episodes were turned into movies, in some cases with new footage added. Three were released to theaters in the US with titles like "The Helicopter Spies" and "The Spy With My Face" but they continued to be popular overseas so a total of eight UNCLE movie compilations were done and they were released as an 8 movie dvd set a couple years ago as the regular UNCLE TV dvd set doesn't include the feature versions.

Gary said...

It always bothers me that in every sitcom Halloween episode, all the characters' costumes are always incredibly professional looking. Even on Roseanne, which was as realistic as possible about living a lower middle class life, everyone's costume looked like it was created by a team of Hollywood makeup artists and designers. In real life most peoples' costumes look more like Ralph Kramden when he went as "The Man from Space."

Covarr said...

I've always loved the Halloween episodes of Superstore. The way they lean into Halloween at its most mundane gives them a unique angle and tone on things that have been done a million times before. That, and Jonah's insistence on dressing as abstract concepts, like a high-effort counterpart to Jim's habitually lazy costumes from The Office.

Smilodon said...

I'm not sure you can beat the episode of Route 66 with Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr. guest staring.

Terrence Moss said...

ROSEANNE had some of the best Halloween episodes. Seasons 2 and 4 were the best of those.

RyderDA said...

That show got better when Ilya Kuriakin showed up.

Lemuel said...

THE SIMPSONS had some stellar Halloween episodes in its prime; now BOB'S BURGERS continues the tradition.

John said...

Hi Ken, this has nothing to do with your post, but this came through my news feed today. It's an article about the animatronic Norm & Cliff (Bob & Hank) robots from the Cheers-themed airport bars, and Wendt & Ratzenberger's court case against Paramount for using their likenesses. I was wondering if you remember the case and what your thoughts were about it.

https://vinepair.com/articles/airport-bars-history-cheers/

Cowboy Surfer said...

Last week was the first time I watched LAST MAN STANDING.

It was a Halloween episode. It was pretty good and an OK show.

Time to OD with some candy corn on the cob...

B. Alton said...

The “Halloween” ep of “Frasier” is not only my favorite Halloween-themed sitcom segment but also one of my favorite episodes of the series (top 5 for sure). Close second and third are third and fourth season eps of “Bewitched,” “Twitch or Treat” (Endora hosts a Halloween party in Darrin’s and Samantha’s living room, Uncle Arthur there to antagonize Endora) and “A Safe and Sane Halloween,” where Tabitha brings three Halloween characters from her storybook to life.

Sparks said...

A bit off-topic, I loved the episode of NCIS where someone asked what Dr. Mallard looked like when he was young, and the answer was Ilya Kuriakin.

Andrew said...

My favorite Halloween episodes were both from Frasier. First, the episode where a drunk Niles (dressed as Cyrano) thinks that Daphne is pregnant, and that Frasier is the father. Second, the episode were Frasier makes up the "hero" game for his Halloween party, and Niles shows up as Martin.

Chris Muir said...

@RyderDA - Illya Kuryakin was in the first episode, and every subsequent episode. I was 12 when this show came on, and it's burned into my brain. Not as much as The Avengers, or even Danger Man, but still…

Mike Bloodworth said...

When I tried to think of a favorite Halloween episode, my mind went blank. (Senior moment?!) I can envisage bits and pieces of shows, but no standout favorite. Yes, THE SIMPSONS for about the first ten years. And SOUTH PARK. But, animation has advantages that live shows don't. And I agree with Gary. Most sitcom characters have costumes that no average person would have access to, even here in L.A. BTW, Extras, more often than not, have to supply their own wardrobe. Try finding a Halloween costume in June or July.
M.B.

Brian said...

Another vote for the Simpsons Halloween specials.

tavm said...

Well, the recent "The Big Bang Theory" ep with Howard dressing like Sheldon and then Sheldon and Amy dressing as Howard and Bernadette was hilarious! Oh, and it got Sheldon and Bernadette talking about their growing up being made fun of so there was also that...

Frank Beans said...

The early seasons of THE SIMPSONS "Treehouse of Horror" episodes (especially the first one--the retelling of "The Raven" is worth it alone), and the FRASIER costume party episode ("Say Niles, what got your nose bent out of shape?")



Thomas Mossman said...

Chris Muir,

Glad to see someone who also knows (and hopefully enjoys) Danger Man. Great, underrated show.

Count me also as one who loves the Simpsons Halloween shows, especially the earlier ones.

YEKIMI said...

Sheese, those airport "Norm & Cliff" animatronics look like the Spawn of Chucky that were then put through a flame broiler at Burger King. NO way in hell would I sit near one of them.

Myles Warden said...

2nded!

Myles Warden said...

Agreed! They did some fun, experimental things that really worked.

Kaleberg said...

I remember the Star Trek Halloween episode. It wasn't quite as bad as Spock's Brain, which was high camp, but it was pretty awful.

Mike Doran said...

This morning I went to the Old DVD Wall, there to dig out "The Deadly Games Affair".
A few points:

- First, to acknowledge that UNCLE was never at any time intended to be stark realism.
I mean, when the guys go into a storefront tailor shop and use a secret door to get into the SpyMall - please.
And we now know that the original plan was for Solo (the working title) to be in color, so there's that.
Watching UNCLE-'64 in 2018, it's easy to forget that Illya was only supposed to be the Sardonic Sidekick, with strictly rationed one-liners and the occasional fight scene.
"Deadly Games" was obviously filmed before UNCLE had even aired; at that, NBC was throwing it away on Tuesday against Red Skelton - who even suspected that a time change would produce a breakout hit?

- Anyway, I decided to watch the show just for The Show.
After the Fourth Wall teaser (this was the fourth episode aired), I watched (and listened to) Jerry Goldsmith's hard-driving original theme.
Then came the billboard titles, with Vaughn, McCallum, the great Leo G., and the Guest Stars: this week, Alexander Scourby (then the usual Voice-of-God), Burt Brinckerhoff (nerdier than his usual mean typecast), and a Brit actress named Janine Gray (who was supposed to be a recurring Thrush villainess, except that didn't happen); entry-level stuff.
Watching the actual show, I was pleasantly surprised to see a crush of mine, Brooke Bundy, in a sizable part (a year or so later, she might have made Guest Star).

- The Episode itself:
If memory serves, just about every adventure show took a swat at "Hitler Lives" at some point (sometime you ought to check out the version done by Republic's Dr. Fu Manchu show); this one shows surprising restraint (at least until Act IV).
In the original UNCLE format, Burt & Brooke, the kids, were supposed to be "reg'lar folks" whom the spies draft to help out on the mission; they do their bit OK (this aspect was phased out early on).
This being B&W, MGM and NBC could get by with certain production shortcuts (rear projection, stock footage, and the like) which had to go once color came in; them's the breaks.

All told, kind of an average show; if this had been a make-or-break week, who knows if UNCLE might have survived?
That said, I'm pretty sure that the Halloween scheduling was a coincidence, nothing more or less.

sanford said...

if you want to watch the Man From Uncle Episode, here you go. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x54wm15

Donald Benson said...

The aforementioned "movies" are available as a MOD set via Warner Archive. Part of the craziness is that production values sometimes matched "Get Smart" levels. Also, the "racy" added footage is now anything but. At best it confirms that Napoleon Solo had a girl sleep over now and then.

I recall that they were never really clear about how secret UNCLE was. Sometimes THRUSH knew enough about Solo to bug his apartment to train a look-alike; other times Solo could blithely walk among them armed with fake business cards. As for the secret headquarters, in one of the "movies" Ilya stepped out of the tailor shop and was attacked by toy robots (Remco, straight off the shelf).

Janet Ybarra said...

Not many people realize this but the original STAR TREK episode "Catspaw" was a Halloween episode at the time.

And I haven't seen it mentioned but there is the good old fashioned IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN.

Donald Benson said...

Oh yeah, Halloween episodes. "The Woody Woodpecker Show", usually just three old Walter Lantz cartoons with some bumpers and maybe Walter himself explaining how cartoons are made, did a special "Spook-a-Nanny" episode. Two old Lantz shorts, and then a new segment of Woody going to a haunted house for a party with the whole Lantz stable of characters. On revisiting it's singularly unimpressive (Lantz's studio survived by getting cheaper and cheaper), but at the time it was a big deal because it was padded into an hour special with KTVU's Captain Satellite hosting a live party with real kids.

MikeN said...

Wait, you were evaluating the series quality from a writer's perspective as a little kid in 1965?

RareWaves said...

Every Halloween, I watch the Amazing Stories episode, Mummy Daddy (created by Steven Spielberg, Joshua Brand, and John Falsey; story by Steven Spielberg; teleplay by Earl Pomerantz; directed by William Dear). I taped it in 1985 and eventually bought the whole DVD set, but that's the episode I watch every year. I just never get tired of that episode. I think it's brilliantly written, directed, cast, and filmed.

Pat Reeder said...

I second Gary's complaint about Halloween episodes in which lower middle class families always have Halloween costumes and decorations that would cost more than the Macy's Parade and require a warehouse to store for the rest of the year. "Roseanne" was the worst offender because 364 days out of the year, the Conners didn't have enough money to afford decent clothing or a trip to the dentist; but on Halloween, they could spend $10,000 on foam rubber body parts alone.