November 8, 2015

Starman, episode 2 "Like Father, Like Son"

Scott vows to never pass a hitchhiker again as he and Starman continue to unsuccessfully thumb for a ride. Scott is still bitter and unwilling to connect with Starman, and as soon as they follow a lead on his mother, Jenny, to a mountain lodge, Scott wants nothing more to do with his father. Ducking off the road to avoid a police traffic stop, Starman decides to put the $600+ in cash Liz gave him to use in buying a car. As they arrive at a used lot, Scott cautions Starman about the dishonesty of dealers and the importance of haggling. After shenanigans, they pull out with a car.

Spotting a broken down car on the road with a pair of women waving for help, Starman holds Scott to his promise and they pull over to help. The women are Shannon McGovern and her daughter Beth, who are out for a weekend trip together. Pushing the car into town, Shannon's told it'll take a day to get the necessary parts, and she becomes evasive when Beth says they should call her dad. Shannon decides they'll wait, and invites Starman and Scott to lunch.

Shannon is charmed by "Paul"s account of the beauty he sees everywhere as a "photographer", but everyone at the table grows nervous when a police officer shows up. Quietly using his orb, Starman causes the police cruiser to take off, the officer running after. After recovering his car, the officer starts asking around about a teenager with a photo, and the mechanic at the garage isn't sure if he recognizes it or not. As the cop takes off, we see the photo is of Beth. Back in the city, Beth's father, a businessman, learns that not only has his wife gone off with their daughter, but she's cleaned out their accounts. He tells his lawyer to track them down at any cost.

Our quartet arrive at a hunting lodge where Starman books a cabin, the only one free what with hunting season about to begin. Scott guides his father through the politics of sharing a cabin with two women they just met (the two guys bunk together in a small loft bed), as well as what hunting means and what all these drinking men with guns are here for. During this, Starman shows an ability to calm animals with his touch when he reaches out for a snarling hunting dog. Starman tries to bond with his son, showing him the star he comes from, but the boy is still angry about his conflicted feelings for the man and doesn't trust him, flinching away when Starman reaches out to touch one of his tears. Shannon tries to give Starman some advice, but she isn't having much better luck with Beth. This weekend was supposed to bring them back together, but it isn't going so well.

Justifying it with the "murder" of Paul Forrester, Agent Fox promises a room full of military brass that he'll hunt the alien down. Later, a few towns away from our heroes, Fox gets a call from his General that he won't receive any military support until he has a lead that actually pans out.

The next morning, Scott and Beth wake up to find their parents gone, and awkwardly bond over leftovers and talk of their parents. Starman and Shannon have gone to town for food and to get her car, but Shannon begs him to drive by when they see the garage surrounded by cops (accompanied by her husband's lawyer and the arrival of Fox). She tries to brush it off, but Starman pulls over and she opens up to him about running away from her marriage and not wanting to lose her daughter, whom she hasn't told yet. When they arrive back at the cabin, Shannon hurriedly packs her confused daughter up, and Scott is furious that helping these two is getting in the way of looking for his mother. Starman promises they're still going to the mountain lodge, but he won't abandon the women. In the cabin, Shannon finally opens up to Beth, but the girl rages that she feels like a trophy the two parents are fighting over. In their mutual anger and confusion, Scott and Beth bond.

The quartet makes the long drive up the mountain to the lodge, only to find out the owner who knew Jenny sold it off years ago, left no forwarding address, and that all the records she left behind were such a mess that the new owner trashed them. Devastated at losing his only lead on his mother, Scott rages at Starman and runs off, leading Starman to discover his first tear in his own eye. Beth runs after Scott and they both cool down in a cave. Unfortunately, a pair of bumbling hunters have stirred up a cougar, who seeks shelter in the same cave and starts menacing the teens. Scott fishes out his orb, but drops it. Shannon and Starman have followed their kids, and he guides his son into showing how the boy is also capable of taming animals.

Shannon apologizes to Beth for always putting her in the middle of things. She promises that they'll go home, and while Shannon doesn't want to return to her marriage, she'll always stay near her daughter instead of running off. Starman assures Scott that the boy tamed the creature all by himself. Feeling a new connection, the boy calls him "dad" for the first time. Leaving Shannon and Beth at the lodge, Starman and Scott hit the road again... just before Fox and the cops pull up.


We knew it wasn't going to take long for the series to settle into the formula of The Fugitive/The Incredible Hulk, and yep, that's exactly what we get here. That's not a bad way to go, though, and the execution of it is pretty superb.

First of all, I am really digging the whole father/son dynamic. Not only is our wandering, pursued hero drifting along the road, but he's doing so with a teenager who's still coming to terms with this man being his father. It creates tensions and conflicts within the leads which gives much more meat to the story than just one dude always responding to external situations, as well as someone else in the know that our hero can bounce thoughts and observations off of. If this episode had just been Starman, it would have been pretty rote, with him getting involved in the lives of the women, focused primarily on Shannon, until the big reveal and he leaves again, but with Scott there, it becomes so much more. Scott not only gets to build a relationship with Beth, but her struggle among a family that's falling apart counters his struggle with an absentee family that's suddenly resurfacing, while also echoing the parents struggling with being parents of kids they don't understand.

C.B. Barnes is still a bit inconsistent as Scott, coming off a bit forced at times, but I like that he's still given a lot of justification for his anger and angst. I absolutely love the twist of, following the last episode, he and Starman tracking down a friend of Jenny's, only to find the woman is long gone with no further trail. His only lead has hit a brick wall, and all he can do is run from this father figure he never wanted and now finds himself stuck with beyond their initial deal. As for the Starman, aside from a slightly over-active left eyebrow, Robert Hays is settling in beautifully. He's learning how to just roll with it when he finds himself in a situation he doesn't fully understand, like splitting a cabin with strangers, or discovering an egg-beater, or buying a used car, while still rolling through them in ways that are charmingly naive. The used car bits are especially hilarious. When Scott calls him "dad" in the end, it's an earned bone the kid is throwing him, and builds on the genuine connection of Scott realizing he has some of his father's gifts and that constantly pushing the man away isn't going to make those connections cease to exist.

The main plot is a simple concept, but nicely executed. Candy Clark and the always welcome Robyn Lively are great as Shannon and Beth, and I love the reveal that the building presence of police the dudes keep running into are because the mother and daughter are themselves fugitives from a failing marriage. Or at least Shannon is, with the added twist that she's trying desperately to connect with her daughter while still not trusting the girl enough to actually tell her what's going on. It creates a nice level of tension and disconnect, and furthers their conflict as they're also struggling with whether or not to trust this father and son they're suddenly bonding with. I actually like that there isn't some deep, dark secret to Shannon's marriage that has her on the run, merely that she's become dissatisfied with her life and needed to get away from it all. In the end, I like that she realizes she's going too far, especially if she wants to stay connected with her daughter, and that she's forced to find a new solution to her plans. I'm doubting it'll go over well with the father and his lawyer, but at least mother and daughter are genuinely together to face whatever comes of it.

There was some disagreement between Tony and I last week over how villainously they were portraying Fox, but they're pretty clear about it here as a meeting with him turns into him raging at a camera like a televangelist as he promises to deliver our heroes to a dissection table. There's nothing ambiguous about those motives and the way he's wound so tight has me worrying about the man's heart going out. And yet, for all his bluster, they also still portray him as an ineffectual weenie, always having to beg for what little resources he can from his boss and never rolling in with any backup beyond local law enforcement. And then there's the pathetically prolonged scene where he unwraps a fast food burger, scowls at it, wraps it back up, tosses it at the trash can, misses, scuffles over to drop it in, then after a phone call, sheepishly fishes the burger back out of the trash and starts eating it. The show doesn't seem to know where it wants to go with Fox, and so it keeps undercutting his threat with deflating moments like this. Again, he really needs a partner of some sort, to both counter him and give him someone to play off of. Michael Cavanaugh is committed and entertaining to watch, don't get me wrong, but I do feel the writers are letting Fox down from a narrative perspective.

A final element I enjoy is how hunting was used in the episode, as it feels like a natural evolution of the great sequence in the movie where Starman encountered the hunter and the slain trophy deer. We get some good stuff like the surrounding of the active hunting lodge, scenes like Scott struggling to explain what hunting season means to his dad, Starman showing his animal bond with the vicious dog, or the two hunters in the woods, one of whom just blindly fires at something, and when asked what it was, he says "I dunno" and they both just shrug and move on. I thought one of our quartet of leads for the episode was going to wind up shot, but I'm glad they didn't actually go there as the writers have made their point and they didn't need to get overly heavy-handed about it, instead shifting focus to the mountain lion and Scott discovering his own animal bond powers.

This is a really solid episode, one I enjoyed even more than the pilot. The one-off plot was nice, but it still allowed for a further evolution of our recurring characters and dynamics. Fox still needs some work, and there were a few bits of clumsy staging in the direction, but if the show can manage a season of episodes as good as these last two, then I'm really looking forward to more. I'm hopeful.

Extra thoughts:
  • On my second viewing, I'm struck that what really works nicely about the Starman/Scott dynamic is that they're starting to go through typical father/son rites of passage, albeit with the roles reversed as Scott finds himself having to impart guiding knowledge to his father. Here, we have Scott cautioning Starman through the buying of his first car, and holding him back from shacking up too quickly with women he's just met. It'll be interesting to see how this further develops, and it again puts an interesting spin on Scott's angst and frustration, and Starman's naivete.
  • I can't tell if it's key lime or lemon meringue, but I'd love for each episode to introduce Starman to a new kind of pie.
  • I like how minimally the orb is used, just to mess with the police car. It's a great moment where Scott pulls out his in the hopes of using it against the bobcat, only for his dad to guide him through another way.
  • The cop's Freddy Mercury moustache is epic.
  • The whole scene of Scott and Beth waking up in the cabin - trying not to stare as they both get dressed, fumbling through sharing pizza and a root beer - is painfully awkward, but in a really good, really authentic teenage crush way.


I can see Noel cringing as he reads the following, but I firmly believe it. As a rule, 80s TV works best when you don't think about it too hard. If you're a stickler for things like logic and common sense, chances are you're not going to get the most out of shows like our current Showcase. Some people may find this need to dial their back IQ insulting *cough*. To them, I simply say, "Welcome to the 80s." This week's episode typifies the kind 80s logic I'm talking about. There are any number of moments here where asking questions merely slows down the fun train, so just set 'em aside, gang. There we go. Loosen the belt on the 'ol brain. Isn't that better? Now, try on these parachute pants.

One of the things I enjoy about watching shows like this is when we get to see a familiar face that wasn't yet a familiar face. This week, we get the lovely Robin Lively. For me, she'll always be Jessica Andrews, Daniel LaRusso's platonic female friend from The Karate Kid III - the one who goes back to Ohio before Daniel's big fight - but you may know her best from the cult classic Teen Witch. Regardless, she's delightful, and I squealed when I saw her. Literally squealed. The other familiar face is Candy Clark, perhaps best known for her role as Debbie Dunham in George Lucas' American Graffiti. The inclusion of these two actresses certainly helps to lift the material and, particularly in the case of Lively, brings out the best in the two leads. Barnes and Hays both tone down some of the broader aspects of their performances here in this second episode, yet their chemistry remains strong and totally natural. Melodrama between the two is kept to a minimum, and this helps us (or at least me) to like and root for the duo more than if Scott were in constant whiny crybaby mode.

Despite my earlier pleas to leave your logic at the door and just enjoy, I will admit to being a bit disappointed in the episode's "big reveal". By the time we find out the mystery behind Clark's character, I had written at least half a dozen scenarios in my head, all of them better than what we ultimately get. It's anticlimactic to say the least. The story itself serves the basic function of allowing our characters to grow a little, the most significant bit being Scott finally referring to Starman as Dad. But other than saving the Mother/Daughter pair from a mountain lion or bobcat or cougar or... whatever the Hell it was, I can't say the boys really actively aid them.

And speaking of the mountain... bob... cougar, the people behind Starman really don't like hunters do they (see the interminably long café scene from the movie). There's any number of ways they could've put the group in peril, including having the mountainbobcougar simply show up and be pissed that they're in its pad without an invite, but they spend a chunk of time over the course of the episode setting up these guys as a bunch of dolts whose recklessness puts people in danger, and the rub is there's no real pay-off. They don't get arrested, there's no lesson learned. It's just a plot device that also feels suspiciously like a dig. Maybe it would've been better to spend that time on the Agent Fox character, as our collective fear that Fox would be a non entity sadly seems to have come to pass. His presence here isn't the looming shadow, it's the guy who's always two moves behind. That kind of lackadaisical "threat" does nothing but filch the drama right out of the show, but once again, Cavanaugh does the best with what he's given.

Despite these complaints, I actually enjoyed this episode. I can't say that it was rousing entertainment, but like easy listening music, I found it to be a pleasant distraction during what has been a grinding week at work.


Ray said...

Noel and Tony, again, it is really a pleasure reading your extensive reviews on Starman. I like hearing your takes on the character developments, specifically between Scott and Paul.
I am now into my 3rd time watching the series. The first was when it aired on TV, then as I believe mentioned previously I saw it a few years ago on You Tube, and now even for the 3rd time around I am enjoying it just as much.

I know I am getting ahead of you guys as I am already into the 12th episode over the past few days.
I have always had a special attachment deep down inside of me to both the movie and the series. Also, I believe that Robert Hays, Chris Barnes and Mike Cavenaugh are all very well casted for this series. I hope that your continuous weekly reviews somehow help revive the series. I will have to start leaving some links to your blog on my Facebook and Twitter accounts if you would like.

NoelCT said...

Yeah, feel free to spread links around, Ray. None of our past Showcases have ever resulted in a show being revived (I'm flattered, but our readership really isn't that large), but you never know. :)

Tony Williams said...

And thank you for checking us out, Ray. There's so much out there ("there" being the internet) these days, and I'm sure I speak for Noel too when I say I'm appreciative when anyone takes the time stop by here and see us.

And I second Noel. If you want to your subject friends and family to us, by all means.

Ray said...

Yeah, it is sad that with so much out there on the internet that it makes it really difficult to be noticed, unless your name is Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian, LOL.

I have read in to the Starman series along with some of what you guys stated. This type of series does have much semblance to shows like Kung Foo, The Hulk, and the Fugitive, the latter of which I don't recall ever watching. It was stated that if Starman had been released in the 70s it would have gained much more popularity.

There are so many shows that I may have liked but probably have never seen.As a fan of time travel films can you belie that I never watched Dr. Who, neither the old or newer series?

One series that I binged watched about 5 years ago was Sliders from the late 90s. I think it was a great series but when management and the networks switched over they completely destroyed all the best characters on the show and it ended in leaving a sour taste into many of the fans.

Tony Williams said...

Sliders is certainly in Noel's wheelhouse. I caught a few episodes when it first aired, but I didn't stick with it for whatever reason. I know it maintains a bit of a following.

And you're not alone re: Dr. Who. I've seen maybe 10-15 minutes tops in my whole life. The majority of that on late Friday night reruns shown on my local PBS affiliate in the 80s. Not sure which incarnation it was. I just know he was old and the sets were cheap. Definitely not as slick as what it is today.