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A Bloody Good Time: Perversions of Science Retrospective

March 10, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

As you saw last week, we finally wrapped up Tales from the Crypt months after I intended to finish. Now here we are onto a new show and we’re still not quite done with Crypt…sort of. A year after that show’s conclusion, HBO began airing a sci-fi anthology series very similar to Crypt. It had a theme song from Danny Elfman and some of its stories were based on EC Comics and William Gaines’ Weird Science. In fact it was going to be called Weird Science, but the movie put a stop to that. They likely didn’t want anyone to get confused.

It even had a lot of the same producers behind it, including Walter Hill, Richard Donner and David Giler. Even some of the same writers and directors showed up to do episodes, as well as certain names that already appeared on Crypt. If this had the Cryptkeeper abducted by aliens at the start to explain the sci-fi tone, they could have just passed it off as season eight.

However, we don’t get the Cryptkeeper as a host. Instead, we have Chrome, voiced by Maureen Teefy. Chrome is a robot with a lot of…sexualized features. In the opening of the show she presses a button on her metallic boob, which opens up to reveal the title. The title, by the way, has a light tracing another boob around it. Or a lemon. Given the nature of the show, I guess it’s the former. I guess they’re really going for the “Perversions” part with that character. She’s not as memorable as the host she was replacing, but this is a different type of show.

I don’t have a personal connection to this like I did with Crypt, so it’s all new to me. Let’s hit that all-new, all-different intro and take a look at Perversions of Science!

Episode 1: Dream of Doom
Starring: Keith Carradine, Lolita Davidovich, Gretchen Palmer, Adam Arkin, Peter Jason, Lin Shaye
Written by: David S. Goyer
Directed by: Walter Hill
Air Date: June 7, 1997

Sometimes it seems like all men think about is sex. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. It’s just that I prefer a man who does more than think about it. I want my man to take control. Losing control can be a terrifying thing. Then again, it’s nothing to lose REM sleep over. At least that’s what the man in my next playback keeps telling me. And he should know. I calibrated this off-kilter ode to insomnia under the name “Dream of Doom.”

As you can see from her opening quote, Chrome is a lot more sexually charged than the Cryptkeeper. This one features Keith Carradine as a professor who swears he’s stuck in a series of dreams, even if no one else believes him. The dreams are also incredibly realistic, leaving him losing his mind and unsure of what’s real and what’s not.

Stories where you’re not sure what’s real or what’s not is always fun as long as it isn’t just a collection of scenes with no flow or logic. If that happens you become half of the entire run of Freddy’s Nightmares, which incidentally is what this episode feels like. There’s no rhyme or reason to anything. Arthur goes through his ordeal and the only hint of an explanation is given at the end through a really dumb twist. Even with the cast, this was a poor start to the sreies.

Rating: 3/10

Episode 2: Anatomy Lesson
Starring: Jeremy London, Jeff Fahey, Joanna Gleason, Jim Metzler, Devon Odessa
Written by: Kevin Rock
Directed by: Gilbert Adler
Air Date: June 7, 1997

Have you been waiting long? I’m sorry. Sometimes I like to tease. And when you’re ready to give up on me, when you’re ready to pack it all up and pull out…I simply smile and suck you back in. My friend Billy also knows a thing or two about manipulation, but he’s not one to pontificate. In cases like this he’d rather cut right to the heart of the matter. I compressed this dangerous dollop of data under the title “Anatomy Lesson.”

Jeremy London’s a eighteen-year-old with some serious psychological issues. And by “psychological issues” I mean he fantasizes about killing. It doesn’t help that he’s been seeing a strange bearded man (Jeff Fahey) following him since childhood. Just when he gets the idea to kill someone, the bearded man stops him and he finally finds out what’s been going on.

This episode, I think, hinges totally on your ability to accept the twist at the end. I thought it was good, although I wish it had more time to devote to it. Imagine, for example, if the plot of this episode was used for the 90s Outer Limits revival? If we spend more time building things up, it would be easier to care about what happens. I’m two episodes in and notice everything feels rushed. This happened occasionally on Crypt but seems that show handled pacing with more efficiency than this one does.

The twist was fun and Jeff Fahey’s always guaranteed to deliver in his performance. But there’s a definite issue with time management in this show that hopefully is corrected as it continues.

Rating: 6/10

Episode 3: Boxed In
Starring: Heather Elizabeth Parkhurst, Kevin Pollak, Melanie Shatner, William Shatner
Written by: Chris Miller, Kevin Rock
Directed by: William Shatner
Air Date: June 7, 1997

I hate to admit it, but I’m perfect. Absolutely perfect, not a crinkle, not a rust mark, not a single loose joint. I’m as flawless today as I was the day I was built. I know you like the way I’m built. Perfection like mine doesn’t come easy you know. Of course I like it when things don’t come easy. Anyway, the ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone. The leg bone’s connected to the thigh bone. My thigh bone’s connected to your wishbone. Of course if it was that easy, everyone would have someone like me. It takes a real man to know what makes my circuits sizzle. I’ve warned my dear, dear friend Emmy about just that thing. I told her what would happen if she got involved with only half a man. I stored this perfect piece of programming under the title “Boxed In.”

William Shatner directed this episode and he has a small role, along with his daughter Melanie. The star, however, is Kevin Pollak, a mechanic who works on spaceships. He’s spent a long time with a sex robot but refused to have sex with her because he has a fiancee at home. So he takes her apart and prepares to go home, but as you’d expect, he’s not out of the woods yet.

This one is played 100% for laughs and it features a lot of physical, slapstick comedy. It’s a farce about a guy who just can’t control his libido anymore and pays for it. The comedy works if you’re a fan of that sort of thing and at least for this one, the pacing is better. Heather Elizabeth Parkhurst is great casting as the sex robot, mostly because she’s funny and her comedic timing is great. I mean, it doesn’t hurt that she looks good either.

Rating: 7/10

Episode 4: The Exile
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Ron Perlman, Christopher John Fields, Brian Brophy, Jeff Corey, David Warner
Written by: David J. Schow
Directed by: William Malone
Air Date: June 11, 1997

Before we get started, I have a question. You do have protection, don’t you? I mean, anything’s better than nothing. Whips, chains, handcuffs. It’s not that I don’t like a little cuddling now and then, it’s just that the man in tonight’s playback likes to meet behind the toughest bars in town…the bars of a prison cell. I store this bit of punitive programming under the title “The Exile.”

You can’t get me more excited for an episode of an anthology series than by casting Jeffrey Combs and letting him play against Ron Perlman. David Warner also has a smaller role in it. Combs plays a demented scientist/serial killer here and right from the start he appears to be channeling Herbert West a little bit. He’s caught by police and locked away where Perlman is his roommate.

It’s weird that Combs never made it onto Tales From the Crypt, which he would have been perfect for. Come to think of it, a lot of horror names didn’t show up on that show, which you’d think they would. Anyway, I’m a huge fan of his and it’s the rare occasion where he doesn’t deliver. Warner and Perlman are also great, but they don’t have as much time to shine (especially Perlman). This is Combs’ show and he makes the most of it.

Rating: 8/10

Episode 5: Given the Heir
Starring: Yancy Butler, William McNamara, David Leisure, Paul Williams
Written by: Mark Verheiden
Directed by: Ramon Menendez
Air Date: June 18, 1997

Computers help make playing with yourself so much more enjoyable. Take a game like poker for example. Nothing gets me more excited than a great hand. I met a woman once, her name was Lisa Gerou. She took playing with herself to a whole new dimension. This little file of fulfilling facts I stored under the name “Given the Heir.”

A woman named Lisa Gerou travels back in time to meet a man she’s obsessed with. It’s unclear why she couldn’t look him up in the future (she went back ten years) or why she helped develop time travel solely for the purpose of hooking up, but here we are. When she arrives, everyone seems to know her by her name even though she admits later she made it up. Time travel is solely the plot device to set the story in motion. The rest is about the mystery.

At first it’s confusing and doesn’t make a lot of sense. It gets explained in the final moments and honestly, having everything tied together helps a bit. The only problem is that some of the story elements don’t fit. For example, David Leisure’s character really served no purpose, same as the revelation that he’s gay. Okay? It’s a clever episode but not an overly entertaining one. You have to sit through a lot to get to the reveal.

Rating: 5/10

Episode 6: Planely Possible
Starring: George Newbern, Vincent Schiavelli, Joyce Brothers, Elizabeth Berkley
Written by: Peter Atkins
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Air Date: June 25, 1997

Do you know what they call a hot dog in Paris? They call it a “hot dog,” goofy. Other delicacies aren’t as simple. French fries are frites, chicken is called poulet and ham is jambon. Do you know what the french call three people in bed together? Two too many, especially if you need your sleep. You don’t agree? Well, I know a man named Walter who felt the same way you do. One is never enough for Walter. I stored this combination of ones and zeroes under the file name “Planely Possible.”

A man loses his wife to murder and decides to mourn in a bar. That’s when he learns about the multiple-universe theory and a machine that could lead him to another reality where his wife is alive. So he volunteers to be the doctor’s test subject and is warned not to interfere with the alternate timeline. Of course, he doesn’t listen and that’s where the fun begins.

It’s no secret that I love anything to do with alternate realities and time travel. Sliders was my jam back in the day. So watching Walter go through reality after reality to find one where his wife is alive and available is fun. This show gets nuts too, with some horrifying special effects (like the one above). This is definitely my favorite of the season.

Rating: 9/10

Episode 7: Panic
Starring: Jason Lee, Jamie Kennedy, Laraine Newman, Edie McClurg, Harvey Korman, Chris Sarandon
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Air Date: July 2, 1997

You know, you shouldn’t always believe everything you read. Take this article, for example. They’ve got it all wrong. Size does matter. The bigger, the badder. If it’s too small, it barely makes a dent! But if it’s too big…you’ve wiped out the dinosaurs. What did you think I was talking about, silly? Meteors, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. And like a piece of celestial rock, sometimes the most unusual of people come in the planest of packages. I saved this tidbit in a file I call “Panic.”

This episode takes place in the 1930s, with friends at a Halloween party hearing an expy of the War of the Worlds broadcast. Naturally everyone thinks it’s real, including two who react in a different way than they’re expecting. The twist makes a amusing episode into a really fun one, showing what the show can do when it embraces the sci-fi portion of its premise.

You also get a fun cast, with Jason Lee and Jamie Kennedy playing two of the party-goers and Chris Sarandon playing the author of the broadcast, called “Carson Walls” (get it?). There are several twists and turns that are expected but still played well. This is another one where I wouldn’t have minded an expanded episode to really give the story a chance to breathe.

Rating: 7/10

Episode 8: Snap Ending
Starring: Jennifer Hetrick, Kathleen Wilhoite, Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton
Written by: Kevin Rock
Directed by: Sean Astin
Air Date: July 9, 1997

Have you seen my batteries? You know it doesn’t work without batteries so where are they? Here we go. I hate it when people panic. I knew an astronaut who felt the same way, but then his crew let him down and we sort of drifted apart. I filed this collection of corruptive data under the title “Snap Ending.”

A seemingly incompetent crew have to deal with a series of life-threatening scenarios and have to work their way out of them. This includes a viral infection of some kind, which forces the ship to lock down and initiate self-destruct. It’s nice to know Wil Wheaton was still in that irritating phase that makes you want to shout, “Shut up Wesley” at him. He got better.

This episode was a little too serious and none of the crew seemed particularly likable, making it a chore to sit through. Normally in a standard Crypt episode, there’s at least some interesting characters. Here, I don’t care. I do appreciate the attempt at creating a paranoid atmosphere similar to The Thing but it feels rushed. That’s a common problem with the bad episodes of this series.

Rating: 4/10

Episode 9: Ultimate Weapon
Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Mitchell Whitfield, Paolo Seganti, Kim Myers, Jennifer Darling, Maria Cina, Steve Kahan
Written by: Gilbert Adler
Directed by: Dean Lopata
Air Date: July 16, 1997

Good morning class. Today’s lesson is on the principles of accounting. I know, sounds boring doesn’t it? But that’s only because you haven’t heard my interactive lecture on taking control of your assets. Get a grasp on it and I might even show you my spreadsheets. I know a couple of boys who would be interested in that. All they want to do is make a little deposit and withdrawal in the name of science. I maintain this dawdle digital array under the name “Ultimate Weapon.”

Well it’s nice to see Heather Langenkamp in something different than a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. In this episode she’s a woman who is having nightmares about aliens. This episode’s also notable for having Kim Myers in it, so it features two Nightmare final girls in the same project. As it turns out, the aliens are real and really do want to impregnate her.

This is another comedy episode and Langenkamp is really funny as a drunk and just dealing with the craziness surrounding her. The aliens are only thinking about one thing and going through an awful lot to get it. It’s weird but enjoyable.

Rating: 7/10

Episode 10: People’s Choice
Starring: Patrick Cassidy, Maxine Bahns, Barry Wiliams, Richard Riehle
Written by: Scott Nimerfro
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Air Date: July 23, 1997

I hate it when people go out of their way to oppress. It’s so phony. But then again, in tonight’s world, even your Nana can be a stepping stone. I’ve downloaded this file under the name “The People’s Choice.”

The series concludes with another comedy episode. It seems to be where this show excels, but may have turned people off who wanted either hard sci-fi or a mix of Tales from the Crypt with sci-fi elements. This is more comedy than anything else, as even the serious episodes have dark comedy in them.

This episode is set in the future where nanny robots are all the rage, and the man of the house is seemingly jealous of the “Nana” robot in his home. Of course it turns out he’s not jealous, he’s simply wanting a better model. This one is fine, but coming off another weird comedic episode, this one didn’t hit to the extent of the earlier ones. I did like the commentary on everyone’s need to have bigger and better merchandise though, something that’s still a thing today (which is why everyone has to have the latest model of iPhone.)

Rating: 6/10

Overall, Perversions of Science was an interesting series. It was definitely a better sit than Masters of Science Fiction, which didn’t last long enough to find an audience. Of course, this didn’t really find an audience either, as it was quietly cancelled after these ten episodes. If I were running HBO at the time, I would have run this at the same time as Crypt’s final season, perhaps to give the old audience a chance to get used to it. I would have also tried a mix between serious and comedy instead of going for straight comedy so often.

Ending Notes:

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Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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