Wednesday, June 28, 2017

BJ and the Bear: S2 E17 BJ and the Witch

Originally aired on February 9, 1980
Directed by Charles Rondeau
Written by Sidney Ellis

Welcome to the one episode of B.J. and the Bear that I actively hate. Not because it's boring. Not because it's stupid. Not because it's lazy or repetitive. But, because it's wrong. I'm not going to dwell on this one for too long because I don't really have anything good to say. I'm going to give you the breakdown. Tell you what I think they're doing. And then tell you why it's wrong. Simple, easy. Here we go:
 Doesn't this opening look lovely?

B.J. is passing through a small town. He meets a young woman (Eddie Benton/ Anne-Marie Martin, the only good thing about this episode) and they begin a friendship. It turns out that she's a White Witch. She sells herbs, potions, salves  and poultices to the locals. There is a self-righteous, God-fearing gentleman (I will call him The Jerk) who wants her out of town. But, she's done nothing illegal. The Jerk's daughter buys a love potion from the Witch. She wants to romance the local Big Man On Campus. The Witch makes the daughter four doses and says take one at a time. The daughter decides to take all four at once. She goes into a coma and almost dies. The Jerk forms a mob and goes to the Witch's house. When she won't come out, they set her house and fire and kill her. The End.


You read that right. A self-righteous mob of fundamentalists burn an innocent woman to death.

Sledge Hammer's coming after you Sidney Ellis

I think I see what they were doing here. This is 1980. The time of the rise of Jerry Fallwell's awful Moral Majority. A group of right-wing Christians who believed that they knew what was best for everyone and were willing to do whatever to get what they wanted. Careers and lives were ruined by these "good" people. It was the 1980s version of the McCarthy hearings. In the end, all these "Moral" people really wanted was power and control over others. As it always goes. I think the BJ and the Bear producers were sending a warning out here. Mob mentality mixed with this Moral Majority mentality can lead to innocent people (or people in general) getting hurt. Be careful, please.


This is all well and good. Except this isn't The Defenders. This isn't Lou Grant. This isn't The Sopranos or Better Call Saul. This is Freakin' BJ and the Bear! It's a show about a hunky trucker who drives around the country getting in adventures...  with a chimp...  who wears a hat! It doesn't matter how dark an episode might get (like the last two) because the ending will be happy. Always. The show CANNOT handle the ending that this episode gives it. The kind, sweet woman who is just trying to help CANNOT get burned to death by a mob. Yes, B.J. knocks the Jerk down and strangles him for several seconds. And yes, there is a slight intimation that she might be alive in the end. But, it's not enough. An episode can end bittersweet or slightly melancholy, like Through the Past, Darkly. But, it CANNOT do a tragic ending, no matter how much Greg Evigan emotes. Sorry, guys. You goofed up here.

Nope. Not enough. Doesn't work.

I'm not going to belabor the point. You are forgiven. Don't do it again. The next episode better be a hoot. Good night, and good luck.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

BJ and the Bear: S2 E16 Bear Bondage

Originally aired on February 2, 1980
Directed by Bruce Kessler
Teleplay by Frank Lupo & Robert L. McCullough
Story by Richard Lindheim

I know. That title is pretty intriguing. I'm fairly certain if you were to go onto a search engine and type in "Bear Bondage" that a B.J. and the Bear episode would not be the first listing.

Bare What?
This episode has a very important thing happen in it. And one that belies my "we're all out of ideas" comment from the last review. That important thing? Bear dies.*

 Sick Bear
Sad B.J.

Driving through a small town, Bear gets sick. B.J. takes him to the Candon Veterinary Hospital. And, Bear doesn't make it. B.J. is absolutely heartbroken. But, after some very sad moments, we learn that Bear is alive and well. He's simply been kidnapped by the jerks who run the hospital. They specialize in stealing exotic animals and selling them on some sort of black market. They are in fact a bunch of complete douchenozzles. Through assorted happenings, B.J. discovers that Bear is not dead. And, eventually, with the help of a nurse, they bust the illegal ring and the two best friends are reunited.

 More Evil
Not Evil

You know, the world B.J. and Bear live in is pretty awful. At one time, it seemed light and fun. But, not anymore. Maybe that's why the ratings were tanking at this point? Think about it. Two episodes ago, mercenaries are hired to take hostages at a beauty pageant rehearsal and strap a bomb to a man's chest. In the last episode, a man who builds dams brutally stabs two people (one his wife) to death to cover up illegal business dealing. And, in this episode, evil vets separate a man from his best friend to sell him off illegally somewhere. Remember when Lobo (post-sex slave dealer Lobo) was on the show? Remember earlier in the season when Perkins was hauling around that Wile E. Coyote stuffed animal? Remember when B.J. was riding motorcycles off of cliffs or people were ripping down jailhouse walls with the rig? What happened to those days?


Unfortunately, I can assure you, it will get worse.

Bear Bondage is a good episode of the show. It's great to see Bear get a bunch of stuff to do. It feels like it's been a long time since he did more than make the occasional sound or just sit in the background. Greg Evigan pulls off the grief, and then the righteous anger, quite well. My only problem with it is that for a few minutes it does seem like Bear might be dead. And that's not a pleasant feeling. B.J. is completely wrecked and lost. It is a little more sadness and tragedy than a show like this can handle. So it's interesting that they went to this place but they also realize that this ain't right for the show. Almost immediately, we learn that Bear is alive and is raising hell with the people trying to keep him captive. But, B.J. is still busted up. The dichotomy of Sad B.J. alongside Wacky Bear antics is one that doesn't fully work. However, we do know that they will be reunited eventually. We just have to hold on.

Keeping it subtle

I do like the way B.J. finds out that Bear is still alive. A little girl takes her dog in to the hospital and gets the same treatment. Both her and B.J. are distraught. However, some of Bear's antics free the little dog and he runs home. B.J. sees this and realizes that something is up. Nicely done.

The little girl and her dog

The show has definitely lifted itself out of its rut with this episode and the previous one. And, although I don't fully endorse how it does it, I'm glad it tried. Plus, seeing how happy the guys are when they get reunited in the end is lovely. It almost makes me forget about the wrongheaded travesty that is the next episode...


*Not really.

Monday, June 26, 2017

BJ and the Bear: S2 E15 Through the Past, Darkly

Originally aired on January 26, 1980
Directed by Charles Rondeau
Teleplay by Frank Lupo & Robert L. McCullough
Story by Chris Lucky & Stephen C. Kurzfeld and Glen A. Larson & Frank Lupo

A woman named Pamela escapes from a mental institution. She is there for a psychiatric evaluation after being accused of murdering her husband. She winds up hitching a ride with B.J. and Bear. She is very nervous, very furtive. Not only are the police after her, there are also a series of goons who may be involved with a local bigwig who builds dams. B.J. is a little wary of her at first. But, eventually, he believes her story that she did NOT kill her husband. The two of them set off to clear her name. But, there's another killing...  and the police and the goons are drawing closer. Will Pam and B.J. find the proof they need in time?

Well, this took a dark turn.

I'm not sure why it took five people to write this episode. It is nothing but a rehash of previous episodes. The bad guy's overriding plan is, more or less, from Silent Night, Unholy Night. The "woman on the run with B.J." plot is from several episodes, including Deadly Cargo. There's a new cop nemesis introduced but this one is actually a good cop. (Plus, he's not Southern.) There's the small town with the rich guy who seems to run everything, from Crackers. The writers have picked and chosen some of the highlights of the show. And, lucky for us, it results in a good episode.

 Where's the crazy gal we're picking up this week?

Judith Chapman who plays Pamela is probably the biggest plus here. She really sells the fact that she might be a crazy murderer early on. From a wild look in her eye to threatening B.J. with a butter knife, it's a pretty intense performance. Greg Evigan, slyly enough, ups his game and matches her. Sometimes he can be a bit of a chameleon kind of actor. He blends into the acting style of who he's onscreen with. In the previous episode, Siege, when he's in the cab of his truck talking with the mercenary, he matches the mercenary's style, which is low-key bordering on snoozy. Here, however, he keeps it strong. Alternating between the scene where she almost snaps and they get to yelling at each other to the moment when he sees her picture in the paper and laughs, saying "Hey! It's you," Mr. Evigan brings B.J. back to life after a few lackluster episodes.

When stuntmen get overenthusiastic

Plus, B.J. and Pamela really sell the detective work aspect. Slowly, logically, piecing together who could have killer her husband and why. Also, the episode does a mystery trope that I normally dislike but that works here. When B.J. goes to the scene of the second murder, he is introduced to the Dam Builder. The Dam Guy threatens to pull B.J.'s ticket (so B.J. can't truck anymore) almost immediately. That has happened so many times in the show. I just rolled my eyes and thought "Another one of these jerks." It wasn't until a few moments later when B.J. says "How did he know I was a trucker?" that I thought "Hey! They got me!" Well done, Five Neat Guys.

 I build dams. And yes, my head is shaped like the
Frankenstein monster's head.
Yes, that is my beautiful wife.

It's helped by a pretty awesome ending set at a closed down amusement park. First, B.J., Bear and Pamela hunt for evidence in a spooky funhouse. Then, the final fight with a goon is on a Ferris wheel. A giant, moving Ferris wheel. And it's so good! Great stuntwork. I love folks hanging off of things and this is some great Hanging Off OF Things stuff.

From the Funhouse to the Ferris Wheel

The final action scene is followed by Pamela being set free from the aslyum and watching B.J.'s rig drive away. Her final line: "I do love you, B.J. McKay." We all do, Pamela. We all do. Then, after this rather lovely, kind of moving, ending, they give us another ending. B.J. and Bear decide to not help an attractive woman whose car has broken down. One ending too many? Sure. But, it happens.

 First ending
Second ending

Through A Past, Darkly is a very good episode of the show. Thank goodness, I was getting worried for a while there. It does pretty much step forward and say "We are completely out of ideas" but it's OK. Here the recycling works. Let's see what the future holds.

Donuts and murderers

Two last things:

1) Why is the waitress at the diner so rude? She goes from friendly to mean in seconds. I can't figure out why. Jealous that Pamela is with B.J., maybe? Could her rudeness be part of the diner's charm? "All the truckers go there to have Sally Ann razz us."

You know, you're not getting a tip, right?

2) A fun moment. B.J. is in the motel bed. Bear is sleeping in a drawer. Pamela is combing her hair in the bathroom. A news bulletin about her starts. No pictures of her. Just the anchorman's face. She rushes in and turns off the TV. Then, she looks over at B.J. He's asleep. Pause. ...She looks at Bear. He's asleep.

Pamela, why did you look at Bear?

Have you checked your chimp lately?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

BJ and the Bear S2 E14: Siege

Originally aired on January 19, 1980
Directed by Michael Preece
Teleplay by Michael Sloan
Story by Michael Sloan and Glen A. Larson

Siege! The Siege of Country Comfort! It has begun! And, you guessed it, B.J. and Bear have chosen now to return there and they get all mixed up with it! Faux-revolutionaries, mercenaries, the mayor, a group of gals that are sort of like cheerleaders and Markie Post! They're all here, Plus, Janet Julian! I'm in!

Hooray! (I think this is her last episode, though.)

Let me back up a moment. I overloaded that sentence with hyperbole to pull you in but now I have to bring you down a bit. I've watched every episode of B.J. and the Bear about five times over the past five years. I used to work from home and there were days when I would just play and play the show, sometimes focusing on it, sometimes letting it be background. That's where I grew a great fondness for it. Now, watching it closely for these posts...  I see some flaws here and there, as you may have noticed.

B.J. sings. Bear puts fingers in ears.
(I think that's all Bear does in this episode.)

I feel like the first season was really solid. But, this season is meandering and repetitive. In some respects, that is not a problem. It's that sort of show. But, in other respects, it's a big problem. The show doesn't have an identity. Most of the scripts feel interchangeable with other shows. I could have put the Duke boys in the last episode and it would have been the same. The fact that they introduced two new Sheriff characters to replace Lobo...  and both of them are gone now...  means that they don't know what they're up to either. Plus, Country Comfort? I'm fairly certain it's gone after this episode. They threw a bunch of stuff up against the wall this season and none of it stuck. I believe we are about to completely revert to first season-style episodes for the rest of the season. But then...  the third season changes everything.

 Men looking at Markie
What are we? Cheerleaders? A pep squad of some variety?

One of the things about certain episodes is that no matter how many times I watch them some things just don't sink in. Case in point: What are the bad guys up to in this episode? They take the hostages so the owner of the sports team (I think) that includes the cheerleader-type gals will bring them 10 million dollars. Why? They must have said. But, I sure don't remember. And who are all these women? They're attractive. They're in short skirts. Markie Post was crowned Queen of Something-or-other-related to them last year. But, who are they? Apart from hostages? And why, at the climax, does B.J. cause a diversion by driving his truck through the wall of County Comfort? It makes for a heck of an image but the truck is B.J.'s home. And, in the first season, I feel like he would have come up with something smarter. And, later in the season, I believe he does the same exact thing. (Granted, he does look wrecked as he stares at the rig in the wall. But then, Markie hugs him and all is all right.) The broad strokes of the episode make sense. I simply don't remember the details.

There you have it.
B.J. does look wrecked, though.
Maybe he's disappointed that he didn't come up with a better solution.
However, the day is saved.

Now, having said all that, this is B.J. and the Bear. We're not watching Back to the Future II. It doesn't have to make sense. It simply has to be entertaining. Is it? Well, it's OK. There is a hotheaded bad guy who straps a bomb to another guy. I was convinced that he was nuts. And, the head bad guy, played by Geoffrey Lewis, has a long conversation with B.J. about wars, which is almost interesting. (The gist being that B.J. was in Vietnam saving lives and became a P.OW. but this bad guy was a pure mercenary, fighting for whomever for money.) The ladies are lovely. It's nice to see Country Comfort one more time. But, apart from that... 

Desperate B.J.

There is a section of the episode where the hostages are separated. (I honestly don't remember why.) Half stay at Country Comfort with the hothead and the bomb and the mayor. The other half are put in B.J.'s rig and drive around. (The head bad guy and B.J. are up front.) Seeing those women in the back of the rig reminded me of The Foundlings. And it reminded me that this show seemed far less generic at one time. It was a flagrant mash-up of what was popular circa 1978 but it felt like it was building towards something. Now, sadly, it feels like it's treading water. Maybe shedding the Sheriffs and Country Comfort and having B.J. hit the road with Bear will open it up again...  at least for a while.

Hugs From Markie! (TM)

Postscript: I didn't give you all the plot of this. Well, not in so many words. Here you go. Country Comfort is sponsoring a beauty pageant of some variety. Those ladies are there, including last year's queen. (As I said, I don't fully understand the ladies.) The mayor is there. It's rehearsal night. Suddenly, a bunch of mercenaries/ revolutionaries take everyone hostage, including B.J. and Bear. They want 10 million dollars from a local rich guy who runs the team (or something) that involves the ladies. Will B.J. be able to free the hostages? Or will it all go to hell? (Hint: The Former) Tune into Siege! and find out.

I'm not sure what show this is from but...
Good Gravy!
Bye, Tommy.*

*Her character's name, by the way. I'm not saying goodbye to some random guy named Tommy.