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Sunday, January 15, 2006

1.35 --- The Misfortune Cookie

Directed by : Allan Arkush
Written by : Steven Rae (story by Charles E. Fritch)
Starring : Elliot Gould, Bennett Ohta
First aired : 3rd of January, 1986.

Harry Folger (Elliot Gould, MASH, The Long Goodbye) is a venom-tongued restaurant critic, who built his career by trashing restaurants for no reason. When he overhears another TV restaurant critic praising a little chinese restaurant, he lambasts that place out of pure malice, without even visiting it.

Later that day, Folger drops by at "Mr. Lee's Chinese Cuisine", and arrogantly just asks the check before even eating his food. The restaurant patron, mr. Lee (Bennett Ohta), is visibly disappointed, so in accordance with his tradition he presents Harry with a fortune cookie, which he claims has special powers. The cookie unveils a message which tells Harry he'll be rewarded just behind the corner. Shrugging this off, Harry exits the restaurant, but is nearly trampled over by a running man at the corner of the alley. It turns out that the runner was a diamond thief, who dropped all his loot when he collided with Harry - which results in a $1,000 reward.

Realizing those fortune cookies are indeed special, Harry returns the following day, despite the newspapers publishing his ultra-negative review. Mr. Lee is less than satisfied, but he still serves Harry a lunch and another cookie, which this time says that "with April, romance comes". Certain that someone's making a fool out of him as it's currently September, Harry angrily storms out. On his way to the office, though, he bumps across an attractive lady looking for directions. As he shows her the way, they agree to go out for a dinner that night. Before they leave, Harry asks for her name, which is - you've guessed it - April.

Harry takes April to mr. Lee's, hoping for some more "fortune". The results, this time, are not as expected however - while April's message says that she will soon correct the error in judgement she earlier committed, Harry's simply says that he's going to die ! Enraged, Harry causes a scene, swearing at mr. Lee, which in turn drives April away from him. With mr. Lee simply saying that the fortune cookie just delivers one's due fortune, Harry storms outside.

But just as he leaves mr. Lee's, Harry is suddenly overwhelmed by hunger. Turning around, he suddenly finds himself in Chinatown, surrounded by Chinese restaurants. He enters the first one in sight and orders food, but his hunger just cannot be sated. Just as he's busy finishing up his umpteenth plate of Chinese delicacies, a fortune cookie is served to him, simply saying that he's dead...and this is his hell.


Directed by the one-time Roger Corman protege turned TV director Allan Arkush (Rock'n'Roll Highschool), The Misfortune Cookie simply reeks of deja vu, despite being adapted from a story by Charles E. Fritch. Simply put, Cookie is a stir-fried, sweet'n'sour version of Kentucky Rye, differing only maybe in the fact that Rye packs more social commentary and tackles a more serious matter. Hell, Mr. Lee even looks like an east-Asian cousin of that Kentucky Rye bartender.

But does this all make it a bad episode ? Hell no. The Misfortune Cookie is interesting, funny, and pleasant to watch, with Gould delivering a wonderfully sleazy performance, crafting a character you'll just love watching sink into hell. Recommended viewing...but beware, it might make you hungry.

Reviewer's note : yes, I intentionally overused the word "hell" in this one.

Trivia : writer "Steven Rae" is actually Rockne S. O'Bannon.

Comments on "1.35 --- The Misfortune Cookie"


Blogger Johnny said ... (3:57 PM) : 

I've been trying to figure out what show this episode was a part of -- thought it was The Outer Limits or something. Some of the most vivid memories I have of my childhood are of me watching this episode and "The Elevator" with my dad.

Thanks for the nostalgia.


Anonymous Youn said ... (9:23 PM) : 

Hahah! I like your Reviewer's Notes for this episode. And really enjoy reading your TZ episode blogs.


Anonymous Howard Goldman said ... (2:55 PM) : 

The episode was MUCH better than the original short story. Elliot Gould did a wonderful job in the role. Thinking about it still freaks the bejeebers out of me to this day.


Anonymous Adrock said ... (11:36 PM) : 

Just seeing this one for the first time. Love, LOVE, this episode. This is archetypal "Twilight Zone" -- a mean, mean man gets his cosmic justice, in a comical way, consigned to a very ironic version of hell..

It's redolent of "Kentucky Rye", yes, but it's also very similar to the Classic TZ episodes "What You Need" (loosely based on the old short story "We Have What You Need"), about a petty man who abuses somebody else's gift of prophecy, with fatal results -- and "The Other Place", where one character's version of hell is an endless abundance of something.

Elliot Gould is superb in this. He figures out his character's one note (unjustified arrogance) and hits it perfectly.

Funny, though, that his character's year of birth is said to be 1947, even though Gould himself was born in 1938. The director, flattering Gould!

The idea of Folger being condemned to a hell of never-ending Chinese food is also much funnier than the end of "Kentucky Rye", which granted wasn't meant to be a comedy.


Blogger Geo said ... (9:36 AM) : 

I have a very specific memory of a scene (that seems to be missing from all online versions of this episode) in which his freakout over the "you're going to die" fortune is extended... He demands to know who wrote it, and the restaurant admits that the cookies aren't made on site, and they tell him where the fortune cookie maker is located... he runs to that location in a panic and bursts into the kitchen, seeing a guy at a typewriter creating fortunes, demanding to know what the meaning of his fortune is, but the man is bewildered and doesn't seem to know anything about the death prediction.


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