Tune In Tonight: "Supertrain, Episode 5"
We’ve reached an important crossroads in Supertrain’s journey. We’re halfway through the series, and it’s clear that by the time this episode was filmed, it was already well known to everyone involved that they had a giant, shockingly expensive bomb on their hands. Flop sweat drips from every frame, as they try broader comedy, weirder guest stars, and a little bit more of Supertrain itself, before giving up and just redoing the whole thing by the next episode.
The episode, titled “Superstar,” opens in a new (yet not any better) way, with Jack Hoagland (Dennis Dugan), the self-described “boy genius of Hollywood,” narrating the events leading up to his nearly being tossed out of Supertrain by, yep, more hitmen. For anyone who might be keeping count, this is the fourth of five episodes featuring hitmen, and the third featuring a character named “Jack.” This Jack, a movie producer, is in trouble after a project backed with mafia money falls through, thanks to his shady dealings. Two hitmen, Anderson (Timothy Carey) and Clyde (Mills Watson), are sent to collect either the money he owes, or his life. Through an extremely unlikely stroke of luck, Jack falls off a bridge and lands on top of Supertrain, then manages to sneak inside, because even after six murders, four hitmen, and a kidnapping, they haven’t bothered to improve their security.
For the first time since the premiere episode, we’re treated to a little taste of the mechanics of Supertrain, which mostly seems to involve people pushing flashing buttons or watching television monitors while futuristic “beep boop” music plays on the soundtrack. We also later get a look at Supertrain’s gift shop, which sells clothes, enormous stuffed animals, and toy rifles (!!!!). One assumes that upon a further look, it would also sell lawn furniture, fine jewelry, and cafeteria sized cans of baked beans.
ANYWAY, also on Supertrain is Tammy Tyler (Randee Heller, best known as Daniel-san’s mother in The Karate Kid), a Barbra Streisand-esque movie star who also happens to be Jack’s ex-wife. Supertrain overall has a problem with its “leading man” characters—they’re all obnoxious and punching far above their weights when it comes to their leading ladies—but not so much as with Jack Hoagland. For one thing, it’s his own fault that he’s in deep with the mob, and his motivations in everything he does are based in total dishonesty—he lied about Tammy agreeing to star in his movie, then lied about her dropping out, then manipulates her into really agreeing to star in it after all. Like Social Director Dave (who isn’t in this episode, and indeed, is never seen again), Jack is what would result if a man was to make love to a bowl of Idahoan potato flakes, yet not only does Tammy melt like butter in his arms, he also manages to convince an elderly woman (Sylvia Sidney) into putting her life on the line to protect him from the hitmen.
When Damien O’Toole (Bo Hopkins), Tammy’s boyfriend/business manager, understandably balks at Tammy agreeing to put a prestigious role on Broadway aside to star in something called The Lady is a Cop, Jack resorts to further dishonesty by convincing another woman to pass herself and her kids off as Damien’s abandoned family. Tammy buys this without question, and immediately dumps Damien and returns to Jack. Much like J.J. Phillips in the last episode, the audience is more or less just told that we’re supposed to cheer for Damien getting the short end of the stick, mostly because he’s an obstacle in the “hero” getting what he wants. That’s a hell of a tough sell, though, because Damien, while pushy and belligerent, is also 100% correct in arguing Tammy’s decision to risk her career to protect her shady ex-husband and his bad business deals.
Nevertheless, Tammy agrees to star in his movie, and after he inexplicably saves one of the hitmen’s lives, Jack is off the hook. He and the hitmen are so delighted at the outcome they’re practically pals by the end, as Tammy announces to the press that she and Jack plan to remarry. Damien, who, while being kind of an asshole, is neither a con man or a hired killer, is literally left out in the cold, alone and humiliated.
I will say one thing in favor of this episode of Supertrain: it tries. It doesn’t succeed, mind you, but it does try, which is more than can be said for the last two episodes. Effort is shown in the casting of Timothy Carey, a quintessential character actor known for roles in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and Paths of Glory, and everything from East of Eden to Beach Blanket Bingo. For his role in Supertrain, he appears to have foregone any notion of being “directed,” in favor of creating amusingly weird moments, such as getting nostalgic over a stuffed bear because it reminds him of his childhood pet dog which was taken away “after I bit him,” and telling the gift shop cashier “Have a nice day mmmmmmmmm” while leering at her like he’s debating whether or not he should go back in the shop and eat her. Every time he’s on screen the show at least gets slightly interesting, which is high praise for Supertrain at this point.
The comedy also gets a little bigger, which isn’t an improvement, but, in a portent of what’s to come in the next episode, which presents an “all new” Supertrain, much of the original cast is missing, which is a definite improvement. Because it’s clear that this is the point where everybody behind Supertrain began the desperate struggle to keep it from being sucked down the ratings drain (along with the millions of dollars spent on every episode), it seems a little cruel to give it a hard time. And, indeed, this isn’t the worst episode in the bunch so far. That may not be saying much overall, but for Supertrain, it’s a triumph.
Original airdate: March 14, 1979