The Black Box: “Ferris Bueller”

Television pilots are tough to make. It’s hard to introduce the concept and entire cast of characters of a show in one episode and still have that episode hold up on it’s own. But just because something’s hard doesn’t make it any more excusable when you fail spectacularly at doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Black Box, where we check out pilots that crashed and burned to see exactly what went wrong.

This week, we see how you take a good movie and turn it into a shit television show.

This is the first show I’ve reviewed from the massive subcategory of “shows based on much much much better movies”. And believe me, between this, “Fast Times”, and “Clerks” we have a lot more of these to get through. As opposed to those, however, it is kinda easy to see how “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” might make for a decent TV show. The movie is fairly episodic, and the characters are stock enough where you could build off them in a serialized story.

“Ferris Bueller” follows the titular character, his best friend Cameron, and sister Jeannie as they progress throughout high school. The series kicks off when Sloan Peterson enters their high school and Ferris decides to romance and then murder her. What? That’s the impression I got from the pilot. The series premiered on NBC on August 23, 1990, and was cancelled after 12 episodes, with the thirteenth to be aired a year later. The pilot covers Ferris and Sloan’s first meeting and Ferris’s clear decision to make a coat out of her flesh. I’M TELLING YOU, I AM POSITIVE THAT’S WHAT’S GOING ON!!! FERRIS ACTS LIKE A SERIAL KILLER THROUGHOUT THIS ENTIRE PILOT!!!

What they did right: Again, like most of these sitcoms, this one also has a couple of jokes that work. Most of them come from Jeannie, as played by a young Jennifer Aniston. Aniston honestly does a great job here and most everything good I can say about this show is about her.

What they did wrong: Let’s start with the elephant in the room: no, they did not get ANY of the original film’s cast for this show. John Hughes also failed to return, and in fact insisted that NBC not use his name in the marketing. Charlie Schlatter tries his best to play Ferris, but his attempts to be Broderick-levels of charming come off as bone-chillingly terrifying. I haven’t been this afraid of a character breaking the fourth wall in a long time. Cameron, played by Brandon Douglass  is barely of note, which is especially aggravating given that Cameron was basically the protagonist of the film. The most I can say about him is that he’s there. Ami Dolenz plays Sloan Peterson well, I guess, but she still isn’t super interesting either. She’s basically just there for Ferris to  brutally murder fall in love with. I already talked about Aniston, but she’s easily the highpoint of this endeavor. Also, Richard Riehle just doesn’t work as Principal Rooney. He just doesn’t.

The plot starts off on the wrong foot right away, with Ferris explaining that the movie we all know was actually based on his life, a fact which makes no fucking sense when you realize that Sloan and Ferris haven’t met yet in the show, so how were they dating in the film that was supposedly based on Ferris’s life so far in which he didn’t know–motherFUCKER I am confused. Never even mind that, because a bigger source of annoyance is that Ferris takes out a cardboard cutout of Mathew Broderick, which he then cuts in half with a chainsaw because that movie wasn’t as “hip” or “edgy” or “groove-a-tronic” as this show is gonna be. …Not all of those might have been real terms. Honestly, cutting a cardboard standee in half with a chainsaw is one step above pissing on a movie poster as far as “giving the finger to the source material” is concerned, so I at least admire their restraint. The show also de-ages the whole cast, placing them in their freshman years at their high school, which is now in Santa Monica instead of Chicago for SOME-fuckin-reason. Also, speaking of their high school, we see the entire student body at one point, and it is the smallest high school I’ve ever seen. Hell, MY high school was bigger, and my graduating class was 60 people!!

The characters are all simplified to hell. Rooney, who was kind of a dick in the original film, is a flat out monster in the show, trying at one point to expel a student for LITERALLY NO REASON. Rooney also has a serious hate for Bueller, which we never get a reason for. Also, if this is Ferris’s first day of his freshman year, how does everybody know him? Rooney, the fellow students, teachers, everybody fucking knows him and the show ignores how this is goddamn possible. Honestly, I’ve just been assuming that Rooney is trying to bust Ferris for the string of prostitutes he’s definitely murdered, which would make Rooney the hero of this series. But not only is Ferris a serial murderer, he’s also a massive douchenozzle. At the end of the episode he hacks into the police department’s computers and changes Jeannie’s bail (she was arrested due to a wacky misunderstanding) to ten times what it’s supposed to be. He does this for no reason. Honestly, his torment of Jeannie is kind of uncalled for, presumably because she’s growing ever closer to finding Ferris’s crate full of victims and he wants to stop her.

If you think I’m over-exagerating the “Ferris is terrifying” thing, listen to this: Ferris also hacks into the school computers and puts himself in all of Sloan’s classes so he can basically stalk her. That’s fucking horrifying. That’s beyond fucking horrifying. Stalking on its own would be fucking horrifying behavior for a human being, but hacking into a school computer system to facilitate said stalking? That is the literal pinnacle of fucking horrifying. So Ferris eventually wears Sloan down and she agrees to sneak off campus with him to go to the beach. Ferris steals Jeannie’s car, which is like, the THIRD legitimate crime he’s perpetrated so far this episode. They go to the beach and Ferris tells her to follow her dreams of being a ballet dancer, and then I assume he tries to convince her that the dark area under the boardwalk is “a really cool place to hang out”. Once they return to campus, Rooney catches them and Sloan turns on Ferris. Ferris worms his way out of punishment through the use of a pop culture reference I don’t get and goes off to find Sloan. Sloan tells him that she’s transferring to a performing arts high school and she narrowly avoids his nefarious clutches. Ferris goes home and monologues to camera some more, before ending the show by telling the audience that they are not nearly well dressed enough to hang out with him. Now, I may have in fact been wearing a Pacific Rim t-shirt and Star Wars pajama pants when I watched this, but that’s neither here nor there. I will not have my wardrobe criticized by a fucking serial killer. That just will not do.

The show takes the charming surrealism of the film and heightens it to a cartoonish degree, losing any of that charm along the way. That’s actually the problem with the entire show. Just like Schlatter sliced the head off that cardboard cutout, the show slices off anything that worked about the original, leaving a dead, sad, husk in its wake. Hell, you notice how I didn’t mention Cameron once in that plot summary? That’s because he DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER IN THIS SHOW!! How do you make a Ferris Bueller show and leave out the most complex character? Maybe Cameron just doesn’t want to be around Ferris while he’s stalking his next target.

That’s it for this time, next time hopefully I’ll get to watch something less murder-y.

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