Welcome to Two Guys, a Girl, and an Antique Shop, which, in the spirit of international cooperation offers a Canadian-American (Kris) and an American (Erin) watching an 80s Canadian/American/German co-production and spewing our deathless thoughts on it.
We never settled on a strict format for the posts. The intrepid reader will find a combination of call-and-response, where one of us initiates commentary for the other to consider, and more essayistic musings where we each offer a more extended take. We may annotate each other’s responses with comments. At times, we will take the liberty of going a little “Siskel and Ebert” on the episodes’ strengths and failings.
Occasionally, you’ll see references to Alyse Wax’s 2015 book on the series, Curious Goods: Behind the Scenes of Friday the 13th: The Series, a decidedly-for-fans collection of episode summaries, many interviews with cast, crew, and creative team, and very brief observations by Wax on individual episodes that fall somewhere between “fun fact!” and gossamer-light analysis. Accordingly, any references to Wax will be occasionally appreciative, often frustrated, and sometimes very critical. Still, no one else is writing about the show, and we praise Wax for her terrific work with the interviews of the show’s creative team, and giving us something to riff on.
Because the roots of the horror anthology and semi-anthology TV series lie in the pulp-horror tradition’s gruesome morality tales, each episode write-up will come with a nod to which “deadly sin” forms the episode’s base structure. And once we’ve finished the (re)watch of Friday the 13th: The Series, we’ll offer our list of choices for the best episodes the series had to offer.
Season 1, Episode 1: The Inheritance (William Fruet, director; William Taub, writer/producer)
Airdate: October 3, 1987
In which deals are made and broken, and a little girl works out her issues … with a creepy doll.
Small business overhead being brutal, Lewis Vendredi (get it?), played by R.G. Armstrong, makes a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques, until he gets a momentary attack of conscience and the devil drags him to hell. (That fine print is a killer.) His remaining family—niece Micki and nephew Ryan—inherit the shop and sell everything off before they realize what they’ve done. Jack Marshak, a friend of Lewis’s before Lewis went dark side, vows to help them retrieve all the objects, starting with a creepy-ass doll currently in the possession of an extremely angry and dead-eyed little girl (Sarah Polley).
Greed rules this series—a fitting a theme for a show that often comments implicitly on Reagan’s America—and it provides the initial impetus for Lewis’s transgressions. This pilot episode’s title, “The Inheritance,” pushes the notion further, alluding to a legacy of greed left to a new generation by their forebears. Micki and Ryan (and later Johnny) will spend many episodes in a brutal struggle to vault the cursed objects, cleaning up Uncle Lewis’s mess. Perhaps this also is why the episode’s central child figure has some serious issues with Wrath management.
Erin: Visually, the episode was a bit grainy; that and its dark palette made me think of Forever Knight (1992-96) (so Toronto!) Some of the special effects weren’t great, but I thought the flaming cloven footprints on the staircase was an inspired choice.
Kris: Agreed. I like the murky aesthetic, and we’ll come to see that one of the striking aspects of this entire series is its beautiful cinematography. Fruet’s opening direction makes nice use of camera movement to suggest claustrophobic spatial dread. The Curious Goods shop space (and the title sequence version of it) reminds me of the overstuffed writing room set for Ray Bradbury Theatre (1985-92). I was surprised by the fairly graphic makeup effects, I suppose allowable because of the show’s late-night timeslot.
E: One can’t go wrong in Gothic series like this by basing the first story on a creepy doll and creepy kid. (A young Sarah Polley, no less!) The acting is...not great, but Polley really does sell the blank-faced sociopathy. Dialogue didn’t sparkle, but it wasn’t terribly clunky either; not bad for a pilot episode. Definitely fits into the semi-anthology format; the narrative is primarily concerned with the case of the week, but with some plot advancement/character development for Micki and Ryan. (Ryan’s dorkiness and useful knowledge gleaned from comic books in this episode seems ahead of its time.)
K: Agreed, on all counts here. Polley plays the bad seed fairly well. The series is not particularly interested in psychological realism, or in developing how the doll affects (or brings out?) the personality of the girl played by Sarah Polley; Ryan’s insensitive final line is a little gross (see “the Cheese” below)! Yet, the episode’s twisted climax in a playground with events on a swing set and on an haywire merry-go-round is a nice touch. There is some rushed storytelling going on here, likely due to the pilot format of having to shade in quickly any character backstory, at least for Micki. I also found Ryan’s comic book knowledge to be a prescient feature, linking the series to roots in pulp traditions. So many pulp horror stories read as cautionary morality tales, and that’s also going on here.
Jack Marshak is a cool character, kind of a mystic version of Van Helsing. He’s a bit clumsily introduced, but I like that he has known Louis Vendredi, taught him his “first magic” and “tarot”; He’s a bit like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s (1997-2003) Giles in that respect (or an FBI supervisor who brings cases to agents), and in the sense that he acts as their guide in terms of information and, at episodes’s end, as their prompt for the next case. He reads headlines and finds symptoms of the items. This particular feature—how the cases will come to the Curious Goods group’s attention—will become more varied, much less prescriptive, as the series develops. Supernatural (2005-2020) also comes to mind in the sense of a dead/lost family member sparking two of the younger generation to become questers. Here, there’s the added element of the two younger investigators having to deal with the sins of the fathers (or, here, the Uncle).
E: Absolutely! And Supernatural and The X-Files (1993-2002, 2016, 2018) have their own connection to each other, with a number of shared writers and directors (and visual aesthetic and so on). How much of a role will travel play in this? It seems like a set-up for a new location each week.
The Cheese: Ryan wastes no time perving on his cousin Micki (suggesting that his cousin being a woman “changes things” and “makes them more interesting”), thus initiating a long series of such behaviour from him. It’s so pervasive in season 1, it’s almost a leitmotif. Later episodes make it clear it's “cousin by marriage,” but still. Ew. / Lewis being dragged into hell is the first in a long line of chuckle-inducing ‘doorway to hell’ moments in the series. / Ryan’s crass analysis when they finally get the doll away from the girl (but not before she’s gone full spree killer): “Nothing 20 years of psychotherapy won’t fix.” / Micki calls their uncle Uncle Lewis, but Marshak calls him Louis. His surname is Vendredi, so Louis makes more sense. But casting the southern-accented R.G. Armstrong as Lewis makes this an even more complicated rabbit hole.
The Verdict: Pilot episodes sometimes struggle with juggling numerous objectives—introduce the characters; tell a story; set up the series’ landscape, tone and logic. But “The Inheritance” pulls it off rather well, largely due to the compelling 'bad seed' story at its center. The series’ willingness to chip away at childhood innocence with Sarah Polley’s deliciously wicked, creepy-cursed-doll-toting Mary suggests, we think, an innovativeness in pushing into more uncomfortable horror territory that characterizes Friday the 13th: The Series as a whole. As we’ll see, this show was not afraid to confront audiences with uncomfortable issues, including allusions to the HIV-AIDS crisis, and extended treatments of neo-Nazi hatred, religious fundamentalism, racism, and misogyny.
The same tentativeness that characterizes some series pilots also characterizes our first post in some respects. It’s difficult to put an individual episode into the context of a series that you haven’t yet seen (Kris), or seen all of, or barely remember (Erin)! As we get deeper into the series, so will our musings on the episodes gain more analytical depth (we can promise this because we’ve already written them!). We thereby invite you to join us next Friday for our thoughts on the next two episodes: “The Poison Pen” and “Cupid’s Quiver,” directed by Atom Egoyan.
Critical Rewatch #1
Friday the 13th: The Series aired in syndication from 1987 to 1990. It boasts a large fanbase but almost no scholarly commentary. This episode-by-episode critical blog on the series is part of a research project by Erin Giannini and Kristopher Woofter that will include the series in a scholarly monograph on horror anthology TV series in the Reagan era.