"No man is free who works for a living . . . but I am available." (-- Illya Kuryakin, "The Bow-Wow Affair")

These reviews/commentaries on the show's 105 episodes originally appeared in slightly different form on the Yahoo! Groups website Channel_D, from 2008 to 2010. If you're new to MfU fandom, these may give you some idea of the flavor of the series, which is still famous and beloved more than 50 (!) years after its premiere in 1964. Enjoy!

News: Decades Channel is running a "Weekend Binge" of MfU episodes on July 2, 2017. Check the schedule here.

(Except where otherwise noted, images are used with permission of the exhaustive site Lisa's Video Frame Capture Library. Thanks to Lisa for all her work!)

Friday, February 12, 2010

"The Off-Broadway Affair" (ep. 3/10)

We're one-third of the way through Season Three, and with some exceptions (I'm looking at you, "Super-Colossal" and "Pop Art"), the scripts so far have not been as horrible as my memory painted them.  This, Jerry McNeely's first story since "Bat Cave," has a private-eye flavor and takes some comic swipes at the self-involved world of the theatre.  (I ought to know: Once upon a time, I was a drama major.  Old joke:  "How many actors does it take to change a lightbulb?"  "Two.  One to change it, and one to say, 'That should be me up there!'")

We open in a suitably stagey fashion, with Innocent Janet Jerrod (Shari Lewis) mouthing the lines and rehearsing the moves of the actress she's understudying.  Our guys get drawn in via a phone call from Eileen, the soon-to-be-defunct actress.  (I'd like to see U.N.C.L.E.'s listing in the phone book.  Under "Agencies, Secret"?  How'd she know to call U.N.C.L.E. instead of the cops or the FBI?  And how did she get to Solo, who's pretty high up in the office hierarchy, so fast?)

McNeely tosses zingers about showbiz into the mix: the traditional opening-night ritual of waiting for the reviews; Janet's burbling excitement about the show being sold out, the day after she finds her cast mate dead; Janet's "I oughta be in pictures" audition on her date with Solo; Solo's line that audiences like what critics tell them to like; and director Winky's eagerness to curry critical favor by working the U.N.C.L.E.-Thrush battle into the show.

We also get a tricky plot switch like that of "Ultimate Computer."  Leon Askin's Machina (a much more confident villain than his Mr. Elom in "Project Deephole") is a darned forward-looking executive, having that second tunnel and nerve center built despite Thrush complaints about cost overruns.  Nice touch, too, that Machina, unlike so many Thrushes in recent episodes, doesn't immediately recognize Solo as a Command agent.

Solo's bracing in the alley by the two thugs, and his rejoinder, make me think of Chandler's Philip Marlowe.  That his distress transmitter alerts U.N.C.L.E. -- and later, that Solo has agents in the audience -- reminds us again of the organization backing our heroes.  Plus the fight scene by the Central Park lake, with Illya's frantic dive to Solo's rescue and the suspenseful moments as we wait to see them come up, rounds off a well-done sequence.  (I know, the transmitter indicates Solo is on the West Side of Manhattan instead of "two blocks" from the East Forties location of HQ; and how did Illya get there so fast?  But it is exciting.)

Odd Items Dept.: Why does Illya the Plumber discover an U.N.C.L.E. Special on the floor of the prop room?  Strange that such a tough cookie as Linda the Thrush should be so panicked by a mouse.  Machina admits the show will have to do without Illya; that'll leave a hole in the show he'll need to explain to Winky.  And if Thrush has a "reactor" that can turn earth into "harmless gases," which sounds like cold fusion to me, they should be concentrating on that!

Verdict:  "See it, by all means see it."  The story eerily predicts how much our offices depend on computers today.  Thus the danger from Thrush is believable; Solo and Illya reason clearly and proceed as good investigators should; and their antagonist is no mug, either.  While some of the gags are over the top -- Illya not just playing the English horn, but winking at Solo while performing onstage; the melee at the climax -- it comes off well, with the humor confined to the jabs at showbiz denizens.  (Besides, wasn't it a shame Shari Lewis's super-hotness was wasted on Lamb Chop for so many years?)

Memorable Lines:
Solo (about "The In-Out Show"): "The reviews aren't exactly boffo, are they?"
Illya: "'Boffo'?"
Solo: "Yes, that's 'box office' to foreigners."
(Rather a mean-spirited remark!)

Janet: "We are sold out for a month!  Can you imagine?"
Solo: "Just think what you could do with lukewarm reviews."

Janet: "[Eileen] always said, 'The show must go on.'  Always."
Solo: "She was quite a conversationalist."

Solo (to Illya, disguised as a plumber): "Do you know anything about plumbing?"
Illya: "Yes.  You turn the tap counterclockwise for warm and clockwise for cool."
Solo: "That's very good.  Uh . . . keep clockwise."

Solo: "There's a song in the show called `A Man Is a Horn' --"
Illya (as the horror of Solo's plan dawns on him): "Oh no.  I categorically refuse."

Solo (as he rescues Illya): "The show just wouldn't be the same without you."
Illya: "It's nice to be missed."

Winky: "How would you two like to play yourselves in the show?"
Solo (dryly): "Don't call us . . ."
Illya (equally dryly): ". . . we'll call you."

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