People always wonder why I enjoy the television shows I grew up with so much that I’m still watching them today. The easy answer would be the nostalgia trip and the reluctance to let go of my childhood. The more accurate answer, however, is that the shows were good then, and they’re still quite good now. They’re also occasionally capable of producing a truly transcendent episode. I can’t think of a better example of this than the Eerie, Indiana episode “The Broken Record.”
The episode’s plot is simple enough. Our heroes, Marshall and Simon introduce their friend Todd to the music of heavy metal maniacs, The Pitbull Surfers. Marshall thinks it’ll lead to some mindless head banging, but Todd takes it much more seriously, finding solace in the Surfers’ message of teenage angst and rebellion. We soon learn why Todd takes to the music so quickly; his father constantly berates and verbally abuses him. It becomes a vicious cycle, Todd engrosses himself in the music and his father’s abuse becomes worse, which only drives Todd deeper into the music.
The episode culminates with Todd attempting to run away from home. In reaction to this, his father decides to destroy all of his son’s records, but not before revealing to everyone the hidden messages he claims are within them. He begins playing the records backwards, expecting to expose something demonic. Instead he is greeted only by the sound of his own voice, and all of the insults he used to attack his son.
The episode’s story wasn’t new or ground breaking when the episode aired. It’s a timeless tale. Todd’s teenage angst, his feelings of isolation and confusion are universal and no less relevant today than they were then. Unfortunately, the abusive relationship he has with his father also remains just as relevant. What makes “The Broken Record” special is the visceral nature of it, thanks to the tour de force performance Tom Everett gives as Todd’s dad. His words are sharp and cutting, and he delivers them mercilessly. There’s no physical abuse in the episode, but every line Everett delivers seems packs an emotional punch.
The Twilight Zone was revered for its ability to use science fiction as a delivery method for social commentary. Here, in a largely forgotten children’s television show, we find an example of social commentary that is every bit as good as those found in The Twilight Zone. The rest of Eerie, Indiana is hazy for me, I can recall plot points and characters, but the details aren’t there. “The Broken Record,” however, I’ve always remembered clear as day, it’s a truly unforgettable episode.