Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Secrets of Isis Episode 18: "The Class Clown"

We never learn why his former high school gave Rudy the boot, but somehow he's landed at Larkspur High where he immediately begins a reign of terror.  In the course of a single day, he shakes up another student's soda, embarrasses the class brain with chewing gum and a roll of paper, nearly kills Rennie Carol by rigging up an inflatable life raft to expand in the chemistry lab (spilling volatile chemicals and unleashing a toxic cloud) and then almost costs himself his own life after sabotaging a school bus on field trip from which he's been punitively prohibited.  Doesn't stop him from chasing the outing halfway around the state.  Is he a would-be comedian, or is he an incipient psychopath stalking his classmates for revenge?  Whatever he is, Rudy is a flake!

They call him "The Class Clown" (aired September 25, 1976), but as played by Alvin Kupperman, despite a slight resemblance to comedian supreme Albert Brooks, Rudy comes across as a destructive, impulsive weirdo and the least pleasant troubled guest student showcased thus far on Isis.  It also doesn't help matters Kupperman was 30 or 31 when this episode aired and looks every bit his age.  His isn't a bad performance by any means; it's just tonally at odds with what we're supposed to be feeling here.  In my experience, class clowns are disruptive but amusing; Rudy is certainly the former but he's only the latter if you think random destructive acts are hilarious.  Well, they can be.  Just not in this episode.  Even Rudy doesn't do a lot of laughing afterwards.  He just kind of blames others for shunning him or whatever the hell his motivation is supposed to be.  Frankly, I stopped caring about the time he started setting up his potentially deadly raft trick.  Andrea Thomas does her best to convince Rudy he doesn't have to pull outrageously dangerous stunts to make friends, but it takes a near-death experience for the guy to find his redemption.

Which takes place off-screen, with Thomas merely telling Rennie and Rick Mason about it, as if the episode itself had grown so sick of Rudy's frantic antics it no longer wants any part of him.  Shot with some menacing low angles and with some more ominous music cues this episode could have been chilling.  Instead, it's just kind of bizarre and haphazard, like Rudy himself.

Joanna Cameron continues to play Andrea Thomas as the most understanding, compassionate teacher since Pete Dixon held forth on Room 222.  She's not as hilarious as her contemporary Gabe Kotter, but Thomas doles out life lessons and gentle yet tough guidance as appropriate.  I haven't spent a whole lot of time praising Cameron's performance as the titular "dual person," but in either incarnation the woman simply rocks.  When dope Rudy sneers, "No one will miss me" when told he can't go on the field trip, Thomas quickly adds, "I'll miss you."  If the guy had an conscience at all that would have been the moment he gave up his murderous ways (I seriously believe the Larkspur authorities need to check his house's crawlspace for bodies).  This episode also sees the welcome return of Albert Reed as Dr. Barnes.  He gives Rudy a quick campus tour and promises him a clean slate.  Dr. Barnes is always a welcome presence.

But the true class clown of Larkspur High is none other than Rick Mason, who cheerfully dons a chaffeur's cap for his role as busdriver.  Brian Cutler has a gift for putting across Mason's corny sense of humor as well as his man-of-action turn when he commandeer's poor Rennie Carol's car for the high speed climax.

"Class Clown" even features some ambitious process shots-- ambitious in Isis terms-- as they show Isis actually flying into the smoking chem lab from outside the school and Mason and Rudy walking up an incline magically conjured from smoke by Isis.  Both effect scenes show their seams, but it's impressive enough the producers decided to spend a little more money this season and not rely on the over-used stock footage from the first year.  The smoke stairway is pretty bizarre, a blurry diagonally-split screen effect that goes on a bit too long for its own good but provides the episode's best visual.  Other than Mason in his cap.

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