Wednesday, March 11, 2015

BJ and the Bear S1 Ep3: A Coffin With A View

Originally aired: March 10, 1979
Written by: Michael Sloan
Directed by: Ray Austin

B.J. McKay and his chimp friend Bear have to haul two Transylvania coffins from San Francisco to Los Angeles as a publicity stunt for a movie called Fangs. Unfortunately, they're hauling it at night during one of the worst storms in California history. And, there is a strange coffin caretaker, played by John Carradine. Plus, a body has been found in the woods drained of blood. Is Dracula on the West Coast? And does he look like George Lazenby?

"Dracula Returns in FANGS"


Dracula is on the West Coast, circa 1979. And he's appearing in Kenneth Johnson's TV show Cliff Hangers, in the segment called The Curse of Dracula. This episode of B.J. and the Bear is much more prosaic but darned if it doesn't give the viewer a fun supernatural/ trucking thrill for about 3/4s of its running time. B.J. may not believe in vampires and the supernatural but things look pretty scary there for a while. And, the constant rain (except when there isn't any) is a nice touch.
 B.J. And The Ghoul

1979 was one of those years in pop culture when vampires (specifically Dracula) were all over the map. John Badham's Dracula, Love at First Bite, Nocturna, Vampire Hookers, Cliff Hangers. There was a Disco Dracula album. On the wonderful Meco album Moondancer, there is a song called Love Me, Dracula. And, if I chose to dig some more, I could find other examples. Far be it for Glen A. Larson to miss a trend so he sent B.J. and Bear up against the Prince of Darkness.
Coffins + Dirt = Fun

Thank goodness he did. This episode opens up the show in a way that was definitely needed. The songs that pop up throughout are exactly the same as in the previous episodes, with a strange appearance of The Gambler in the opening, but the settings have changed. No longer are we in the South where B.J. is being turned into a Good Ole' Boy. B.J. is firmly placed on the West Coast with an opening shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. He's got a hip PA with him named Holly, played by Pamela Hensley, and Lazenby and Carradine have been invited to the party. Danny Glover even shows up as a reporter.
"What?! It's Danny Glover!"

The episode, as mentioned, is great for about 3/4s of its duration. It has a blood-drained body in the woods, dirt-filled coffins, creepy character actors, a police investigation (that takes several scenes and actually goes nowhere) and that constant storm. Not all of it is great. The star of Fangs is an old drunk actor who spends all his time with a buxom young woman and neither of them are amusing. Plus, B.J.'s insistence upon nothing supernatural going on is a little disheartening. One would like our hero to be more open-minded.
 Guess who is playing cards?

The atmosphere of the episode is thick and eerie. It's a lot of fun seeing B.J. out in this dark world. It is nighttime throughout the entire episode, bar the closing scene. Bear is constantly scared. Hensley is scared but in control. Lazenby is creepy. Carradine doesn't do much but he doesn't need to. The horror elements of the episode open up the format of the show and kind of insinuate that it can do almost anything, provided the rig can be introduced.
Shiny, Happy Lazenby

The ending is disappointing. During the last 10-15 minutes, things kind of meander around. It starts with a semi-pointless scene in a police station with the drunk actor. There is an unsatisfying series of explanations for the night's events. Then, it's morning. And Bear does something silly. We end on the first of many "everybody laughing while Bear goes Chimp-Nutty" freeze frames. Not sure what exactly happened to the episode after it started so strong. Maybe another writer took over or Michael Sloan forgot an ending and wrote something in three minutes? It wraps up like a mediocre installment of The Hardy Boys/ Nancy Drew Mysteries.
 Lunch with the Dudes

Which is too bad because the episode is great for about 35 minutes. Those are the minutes to focus on. Those are some of my favorite minutes of B.J. and the Bear. Creepy, exciting, sometimes amusing, and filled with B.J. McKay and his best friend Bear. A Coffin with a View is one of my favorite episodes of the show. Forgive the ending and give it a try.
 5 Seconds 'Til Freeze Frame!

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