Super Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Mr. Motivation)

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The Twilight Zone and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Warner Bros Television and based on the series created by Rod Serling

Episode directed by Deran Sarafian

We’re back with another episode of The Twilight Zone Saga: New Millennium, and boy do we have something new for you all today!  This episode is unlike any other we’ve seen so far as it is a… wait for it… COMEDY!!  That’s right!  Not an unintended comedy like that one about the guitar or watching Katherine Heigl try to kill baby Hitler!  This one wants you to chuckle right along with it instead of directly at it!  Does this series know how to loosen up and have a genuine sense of wit about itself?  Let’s find out!!

The episode begins with what might be the most attended office birthday party that wasn’t catered as everyone and their mother apparently left their stations to go to a cubicle and sing For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.  Wait, what?  Is the birthday song copyrighted or something?  Hold on.

HOLY CRAP, IT IS!!  Apparently that song has had some sort of copyright on it since 1935 with Warner/Chappell music acquiring a company that claimed to have owned it back in 1985 and have been collecting royalties on it since!  That is until 2016 when a court ordered that their copyright was not valid for reasons that I’ve only skimmed now and will surely take up an afternoon of your time if you wish to look into it, and Warner/Chappell is required to refund the royalties they’ve collected for it.  Darn you, Warner Bros television!  If you had stuck to your guns and used the CORRECT song, you would be getting your seven hundred bucks back anyway!  Who looks like a fool now, Warner Bros Television?  Who looks like a fool now?

Did I really take this recap completely off the rails because of the Birthday Song?  Let’s see if we can somehow get back on track.  So anyway, the cubicle in question belongs to Charlie (Wallace Langham) who is one of many office drones in this building that does… stuff, and is having a rather joyous little celebration at his desk complete with trick candle on his cupcake, but all that comes to a SCREECHING halt as soon as The Boss (Christopher McDonald) comes through and tells everyone to get back to work; something they do with great gusto and more than recommend amount of abject terror.  The Boss by the way looks like a cross between Thomas Haden Church, Clancy Brown and Biff from Back to the Future, so it’s no wonder everyone is terrified of him!  Oh but he can’t be ALL bad, right?  After all, he got Charlie a gift for his birthday which is some sort of dime store talking statute called Mr. Motivation who spouts useless buzzwords and aphorisms whenever you bop it on its little bobble head.  Just the pick me up Charlie is gonna need of since The Boss follows up this magnanimous gesture with a neigh impossible task and his job security as the sword of Damocles hanging over his head.  He needs to pull up basically all documentation over the last several months (hard copies no less), and search for any that contain the name of a specific product their developing.  If he can find whatever vaguely sinister thing The Boss is looking for, he gets a promotion.  If not, well… at least the economy in 2002 is better than it is now but it would STILL be a pain in the butt.

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“I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do, sir!  I’m gonna invest in HOUSING!  There is nothing more stable in this, the greatest country on Earth, so you can take your job and shove it!”

Actually it’ll be a bit MORE than mere butt pain since it turns out his dad is on his insurance plan and he requires quite a bit of medical attention, so perhaps it’s better to just suck it up, get it done, and down a bottle of cheap liquor at the end of the day just like the rest of us.  Charlie joylessly gets started on his Sisyphean task when he starts bopping Mr. Motivation on the head as a minor distraction, but sadly it turns into a BIG one when the little bugger starts insulting him instead of assuring him of how awesome he is.  Worse yet is that he gets a visit by the woman he has a crush on in HR Linda (Helene Joy), and while she’s leaving the hunk of plastic catcalls her.  Now oddly enough she’s TOTALLY into it as well as Charlie himself which is FINE I guess, but the workplace is like in the bottom three of places where something like that would be appropriate; right under hospitals and funerals.  Charlie DOES manage to wrangle a date out of the situation which you’d think would make him less irritated, but that doll is a loose cannon darn it, and he needs to take the batteries out before he causes any more haunted mischief!  Now the first comparison this premise invites is to that of Living Doll, one of the classic episodes of the original series, but actually this is much closer to another episode; Nervous man in a Four Dollar Room.  In that episode, Joe Mantell plays a low level thug who’s being forced to carry out a murder by his boss and he spends the entire episode sweating it out and arguing with a mirror which is projecting a much more confident and brave version of himself.  The themes are similar in that something is trying to tell our main character to stand up for himself and take control of his own life, but while that one had a very ONE MAN SHOW kind of feel to it (there are only two actors the entire episode and the other one is only on screen for about four minutes) this is, as I mentioned earlier, more of a comedic farce.  Now I’ll be the first to admit that the original series did it better in this instance, but I’ll also give this series credit when it’s due because the whole look, pacing, and even editing of the episode is far removed from anything else we’ve seen so far.  Most of the time the show goes for something approaching RESPECTABLE CLASSY ENTERTAINMENT with its cinematography and the result is more often than not kinda flat and boring, while this one kicks things up a notch with zany sound effects, over the top characters, and even a bit of style here and there; particularly in The Boss’s office which looks like a dungeon someone tried to spruce up.

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“Do you know why you’re here?”     “Why no sir, I wasn’t expecting-”     “DON’T!!”     *CRASH*     “NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!!”     “Sigh…”

It ends up bringing a lot of life to this episode even if the premise does feel a bit tired, and while Wallace Langham is no Joe Mantell, the rest of the cast does a good job of holding it all together and keeping it all fun.  What’s less fun though is the reason WHY Charlie needs to find this document as The Boss oddly enough straight up tells him after he’s been looking for what, an hour or two?  I mean if he’s so gosh darn worried about it, why doesn’t he look for it himself, or at least give Charlie some sort of sob story instead of the insidious truth he can blackmail him with!  It turns out that a few months ago, The Boss came across a tainted shipment of their birth control product Ovatril which was to expire a good year earlier than the printed date but let the shipment go out anyway and NOW he needs the manifesto confirming this to be the case so he can change it.  Yeah, something tells me that the guy  who picked the most spineless wuss-bag at the company to try and help him cover his crime MONTHS LATER and even breaks down IMMEDIATELY to tell him what’s REALLY going on, is not necessarily the most ingenious supervillain the pharmaceutical world has ever known.  Then again, he at least made ONE right move in choosing Charlie to look for this document because he still agrees to help The Boss even after realizing that he’d be aiding in the cover-up of a serious crime.  All the time he’s searching that doll of his keeps throwing out nasty barbs and he can’t figure out why it’s so specifically mean to HIM, especially when he already took the batteries out.  Eventually he tries to just smash the darn thing, it appears to be made of TwilightZone-iam and it doesn’t get a single dent in it.  Well then!  When in doubt, do what Charlie does and just ignore the problem until it goes away!  Oh would you look at that!  He DID end up finding the document and The Boss is right on top of him to give him his gratitude and promises of a promotion!  That is until he trips and falls out of the cubicle over an errant wire Charlie had lying around and decides to rescind his over despite Charlie still knowing everything he’s done.  But wait a minute; Charlie doesn’t just leave random cables lying around!  How could this have happened!?  Well Charlie follows it to its source and, TWILIGHT SHOCK!!

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It was the figurine with the wire in the cubicle?  I could have sworn it was the butler!

Yeah, apparently the doll isn’t playing around anymore so Charlie has to dispose of it in… some sort of trash chute that they have on this floor of the office?  Seems a bit excessive, but it gets the job done at least.  OR DOES IT!?  No sooner than Charlie arrives at his cubicle that he gets summoned to The Boss’s office and finds the guy very mad and pointing at the Mr. Motivation doll holding a thinly veiled threat about going public with what Charlie knows.  Dang!  That little guy moves fast!

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“On the other side it just says ‘butt’ and then has a crude drawing of me.”     “I’m sure he didn’t mean it, sir.”

The boss chews him out a bit, but offers the promotion again as a peace offering between them… yet he still feels the need to try and needlessly humiliate Charlie by calling in Linda from HR and telling him that they won’t be having a date tonight since Charlie has some more paperwork to do.  Again, this guy can’t seem to figure out if he’s afraid of Charlie or if Charlie should be afraid of him, and his flip flopping between the two is coming off rather strangely, but then again this IS kind of a farce and it is at least a little bit funny to watch that dude get flustered.  Charlie leaves the office dejected, gets told off by Linda for being so cowardly in front of The Boss, and even Mr. Motivation has stopped talking to him.  That’s all he can stand and he can’t stand no more!  Charlie has decided that he’s going to fight for his right to not be the office doormat and will expose The Boss’s secret to upper management!  He breaks into The Boss’s office, manages to get the document back, and tries to run to the upper floor when he’s caught by The Boss who kicks him in the nuts and takes the folder back.  BUT WAIT!  The document is no longer in the folder!  Charlie clearly predicting a butt whooping in his future made the wise choice to put the document in his back pocket which was actually a bit risky considering The Boss could have easily tried to take his lunch money, but luckily for Charlie and thousands of women who have contraceptive needs, he has the document, The Boss gets fired, and Charlie takes his place!  That’s right, within days of Charlie exposing this conspiracy he gets put into upper management!  No job postings for this position or shuffling around a few employees at The Boss’s level!  Just take one of the drones and give him the corner office!

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“Can you believe that last guy?  Trust me, if I do something fraudulent, I’m gonna do it the RIGHT way!”     “You the man!”     “You know it!”

So, Mr. Whitaker; what’s the moral to the story?

“By listening to that little voice, Charlie Stickney won the battle of wills with his boss, and with himself.  Another success story, courtesy of… The Twilight Zone.”

A bit simplistic as far as morals go (listen to your conscious, kids!) but I’ll take it.  This isn’t one of the BEST episodes of the series but I appreciate its attempt to have a bit of flair and fun with all of this instead of getting bogged down in faux-philosophical nonsense wrapped around half baked ideas.  This show for whatever reason wasn’t one that tried to go for a lot of style which puts it at odds with Serling’s original, but every once in a while something will put in that little extra effort to stand out from the rest.  It may not be the strongest story of the bunch, but it is one that will certainly stick in your memory a lot longer!

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If you like this recap and plan on buying the show, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

The Twilight Zone – The Complete Series

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