Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Hasty Honeymooner vs. The 12th Wildcat: There's some definite deja vu here...

Last night my local station aired The Hasty Honeymooner as part of its current Saturday lineup. If I’ve ever seen it before, it was years ago. It’s a season 9 episode, and one of the strangest I’ve seen in any season. And perhaps the oddest thing of all is how some elements of it curiously echo some of what’s wrong with the episode that aired right after it: The 12th Wildcat. And it managed to run this parallel despite being an out-of-town episode.

The plot is both unique and odd, concerning a very suspicious man who arrives in town and immediately begins courting a young woman on a ranch. Apparently they met through a computer dating service, only he lied on his application about many things and now has the business’s staff highly unsettled. They believe that he’s out to milk the woman for all she’s worth.

That’s certainly the impression the audience is given. I wasn’t sure whether they were setting him up to be the defendant or the victim, but since everyone seemed to think he was up to no good I figured he might be the defendant. Which he is, after his new wife dies from drinking poisoned lemonade he hands her.

Another unique element is that Terrance Clay certainly has an extensive part in this one, perhaps his most important and involved in any episode. The fellow happens to be a war buddy of his. Clay later recommends Perry to him when he wants a good lawyer to write a will for his wife. And, although Perry has strong misgivings about continuing to represent the guy when he realizes he’s been lied to on many accounts right from the start, he agrees to see him when Clay pleads for Perry’s help. And Perry finally consents to remain the lawyer when the desperate defendant begs not to be let down.

I think out of all of his clients and all of the lies, this guy is the one Perry has the least faith in. I don’t recall ever seeing him so hesitant to represent anyone else. But he has good reason; he and the audience are still being led to believe that something is bizarre and the man might have been committing illegal acts. There’s the mystery of a former wife who died under mysterious circumstances. And during court, it comes out that there was another wife before that. Perry just about drops him after that lie, and warns him that if there’s any more. . . . He’s interrupted and assured that he knows about all of them now.

There ends up being an intriguing and sad twist, in that the defendant was actually supposed to be the murder victim. And instead of him fleecing the woman, she was the one fleecing him. He was actually just lonely and looking for a loving wife, especially after two bombed marriages (which he didn’t talk about because of being afraid that the third woman would freak out and leave him).

I did think she acted very odd in their scenes together. She was very standoffish and aloof. And I noted that when he wanted her to call him Luke, feeling that Lucas was indeed standoffish, she continued to call him Lucas. I thought maybe she was afraid of him, thinking he was out for her money. But she wasn’t afraid at all until his stepson lied to her and made out like Lucas had killed his former wife. Poor Lucas.

And the poor wife of the murderer. It ended up being the guy who ran the dating service with his wife. He was in love with the girl who got in with Lucas and he even gave her his and his wife’s ranch, without his wife’s knowledge, to make her look rich. At the end of the episode, Lucas gives the ranch back to the woman and muses that maybe he’ll go out there and try to offer her some comfort.

Our main guest-star is played by Noah Beery, Jr., popularly featured as a regular on several television series, and a previous Perry guest-star from season 8’s The Golden Venom. He played the bad guy in that one. Here, as the very quirky, secretive defendant, he once again pulls off a stellar performance. He is one of the best things about The Hasty Honeymooner.

This episode takes place in the next county over, save for scenes in Perry’s office. So, with a new county comes a different prosecutor. And in walk the similarities to The 12th Wildcat.

Throughout the scenes in court, Perry continually complains about the way the district attorney is handling the case. Many of his complaints, if not all, are upheld by the judge. The half-dozen or so points of frustration mostly revolve around the sole idea that the man is prejudicial against Perry’s client and keeps phrasing questions in a way that brings that out. The D.A. apologizes to the court each time this happens and he is reprimanded. Sound familiar, anyone?

The most eerily familiar line is when Perry’s patience is finally stretched to the nth degree and he says that his current complaint is that not only has the prosecutor’s last comment been filled with prejudicial misconduct, but his whole case likewise. Didn’t we hear the same thing, pretty much word for word, when Perry complained about Hamilton in the very next episode? What’s going on here? Aside from the actual identity of the prosecutor, the exchanges are interchangeable!

Now, of course some things during court scenes recur. There are certain comments both Perry and Hamilton make over 271 episodes that are repeated in various ways. And I’m not forgetting that during William Talman’s suspension the assistant D.A.s were all given dialogue meant for Hamilton. But, the very same problem with the prosecutor, twice in a row? I don’t recall that problem ever happening before, at least not to the same, strong degree as it’s shown in both The Hasty Honeymooner and The 12th Wildcat. What is the explanation? Is there one? Is it just coincidence?

Honestly, I doubt it. Especially after looking at the writers for both and finding a common denominator. Ernest Frankel wrote some of The Hasty Honeymooner. And he wrote The 12th Wildcat all by himself.

I’ve long suspected that Ernest Frankel was responsible for most of the trouble with Hamilton’s characterization in season 9. True, he and Orville shared writing credit for other episodes I’ve strongly disliked that season, but I took special notice that when Orville wrote by himself he was usually kinder to Hamilton. There was that oddity during court in The Golfer’s Gambit, which was an Orville solo project, but even that wasn’t on the same level with episodes such as The 12th Wildcat and The Vanishing Victim. And since Ernest wrote the former on his own, and was partially responsible for The Vanishing Victim, it seems much more likely that Ernest was the main one throwing characterization to the wind.

So, concerning The Hasty Honeymooner and The 12th Wildcat, a whole new series of questions arise. Why on earth were the court scenes written so strikingly similar for both? Why weren’t the writers more creative, especially with the episodes airing one after the other? Maybe they didn’t know they would air in that order, but that’s still no excuse. Isn’t it a bad enough blow to deal the prosecution once, to say nothing of twice? When I watched The 12th Wildcat, I complained about the prejudicial misconduct angle and that it had never happened to that extent anywhere else in the series. And with Hamilton, it didn’t. But with this other D.A., it happened again.

Was The Hasty Honeymooner ever intended to be an out-of-town script? Was Hamilton originally supposed to be the scapegoat in both episodes? Or going the other way around, was The 12th Wildcat ever meant to be an in-town episode? What if it had originally been written as another out-of-towner, with some oneshot prosecutor as the instigator of that misconduct too? It is possible that Hamilton was not intended to be the one committing those acts. (And unfortunately, it’s also possible that he was supposed to commit twice the number he did. If the latter was the case, I guess I have to be grateful that they decided to make The Hasty Honeymooner an out-of-town episode instead. It was bad enough in The 12th Wildcat without seeing Hamilton act so strange another time.)

It certainly gives me some new things to think about. It’s annoying to see that prejudicial misconduct angle crop up again, but it’s kind of nice to muse that there is the possibility that it wasn’t intended as a slur against Hamilton. (On the other hand, it’s aggravating to think that maybe it was, twofold.) It would be nice to know what really was in the writers’ minds.

In any case, as long as the angle is being used, I’d rather see it with a random oneshot prosecutor instead of Hamilton. Hamilton is already dealt enough blows in the series without being hit with a plethora of (justified) prejudicial misconduct complaints. And despite the episode’s overall strangeness, The Hasty Honeymooner is most definitely better than The 12th Wildcat. In the latter, I just can’t get over Ernest Frankel’s sloppiness in not even explaining the crime. And it’s that fact, not only the gross mischaracterization of Hamilton, that makes me rank The 12th Wildcat at the bottom of my list.

The only positive notations about The 12th Wildcat are the appearances by real-life sports icons, for those who are into sports. And the epilogue, admittedly, is cute, even though it does nothing to explain the goings-on. And I honestly don’t think those things are enough to save an episode that really is terribly cobbled together.

(Oh, and by the way, I finished my latest writing prompt challenge. For anyone interested in reading the Perry vignettes that came out of it, the entire set is here: )

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