Monday, October 10, 2005

Magic Genie

I don't know if anyone else has pointed this out, but here's a bit of trivia about "Desperate Housewives" (yes, just what we needed: another bit of "Desperate Housewives" gossip). Apart from creator Marc Cherry, who comes from the same Witt/Thomas/Harris stable that produced the creator of "Arrested Development," most of the writing staff of "Desperate Housewives" comes from a little-watched '90s series on the USA Network called "Weird Science."

"Weird Science" was of course based on the 1985 movie, written and directed by John Hughes and produced by Joel Silver, which is kind of like saying it was directed by Satan and produced by Beelzebub. The show was co-developed for television by Tom Spezialy, who is now executive producer of "Desperate Housewives." The writing staff included Kevin Murphy (best known as the writer of the most successful of the musical versions of "Reefer Madness"), Adam Barr, and Chris Black, all of whom are now writing for "Desperate Housewives." And the head director of "Weird Science" was David Grossman, who... well, you can see where this is going.

"Weird Science" was actually a pretty enjoyable show, much more so than the movie (which was so crass that even Hughes was quoted as saying he thought it was beneath him). The story of two unpopular high school kids who accidentally create a living woman -- with the powers of a genie -- with a computer, it was basically a '90s take on the '60s-style fantasy sitcom, with good special effects, quite decent scripts, and a good cast that included Vanessa Angel (the woman who was originally cast as Xena, Warrior Princess), Lee Tergesen and the son of Bewitched director/producer William Asher, John Asher. The best episode was probably one in which the characters are trapped in a horror movie and have to rely on the Asher character's knowledge of slasher-movie conventions to keep them alive; with lines like "Characters with active sex drives are machete magnets," it pre-dated Scream by several years.

It never did catch on, possibly because its intended audience wasn't clear -- it seemed like a kids' show, but had a time-slot and sex jokes that sort of ruled out much of the kid audience -- but it was one of the more entertaining of the '90s crop of lighthearted fantasy shows (that took advantage of the fact that computers had made it possible to do good special effects on a TV budget), and probably more to my taste than "Desperate Housewives":

CHETT [the crazy brother, asked why he has so many guns]: Just exercising my constitutional right to bear arms, Wuss-boy. A man's gotta hunt. You got your semi-automatics for deer, grenades for pond-fishing, and the flame thrower's good for anything that lives down a hole.

LISA [possessed by a computer demon]: I am the living embodiment of all that is evil in the computer world.
GARY: You're Bill Gates?

GARY: Let's do that thing we did to that guy in that place that time.
WYATT: Good plan!

The other two things the show had going for it was a good eye for guest stars -- including a pre-Buffy Emma Caulfield, a pre-whatever-the-hell-she-did Denise Richards, and lots of people from "Parker Lewis Can't Lose," where much of the writing and producing staff came from -- and a good ear for language. I still quote the term "Magic genie," which was always used in place of the less redundant but more prosaic "genie."

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