November 12, 2010

Planely Possible (Perversions of Science)

Show: Perversions of Science (HBO, 1997)
Episode: Planely Possible
Grade: A+ 

Planely Possible is an episode from the short lived late-90's HBO anthology show Perversions of Science, which itself was basically a sci-fi counterpart to the hugely popular horror series Tales From the Crypt. Perversions lasted only one short season, was clearly working on a comparatively meager budget, and was probably doomed from the start (it aired in the ominous late-night Friday time slot, following another equally esoteric and luckless but awesome show - Ralph Bakshi's animated cyberpunk anthology Spicy City), but it nevertheless employed a distinct visual approach - an anxious 50's sci-fi comic-book aesthetic - and managed to operate pretty consistently outside of the box with its stories and ideas, and thus enjoys something of a respectable cult following these days despite having never been officially released on any format.

My very favorite episode of the series is easily Planely Possible, a deliciously maniacal and twisty story involving a man named Walter (George Newbern) who, after his wife (Elizabeth Berkley) has been killed, meets a crazed engineer (legendary character actor Vincent Schiavelli) who believes that he can transport Walter to an alternate plane of existence where his wife is still alive. Yes, yes, all standard sci-fi fare, and yet the episode plays out with such restless unpredictability and macabre wit - as Walter jumps through the various planes of existence and is greeted by one nasty surprise after the next - that it gains a special kind of energy and ends up transcending its fairly textbook genre plot and hokey acting and becomes easily one of the most entertaining half hours of television I've ever seen. We may not be talking high art here (though the thing does have panache and atmosphere to spare), however as a lost gem of both HBO programming and anthology television, Planely Possible is well worth noting, and seeing for that matter (if you can get your hands on a copy.)


Sam Juliano said...

Great launhing here, though I'm sad to say I haven't yet seen this show or this particular episode. I will be doing some research pronto!

Drew said...

I think you're probably not alone Sam, the show really is a rare one, having only aired for I believe 10 episodes all those years ago and never receiving a release. A VHS quality copy of the show made it's way online in the past couple of years, which is the only way I've been able to go back and watch them again. I saw them when they originally aired on HBO (I was around 12), and they always stuck with me, so I was thrilled to revisit them.

This episode in particular always stuck in my mind, and I was happy watching it again all these years later that it's still as perfectly chaotic and batshit crazy as I remembered. It's plays like an episode of The Outer Limits written by Serling with a head full of psychedelics. Really fun stuff, and definitely one of my favorite episodes ever.

Anonymous said...

the end of this episode is so scary