Saturday, December 22, 2012

Todd & The Book of Pure Evil

We are living at a time of embarrassing riches when it comes to horror and fantasy film making.  While there have been a few superb horror films in recent decades, most of the really good stuff is produced for TV.  This is mostly a result of the expansion of cable venues.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, the first couple of seasons of Lost and the first season of Heroes, Being Human, Alphas, and The Walking Dead, all offer a lot more delicious and finely wrought fiction than can be found in the theaters.  That is not to mention Dexter, one of the most brilliant shows I have ever watched. 
Cable has made it possible to do a lot more than previous TV or the movie industry allowed.  Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is one of the most interesting things I have seen in a long time.  One reason for that judgment is why I am watching it.  I got the entire first season for less than twelve bucks from Amazon, free shipping.  That is what these things should cost, when they aren’t free from Netflix.  TBPE lasted only two seasons, with 13 episodes each.  I have seen only the first season, but it was cleverer and more engaging than one could possibly have predicted. 
The story is standard issue high school horror: something demonic at large in the halls of Crowley High.  The book of pure evil flits around, flapping its binders like bird wings, and presents itself to various persons, offering them a chance to realize their wildest desires.  Of course, there is always a terrible cost. 
The production value is very modest, but that is part of the charm.  It has a feel that will be familiar to anyone who has watched a Nickelodeon series with one of his kids.  Think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Saved by the Bell, with a soundtrack as uncensored as a locker room.  I don’t think there is a single recognizable actor among the lot.  This is TV produced at the level of high school drama.  

The title character, Todd (Alex House), is simply appalling.  He’s the pothead who wants to be a heavy metal god, but can’t really play the guitar all that well or anything else for that matter.  His only motive for playing the part of the hero is his desire to win Jenny the hot chick (Maggie Castle), who is pursuing the book to find out what happened to her missing father.  Todd’s side kick Curtis (Billy Turnbull) is an overweight goofball with a prosthesis for one of his arms.  Todd is pursued by not by a Hermione but by a would-be Hermione, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) who wants to be but isn’t really all that good at science.  That’s our team of demon fighters.  They stand to Harry, Ron, and Hermione the way the Stones stood to the Beatles. 
That, of course, is the chief part of the charm.  If a supernatural evil got loose in your high school, what are the odds that the boy who lived and the greatest witch of her age would be on hand to meet it?  Not very high, if my memory serves.  Instead of a selflessly courageous hero and a science whiz, you’d have to make do with a serial masturbator and a young lady whose dreams of becoming a scientist are about as realistic as Todd’s dreams of becoming a rock star.  

Meanwhile, the high school staff is even worse than usual.  The guidance counselor is in league with a cabal of evil wizards seeking the book.  The cabal dwells in the dark confines of a nursing home.  Here is a sample of his guidance, as he informs a student of the results of his aptitude test. 
I have to admit of a little puzzlement here because, before today, I didn’t realize that you could actually fail an aptitude test. 
Are you saying I’m stupid? 
I’m not.  I’m not.  But this test is absolutely screaming it.  You’re going to have to take this test again because it indicates you are about as smart as a monkey but, sadly, not one of the smart monkeys. 
The chemistry teacher goes over the top in telling Hannah that she has no future in science. 
“Are those your dead parents?  Sure don’t look like they were groundbreaking scientists!  Frankly Hannah you shouldn’t spend so much time in the science lab.  It’s why you have no friends. 
Hannah: Friends are overrated.  I have one true love and that love is science. 
Yeah but science doesn’t love you, Hannah.  Hell, it doesn’t even like you.  It killed your parents.  No offense, Hannah, but you’re twice as reckless as they were with half the talent. 
Real guidance counselors and teachers don’t talk like this, of course, even in the most challenging cases.  Academic culture wraps every unpleasant reality in a thick, verbal blanket of insulation.  This is just what the staff is frequently thinking and what many a student is actually hearing.  TBPE is dense with this kind of dialogue.  It is persistently, if bitterly, funny. 

The plots are equally clever.  In “Gay Day,” the Book finds a bullied gay student who asks for the tables to be turned.  The book works its evil magic so that every heterosexual student is turned gay.  Unfortunately, the young man is also turned straight and finds himself just as much an outcast as he ever was.  In “Cock Fight”, a jock with a small endowment gets a much bigger one from the Book.  Guess what?  It has a mind of its own and he can’t keep it in his pants. 
Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is pure genius, in a high school locker room sort of way.  The first season is available on DVD.  It seems that the second season is only available from Amazon Instant Watch.  I’ll give you a report.  Meanwhile, don’t miss this one.  It’s the kind of thing you’ll love, if you like that kind of thing. 

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