Sunday, September 7, 2008

Turnabout (1979)

Network: January 26th, 1979 - March 23rd, 1979
Original Air Date: NBC

Based on the novel by Thorne Smith, Turnabout was originally made into a film in 1940 before it became a short lived series in the 70s. The story involved a couple who switch bodies through supernatural means, and although well acted, the theatrical version fell kind of flat. The big mistake it made was dubbing the actors with each other's voices. It gets quite irritating, even if it still remains an inoffensive romp. The series was also kind of flat, saved by the great performances by Sharon Gless and John Schuck, who trade genders and effortlessly adapt them to their own bodies.

Gless is a knockout as the butch "wife" who always has a cigar hanging out of her mouth. She was quite a beauty in her day, so it's kind of hilarious to watch her stomping about, all uncomfortable with her femininity. Schuck, a hulking actor, also added a nice girly touch to his masculine physique.

Turnabout becomes a looking glass of the sexism issues that were so prevalent even towards the end of the 70s. Like, the woman gets hit on by her male acquaintances endlessly and is also expected to cook dinner when she gets home from work. The guy basically watches sports and smokes and drinks. Hmmm, which one has it better do you think?

The series ran for six episodes before disappearing into relative obscurity. At some point, Disney took three of the episodes (The Pilot, Penny's Old Boyfriend & Til Dad Do Us Part), removed the laugh track and combined them into a movie. This works and doesn't work all at the same time. The movie definitely feels like three separate episodes but the premise and actors and engaging enough that you'll want to watch it all played out. At the end of this version, there is a tacked on scene where everything is blown off as a bad dream (!), which doesn't really work either.

In pop culture news, Rick Springfield shows up in the last third and I have to admit, it was pretty cool. I forget that Rick did some interesting stuff before he became Noah Drake on General Hospital and simultaneously hit it big with the catchy tune Jessie's Girl. Some of you may also remember him as Apollo's brother Zac in the pilot movie for Battlestar Galactica (which I really need to review here! I actually saw the three hour version in a theater at a revival house a few years back...)

I'd also like to mention the late Richard Stahl, who is most famous to me for playing the straight-faced cook on It's a Living. His comic timing was simply amazing and he is afforded the funniest lines on this series. Sometimes just looking at him made me laugh... and I mean that in a good way!

If any show has ever been saved by a marvelous cast, it's Turnabout! Well worth catching if you can find it, if just for the kitschy premise and the zest with which the actors take on their parts.


Craig Edwards said...

I thought the movie version was okay. I remember the series - but didn't watch it religiously. I didn't know they'd cobbled the movie out of the episodes. Richard Stahl was a great addition to any show. His deadpan delivery and hang dog look was always hilarious. I am a huge fan of It's a Living - wish it would be more visible these days.

Amanda By Night said...

SO agreed Craig! Richard Stahl was an amazing comedic actor. And yes, yes and YES! I'd love to see It's a Living again!