Tune in Tonight: "Supertrain, Episode 8"
In case you thought the penultimate episode of Supertrain might try something exciting, in a last ditch effort to hold onto the few remaining people still watching it, well, don’t get your hopes up. There’s not a single hitman or kidnapping plot to be found in this episode, and much of the “action,” if you want to call it that, involves a poker tournament, occasionally interrupted by a subplot about a counterfeit money scheme, and New Guy playing the dewy-eyed, lovelorn romantic hero. It seems redundant at this point to say that this is all done very, very poorly.
Though there’s only five players in it, apparently said poker tournament is such a big deal that it’s a televised event, with Supertrain staff sitting around watching it (reflecting the size of the audience watching the show, there are almost no other passengers anyway, so it’s fine). The players are Duke Burnside (David Huddleston), a gregarious Texan, Preacher Ross (Cleavon Little), who speaks almost entirely in Bible quotes (even when he’s in bed with a sexy lady), Talcott (Roddy McDowall), the same character Roddy McDowall always played, and Mr. Fukuda (Clyde Kusatsu), a racial stereotype who speaks no English other than poker terminology. The fifth player, Waco Cole, is supposed to be picked up along the way, but when Supertrain arrives, he’s been replaced by Ellen Bradford (Rebecca Balding), who claims that she won Waco’s place in the tournament at another game. Yet again exhibiting incredibly lax security, New Guy takes Ellen solely at her word and lets her on board, even though Waco is bound and gagged just yards away.
It’s understandable, though—despite the fact that they generate the same amount of heat that every other couple who meets on Supertrain does (that is to say, none, at all, in the slightest), New Guy is instantly smitten with Ellen, and, bereft of an actual job to do, goes swimming with her, drinks champagne in her compartment, and kisses her in full view of the other staff and passengers. To put it in perspective, this would be like if the head flight attendant on an airplane just sat down in a passenger’s lap and started making out with them. That’d be weird, right? No one cares on Supertrain, though, where red is blue, up is down, and trains have basements.
Alas, Ellen isn’t just there to play poker, she means to steal at least half of the cash prize, with the help of a comically large device strapped to her arm that switches out real bills for counterfeits. This thing is about the size of a credit card knuckle buster (kids, ask your parents), but all she has to do is keep it covered with a series of Dorothy Zbornak-style flowing blouses, and no one is the wiser. Not a single person, not her fellow poker players, not the staff, not even the cameraman filming the tournament, notices $100 bills being sucked up into her shirt sleeve and then fake ones popping out in their place, like she’s a human change machine at the laundromat.
As the poker tournament comes to its positively thrilling conclusion, however, it become apparent that someone is passing funny money. Like in the last episode, New Guy again determines that it’s his job, not the police (or, in this case, the Secret Service), to investigate the crime and find out who’s responsible. I’m not sure how he figures out that it’s Ellen, because by this point I had become so actively disinterested in what was happening that nothing short of a 747 crashing on top of Supertrain would have brought me back, but suffice to say that New Guy is just devastated to discover that this woman he’s known for barely twenty-four hours isn’t who she says she is.
Once New Guy confronts Ellen with the news that he’s on to her, you might think, oh, here we go, he’s backed her into a corner, maybe she’ll put up a fight and we’ll finally get something, anything happening on this godforsaken show, but no. She meekly gives up, and New Guy is so besotted with her that they’re still smooching even as the cops take her away. Now, you’d think that that might raise eyebrows with the cops, and certainly with Supertrain staff, but no, a supervisor openly canoodling with someone who’s just been arrested by the feds for a theft that took place on his watch is just another day on Supertrain, because who gives a shit.
If I sound a little angrier in this review than the others, it’s because I’m about…four episodes past when this stopped being fun and became a chore. The next time I’m compelled to ask “how bad could it be?” I’ll take a moment and think about Supertrain, a TV show that cost millions of dollars, yet they couldn’t be bothered to cast actors who seem like they’d be willing to loan each other a quarter to make a phone call, let alone like they’re falling in love. The novelty of the train wore off maybe halfway through the first episode, which makes the fact that the scripts seem to have been written on a soiled cocktail napkin all the more apparent. If this is like running a marathon, then this is part where my leg is on fire, and I keep asking why I ever said I was going to do this. But the finish line lays ahead, and by god I’ll get there if I have to drag myself through it.
Original airdate: April 28, 1979