October 27, 2012

Quark, episode 3 "The Old and the Beautiful"

Three Commanders are again assembled in Palindrome's office to receive missions from The Head. Commander Haley, a looming alien, is sent on a 30 year mission to a distant planet. Commander Black, a smokin' hot blonde, is sent to personally disarm a batch of Gorgon explosives. Commander Quark is all set for another trash pickup, but he's instead tasked with an extended romantic interlude with a beautiful princess. Both Haley and Black are pissed at their assignments, but Quark is thrilled, even moreso when he learns he's in line for a promotion if the romantic interlude goes well.

On his ship, Quark is struggling to get the Betties to understand that the pending romantic interlude is for the good of the galaxy, but they're jealous and not even the promise of a promotion turns them. Gene/Jean, on the other hand, is ecstatic at the idea of getting off this garbage scow and on the deck of a real starship.

Ficus notices a stray Space Baggie (trash bag) floating in space. They decide to pick it up, but the outer hatch jams. Quark heads below decks for a few hours to fix it, but when he returns to crew quarters and removes his spacesuit, he appears to have aged a decade. Ficus runs some tests and it turns out Quark picked up a virus from the Space Baggie, which is aging him two years an hour. Transmute blood is extremely resistant to viruses, meaning a transfusion from Gene/Jean could save Quark, but s/he refuses. Ficus knocks Gene/Jean out with a nerve pinch, and performs the transfusion anyways. It doesn't work and Quark continues to age.

A coded message from Palindrome comes in, but the befuddling Quark isn't sure if it means "destroy yourself" or "come home, Randy". Ficus instead interprets it to mean The Head has nearly completed a treaty with Cagimoor, the allegiance of which has been long sought by the Gorgons, and Quark's romantic interlude with the Princess Carna is meant to guarantee the treaty is signed in the Confederation's favor. Quark is a bit shocked because he's had a past romantic interlude with Carna. She comes from a world where the woman are such passionate lovers that most men die in their mid 20s. Quark doubts he'd survive in his present state, but Ficus assures him he'll likely die of old age even before they get there.

Ficus comes up with another potential cure, involving a large electrical current surged through Quark's body, but it fails as well. Palindrome checks in, but is shocked at Quark's now elderly state. He tears up the recommendation for promotion. The Betties do their best to care for Quark while Gene/Jean fumes at the lost promotion.

Then two Gorgon attack ships swoop in, lasers blazing. The bridge is a mess of confusion as Quark's mind is now senile. Gene/Jean want to take command, but the Betties outrank him. Unfortunately, they can't agree amongst themselves what to do. When a panicking Any reminds Quark that his ship is in danger, the Commander sobers up just long enough to order his crew to fire back and win the battle.

Quark is still ticking when they reach Cagimoor, so he insists on seeing the mission through as his dying act. He teleports down to Carna's bedchambers, where it turns out she's excited by the prospect of having her first romantic interlude with a man older than 25.

Later, on Quark's ship, they get word that their Commander is set to return and everyone preps for a withered corpse. Instead, a fit and vigorous Quark, fully restored to his real age, comes up on the teleporter pad and announces that the treaty has been signed. Ficus runs some tests and discovers the romantic interlude worked most of the virus out of Quark's system. To be fully cured, he'll either need to spend seven days in another romantic interlude (the Betties are delighted and eager), or be injected with a serum Ficus synthesized, which will eradicate the virus in 10 second. Specifically, the serum he just injected Quark with (the Betties are pissed).


Talk about viewing whiplash. We open with a half-hour pilot. Then the second episode is an hour. Suddenly we're back to half-hour again. Is the next episode going to be a 90 minute Movie of the Week, followed by a 7 minute vignette, then everything coming to a close with a 6 part miniseries? Seriously, what the heck was up with this bit of erratic scheduling?

With the shorter running time, the plot loses any form of complexity as we're back to a basic setup that leads to loose scenes of humor. Expecting an hour episode, I figured we'd get a lot more story on Cagimoor, and a followup to the Gorgon ships that were vaporized, but no. Once we get to Cagimoor, everything wraps up tidy and we're off to the closing credits. That's a shame, because Barbara Rhodes' Carna, alongside being va-va-voom, had a nice bounce (no pun intended) to her interplay with Richard Benjamin before her guest spot blinked out of sight, and I would have loved to see it build a little more and maybe have a few twists.

Alas, half-hour is what they settled with, so I guess I'll just accept it and move on.

Benjamin is about as hit-or-miss as this random story. He has a pair of great scenes with Ficus where they do away with the Kirk/McCoy vs. Spock banter and instead go with some hysterical verbal jousting where Quark has the illusion of holding his own against his crewmember, when he's actually just struggling to keep up with the strings of infodump. In his elderly incarnation... it doesn't flow nearly as well. Part of that is due to the writing, part is the half-assed makeup, but part is Benjamin himself never really settling into the part, though you can see in his eyes that he's trying desperately to sell it. For every great physical moment, like him flopping out of and onto things, there's tired lines of him being senile and calling everyone Sonny. Given the moments of introspection he'd drift into in the previous episodes, I hoped the rapid aging would have him reflect on his lot in life and how it's left him stuck in menial sanitation work instead of living the dream, now represented by an amazing mission he might not living long enough to see through, but instead they just go with the typical "I'm old. Have I mentioned I'm old? Because look at how old I am," gags.

I know, there probably wasn't time, given the half-hour format. But you can't tell me there isn't fat to cut. Like the battle with the Gorgon ships, which is done so on the cheap that they just re-use the model of Quark's ship. Because sure, it totally makes sense that dreaded space warriors would attack in the sanitation vehicles of their sworn enemies. *facepalm* On top of that, the scene adds nothing to the narrative beyond chaotic banter, some of which is amusing, most of which feels forced. And then there's the extended bits with the two other Commanders from the intro, who we never see again, so drawing it out like that isn't justified. Or the whole bit of Gene/Jean freaking out about a virus s/he already knows s/he can't catch and going into a speech about how s/he's lived hir life. And speaking of Gene/Jean, I'm disappointed how hir female persona continues to be underused and largely just there as a punchline. I love how Thomserson nails hir male side, chomping at the bit for a promotion and promise of adventure, but what's the point of a character with contrasting personalities if they're never put to use? And the Betties and Andy are the same old shtick, with Andy so underplayed I kept forgetting he was there.

This isn't a good episode. I like the recurring bit of romantic interludes, which are always specifically referred to by that title, but everything else is just basic sketch comedy writing, and not even particularly good basic sketch comedy writing. There's momentary exceptions, of course, but most of it feels flat and forced, and it never really seems to know where it wants to go beyond the predictable punchlines. Maybe doubling the length would have given it the room to add a little something extra to it, but it might also have doubled the amount of flat, aimless humor. I don't know, but I'd be willing to bet this episode represents the majority of what we'd have gotten had the show carried on beyond the point of cancellation.

And, wait, how was Quark able to contract a virus when he was in the vacuum of space in a sealed space suit? If there was a leak for the virus to get in, it would have pulled all his air out and he would've decompressed. THIS SETUP MAKES NO SENSE. GAH.


Like our hero, “The Old and the Beautiful” spends the majority of its reduced(!?) run time doddering aimlessly about the corridors of the United... Garbage... say, what is the name of this ship anyway? For this episode at least, we’ll call it the U.S.S. Unfunny. This was painful to watch at times, and the harder they tried - particularly Benjamin - the more it hurt. In fact, it reminded me of the single most mortifying event of my elementary school years. Sherman, set the WABAC machine for 1985...

In the 5th grade, my buddies and I came up with the idea to put on a puppet show for the school. This despite the fact that none of us had ever even owned a puppet. We somehow bamboozled our principle into giving us 20 minutes at the end of the school day, and then, with the help of our awesome art teacher, spent the next two weeks building the most epic puppet castle you’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend any of that time acquiring puppets or writing a script. The day before the show, we were scrambling. When it was all said and done, we managed to beg, borrow, and steal two generic fluffy animal puppets, one old man puppet, and a puppet of Animal from The Muppet Show. Forget The Land of Make Believe, this was The Land of What the F___.We stayed after school that day for our final rehearsal, which, as it happens, was also our only rehearsal. Our principle entered the auditorium, beaming at the craftsmanship of our majestic castle, and no doubt harboring a fantasy that she’d just given the first big break to the next generation of Jim Hensons. She asked us for a taste of the show. With a “hem” and a “haw” and quite a few “umms”, we put on two minutes of improvisation that turned the principle’s smile into a frozen horror-rictus. Why she didn’t cancel the show right there is a question historians will be asking for decades.

At the end of the following day, an assembly was called, and the entire school crowded into the multi-purpose gymnasium/lunchroom/auditorium to watch our show. Even after an all-night (well, until 8 o’clock) skull session, we still didn’t have a script, or even a general idea of what we were going to do when the curtain went up. With our hearts hammering in our chests, we took our positions and prayed to whatever Gods might be listening for a miracle. Unfortunately, what followed was so tragically awful that it should’ve been accompanied by Adagio for strings. It actually began with a huge laugh - our only laugh - and it was totally by accident. We had crafted a make-shift crown for our “old man” and made him the king. The show began with the king popping his head out of one of the windows, which accidentally caused his crown to fall off. Joe, who was portraying the king, uttered “Where’s my crown?” in his best old man voice. The audience went crazy. Eager to get in on the laughs, my friend Steve (aka Animal) burst out of his own window and yelled “Animal!” at the top of his lungs. The laughter died, eyebrows went up, and the assembled were all asking the same question: “WTF?” Joe and Steve continued this puppet one-upmanship, trading “Where’s my crown?” and “Animal!” for a good two minutes before my buddy Jason and I timidly entered the fray with our pastel colored quasi-animals. Our attempt at some Statler and Waldorf-type banter was drowned out by the increasingly desperate cries of “Where’s my crown?” and “Animal!” If I live to be a thousand, I’ll never forget the look on our principle’s face after the show. It was a combination of disappointment and “How many years would I get for murdering four kids?”

Okay, why did I share this little chapter of my childhood with you in a Quark review? Well, mostly because Noel pretty much said everything I was thinking and I needed something fresh to fill my post, but also because, like our little puppet show, much of this episode appeared to be the various actors doing their own thing. Quark was much like our king, lost in his own little one-joke world while the action went on around him. Benjamin is just far too obvious and broad in his characterization and the gags just aren’t funny. And seriously, what’s up with Gene/Jean? Noel is right, the Jean persona is always the secondary one, switched to as a punch-line and then abandoned. Thomerson attacks it with gusto, but the material just isn’t strong enough. As for the runtime, Noel, I’m starting to re-think my previous statement that at 45 minutes, Quark was a sitcom premise in a dramatic suit, and the fit was ill. At 25 minutes, it was more like Fat Guy in a Little Coat. With more time, I think they could’ve done something interesting with this premise and, for purely selfish reasons, I wanted to spend a little more time with Barbara Rhodes in her bubble bath.

After the epic, sometimes clever, and generally amusing “May the Source Be With You”, “The Old and the Beautiful” was a flat hodge-podge of lame jokes tacked onto a story that goes nowhere.

“Animal!”...Nope, still not funny.

Tune in next Saturday as we take another ride with Captain Quark in "The Good, the Bad, and the Ficus".

The Quark dvds are now out of print, but if you'd like to get a used copy so you can watch along with us, check out Amazon.


NoelCT said...

It's a shame you're so old, Tony, or that puppet show would totally be up on YouTube for all of us to mock. ;)

I'm wondering if the short-changing of Gene/Jean's female persona has to do with technical issues of dubbing in the woman's voice. If so, that makes the decision to dub all the more pointless, since I still argue Thomerson nailed both personas just fine on his own in the pilot.

AlĂȘ Camargo said...

The Quark posts are great! Fun and insightful view on this charming, gone-too-soon series.

Looking forward to you guys comments on the other episodes - I'm already re-watching my DVD.

NoelCT said...

Thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying our write ups, and that you'll be watching along with us. :)