by Barry Meyer
Before Jim Henson moved to Sesame Street he created some trippy numbers like The Cube.
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For old school television nuts (like me), Jim Henson’s The Cube has been something of a Holy Grail. Before the days of the Internet, a video freak would really have to hunt through every video store backroom VHS bootlegger to find themselves a copy (of a copy of a copy’) of this original TV production. Thankfully, with obscure video and DVD outlets all over the web, we video hounds can hang up the leash and crack the DVD play button.
The Cube was an hour long teleplay, created by Jim Henson, that aired only twice as part of the 60s weekly anthology series NBC Experiment in Television. It featured Richard Schaal (Chuckles the Clown from Mary Tyler Moore) as an unwitting man who finds himself trapped in a stark white, cube-shaped room. With no knowledge of how he got there or of how he can escape, the Man is visited by a parade of strangers who enter through hidden doors and hatches that are not accessible to him. Each visitor poses something of a conundrum for the Man, never being able to provide him with answers to where? what? or why? but instead piling on even more questions, mostly about philosophical uncertainties of identity, time, and about reality versus illusion.
Henson (creator of the Muppets) directed the trippy teleplay from a script co-written with longtime Muppet’s writing pal Jerry Juhl (Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas). It’s an excellent example of the type of creative and thoughtful (as well as thought provoking) programming that used to be available to television audiences. It’s also a dismal reminder that the writing on today’s television could use a real swift kick in the pants. No longer is our entertainment in the hands of skilled scribes who have honed their craft through years of work and practice, but rather we’re dished out a heaping pile of hip pop culture references and (not really that) clever dialogue. If only TV Land (the cable channel, that is) would forget trying to latch onto the unreachable younger audience and turn us all on to the long lost television shows such as The Cube.
Barry Meyer is just another pissed-off, 40-something writer stuck in Jersey.
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