Welcome back to my “Tales from the Darkside” Marathon! Loud, often obnoxious radio show hosts are still as prevalent today as they were back in the day. Some of the more intense ones can seem cynical or even hateful. Today’s tale focuses on a radio call-in host with a bad attitude just begging for a lesson in karma. This is “The Devil’s Advocate.”
Luther “The Devil’s Advocate” Mandrake is a bitter, jaded radio host for a call-in show. Despite living a wealthy life, Mandrake has lost everyone he cares about in freak accidents and over time has started taking his frustrations out on his listeners. One night, after lashing out to a few callers, he finally decides to give up on life and humanity as a whole. But he then receives a call that appears to be coming in from the past. Has Mandrake’s mind completely cracked, or are there other forces at work?
I’ll come out and say it: this IS a karmic story from start to finish. Mandrake, played very well by Jerry Stiller, is a man who’s fed up with the world and has a horrible reputation because of it. This story serves to give him some comeuppance after repeatedly putting down people who don’t deserve his scorn. It was written by George Romero himself, and while the first half of the episode is spent mainly making you want to see Mandrake get taken down a peg, I thought it was done effectively.
This is also a bottle episode, taking place solely in the radio station with Mandrake and his non-speaking switchboard engineer as the only physical actors. Yes, you could argue budget had a part to do with it, but I liked the close quarters. It still allows Stiller to pace around and be this bombastic, twitchy guy. This is meant to be a character piece, after all, and the setting comes secondary to that. There’s also some make-up done later in the episode, which ties into the overall twist at the end. At first, I thought it looked a bit odd, but by the end, I could see exactly what they were going for. It seemed to be decently made for the time.
Since I’ve seen my fair share of karmic stories, I didn’t find the twist surprising. I did like how it was handled, though, as the calls from the past indicate something’s not right and everything just unravels from there. After all that build-up of making me want to see Mandrake be punished somehow, I felt this was an appropriate twist. He was a broken man to begin with and the ending cements it.
Overall, “The Devil’s Advocate” was a good take on the karmic retribution story. I thought Stiller did a great job showing how bitter and resentful Mandrake was, and while the twist wasn’t too surprising, it fit well right in with what the story had built up already. Even though I tend to hate slogging through douche-y characters like this, I give this episode a recommendation.