Julian Wass’s old-school hammy horror tweaks to the theme music gives us an aural clue as to what’s in store this week in Room 104 S3E10: “Night Shift”. This would have been the perfect Halloween week episode, but alas, it was not to be and instead we got the far more dramatic and subtle tones of “No Hospital”. Co-written with Mark Duplass and also the director is Ben Kasulke, who has an illustrious rap sheet as a cinematographer and director of photography and was, in fact, the DP on The Duplass Brothers Production’s excellent indie gem Safety Not Guaranteed.
Nina (Marielle Scott) is interviewing Ted (Josh Fadem), one of the creators of an old late-night horror show called Night Shift and playing him some backstage footage of the show from 1974. Ted says he was 25 at the time, and this being 45 years ago it would make him 69 now. He definitely doesn’t look 69—a bit weird yes, but not 69. Nina merely thinks he is dressed in character, which she seems to find kind of fun, but, even in character, this guy looks way younger than 69, so what’s going on?
Nina, a big fan, got into the show because her dad grew up watching episodes of it and they watched the show together when she was young. She passes Ted an advert for an old TV station marathon of the show to sign, featuring cartoon drawings of the creator’s characters, Dr. Phillip Graves and Mansbury. Looking at the advert, he freezes, focuses in on the signature already below the drawing of Mansbury. We zoom in on it in POV, accompanied by ominous synth music in homage to the cheesy horror of yesteryear, when over-signaling plot threads was the order of the day.
Oblivious to this, Nina asks Ted why he is only talking to her now, to which his response is equally hammy. Accompanied by tense macabre strings he announces in a theatrical style straight from the Frankenfurter school of delivery that “You can only keep things…buried for so long before they…rise up”. Naturally, Nina isn’t quite sure what to do with that, so she just laughs nervously and moves on, mentioning that she thought he’d look a lot older. Now it’s Ted’s turn to look nervous and after fiddling with his eyebrow for a moment, he abruptly leaps up and excuses himself to go to the bathroom.
While Ted is touching up his makeup and reapplying eyebrow glue in the bathroom, apparently modelling his look on an old photo of him in his youth he has stuck to the wall, Nina is wandering around the motel room peering under cloths that are draped over mirrors and a small suitcase that is surrounded by a line of…something dark on the carpet. We don’t ever get to find out what this case is sadly, which is a little annoying when they drew so much attention to it.
Returning from the bathroom, Ted brings a can for Nina from the sideboard, and a glass and bottle of “wine” for himself that he claims is “strong”. We’re ramping up the signaling now that Ted is, in fact, a vampire, because obviously his “wine” is blood. What remains to be seen is whether there’ll be a twist and he won’t, in fact, be a vampire but something else—perhaps a sad deluded old man trying desperately to relive his youth and fame by pretending to be a vampire.
Ted tells Nina the story of how he and Robert came to create the show, a creative partnership, and friendship forged as children and continuing all the way through to the TV station at the community college where they were offered the night shift. That developed into their own late-night slot that they filled with horror movies and their own cheesy skits based around the supernatural. Questioned as to why their dream came to an end, Ted states that “boys will be boys”. Nina asks what this means and with a shift in the lighting accompanied by rising ominous background music we switch between closeups of Ted’s face and Nina’s face, zooming in closer as we go, which, even if you haven’t seen numerous old cheesy horror movies you know is meant to imply that Ted is trying to mesmerize Nina. It seems to be having an effect, but the spell is broken suddenly by a knock on the door.
Even before he says anything we can tell from Ted’s face that the older-looking man at the door is Robert (David Paymer). “Hello darkness…” Robert says, hesitantly but expectantly, and, with all of the emotions flashing across his face, Ted replies: “…My old friend.” Robert looks relieved at this exchange, perhaps not even expecting to get this far. Successfully pleading with Ted not to bolt immediately with another of their old catchphrase exchanges, the two sit down to be interviewed by Nina.
“Should she come knocking at my door…Who am I to deny a date with destiny?”
Things don’t begin very well, with childish digs being exchanged between the two. Obviously long-harbored resentments have festered over the many years without resolution. Then they get to the meat of the problem, Camille; the mere mention of whose name by Robert prompts an elaborate vampire hiss from Ted that has to be the funniest moment in this season so far for me.
As the argument between the two gets more heated, and we learn how their mutual love for Camille came between them and destroyed both their friendship and the show, Nina intervenes to question why, after all this time, they haven’t just got over it and moved on. We learn that Camille fell for Ted. Robert felt left out and unnecessary, and it colored his perception of everything, and every disagreement. Camille’s secret though, which she revealed to Robert, was that she had been bitten, and this led to love between the two. In his desperation, one night Ted pressed his neck to Camille’s teeth while she slept and she bit. But it was too late, she loved Robert. But he was unwilling to take the same step. Ted had lost his one shot at true love—Robert had wrecked it and then abandoned the woman he ‘stole” from Ted.
It’s definitely a cheesy plot-line and Nina is looking more and more uncomfortable with this turn of events, as these two men that were her idols spout all this nonsense. There is a heartfelt plea from Robert to forget the past and to be friends again, but after a long pregnant pause, Ted can’t seem to forget the pain he’s been holding onto all these years and attacks Robert. Nina, being a modern girl, immediately whips out her phone to film these two old TV dudes fighting each other, but Robert pleads with her to open the parcel he brought, which turns out to contain a veritable vampire hunter’s box of delights.
Ted, realizing the danger, gets all veiny as vampires do when annoyed, and loses control. Horror farce ensues, resulting in a stake in the butt, and Nina accidentally stabbing Robert in the neck. She flees, leaving Ted distraught with a bleeding Robert, and only now faced with the death of his old friend does Ted realize how much he values him and wants to be with him. There is only one way out for them, and with Roberts acquiescence, Ted goes in for the jugular and drinks, locking them together for eternity.
We close with the two old friends happily sitting on the bed together watching old footage of their show, chuckling together and reluctantly drinking the bottled blood. Housekeeping knocks at the door, and they yell “Come in!” And both smile at each other, undoubtedly about to share a new happy memory together.
Definitely one of the lighter episodes of the season, and aiming more for laughs and in-joke wry nods and groans from the cheesy horror aficionados in the crowd, “Night Shift” still has a serious point to make about allowing old wounds and hurt to fester and overtake friendships and relationships. Ted and Robert essentially spent most of their adult lives feeling hatred for one another, or guilt about their actions, and it kept them apart, despite their friendship being the most important thing they’d had in their lives—more important even than the woman that came between them in the first place.
Luckily, Ted and Robert have the chance to come back from the brink. Only Robert’s impending death is enough to break through the emotional deadlock that has tied Ted in knots all those years, and he has the ability to do something about it—to have another chance. For the rest of us without the ability to imbue the gift of eternal life we don’t have that chance, so we have to overcome our own stubbornness somehow without that point-of-no-return catalyst. It’s often harder than it might seem.