The King is Back

"You're popular here, which means this can't possibly be our earth." — Arturo to Rembrandt.

Review by Mike Truman


Show business is a fickle mistress. One little thing here or there can make or break careers. Everyone always assumed Rembrandt Brown’s biggest mistake was leaving the Spinning Topps for a solo career. That is, everyone but Rembrandt. What if he was right all along and it was his choice of agents that made all the difference? Forget Elvis Presley. The Crying Man is taking center stage.

Written by co-creator Tracy Tormé, “The King is Back” is a light comedy about a long suffering failure who suddenly has fame thrust at his feet. On this world, Rembrandt Brown was the greatest popular entertainer of all time. At the height of his fame, he disappeared in a mysterious accident. The life he left behind is all for the taking…if Rembrandt wants it.

Along the way, our foursome meet a crazy cast of characters. First up is Rembrandt’s manager, Captain Jack Brim. Ol’ Captain Jack has hit upon hard times since his prize client kicked the bucket. He’s left promoting Chinese country western singers, geriatric trios covering Devo tunes (“Now, now, ladies, stop whipping it,”) and the Bass Ace. But when he discovers Rembrandt has returned, he immediately schemes to regain his past glory by arranging a huge comeback concert. He manages to book the arena, sell all the tickets and get the building prepped — all inside of twenty-four hours. This Brim fella is one hell of an agent! It’s no wonder Rembrandt was so huge here.

Standing in his way is Maurice Fish, one of the original Spinning Topps. Maurice is best described as Little Richard with homicidal tendencies. Here, the Topps were left with nothing when Rembrandt hit it big, and Maurice has gone insane with jealousy. He believes he is the true superstar and wants the world to know. When the Cryin’ Man suddenly returns from the dead, he has just that opportunity.

Toss in everyone’s favorite loser Gomez, a phalanx of Rembrandt impersonators, and a society obsessed with musical stars and we have one madhouse of an episode. Everywhere they go, Rembrandt “Crying Man” Brown, Maximillian “Luciano Pavarotti” Arturo, and Quinn “Lizard King” Mallory are harassed by their adoring fans. They get a lot of mileage out of the Pavarotti gag, prompting Arturo to go ballistic — “I am not Mr. Pavarotti. Mr. Pavarotti is an Italian. He speaka lika this. Do I speaka like this? No. Why? BECAUSE I AM AN ENGLISHMAN, YOU BLISTERING IDIOT!”

The plot isn’t very complex. Rembrandt agrees to take his double’s place for the concert that will rake in one million dollars per song. His double, who is really in hiding, discovers the counterfeit and arrives to confront Rembrandt. Only by this point, Rembrandt had been kidnapped by Maurice in an attempt to extort royalties from him. The other Rembrandt helps the other Sliders hunt down Maurice while Captain Jack throws out one bad act after another until Rembrandt arrives to do the show. Ever see a fat white man sing “Cry Like a Man”? You really should.

Of course, Rembrandt is rescued and the other Rembrandt gives ours his blessing to take over for him. Now that all of his dreams have come true, Rembrandt decides to leave the Sliders and stay here. And he would have done it too, if his double hadn’t caught wind of how much money was at stake. He charges the stage and the two duke it out in an impassioned version of “Tears in My ‘Fro.” Ultimately, the original wins out and Rembrandt escapes in time to make the slide.

This raises an interesting point. While Quinn and Arturo have shown great hesitation when asked to assume the roles of their others, Rembrandt doesn’t seem to have much of a problem replacing this world’s version of himself. He’s willing even before he gets his double’s permission. He was equally eager to replace his presumed dead double in Summer of Love. Perhaps it goes to perception. Rembrandt seems most accepting of the idea that his doubles are simply him in different situations. If that’s the case, why not claim the credit he was so wrongfully deprived of on his own world? It’s not his fault his earth has no taste in music or the women there couldn’t see what they were missing. Rembrandt is a more complex character than he sometimes appears to be. It was good to see him beyond the whining wallflower and take center stage.

If humor was the only consideration, this would be a four star episode. Sadly, it’s not. The story is held back by an inability to move the plot in coherent fashion once Rembrandt is kidnapped. The best example of this is Quinn and Wade stopping by the arena to tell Captain Jack to keep putting on acts while they try to rescue Rembrandt. Why bother? Quinn has made it clear he doesn’t care about the concert and his friend is in very real danger. He’d detour to the concert to check in on how the show was going? Absolutely not. The scene exists because a room full of Rembrandt impersonators is funny. Too often, comedy considerations trumped plot considerations, and the third act pays dearly for it.

Speaking of plot, would it be too much to ask for a new one? This is the third episode in a row where one of the group nearly leaves. While I do find this to be a compelling device, it’s quickly getting tired. The only two episodes where no one wanted to stay behind involved a plague and an asteroid.

Perhaps the most bizarre thing here is the decision to cast Rembrandt’s double with a completely different actor. The true King is played by Cleavant Derricks’ twin brother, Clinton Derricks-Carroll. While there is indeed a superficial resemblance, the match is far from perfect. It’s not at all like having John Rhys-Davies or Jerry O’Connell playing the dual roles we’ve seen earlier this season. When Wade cries out “Rembrandt!” at the sight of Clinton, he’s not the only one who is confused. The illusion is completely shattered. For the sake of the musical extravaganza at the end, I guess it was worth doing. But if they ever encounter another double of Rembrandt, I’d suggest sticking with Cleavant for the dual role.

Then there’s this completely disconnected teaser where Quinn is sentenced to death for a crime his double committed (vandalism of all things). What is this morbid fascination the producers have with nearly killing the characters each week? Although I personally think it was unnecessary, the threat to Rembrandt’s life by Maurice Fish makes sense in context. Quinn’s second escape from the chair this season looked to me like overkill, if you pardon the pun.

Though not all that satirical or thought-provoking (at least not on the scale of Eggheads or The Weaker Sex), “The King is Back” is thoroughly enjoyable. Tormé has a great time spoofing the entertainment world, particularly television and music. There’s just a never-ending supply of little gags, jokes, and scenes to keep you smiling. The reference to episode composer Mark Mothersbaugh’s band Devo is a nice touch and both Chuck McCann (Captain Jack) and Tom Pickett (Maurice Fish) turn in tremendous performances. As for myself, the image of Arturo crowd-surfing is one that will stick with me for a long time.

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