Director: Frank De Palma
Writer: Mark Durand
Cast: Vic Tayback, Chris Hebert, Kelly Jean Peters, Paul Jenkins, Billy Jacoby, Jon Jacobs, and Paul Sparer
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 9/30/1984
Having overcome his alcohol addiction, Alan Coombs (Vic Tayback) is greeted by Jerry (Chris Hebert)—a mysterious boy claiming to be Alan’s son. Maintaining that he does not have a son named Jerry, Alan proceeds to drop off the young child at a local police station—much to the chagrin of Alan’s wife Sharon (Kelly Jean Peters), who insists that Jerry is in fact a member of the family.
“The New Man” employs the alcoholic parent trope in conjunction with themes of an ominous implication. Tales from the Darkside fans may nevertheless wish to avoid this episode, which makes incoherent use of a clever and foreboding premise.
When confronted with a child not his own, Alan responds to his unsympathetic wife with displays of anger, confusion, and desperation—all of which work to evoke pity for the protagonist preceding his eventual relapse. In contrast to the ranting and raving of Vic Tayback, child actor Chris Hebert embodied a subtle, taunting calmness that makes credible Jerry’s ability to infuriate Alan without overt provocation (a ridiculous evil grin from Jerry may, however, elicit snickering as opposed to fear or contempt).
Though potentially disturbing, the concept of a man forgetting his own son is never explored to a satisfactory conclusion. On one hand, audiences are given reason to consider that Jerry had existed all along despite Alan’s fervent claims to the contrary—a scenario that, while initially plausible, fails to account for Jerry’s second “father” in the final scene. Jerry’s addition to the Coombs family could also be attributed to phenomena of the paranormal variety (e.g. a malevolent imposter from another dimension, a rift in Alan’s original timeline, etc.); however, such an explanation would seem to downplay the relevance of alcoholism as a central plot device.
“The New Man” offers a commentary on the destructive nature of substance addiction, especially where the family unit is concerned. That being said, an air of ambiguity surrounding Alan’s predicament leaves open the possibility that inexplicable circumstances, not excessive alcohol consumption, may be responsible for the Jerry confusion—a fact that greatly muddles the core thesis of an already disjointed narrative.
An intriguing but deeply flawed episode, “The New Man” lacks the necessary focus for a serious examination of its own subject matter (i.e. allusions to parental abandonment, binge drinking, and verbal abuse directed at one’s family). Certain viewers may nonetheless appreciate this entry, which contains a convincingly tragic performance from Tayback.
Overall Quality: 4/10
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