The Black Box: “The Secret Diary Of Desmond Pfieffer”

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, what the fuck is this shit?

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Guys, I am quoted on this very blog as saying that if I had an archenemy it would be exposition. But if I have a second, less threatening nemesis, it would be goddamn UPN. UPN can fuck right off. It may not be my Lex Luthor, but it sure as shit is my Brainiac.

“The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer” was a single camera sitcom airing on UPN. The series premiered on October 5th, 1998 and was cancelled less than a month later. Nine episodes were produced, only five of which aired. It followed Desmond Pfeiffer (pronounced puh-fife-er) a black english nobleman fleeing from gambling debts to become President Abraham Lincoln’s valet during the Civil War.

What they did right: The actor playing Ulysses S. Grant is pretty good.

What they did wrong: Did you hear that goddamn premise? And yeah, it is very uncomfortable to watch in multiple ways for multiple reasons. Not least of which because within the opening ten minutes Pfeiffer makes a Native American Peace Pipe joke.


We start with Pfeiffer writing in his diary about the day’s events in a room that appears to be where the Lincoln’s keep their shitty curios.

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                                                      Either that or a Color Me Mine.

We then cut to Desmond and his servant Niblett (yes everyone in this does have really dumb fucking names) as the duo are trying to find Thomas Jefferson’s secret treasure. And then they find the treasure in a wall despite the fact that the white house was burned in 1812 and any wall treasure would have most likely burned with it.

And in case you think “oh but this is just a shitty sitcom, they probably didn’t do their research,” they fucking mention the fire immediately before finding the treasure! I call bullshit! So Niblett finds the treasure, which is a ring of immense monetary value and tackiness.

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               And yes, the ring was behind a brick in a wall that is NOT FUCKING MADE OF BRICKS.

Unfortunately at this point Mary Todd Lincoln bursts in acting like a nutcase and yelling at her husband. Oh, goody, this show is fun. Let’s ignore the fact that real life Mary Todd suffered from serious mental illness so depicting her as an angry shrew is more than a little troubling. Actually, let’s NOT ignore that because that’s kind of not fucking ok in any way whatsoever. Oh, and while Mary Todd WAS a bit overweight, it’s kind of cheap to make that her only definable character trait.

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                                              UPN: The Unreal Punishment Network

Mary Todd is getting on Lincoln’s case for his not satisfying her sexually because this is THAT type of show. Lincoln, meanwhile is busy being kind of a cock.

And heading the United States through one of its most trying and difficult periods in its history.

But mostly the cock thing.

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                                                                        “I am not a cock!”

Lincoln himself is actually busy with something else: sexting via telegraph.

Not joking.

And now is when I reveal what it is this show actually is. Because guess what?

Say “what?”, readers.

There we go. This show was meant as a parody of the Clinton presidency after the Monica Lewinsky scandal! Yeah, how goddamn weird is that? Sidenote, if you asked “who’s Monica Lewinsky?” you have google and wikipedia, stop expecting me to tell you everything.

So this bullshit pilot is absolutely filled with snarky jokes and allusions to Clinton which are SUPER FUCKING DATED now and truly unfunny in every way possible.

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                                                        Not even a very good Lincoln impression.

After some wacky shenanigans, Lincoln decides to meet up with the girl he’s been        sex-tagraphing in a local bar. When he shows up he meets her and… It was Mary Todd the whole time and neither one knew it and they fall back in love.

If that sounds familiar you may recognize it as the plot of Escape (The Piña Colada Song) or as I called it in my notes when I realized this, the “goddamn motherfucking” Piña Colada Song. Who steals a plot from a song?! Especially the plot from THAT song, which is pretty clearly about a couple doomed to fall apart and fail.

Escape is one of the least romantic songs that everyone still likes because it is admittedly a really fun song. Then the pilot ends with Pfeiffer (remember HE exists?) writing in his diary again.

This show Suuuuuuuuuuuuucks, and became a running joke as its failure is legendary. It’s often mentioned in the same breath as Heil Honey, or Poochinski and, while both of those are much much worse, Pfeiffer is still incredibly painful to sit through. It’s bad and ambiguously racist and not funny and dated.

Sic semper tyranus, indeed.


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