The first episode in any tv series should introduce viewers to the central characters, tone, and ideas of the show. This way, prospective audiences can decide if it’s something they wish to continue with, or something they should avoid, like a spider shooting zombie
Ideally, the opening episode should kick so much ass that Jean Claude Van Damme would have a hard time dancing his way out of tuning in to the next one.
This being an anthology show of sorts, the usual rules may not apply – like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits etc before it, each episode features a standalone story with standalone characters. However, taking a cue from many anthology movies, each episode and indeed the show as a whole features wraparound characters and plot.
The first episode introduces us to our narrators and the premise of the series. A gang of friends, teens called the midnight society meet around a campfire in the woods to tell spooky stories. It’s not much of an idea, but it is the sort of thing I loved as a kid, and the sort of thing I wished I could have been part of.
We briefly meet the group, but don’t learn much about them except that they probably have a lot of experience with bullies
We learn that they have some archaic rituals, sprinkling sugar on fire, opening each tale with the same evocation, and most importantly, voting on the quality of any newcomer’s story in order to initiate them into the group. Our newcomer, Frank, at first glance appears to be a mole on behalf of the school bully initiative, possibly joining to gain some valuable ammunition in his war against the freaks and geeks
He is all hilarious teen macho posturing and has based his look off Rufio from Hook, but after some general male ball cuppage, his story begins.
Lets have a look at the episode blurb from lovefilm:
Two brothers, Buzz and Denny, get lost while hiking in the woods. As night falls, they are directed by a stranger to a cabin where they might seek help from old Dr. Vink. The strange Dr. Vink poses a riddle to them which they mus solve before he will let them phone their parents. The boys cannot solve it and he throws them out into the forest. The boys panic as they are left in the woods alone under Dr. Vink’s curse. Their only hope is the Phantom Cab.
Ignoring the myriad spoilers above, just from the title I remembered parts of this episode from my youth. Although the show came out in 92, it was probably 95 or 96 that I first saw it. Either way, it’s quite some time so it must have made some impact on me. Not that my 12-year-old self would have been scared by a show like this given that I was already well versed in King, Craven, Carpenter, and Romero by that age
I remembered a creepy fairy tale house in the forest, but not what was in it, and I remembered a taxi zooming through the forest towards a fiery crash unless a question was successfully answered. As I watched, more pieces came back to me, such as the jittery bushes and Dr. Vink (who would show up in subsequent episodes).
Unfortunately, what I didn’t remember (and if I’m honest, didn’t expect) was how terrifyingly bad the acting was. The story consists of five characters; the two brothers, Denny and Buzz Crocker (America), Dr. Vink, the cab driver Flynn, and a Park Ranger. The Park Ranger only has one line and can be dismissed, while that noted thespian Aron Tager hams it up more than a Vincent Price themed pig orgy. The cab driver (Brian Dooley) has a complex dual role to contend with so it is understandable that a lesser actor could get confused. He struggles to deftly manage the positions of potential saviour, weird wood walker, aggressor, lunatic ghost, cab driver, and more, never really convincing anyone that he is any of the aforementioned things. Like I said though, it takes a higher class of performer to traverse such varied characters
That leaves us with our ‘heroes’, a term which I truly wish to never sully again in such a manner.
They have a typical older/younger brother dynamic going on, with all the clichés and none of the charms which come with such territory. I appreciate that both actors are young, but given that the series depends on upon child actors for its existence, you’d think the director would have tempted them with some candy or threatened them with death by shark to entice a better performance out of them. Their lines are blown away like a coke fiend furiously swiping his stash into the toilet as the Narc squad tears down the door. I’d call them wooden, but that wood be doing disservice to the best actor in the episode
They don’t convey any of the feelings that you would expect – annoyance, frustration, confusion, disgust, fear of an imminent explosive death – and to top it off they nonchalantly shrug off the whole affair by quipping with the person who saves them with the same thing that nearly got them killed in the first place. It’s enough to make you want to pull your own legs off
Luckily, The Midnight Society feature a more promising set of actors. Although their respective parts are small in each episode, each part adds up. I seem to remember that a few characters got more involved as the series proceeded, so hopefully this bunch of kids, as well as the cast of each story improves.
For more retro bits, read all about episode 2 here: https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-the-tale-of-the-lonely-ghost/