Monday, July 9, 2012

Terrifying Moments in Children's Television: Diff'rent Strokes

(photo @ epguides.com)


Last year, I wrote this article for Cracked.com (you guys can tell that I'm a fan of Cracked.com, right?) that detailed a few of the more traumatizing moments from classic sitcoms. Diff'rent Strokes managed to make the list twice thanks to the infamous bike shop episode and the episode where the ginger kid from season 5 gets kidnapped.

Unfortunately for our female readers, there is a third chapter to the 'Diff'rent Strokes Trilogy of Psychological Trauma.' This time, the two part episode called 'The Hitchhikers' places Kimberly/Dana Plato in danger via one of the creepiest ways imaginable.

The episode begins with everyone getting ready for a surprise birthday party for Mr. Drummond. Right off the bat, things get weird when Maggie reveals a cake that she has prepared...in the form of Mr. Drummond's disembodied head.


Where is your God, now?


Later, Arnold tags along with Kimberly when she goes into town to pick up her father's birthday present. On their way back, they realize that they don't have any money for a cab ride back home (or the good sense to call someone to come pick them up). Despite a stern warning from Arnold, Kimberly goes full on Plato and makes the incredibly unwise decision to hitchhike their way back.

A few seconds later, a car pulls up with a friendly stranger named Bill, who is more than willing to give them a lift. Things start innocently enough; Bill tells them that he is a commercial artist and that he's doing design layouts for an aerospace company. Arnold, who is fascinated by all things having to do with outer space (and trusting adults that he just met), begins pressing Bill to take them over to his apartment so they can see his drawings and videos.

At this point, it's worth nothing that Bill actually tries to rebuff Arnold's insistences that he and Kimberly come over to his apartment. Maybe Bill would have just ended up being a nice guy who helped a couple of people out...and had the gratitude of a very thankful (and wealthy) Mr. Drummond. Unfortunately, that was not how things would play out.


"As a rule, I don't normally kidnap children. But if you insist..."


Once the group arrives at his apartment, Bill takes Arnold into the bedroom, sits him down, and puts in a tape of a space shuttle launch for him to watch. (Despite this situation being ripe for some sick metaphors, that's really what happened). Meanwhile, Kimberly stays out in the living room and admires Bill's paintings.

In our first clue that something is amiss, Bill takes advantage of some terrible home design plans by discreetly locking Arnold into the bedroom from the outside. He then suggests to Kimberly that he do a sketch of her that she can give to her father as a birthday present.

While Arnold remains entertained and out of sight, Bill quickly evolves from a kind hearted artist into a ranting lunatic, while Kimberly slowly realizes that the man sitting in front of her probably owns 50 copies of 'Catcher in the Rye' and a collection of ex-girlfriends' underwear.






Bill continues to become more and more agitated, snapping at Kimberly for moving and aggressively grabbing her by the shoulders when she attempts to get up to leave. Meanwhile, Arnold finishes watching what must have been the longest space shuttle launch ever only to discover that he's been locked in the bedroom.

He begins banging on the door and demanding to be let out. When Kimberly makes a move towards the bedroom door, Bill goes into Norman Bates mode and demands she assure Arnold that everything's alright.


"Tell him! Tell him the giant rabbits will protect us!"


Unconvinced by her shaky and panicked voice, Arnold continues to scream and bang on the door, only taking a break to make the occasional lame wise crack while bathing in disturbingly inappropriate studio audience laughter.

Kimberly, on the other hand, decides to try a new tactic; she attempts to lure Bill into taking her and Arnold home with her feminine wiles. Despite her fluttering eyelids and constipated expression, Bill eagerly jumps at the perceived advance...only to have Kimberly express complete revulsion and attempt to hit him over the head with a modern art sculpture.

Bill decides to forcefully regain control of the situation by locking Kimberly in the closet and threatening to hurt her adopted brother if she doesn't "behave."





Bill then storms into the bedroom, threatens Arnold with harming his sister if he doesn't "behave," and binds his hands and feet with duct tape. When Arnold asks if he and Kimberly will be allowed to leave, he is only met with silence and a menacing glare.

Bill goes back into the living room to retrieve Kimberly for what he is now referring to as their "date." He asks her to look at the magnificent view from his apartment (which is simply the apartment building next door), talks about how he enjoys "looking down on everyone," and promises to let Kimberly call her family after their date is completed.

While Arnold slowly tears through the duct tape, Bill prepars a meal for Kimberly (which she is not interested in eating for obvious reasons). Feeling it's time to kick his romancing skills up a notch, Bill puts on the classic song 'Strangers in the Night' and asks/forces Kimberly to slow dance with him. In one of the most surreal and creepy scenes imaginable, Bill dances and sings along to the music while holding a crying and severely traumatized Kimberly.

He then begins complaining to her about the cutthroat world of aerospace artistic design and how everyone at his job hates him. When Kimberly attempts to express sympathy towards his plight, Bill becomes angry (believing that she is being condescending) and shoves her onto the couch.




Back in the bedroom (which ironically has turned into the safest place in the apartment), Arnold finds a dumbbell and uses it to break a window. Somehow, the shattering of the glass did not disturb the pair in the living room, but when Arnold drops the dumbbell on a crate full of books as he climbs outside, Bill is alerted that one of his prisoners might be escaping.

When he and Kimberly discover that Arnold has gotten free, she expresses her delight at the fact that it's only a matter of time before the authorities find him. He tells her that even though she's probably right, by the time anyone arrives to help her it will be "too late."


"This episode jumped the shark a long time ago, sweetheart."


On the streets of New York, Arnold runs around like a lunatic asking every adult he sees for help (because we know how well asking strangers for help turned out the last time). When he finally finds a police officer, he has turned himself around so much that he can't remember how to get back to the apartment where Kimberly is being held hostage.

Meanwhile back at the Drummond residence, Mr. Drummond comes home to a surprise party (sans Arnold and Kim, of course). He had been taken out shopping with Willis for "hipper" clothing as a distraction so that the others could prepare for the party. Unfortunately for Mr. Drummond, the clothes that Willis had him purchase and wear home would lead most people to believe that he's a registered sex offender.


"Since when is it a crime for an old man to take in lots of children and celebrate his body?"



After a few hours (and a change into more respectable clothing), Mr. Drummond begins to get worried. But just when he makes the decision to go down to the police station and file a missing person report, Arnold bursts through the door with a police detective/expert hypnotist.

The fact that the officer managed to whip out this plot necessitated skill is not nearly as unsettling as the studio audience laughter that occurs while he hypnotizes Arnold (so that they can remember Bill's license plate number). After some more lame one liners by Arnold, he is able to recall the number, giving police the necessary information to locate Bill's apartment. In a complete break with proper/sane procedure, the authorities decide against sending in a team of officers to take down a disturbed and possibly dangerous kidnapper. Instead, they just send Kimberly's family and the hypnotic detective to make the bust.


When the group arrives, however, they find the apartment deserted. The land lord then lets them know that she allowed Bill to keep his own private photography darkroom/rape pit in the basement of the building.

Sure enough, the next scene shows Bill holding Kimberly against her will in the darkroom...on a bed. Why Bill was allowed to have a bed in a darkroom (and why it didn't raise anyone's suspicion) are questions that would have to wait (and ultimately would remain unanswered).



"I asked some friends to help me move this in here; they won't return my calls anymore."



Before Bill can harm Kimberly, however, he is distracted by the sound of shouting voices and an imminent ass kicking. Kimberly uses the opportunity throw a bottle of chemicals in his face (hopefully something that stings and disfigures) and runs into the arms of her father while Bill is arrested.

It is revealed that Bill had done this type of thing before (hence the BED in the DARKROOM). Kimberly resolves to testify and press charges against her kidnapper along with promising Mr. Drummond that she will never hitchhike again (which made Kimberly's decision making skills look much stronger than Dana Plato's). 

After a few laughs, Arnold claims that he is too shaken by the incident to go to school on Monday. While the rest of the family laughs this off, Mr. Drummond surely had already resigned himself to the mounting therapy bills that his children would one day incur. 

As everyone once again pushed and repressed their fear and anger back down into the darkest corners of their minds, the creepy cake of Mr. Drummond's head was brought back out for everyone to enjoy...this time wearing a hat and scarf.

Yep, no residual mental problems are evident in this happy group...




A link to complete episode can be found here.

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