Saturday, January 10, 2015

Tales from the Darkside: If the Shoes Fit...

You know an episode of a horror anthology is in trouble when you find yourself thinking how Pee-Wee's Big Adventure was scarier.

"If the Shoes Fit..." stars Dick Shawn as Bo Gumbs, a southern gubernatorial candidate who treats politics as one big show. He piles on the charm and personality to win over voters while stringently avoiding any conversation of substance, such his stance on any of the issues. So, if he's going to act like a clown, Tales from the Darkside is going to treat him like one. I'm reminded of "The Devil's Advocate" from season two, another (and better) episode in which a character literally becomes what he's been acting like.

The entire episode is spent in Gumbs' hotel room at a campaign stop while he waits to have his suit laundered. The thing is when the bellboy brings it back, Bo says it's the wrong suit, but the bellboy insists it's the correct one. Why, it's a perfect fit. By episode's end, Gumbs has become the clown he's always been, ready to perform for the cheering, laughing masses.

"If the Shoes Fit..." takes literally the idea of politicians as clowns, and considering how many idiots, weirdos, and crazies that have been elected to public office over the years, it's certainly not an irrelevant one. The episode's failing is to do anything particularly horrific with it. Instead reacting with fear and panic that he might be losing his mind, Gumbs (played ably by Shawn in a broad performance) responds with pratfalls and befuddlement, falling down in his big goofy shoes and looking very silly indeed with that massive bow tie.

I wasn't joking when I said Pee-Wee's Big Adventure was scarier than this episode. In Tim Burton's movie, Pee-Wee's nightmare sequence, in which he imagines creepy clowns operating on his beloved bicycle, is freaky and surreal. Here, as he rides off on a little tricycle inside a circus tent, all we're asked to do is laugh at Gumbs as he finally looks the part he's been playing.

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