Harlan Williams -
Terry Spann -
General Crewes -
Gina Williams -
Dr Todhunter -
Jude Andrews -
OTHER STEPHEN KING SHOWS
Salem's Lot '79
Salem's Lot '04
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Harlan Williams is a janitor at the Falco Plains research facility. After being caught up in an explosion caused by Dr Todhunter's experiments in time, he finds that he is growing younger, which causes a rift between himself and his wife Gina. He has more pressing matters, however, as they are both forced to go on the run with the facility's security chief Terry and the commanding officer General Crewes, chased by Jude Andrews, the ruthless head of shadowy government agency, The Shop.
THE GOLDEN YEARS comes from the fertile mind of Stephen King, but he either had a disastrous brainstorm or the sense of the piece was lost in the translation because this is one of the worst things his name has ever been attributed to (and that is saying something). The main problem is that the show never makes up its mind what it actually wants to be. Is it a horror story, a comedy, a thriller, a drama, a pantomime? It's hard to tell since the tone veers wildly from one scene to another.
The plot also doesn't make a lot of sense. Why are The Shop so desperate to get their hands on the janitor when they have Todhunter's work and why would anyone want to work with someone who is so clearly an outright lunatic? Harlan's growing younger, but what are these other powers and why does his turning back time to bring the sun back up seem to get so conveniently forgotten? How can Jude Andrews so openly murder anyone and everyone and not get challenged at any point? Why do the cliffhanger endings of each episode not tie into the start of the next? It's as though each episode was written by a new writer with only a hazy idea of the overall plot, which is not the case since it's King's story and he wrote at least three of the scripts himself.
What THE GOLDEN YEARS does have is a quality cast. Frances Sternhagen as Gina rises above the nonsense that is going on around her to give a performance of some dignity whilst RD Call is an excellent villain, no matter how badly he loses it at the end. Felicity Huffman is a likeable heroine and capable female role model, matching up to the boys.
The real question is exactly why this half-baked series was made without at least another few passes at the scripts to iron out the major issues. In the pantheon of Stephen King dramatisations, this one goes right to the bottom.Top
Time and Time Again
Harlan Williams is coming to the end of his useful working life. He failed his last eyesight test and that's a definite no-no at the high-tech research facility where he works as a janitor. When Dr Todhunter's top secret research goes wrong and causes a deadly explosion, investigators descend on the site to find out what happened and who is responsible. Harlan's wife Gina is just glad that he is still alive and not glowing green like the mice in the area.
Stephen King long ago reached the point where anything he wrote would be adapted for the screen, big or small no matter what the quality. Now he is adapting the works himself and sometimes writing directly for the screen, as he has done here with THE GOLDEN YEARS.
The thing is that his heart does not seem to be in it and so the project in this opening feature length episode appears to be simply a bringing together of some of his greatest (and not so greatest) hits. Harlan Williams is the typical everyman, a lowly janitor with a loving wife. Keith Szarabajka tries hard to act old, but the makeup is not convincing enough to hide the fact that he is a young man made up to be old. Compared with Frances Sternhagen, his genuinely older acting partner, his performance just doesn't convince.
But if we're talking performances here then there are very few that do. Bill Raymond's mad professor type clearly thinks that he's in some sort of parody with his silly glasses and wayward hair. Nobody in their right mind would give him control of anything. Ed Lauter's commanding officer is a louche,leering scumbag who would have been up on drinking on duty or sexual harrassment charges years ago. Even Felicity Huffman's turn as the knowing, cynical crisis handler is all veneer and nothing underneath, though she is the most entertaining of the characters.
So, we have ordinary folks caught up in extraordinary circumstances (everything that King has written, but THINNER if you want something specific), military research facilities gone bad (THE STAND) and the return of secret organisation The Shop (FIRESTARTER), all in a set up that has lots of people talking to each other, but no real plot as such as yet. Perhaps that will emerge as the show continues.Top
Yes, No Or Maybe
The investigation is underway and Harlan is back at work thanks to his eyesight being back within the normally accepted standards. This leads to suspicions that he is growing younger, something that his wife has already picked up on. That makes him valuable to the research team, which makes him valuable to The Shop. Jude Andrews gets into information control mode, which means those people that aren't important enough to put the frighteners on are simply killed.
This episode belongs to RD Call as Jude Andrews, operator for The Shop, an organisation that seems to be able to do whatever they want. A bit of threatened torture here, a murder there. Terri knows a thing or two about these people operate and decides that now the murders have started she is at risk. RD Call, though, dominates as a very threatening Andrews who doesn't actually have to do that much to put the fear of God into whomever he wishes to.
Since the pace of this series seems to be somewhere around about first gear idling, there isn't a lot more than his threats and a few coded conversations and even they seem a bit drawn out.Top
Am I A Winner?
Terri takes the Williamses on the road, getting there just before Andrews does. Running in a random direction and switching cars at a mall, she manages to stay just ahead of Andrews' pursuit.
In this episode it becomes clear just how much like TWIN PEAKS this show would like to be. The pace is languid, the cast continues to grow and the music could have been lifted wholesale out of that show. There is, however, only one story so what was slow but fascinating in TWIN PEAKS is merely slow here. Very little actually happens, right down to the point where a flashback to Terri's previous professional connection with Andrews has to be included to pad out the running time.Top
Not On My Watch
General Crewes returns to the research centre and finds that Jude Andrews has taken control after killing an unstable researcher who was getting ready to blow the whistle. Terry, Harlan and Gina discuss their various options and Dr Todhunter gets just a little bit more crazy.
Virtually nothing happens in this entire episode. The fugitive trio spend the full running time sitting in a barn discussing options. Every conversation between Harlan and his wife comes downt to the same thing and is getting quite repetitive and tedious.
Jude becomes ever more powerful and one man is blown up, but the truth is that you could remove 90% of what happens and it would make absolutely no difference to the progress of the plot.Top
Jude Andrews is starting to get crazy over his inability to corner and capture Harlan and Terry. They have come up with a new plan to evade capture that means splitting up. General Crewes starts to fight back. Todhunter has trouble with a piece of cable and Harlan's condition turns very serious.
It is amazing that any of the investigators in this show ever got past the first entrance exam so inept are they all. The police team that lay armed seige to a car supposedly containing three armed fugitives never once try to ascertain who is inside with the aid of something useful, like a pair of binoculars and once the car is surrounded they open fire rather than trying to talk. Jude Andrews, for his part, gets upset when Harlan's file is not available, but he's had a long time and has never once looked at it, which seems somewhat unlikely.
The whole Todhunter and the cable incident is meant as light relief, but simply unbalances the whole thing, undercutting any sense of reality and danger.
And Harlan isn't just aging backwards any more, he's glowing (though it takes the truck driver a surprisingly long time to notice the fact) and he might just have been responsible for making the sun come back up.Top
Third Time Lucky
Everyone now seems to know where Harlan, Terry and Gina are heading and they all descend upon the couple's blind daughter's apartment in Chicago. A shootout in the basement garage leaves several casualties.
The fact that the sun rose again the previous night seems to have been completely forgotten in the altogether rather more banal race to trap the fugitives in Chicago. Harlan has another bout of ground shaking, but otherwise this is all about the chase and setting things up for the final showdown.
Back at the base, though, Todhunter is getting ever more crazy.Top
The Final Blow
Following the shootout in the underground garage, the fugitives take shelter with a group of ageing hippies, but one of those rats them out and Jude Andrew's personal army moves in to capture them. He didn't count on Terry's resourcefulness or Harlan's new powers.
Quite apart from making a mockery of the last episode's supposed cliffhanger ending, this episode goes through all the motions of setting up the big final showdown and then, realising that it hasn't got one, just sort of stops.
Not one single plot line is satisfactorily resolved. Harlan and Gina's daughter goes away despite refusing to leave them before. Dr Todhunter just shuts down his device after discovering that it works. Harlan and Gina just sort of disappear and Terry and General Crewes walk off into the sunset.
After seven episodes of this nonsense we at least expected some sort of payoff. Looks like the joke's on us.Top