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DVD Talk review of 'Night Gallery: Season Two'

Old 11-12-08, 02:28 PM
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DVD Talk review of 'Night Gallery: Season Two'

I read John Sinnott's DVD review of Night Gallery: Season Two and as a NIGHT GALLERY fan, I'd like to comment on a few items with which I disagree:

"The incidental music was also pretty bad. They used a lot of electronic music, which was new back then and probably seemed cutting edge but it rarely fits the mood of the story."

The show uses a little electronic music, not a lot. Most of the scores are for acoustic instruments in unusual combinations using no electronics. None of the scores by Paul Glass, Eddie Sauter, Robert Bain, Lalo Schifrin, John Lewis, or Hal Mooney use electronics. The only composers on the show who did were Gil Melle, who composed for ensembles using both electronic and acoustic instruments, and Oliver Nelson, who was asked (at first) to emulate Melle’s style for his first scores, but later returned to acoustics only.

"In Hell’s Bells for example they have some (bad) generic peppy rock song playing while the main character’s car tumbles down a cliff causing his death."

The bad rock cues were not used that often, and very briefly: “Miss Lovecraft Sent Me,” “The Flip-Side of Satan,” “The Diary,” and “Hell’s Bells.” That’s it--four out of 61 segments.

"More often than not, the music really ruins the mood of the show."

As a soundtrack aficionado, I find that to be a wholly misleading statement. On a fantasy series with a small production budget, the music will often make the mood when other elements (sets, costumes) are lacking, and NIGHT GALLERY had a high frequency of very fine music scores, many cues of which were reused throughout the season for segments without the benefit of an original score. My favorites: Oliver Nelson’s scores for “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes,” “The Phantom Farmhouse,” and “The Sins of the Fathers”; Paul Glass’s scores for “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” “A Question of Fear,” “The Messiah on Mott Street,” and “Camera Obscura”; Gil Melle’s score for “Dr. Stringfellow’s Rejuvenator”; Eddie Sauter’s scores for “The Caterpillar,” “Little Girl Lost,” “Brenda,” and “The Dark Boy”; Lalo Schifrin’s score for “The Ghost of Sorworth Place”; and Robert Bain’s score for “Cool Air.”

"While some of the stories still come across very well, on the whole this season doesn’t hold up well. It seems rather dated when viewed today."

While HAWAII FIVE-0 and MANNIX seem freshly minted? Every TV series from 1971 is dated. For that matter, THE TWILIGHT ZONE creaks every now and then, too. If you can’t view the series in the context of the period from which it’s drawn, you’ll wind up dismissing everything from the past.

"Most of the installments are adaptations from short stories, but they’re often changed significantly. The tales are not tightly constructed, with a lot of extra scenes that aren’t necessary."

Which teleplay has unnecessary scenes? I’d be surprised if you can name a scene that doesn’t reveal something critical to the plot or essential to character development. Most critics who dismiss this series tend to feel that the plays aren’t long enough to develop their material properly. Here, you feel the segments are too long. It seems this series can’t win on any front with writers determined to find fault.

"Oftentimes the story will not end where it should. After the twist ending is revealed in The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes, the story will goes on for a minute or two longer. It doesn’t wrap anything up, just restates what has already been revealed."

The play continues for exactly one minute after the twist is revealed, which allows the immensity of the revelation to sink in with the main characters--and since the revelation is a whopper, that seems utterly appropriate from a dramatic viewpoint.

"In addition to plots, I really had a problem with a lot of the dialog. It is often excessively flowery and verbose. The lines that the actors are speaking don’t sound natural at all. The people in these shows just don’t talk the way real people communicate."

A student of drama should know that Rod Serling, like Paddy Chayevsky or David Mamet, gave his characters a stylized brand of dialogue that requires a great deal from the actors required to speak it. Alvin Sapinsley, who wrote a number of the second-season segments, tended to write, like Serling, for characters with a high degree of erudition. You either love this kind of stuff or you hate it. Me, I find it comforting that not every character in a movie speaks like a plumber.

This series had a lot of style and some very fine writing. With its best episode segments, it was as good or better than anything else on the tube at that time.

Last edited by sskelton; 11-12-08 at 02:33 PM.
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Old 11-12-08, 03:24 PM
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Originally Posted by sskelton View Post
I read John Sinnott's DVD review of Night Gallery: Season Two and as a NIGHT GALLERY fan, I'd like to comment on a few items with which I disagree:

The show uses a little electronic music, not a lot.
snip

The bad rock cues were not used that often, and very briefly: “Miss Lovecraft Sent Me,” “The Flip-Side of Satan,” “The Diary,” and “Hell’s Bells.” That’s it--four out of 61 segments.
I assume, based on your user name and knowledge of the show, that your Scott Skelton who recorded commentary tracks (which I quite enjoyed) for the DVD release.

I'll defer to you here and admit that there may not have been a lot of electronic music, but that it just seemed that way watching the series. I shouldn't have singled that out since, as you admit, there were also bad generic rock music used in some stories. Like editing, background music is most notable when it's done poorly, and I thought that was the case with more than a few stories in this season.

I've altered my review to note that.

"More often than not, the music really ruins the mood of the show."

As a soundtrack aficionado, I find that to be a wholly misleading statement. On a fantasy series with a small production budget, the music will often make the mood when other elements (sets, costumes) are lacking, and NIGHT GALLERY had a high frequency of very fine music scores, many cues of which were reused throughout the season for segments without the benefit of an original score.
We'll have to agree to disagree here. I thought the music was too intrusive and didn't accent the action on screen. Yes, there were some fine scores done for some shows, but I thought the poorly scored stories were way too frequent.

[quote]While HAWAII FIVE-0 and MANNIX seem freshly minted? Every TV series from 1971 is dated. For that matter, THE TWILIGHT ZONE creaks every now and then, too. If you can’t view the series in the context of the period from which it’s drawn, you’ll wind up dismissing everything from the past.[quote]

Since I write a column on silent cinema and have given glowing reviews to quite a number of older show and movies, I think I've illustrated that I'm able to appreciate material that isn't new. There are shows that have not stood the test of time however. Laugh-in was a top-rated show back in the day, but when viewed now, even knowing the history of the time, it's just not funny. The Smothers Brothers, on the other hand, are still hilarious today.

"Most of the installments are adaptations from short stories, but they’re often changed significantly. The tales are not tightly constructed, with a lot of extra scenes that aren’t necessary."

Which teleplay has unnecessary scenes? I’d be surprised if you can name a scene that doesn’t reveal something critical to the plot or essential to character development. Most critics who dismiss this series tend to feel that the plays aren’t long enough to develop their material properly. Here, you feel the segments are too long. It seems this series can’t win on any front with writers determined to find fault.
As I mentioned in the review (and you commented on later) The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes. I thought the story was great, but if they had stopped it before the boy tries to comfort his grandfather it would have worked much better.

SPOILER WARNING

I also thought that "The Class of '99" was plotted poorly. The beginning was great, the familiar setting with unfamiliar and strange events happening really draws viewers in. The twist in the story, that the students were robots was also good but poorly executed. They reveal that fact when the instructor turned all the students off. When one was shot a few moments later and it was shown that it was made of electronic components it wasn't the surprise that it should have been. If they had removed the first reveal the story would have worked much better.

END SPOILERS

A student of drama should know that Rod Serling, like Paddy Chayevsky or David Mamet, gave his characters a stylized brand of dialogue that requires a great deal from the actors required to speak it. Alvin Sapinsley, who wrote a number of the second-season segments, tended to write, like Serling, for characters with a high degree of erudition. You either love this kind of stuff or you hate it. Me, I find it comforting that not every character in a movie speaks like a plumber.
No they don't speak like plumbers, or other people either. I just found the dialog to be too contrived in places.

This series had a lot of style and some very fine writing. With its best episode segments, it was as good or better than anything else on the tube at that time.
I agree to a large extent. I did ultimately recommend the set and the best stories are good. But I think you'll agree that it's an uneven series. I don't think anyone would really call "An Act of Chivalry" or "A Midnight Visit to the Neighborhood Blood Bank" great TV. I found this season good but flawed, and I think the ratings I gave show that.

Thanks for your comments. While we disagree on some things, I think we're both happy that this set has been released.
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Old 11-12-08, 06:48 PM
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“We’ll have to agree to disagree here. I thought the music was too intrusive and didn’t accent the action on screen. Yes, there were some fine scores done for some shows, but I thought the poorly scored stories were way too frequent.”

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro seems to disagree with you, too. He rhapsodizes about the scoring of the music in this series, and since he hires composers for his movies that tend to receive a lot of critical praise and get nominated for Oscars (Javier Navarrete, Marco Beltrami, Danny Elfman), I feel comfortable siding with him on this issue.

The show occasionally got a bad score: John Lewis’s score for “Class of ‘99,” for instance, is dramatically inapt in the extreme, but such moments are rare, in my view.

“Which teleplay has unnecessary scenes?”
“As I mentioned in the review (and you commented on later) The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes. I thought the story was great, but if they had stopped it before the boy tries to comfort his grandfather it would have worked much better.

Once again, past critics of the show seem to be at odds with you. In the past, the show’s segments were said by some (Cleveland Amory comes to mind) to end too abruptly. But you say they don’t end abruptly enough. The series can’t win either way.

Looking at it practically, that small, minute-long “extension” of narrative functioned to keep the story’s stinging twist from colliding directly with an inane commercial interruption (as it would have in its original broadcast run). I savor the effect every time, and I find that end moment very touching. I’m sorry you didn’t.

SPOILER WARNING

“I also thought that “The Class of ‘99” was plotted poorly. The beginning was great, the familiar setting with unfamiliar and strange events happening really draws viewers in. The twist in the story, that the students were robots was also good but poorly executed. They reveal that fact when the instructor turned all the students off. When one was shot a few moments later and it was shown that it was made of electronic components it wasn’t the surprise that it should have been. If they had removed the first reveal the story would have worked much better.”

The second reveal was not just to show they were robots (which the audience may rightly suspect from the clockwork wind-down, but has not actually been confirmed yet). That second reveal was necessary dramatically, since it showed that these were not only robots, but that a successful programming job (“You get an A, Mr. Johnson”) meant the casual obliteration of another of its fellows--aping the behavior of their creators. The more potent of the two twists is the second: that the robots are being programmed to survive using Man’s ugliest and most violent characteristics. I think the execution was very skillful.

END SPOILERS

“No they don’t speak like plumbers, or other people either. I just found the dialog to be too contrived in places.”

Much like NETWORK or GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, where no character speaks like people in real life, either.

"I agree to a large extent. I did ultimately recommend the set and the best stories are good. But I think you’ll agree that it’s an uneven series."

Apparently it’s so much more. It’s not only uneven, its scripts are badly paced, its music is poorly scored, and, overall, the series is dated. That shouldn’t keep anyone from running out and buying a set.

"I don’t think anyone would really call “An Act of Chivalry” or “A Midnight Visit to the Neighborhood Blood Bank” great TV."

Neither would I, but I wouldn’t call up those segments as proper examples of what the series had to offer, either. Those two segments were blackouts lasting a minute and a minute and a half, respectively. Hardly fair to weigh those in the balance when other, more representative segments such as “The Sins of the Fathers” or “Lindemann’s Catch” or any number of other, more distinguished full-length segments are what actually made the show worth watching, not those brief annoyances. I wouldn’t ask any viewer to ignore them--that would be impossible--just put them in the proper perspective. When TWILIGHT ZONE gave you a poor episode (and they were more frequent than most will admit), it lasted the full half-hour. I’d rather watch “An Act of Chivalry” or “A Midnight Visit...” over, say, “Cavender is Coming” or “The Brain Center at Whipple’s,” if only to spare myself the prolonged agony.
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Old 11-12-08, 07:53 PM
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Originally Posted by sskelton View Post

Once again, past critics of the show seem to be at odds with you. In the past, the show’s segments were said by some (Cleveland Amory comes to mind) to end too abruptly. But you say they don’t end abruptly enough. The series can’t win either way.
That's the nature of reviews... they are one man's opinion. Not everyone will agree. I guess from your comments that other critics and I agree that the series is poorly executed in parts, even if we disagree with which parts.
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Old 11-12-08, 10:58 PM
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I remember watching this show as a very young kid. I'll have to rent it from netflix or something. I'm about 99% certain that it won't have the same fascination it once did.
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Old 11-13-08, 12:04 AM
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Originally Posted by sskelton View Post
That shouldn’t keep anyone from running out and buying a set.
Of course one should always keep in mind that we are 'critics' or 'reviewers' here and our job isn't to make people go out and buy stuff, or soft-pedal our opinions for fear of discouraging someone from buying something. If that were the case, we'd be copywriters, we'd be paid fairly well for it, and our descent into a post-O.J. world of not believing anything we read would continue apace.

For what it's worth, I declined to vie for a screener of this set in order to vote with my dollars and pre-order it. Even though my experience with Season One proved that my pre-adolescent memories of being scared to death by Night Gallery were not to be recreated. I still love the show, regardless of bad soundtracks, dated plotting or what-have-you, and can hardly wait to see that granny try to brick her husband up again for the first time in 30+ years.
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Old 11-13-08, 02:51 AM
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For what it's worth (not much), I lean much more heavily toward Scott Skelton's views on the show, even at this distance from when I first saw the series. I still hold a lot of affection for it, and while I'm sure a good deal of it chalked up to nostalgia, it's not *all* of it by any means. I think a lot of it just works.

While I can understand John Sinnott's opinion on the show's dialogue, Skelton has a valid point as well -- Serling in particular tends to write his dialogue utilizing a kind of heightened, and thus un-naturalistic, language much like Mamet or Chayevsky. People don't talk like Serling characters, true, but that argument could be made for writers ranging from Shakespeare to Tarantino to W.C. Fields. The question should be: does his dialogue work? For me, and for the most part, yeah. To use the cliche, your mileage may vary.

And frankly, I have always loved the vignettes. It ain't the most popular opinion, but I discovered the series while knee-deep in comics and issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, and probably because of that, the juxtaposition of horror and silly jokes has always worked for me in a kind of pulpy way. It's kind of like reading an old EC comic, and coming across one of those single-page text pieces. Sure, the stories might not be the most memorable thing in the comic, and they might be used primarily to fill up a page of space because the comic pages themselves didn't quite add up to an even number, but they still add to the whole experience. Sure, there are some vignettes I could live without ("Junior" springs immediately to mind), but seeing Joe Campanella in greasepaint and a Dracula costume never fails to give me a couple of chuckles, no matter how obvious the joke might be.

While I might not agree with Mr. Skelton's view of all of the show's segments ("Class of '99" has always seemed to me to fall into the heavy-handed preachifyin' mode in which Serling sometimes has a tendency to land), I still think that the series as a whole is consistently a lot of fun and continues to have a lot to offer to today's viewers.

(And I hate to point this out, because it's verging on the ridiculously pedantic of me, but there's something in the review itself that I think should probably be corrected. A few times, Mr. Sinnott refers to the show as The Night Gallery. Of course, it's simply Night Gallery, or Rod Serling's Night Gallery if you're using that title card as part of the series' title. Within the show, Serling refers to the *setting* of his wraparound segments (the museum he's curating, as it were) as "the Night Gallery," but the "the" isn't part of the actual series title. It winds up feeling like someone is referring to the band Queen as "The Queen" or Talk Talk as "The Talk Talk".)
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Old 11-26-08, 07:02 PM
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In John Sinnott's defense for giving Night Gallery a mediocre review he states "I don't think anyone would really call An Act of Chivalry and A Midnight visit to a Neighborhood Blood Bank great TV". Is he aware that both of those segments combined add up to 2 and a half minutes?, Night Gallery's Second Season was 1100 minutes long! I'm guessing John wasn't the captain of the debate team. You're right though that was not great TV, What was great TV was "Silent Snow, Secret Snow", 'Green Fingers", "'The Sins of the Father", "The Phantom Farmhouse", "The Messiah of Mott Street","Camera Obscura", "A Question of Fear", "The Dark Boy", "Deliveries in the Rear" and many more. None of which Sinnott mentioned in his review since he was too busy writing about "With Apologies to Mr. Hyde" and a ton of other blackouts on Disc One. Actually almost every episode he wrote about was on Disc One except the 2 Lovecraft episodes, "The Caterpillar" and "Hell's Bellls". Here are some facts he would have learned if he got to disc 2- They cut out the black outs after 12 episodes and 4 of those didn't even have blackouts, If you added all of the blackouts together it wouldn't come to half an hour (the season is 19 hours long). Kind of strange to base almost all his reviews on such a tiny part of the show. If you were given the chance to write about "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" or "Junior" which would you write about? I guess the great camera work, beautiful music and Orson Welles incredible narration was not as compelling as "Junior"'.

Last edited by Chas Speed; 11-27-08 at 07:48 PM.
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Old 11-28-08, 04:56 PM
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Originally Posted by MrVette99 View Post
I remember watching this show as a very young kid. I'll have to rent it from netflix or something. I'm about 99% certain that it won't have the same fascination it once did.
Well, you're certainly going in with a wonderful attitude.
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Old 11-28-08, 05:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Chas Speed View Post
Actually almost every episode he wrote about was on Disc One except the 2 Lovecraft episodes, "The Caterpillar" and "Hell's Bellls". Here are some facts he would have learned if he got to disc 2...
I won't bother arguing about the merits of this season (I was on the debate team in school ironically enough and soon learned that you can't argue taste,) you obviously enjoy the set which is great.

I would like to point out that not only did I watch the entire set, many shows more than once to catch the commentaries, but you're suggestion that I only wrote about episodes on the first disc is just not factual. I went back and checked and I mentioned the following number of shows from these discs:

Disc 1 - 3
Disc 2 - 2
Disc 3 - 2
Disc 4 - 0
Disc 5 - 1 plus several featurettes and bonus items

You weren't captain on the math team were you?

Glad the review spurred you to register Chas.
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Old 11-28-08, 07:12 PM
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[QUOTE=John Sinnott;9099546]I won't bother arguing about the merits of this season (I was on the debate team in school ironically enough and soon learned that you can't argue taste,) you obviously enjoy the set which is great.

I would like to point out that not only did I watch the entire set, many shows more than once to catch the commentaries, but you're suggestion that I only wrote about episodes on the first disc is just not factual. I went back and checked and I mentioned the following number of shows from these discs:

Disc 1 - 3
Disc 2 - 2
Disc 3 - 2
Disc 4 - 0
Disc 5 - 1 plus several featurettes and bonus items

You weren't captain on the math team were you? quote)

Your math is even worse then mine. You wrote about 5 episodes on Disc 1. I said all the episodes you mentioned were first season except the Lovecraft episodes, "Caterpillar" and "Hell's Bells" and I was only wrong about "A Midnight visit to a Blood Bank" (what a shock another blackout episode). Here's a rundown- "With Apologies to Mr. Hyde" disc 1, "Junior" disc 1, "The Merciful" disc 1, "Boy who predicted Earthquakes" disc 1, "Death in the Family" disc 1 (does anybody notice a trend here?), "Hell's Bells" disc 2, "A Midnight visit to a Neighborhood Blood Bank"'disc 2, "Cool Air" and "Pickman's Model" both disc 3, "Caterpillar" disc 5. I would also love to know why you chose to write about "Junior" over "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" and please don't tell me you wanted to use it as an example of the blackouts, because I don't think even you can deny that the blackouts are pretty well covered (taking up 40% of your review) even though they take up less then 30 minutes of the season. Did you really not like "Silent Snow, Secret Snow?" I think if I wanted to write a mediocre review of a series I would write about all the bad episodes (even if they were only 3 minutes long) and ignore almost all the good ones. Your review speaks for itself, that's exactly what you did.

Last edited by Chas Speed; 12-02-08 at 12:44 AM.
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Old 12-06-08, 03:03 PM
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There is a great review of "Rod Serlng's Night Gallery" at Bullz-eye.com . The reviewer found it more interesting to write about segments like "Camera Obscura" and "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" then "Junior" and "The Merciful". "Camera Obscura" is an amazing episode with inventive photography by Leonard J. South (Alfred Hitchcock's main camera operator). He used some colored camera filters to give part of the episode a weird look that kind of looked like "The Matrix". It's probably easiest to do a Google search of "Night Gallery review Bullz-eye.com" and then click that link. I have Webtv, so I can't include a link.

Last edited by Chas Speed; 12-06-08 at 03:13 PM.
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Old 12-19-08, 12:57 AM
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The Night Gallery Season Two DVD Set was named one of the best DVD releases of the year by Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas on the magazines blog. I guess you will have to wait a few months for the review to hit the magazine stands, but it's usually well worth the wait. You don't see the usual half-ass DVD reviews in that magazine.
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Old 12-19-08, 07:40 AM
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I don't think any good will come in keeping this thread open. It's past the point of polite disagreement.
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