February 17, 2008

CSI:PU

While commercial pranks and novelties have long fallen out of vogue, they continue to simmer beneath the surface of our cultural landscape. Occasionally they pop up momentarily in mainstream media— Kramer joy-buzzes George or Michael Scott winds up his chattering teeth, but semi-recently the topic actually surfaced as the central theme of a primetime television show. In December CBS aired an episode of CSI:NY called Child's Play which, oddly enough, focused entirely on the world of mail order novelties. Naturally, I tuned in.

Before I continue, I must disclose that this was my very first exposure to the CSI franchise. I've seen the TV ratings and marveled at our nation's appetite for multiple weekly servings and assorted regional incarnations of CSI:Anyplace. It looked as if someone had tapped into a seemingly endless flow of hard-hitting, populous-pleasing entertainment. This being my perception, I found the episode to be just shockingly bad. I'm talking sub-USA Network-in-the-90s bad. However, I believe that there is no other place online better suited to document such an odd, prank-related phenomenon. So let us review this monument to creative barrel-scraping...

The show opens with a suave, young, suit-wearing actor entering a "trendy bar" set. (I wonder if the first line of the script was "So this guy walks into a bar..." and if it was typed with a smug grin.) He orders a pricey drink to celebrate the "deal of a lifetime" that he just made. (We later learn that this deal entailed a failing catalog business and a warehouse of overstocked novelties. Well, OK, I suppose that does sound pretty sweet.) He also orders a drink for the model/actress at a nearby table. When the bartender turns around he slips something into the model/actress's drink. "Case solved!" cries the home viewer. But this turns out to be a case of writer's misdirection, for he merely dropped a classic Bug in the Ice Cube gag into her booze...


Our prankster hero lights up a cigar in celebration of his cleverness. And then his face blows off. Now, being a CSI novice I admit I was taken off guard by the level of gratuitous gore. This single wound would have earned any given 80s feature film an instant R-rating. And that's before the carnage was zoomed-in upon and endlessly encircled by the leftover Matrix camera rig (to the beat of the leftover Matrix soundtrack).

Later, an actor dressed as a doctor digs the exploding cigar out of the victim's throat. But he can't understand why he keeps itching throughout the autopsy. Another actor walks in and reveals that the body has Itching Powder all over it. See, it was in the guy's pocket, then the explosion caused it to go everywhere.. got it?

Hey there mister doctor, it seems that you just got yourself pranked from beyond the grave! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! And you wondered how they were going to continue to intricately weave the pranking theme throughout the story.

Meanwhile, there's some other thing about a twelve-year-old kid getting his bicycle blessed in a Catholic church just minutes before he gets shot and killed. I'm serious. I guess the writers couldn't resist inserting this ultimate statement on life's cruel irony. Blessed bike, instant death; let's not forget that. And then you get to see the undressed bullet-pierced child on the slab, over and over (and over) again. Once again, this desensitized culture junkie found himself shocked. Is this their secret to amassing viewers?

Anyway, it's actually been many weeks since I watched this show, and I'm realizing that I've forgotten most of the plot. So I guess I'll just have to work off of the screen captures I took. So, the CSI actors trace the cigar to a guy named Laughing Larry. He has a New York storefront...

The CSI actors walk in front of an exterior CSI set

Talk about uninspired set decor. They should have taken a lesson from Hairspray.

Larry is sort of a Johnson Smith Company and an S.S. Adams rolled into one stereotypical bald, round prankster. This plays off of the false presumption that all novelties in the old comic book ads were manufactured and distributed by the same outfit. Although I'm guessing they streamlined this to simplify the story.

Larry still gets his jollies drenching his customers with his Squirting Camera

But allow me to just skip to the wonderfully preposterous climax of the program. The lethal cigar was given to Laughing Larry in an attempt to kill him. Larry inadvertently passed it on to the suave businessman after they struck up their deal of a lifetime. So who was trying to off Larry, and why? Answer: a disgruntled customer.

You see, decades ago a boy and his friend apparently loved to read "Wart" comics...

They loved the Laughing Larry ads...

They decided to order the "Narwhal Nuclear Sub" (obviously playing off the Polaris Nuclear Sub)...

They received a laughably large box in the mail...
They assembled it and ended up with something remarkably similar to the real thing...

They tried it out in a local pond...
It worked really well...

Until it sank and the little girl inside drowned...

Ah, a double dead kid episode.

The drama culminates when the surviving kid, now grown up and detained by the cops, finally delivers his bitter monologue to Larry's face...
"I was unsure that [the submarine] would do all the things that you said that it could, but [my friend] was sure that it would work. Sam knew that it would work because Laughing Larry said it would. So why wouldn't it?
You know what you forgot to tell us? That Sam had to know how to swim.
[This is the actual dialogue folks.]
I lost my best friend and I swore that I would never read comic books again, or let my own son read comic books or play with toys or play with other kids. So I kept him in the house around the clock. I was just too afraid that my little boy was going to get hurt."

Oh, yeah, his wife recently got custody of his son thanks to his freakish overprotectiveness which prompted him to try to kill Larry. The End. Ahem.

Well, I shouldn't be too hard on the writers of this atrocity. (I don't dare include their names, lest they discover this scathing little piece while vanity googling) But kudos to them for wedging the subject into the show. It's obvious that they have a more-than-casual interest, and goodness knows I'd attempt the same thing if I had a TV writing gig. The story isn't totally unrealistic either. There's no telling how many kids vowed mortal revenge on comic book advertisers.

5 comments:

Brian O. said...

Yikes! Boy, what a trade-off to have the joke business seen in prime time... dead children, bad dialogue and gore. Leave it to the CSI franchise to suck every ounce of fun from all things enjoyable.

I sure hope you have another short film in you, Kirk, and maybe it'll give the joke business its due by featuring Uncle Laff.

The Vintage Reader said...

Are you sure you were watching CSI and not, say, an unusually gory episode of Remington Steele? Because wow, this sounds like something they would have done. All it needs is Quinn Cummings in Victorian garb, on roller skates.

MDG14450 said...

This is why I've pretty much stopped watching TV.

Kirk D. said...

brian- Yes, this episode probably set the joke business back by years. Folks already think this stuff is a rip off, now they'll believe its deadly. Glad this didn't air when I was a kid.
(BTW love your avatar!)

vintage reader- Ha! It is interesting to contrast CSI with the cop shows of yesteryear. Far less whimsy than say, Remington Steel, Hart to Hart, Cagney and Lacy or Magnum.

mdg- I won't argue with that!

Randy said...

So did it turn out that the murderous prankster's lost son was in fact the little boy with the blessed bike that got killed? 'Cause that would be, like, SUPER irony...