Tune in Tonight: "Supertrain, Episode 6"
After an almost month-long hiatus, Supertrain is back, baby, and better than ever! Well, it’s back at least, and with some big changes. The opening credits now have a weird fluorescent tint, and the theme music has been upgraded from disco to something more befitting of the action-adventure show Supertrain desperately wants to be. Even more importantly, nearly all the crew has been fired (hopefully with two weeks’ severance pay and their own model Supertrain), save for Conductor Harry, the Black Guy, and Dr. Distinguished Older Gentleman. Yes, we bid a fond farewell to Social Director Dave, the Bartender, the Brown Haired Lady Who I Guess is a Nurse Maybe, the Flamboyant Gay Stereotype, Leotard Lady, and, my personal favorite, Not Tony Danza.
But that’s okay, because in exchange we get the real Tony Danza as a guest star. This episode is just bursting at the seams with guest stars, curiously all of them from shows airing on rival networks, including Joyce DeWitt, Isabel Sanford, Jamie Farr, Vic Tayback, and, most puzzlingly, Bernie Kopell. Kopell, of course, played Your Ship’s Doctor on The Love Boat, which Supertrain both wanted to be, and to which it was unfavorably compared. If you’ve been following along on this excruciating journey (and, god, why would you), you’ll know that Fred Silverman, who gave final approval on Supertrain (presumably in the middle of a three day coke binge), also oversaw The Love Boat, one of the most successful TV shows of the 70s. So to have Kopell on the show is not unlike someone inviting his ex-wife to leave the mansion they once shared together to visit him at his trailer in the middle of the desert, it’s just sad and uncomfortable for everyone.
ANYWAY, the show opens with the secret arrival on Supertrain of heiress turned bohemian ballet dancer Natalie Smithburne (Joyce DeWitt), who reunites with Reba (Isabel Sanford), her childhood nanny. Natalie’s father has recently died, and she’s the sole heir to his vast estate. However, Natalie is only there to see Reba, and she has no interest in such bourgeois trappings as money. She’s the sort of privileged twit who shrugs off the news that she stands to earn a $60 million fortune with a smug “It’s obscene…what could anyone do with all that money?” and it’s completely understandable when Reba stares daggers at her.
Things don’t get very far underway before we discover that Reba is working with a pair of henchmen to murder Natalie and take her inheritance. Thanks to Supertrain’s continued failure to improve its safety and security features, which allow passengers to open doors leading to the outside while the train is in motion, and people can just walk in and out of strangers’ compartments without needing a key, they nearly succeed, but Natalie escapes. She mistakenly believes both the bumbling security guards assigned to protect her (Jamie Farr and Vic Tayback) and even Supertrain’s crew are in on the plan to kill her, and flees into the arms of Marshall Fossberg (Bernie Kopell), a gynecologist who—get a load of this!—is shy around women. Though you’d think she’d be too distracted by worrying about murderers stalking her, Natalie almost immediately falls into a romance with Marshall, with whom she has the kind of sizzling chemistry comparable to a glass of Alka-Seltzer.
As is par for the course with Supertrain, Reba’s plan doesn’t make a lot of sense. With all due respect to Agatha Christie, there’s just no plausible reason why anyone would choose to commit murder on a train, where there’s no way to quickly and easily escape, let alone a train traveling non-stop from one end of the country to the other. Nevertheless, she and her henchmen press forward, waving guns in full view of the other passengers. With the help of intrepid reporter Tony Danza, however, Natalie and Marshall escape their clutches, and run away together, about to be $60 million richer.
If this is a shorter recap than usual, it’s probably because I’m in full Supertrain exhaustion. I’ve only been doing this for three weeks, yet it somehow feels like three months, and the fact that I still have three more episodes to go is astonishing. Because each episode has a distressing sameness, it just feels like one long episode, filled with unnecessarily complicated murder/kidnapping plots, endless shots of people wandering around in hallways, and boring couples trying valiantly to pretend that they’re attracted to each other. The only thing that stands out about this episode is an awful gag that suggests that Marshall’s medical convention buddies might be okay with gang rape, when they see Natalie struggling with Reba’s henchmen and one of them exclaims “Looks like a party! Let’s go join them.” That eyebrow raiser of a “joke” lands less than fifteen minute into the episode, and makes pushing through the rest of it even more of a chore than usual, as does another humdinger of a “punchline” less than five minutes later, when Tony Danza tells Jamie Farr that his civil rights are being violated, and Farr retorts “What civil rights? You’re not a negro!”
This is the kind of project that Patreon accounts are made for, and still, I press forward, totally free of charge. Now it’s an endurance test, building strength and character. Considering the next episode involves a bikini charity contest, though, I may just be waving my white flag yet.
Original airdate: April 7, 1979