February 5, 2011

Automan, episode 3: "The Great Pretender"


By this point, I think that we’ve established that plots aren’t exactly the strong suit of Automan, which is good, because this week’s episode is more confusing than that time my old Scout Master asked me if I wanted to practice tying knots... in his basement. It’s really hard to yell “Help!” with a neckerchief shoved in your mouth. Hardest Merit badge I ever earned.

After a somewhat jarring and violent start that’s out of character with the tone of the show, we settle back into familiar territory as Walter and Automan try to stop totally non-threatening middle aged men before they can pull off a scheme which has no significant bearing or threat on the wide world whatsoever. You can cut the tension with a pair of safety scissors.

To get an idea of the typical Automan villain thus far, imagine Max Wright, better known as Willie Tanner from ALF. Now imagine him less menacing. Now imagine that less menacing version of Max Wright as less menacing. Now imagine the less menacing version of the less menacing Max Wright had a baby with Woody Allen, and that baby was adopted and raised by Gene Wilder. That baby would grow up to be a villain on Automan.

Of course, none of that really matters because the point of the show is to show off the special f/x and put the boys in situations that can be mined for laughs. This week, Automan learns how to be a “gangster” by going through Walter’s collection of mob movies. The results aren’t nearly as fun as last week’s episode, but there's still a decent number of chuckles to be had by Wagner’s antics.

The best part of the entire episode is near the end, when Automan uses what looks like Sith Lightning to bring down the fleeing “bad” guy’s chopper. It’s an epic moment. It would’ve been more epic had his potential escape actually meant something, but, hey, you want tension, watch The Maury Povich Show. Seriously, that shit keeps me on the edge of my seat.

“When it comes to three year old Bon Jovi...”

[Pins and needles]

"Darrell, you ARE the Father!”

“I told you!”

In week one, I went with a “What Worked/What Didn’t Work” wrap up. Last week, I tried “Random Thoughts”. This week, in honor of the generic version of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” used in this episode, I present my Bob Seger top-five.

5.) "Old Time Rock and Roll"
4.) "Like a Rock"
3.) "Shakedown"
2.) "Turn the Page"
1.) "Night Moves"

I woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain't it funny how the night moves
When you just don't seem to have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in

That, dear reader(s?), is poetry. Until next week...

White guys in suits conspiring around a swimming pool count: 2


"Hello, Walter. I've been expecting your call."

"You have?"

"I'm beginning to know as much about your program as you know about mine."

"That's ridiculous. I don't have a program."

"But you do. It's what tells you to be loyal, ambitious, persevering, inquisitive. I believe you call it a... personality."

"Next thing you know, you'll be psychoanalyzing me."

"I already have. Remind me to show you the file."

As with the last episode, our villain is a sly middle aged white dude in a suit who also owns a casino. And just like the last episode, Auto has to don his own super swanky suit so as to go undercover. Similar on the surface, but what the last episode fumbled around with, this one executes to near perfection.

The baddie this time is Rudy Brock (the always great Clu Gulager), who rests easy at the top of his criminal empire and is finalising plans for his weekend wedding to a sweet, beautiful, genuinely innocent woman, even as his goons gun down guards in cold blood and make off with a truckload of unprinted mint as part of his latest counterfeit money laundering scheme. Instead of his upper class blandness being out of place and awkward, it carries the complacency of confidence and power. This is a man for whom everything has gone according to plan.

Until, that is, Walter and Automan decide to look into the deaths of those two guards. In a surprisingly Yojimbo style plot, Auto disguises himself as Mr. Otto, a white tie wearing, black suited mobster who sees this as the perfect new patch of territory to move in on. With Walter always at his side, Auto gradually tears down Rudy's empire, brick by brick, until the gangster is left a frazzled, paranoid mess. They buy off his contacts, use cursor to rig his casinos to fail and leave him in debt, and foil numerous assassination attempts on their lives (some very clever use of merges this time around). There's a great bit where a goon runs our heroes over with a speeding car - knows he ran them over, saw them go under with his own eyes - but when he reports to Rudy a couple of hours later, it turns out they're not only still alive, but they've gone to all four corners of the town in an impossible amount of time (AutoChopper!).

It really is a marvelously constructed episode, ending with Brock past his breaking point, scrabbling to grab his cash as the wash from a helicopter blows it across a field. They go a little far with him dangling upside-down when the helicopter sweeps his leg (YES SENSEI!!!), and then he drops into a convenient swimming pool, but it's interesting that the heroes have not only caught the crook, but thoroughly shattered him as a person. And while I'm still a bit leery of how they're trying to blend the gee whiz scifi of a holographic superhero with gritty prime time crime drama, the consistent use of Auto's abilities in the dismemberment of Rudy's empire is inspired.

It's not really a stumble, but the biggest issue I have with the episode is that they've dropped Automan's aversion to daylight. It's been pretty clearly established that Auto loses cohesion at dawn as people wake up and activate their appliances, but here we clearly see him wandering around in daylight, complete with solid Cursor holograms. I'm guessing there were issues with the frequent night shoots that necessitated this change, but it's still a little frustrating.

And before I forget, I have to give some props to Roxanne and Lt. Curtis. What could have been the thankless role of token love interest is getting some surprising fire through the exasperation of Heather McNair. Roxanne knows what Automan is and what Walter's using him for, but she thinks it's crazy and reckless and is angrily debating whether or not to tell the Captain (who, let's face it, wouldn't believe her anyway). This presents a wonderful need for the heroes to prove themselves, that they aren't just playing a glowy bleep bloop game with needed police resources. Curtis is the opposite. He doesn't know what's going on, but he suspects Walter does, especially when it comes to this mysterious man who might be an FBI agent (nice cover), and there's a proud twinkle in his eye at the results that are being achieved, whether he understands how they're achieved or not. Dude still gets kidnapped or knocked out at the drop of a hat, but it's nice to know Walter's got a father figure looking over his shoulder.

I've gushed about this episode about as much as I can. I thought it was great. It finds the perfect balance between two seemingly opposite tones, the cast and crew brought their A-game, and they even slipped in a nice little detail of Auto's civilian disguise retaining a faint blue glow inside his collar and the cuffs of his sleeves.

And the bride, Rudy's beautiful bride. It's great her fiance was exposed, but I appreciate that the creators didn't shy away from the consequences of the fact that our heroes just robbed this woman of what was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. I felt so bad for her when she and her parents looked from the swarming cops to each other in shock, then just calmly gathered themselves and walked away, leaving Rudy to his own fate.

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NoelCT said...

Tony, you didn't think the plot was good this week? I was surprised by how creative and complex it was. Auto and Walter were meticulous in the way they pulled apart Rudy's empire.

Anthony Williams said...

Hey we got a com-- oh :p. I should re-phrase my opening, which I kept mostly to stick in the Scoutmaster joke :p. The basic plot is decent enough and I'll admit I've never seen the stolen money paper angle. And it is fun to watch Walter and Auto [Or Otto] bring down their operation. What I still don't get is how or why any of this ties into the prominently featured wedding to the Es-Congressman's daughter. It felt like an unexplored plot-point put in there for filler and to give the finale a backdrop.

NoelCT said...

Yeah, our only comment so far is us. If no one else will discuss, then SHALL WE WILL!!!

I don't think I caught the tie to the congressman, either. Maybe it was to show the noble heritage the bride came from, maybe Rudy was hoping to increasing his power circle, maybe it was just to make the end all the more tragic because now the bride's not only lost her fiance, but her family's reputation will most certainly be a public spectacle. Man, I feel so bad for that woman.