Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cleaning Up Loose Ends Makes For A Particularly Bland Volume Of Dark Shadows

The Good: The plots progress.
The Bad: VERY melodramatic, Serious acting problems, Medium issues, Lack of real character development.
The Basics: In another disappointing VHS presentation, Dark Shadows flops with “Volume 11.”

For all of the fans of Dark Shadows in the world, I suspect my penchant for reviewing the franchise might be getting annoying. Even so, I call 'em as I see 'em and there are some streaks in Dark Shadows where the show is very much a soap opera and little else. With Volume 11 of Dark Shadows on VHS, the episodes are formulaic soap opera without much of the supernatural. The only truly redeeming aspect of the five episodes on this video is that the plot actually does move forward like it is supposed to on a series and things actually happen - after many episodes of nothing actually happening.

Despite the fact that the plot progresses, "Volume 11" is lackluster at best television and those looking for something genuinely entertaining are pretty much bound to be disappointed by the very soap operatic turn of events in these five episodes. Indeed, here the show is not so much about the supernatural or even the characters in Collinsport as it is about tying up some annoying loose ends that have been dangling and need resolution to move forward. As a result, these episodes seem a lot more like typical daytime soaps than anything truly special or extraordinary.

"Volume 11" features episodes fifty-one through fifty-five and is more like a soap opera than anything from science fiction or fantasy. This basically picks up right where “Volume 10” (reviewed here!) left off, with Maggie Evans fleeing her prison as Barnabas Collins moves in to kill her!

Episode fifty-one has Maggie fleeing through the secret catacombs below the Old House as Barnabas chases her. Lured by the sound of Sarah singing, Maggie makes her way out and to the beach. Trapped by Barnabas, Maggie cries out. This leads her father, Sam, to her side. Sam recovers Maggie and Joe and Dr. Woodard minister to Maggie at the hospital. There, Woodard concocts a plan to keep Maggie safe; by declaring her dead, whoever is hunting her will stop looking for her. Sam and Joe reluctantly agree to the plan.

In the fifty-second episode, news of Maggie's death spreads to the Collins household. Elizabeth asks Victoria to be her witness at her wedding to Jason McGuire and Carolyn struggles to deal with the news of Maggie's death. Victoria tries to reconcile Carolyn and Elizabeth.

Carolyn and Victoria discovering the attack of another girl in Collinsport in the paper opens episode fifty-three. Carolyn reacts to having a dream where she was the killers next victim and she becomes jealous about Victoria's place in her life and in her mother's heart when she finds out Victoria will be her mother's witness. Carolyn ends up down at the waterfront trying to talk with Joe about Maggie's death and her impending marriage to Buzz. Joe and Sam debate telling Victoria that Maggie is still alive after Maggie and Dr. Woodard arrive safely at the sanitarium.

In the fifty-fourth episode, Roger confronts Jason about his marriage plans and he enlists Barnabas to help him protect the Collins family's assets. Paranoid now, Barnabas sends Willie out onto the grounds to chase off a visitor only he seems to see. Willie, as it turns out, finds someone on the grounds, Sarah, who insists she lives at the Old House. Barnabas confronts Jason, who realizes that he has never seen Barnabas during the day and the two come to an apparent stalemate with their mutual threats.

In episode fifty-five, Dr. Hoffman works with Maggie Evans who gets the vegetative woman to show some signs of reaction. Sam and Dr. Woodard debate Sam visiting Maggie at Wyndcliffe Sanitarium. There, Sam and Joe find Maggie oscillating between comatose and angry, leaving them confused and hurt and forced to put their faith in Dr. Hoffman.

"Volume 11" is plagued by many of the worst soap opera conceits. For example, most of the deliveries set up the commercial and essentially beg the viewer to return after the commercial. Then, following the pause (there are no commercials on the video, obviously), the characters tend to repeat their melodramatic phrasing. This make the events seem belabored and most of the characters seem dim as a result. One has to wonder just how incredible commercials were in the 1960s that the producers thought so much information had to be repeated so frequently.

If only melodramatic acting were the worst acting problem! On "Volume 11" there is some truly terrible acting regardless of melodrama. Newcomer Grayson Hall who plays Dr. Hoffman stumbles over several of her deliveries. Her acting is so thoughtlessly presented, in fact, that in one episode, she hangs up phone while still talking! Details like that make this volume of Dark Shadows sadly more laughable than incredible in any way.

As for the character development, there truly is none in this volume. Maggie goes comatose and second string character Dr. Woodard is given more airtime than ever before to try to sell the appearance of Dr. Hoffman, but she, too, seems second-string at this point. Barnabas appears just long enough to appear interested in looking out for the family fortune, but Jason McGuire is basically the same slimy character he's been all along.

Ultimately, "Volume 11" will only even partially satisfy soap opera fans, but they are likely to feel like they have seen all of this before. This is a disappointing Dark Shadows outing, even if it goes somewhere.

[For a much better value, check out Dark Shadows Volume 2 on DVD, reviewed here, as it has over forty episodes on the currently dominant medium!]

For other videos of programs which have soap opera qualities, please check out my reviews of:
Dawson’s Creek - Season 1
Ally McBeal
Twin Peaks - Season 2


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2012, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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