Greetings, jumpers. This week, we have an episode that does its best for race, and makes all dads sad about us. Let’s dig.
1. Bless their hearts
“Black on White on Fire” is an episode that I remember very well because it was another “Sam jumps into an African American” episode, and an episode in the heart of the Watts Riots. This is a very clear case of producers and writers trying to comment on the atrocities of racism and violence, and their hearts are in absolutely the right place. However, this is a difficult subject to cover with any nuance in a television drama format, and this episode goes quite far in some “easy answers” to these very, very complex issues. Like I said, everyone here is trying their best, and I appreciate the attempt, but there are parts that read like boilerplate “can’t we all get along” as you can get it.
This episode was co-written by series creator Donald P. Bellisario and his (then) wife Deborah Pratt. Pratt, who is African-American, adds a much-needed voice to this conversation that, if handled solely by the predominantly white production team, would have made the episode take on a very different tone. This is especially true due to the number of times racial epithets are uttered in the episode. Again, I know this indicates both the time the episode took place and the time the episode was made, but it’s shocking to hear the sheer volume of n- words thrown here.
3. Tragedy turns into comedy, wrong
“Black on White on Fire” ends with a truly tragic scene, where Lonnie, brother of Sam’s Ray, is shot dead by the police after letting a hostage go. Sam is, understandably, devastated by this. Throughout the episode, Sam tried to not only help Ray and those around him, but first try to stop the riots and then save lives in Watts’ medical clinic. He doesn’t speak as Ray, but as Sam. He’s blurring the line between leap and jump, and Al notices. Because of this, in addition to the trauma of seeing someone murdered in front of you, Sam is completely distraught over the whole turn of events. And then he jumped up.
Now, I get that you want to change the tone from week to week, but to have a crying Sam/Ray jump into a magician swinging swords in front of his face for an act, the transition is pretty shocking. By the time “The Great Spontini” begins, it’s a more forgivable change in tone, but by the end of the episode, woof.
4. The costumer gives it away
At the start of “The Great Spontini” we meet Steve, the magician Harry’s new boyfriend, not quite the ex-wife. While at first he’s friendly, it becomes very clear that he’s an asshole, and that translates considerably to his wardrobe. No good guy in an 80s or early 90s show ever wore a double-breasted suit or a neckerchief. It was instantly read as “sting” on screen during this entire time. Add to that that Steve has too perfectly sculpted proto-mullet/hockey hair and the combination of being traditionally handsome but also far too tall for his romantic partner, and all the coins are stacked against him. Any one of these isn’t a sin, but put together you’re entering Ted McGinley territory.
5. Sad dad stuff
It’s hard to write about how sad dad stories get me down without sounding like a “men’s rights” jerk, but this episode was pretty heavy on the blues for Harry. He does the best he can with Jamie; Sure, he seems like a complete asshole and his travels haven’t given his daughter much normality at all, but she seems happy with her life. I know that’s not the only consideration, but when Maggie shows up with the Chad Steve by her side, they come up with such a simple plan to take Jamie away, it seems incredibly unfair. Luckily, this isn’t the second episode in a row to end in tragedy, and Sam is able to reunite the whole family, abandon Steve, and live happily ever after.
Well, as happy as you can be to be a shitty stage magician.
The Oh Boy Trailer
Sam joins The Savages.