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This Is Who We Were…

June 8, 2011

Well, this is who I was, anyway.

 

So I’ve recently been going back again to watch Chris Carter‘s short-lived pre-Millennial television series Millennium—which did not itself quite make it to the Millennium, which in turn did not quite justify all the jitters expended before its arrival—and finding much to recommend in the series despite its having been left behind by real-world events. Not enjoyment, exactly—it’s much too dark for that—but this is some of the most intense broadcast television ever made (or, at least, that I’ve ever seen).

Much of Millennium‘s impact is due to the incomparable Lance Henriksen, of course, whose somber and gravelly delivery of even the most ridiculous material was utterly believable. When Frank Black tells you things he had no way of knowing about a serial killer he’d never met, both I and the other characters in the series have no choice but to believe him.

The show was almost entirely downbeat, dark both visually and thematically, and I’m sure that did not help its longevity. Coming as it did at a time when the odometer was about to roll over and no one really knew that the apocalyptic shouters were (mostly) wrong, Millennium often veered into fantasy and fervor, as well… although I found its most effective emotional moments to be those that were entirely grounded in the there-and-then, such as the first-season episodes “The Well-Worn Lock,” in which Frank’s wife Catherine helps a victim of incest take her father to court, and “The Wild and the Innocent,” a story in dialect about a teenaged girl and her boyfriend’s incidentally murderous search for her lost “angel.”

But the episode I enjoyed the most, and the one that really prompted this post, was an utterly atypical entry from the second season called “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense.” While still dark, this particular episode also turned out to be funny, a breath of comic relief that I think was sorely needed by that point in the series.

Jose Chung, of course, is a crossover character from Carter’s other series, The X-Files (you may have heard of that one), as played by the late, lamented Charles Nelson Reilly. Chung is an sf author—something of a hack, really—whose latest book is a transparent attempt to cash in on the same pre-Millennial fervor that the Millennium Group was struggling with in the series, and that of course Chris Carter was exploiting in the real world.

The episode is full of little in-jokes and references to other works… while The X-Files is never mentioned explicitly, for example, David Duchovny appears in a couple of movie posters, including one for “Operation: Box Office” (heh) on the walls of a Selfosophy guru’s office. Chung runs afoul of Selfosophy (itself a transparent parody of a belief system not to be named here) when he publishes a short story critical of the selfish self-help movement. Chung attaches himself to Frank Black, and dives enthusiastically into the role of amateur profiler; Henriksen gets a rare opportunity to crack a smile (as a blond in a blue trenchcoat, no less) when one of Chung’s crazy profile scenarios is brought to life on-screen.

But the crowning crossover moment for me came when Chung mentions his appearance in an award-winning film and up pops a clip from Lidsville—one of the loopiest Saturday-morning kids’ series ever to come from the loopy minds of Sid and Marty Krofft back in the 1970s… in which Reilly did in fact play the evil magician Hoodoo. That trippy little sucker scarred me for life.

It was only on-screen for a few seconds… but that clip pretty much justified the episode, and indeed the whole series, for me. And now you know more than you probably needed to about who I am…

 

The venerable yet still relevant Internet Movie Database (IMDb) was of course invaluable in researching and compiling the specific references above.

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