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Sunday, February 19, 2006

1.55 --- The Library

Directed by : John Hancock
Written by : Anne Collins
Starring : Frances Conroy, Uta Hagen, Lori Petty
First aired : 28th of March, 1986.

Ellen Pendleton (Frances Conroy, Scent of a Woman, Six Feet Under), an aspiring writer looking to earn some money on the side, gets a job at a private library ran by Gloria (Uta Hagen, The Other, Boys from Brazil). Ellen soon finds out that this is no ordinary library - the books in it actually contain people's lives, updating with every moment. Gloria warns Ellen not to even look into the books, as that is something firmly prohibited by her masters.

When she gets home and is disturbed by the noise of the neighbours, she decides to have a little revenge. Next morning, she re-writes a chapter in the book of her neighbour to be a priest, and therefore not marry the woman from downstairs who caused all the fuss. But when she gets home, she finds her sister Lori (Lori Petty, A League of Their Own, Tank Girl) consoling that woman - Carla - who is on a verge of nervous breakdown because of loneliness.

Decided to fix this one as well, Ellen rewrites her book to be happily married to another neighbour, Doug. That indeed happens, but now the problem is that Doug is bankrupt from buying all those gifts for Carla. Ellen then fixed Doug with a real estate wealth, only to find out that he is now her landlord, and that her sister is staging a protest against him raising the rent !

Thinking a relocation will solve her problems once for all, Ellen rewrites her own book, setting her and Lori to live in a house by the sea. And even though that sounds fairly innocent, she returns home to find her sister nearly dead, as she drowned while attempting to save a little boy. She dashes back to the library and is caught by Gloria, who is incensed when she learns books have been tampered with. She quickly orders Ellen to gather all the books she rewrote and ushers her out of the library.

Much to her amazement, Ellen is met outside by Lori, looking alive and well. She rings the doorbell of the library, but the door is answered by an unknown fellow, claiming to be living there for the past ten years. Convinced now that things are in order, Ellen leaves with Lori.

***

The bad aftertaste left by Devil's Alphabet didn't last long, as The Library is a good, sound TZ entry bolstered by some strong acting. Celebrated stage actress Uta Hagen exudes calm when present, and Conroy and Petty have good chemistry as on-screen sisters. The supporting cast is also pretty good - there's Joe Santos (The Rockford Files, Panic in the Needle Park), Alan Blumenfeld, Candy Azzara, all proven veterans of TV productions.

The only flaw was that the scene in which Ellen finds out what the books are about looks and feels awfully contrived - it's one of those "lightbulb" scenes, as in character suddenly gets a heavenly revelation and discovers everything around him/her in one breath - but that's just a minor complain. This episode is good stuff, pure and simple.

Al Pacino trivia : now get this : a bunch of people who appeared in this episode have, in one way or another, worked with Al Pacino in some capacity. Frances Conroy appears in Scent of a Woman, Joe Santos in Panic in the Needle Park, cameoing Jay Gerber in Dog Day Afternoon, and Uta Hagen gave young Al acting lessons back in the 70s. Twilight Zone case ? Perhaps. Me reaching for the stars in order to write another trivia piece ? Most certainly.

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