Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Case of the Jaded Joker

I ended up missing The Jaded Joker when it aired on television recently. I decided it would be the perfect time to watch it uncut again, as I think I’ve only seen the uncut version once or twice.

I cringed to remember just how much was cut out. They eliminated both the scene where the titular character Danny tries to kill himself and is stopped by Freddie, and a scene at breakfast the next day where they discuss it. Or Danny tries to discuss it, anyway, and Freddie gruffly brushes it off, saying that he himself has been helped out of jams many times by Danny. They then discuss the murder and Danny tries to give an alibi to Freddie, worrying that he killed the creep who’s caused them so much trouble. Freddie, meanwhile, worries that Danny did it, although he doesn’t say so at this point.

As before, I find the episode just delightful because of the friendship between those two. I am annoyed that those scenes get cut, but even the cut version retains some of the friendship scenes. Danny exclaims on the witness stand that if Freddie did kill the guy, it was for Danny, so Danny should be the one to go to the gas chamber. It’s illogical, but it shows how deeply Danny cares about Freddie. Meanwhile, Freddie is still worried that Danny did it and he’s willing to take the blame to protect Danny.

Paul expresses confusion early on as to why Freddie stays on with Danny and if there’s anything crooked in his mind, since Freddie has a record and was a two-bit operator before meeting Danny. But from all the scenes between them and concerning them, it’s obvious that Freddie has no criminal motives in mind unless said motives are for the protection of Danny. He’s very loyal and caring and they have a truly lovely, deep friendship.

The friendship, however, seems to be largely overshadowed by the main thing people seem to dislike about this episode, which is the fact that it gets into beatnik culture. Danny and Freddie’s friend, Buzzie, is a beat, mostly always playing the piano or occasionally spouting strange statements that people other than beats aren’t likely to understand. He ends up being the murderer, upset about the way his friends have been treated (“friends” also including Sheila Hayes, who was stood up). And the bizarre element of the body being stuffed into the kneehole of the desk is apparently because the victim is a “square” and Buzzie somehow feels that killing him and putting him in such a strange position will enable him to be “born again” and eventually find salvation.

It’s definitely weird, that’s for sure. But there have been other Perry episodes with strange resolutions. Whether or not they are accepted any better is something I’m not sure of. In any case, while I do think the solution to the crime is why my mom doesn’t like the episode, from what most people have said, it seems to be the idea of anything beatnik-related at all that makes their skin crawl. It kind of interferes with their ideas of what Perry cases should be like. They prefer more mainstream plots and characters, such as the ones from season 1, and do not care to see unusual subcultures. (Or stuff about the Space Age, as another example.)

While some of that may be a desire to keep the plots and characters more relatable to more people, I think another large part of it goes back to the idea of wanting to keep Perry a period piece, taking place even before beatniks really started coming into being. Beatniks properly place the series in the present day of its time, plus I suppose some people would say that the presence of beatniks dates the episode today.

I’m all for contemporary Perry, as everyone probably well knows by now, and I enjoy seeing them encounter the things that were happening at that time. I see nothing wrong with that and don’t think it should take away from the enjoyment of the episodes.

That being said, I do think it’s better to keep jaunts into the beatnik or Space Age worlds as something occasional and not the main thing. And the show did that very well; most plots are more mainstream, with more average, relatable guest-stars. (Although I think Danny and Freddie’s friendship should be relatable for most people.)

While the majority of people dislike this episode, however, one thing it seems most of them still appreciate is the hilarious adorableness of Lieutenant Tragg spouting off beat talk. Tragg is totally in tune with the slang of the day and would definitely be able to carry on conversations with members of the younger set who actually talk like that most of the time. I just love that priceless, mischievous grin as he says, “Don’t bug me, Granny. I’m one of the cool ones. I don't dig slick chicks trying to goof me up, Daddy-O.” Classic Tragg.

And now I have an image of Tragg in my stories (which are set in the present day) carrying on a conversation with a kid about video games like Mario and Sonic. If he could keep up-to-date on beatnik talk, I bet a present-day Tragg would also keep up on current interests of the young people. That would be pretty adorable too.

But I digress. I find The Jaded Joker a very enjoyable and fun episode, largely because of the friendship between Danny and Freddie. The beatnik elements certainly make it unusual, and the solution to the mystery is very trippy and strange (I can’t think of any other episode that resolves itself in a beat joint!), but I see no reason why those elements should have to make the episode overall any less fun to watch. And anyway, being a fan of Bobby Troupe, I found it intriguing to see him in this early role.

Actually, it’s interesting that The Jaded Joker is rather a musical episode, with music personalities in the form of not only Bobby Troupe, but Frankie Laine, who plays Danny. But despite Frankie Laine’s status as a singer, he doesn’t so much as hum one note in the episode. I’m always slightly amused when a famous singer comes onboard and then doesn’t sing. I suppose he wants to be known for something other than solely singing, or else the staff working on the episode doesn’t want the episode to turn into little more than a vehicle for the singer to sing.

Both Frankie Laine and Bobby Troupe are excellent in their roles, and I’m also very impressed with Walter Burke as Freddie. But then, I generally am impressed with the quality of the guest-stars on Perry. Maybe occasionally a slip is made, such as how I’ve heard that people forgot their lines in The Lost Last Act when Tragg comes to arrest Stacy Harris’s character, but it’s covered up so beautifully I never would have realized it hadn’t played out the way it was really supposed to be. Ray Collins is awesome in that scene, with his gentle prompting and ad-libbing. No wonder they kept it in instead of asking for another take!

Anyway, aside from the beatnik elements, the story of The Jaded Joker is very much like any other Perry mystery in that it has a wide variety of character types often seen on the series, a puzzling murder, and nice character interaction as the crew works to solve it. I study the episode trying to find something wrong with it since it’s so universally disliked, but I always end up coming away feeling that it’s just fine.

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