Sunday, July 28, 2013
Weird -- or What? revisited
Weird -- or What? (revisited) Undeniably strange, even disturbing, the second season of this Canadian TV show stretches cognitive dissonance to the breaking point. William Shatner, the bemused and, apparently, half-demented host, no long jauntily scoots up to his suburban house on a Segway. In these episodes, he rides up to his front door on a horse, dismounts a bit warily (or, at least, his body-double does) and, once again, enters his gloomy mansion proclaiming that it's a weird world -- 'or what?' The series' formula remains unchanged, a sequence of triads -- three semi-dramatized events that are posited as inexplicable, each of the three encounters with the "weird," then, explicated by three pundits. The pundits always present one scientific explanation for the story, one explanation that relies on outre psychological theorizing, and, then, an overtly occult explication -- space aliens, ancient astronauts, monsters, and ghosts. The show's stable of pundits is bargain-basement at best -- most of the talking heads are identified as "psychologists," although a few seem to be boozy, discredited Professors Emeritus from reputable colleges. Some of the so-called experts look like they are deranged themselves; some seem to be about 13 years old and the camera treats them brutally, using fish-eye lens effects to make their un-handsome faces and beady eyes bulge like tumors against the screen of your TV tube. (I particularly admired the "rogue" taxidermist from Minnesota who specializes in attaching lizard skulls or chimp heads on squirrels and rabbits -- the guy seemed to have been smoking dope in the minutes before his on-screen interview.) Another peculiarity of the show is that the staged reconstructions of events perversely use actors and actresses who are even uglier, older, and fatter than their actual counterparts morosely narrating the horrors that have befallen them. (Normally, shows like this use low-grade starlets and male underwear models to dramatize the accounts of the witnesses -- the conceit is that these adventures occurred in the past when the hapless witness was considerably younger, sleeker, and better-looking; Weird -- or What? reverses this equation: the homely witnesses are portrayed by people even more off-kilter, older, and stranger-looking: it's as if the real-life witnesses are talking about things that will happen in their miserable future and not in their miserable past.) Shatner's contribution to this grotesquerie is completely bizarre: he mugs and makes lame jokes, nudges extras in rubber monster masks, boils eggs and sips whiskey. Shatner is collecting his pay-check for periodically pronouncing, in portentous tones, the show's title and catch-phrase, grimacing as if experiencing a particularly unpleasant bowel movement. In one episode, the real-life witness, a fat guy who was literally bisected by a train, explains how he managed to get split in two by a freight car's iron wheels. This grisly tale, told by a bearded torso uneasily perched on a wheelchair, is supplemented by "actual scene photos" so horrific that they have to be blurred into Jackson Pollock style mists and splashes of red -- an effect that only makes everything worse. It made me physically sick and I had to retreat into the dining room and watch the episode as reflected in the glass of a window looking out onto my driveway. After 20 minutes of spilled guts and arterial bleeding, Shatner appears in his kitchen and makes a few jocular remarks, essentially jesting about the whole thing. In the next sequence, a British tour-guide in Zambezi (or some such place) gets eaten by a hippopotamus. This guy is also reduced to a bearded torso sitting like a buddha on his wheelchair and we are regaled by tales of how the river-monster's 20 inch fangs penetrated the man's body, how the hippo sat on the Brit's crushed belly on the bed of the river, how the guy was, in effect, desanguinated. Shatner appears just before the commercial in his backyard and uses a hippo's scimitar-shaped incisors to stab at a watermelon, apparently attempting to simulate the way that the beast's jaws skewered the unfortunate man -- and, all the while, he is hamming it up for the camera and chiseling raw, red chunks of watermelon, supposedly representing the victim's torso. This show is uniquely addictive.