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We don’t need Halloween. The networks on Wednesdays are scary enough

Jeff Simon

Forget Halloween. That’s going to be a party night, as always. That’s why the holiday has gained by leaps and bounds in the last three decades.

As pre-Christmas hoo-ha goes, Halloween is for all those party-hearty people to whom a sudden large infestation of family at Thanksgiving is, at best, an, uhhh, conflicted pleasure. I know some people who anticipate more horror at Thanksgiving than Halloween.

But for real horror, let’s talk about Wednesday television instead.

It’s the networks’ WEEKLY big-time night of torturing victims and wallowing in pathology for our edification and delight. Anyone still relishing the entertainment value of human behavior at its absolute bloodletting worst has got to love to pieces what the networks now bring us midweek.

Last Wednesday, “Law & Order: SVU” offered up a judge who freed a wealthy young rapist because his victim had paid her tuition by pretending to be raped in a dozen hard-core porn films. At the end of the episode, she’d quit school and was found in a terry cloth robe on a porn film set going off alone to join on camera what looked like an entire football team of beefcake brutes ready to undress for success.

Then, on “Stalker” – TV’s newest contribution to the notion that ordinary, loving and generous behavior among human beings has become aberrant in the Internet era – we were treated to a stalker who liked to treat his victims to a night of their worst fears and then film the festivities, no doubt, for his own future private merriment.

What that meant is that one young woman who was afraid of the dark came home from a bad blind date set up by a well-meaning friend. She took a long, luxurious shower to cleanse herself of the evening’s earlier annoyances, only to discover in her bedroom that all her lights and lamps had no bulbs and the flashlight in her night table drawer didn’t work either.

The next high-power phobic to suffer was a woman even more afraid of snakes than most of us – who, of course, wound up with a whole house full of them at bedtime. All the while, of course, our boy with the infrared camera was filming it all in the dark.

Isn’t this fun?

The special new wrinkle, which has made “Stalker” one of the more loathed new TV shows in a long time, is its apparent insistence that stalking behavior is as common among human beings as an affection for bacon. The main stalker on the police force – the stalker’s stalker if you will – is played by Dylan McDermott, who moved from New York to California to stalk his D.A. ex-wife, played by Elizabeth Rohm. He likes to take pictures of her and plaster the pics all over his walls in a barren apartment with nothing else in it, no books or pictures or cases full of CDs.

The police stalker-watchers tracking them down are called the Threat Assessment Unit. Or TAU, for short.

The Daddy of all Scare the Bejabbers Out of Everyone shows on Wednesday night is, of course, “Criminal Minds,” about the FBI’s BAU, or Behavior Assessment Unit. Out here on our side of the tube, we are, undoubtedly, the Asininity Assessment Unit or AAU. But that’s another story.

“Criminal Minds” is the surviving prime time descendant of the most influential fictional imagination of our time that is not Stephen King but rather Thomas Harris, author of “Red Dragon,” “Silence of the Lambs” and “Hannibal.”

It has been, for decades now, Thomas Harris’ world. TV loves to pieces his separation of humanity into Diabolical and Appalling Torturers and Killers and tortured FBI plodders who risk lives and families to stop them.

CBS’ “Criminal Minds” has been the zenith (or nadir) of this world view for a while but CBS’ “Stalker” has now vastly exceeded “Criminal Minds,” many times over.

You don’t have to be unusually aberrant to see that the ordinary weekly TV schedule is a horror fiesta these days – much of it in TV’s version of high style too as in “The Blacklist” and “Hannibal” and “The Walking Dead” and “American Horror Story.” Our appetite, once whetted by Thomas Harris’ cooked brains as well as his bastard progeny “CSI” and “Profiler” and “Criminal Minds,” is now close to insatiable.

Does anyone mind terribly if I ask what it means that children of any age who are now awake at 9 or 10 p.m. can take a gander at things like “Criminal Minds” and “Stalker”? (Not to mention merry tales of rapists and porn actresses in despair over their inability to fit into our educational institutions.)

I don’t know about anyone else but this stuff is giving ME nightmares – not the conventional kind you get when you close your eyes at night to sleep and your unconscious takes over to mount its insane comedy show that always seems ready to roll. These are the kind that you get wide awake in prime time that now stimulate our interest.

The worst nightmare is this: “Stalker,” like the harrowing Fox show “The Following,” comes from the kitchens of Kevin Williamson, who gave us those “Scream” movies, too.

Please remember his first TV show – the autobiographical number called “Dawson’s Creek,” whose hero was an aspiring horror filmmaker.

Imagine this nightmare, then: teen boys all over the country swooning with happiness at “Stalker” every week and, just as Dawson did, chomping at the bit for the chance to make something that scares us even more.


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