Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trapped in a TV show while trying to exercise

Most days at work, during my lunch, I head over to the campus gym and get in a little exercise. You never know when Batman, the Shadow or James Bond might ask me to fill in for them, so I gotta stay in shape.

I often use the exercise bike, reading on my Kindle and listening to something on my MP3 player. There's some large-screen TVs in the gym, but they are usually playing a cooking show or some other generic daytime fare, so I typically ignore them.

But then one day they had ME TV on one of the screens--that's a cable channel that specializes in playing classic TV. There was an episode of Gunsmoke just beginning.

The close-captioning was on, so I was able to follow the story. Matt Dillon travels to Mexico to bring back a couple of killers. He's slightly wounded while killing one of them and the townspeople--perpetually frightened by the outlaws--won't help him. But a young boy invites him to the home he shares with his mom.

I was done exercising before the episode was even half-over and couldn't stay any longer. (For some reason, my co-workers get annoyed if I don't take time to shower after exercising before returning to work. Go figure.)

So I later found the episode on YouTube and watched it in its entirety. It's title is "Zavala."

And, boy, it wasn't just good--it was great. A lot of the episode is Matt waiting for the outlaw leader to get back to town while staying with the kid and the mother. The relationship that Matt builds with them in that short time is strong and full of honest emotion.

Miriam Colon does a fantastic job of expressing subtle emotion as the mother, while Manuel Padillo, Jr. (one of the best child actors from the 1960s) gives a heartfelt performance as a boy who latches on to Matt Dillon as a father figure. These are two lonely people who haven't had a man who is both strong AND good in their lives since the boy's father was murdered by the outlaws. There's every indication that Matt--if he had decided to stay--could have had a good life taking care of a family and raising a son to be a man.

But Matt's got a job to do--even if that means facing off against an outlaw gang without any allies.

The background music is particularly good--the gunfights are well-choreographed --and the various character actors give personality to even the episode's throw-away characters.

If I had to pick between radio Gunsmoke and TV Gunsmoke, I'd pick the radio show. But fortunately, I don't have to choose. The TV version is one of those rare examples of a classy show with great writing and wonderful characters. "Zavala" has quickly become one of my favorite episodes.

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