An Embarrassment of Riches: 1897 #dsxp #darkshadows

Stunts are wonderful and All-American institutions. The Dark Shadows Experiment always has had a healthy streak of stunt wrapped within it. The richness of the experience is as unforgettable as you’d expect, and that’s no hyperbole. I’ve talked about the benefits of the speed and concentration of the dose. Overall good things, however the downside is that it quickly becomes a blur. I’m zooming through the countryside at Mach 3, which is exhilarating, but you do tend to lose detail. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to jot down a few of my thoughts on 1897 and why it’s my favorite story line.

I was primed to like it from the very beginning. I remember when I was a Dark Shadows fan at a very early age, and how hard it was to find out information on the rest of the show. But a magazine article was printed to capitalize on the early 1980s syndication, and it featured a photo of Quentin Collins. I had never been fascinated by the concept of hair and makeup design befoe and what it could do to make a statement about a character. Add to this the fact that I was just young enough to have really missed out on the whole, sleazy association that muttonchops gained in the 1970s. Oh, I was aware of the 1970s, and aware of the hairstyles in it. I was born in 1971. But I guess I was just far north enough to miss the really prime abuse of our friend, the noble muttonchop. So, I was fascinated by this figure. And the name had such drama to it. I remember that my mother’s associations with the name Quentin were all around Quentin Crisp, hardly a butch figure. Trust me, it was an uphill battle to get her to it admit that it sounded like a rakish and adventuresome character. Since then, I’ve grown three sets of muttonchops on three separate occasions. And I have worn them with pride.

But when he actually got around to showing the 1897 storyline, I was amazed at how good it was. This Quentin character really lived up to the reputation that had existed in my mind. And keep in mind I had had nothing really other than photographs to go on. Pre-Internet, information on these matters was incredibly hard to find. The Marilyn Ross paperbacks were completely sold out everywhere. Even the memories of good fan had grown somewhat fuzzy in the 10 or 15 years since they had seen the episodes. But it was an absolute roller coaster. I know I drown you in superlatives, but this is the time to gush.

The 1897 storyline has so much going on in it, that I kind of wonder if the writers even intended to come back. The 1795 storyline has a very definite shape to it, but they spend much longer in 1897 and just when you think it’s over, they throw in a new character who takes things in an entirely different direction. At this point, what the whole Amanda Harris business, I sort of feel like the writers are making it up as they’re going along. I’m sure there was always an element of that, but at this point it seems very clear. And when that happens, one of two things will result. Either it will be a mess or it will be jazz.

I’ve got Miles Davis on one side and Count Basie on the other in this case. And don’t leave the room, because just when you think they’re over, they bring in a surprise encore to top themselves.

I jotted down just a partial list of the things I love in the storyline. I mean, really, next summer I may just have to come back here and spend the entire summer savoring every episode, but just focusing on 1897. Given the variety, the interesting and lively take on science-fiction concepts, the references to everything from the Manchurian Candidate to Poe, I can safely say that the 1897 sequence of dark shadows, taken on its own, is now my all-time favorite television series. And because it does exist in many ways so separate from the main timeline, I really think it can stand on its own.

I sometimes will jot a note down about something I love, but what goes unwritten are the 30 or 40 things that I’m just too busy enjoying to document relentlessly. However, here are samples from my list.

Gypsy Justice!

Aristede’s foppery… Petofi’s catty accusations of Aristede’s, um, tastes, which makes them sound like a griping, married couple.

When threatened with the “dancing lady knife,” Quentin charges into the battle saying, “Let’s dance!”. Barnabas is great, but Dark Shadows needs moments like that, and those were not his forte.

Edward and Changing changing personalities completely.

Astoundingly racy stuff when Jameson is possessed by a leering Petofi. You would never get away with anything like that now.

Angelique in a reversed timeline, sometimes behaving heroically. These characters are genuinely dynamic.

King Johnny Romano!

Flood of dream sequences,

The ability to do everything in the story that they can’t do in 1960s without ruining continuity.

John Karlen is just guano insane!


Quentin/Roger Davis fistfight.

Musical numbers.

That’s just off the top of my head. I think any month of the 1897 storyline had more going on in it than the first four or five months of Dark Shadows combined.

And now, I have to get back to enjoying it.