October 6th: 3rd Rock From the Sun

Languid in Cleveland.

Hey, I just realized, if we follow up that, um, interesting Kate & Allie episode from yesterday with the 3rd Rock From the Sun Halloween ep., then we've just cooked up an impromptu Jane Curtin Tribute Extravaganza! And there is no one more deserving of an extravaganza than Jane Curtin. So, despite my fuzzy feelings toward this show, it shall be done.

3rd Rock From the Sun

As I recall, this is a very mid-90s premise of aliens adopting human form and trying to fit into society (which, I just realized, exactly matches the premise of the very mid-70s Coneheads sketches, followed by the very mid-80s Out Of This World which are, in themselves, a mirror of the very mid-60s My Favorite Martian, and on and on and on - I assume Jane Curtin was in all of these shows as well).

John Lithgow gets to be tall and play against type as a goofball, having already locked up any roles dealing with fathers of the Pacific Northwest and the sasquatch who define them). French Stewart gets to squint and play to type (French Stewart is clearly a squinting alien), and Kristen Johnston, while not playing as tall as Lithgow, somehow manages to exude more authority than him, though this is possibly due to how tall her boots are playing their roles. And through it all, lil Joey Gordon-Levitt grows up before our very eyes. Brace yourself for... something.

Space: Rutherford, OH
Time: October 29th, 1997
Episode: "Scaredy Dick" Season 3, Episode 5

Guys, look, I don't know what to say. This was a very languid interpretation of a Halloween episode. The premise was languid, the writing was languid. The performances were given with gusto, sure, but the reaction was, alas, so, so languid.

There's a school of thought out there that says "Acting is reacting." Ooh, something that clever has to be right, correct? They don't make sayings so elegant, so self-referential, and then leave them unresolved and vague, do they? They wouldn't dare. First, we have an actor reacting to the situation written for them, then we have the other actors reacting to that actor.

They've all made the best choices available to them. By which I mean, they've all made the biggest choices available to them. I mean, right off the bat we get Lithgow carving a pumpkin (on his professorial office-desk for some reason??) and just goes full-Kramer on it, scooping a spoonful of guts into his mouth. And then reacting. You know, as actors do.

Plot points if you must: Dick has to go to the doctor's office, but he's afraid to. How this fear has not yet been addressed in the previous two seasons's worth of episodes is a mystery, but here we are.Also, Sally and Tommy help protect Jane Curtin's character's house from pranksters, leading to a prescient scene in which the heroes become the villains as their methodology begins mirroring that of various black ops. sites and their prisoner is dehumanized in egg-based ways.

Any pity we feel is brushed aside as we're simultaneously given a glimpse of how the Dr. Albright-half lives, which, in this era of mid-to-late 90s transition means acres of tan wood and a decorative fish tank. We can all agree that this is preferable to the wallpaper from her previous series, and it appears that no barometers were exploited during the making of this episode.

And then there's this guy:

Sure, the purpose of him existing might be lacking (French Stewart plays a character who, like Lithgow's, is afraid of things - like, any things) but the demeanor and empty wrappers are familiar enough to possibly frighten us into healthier lifestyles? Maybe? I admit to looking exactly like this at least once a week.

Moving right along, we finally get to go to a Halloween party, though there is no evidence that Kathy Santoni was the prime mover this time around. I would guess the odds are very slim that she was involved, though within the strange geography of television-America, anything is possible. But for now, let's assume it's a Pendleton University function and therefore when Lithgow shows up looking like a satiny Cap'n Crunch, it's to be expected.

Mind you, this man won three Emmys and a Golden Globe for his performance in this role. His performance of a role as an alien. Don't dwell on it, let's just note how the crew has gone with the now-traditional Chicago Chronicle Crepe Streamers motif, as this series of blogs rapidly withers into a simple inventory of Party City backstock. But as long as the carved-pumpkins are burning brightly...

...as opposed to being chewed-up desk-mash, we are obliged to knock. Even if all we find are these guys:

And let's consider that perhaps this First Annual Jane Curtin Tribute Extravaganza comes down to the narrowness of our focus? Perhaps we'd have been better-served by an analysis/celebration of Working It Out or O.C. and Stiggs? Well, don't lose too much sleep on it - like the characters we've just blown some time with, we were simply reacting.