Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: Djinn, No Chaser

Oh boy. An episode of Tales of from the Darkside shouldn't make me think of Kazaam, but that's precisely what "Djinn, No Chaser" does. I mean, how many movies or TV shows can there be starring a basketball star as a genie? To be fair to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he's never as undignified here as Shaquille O'Neil would be in his movie, he doesn't wear any goofy outfits, he doesn't rap, he doesn't live in a boombox, and blessedly, this one's only twenty minutes long. Still, "Djinn, No Chaser" is pretty lame and mostly unfunny.

Based on a story by Harlan Ellison, the episode revolves around newlyweds, Danny and Connie Squires, who buy a magic lamp from a mysterious tent that mysteriously appears in a lot they are walking by and that mysteriously vanishes as soon as they step out of it. The lamp contains the spirit of a djinn (Abdul-Jabarr), but he's not a benevolent wish granter. Being trapped in that tiny space has made him a bit of a crank who enjoys lashing out at the Squires with rain storms, wild animals (that only appear off-screen), and other natural disasters that soon drive a wedge between Danny and Connie.

The episode is told in flashback by Danny while he is in a straitjacket and talking to an unseen psychiatrist, and that right there is a big part of the problem: Danny is a sarcastic motormouth who doesn't take anything seriously and never shuts up, and it gets old fast.  He reminds me of Steve Guttenberg and that college student Bill Murray messes with at the start of Ghostbusters, and he gets a lot of lines I can tell are supposed to be funny but are only occasionally amusing (example: he and Connie are in bed, she asks him if he's awake, he says no, she asks how he can answer her then, and he replies, "I was raised to be polite.").

Because everything is played for laughs, there's no sense of danger, and nothing ever feels at stake. The Squires worry about being evicted, but that never becomes an issue. Much of the running time is devoted to squabbling between the Squires and the djinn and between Danny and Connie. For a fantasy episode, hardly anything fantastical happens.

I'd like to say more about Abdul-Jabbar, but he's hardly in this apart from being a disembodied voice. The only time we see him in person is at the end after Connie has gotten him out of the lamp, and he's all nice and happy for being set free and wearing a suit. How did she get him out after others have failed for thousands of years? The episode shows us by ending on a valedictory shot of a can opener in a display case. Insert Captain Picard face palm here.

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