Sunday, May 03, 2009

Television Review: QUINCY, M.E. - "Next Stop, Nowhere" (1982)





QUINCY, M.E.: THE HILARIOUS YEARS: Number 3 -- "Next Stop, Nowhere" Season 8 (1982)




QUINCY, M.E.: "Next Stop, Nowhere!" (NBC/Universal: Original Air Date 12/1/82) Starring Jack Klugman, Robert Ito, John S. Ragin, Garry Walberg, Anita Gillette and Joseph Roman; special guest stars Melora Hardin as Abby, James T. Callahan as Adrian Mercer, Barbara Cason as Mrs. Garvin, Karlene Crockett as Molly, Kelly Ward as Skip. Written by Sam Egan.  Directed by Ray Danton.


Quincy, M. E. Faster than a speeding drug dealer. More powerful than a corporation. Able to leap beauracracy in a single bound! But, look! Up on the stage! It's a nose ring! It's a mohawk!


It's.....music that can kill!

The mere existence of this one is a head-scratcher, really. Perhaps with ratings falling drastically during the eighth and final season, the producers reckoned they were alienating the more conservative audience members with Klugman's consistently left-leaning politics during these early Reagan years. So what better way to throw the Moral Majority a bone than to come out against that nihilistic, evil "punk rock" music--which was actually more than a few years past its peak by the time this episode aired; I mean, The Clash were selling out with Combat Rock by 1982.

But if timeliness was never one of the virtues of NEXT STOP, NOWHERE, hilarity certainly was.  We open at the club "Ground Zero" when Abby (Hardin, of THE OFFICE) arrives, looking perfectly ordinary--until the corruptor has her say! Her BFPF (Best Female Punk Friend) Molly (Crockett) finds her badly in need of some black lipstick, pale cheeks, tattoos and piercings. "You need some punkin' up!" she declares, and whisks her off to the ladies' room.

This face does NOT need punkin' up....
This face, on the other hand, doesHey, I'm learning!

After Hardin is ready, the punkettes rejoin their boyfriends at the table as the band Mayhem hits the stage for their next set. They open with "I Wanna See You Choke", spouting lyrics like:


"Get a job from the man, blow his brains out if you can!"

Wow, you'd never guess those lyrics were written by a prime time staff writer...... anyway, during the subsequent slam dancing, Hardin's boyfriend Ward gets pushed around a little too much for his liking, and pulls out a switchblade. He's poised to strike, and we sense disaster, but a curve is thrown as the knife is knocked out of Ward's hand, falls to the floor, and the now unarmed punk subsequently receives an ice pick to the neck and collapses. Yup, there's at least two weapons out there, probably more! Ward lies unnoticed by the unfeeling, uncaring punks colliding around him. The exception is Hardin, who screams his name as she's swept away in the mayhem in front of Mayhem.


Ward ends up on a slab being examined by Sam and The Big Q as the details come out: age 18, inside the club with a fake ID, several self-inflicted cross shaped wounds on the arms (how Mansonesque!), stomped repeatedly after the stabbing on the dance floor (though we didn't actually see that). If the two coroners can't identify the deceased, Quincy's Season 8 squeeze, and eventual wife Dr. Emily Hanover (Gillette) certainly can.


We learn that Gillette has been counseling Hardin and her mother (Cason) for several months, and that the deceased was a runaway known as "Zach"---but that isn't his real name. This fact is mentioned several times, despite having zero significance to the plot. Maybe it's a metaphor for just how "lost" this punk generation is, or something.


Gillette notes that Hardin's rebellion against her mother started with punk music "reinforching bad feelings", causing her to shred her clothes, take pills and burn cigarette holes into her arm. Gillette was quite honestly a very annoying presence and joykill throughout Season 8, and she shrilly corrects Quince when he mentions "not giving these kids a second thought" and considering punk music to be a "silly fad". No, "it's much deeper than that!" She reports seeing kids come off those dance floors with broken ribs and bloody faces.

I have some great records on my houseboat.....

Just when I was wondering exactly how much time she spends at Ground Zero, she invites Quincy to join her there and see for himself! Yes, we're going to see The Big Q at a punk club!


He bumps into one punkette, not a bad opener at this type of club! But Q already has a date, too bad. Quincy mentions he's with the coroner's office, and one of the young punkettes says she's seen them and likes them. Har har. Quince winces at some of the dance floor action (just like I winced at the lame attempt at intentional humor) while Mayhem treats us to a second song, the episode's namesake. I can't resist another lyrical sample:




"Ain't tomorrow, only yesterday's pain! So cut your wrist and watch your life go down the drain!"


Hey, the writing is improving! The same song is playing in Hardin's bedroom. While we see that Hardin's ability to punk herself up has drastically improved (she even has a "Destroy!" shirt), Cason tries to console her daughter. After all, her boyfriend has only been dead for a couple of days. "Dear, you're so much better off without him! Forget he ever existed!"


Hmm. And her friends are insensitive and unfeeling. Um, oookay......


For some reason Mom's pep talk infuriates Hardin, and Cason flees as her daughter declares that she hates her. We fade out on the chilling sight of Hardin punkin' up her face further with red numbers while shouting along with Mayhem in front of her mirror. Fade out on a tight closeup of her angry face. Gee, I wonder if there's a message here.

 I said, SELL THE DAMN HOUSEBOAT! I'm a killjoy dammit!

You bet there is.  "All I know is whoever killed him was listening to words that literally cried out for blood!"  The Big Q lists punk music as a contributing cause on the death certificate!  This has him in hot water with Dr. Asten again but at least the future Mrs. Q is firmly in his corner, smugly noting that it made the newspaper.  Gee, that oughta make Asten feel better.  In case you couldn't tell, I found Gillette's character incredibly annoying during this final season, but I'll go off on that tangent on a later post.  This one is starting to rival Bill Clinton's My Life (or at least one of his speeches) as it is.

The Big Q's revelation lands him on Callahan's talk show, along with Dr. Hanover and Emily's mom in one corner, and three punks on the opposite side of the panel. The laughs come at us fast and furious during this scene: Gillette's earnestness.  The constant eye rolling of the punks.  And last but not least, the undeniable giggles caused by Callahan's combover:

Whaddya mean, you give it "7" on the Zero Mostel scale???

But the most priceless moment is this exchange between host and Quincy:

"You aren't seriously saying that music can kill, are you Doctor?"

"Yes I am!! I believe that the music I heard is a killer. It’s a killer of hope. It’s a killer of spirit. The music I heard said that life is cheap and murder and suicide is okay!"


The punks are compared to UFO inhabitants, vampire victims, Fellini films(!). They come across as too apathetic to actually do something as energetic as murder someone...until motivated by violent music. Hey, it is the music's fault!  Damn Beatles!  I mean, punk. The punkers are given several "mans" and "digs" to spout, so one thing they aren't rebelling against is the prior generation's slang.


At this point, the writers apparently needed to show the real difference between the love generation and this 'hate' generation (they've been blurring it pretty bad with the slang, I tell ya) so The Big Q points out that "not long ago, other young people were mad about the world". "Mad about a war they didn't believe in---but they worked their tails off to change things!" The point is quickly lost, as we go back and forth between punks being apathetic one second and destructive and violent the next. Before the talk show ends, there is a loss of temper, but not from the source you'd expect.

Worth a 1,000 word essay titled "She's a Killjoy"

It's Gillette, not Q, who needs calming after shrieking at Mayhem's singer. I tell ya, it was a LOT more fun watching the Klug Man get all worked up. He's positively subdued here compared to his other talk show appearances--a real shame.


I suppose two-thirds of the episode is enough editorial comment, even for The Hilarious Years, because for once we have an actual murder to solve. So, surprisingly, it's back to the lab where Quince is examining the ice pick itself and comparing fingerprints Monahan obtained by harassing Ground Zero's owner(!). The match is found to be Hardin, but when the officers go to Cason's home to bring her in, she's run away.

Hmm...not enough eye shadow, cheeks nowhere near pale enough.  Needs some punkin' up...

She's at Crockett's place, awakening after 18 hours of sleep. Her BFPF is giving her "medicine" to keep her asleep, which includes codeine that Hardin is allergic to. Hardin gulps it down obligingly, without ever checking what she's taking, even though she's breaking out in a nasty rash. WTF?


Meanwhile The Big Q continues examining the weapon, and revises his finding after discovering a second set of prints under Hardin's: Crockett's! Armed with this new information, The Big Q decides to go back to the club for help.

One of the biggest stretches in an episode full of them follows, as Quincy takes the stage and immediately receives everyone's undivided attention. Keep in mind we saw most of these same punkers in the audience of the talk show, laughing their asses off at The Big Q just days before.

Whaddya mean, you don't have a Karaoke night?
But now, they're all polite enough to let Quince explain that all charges against Hardin have been dropped, and to passionately plea for information on her whereabouts. Then they verbally bombard him. Hey, they waited long enough for Q to complete that much of his speech, pretty good manners for apathetic nihilists when you think about it.


"Why should we believe you?" "That's all you are, man, is a dog without a uniform!" Despite this reception, Q pushes on, explaining that Crockett is the real murderer and believed to be trying to push Hardin into a codeine overdose. Strangely, this is disbelieved also. "That's a crock! You think we're all zombie killers!" Uh, yeah, that's pretty much what's been strongly implied for 45 minutes now. "You're the killer! Your whole sick society! You're who's guilty, man!" Then, to top it all off: "Besides, man, who the hell cares?" Man, that's a lot of "mans".

Quincy glumly gives up and exits stage right. But after he does, the camera lingers on one look of guilt---from Crockett's boyfriend.

Time is running out after all that preaching earlier, but he has just enough time to confront his girlfriend back at their pad. He goes straight for the jugular, looking at the vial of medicine that Hardin's for taking for days but strangely never was curious enough to take a look at(!). Yup, codeine. Crockett immediately crumbles, desperately pleading with Hardin not to lose her friendship (!). What she would have done for companionship and camaraderie once Hardin, uh, died from the overdose was strangely not considered.

Yeah, I know, more than a little rushed and unbelievable, but this is still more time spent on an actual crime solving than you usually saw during seasons 6 through 8.  And after 45 minutes of demonstrating to the viewing audience just how cold-blooded and callous every single punker is, our scribes finally throw a bone in the punkers direction by having ONE cooperate with The Q-Ster to save a life.  One, that is, out of at least three dozen punks we've seen, so they aren't all complete scourges on humanity.  Just 97 to 98% of them.


So one lonely punk is shown to have a little regard for a human life, but the writers quickly make up for this meager attempt at being fair and balanced (so to speak) by ending the episode with one last slam at their music. Our episode ends with the triumphant Q power couple dancing at Danny's to the soundtrack of the FDR administration, as our oracle coroner wonders aloud:


"Why would anyone wanna listen to music that makes you hate, when you can listen to music that makes you love?" 

The talk show and punk club segments are legendary, the dialogue is consistently out there and interestingly, there's more of an emphasis on an actual murder than usual during The Hilarious Years. There is one glaring flaw, though: Quincy is actually subdued at times, with Dr. Hanover handling too much of the preachy hysterics. No offense, Ms. Gillette, but comedy fans tune in to watch Klugman get all worked up--not you. ****

3 comments:

Bitterfrost said...

Thanks for the brilliant "Quincy, M.E." recaps. I could almost feel the froth flying out from each outrage moment. (I always wondered if the other actors on the show had to routinely towel off.)

I came across your blog while planning out my own Quincy tribute, and it got me chuckling so much that I had to stick around. Keep up the good work and stay off the lookalike drugs.

Amanda By Night said...

Har! This is a great write up on one of my favorite episodes. It's just so out there, and that's saying something for a Quincy.

I also pretty much agree with you about Hanover, although she was helpful when Quince needed more political factoids. They always had their stats.

It's been a while since I saw this, but I thought Karlene Crockett was the character you've said is Starett? She's the redheaded girl throughout the episode. I'm kind of a die-hard Crockett-nut, but again, I'm doing this on memory (forgive me if I'm stepping on toes...). Crockett also played Asten's niece in that drunk driving episode (the title of which I'm totally forgetting).

I'm jumping around the hilarious years on Netflix. Honestly, I wish Asten had his own show. He might be a suit, but he's totally awesome!

Hal said...

Amanda: Thanks for reading, and for the kind words, and most of all for the eagle eyes! You are correct, and I've made the necessary revision; I'm giving Starrett credit for Ms. Crockett's memorable role.

I should have had this one right too, being a DALLAS aficionado myself. Great catch, and thanks again!

I've revisited a few episodes recently on Netflix and have a few ideas about the sixth installment of The Hilarious Years but I really wish "On Dying High" was available.