Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: Ring Around the Redhead

I should have known "Ring Around the Redhead" was going to be a poor episode when I saw it starred John Heard. I got nothing against the guy; he's been in some good movies, but he was also in Sharknado (Yay! I'm finally jumping on that bandwagon!).

The problem with "Ring Around the Redhead" is that tries to pack too much into a twenty-minute piece. We've got portals to other worlds, a blackmailing enemy, star-crossed lovers, an innocent man on death row, teaching the outsider about our way of life, the journalist looking for the hot story, and a fish out of water. It also moves through a number of different genres: romance, comedy, science fiction, fantasy, film noir, and it never really gels. If this were a 90-minute feature, it might have had time to explore all these developments or at least be able to properly explain them. As a TV episode, it just feels rushed and disjointed.

"Ring Around the Redhead" opens on death row, where a condemned man (Heard) tells his story to a journalist. His name is Billy Malone, an inventor. One day, an earthquake caused some sort of ring to spring out of his basement. Reaching into it, Billy is able to pull things out of it, such as precious gemstones. He even pulls out a strange, naive, alien woman (Penelope (Ann) Miller) named Keena. Billy starts to teach her about science and life on earth and falls in love with her. But a greedy friend of Billy's, Jimbo, wants to use the ring for his own gain.

This episode resembles Amazing Stories more than Tales from the Darkside. There's nothing particularly horrific about it, and raison d'ĂȘtre of the series, the cosmic scales of justice along with a social or moral message, is all but absent. The film is told mostly in flashbacks. With the shots of Billy between prison bars and the swanky saxophone on the soundtrack, one gets the sense the makers are going for a hard-boiled, nourish vibe, but it really just came off as an excuse to shoehorn exposition in when we jump from one event to the next.

Too much time is spent telling us that Keena is supernaturally smart, and the scenes of Billy teaching her just come off as hokey. The subplot with Jimbo is literally three scenes: he tells Billy he needs to make a business out of the ring, and the next time we see him, he brings a gun and demands it. Then, he comes back almost immediately wanting to return to it.

The biggest letdown occurs with the ring itself. So much emphasis is placed on it, but at no point during the episode do we actually get to look through it and see all the supposed great things the characters say they can see and acquire from it. I understand budgetary constraints and trying to build some mystery, but this just comes off as unimaginative.  In fact, when the story got underway, I thought the mound the ring came in was the important object; I don't recall seeing any ring until Jimbo shows up and takes it.

The only good part is the very end. Billy is strapped in the electrical chair when Keena arrives, stops time, and teleports the two of them out of there, leaving the guards perplexed. This scene is rather charming, and Heard and Miller have some chemistry. If the episode had shown more of the relationship instead of just telling us everything in a bland way, it might have been a winner.

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