Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Somewhere Over the Raindbow

So I’ve had some time to kill on my hands, and I’ve been watching some of my extensive favorite TV shows on DVD. In anticipation for the upcoming X-Files movie – which I am quite psyched about – I dusted off the only season of series I have, Season 6. It happens to have two of my all-time favorite episodes (including one written and directed by David Duchovony!), “The Unnatural” and “Triangle.” Now, if you have not seen either one, go to Netflix and get Discs 5 and 1 (respectively). The pleasure in “The Unnatural” is seeing some familiar faces before they really hit (Jesse Martin in his pre-L&O days) and a recurring star from Lost (but I won’t say who). The entire episode centers around the confluences of two things: baseball and aliens. What’s not to love?

While I could go on and on about this episode, I was struck by a couple things while watching the earlier episode “Triangle.” This one was written and director why series creator Chris Carter, and like Joss Whedon, Carter often directed the season openers, finales and “fun” episodes in-between. You might miss it on first viewing, but the entire episode is an homage to Alfred Hitchcock! Each scene – from c-break to c-break – is one long shot. Before the West Wing walk-and-talk became popular, Carter was doing these long single-shot takes (according to tv.com there are actually 34 cuts cleverly hidden). But what an incredible feat! The main thing that struck me was this: why are there so many homages to The Wizard of Oz?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much of a fan as everyone else. I grew up watching the movie on TV every year or so. I never did read Baum’s original book, nor did I ever see the musical adaptation. A few years ago I read Wicked, and liked it, and although I still haven’t seen the musical I’ve heard some of the tunes, and I respect the opinion of those who have seen it and loved it. But what’s so special about The Wizard of Oz that everyone is re-telling the story (Tin Man) and doing an homage to it ( I may be alone on this but I think Michael Chabon’s new book Gentleman of the Road is also an homage with one of the main characters constantly described as a scarecrow).

“Triangle” quite consciously references Oz, from its opening scene of Mulder in the water near a shipwrecked boat, appropriately named Lady Garland, to its closing scenes where Skinner mentions “his little dog Toto” and Scully where she tells Mulder to close his eyes and think “there’s no place like home.” Let’s not forget how the Lone Gunmen reminds one of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion; nor the fact that everyone on the boat is someone Mulder knows from “back home.”

X-Files is not the only show that did this homage. Another of my favorite shows, and actually one of my favorite episodes of that show, is also an homage to Oz. Check out what Zach Braff does in the 100th episode of Scrubs, titled “My Way Home.” There is no disguising the Oz references here, from the opening scene using the music of Toto, JD’s voice-over connecting Carla, Turk and Elliot to the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. And to top it off, Ted’s band singing “Over the Rainbow” – Iz-style!

There are many more subtle references, and I’m sure there are other TV shows that have done homages to The Wizard of Oz. Obviously I love these shows and these episodes but it makes me wonder, what is it about The Wizard of Oz that makes so many fine storytellers want to tell and re-tell this story. Is it indeed that America has no defining mythology and there is something in here that has tapped into the collective consciousness and which makes people come back to it time and again, plumbing its very depths for new fun and new meaning. Or am I just making too much out of something.


Maggie Cats said...

Interesting questions, I never really thought about it! I think it's just one of those classic plots that has entered our cultural zeigeist and so television shows feel the need to make a Wizard of Oz episode. I think of it as like Romeo and Juliet or A Christmas Carol where there are tons of homages through pop culture.

Monkey Sri said...

That's a good explanation, Maggie! L. Frank Baum set out to create a modernized fairy tale, and ended up creating a modern archetype.