FEATURE WILD PALMS
the future, only ﬁfteen years from now, adds more than a frisson of imaginative speculation to proceedings.
Which helps, because Wild Palms on the surface has the ingredients of a very dull and worthy political allegory, a grim warning about the dangers of mixing media and religion and placing too much power in the hands of the humility-challenged — Kreutzer as Ming The Merciless with his hatful of holos, taking on the motley crew of Flash Gordon Friends. Maybe if Oliver Stone had had more creative input than his Executive Producer role allowed that’s what it would have been.
As it is, what saves Wild Palms, and saves it in a spectacularly successful way, is that the dull surface keeps breaking up like one of Kreutzer’s holograms with tuning problems. What emerges is a rich, imaginative, funny and enthralling body of detail that distracts gloriously from the simplistic black-and-white power struggle. Stone and Wagner’s vision might be rooted in past conﬂicts, but in Wild Palms, the future won’t stop breaking through. Wagner’s script convolutions, flashy direction from the likes of Phil Joanon and Kathryn Bigelow, and some spectacularly high-camp performances hijack the po-faced seriousness of the project to create something substantially more intriguing. Dreams, hallucination, technological and biological trickery, Buddhist ideas of the ‘ﬂoating world’ and ‘hungry ghosts’, occasional expeditions into cyberspace and a loving devotion to creating a credible 21st century California make Wild Palms a lush visual extravagance that reduces its prosaic techno-fear ‘message’ to an insigniﬁcant subplot. Stone and Wagner have reared a baby that has escaped their control, growing up to become inﬁnitely more rounded and interesting than any of Stone’s drab, didactic movies.
A MAJOR REASON is that Wild Palms is the first TV drama essentially about television, about the inﬂuence and power of the medium. ‘Nobody watches movies anymore, only TV,’ says a minor character (expressing the whinges of hardcore Hollywood celluloid throwbacks Stone and Wagner). The producers may want to satirise TV excess but Wild Palms ends up closer to a celebration. All the protagonists are TV archetypes, mutant developments of small- screen blueprints, grooving to a Ryuichi Sakamoto soundtrack.
Step forward Josie lto, the true villain of the piece. Josie is Kreutzer’s psychotic sister and life-partner, the brains behind The Fathers’ campaign of kidnapping and political murder. On a more personal level she enjoys gouging out the eyes of rivals, and killing her ﬁrst husband with a Samurai sword. Her only weakness is an unrequited obsession with her second husband Eli Leavitt. Angie Dickinson (a B-list movie actress who only became a star when she switched to TV in Policewoman) plays her as a cross between Alexis Colby (with Leavitt as her Blake) and Lucretia Borgia. The power- dressing, ruthless bitch, all shoulderpads and neck-tucks is a recognisable American soap type - Josie lto, the ‘Granny from Hell’ its horrendous and hilarious offspring.
The other chief baddie is a twelve-year—old child TV star
‘The filtered, fragmented feel of Wild Palms is a perfect replica of the channel-
hopping infinity and complex transience of American television.’
WILD PALMS in 90 seconds.
WANT TO BE able to join in those Wild Palms discussions over coffee and after-dinner mints? Don’t want to have to watch four and a half hours of demanding drama? Simply follow our dos and don’ts for the busy cultural surfer, and impress your friends with the breadth of your vision.
[)0 SAY: DON’T SAY: I ‘Of couse they’ve stolen a lot of the cyberspace stuff, and the future consumerism hits from William Gibson, but I suppose they’ve acknowledged it by having him in the show.’
I ‘I see Brad Dourif’s reprising the idiot savant role he perfected in One Flew Over The Cuckoo ’s Nest.’
I ‘Jim Belushi’s lost a lot of weight hasn’t he?’
called Coty Wyckoff, played, in a consummate irony. by Ben Savage. the younger brother of wholesome Wonder Years cutie Fred. A power- crazed neurotic who’s as creepy off-screen as he is sickly-sweet in the Mimecom show Church H’imlmins. Coty is a scary extension of Macauley (Tulkin syndrome, and a rare example of Wild Palms offering a warning worth heeding. Providing ‘New Realist’ back-up for these horrors are entertainment ﬁgures Tabba Schwartzkopf and Chap Starfall (‘the names alone will inspire doctoral theses.’ enthused one American critic) an actress and crooner respectively, with a neat line in Synthiotic sincerity. Chap. whether live or on holodisc, has an appealing habit of turning any tune into a dirge, and, as 'l‘abba points out, sounds much better once he’s dead. lf the baddies are all showbiz, The Friends can also do a turn. Led, in Leavitt’s absence, by camp (and blind from an early encounter with our Josie) abstract artist Tully Woiwode, their line-up also features a heroic stand-up comedian who can teach Ben Elton a thing or two about putting your machine gun where your mouth is.
80, ALL THE WORLD’S a small screen with digital sound and 144 channels, seems to be the message. and the filtered, fragmented feel of Wild Palms is a perfect replica of the channel- hopping infinity and complex transience of American television. Here are numerous distractions, diversions and consumerist fantasies to drag you away from the big, bold predictable soap being hammed up on the surface. For a series that aims to expose the dangerous seductions of TV, Wild Palms has more than a few irresistible come-hither moves of its own.
Trying desperately to pull it all together is Harry Wyckoff, played by Jim Belushi with a distillation of all those lovable characteristics he displayed in Stone’s Salvador - greed, narcissism and naive lechery. Harry begins with the sweet all- American family, sexy wife Grace and sweet kids Coty and Deirdre, but you know that can’t
I ‘Well it’s fun, but it’s not
as good as Red Dwarf.’
I ‘Has it been made into a
Nintendo game yet?’
I ‘Cor, she may be in her
605 but that Angie
Dickinson is still a bit of
all right isn’t she?’
I ‘ls he the one who killed
Laura Palmer or what?’ RIGHT: Tony Kreutzer (Robert
Loggia) makes Harry Wyckotf (Jim Belushi) a job offer he can‘t refuse.
last. Harry is to be the bridge between Fathers and Friends, and it’s his bafﬂement, his pained trip through the LA and Kyoto underworlds that provides the viewer with their point of access.
That Stone and Wagner want us to identify with a mid-life crisis family man when there’s so much more exciting going on elsewhere (particularly at Chickie Leavitt’s hi-tech beach but) is proof that they haven’t really got a grip on the real appeal of their creation. Wagner’s
comic-strip on which the series was very loosely 3 based, conﬁrms it. A sloppy and indulgent . farrago of name-dropping pretentiousness, it is i
nonsense even by the shallow standards of graphic novels. At this juncture Wild Palms was the germ of an idea awaiting its true medium. It took the loose rules and exciting possibilities of the TV medium to make it sing.
A more astute publication is The Wild Palms Reader, a companion book that ﬂeshes out, to a deliciously ludicrous extent, the already gorgeous detail of Wild Palms the TV show. Cyberpunk luminary William Gibson (who also makes a cameo appearance in the ﬁrst episode) provides a contribution, along with such left- ﬁeld alternative philosophy luminaries as Thomas Disch, Malcolm Mclaren, Genesis P. Orridge, Laibach and Lemmy from Motorhead. It’s a smart move to fuel a cult that is potentially eminently more satisfying than the wilfully perverse Twin Peaks (and all those tedious debates about what exactly the backwards- talking dwarf means).
Less self-conscious, and mercifully less arty than Peaks, Wild Palms is a brilliant accident, a layer-cake of resonance, intricacy and imagination that is less, and so much more than its creators intended. Sure it’s meaningless, its political ‘messages’ and metaphors hackneyed and outdated, but who cares about that when it has a spirit, a wit and an organic life of its own? At one point in Wild Palms Tony Kreutzer expresses his desire to ‘hamess the soul and hold it captive in a household shrine - the television’. Wild Palms comes close. It’s that good. Cl
Wild Palms begins on BBC2 on 15 November, and is released on two BBC Video cassettes (£12.99) on 1 7 November and 8 December: The Wild Palms Reader is published by Warner Books (£12.99).
8 The List 5—18 November 1993