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Wild Palms
January 25, 2012 7:44 PM   Subscribe

In 1993, in the era of television reinvention following the earthquake of Twin Peaks, ABC aired a 6-hour miniseries executive produced by Oliver Stone and Bruce Wagner -- Wild Palms. Featuring a monster cast (James Belushi, Dana Delaney, Robert Loggia, Angie Dickenson, Kim Cattrall, Ernie Hudson, Nick Mancuso, Bebe Neuwirth and Brad Dourif, just to name a few) and with episodes directed by the likes of Kathryn Bigelow and Phil Joanou, it was a near-future cyberpunkish surreal Television Event that the New York Times described as "nothing so much as an acid freak's fantasy, drenched in paranoia and more pop-culture allusions than a Dennis Miller monologue."

Based on a comic strip by Bruce Wagner which appeared in Details Magazine from 1990 to 1992 (examples can be seen here), Wild Palms explores a world of virtual reality, modern religions, hallucinogenic drugs, and media saturation.

If this has you intrigued, you can watch it online:

1) Everything Must Go (90m) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
2) The Floating World (45m) 1 2 3 4
3) Rising Sons (45m) 1 2 3 4
4) Hungry Ghosts (45m) 1 2 3 4
5) Hello, I Must Be Going (45m) 1 2 3 4
posted by hippybear (50 comments total) 90 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't forget about the William Gibson cameo as himself.
posted by octothorpe at 7:54 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ooh, I remember hoping that, when I got to be Belushi's age, that there WOULD be VR glasses like his.

*pours out 40 for VRML*
posted by leotrotsky at 7:55 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


God, that title sequence is so TwinPeaksy.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:56 PM on January 25, 2012


It reminds me of World on a Wire so far, at least in terms of how plastic and unnatural everything is. I can't tell if that's intentional, or just a side effect of being made in 1993 for network television.
posted by codacorolla at 7:57 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh man, Dennis Miller. I remember when I thought he was smart and funny. Of course I was 14 and he hadn't yet gone paranoid nutbag.
posted by emjaybee at 7:59 PM on January 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


Details Magazine from 1990 to 1992

Back in my just out of small town, 1989 or so, i found Details, and fell in love. I remember reading those in there, and then what happened to Details?? It became like a typical mens magazine. :P

I really do miss the enthusiasm for the future back then that seemed to have a hint of paranoia, but not as depressingly as it's become the last decade. Also, i have this on DVD, but haven't watched it in ages. :\
posted by usagizero at 8:04 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


R as in Robert Logia...
posted by scalefree at 8:13 PM on January 25, 2012


R as in Robert Logia ...
posted by scalefree at 8:13 PM on January 25


I haven't been able to see Robert Logia since that Family Guy Episode without thinking about that bit.
posted by birdherder at 8:16 PM on January 25, 2012


Oh man, Dennis Miller. I remember when I thought he was smart and funny. Of course I was 14 and he hadn't yet gone paranoid nutbag.

Dennis Miller is essentially the same guy he's always been, he just makes more partisan jokes now. I've actually found myself enjoying his radio show a few times in the past couple of years. A voting republican, I guess, but still a free-for-all social liberal. I know, it's hard when things aren't black and white.

Derail! Sorry. This is a fantastic post. Somehow Wild Palms always stayed just off my radar and I really look forward to watching all of these while I'm stuck in Green Bay for a week.
posted by Roman Graves at 8:23 PM on January 25, 2012


Unfortunate that the 1920's banker look didn't catch on in 2007 (although I do like vests).

On a side note: When did the beginning credits on shows start getting shorter? The credits for Wild Palms (and Twin Peaks) seemed to go on forever. LOOK at all the palm trees! See the palm trees seductively swaying in the wind!
posted by littlesq at 8:25 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was a bit hesitant about including that pull-quote because of the inclusion of Dennis Miller and what he represents today... But I figured enough people might remember him from before his 9/11 freakout and subsequent morphing into something else that it would make sense in the context of a reference in 1993.
posted by hippybear at 8:26 PM on January 25, 2012


I watched this when it aired and honestly can't remember a single thing about it. Did it have a plot, at all?
posted by stargell at 8:28 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, palms as in the tree…
posted by Nomyte at 8:30 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember being excited about this when it first aired but, like stargell, remember almost nothing about it except for the rhino in the empty swimming pool. I recall thinking that must have been an expensive scene to shoot, did it have anything to do with the plot?
posted by AndrewStephens at 8:32 PM on January 25, 2012


Hey, I wore shirts like those in 2007. But then I do all my clothes shopping at the MGM Costumers' Surplus Store.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 8:33 PM on January 25, 2012


It also had a kick ass theme by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:38 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


And OH LOOK here's Bruce Wagner's followup project, the weirdo sci-fi pilot White Dwarf. Thank you, nameless ABC exec who decided to throw money into that entertaining little bonfire.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:44 PM on January 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Even at the time, this was frequently and explicitly linked to Twin Peaks. I remember watching it when it first broadcast in the UK (I must've been 13ish) and being baffled to the point of hilarity. Drained swimming pools and a Cornwall/Gloucester style eye-gouging are my main recollections. The latter was enhanced by the fact that we'd recently done sheep eye dissections in Science Club (because I was ice-fupping-cool at school). Good (not really) days.
posted by howfar at 9:06 PM on January 25, 2012


Bruce Wagner's LA novels are brilliant--as good as Ellroy or Nathaniel WEst. Doesn't get the love. Thanks for this.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:58 PM on January 25, 2012


Baffled was pretty much my reaction, although I was still a bit of an ass about mundanes attempting to do sf back then. I think I hated Jim Belushi at the time, too.
Didn't help that I missed episode 2.

When did the beginning credits on shows start getting shorter?

Late 90s, pretty much. Murphy Brown was one of the first hit sitcoms I can remember that had noticeably short main titles. Then they started doing things like running the end credits in a strip next to the tag scene. Basically, broadcast TV needed to sell more commercial time, and even half-hour sitcoms lost two or even more minutes of air time. Now you've got stuff like Heroes (well, before it was cancelled, but I'm watching it now) where the only actual set-aside for titles is the eclipse and all the credits (that huge ensemble cast) run over the main action.

By the way, I thought it was strange that the same year, 1993, saw the release of the apparently completely unrelated Wilder Napalm. Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting) and Vince Gilligan (now known for Breaking Bad). Deliberate riff? Tongue firmly in cheek? Mere coincidence? Strange.
posted by dhartung at 9:59 PM on January 25, 2012


And OH LOOK here's Bruce Wagner's followup project, the weirdo sci-fi pilot White Dwarf . Thank you, nameless ABC exec who decided to throw money into that entertaining little bonfire.

Oh man, i had kind of forgotten about that. At the time i wondered "what the hell did i just watch??" but in a good way. It was so damn out there that i really wanted it to continue but knew it wouldn't.

Did it have a plot, at all?

Not really, but then the comic didn't either. That kind of impressed me, that really wouldn't make it appeal to many, but better than altering it i think.

When did the beginning credits on shows start getting shorter?

I seem to remember it being the 90s. Especially when one episode of The Simpson's made a big deal of shortening the beginning so they could show that one Michael Jackson video. Other shows were doing it too, but more and more started doing it to where it became like Lost, title card, show. At first i hated it, but since they shorten shows so much for commercials, it's nice to have more actual show.
posted by usagizero at 10:06 PM on January 25, 2012



By the way, I thought it was strange that the same year, 1993, saw the release of the apparently completely unrelated Wilder Napalm. Glenn Gordon Caron (Moonlighting) and Vince Gilligan (now known for Breaking Bad). Deliberate riff? Tongue firmly in cheek? Mere coincidence? Strange.
Vince Gilligan was also a main writer for X-Files, which also started airing in 1993.
posted by deathpanels at 10:08 PM on January 25, 2012


I watched this when it aired and honestly can't remember a single thing about it. Did it have a plot, at all?

I remember a rhinoceros.
posted by St. Sorryass at 10:11 PM on January 25, 2012


I remember the clothes. At that time, I had never seen film set in The Future where people weren't dressed in silvery jumpsuits or Mad Max rags. (I was 14.)
posted by Toothless Willy at 10:27 PM on January 25, 2012


I wasn't so big on the mini series but like usagizero there was something about that comic strip that really clicked...
posted by hoodrich at 10:27 PM on January 25, 2012


The only thing I remember about this show is that there is a scene where Angie Dickinson, in high heels and a tight short skirt, is running up the incline of a drained swimming pool. This is filmed on location in natural light-- which actresses of a certain age notoriously hate because it's so unflattering. And, oh, yes, she was screaming out a long speech in Mandarin the whole time.

I thought at the time, whoever wrote this sequence has the biggest clanking balls in the universe, because it's a scene in which a dozen different things can go wrong, including the very real possibility of your star's spraining her ankle. I have no idea how many takes it took to get La Dickinson successfully to the shallow end of the pool, but it looked incredible. Not a clue what this had to do with anything else in the miniseries, but that shot stays with me.

In contrast, I can still recall great long chunks of Twin Peaks though I haven't watched it since it first aired.
posted by La Cieca at 10:32 PM on January 25, 2012


I read the graphic novel ( the collected comic strips from Details) years before I saw the TV show. It's very very good.
posted by Bwithh at 11:00 PM on January 25, 2012


Correction: a review of the YouTube clip reveals that Dickinson is screaming in Japanese, but the rest of the scene is just as I remembered it. She must have had a whale of a time playing the cartoon villainess.
posted by La Cieca at 11:02 PM on January 25, 2012


I watched this when it aired and honestly can't remember a single thing about it. Did it have a plot, at all?

This speaks for me.
I remember totally buying into it, watching with anticipation because it was indeed very OUT THERE for American TV at the time, but by the time it was winding down, kind of shrugging it off as being disappointingly less than the sum of its parts.
And now I honestly can't even remember the parts.

Was there an evil little kid in it?
posted by philip-random at 11:08 PM on January 25, 2012


Quote from a talk show clip at the end of part 5 has a host talking to Oliver Stone, saying "Fifteen years after the film 'JFK', the files were released - you were right. Are you bitter?" Wow... that would be funny, except since Stone was actually involved in the project it just comes across like spectacular self-fellating ridiculousness. Yeesh..
posted by FatherDagon at 11:20 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, I love Wild Palms. I think it had a real mythic quality, and it's use of pop music (well, old pop music,) had in retrospect, a real Michael Mann feel. It was the first filmed sci-fi that either didn't feel slightly archaic or inaccessibly futuristic. Part of that was the year it took place, 2007, the other was the self-conscious inundation of pop culture detritus. It surrounded the characters without comment.

This omnipresence of old pop culture that was something beyond kitsch was just becoming a thing, and today I think we're prett y used topop culture constantly recycling itself, but in 1993, it was still pretty new.
posted by Snyder at 12:05 AM on January 26, 2012


I actually own Wild Palms on DVD. Watched the whole thing a couple years ago, and like others here, the details haven't stuck with me. Overall, for me, the series appeals in the same way a William Gibson novel does: the overall arc is kinda disappointing, but the details and ideas along the way are really interesting.
posted by jiawen at 1:53 AM on January 26, 2012


They kept killing all the main characters. That's all I can remember.

Also the intentional confusion was added to by my confusion that I liked Twin Peaks and scifi, but I couldn't get a handle on Wild Palms even though I really wanted to.
posted by asok at 1:59 AM on January 26, 2012


I've always wanted a copy of the Wild Palms Reader.

All I remember from the show itself was a rhinoceros, and the fact that everything must go.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:51 AM on January 26, 2012


I bought this on DVD and re-watched it for the first time since it was originally broadcast. It is fucking shit.
posted by ninebelow at 3:12 AM on January 26, 2012


It didn't make sense at all. But it looked gorgeous for TV at the time.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:23 AM on January 26, 2012


I remember this vividly, that is to say I remember watching it and not having a freaking clue what I was watching. I remember really, really getting into it, but then again, being fifteen at the time might have had something to do with it. And that, aside from the Gibson cameo that I must have seen somewhat more recently, is all I remember of it. I think it might be better off in the past, where it's given me that warm fuzzy nostalgia kick from seeing this post instead of being dragged out into the harsh cold light of 'god, I was a moron back then.'
posted by Ghidorah at 3:31 AM on January 26, 2012


"just a slight case of mood poisoning. Must be something I hate".
"Wake up Harry, you're having a very important nightmare"

Don't think I've seen it since it aired in the UK, but it still gets quoted around my house, and Brad Dourif is still referred to as "oh look, its Chickie Levitt again".

I loved the show, and the graphic novel (though the plots differ a lot), and loved the Reader that someone mentioned up thread.

The plot was massively uncompressed, and seemed to accelerate with each episode. The style actually reminds me of what Grant Morrison tends to do with comics at the moment (though it can be taken too far, wtf Action Comics no. 5).
posted by couch at 4:43 AM on January 26, 2012


Man...The 90's must have been rougher on me than I thought. I vividly recall reading the Wild Palms comic in Details, but have no recollection at all of the tv show. None.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:49 AM on January 26, 2012


I remember the build up to this in the UK - "its gonna be all virtual reality and william gibson type stuff" but then just finding it dull.

The reception bit of the wiki page is pretty funny.
Jim Belushi: "It's very tough, very challenging—a lot of viewers probably won't dig it. I shot the show for 12 weeks, looped it, watched it, and there are still things I'm not catching."
Dana Delany: "It's a futuristic melodrama with a dash of virtual reality. You shouldn't even try to make sense of it. Just let it wash over you, enjoy each scene, and by the end it'll make sense."
...
Readers of the British trade weekly Broadcast were much more negative, calling it one of the worst television shows ever exported by the U.S. to the U.K.. It placed fourth on their list, exceeded only by Baywatch, The Anna Nicole Show and The Dukes of Hazzard.
posted by memebake at 7:10 AM on January 26, 2012


I loved this when it came out, it was a big deal for me and my college age friends to watch it together. I have a cherished copy of The Wild Palms Reader, a great bit of backstory. But I tried to watch the show again about a year ago and it was pretty tough going. The goofy early cyberspace stuff and the madcap plot are a bit much. And James Belushi is awful; it takes both Angie Dickinson and Robbert Loggia together to overcome his wallowing. Still it's a fascinating show, channelling the same disconnection that Through a Scanner Darkly does.

One thing that keep Wild Palms interesting is how it's a total parody of Scientology, with Robert Loggia playing LRH. Particularly evident in the creepy scenes of little Coty Wyckoff (Ben Savage!) on board the FLAG ship. Given how deep Scientology runs in Hollywood it was very unusual to see a show parodying it.
posted by Nelson at 7:40 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Loved the comic. The show was hit or miss, but I loved that someone tried to do it, and it actually got on TV.

Man, Details was good for a while there. What ever happened to Anka Radakovich, anyway?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:05 AM on January 26, 2012


Dennis Miller is essentially the same guy he's always been, he just makes more partisan jokes now. I've actually found myself enjoying his radio show a few times in the past couple of years. A voting republican, I guess, but still a free-for-all social liberal. I know, it's hard when things aren't black and white.

He always made partisan jokes, but he also felt free to go after idiocy no matter who was doing it. There was always a sense that he felt that all of Washington was populated by morons and thieves. This is what made his old right-leaning political commentary funny.

His shtick is actually much, much more black and white now that it was 20 years ago (sorry to break your snark bubble).
posted by coolguymichael at 11:38 AM on January 26, 2012


My thoughts on the first episode are that it's pretty good, but that I wish fervently that anyone but Belushi was the star.
posted by codacorolla at 11:42 AM on January 26, 2012


Are the YouTube videos authorized? Just curious (and still curious about MeFi policies in that regard.)

Fwiw, I really enjoyed Wild Palms and was dismayed when it was canceled. Same goes for John From Cincinnati.

I wish fervently that anyone but Belushi was the star.

Yes. I really think that was the big thing that killed it. He stinks.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:43 AM on January 26, 2012


Wild Palms "canceled"? I'm pretty sure it was always intended as a one-off mini-series. I mean, Everything Must Go and all that, didn't leave a lot of room for a followup.

In 2006 a lot of places reported that David Cronenberg was going to direct a Wagner screenplay, Maps to the Stars, a satire of Hollywood. I wonder what happened to that? The Maps to the Stars Kid was such a sad character in Wild Palms.
posted by Nelson at 12:31 PM on January 26, 2012


Great series. I remember being surprised (back in the pre-net days) how little comment I saw about it. I still harbor a strong hunch that it's about Scientology.
posted by Twang at 6:44 PM on January 26, 2012


I wondered why that theme music sounded so familiar -- it's basically Debussy's Nuages turned up to 11. Wonder if this was on purpose or not?
posted by speicus at 8:04 PM on January 26, 2012


I may have been singing the praises of Wild Palms for nearly 20 years. I also may own the soundtrack, the DVD, the VHS set, and may have also taped it off the TV when it aired here.

Best thing Jim Belushi has ever been associated with.
posted by cerulgalactus at 2:49 AM on January 27, 2012


Best thing Jim Belushi has ever been associated with.

Nope. That would Salvador.
posted by philip-random at 7:45 PM on January 27, 2012


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