Monday, November 02, 2009

Mookie and Pookie

Sunny and I were up late the other night and found ourselves watching an episode of 'Tales From the Dark Side' from the 80's.

I've written lots in the past about how lazy TV writing is. It's nice to know that people in the early 80's were just as lazy.

This episode was called 'Mookie and Pookie'.

The show starts with two parents, a daughter and an intercom sitting around a table playing Scrabble, when the daughter puts down the word 'Glitch'. The mother, apparently being educationally sub-normal asks what it means. The daughter responds by telling her it's 'when something goes wrong with a computer program'.

The father refuses to accept the word as 'real' because he's sick of 'all these damn computer words'.

That's right dad, punish your daughter for being more intelligent than you. After all, if you've never heard of the word, or it's related to something you know nothing about, it shouldn't be acceptable to anyone.

Suddenly, the intercom crackles into life, announces itself as 'Mookie' and asks 'Pookie' to come upstairs.

Oh yeah. The son and daughter, both of whom appear to be in their very late teens are called 'Mookie' and 'Pookie' and it's never explained why. Well, it turns out that mom and dad are hardly parents of the year, so maybe they're to blame.

So we go to Mookie's bedroom to find him lying on a bed with a computer keyboard on his lap…and he mentions to his sister (who's his twin, by the way) that he thought he had time to complete his program, but thinks that's doubtful now, so wants her to finish it.

Pookie explains that she knows nothing about computers, and Mookie tells her he's written down everything she needs to know.

Pookie tells him to stop being silly and gets back to the scrabble game just in time to hear a klaxon going off over the intercom. No, an Imperial Star Destroyer hasn't just dropped out of hyperspace, it's apparently the plot complaining that Mookie has just died of 'Dramatically Convenient Death' disease.

Fade to Black.

It's been a few weeks since poor Mookie's death, and Pookie is spending all her time at his computer attempting to finish Mookie's program. We have no idea what it does, or why Mookie wanted it finished…

…Which leads to the first gaping plot hole. Pookie has explained she literally knows nothing about computers, but somehow, with the help of Mookie's notes, she's able to code like a pro, without actually knowing what she's coding or what it's supposed to do. Imagine sitting someone who's never touched a computer before in front of a few hundred thousand lines of code and saying 'finish that'.

Well, apparently Pookie has no such problems, and in less than two weeks she's hammering away at the keyboard like a machine gun and spouting random computer-ish words for no reason. Her mother asks her how she's doing and she exclaims that, yesterday, she 'Got into a huge databank!'…because that's how you write a computer program, you look through random print-outs and tap away on the keyboard until you get into databanks.

The funniest part is that it puts a whole new spin on the story. In 1984, the audience wasn't supposed to know anything about computers. Today, it sounds like Pookie has no clue what's going on and is just lying to her equally clueless mother. "Oh yeah, Mom, I'm just…uhhh…accessing databanks and routing the nets, yeah."

Then 'Father of the Year' makes an appearance.

Apparently, Dad thinks that two weeks is more than enough time to get over the death of your beloved twin brother and, turning the foreshadowing machine up to 11, claims that Pookie is spending far too much time on the computer, and tells his wife that someone he works with might want to buy it.

Yeah, nice one dad. When you lose your Son, you should make sure to not even appear even the slightest bit upset about it and sell your son's prized possessions, which also appear to be your daughter's only coping mechanism.

So, a few days pass and Dad's still being an asshole, but Pookie has made an amazing discovery. Thanks to a random message that popped up on her computer screen…it turns out that Mookie is 'out there on the networks!'

… ummm.

… What?

Yeah, this is never explained. It's never so much as hinted at or alluded to that Mookie did anything other than just die…but it turns out that his consciousness is somehow 'out there' living on the 'networks' and the program Pookie's been working on is a way to contact him.

This is where Mom shows her parent of the year skills as well.

You see, Dad thinks Pookie should just get over it and wants to sell her only coping mechanism. Mom attacks from the other end of the spectrum by instantly buying into Pookie's story, doesn't ask any questions or use any common sense, just instantly believes her dead son is living on computer networks and Pookie can find him after just two weeks studying how to code in BASIC.

Actually, I tell a lie. A 'voice synthesizer' for the computer turns up unexpectedly at the house, which the daughter claims must have been ordered by Mookie, and Mom buys the story completely when the synthesizer says "Hello Mom" in voice of a fifties robot.

Yeah, it's a machine specifically designed to mimic the human voice. Your daughter tells you she's in contact with Mookie, and proves it by making the voice synthsiser say 'hello mom'.

Damn, I wish my parents were that stupid and gullible. "Hey mom, the internet aliens want you to make me a sandwich! Listen." Clickety, clickety "Make…Paul-eee-uz a SAND-widge"

Anyway, Dad comes into the room and has decided that shit be going down. So, like any good father, he doesn't attempt to talk to his daughter or get her some therapy or help. He does what any sane father does to a daughter who's obviously traumatized by the death of her twin sibling. Tell her he's sold her computer, her only link to her dead brother, and the guy's coming to take it this afternoon…and storms out of the room.

Oh wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. In that scene, Pookie asks her father if she can keep the computer if she proves Mookie is there and using it to talk to her. The dad agrees, but Mookie stays completely silent. When Pookie asks him why when their dad's left, he says "Because he isn't ready."

Nice work, genius. What's the point in waiting for him to be ready if the computer's going to be wiped, sold and sitting in a random dudes house when he IS ready? You can write a program that lets you speak from beyond the grave, but you can't work out that selling the computer would be a bad thing.

But things finally come to a head when Dad threatens to unplug the computer…because apparently, the computer holding this huge master program that allows Mookie to talk from beyond the grave doesn't have any form of storage and Pookie has never heard of floppy disks. Nothing like a huge, complex plan that can be instantly ruined by a power cut.

Well, just as Dad's about to pull the plug, Mookie does the math and realizes he's fucked unless he does something, so he says "Dad, stop! It's me!" through the voice synthesizer.

Now, despite the fact that Dad explained to Mom that making voices is just what voice synthesizers do, and exclaiming at one point that 'Any kid on the street can do that trick'…the sound of that weird robot thing from Buck Rogers saying "Dad stop!" is all it takes to convince him.

Then the screen fades to black and we're back at the dining table playing scrabble again, only this time, instead of an intercom, the fucking computer's sitting on the table playing scrabble with them. I have too questions about this:

One, how did they get the computer downstairs when they couldn't unplug it, and two, which sick screen writer thought having a delightful family scene with the son replaced by a computer would be cute and charming and not just creepy as fuck?

And…that's it.

Nothing's explained, we never hear how Mookie managed to survive 'on the networks' (despite his computer not being networked at all). It's full of plot holes (including how Mookie managed to leave enough notes to teach his sister how to use a computer and finish his program in less time that it would take to finish it himself.)…and the characters are just horrible.

The weirdest part is that shows like this usually have some sort of moral or message. The Twilight Zone was famous for it, but after watching Mookie and Pookie, the only message I can get is that if someone dies, refusing to let go and obsessing over them is the way to go. Oh, and if you ever get a chance to speak to a dead guy, don't ask them what it's like after you die, don't unlock any unknowable mysteries…just use this one of a kind link to the afterlife to play scrabble…

…but no damn 'computer words.'


Evan 08 said...

Dark side was a cheesy Twilight Zone knock-off... It was designed to appeal to the pre-teen set.

Paulius said...

Yeah, I got that.

I think the difference between the two is mainly that 'Dark Side' sucks an almost unbelievable amount of balls.

Evan 08 said...

I prefer to think of it as campy... like a B-grade movie. You don't watch it to get scared, you watch it to laugh