Friday, January 13, 2017

Recap: Goosebumps "Piano Lessons Can Be Murder"

Good ol' piano lessons. That most cliche of things that parents force their children to do against their will. Well, one of the most cliche things. See also: Homework and chores.

My sister and I both took piano lessons, though it never went anywhere for me. Or her, technically, but I was the one who went ahead and gave up. Not only am I incapable of reading sheet music, but my fingers are just short enough and wide enough to make piano playing an exercise in futility.

Anyway, let's see if either piano lessons or murder shows up. You might think that murder might be out of the question for a show rated Y7, but you'd be surprised how often murder happens in this show. In fact, I might have to start adding a murder counter to my Goosebumps Reviews. With separate tallies for murders committed by the protagonists and antagonists, respectively.

...I think we both know that this has to happen. I'll get right on adding that to the end of my previous Goosebumps Reviews ASAP.

Oh, great, another thing to juggle alongside increasingly-urgent real life things.
As if archiving every post since November wasn't enough.
Not to mention all those pictures I've spent nearly a whole year not fixing....
The episode begins in a basement, where a boy (Ben Cook) is desperately trying to place a call to somebody official, since he's got some kind of urgent information.

Boy: "Oh, they're coming, my cover's blown!"

The kid desperately pleads for help as somebody slowly comes down the steps... but as you might have suspected, this is one big fake-out. The boy, Jerry, stops his goofing around when his mom comes down with a box of basement stuff.

Mother: "Honey, please stop fantasizing and try to concentrate on what I asked you to do."

As it turns out, Jerry and his parents are moving into this new house. And, as per the rules of Goosebumps, they're probably going to find some kind of haunted artifact left by the previous owner, who either left in a hurry, disappeared, or died under mysterious circumstances. Somebody please tell me there aren't any evil sponges in this one.

"Not this one, no."
Oh, thank goodness.

Anyway, Jerry puts a colander on his head and completely fails to stop fantasizing.

Jerry: "The brilliant scientist was abducted by aliens. Why had his colleagues on Earth stopped all communications?"

"The answer will reveal itself tonight... in the Twilight Zone."
Jerry: "He made subtle adjustments to his telepathic helmet. But no matter how hard he thought, he got no answer."

But suddenly, Jerry hears the sound of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata emanating from a mysterious piano. But when he removes the cloth that was keeping the dust off the piano, the keys fall silent. He decides to poke a few of the keys as some kind of apparition materializes behind him. But when he backs up, all he runs into is his dad.

Dad: "Look at this. Where'd this come from?"

"You stealing antiques again, Jerry?"
Dad: "Wow, the real estate agent didn't say anything about a piano!"

"Then again, he didn't say anything about the raccoon nest in one of the bedrooms.
That reminds me, we've gone ahead and picked out your room."
Jerry's insistence that the piano was playing itself gets his dad excited about owning a player piano, but opens the top to find a regular ol' piano.

"Don't you toy with my emotions like, that, son."
Jerry continues to insist, but his dad simply knocks on his head and asks "Anybody home?"

"Think, McFly! Think!"
Dad: "You know, a little wax, a little polish, this'd be a beaut'. Hey, you wanna make this our little project?"
Jerry: "No, thanks. I've got a life, you know."

And then, Jerry proceeds to show that he does not, in fact, have a life by crouching in the corner and pretending to use a walkie-talkie.

Jerry: "Little Sister to Big Brother."

"My poor insane son."
Sometime later, they seem to be mostly moved in. Jerry comes down the stairs, managing to overhear his parents talking. His mom isn't worried about Jerry's "active imagination," but his dad is being... well, a TV dad.

You know the spiel. "My son should be out there making friends, not INSERT ACTIVITY I DISAPPROVE OF HERE. Why, back in my day..." et cetera, et cetera.

Dad: "Our son talks to himself. Is that normal?"
Mom: "Well, for an only child... plus, you know, the new house, new neighborhood..."
Dad: "He needs something to focus on. A project, a hobby, something."

Boy, he's not even trying to be subtle about wanting to fix up that old piano with Jerry, is he?

"We need to send him away. To teach him how to be sensible. Logical. Responsible. Practical."
Jerry soon ends up outside, doing something that his dad would probably consider to be relatively "normal," playing catch with one of those... net... things. You know, the bounce things? The things that either sit in the yard and rot or sit in the garage and gather cobwebs?

This thing.
Jerry narrates his imaginary baseball game as the baseball bounces high into the sky, causing the camera to... ugh. I hate it when Goosebumps does this.

Occasionally, Goosebumps will slow down the frame rate to approximate slow motion. Sure, it looked fine back in the 90s, but over two decades later, it just looks like Netflix is having buffering issues. And since I live out in the sticks and my internet speed is crap, that could very well be the case, meaning that I had to double check this on DVD to know for sure.

Anyway, the ball is caught by Erica Luttrell, best known as either Sapphire from Steven Universe or Keesha from The Magic School Bus. (Add her to the list.) Today, she's playing Kim, who lives across the street from Jerry.

Kim: "Your new house has been vacant for a long time."

But the twist is... it still is! DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN!

...Okay, that's a little random and ridiculous for a Goosebumps twist. But not by much.

Jerry: "Uh, yeah, there was an old piano in the basement."


Kim: "A piano teacher used to live there. It must have been hers. Hey, do you play? Maybe we can jam together."
Jerry: "Jam? Sure."

"I love fruit preserves!"
Jerry lies that he just started taking lessons, and we soon cut to him bugging his dad about an ad in the paper for piano lessons.

Dad: "I thought you hated the idea of piano lessons."
Jerry: "I never said that."

"You grossly misinterpreted my statement of 'I would rather die.'"
Jerry: "How long would it take to learn?"

Well, it depends on whether or not the keys light up.

Mom: "Well, it depends on how much you practice."
Jerry: "I'll practice every day."

That's what they always say.

That night, after Jerry's mom agrees to set up lessons, Jerry hears the strange music again. He wanders down into the basement, finding a spoopy ghost who stops playing and starts warning him to stay away. Jerry calls his dad down, and he doesn't believe his son's tale about a piano-playing ghost. But even during the car ride to his lessons, Jerry won't stop trying to convince his parents about the phantasmal phantom.

Jerry: "Maybe she meant... stay away from this place."

What? Are you telling me that this seemingly-abandoned building with smashed windows isn't as safe as can be?
They pull up in front of the entrance to the Shreek School, and they get out to take a look at the place.

Mom: "Looks more like a prison than a music school."
Jerry: "Who's fantasizing now, mom?"

"Yeah, that's obviously the headquarters of the League of Good Guys."
The door is locked, so Jerry's mom has to talk to the security camera to gain entry.

Always in focus, can't feel its stare. It zooms into you, but you don't know its there.
Jerry: "They entered the mad scientist's lair, unaware of the dark fate that lurked behind..."
Mom: "Jerry, try to stay focused."

Wouldn't it be funny if Jerry was right on the money with this one?

...He said, knowingly.

They enter the building and roam the halls- as the same tune from the haunted piano plays- until they finally reach Jerry's music teacher.

No, actually, this is Dr. Shreek, played by Aaron Tager, whom you might recognize as Dr. Vink from Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Of course, if I took inventory of every actor who had been on both Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps... well, that'd be pretty much everybody who'd ever been on either show. There's only so many actors in Canada, I guess.

Dr. Shreek starts examining Jerry's hands, asking him if he'd ever played an instrument before.

Jerry: "Uh, I can play 'Stairway to Heaven' on the kazoo."

Now that I'd like to see.

Dr. Shreek: "The piano is considerably more demanding."

Got that right.

Dr. Shreek: "But with hands like these, I'm sure you'll be a perfect student."

You know, it wouldn't be Goosebumps without some vaguely sexual undertones coming from a creepy adult.

Jerry's mom has to finish up some of that moving business, so she leaves her child behind with the creepy man in the abandoned building. The one that is constantly locked. Jerry even asks about all that.

Jerry: "What was with all that high-tech stuff at the front door?"
Dr. Shreek: "Security. We're very isolated here."

"Nobody will be able to hear you scream, my boy."
Dr. Shreek: "But our janitor, Mr. Toggle, is a mechanical genius. He can build anything."

And so, Jerry's first lesson begins!

Jerry: "How long before I play rock and roll?"

As soon as Dr. Shreek whips out the sheet music for Jefferson Starship's "Jane" ...Which I know isn't going to happen. But I can dream, can't I?

Dr. Shreek begins by teaching the C-major scale, which he demonstrates with his stiff-fingered hands.

Jerry: "What happened to your hands?"

Now that's just rude.

Dr. Shreek: "They just don't work like they used to.... But you. You have marvelous hands... Simply marvelous."

In the space of a cut, the lesson is over, which is the opposite of how long lessons feel in real life. So Jerry decides to head deeper into the building, pretending to be a famous explorer. He heads past a "Do Not Enter" sign and down some stairs, where he gets punished for trespassing by the arrival of a robot.

"Hmmm. Looks like something I should be running from."
The low-budget menace chases after Jerry through the halls until he decides to hide in a random room. It doesn't work, but luckily, a stranger shows up to whip out a small device that deactivates the robot. And sadly, it's not the Doctor. It's Mr. Toggle (Géza Kovács), who helpfully tells Jerry that he's found the recital hall, not the exit.

Wait, why is the recital hall in a part of the building labeled "Do Not Enter"? Hmmmm... could this be foreshadowing that not all is quite right with this strange music school?

Gotta say, this episode is actually starting to build up a fairly intriguing story here.

Anyway, Mr. Toggle explains that the robot is actually a floor sweeper and introduces himself.

Jerry: "Dr. Shreek said you're a mechanical genius."
Mr. Toggle: "I programmed him to say that."

Well, the twist has just made its presence known.

Dr. Shreek is a robot and Mr. Toggle is a mad scientist, and you can tell because the dialogue got greedy.

When Jerry walked in, pretending that the place was a mad scientist's lair, I know the writer was patting himself on the back. "They'll think he's just pretending again," he thought. "They won't realize that he's actually spot on this time!" But he couldn't resist having Mr. Toggle say "I programmed him to say that" in a way that seems like he's joking if you don't know the twist, meaning that anyone who knows about the mandatory Goosebumps twist can probably make an educated guess.

Anyway, Mr. Toggle says that Dr. Shreek told him all about Jerry and his hands... even though barely any time has passed since the lesson, making that claim highly suspect. Mr. Toggle shows Jerry the way out, reactivating his sweeper-bot by remote. And yet, every fiber of my being was expecting, and hoping for, the locked car "beep-beep" sound.

That night, as Jerry practices the C-major scale, some kind of spirit possesses him, turning him into a musical genius.

Funny how the camera cuts to a closeup anytime Jerry's hands actually play music.
Almost like they're trying to hide the fact that another actor is playing the piano...
"Yes, you're very smart, Newt. Shut up."
Jerry passes out when the ghost leaves him, and then... wakes up in his bed.

"Another night, another dream, but always you."
So... he dreamt that he passed out? That's a neat trick.

Once again, the haunted piano is playing its music. And once again, Jerry investigates. The old lady ghost starts moaning at him, telling him that he'll suffer, and Jerry responds with the correct question.

Jerry: "What did I do?"
Ghost: "Stay away from the Shreek School. It's evil! Evil!"

You know, here are kids out there courageous enough to use legendary swords to seal away great evils. There are kids out there who can muster up the determination to escape a realm of monsters. There are kids out there with enough gumption to capture infinitely powerful creatures and demand their loyalty.

Jerry... is not one of those kids. So, when faced with a ghost yelling at him, it's only a matter of time before he starts screaming in abject terror.

When Jerry's parents come down to check on their screaming son, the ghost is gone. In her place, Jerry's cat Bonkers is jumping on the keys.

The next day, Jerry has an uncomfortable little talk with his parents at breakfast.

Dad: "Maybe you need some help."
Jerry: "Like a psychiatrist?"

"Well, we'd like to see if we can skip to the part where you just start taking Ritalin."
Jerry: "You think I'm crazy?"
Both: "No, of course not."
Jerry: "Just 'cause I don't wanna go back to the Shreek School."
Dad: "Well, it's the reason you don't wanna go back."

"I'm sure Dr. Shreek has a perfectly normal reason to spend half your lesson caressing your hand."
Mom: "Honey, we would never force you to keep taking lessons. But if you could just give it one more try."

"Seeing as how we already paid for two months of non-refundable lessons."
Dad: "Do you know what the best feeling in the world is, Jer?"

"Am... am I about the get 'The Talk'?"
Dad: "It's confronting the things you're most afraid of. Finding out it's no big deal. It's all in the mind."

And with that pep talk, Jerry soon finds himself back at the Shreek School, messing up the C-major scale for his teacher.

Jerry: "I'm getting kind of tired."
Dr. Shreek: "Try again."

But yet again, Jerry has trouble with that G. He absent-mindedly chews his nails before trying again, sending Dr. Shreek into a frenzy as he grabs Jerry's hand.

Dr. Shreek: "Your hands are precious! Precious!"

Ooooo-kay, maybe it's time to stop touching the kid, there, Dr. Gollum.
Dr. Shreek: "Don't you realize what potential you have? I will not tolerate a student who's not serious about his studies!"

After his little freak-out, Dr. Shreek politely tells him to try again. But something's wrong. As Dr. Shreek walks around the piano, his leg gives out with a whirring sound. And when he comes to sit on the piano bench with Jerry, he starts creeping out over Jerry's hands some more.

Jerry is finally at the point where he's recognizing the stranger danger, but Shreek won't let go.

"Do you know what the best feeling in the world is, Jerry?"
Dr. Shreek: "I must have your beautiful hands!"

Jerry manages to get away and runs down the stairs to find the only adult who might be able to help him, Mr. Toggle. All the while, Dr. Shreek gives chase, flailing around and yelling about Jerry's beautiful hands the whole time.

Jerry runs into the recital hall, finding disembodied hands playing various pianos.

For somehow.
Luckily, he also finds Mr. Toggle, who deactivates Dr. Shreek with his remote after the good doctor charges at Jerry again, losing his hand in the process, showing that my prediction was 100% correct.

He is the modren man.
But Jerry quickly puts two and two together, since Mr. Toggle wants to see Jerry's hands himself. It's Mr. Toggle who's obsessed with hands. Dr. Shreek was just a means to an end.

Mr. Toggle: "I need your hands!"
Jerry: "You're nuts!"

"No, your hands."
Jerry: "Why do you need my hands?"
Mr. Toggle: "To make beautiful music!"

...That really better not be a metaphor.

"Men sleep tonight with hands of bone, they will awake with hands of steel!
And with these hands, we will destroy, and with these hands we will rebuild!"
Mr. Toggle: "Hands are just too hard to build. Too many moving parts."

Makes sense to me.

Even the original Cybermen had problems building replacement hands.
It's why Robocop kept his shootin' hand.
As Mr. Toggle struggles with Jerry, the phantom pianist appears to save the day. As it turns out, she has ghostly stumps on the end of her arms. For you see, this is the ghost of the piano teacher that used to live in Jerry's house. Mr. Toggle's old piano teacher.

Mr. Toggle: "I tried my best!"
Piano Ghost: "You were just a lazy boy!"

Hey, don't call him a piece of furniture!

Piano Ghost: "Very clever, but lazy."
"Yeah, tell me about it."
As with myself, no amount of practice could make Andrew Toggle any better at piano. Which is presumably why he killed her and took her hands. At least, that's what's implied to have happened.

Jerry runs out of the building, finding his parents there to pick him up. For no particular reason, the piano teacher's ghost zips out of the school to scare them.

She just kind of floats there and screams for a bit. I'm not sure why.
And thus ends Jerry's musical endeavors. His time with Kim is spent playing catch, rather than jamming. His parents are seeing a psychiatrist after their ghostly encounter, and the ghost of Mr. Toggle's piano teacher forces him to practice for all eternity.

And so, without anything resembling a twist ending, the episode ends. So let's review.

1 comment:

  1. I see that Protomen reference there...