Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: Mookie and Pookie

Anthologies enjoyed something of a resurgence back in the 1980s. Not only did we get Tales from the Darkside, we got its followup Monsters, a new version of The Twilight Zone, and Amazing Stories, a fantasy-based show created by Steven Spielberg. I bring that up because while some episodes of Tales from the Darkside veer more toward comedy, most usually retain enough of a horror element to keep them within the genre. "Mookie and Pookie" is an episode, however, that would belong better on Amazing Stories.

Just before he dies from that unnamed TV/movie illness that somehow doesn't leave its victims looking worse for wear, computer whiz Kevin "Mookie" Anderson (Ron Asher) makes his twin sister Susan "Pookie" (Justine Bateman) promise that she will follow his written directions for a computer program he's been working on. Mookie spends much of the summer after her brother dies working on the project, much to the concern of her parents, Ruth (Tippi Hedren) and Harold (George Sims). Just as Dad is ready to pull the pug and get rid of the computer, Pookie makes a startling discovery: Mookie is somehow inside the computer and trying to communicate with the family.

Dead Ringers this ain't. The basic idea - that of a human mind transferred into a computer - was recently featured in the Johnny Depp vehicle Transcendence, so it's an interesting sci-fi conceit that raises a lot of ethical questions, especially as technology becomes a greater and greater part of our lives by the minute. If someone's intelligence and memory is uploaded into a machine, is he or she still the same person? Are they even a person, or is the computer merely simulating that person based on data that's been uploaded?

Unfortunately, "Mookie and Pookie" isn't interested in exploring these questions. It's never revealed how Mookie uploaded himself into the computer in the first place or indeed if that's what he's really done. The family welcomes the computer as their son by the end, playing Scrabble just as we saw them when the episode opened, but the episode never tells us if it's his actual consciousness in the computer or a program that's recreating his personality. Plus, if he had time to write up a binder full of computer programming instructions for his neophyte sisters to follow, that's time he could have spent doing the work himself.

Too much of the episode is devoted to the back and forth between Pookie and her parents. They're worried she unable to move on from her brother's death and is wasting away on that computer, and she insists she has to do it. Mom's more lenient and understanding, but Dad's a jerk, going behind the family's back to sell the computer and getting angry. The real theme is the love a sister has for her brother.

The conflict centers on whether Dad will pull the plug, but the stakes - that Mookie will be deleted from existence - aren't made clear or played up; there's never a sense Dad will be able to go through with it. The episode feels like an after-special: tame, safe, and contrived. Pookie doesn't look like someone who's spent months indoors, and at the end, when Mookie finally starts talking to his father, after revealing himself to Pookie and Mom, I'm just wondering what he was waiting for.

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