Names: The inevitable Shannon Tweed, Gregg Henry, Pauline Little, Michael Rudder, Linda Smith. Written and directed by Richard Rothstein.
Set-up: We open on a woman viewing a dating service video tape. (This was made in 1985, so the VCR is the size of a Buick.) The tape’s subject is an extraordinarily nervous Peter Rhodes. Attired in a scholarly sweater and tweed jacket, he provides his curriculum vitae, which is basically that of an up and coming yuppie author. I don’t think there’s ever been an up and coming yuppie on this show who didn’t suffer some horrible fate, so there’s that.
He’s laying on both the awkwardness and the earnestness with a trowel. This means he’s either a lying, unscrupulous horndog (as the male lead is about 95% of the time on this program) hoping to draw in vulnerable prey, or he’s a hopeless putz doomed to fall into some monstrous woman’s clutches. Either way, he’s screwed. And on this show, I mean that both literally and metaphorically.
The tape is being watched by Carole, a woman with Sheena Easton hair. She finishes and leaves, apparently satisfied. The camera then sweeps over what is even for this series a rather cheap looking set. A sign establishes it as the Rollins Videodate Service.
We cut to a rainy evening. Carole is on a date with Peter at a horrifically trendy ’80s art museum. You know the kind. Techno music blaring, they visit various art installations that look and sound like they were put together by Herbie Hancock’s significantly less talented brother-in-law. This includes a stack of TVs that you can throw into another stack of already wrecked TVs, producing an explosion, smoke and shower of sparks.
Another tableau features a series of female animatronic manikins in a laundry room, which have TV monitors for heads. (Dude, you’re totally blowing my mind.) This latter exhibit is shown at length, and identified as “DAYDREAMING BY MONIQUE RABAIS A WORK IN PROGRESS.” We spend some time watching this.
One monitor begins to show a little film in which a woman gives her schlub husband her basket of laundry, removes her apron, and joyously runs away to seek her own Autonomous Freedom and finally Experience Herself. Or, at least, she runs to a hunkier guy with a sports car and they drive away together, accompanied by an atonal rendition of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.” It’s ART!
“You get it?” Peter asks, lest the subtlety of the presentation escape his date. He explains this utterly ambiguous imagery at length, leading one to conclude that the Rollins Videodate Service might cater to much the same demographic as the Special Olympics. “It’s different women’s fantasies,” Peter sums up. (See, that’s the difference between the sexes. My own fantasies right now revolve around watching a better TV show, like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, or She’s the Sheriff.)
“She’s really talented,” Carole replies, thus substantiating my musings in this regard. When Peter implies that he knows the artist, Carole favors him with a fawning glance. “I’m impressed,” she says. However, in the background lurks a woman in a (for that exact moment) trendy blue leather jacket. A patented Hitchhiker whispery music cue informs us, lest the camera cutting to her wasn’t sufficient, that the mystery woman has a part to play in all this.
Cut to an establishing shot of a tony apartment high-rise. Inside, Peter and Carole are in bed. She explains that she’s a kindergarten teacher, meaning that she’s blameless and basically a nice person (if a bit slutty), which further means that Peter is indeed a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “This isn’t just a one night stand?” Carole asks, presumably because otherwise she’s the sort of Classy Lady who normally wouldn’t put out until a second date.
She continues to seek assurance on this score. This is all part of the program’s classic “We really, really want to make sure you get it” characterization. When Peter avoids directly answering, it’s all the proof we need that he’s a Selfish Bastard. That, and he’s the lead male character on a Hitchhiker episode, and has zebra skin wall decorations.
Oddly, they apparently didn’t get a nudity waiver from the actress playing Carole. She’s largely undressed, but noticeably positioned so that we don’t really see ‘anything,’ if you know what I mean and I think you do. Maybe they figured, ‘Hey, we’ve got Shannon Tweed, so what’s the point? Still, we’re a shocking six minutes in without the First Appearance of a Nipple.
Pace this, their sex scene is surprisingly quick and perfunctory. We then cut to him sending Carole home in a cab, noting how sorry he is that his car is in the shop. “I told you, those things aren’t important to me,” she assures him, just to MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE WE GET that she’s an Innocent Goodheart. She kisses him passionately, and takes her leave.
However, once she’s safely away, he learn *GASP!* that Peter isn’t all he pretended to be. (I know. The shock.)This is established through his bragging to the doorman.”First school teacher, Tommy,” he boasts, as he *GASP!* lights up a cigarette.Why, that’s not something a sensitive writer would do!“Jack Rhodes strikes again,” Tommy replies.(Soâ€¦his name is Jack Rhodes, but his impenetrable on-the-prowl alias is ‘Peter Rhodes’?Wow, that guy’s a regular Professor Moriarty.)
Jack slips Tommy twenty bucks, and we learn that he doesn’t, in fact, live in this impressive apartment building. Tommy is worried, though, that eventually one of the real residents will return while Tommy is renting out their apartment. (Eee-yuck!)By the way, since Jack is leaving right after sending Carole off, what about, well, you knowâ€¦the clean-up and all? I’m just saying.
Jack puts him off, and climbs into his car—which, hey, isn’t in the shop at all.However, he is being filmed, as established with a camera POV shot, and some of the show’s trademark moaning electronic suspense cues.The camera also rests on Tommy, which isn’t surprising as he’s already been established as the Weak Link in Jack’s little game.*[*Although in typical Hitchhiker fashion, he is never seen or mentioned again.]
Jack pulls into the road and drives along, at least until he comes to a stop (just because he’s a dick, I guess) to blow off giving a ride to…The Hitchhiker!
Hitchhiker Intro:”Jack Rhodes has a lot of disguises. [I’ll say! I still can’t get over the whole ‘Peter’ thing.] He thinks he’s a master of the illusion. But Jack isn’t the only one with tricks up his sleeve.”*[*You know, normally I say “Wow!” here, but frankly that’s a pretty lackluster effort. Dude, you ‘host’ these things for about an entire thirty seconds an episode. C’mon, put in a little more effort there.
Here, let me help: “Jack Rhodes has a lot of disguises. He thinks he’s a master of illusion. But he’s about to learn that sometimes you can get lost in the illusion of your disguise, and that sometimes the person you’re disguising yourself from turns out to have illusions of their own, and then…wait, where was I going with that?”]
Cut to Jack in a break lounge with two other guys. One of them, Lou, looks and acts like an enraged Larry Fine as played by Brad Dourif. He’s clearly jealous of Jack’s serial success with his tawdry video-dating scam. Jack smugly insults him, and obviously things are at a near boil between them. These programs are so one note that I’m always surprised when they bother to introduce extraneous characters like Lou (and indeed, after playing up their tense relationship, he like Tommy is not seen again.) But there you go. You’ve got to fill 30 minutes somehow, I guess.
Their brewing confrontation is interrupted, however, when Jack is called to the sales floor. He leaves, and we learn he sells home electronics for a living. As you’d suspect, he uses the same smarmy hard sell technique here as he does in his personal affairs. However, I did get a nostalgic thrill from hearing phrases like “four-head” again.
Meanwhile, we see that Mystery Woman is again standing in the background observing all this. Since she’s played by Shannon Tweed, and Jack is such a skirt hound, you’d think he’d notice her. Especially since, really, the shop is so small that the ‘background’ means about ten feet away and in his direct line of sight. Indeed, when she makes to leave, even the cashier has noticed that she’d been in the day before, and that she’s been scoping Jack out. Again, this seems like something he’d pick up on, given his predilections and all.
Since this episode is (for no good reason) a full couple of minutes longer than the average one, we have a little more time to waste. And we do. Jack is filmed driving around some more, further suspense cues are deployed for no apparent reason, etc. I will say it’s astounding for one of these that we’ve gone an entire ten minutes with no real nudity yet. I’m sure they’ll be making up for it, though. Again, Ms. Tweed’s presence seems proof of that.
Jack returns to his real apartment that night, and finds a packaged videotape left by his door. His actual abode is utilitarian at best, and comes complete with a large corkboard featuring scores of photos featuring, presumably, all his various conquests.
However, one should never overestimate the intelligence of the average Hitchhiker viewer. (The show’s producers certainly never did.) And so, at the top of the board is a handwritten sign inscribed ‘CHICKS.’ However, there’s also an empty area of the board, under a matching sign reading ‘FOXES.’ Presumably Ms. Tweed will fall into this latter category, thus spelling Jack’s doom somehow.
Meanwhile, his answering machine disgorges a series of desperate and/or irate messages from several women, including Carole. However, they all know him as ‘Peter,’ or ‘Jeff,’ or ‘Mark’ instead of Jack. So even if they have his phone number, there’s no way he could ever be tracked down. Good lord, the man is unstoppable.
He pops in the tape, and finds that it’s of Barbara (the woman who has been surveilling him). She is seen walking around her kitchen in her undies. Her hair is undone, revealing a gigantically huge and frizzy mane of the sort only popular in the ’80s. “Now that,” Jack smiles, “is a Fox.” (Wow, I totally called it! I must be some sort of super-genius or something.)
At this point Barbara turns to the camera, and begins addressing Jack by name. “You don’t know me,” she confirms, “but I’m Barbara. I’ve been admiring you for some time and I know this sort of introduction seems sort of unusual. But I thought it would be a good way for you to get to know me.” Just in case you haven’t put all the cunningly small pieces together, it’s like she’s seducing him with a videotape, just like he seduced all those other women!
She tells him to meet her at a bar the next evening. To make sure he gets the point, she pauses to undo her bra and show him Her Boys before signing off. And since we’re talking Shannon Tweed here, this is admittedly a fairly persuasive technique.
FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE OBLIGATORY NIPPLE:12:41.(Note this, because it may be the longest such wait in any Hitchhiker show.)
Cut to a very dimly lit bar, the better to hide the cheapness and small size of the set. It sports one of those glass block walls, like the one David Cronenberg’s The Fly came smashing through. In fact, since both that and this show were made in Canada, and filmed at least roughly during the same time period, it’s possible it’s even the same prop wall. The music, needless to say, is all techno and drum machines and what have you.
Jack is waiting at a table. Since he’s not in ‘disguise’ for once, he’s even smoking. Barbara shows up in black leather pants and…well, I hesitate to call it a jacket. Imagine a former red jacket, blown hugely out of shape from within by a hand grenade, and then brought back to life with patches from other deceased jackets by some Frankenstein or other who went into the tailoring business but could not forgo the sweet siren call of Mad Science. Or Sewing, as the case may be.
Barbara asks for a beer, which is no doubt even more pleasing to Jack, because she’s clearly a cheap date. During this a very bad mock-John Carpenter theme plays much too loudly in the background. It’s identical to the music from every cheap ’80s slasher film where they told the composer, “Give us something that sounds like it was written by John Carpenter, were he cheaper and less talented.”
Jack is in hog heaven, since he’s finally about to nail the ‘fox’ he’s always dreamed of. And moreover as himself, rather than in ‘disguise.’ You can kind of tell he thinks this is just his due, lest he should ever be even slightly likeable for some stray millisecond. Since he’s such a clod, she lays it on thick, about what a major catch he is and such. “You’re nothing like my ex-husband,” she tells him.”Nothing at all.”
It’s time to play KEN PREDICTS THE TWIST ENDING OF THIS WEEK’S EPISODE*: Barbara is a former victim of Jack’s, who had an ill-fated fling with him that resulted in her otherwise beloved husband killing himself. Since then, she’s been planning her revenge, even to the extent of getting plastic surgery to lure Jack back into her clutches. After having a whole lot of sex with him—which wouldn’t have been my tack, but different strokes, am I right?—she will perpetrate some elaborate and purportedly ironic demise upon him.[*I should note that I have at best a marginal success rate at this game. I just try to think of the dumbest ‘twist’ ending I can come up with. However, these guys are professionals at moronic twists, and often I fail to reach their level of greatness. I will also note the most ridiculous part of my scenario, which is the question of how Barbara would have tracked him down when he didn’t use ‘Jack’ as his first name with her.]
Noting that she “gets so mad, I could blow the bastard away”—indicating already that my twist ending is off—she invites Jack to (this is the ’80s, remember) play a video game, with typically primitive ’80s graphics. He brags about his score, and she quips, “I hope you’re hungry Jack. You’re going to eat those words.” It’s hot two-adults-playing-video-game-action like you’ve never seen it before, or ever particularly wanted to. In fact, she is completely kicking his score’s ass in all of about twenty seconds and by tens of thousands of points, which is not an exaggeration.
“Jack Rhodes,” she boasts, “you have met your match.” However, she then turns around and gives him some sugar. He’s thinking it’s time for the horizontal tango, but she puts him off. “I forgot, I having dinner with my mother,” she explains. She instead offers him dinner at her place the next night, and he jumps at the chance. “Here’s my address,” she says, reaching into the pocket of the Quiltenstein Monster. She also asks him to bring the tape, because of the evidence after he’s dead. I mean, the embarrassment at making the tape.
The next night he arrives at the address, which is in, shall we say, a weirdly secluded part of town. Because this is the ’80s, Barbara naturally lives in a huge loft apartment in an otherwise closed-down warehouse. The apartment is accessed via a large freight elevator. This was actually fairly standard at the time. Didn’t Jennifer Beals in Flashdance have an apartment like this? Anyway, you saw them all the time, at least in movies and on TV shows.
Flowers in hand, he arrives at her loft. She’s waiting for him, dressed in a tight pleather skirt and tighter spandex blouse that immediately establishes 1) she’s not wearing a bra, and 2) it’s hard to properly heat a loft. Still, it’s probably convenient when you have a guest who needs to hang up a hat or something.
She continues cooking dinner, while he sips from a highball and looks at her ass. We look at her ass, too, since that’s where they point the camera, but that’s merely to establish what a pig he is. He’s all like “Who cares about dinner?” but she puts him off, saying that she’s got an outfit to change into that she thinks he’ll like. Then she heads off, leaving him in the kitchen.
Being an impatient sort, he decides to follow after her. (And I have to say, her place is ludicrously elaborate. Even in a deserted building, it would have cost a fortune to set up.) He peeks around the corner into a room, and oddly enough seems to espy her through a two-way mirror. On her side of the wall, she’s climbing into an elaborate black leather teddy, garters and stockings affair. This involves a lot of cinching and tying of laces and such and frankly looks like more trouble than it’s worth, although Ms. Tweed naturally looks quite fetching in it.
Back at the dinner table, pretending nothing has happened, he tells her that he finds her one of the most interesting women he’s ever met. She takes offense, however, at the mildness of the description. When he saw the tape, did he think she was, “Some piece of ass you had to have?” Failing to understand that this line of questioning may not be working in his favor, he agrees. “I thought my head was going to explode!” he pervs. Well, there’s still eight minutes of show left, so who knows.
She offers him more food, and he protests. “Another bite, and I won’t be able to move,” he protests. “You won’t have to,” she replies, as some Suspense Music Cues make the purportedly ominous subtext of this statement even more obvious then it would have been anyway.
Cut to them standing in the bedroom, which is all neon tube lighting and other signs of ’80s-ness. “Ever since he split it’s been so lonely,” Barbara confesses, “I guess loneliness is the worst part. I tried to make him listen.” She pulls his shirt off and kisses his neck.” All those wasted years,” she continues, dropping to her knees and begins to undo his belt. “All I’m left with is a big empty loft.” You may not be surprised to learn that Jack doesn’t really seem to be tracking anything of what she’s telling him.
She strips him to his underwear (gee, thanks) and pushes him back on the bed, continuing on with a tale that Jack doesn’t seem to get is increasingly bitter. The ‘eerie’ music, however, makes sure we do. Then she slowly begins to strip.
I must note that at this point in things, there is only about six minutes left in the episode. This must have generated an astounding amount of fear on behalf of the fan’s original fanbase.The stark horror attendant to the idea that the one brief glimpse of Ms. Tweed’s talents earlier in the show was all they were going to get in the nudity and sex department may have generated more honest suspense than all of the rest of the show’s multi-year run put together.
And so off comes a stocking. Oh, the agony.(No, I wasn’t going to say “the agony of de feet.”What am I, twelve?) She uses this to tie his arm to the bedpost, and soon his other limb is secured as well. “Now I can do whatever I want to you,” she vamps, as he continues to grin like an idiot. Next she pulls off the dress to reveal the teddy.I have to say, this is taking a while. And I, for one, am not talking about the lack of boobage. I’m keeping from using the fast forward button, but it’s tempting, believe me.
However, deliverance is neither presented for myself nor the show’s nudity buffs. Barbara continues to wear the teddy, and says it’s time to play a game. “How about Blast-Off?” she suggests. When Jack admits he’s never heard of it, she explains. “You’ve got one minute to free yourself, and you win the kewpie doll. Or you lose. Simple enough?”
She marks off sixty seconds on a timer that looks like a giant neon metronome that makes pinging noises as the wand travels back and forth. Look, I didn’t make the damn thing, I’m just describing it. Meanwhile, still perceiving it as a game, Jack struggles with the stockings, but to no avail. Considering his feet are free, and he fails to employ them, he doesn’t seem to be trying very hard. Saw, it ain’t.
She encourages him as he half-heartedly struggles.”You’re an animal,” she coos. “A predator.You can take me, just like the hundreds of other women you’ve screwed over!” As thunder and lighting begin outside (!), he finally gets that something bad is happening. Jack’s a little slow, because I’ve been aware of that for just over 26 minutes now.
He demands to be untied, but of course it’s not to be. She then starts running through all his ‘disguises,’ saying that a man who’s “a salesman, a writer, a doctor, ought to have a little Houdini in him somewhere.” Then she reminds him that there’s 25 seconds left to Blast-Off.
Then she leaves, and the Metronome continues pinging, and my heart is beating…wait, did I just fall asleep…I mean, black out from sheer excitement for a second there? I guess not, because time runs out and a sharp whining tone begins to play, increasing in pitch, and then the room explodes in flames. Yes, she blew him up. Wow, what an amazing ending.
READ NO FURTHER, HOWEVER, IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO LEARN THE AMAZING SHOCK TWIST ENDING TO THIS WEEK’S EPISODE OF “THE HITCHHIKER“:
Since his fate was so blasé, all that is left for a twist is what Barbara’s motivation was.We cut to Jack’s final moments being played on a video tape—see, it’s all coming together—and we learn that Barbara is actually video artist Monique Rabais, which actually kind of makes sense because we first saw her at the exhibit Jack took Carole to. His demise—presumably the audience thinks it was faked—is her latest show, and she is awarded with great applause.
So, OK, that’s actually a somewhat clever ending. I mean, it’s nothing O. Henry would have boggled his eyes at, but it’s far better than the normal twists on this show. And while I’m sure the average fan was positively outraged at the lack of female nudity, especially from nudity specialist Tweed, even that aspect is thematically correct. The episode might be poorly constructed and tepidly paced and stiltedly directed…but it’s still better than 90% of them.
On the other hand, the result is mediocrity, and if all the episodes were just competent enough to be lame, like this one, then there’d be no reason to watch it at all.
The Hitchhiker Wraps Things Up:”Jack Rhodes used the state of the art in video [he did??] to get what he wanted. But when he had to do it for the sake of Art, he went to pieces.“*[*Good grief, man, what’s your problem this week?You’re not the friggin’ Cryptkeeper, you’re the anti-Rod Serling. Skip the bad puns and dish out the hilariously inane and pretentious Musings On It All, ya mook.]
Gratuitous Naked Boobies? No, not really. Well, just for a second. Still, weird.
Whatever Happened To…
Shannon Tweed, along with Barbi Benton, stands as perhaps the most successful example of someone who parlayed being a Playboy Bunny into an actual show-biz career.* (So, ladies, take that as a warning.) She was Miss November in 1981, and by 1982 was Playmate of the Year and a cast member on Falcon Crest. TV provided the bulk of her work, mainly in a busy slate of episodic guest star work. She continued to work until recently—for instance, she twice guested as a romantic foil on Frasier—but seems to have retired from acting in 2003.[*The ever nit-picking Carl Fink inquires, ” So Marilyn Monroe was a failure?” Ah, but Ms. Monroe was an already established movie actress who appeared in Playboy, not a Playboy centerfold who went on to appear in films.]
Aside from her television work, Ms. Tweed’s career was further enhanced by the slew of DTV ‘erotic thrillers’ that following in the wake of Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. Her wiliness to strip and pretend to have sex, coupled with an ability to act at least better than many of her peers, made her a popular lead in seemingly zillions of films like Night Eyes II, Indecent Behavior, Illicit Dreams, Sexual Response and Body Chemistry 4.
She also loosened up occasionally with the odd campy genre flick, such as Electra and the actually pretty amusing Cannibal Women in the Avacado Jungle of Death. Meanwhile, fans of truly awful ’80s-style action films should definitely track down a copy of The Last Hour, aka Concrete War, in which she appears opposite a typically comatose Michael Paré.
More importantly, perhaps, in 1983 she began a romantic relationship with Gene Simmons of KISS. They remain together and have two children. (The secret of this success seems to be predicated on the fact that she doesn’t expect him to be monogamous.) Although retired from acting, Ms. Tweed currently appears as herself on Simmons’ A&E reality show The Family Jewels.
Henry Gregg (Jack) has been a busy character actor since the late ’70s.His specialty, as here, was in playing sleezeballs of one sort or other. As you’d expect, his career has consisted mainly of one-time guest roles on dozens of TV shows and telemovies. Indeed, only recently has he had a real recurring role, and even that consisted of nine appearances as Mitchum Huntzberger on The Gilmore Girls. However, in 2006 he made a bid for minor pop culture immortality by playing the typically morally unreliable Mayor MacReady in the cult horror flick Slither.
Linda Smith (Carole) has a bit of a resume playing blink-and-you-miss-’em parts in a couple of notable b-movies. She was “Kiri’s Friend” (Kiri being Tanya Roberts) in The Beastmaster (1980) and “Man’s Date” in the Jon Thor Mikl epic Zombie Nightmare (1986).
Thanks, as ever, to diligent proofreader and nitpicker Mr. Carl Fink.