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Wild Palms

Wild Palms is a six-hour mini-series, which first aired in May 1993 on the ABC network in the United States. Written by Bruce Wagner, who (with Oliver Stone) was also the executive producer, Wild Palms was a sci-fi drama about the dangers of brainwashing through technology and drugs. It was based on a comic strip written by Wagner and illustrated by Julian Allen first published in 1990 in Details magazine. The mini-series starred James Belushi, Dana Delany, Robert Loggia, and Angie Dickinson. Its episodes was directed by four people known more for their feature films: Kathryn Bigelow, Keith Gordon, Peter Hewitt, and Phil Joanou.

Plot synopsis

It's the year 2007 in Los Angeles, Harry Wyckoff (James Belushi) is a patent attorney and family man. His wife Grace (Dana Delany) is a formidable suburban housewife and mom who also owns a chic Melrose Avenue boutique. Grace is the daughter of Tony and youthful Josie Ito (Angie Dickinson), a socialite radiant with charisma (and with an agenda of her own). Harry and Grace have two children: little Deirdre has been a slow developer, yet to speak a word, and elder son Coty (Ben Savage) — a television addict — has just got an acting job on a new sitcom, Church Windows, alongside fabu superstar and fashion icon Tabba Schwartzkopf (Bebe Neuwirth). However, Wyckoff is plagued by strange dreams — of himself being pursued by a rhinoceros, and visions of a strange tattoo of a palm tree.

Things begin to unravel one day when Wyckoff is visited by a former lover whom he hasn't seen in fifteen years, the alluring and enigmatic Paige Katz (Kim Cattrall). Paige comes to Harry asking for his help in tracking down her son Peter, who disappeared five years earlier. But Paige works for the Wild Palms Group, which Wyckoff's firm is going up against in court. His meetings with her invite suspicion from both sides, leading to a promised promotion being removed, and Wyckoff leaving his job.

Luck comes Wyckoff's way when Paige introduces him to her boss, Senator Anton Kreutzer (Robert Loggia), the founder of the Synthiotics religion, and the inventor of New Realism — a philosophy which is not well described but has something to do with a form of virtual reality which Kreutzer has developed at his company Mimecom. Kreutzer's plan, he claims, is to use this technology at his television station — Channel 3 — the same station where Wyckoff's son is now acting. Church Windows will be the first show to air in this method, where the action will take place in living rooms across the country, and people will be able to interact with the reality. Out of nowhere, the Senator offers Wyckoff a job as head of the business department at Channel 3, which he accepts.

However, all is not well in the world. In a restaurant with his old college friend Tommy (Ernie Hudson), Wyckoff sees another patron forcibly dragged away by a group of men. Strangely, no one else pays any heed to it. Wyckoff witnesses similar events happening with police around town. Though disturbed by this, Harry has no feelings of empathy for the victim, but finds himself "rooting for" the attackers, without knowing why. When Coty goes to stay with Josie, she asks if he has had "the rhinoceros dream." When he responds that he has, she tells him to keep it secret, since it means he is special.

Then, in Grace's presence, Deirdre utters her first words: "everything must go." The peculiarity of this is furthered when Senator Kreutzer tells Wyckoff of a group called the Friends who killed his father shortly after the man had a fire sale, with a banner saying "everything must go." At a dinner party, Grace and Wyckoff run into Tabba and her "consort," Tully Woiwode (Nick Mancuso). Tully is there with his sister Maisy, whom Harry recognizes as the woman who had been dining with the man who was abducted in the restaurant. When Wyckoff confronts her, she denies this.

Wyckoff continues to be stunned by the bizarre occurrences going on around him. Grace sinks into depression over what she fears is a relationship between her husband and Paige; she and Wyckoff separately learn about the two political groups: the "Friends," and their enemies, the pseudo-fascist "Fathers," who had been known to steal the children of their enemies. Grace comes to fear that Coty is not her son, but one who was put in his place when her real son was abducted.

Wyckoff slowly discovers that the Fathers, led by Josie, the Senator and Paige, are developing a grand plan involving the Mimecom technology, and that the Friends — one of whom is Grace's incarcerated father, Eli Levitt (David Warner) — are trying to fight back.

From this start, a deadly web of intrigue, betrayal and murder surrounds Wyckoff.

Wild Palms also features:

Influences

Influences on the production design include:

Synthiotics, a kind of futuristic self-help movement; founded by Kreutzer, a former science-fiction author seems to be Wagner's wicked caricature of the late SF author and Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Episodes

ABC aired the mini-series was over four consecutive nights though it was originally designed to air as five weekly episodes:

  1. Everything Must Go (90 minutes) - directed by Peter Hewitt
  2. The Floating World (45 minutes) - directed by Keith Gordon
  3. Rising Sons (45 minutes) - directed by Kathryn Bigelow
  4. Hungry Ghosts (45 minutes) - directed by Keith Gordon
  5. Hello I Must Be Going (45 minutes) - directed by Phil Joanou

The comic strip

Creator Bruce Wagner described the comic strip that his mini-series was based on:
"I used the cartoon as a sort of surreal diary. It was dreamlike and hallucinatory. I put my friends in it. I put famous people in it. I didn't care about the story. It was a tone poem."

Executive producer Oliver Stone explained why Wagner's Wild Palms comic strip caught his eye:

"It was so syncretic. It was such a fractured view of the world. Everything and anything could happen. Maybe your wife isn't your wife, maybe your kids aren't your kids. It really appealed to me."

Reception

Three of the stars of the mini-series characterized it for Entertainment Weekly:

  • 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."
  • Robert Loggia: 'For me, the piece is reminiscent of Elizabethan blood-and-thunder plays like The Duchess of Malfi. Or a Greek play like Medea. Plays where you're dealing with incest and treachery and tearing somebody's eyes out."

The New York Times called it "terrific" and a "truly wild six-hour mini-series" resembling "nothing so much as an acid freak's fantasy, drenched in paranoia and more pop-culture allusions than a Dennis Miller monologue." It was described as "rich and insinuating as a good theatrical film, albeit harder to follow" and said to "vibrate with an inventiveness that rarely flags."

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.

Video releases

Wild Palms was released on CLV laserdisc in March 1995 and on VHS in multiple releases. It was released in Region 1 and Region 4 DVD format in October 2005 and in Region 2 in March 2008.

Book

A book, The Wild Palms Reader was published by St. Martin's Press before the series aired. It included time lines, secret letters, and character biographies. ABC, concerned that viewers might get "hopelessly lost in the tangled story line", arranged for the primer to be published. It also included writing supposedly from the “world of the series." Contributors included:

Cameos

Cyberpunk author William Gibson has a cameo appearance as himself. When the author of Neuromancer is introduced as the man who invented the term "Cyberspace", he remarks, "and they've never let me forget it." Oliver Stone also has a cameo, in which he appears as himself - being interviewed on television in 2007 - after the release of files pertinent to the assassination of John F. Kennedy reveal that Stone's film, JFK, was right. Stone also referred to "the late Jack Valenti" in the scene in the 1992 movie. Stone hired musician, body-modification pioneer, and occultist Genesis P-Orridge as a consultant for the series.

Poetry

The series includes references to the following poetry:

References

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