Remember Wild Palms? It was a big deal in 1993. Touted as ‘Oliver Stone’s first TV series’ and heavily riding the coattails of Twin Peaks, it arrived on TV with all the significance of a Very Important Thing Indeed.
Where’s the Netflix reboot of this one, then? Does Jim Belushi spend all his time at conventions answering questions of Wild Palms? Is Oliver Stone constantly fending off Wild Palms fans on Twitter?
I don’t think so.
I can’t even remember if I watched the whole thing, but at my advanced age, I can often not remember what I watched last week.
So let’s take a look. On this tape are the first four episodes of the mini-series. The final episode is on another tape, and I checked its estimated blog date. Don’t worry, I’ll be getting to it fairly shortly, you won’t have to wait years, like some of the gaps my collection’s rather random ordering have inflicted.
The first episode is Everything Must Go. It opens with a dream sequence, not my favourite device but I guess they’re going for the Twin Peaks dollar, so they have to play the game. James Belushi sees a rhino in his garden. Then hears his child calling for him, but before we see what’s wrong, he wakes up. We’ll probably be enjoying this dream lots more as the show unfolds.
Belushi is married to Dana Delaney. I’m assuming this is set in ‘the future’ judging by Belushi’s weird shirt collar. Stupid fashion is shorthand for the future.
Aha! Thought so. 2007, about 14 years in the future from when this was broadcast. Belushi drives a classic American car so they don’t have to get Gene Warren to build one of his patented ‘no car will ever look like this’ futuristic designs.
He drives past some men in suits beating up another man, and he pulls his car to the side. Then a group of people jogging all in white jog past, and he sees Robert Loggia jogging with them. Or is that joggiang? I’m guessing he’s a politician and the men are his security detail.
At work, Belushi is visited by Kim Cattrall, in full bombshell mode. She’s an old girlfriend of Belushi, and wants his help finding her son, who disappeared 5 years ago.
Delaney runs a clothing store. Bebe Neuwirth comes in to use the toilet. She’s a famous actress.
Delaney’s mother is played by Angie Dickinson.
The stars a coming thick and fast. Now Belushi meets Ernie Hudson, an old friend, at a restaurant.
Belushi sees another man beaten up by men in suits, then bundled into a car. Nobody else seems to be worried about it.
He’s seeing a psychiatrist, played by Bob Gunton.
Belushi’s son tells his grandmother, Dickinson, that he’s having dreams about the rhino, and she tells him if he’s afraid of the rhino, the dreams will go away, and he’ll be just like everyone else. So the dreams are important.
Talking of dreams, the rhino’s back.
Belushi spots Cattrall in a car with his mother in law, but when he sees her in the hotel she’s going to, she says she wasn’t. But she’s there for a presentation by the company she works for, Wild Palms, presented by Robert Loggia, who’s a senator, as well as being a bigwig in the company. He’s presenting Mimecom, a ‘telepresence’ system that makes it look as if he’s standing right on stage, when he’s actually broadcasting from the hotel penthouse. There’s even a samurai warrior there to pretend to cut him in half to prove it. It’s the future of entertainment. Along the way we also learn that Loggia founded a religion in the 60s, a very thinly disguised version of Scientology.
After the presentation, Catrall introduces Belushi to the actual William Gibson, author of Neuromancer. “He coined the word cyberspace.” “And they won’t let me forget it” he says.
They also meet Loggia, and there’s a clunking reference. Cattrall says “Very Orson Welles, very Mercury Theater” and Loggia replies “Invaders from Mars.” But Orson Welles was The War of the Worlds. Invaders from Mars is a completely different story.
One thing the show’s immediately got wrong about the future is the TVs. All 4:3 CRTs still. Odd in a programme that imagines perfect holograms.
Belushi doesn’t get made a partner at his law firm. Then Loggia offers him a job.
Belushi and Hudson go to meet Brad Dourif, a VR guru. Loggia is after Dourif to work for him on Mimecom. I like the use of regular sunglasses as VR specs.
The sister of artist Nick Mancuso (played by director Kathryn Bigelow) is run off the road on her way home from the pictures by another group of men. I’m guessing she’s been fridged, since Mancuso receives her bloody glasses shortly afterwards from persons unknown.
On his first day at his new job, Belushi’s shown the ropes by Charles Hallahan (off of The Thing).
Cattrall, Dickinson and Loggia dine together, so whatever grand plan is going on, they’re all involved. They’ve got Brad Dourif locked in a room. And there’s a very obviously David Lynch moment when Loggia is dancing around his living room singing.
Delaney goes on a visit to ‘an old college friend’ – it’s actually her father, played by David Warner. This really is a top notch cast.
“Oliver Stone. Fifteen years after the film JFK. The files are released, you were right.” God, Oliver Stone really is a massive douche.
Belushi gets a demonstration of the Church Windows system, the VR device that the network is going to launch. And I have to say, this part they get right. “The TV scans the room. Infra Red. It knows there you’re sitting, knows where the chairs are, where the sofa is. There’s even a collision detector, optional.” The demo is extra weird for Belushi, because it’s his son who’s playing the son in the show.
The show ends with Cattrall telling Belushi they’ve found the man who took her son, and they chase the man to a beach, with her urging Belushi to ‘take him out’. When he catches the man, it’s his old friend Ernie Hudson.
Two interesting credit spots. “Wetware Consultant” is Brenda Laurel, a VR pioneer, so that explains how they got the technology stuff right. And the Camera Operator is Wally Pfister, later Christopher Nolan’s DP, now a director himself.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 15th November 1993 – 21:00
Before the next episode, there’s the end of Food and Drink.
There’s a trailer for 40 Minutes. And one for The Buddha of Suburbia.
Then, part two of Wild Palms, an episode called The Floating World. Hudson, Belushi is told, used to work for Loggia, and he took Cattrall’s son in revenge. He also tried to steal software from the company. There’s two shadowy groups in this story, the Fathers, founded by Loggia, and the Friends. All of this is tied up in these two groups.
Belushi gets another demo, this one augmented by some kind of mind-altering drug, so the experience seems realer. And of course, it’s a sexbot.
Dana Delaney, having decided last episode that her son is not her son, and that her father had swapped her real son when he was born, is not in a happy place, and attempts suicide.
Belushi has some kind of visitation from Hallahan, Mancuso etc, telling him the history of whatever the struggle is. A huge government conspiracy to use fear of terrorism to grab ever more power. They tell him to find Delaney’s father David Warner. They confirm that his son isn’t his son.
Pretty soon, Hallahan is tricked by Belushi’s son into a motel room where he’s tasered, and then told he’s going to be dealt with by the Fathers. The son is definitely a psycho.
Belushi and Cattrall traqvel to Kyoto to get the Go nanochip that Brad Dourif was working on. But they don’t like Loggia so they refuse.
It’s all getting a bit dreamlike, so I wonder how much of this, if anything, is actually real.
Delaney confronts her mother, who doesn’t pull her punches, literally.
After this confrontation, she has a visitor in her car, Peter, a young boy who’s been seen around. I wonder if he might be her real son? Or maybe he’s another fake person.
Hey, look who’s playing a prison guard, who discovers that Ernie Hudson isn’t really in his cell, but is actually a hologram. It’s pre-West Wing Richard Schiff.
This episode was directed by Keith Gordon, who directed the excellent Static, and co-starred with Angie Dickinson (as her son) in Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 16th November 1993 – 21:00
The next episode is called Rising Sons. It’s directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
It’s all getting very trippy, with a lot more happening inside the VR world. And I’m impressed it’s taken this long for us to get to some shitty early 90s CGI, but here it is.
Cattrall tells Belushi about her father, a journalist who foiled an early bid by Loggia to become a Senator, and who was killed for his trouble. And she reveals that Belushi’s son is actually hers. And also that Dickinson and Loggia are brother and sister.
Warner, Hudson and the rest of the Friends stage a rescue of Dourif, Warner’s son, which seems like a waste of time since he’s dying, and as soon as they get him to the ocean, he just dies. “Chickieeeee” sobs Warner, showing what an unfortunate character name it is.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 23rd November 1993 – 21:00
There’s the end of Food and Drink before the next episode, There’s a trailer for 40 Minutes.
Then, episode 4 of Wild Palms, Hungry Ghosts. I hope that means the whole episode is Belushi trapped in a Pac Man maze being chased by pixellated ghosts.
I feel I should mention the music for the series. It’s by Ryuichi Sakamoto, and it’s a bit synthy, but not in the dreamy Angelo Badalementi way that Twin Peaks had. This sounds like a cheap score for something like Tales from the Darkside. It’s really quite poor.
The Senator wants the chip, which was, for a time, embedded in Belushi’s hand. His psychiatrist tries to persuade him to tell him where it is by setting him up for his wife’s murder, although we oddly don’t see her die, although later the son talks to Dickinson and refers to her killing her daughter. I think this version is cut.
They even bring his wife back to persuade him. Virtually, of course.
Aha – now it’s obvious why we didn’t see Delaney die. Because there was a recording, and at the end of this episode, in order to thwart Loggia’s presidential bid, Belushi gets the recording to the Wild Palms broadcast centre and switches it for the regularly scheduled episode of Church Windows, the VR TV show.
BBC Genome: BBC Two – 30th November 1993 – 21:00
Recording continues with a trailer for Ben Elton’s Stark.
There’s also a trailer for a Tchaikovsky Winter Gala.
Then, 40 Minutes and the start of an episode called Girl Friends. The tape ends during this programme.