Tune in Tonight: "Supertrain, Episode 7"
Though you can hear the plaintive screeching of brakes in the distance, there’s still some finetuning being done on Supertrain. We now have two new crew members, Blonde Lady and New Guy Who Looks Like the Bartender But is Apparently Someone Else (we’ll call him New Guy for short). Blonde Lady is the new social director, while New Guy, the assistant conductor, is being set up as the sort of rebellious hero who refuses to play by the rules. Both, you’ll note, are black holes from which no charisma can escape.
New Guy is left in charge on his first day at work, when Conductor Harry falls ill with the mumps. Now, despite its absurd name, the mumps is a highly infectious disease that can occasionally cause such complications as male sterilization, pancreatitis, and meningitis. If someone in an enclosed space as small as, say, a train, gets the mumps, you’re pulling that train into the next closest stop and getting that person the hell off. In fact, you’re probably getting everyone off, so that every surface that might have been exposed to the virus can be sterilized. Instead, it’s played for laughs, with Conductor Harry acting like even more of an irascible old asshole than usual, and the rest of the crew thinking that it’s hilarious that he has a communicable illness that has probably already been passed on to them.
On board Supertrain for this trip is Zsa Zsa Gabor as Audrey Fuller, the fabulously wealthy hostess of a charity benefit. We never know what her charity is, or why she invited people to the benefit who clearly hate her, but it doesn’t matter. Shenanigans are afoot involving a duplicate of a $2 million necklace Audrey wears to a party, and the theft of the real one. You’ll be stunned to know that it takes a very long time for any of this to get underway, however, put off in favor of a bikini fashion show, people arguing over ice sculptures, endless scenes of disco dancing, and Blonde Lady singing a slowed down, torch song version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” while she and New Guy make eyes at each other.
But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of excitement to be had, when Supertrain experiences some engine trouble. Luckily, since the train is nuclear powered they have someone on board who is trained to handle such matters, and—oh, wait, they don’t? This several ton vehicle hurtling across the country and back again with what’s essentially a nuclear reactor in its engine room doesn’t have anyone on staff whose specific job is to monitor and repair it? Nope, it’s up to New Guy to descend into Supertrain’s basement (because trains can have basements, sure, why not), wearing what looks like a silver tuxedo and a towel around his neck, and prevent a potential environmental catastrophe.
Somehow not looking like Emil in Robocop after repairing the engine, New Guy’s next task is investigating the theft of Audrey’s necklace. Despite everything that’s happened in the last six episodes, all the murders, the attempted murders, the kidnappings, and passengers repeatedly being able to open outside doors while the train is in motion, the woefully understaffed Supertrain still doesn’t have a dedicated security team. So it’s up to the porter, the social director, whatever the hell role New Guy is actually supposed to serve, and retired cop Abe Vigoda, to track down the thief. Rather than wait an hour for Supertrain to reach its destination and let the actual cops do their job, they come up with a scheme involving Blonde Lady flirting with the would-be thief over breakfast, and New Guy tricking them into getting off the train, rather than staying on board for the return trip.
Not that you could possibly fucking care, but the thief is Lyle Waggoner.
We’re coming close to the end of our trip on Supertrain (though not close enough), and surely by this point everyone involved had to have seen the writing on the wall (which read THIS SHOW SUCKS). This episode feels like the product of a final late night, coffee and bad Chinese food fueled meeting in which every possible idea that might draw audience interest was pitched. “Have we tried bikini babes? Let’s throw in some bikini babes.” “That blonde gal, the new one, she sings, right? Have her sing.” “The disco dancing scenes are testing well, let’s add some more of those.” And yet, somehow the “action” scenes are duller than ever, and the comedy remains tepid at best. It’s like trying to repair a condemned house by putting a single potted plant on the front porch.
The fact that the writers thought no one would question the idea of a train having a basement shows a level of desperation that is both sad and hilarious. So much money (nearly $30 million by this point!) had been poured into something that was already dead before it left the station, and yet, think about what else could have been done with that money, the orphanages that could have been built with it, the charities it could have funded, the toilets it could have been flushed down.
Original airdate: April 14, 1979