One Brief Crystallized Drop of the Eighties
I watched this show as a child, and I was delighted to discover that it was now available on DVD. I put it on my wishlist almost immediately. And then I got the occasional episode from the library, and I took the series back off again. Oh, it's not the worst of the things I loved as a child; I just watched a few episodes of [i]She-Ra[/i] the other day, and it was even worse than I remembered. On the other hand, this had a great deal more promise than [i]She-Ra[/i] did. That was never going to be great, though [i]Jem[/i] was similarly better than it really had any right to be. However, [i]Faerie Tale Theatre[/i] was a great premise which got a bit bogged down in being far too stylized and far too determined to be loaded with popular performers. And so you get Joan Collins as a witch and Christopher Reeve as a prince . . . and Mick Jagger as the Emperor of all Cathay.
And as the Emperor of all Cathay, he has the best of everything. His chef (Charlie Dell) makes him the most complicated and elaborate dishes, never the same one twice, and he eats but a single bite of each. The best of his flowers have silver bells hung from them. But one day, he is reading a book sent to him by the Emperor of Japan, and it speaks of the magnificence of the nightingale, saying that it is better than anything the Emperor of Cathay possesses. So the Emperor tells his entire court that they must bring him the nightingale. None of them ever leave the Porcelain Palace and do not themselves know where to find the nightingale. Only a kitchen maid (Barbara Hershey) is able to tell them how to find her, out where the forest meets the sea. And the nightingale comes back to the court of the Emperor, where she sings for him. And he thinks she is the most wonderful thing in the world, until that snarky Emperor of Japan sends a second-best, a clockwork nightingale of gold and jewels.
I mean, the makeup required to make Mick Jagger into anyone from Cathay at all is a bit on the ludicrous side, and that's leaving aside that Cathay is in fact China. This is a particularly '80s Cathay, too, clearly trying to be an illustration out of a book. Poor Bud Cort looks even worse than Mick Jagger as the head musician. And in fact, the court is rounded out by Edward James Olmos as the Prime Minister, meaning that practically the only Asians in the cast are the gardeners--and the one with the most lines, Mako, is Japanese. But as I said, that's only part of the problem. Almost worse is that the fact that it's an avant-garde '80s view of what the Chinese imperial court would look like. There is a great deal of elaborate makeup, not just the silly moustaches drooping from that notable upper lip. I barely recognized Bud Cort, and I tend to keep an eye out for him, being fond of him. He looks overdone; only Edward James Olmos seems to have escaped the makeup artist's heavy hand.
Oddly, this is a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale with a happy ending--and even more oddly, they let a lot of the darker bits into the almost-hour. Death, in this version, appears to be some odd incarnation of the Monkey King, but Death does put in an appearance and is persuaded by the beauty of the nightingale's song to leave the emperor alone. (Death is uncredited.) The little kitchen maid gets a much more substantial part--happy romances so seldom play a role in Andersen tales--but either way, it is a story in which Death does not get his own way. (Death, in stories like this, always acts of his own volition and frequently wants to get whoever-it-is.) The Emperor is as vapid and vacuous as, well, quite a lot of the people in Mick Jagger's social circle around about those days. He is horrifically wasteful, as evidenced by that awful scene where he eats single bites of enormous plates of food. At least he's said to be given away his table scraps, though doubtless someone was actually selling them.
Oh, I will continue to watch episodes of [i]Faerie Tale Theatre[/i] as they appear in my hold list. It's entirely possible I will even write more reviews of them. I will watch, should it present itself, the episode wherein Paul Rodriguez went hunting for the Fountain of Youth with Ponce de Leon. I've a fond memory of when this series aired on Showtime, in those long-ago days of my childhood when I had Showtime. At least it leaves me with that; I can continue to watch these episodes now and again. I don't have any particular interest in owning it, though it might not be a bad purchase for a household with children. The only problem with that is that I will have to explain to any children I watch it with who, for example, Gregory Hines and Ben Vereen are when we get to "Puss in Boots." However, when we get to "Cinderella," Jennifer Beals may not be familiar, but Matthew Broderick still will be. They didn't all fade into nostalgia at that.