"From my heart and from my hand/Why can't people understand/My intentions?"
-Oingo Boingo, "Weird Science"
In 1985 writer/director John Hughes released a cute little picture called Weird Science. It was the story of two high school boys who manage to create a woman named Lisa from their computer. But she's more than just flesh and blood. She's got magical powers and is determined to make them the most popular guys in school...and get them laid. The movie became an instant teen classic, ranking up there with Hughes' best. Just shy of ten years later, writer/director John Landis spearheaded a revival of the project, this time for television. Weird Science was re-imagined as a sitcom, with a new cast and more topical material.
Gary (John Mallory Asher) and Wyatt (Michael Manasseri) are the dorkiest freshman at their high school. From the moment they stepped into the hallways, they were marked for ridicule by the jocks and the bullies. Not wanting their high school careers to end up as shameful as their elementary and middle school years were, they decide on a lark to create a woman on their computer ("I saw it in a John Hughes movie," Gary quips). The trick works beyond their wildest dreams. Out of the blue appears Lisa (Vanessa Angel), who, in her own words is busty, brainy, and beautiful. She is able to grant any wish they desire, with the exception that she will not sleep with them (nor can they see her fully nude) due to some strong morality programmed into her by Wyatt. The wishes cannot be undone once they are granted, and no two wishes last for the same amount of time. However, not even Lisa can get rid of Wyatt's older brother Chett (Lee Tergesen), a military reject who remains a perpetual thorn in the group's side.
Weird Science is almost the perfect movie to spin off into a half-hour sitcom. The conceit of Lisa's magical powers means that every week we could have a perfectly encapsulated story, and since the wishes all expire at the end of the episode, there are little to no repercussions. And the series' writers (who have gone on to such varied projects as Will and Grace, Desperate Housewives, Battlestar Galactica, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Dead Like Me, and Boston Legal) took full advantage of the situation. The scenarios in the show are both outlandish and hilarious, often due to Lisa's literal interpretation of every wish. So, for example, when Gary wishes he could have Einstein's brain so he can impress a smart girl, Lisa literally delivers Einstein's brain...in a jar. When Lisa hears that Wyatt wants to be president, she makes him President of the United States, when all he wanted to be was president of the school chess club.
Other times, the wishes, while well intended, completely backfire. When Lisa makes doubles of Gary and Wyatt to go to school while they have fun, the doubles plot to take over Gary and Wyatt's lives and kill them. Or when Gary and Wyatt each want Lisa to hang out separately, she splits herself in two, but neither half is as fun as the original. Each episode has a moral to it, and while it's often simple (or, yes, even simplistic), the writers never go too far with it, letting it come out as part of the sequence of events. It also helps the show is completely hilarious, with Lisa's powers allowing for all kinds of bizarre moments and gut busting moments. The writing is also very culturally aware, with parodies and references to all sorts of different cultural touchstones, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tron, and The Most Dangerous Game, among others.
The cast is fantastic. John Mallory Asher makes Gary goofy but loveable, and gets to throw in most of the best jokes. Michael Manasseri is more of a straight man, giving Wyatt higher aspirations and a sane voice to Gary's lunacy. But the great thing about the show is how easily roles can be reversed. Nowhere is this better illustrated than with Lee Tergesen. Better known as a member of the cast of HBO's harrowing prison drama Oz, Tergesen displays excellent comedic timing as the overbearing Chett. Quite often Chett finds himself at the butt of one of Lisa's meaner spells, and as the series went on, what was once a one-dimensional peripheral character came to have a much deeper role. Vanessa Angel is the lynch pin of the show as Lisa. Best known for her role as the sultry but cynical hustler in the Farrelly Brothers' Kingpin, Angel once again proves her talent for comedy. While her looks are striking, it's her personality that really sticks with you. You can watch the rapport between the actors develop as the series go on, and by the time we're into the second season, their work together is simply stellar.
Weird Science isn't high art. But damn it, the show is just too much fun to ignore. This set has the first two seasons spread across four discs, and I watched the whole thing in a day and a half. I couldn't put it down. And I had a big ear to ear grin on my face the whole time. Maybe while the writers are on strike, they could sit down and watch more television like this. Because lord knows we could use some actual humor in our comedies.
The episodes in the set are as follows:
"The Feminine Mistake"
"Party High, USA"
"One Size Fits All"
"Keeps On Tickin'"
"The Bazooka Boys"
"The Most Dangerous Wish"
"Tale of Two Lisas"
"Nightmare on Chett St."
"Magic For Beginners"
"Copper Top Girl"
"Switched At Birth"
A&E presents Weird Science in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The show first aired in 1994, and I can't say that it has aged well. I could find plenty of artifacts, and the detail isn't anything to shout about. I'm guessing that these were just slapped on a disc without any kind of restoration work. After all, who's going to take the time to restore a semi-obscure television series from the mid-90's (even if that show is better than a good majority of the shows airing today)? I'm just happy to have the show on DVD, and it doesn't look awful, just not great.
Weird Science is presented in flashy Dolby Digital 2.0. Like the video, it's clear no work has been done on the audio, which is serviceable and nothing more. I could always hear the dialogue and the music, but it's not going to bowl you over by any stretch of the imagination.
We get four commentaries, two from John Mallory Asher and Vanessa Angel together, and two from Michael Manasseri solo. Asher and Angel play off each other very well, with Asher taking plenty of opportunities to complement her on her abilities and her body (both the way she looked in the show and the way she looks in the recording studio). Manasseri is a little more introspective, but also with plenty of humorous anecdotes. There's also a really lame trivia quiz and some cast biographies.
I remember watching Weird Science on the USA network, long before they had shows like Monk to trumpet. The series still holds up, especially if you remember the mid-90's well. Going back to it puts most current television to shame. Worth a look if you haven't seen it before, and definitely worth revisiting if you used to watch it. The presentation is less than impressive, but the work on display is so good that I'm just glad we're getting it on DVD at all. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.