Reflective puddles of terror.
As we nudge our way half-a-decade deeper into the 90s, we find ourselves back in the blazing sunlight of California, where the tech start-ups breed like rabbits and the chemical-spills flow like... you know, chemicals. As the premise of this show (of a girl who gains superpowers after being covered in the gravy drippings of some evil lab or another) proves, you'll want to watch where you step. But don't let this deter you from such a venture, because you'll still want to check out...
The Secret World Of Alex Mack
This is a Nickelodeon program from back in the day, and it was kind of science fictionish and weird in the best of ways, utilizing your obvious oddball parents, a brainiac older sister, an empowering best friend, and cartoony villains of the corporate-variety to paint a high-concept picture with a low-budget brush, and pretty much getting away with it.
Space: Paradise Valley, CA
Time: October 28th, 1995
Episode: "The Secret" Season 2, Episode 10
This visit to Paradise Valley '95 begins with a pretty slow burn up to the actual Halloweening, so just know that there's a haunted house that will figure prominently in this ep. We can now fast-forward to Alex, her buddy Ray, and their mutual-buddy, Louis, dressed up as Raggedy Ann, one of Baron Samedi's voodoo henchmen from Live and Let Die, and a computer... doctor?
Don't be disoriented, no, this photo was not taken in an English garden - that's just the stock grandmother wallpaper pattern of choice for the Macks. And lest we be unfair in preemptively judging their taste, let's check in with them as Mom and Dad get in on the Halloween action:
Classic Mom and Dad, you guys. It's also classic-90s, especially with this McAllister-esque battle-schematic Ray has drawn up for the trick-or-treating.
This is another example of thorough planning, and indeed, Ray comes across as the most normal of any of these characters. When asked for advice by his best friend with mutant abilities, he offers his sensible take on things, deferring immediately when his advice is ignored or marginalized, all with an air of, "Hey, you're the one with the superpowers, you do what you're gonna do."
And yet, Ray is perceived by the Mack girls as a candy-loving goof who will not be comprehended! Alex tells her sister that Ray thinks the local haunted house is "full of ghosts" (which... I mean, it's a haunted house, this is not a reach), and Annie dismisses him with, "He should know, he's from another world himself." Whoa! Why the vitriol, Annie? When has Ray ever not been a helpful, enabling sidekick? He is the one person in on the secret-part of The Secret World Of Alex Mack who is not a blood relative nor has anything to gain from keeping this Secret secret. At least pretend like what he has to say matters!
But then, Annie has her own drama to deal with, as a gentleman caller by the name of "Brice" shows up, dressed like Shitty Zorro, in order to "keep her company." Uh-huh. Here is his entrance, followed by the actual dialog exchanged between the two:
Annie: "Hey, how's it going?"
Oh, so smooth. "We got it, everyone!" the director calls out. "Check the gate and let's move on to the next set-up - there are no further takes necessary because this chemistry is smoldering!" I don't even have the punctuation to fully-outline how absolutely wrong the "Cool" was in that situation. He was certainly not answering Annie, but he was definitely responding to something that nobody said.
Anyway, we rejoin Alex and Co. wrapping up their record-breaking Halloween route with a stop by the now-infamous haunted house. Alex goes inside, somewhat apprehensively for a woman who can will objects into motion without touching them and turn herself into a motile mercury-spill. But hey, teens have so much stuff to deal with, who can blame her as she steps into the abandoned house of her future - oh, the places you'll go!
The haunting commences with the exploitation of an unexpected prop, that being a bust of some Caesar - presumably one of the shittier Caesars, like a Trebonianus or a Jotapian or some other barracks Emperor. It more or less "comes to life" and starts taunting Alex from down the hallway, cackling as though some major and hilarious victory has been won (wow, you got her attention - nice job, statue). Anyway, the sight of it gets me thinking: 'Oh, what a weird little detail to haunt - who has a bust of Caesar these days? Why don't I have a bust of Caesar?'
No sooner does this cross my mind, then the bust's head just fucking explodes mid-laugh!
What? It was a spectacular move, and one that made me laugh out loud because it was so random - why would the thing just explode!? It's a rare example of what psychiatry has labeled Taunting Statuary Combustion Suicide, but boy, does it ever have impact!
Upon reviewing the scene in question, the show clues us into the bust blowing-up being Alex's doing by using her "zapping" sound effect. No other effect is used beyond the audio cue and the explosion, so I guess it's a read-between-the-lines thing, and changes the diagnosis to Taunting Statuary Combustion Homicide. But it also underscores how quickly a person can become inured to the Alex Mack power-zaps, especially when she's doing them through the entire episode, and for the most arbitrary reasons. She's levitating newspapers onto porches, turning easily-reachable lamps off with bolts from her fingertip - this is such a waste of her amazing gifts, and yet it accurately assumes any teenager would do the same thing. "Oh, did I leave the garage door open?" Zap - the door is closed. "Oh, did I forget to feed the dog?" Zap - the dog is no longer an issue.
So anyway, the bust explodes, Alex is frightened, something-something-something, and she meets the ghost of a woman who haunts the place. It turns out this lady has powers too, and they end up engaged in a furniture fight that looks a little shabby, filled as it is with post-production motion effects, quick edits, and the felt-but-unseen presence of the underpaid PAs who must have spent an entire day throwing around settees and trying to stay out of the shot.
That being said, it's cable, it's 1995, and we're not yet a half-decade from T2, so you've just gotta believe that the lion's share of the budget is going to that liquid-metal morph, so I suppose we should expect a modicum of corner-cutting on the practical effects.
Meanwhile, it's absolute mayhem back at the Mack residence, where Annie and Brice's attempts at snuggling are repeatedly interrupted by hordes of trick-or-treaters. What this show lacks in quality paper products and lanterns, it more than makes up for with enthusiastic trick-or-treating extras.
Let's please note the cardstock skeleton on the front door, which is rapidly emerging as its own minor motif, having been seen in yesterday's Eerie, Indiana ep and the Belvedere ep - look, it's even wearing the same haunted biker-vest!
I get it, there are only so many paper products in the world, and again, let's face it: even in its second season, The Secret World of Alex Mack probably did not have an outlandish budget. Witness the outcome of the titanic furniture battle - a pleasant sit-down.
Something-something-something, the ghost is haunted, Alex becomes her bestie, life moves on. And what of Annie's romance with the poor line-reader? It ends as all the best high school dates do...
...with Mom and Dad coming home and sucking all the air out of the room. Works every time!