Friday, July 11, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: All a Clone by the Telephone

The first of two episodes in season 1 that deal with an evil phone or phone-related object, "All a Clone by the Telephone" is about a failing screenwriter, Leon (Harry Anderson of Night Court fame), whose life starts to unravel when the voice on his answering machine takes on a life of its own and starts to interfere with his life, leaving messages claiming to be him. Leon is a bit of wimp, and the voice is very dominant and blunt, pushing Leon into the things he's too meek to do himself: proposing to his girlfriend and pitching a hit idea for a miniseries. When Leon resents having his life controlled, the voice lets him know just how much damage it can cause.

Why is there a reference to clones in the title? There aren't any clones in the episode. Even if what the voice on the answering machine says about being from an alternate dimension is true, that still doesn't make any sense in the context of clones. The best explanation I can think is clone rhymes with phone, and it allows for a (very weak) pun. And, sad to say, that question is really the only thing about this episode that kept me interested. Not even the appearance of Dick Miller as Leon's agent did much to liven the show up if that tells you how un-involving it is.

The episode jumps right in with the answering machine voice (which is rather annoying as if it's trying to sound like Joe Pesci) revealing itself to Leon and asserting itself over him, and while to a degree it's understandable, given the running length of these episodes, that the makers would want get to the meat of the story as quickly as possible, there's just not enough time to build up and buy into the notion the story is presenting. A voice on an answering machine is not by itself a particular scary villain, and I have no idea what it wanted to accomplish. I thought it was perhaps setting up the notion of taking over Leon's life and replacing him, but by the end, the voice remains in the machine and Leon remains in his place, only now taking orders from it by dictating the miniseries that the voice wants credit for. How a disembodied voice on an answering expects to achieve any credit or frame is another question the episode doesn't answer, especially when it does nothing to prove its existence when Leon tries to blame.

There's a potentially interesting idea about technology taking over a person's life, a theme which has reappeared a number of times in the series. Leon depends on the answering machine for his personal and professional life, and when the machine decides it doesn't want to be told what to do, it causes havoc for him. The problem is a voice makes for a lame villain, Maybe if made today, with social media profiles, texting, Skype, and other devices and programs that are widely available, the story could build more mystery, better establish what's at stake, and perhaps make the proceedings more paranoid and ominous. This is a story about losing control to technology, but all I lost was interest.

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