From 1967 to 1971, NBC aired a program called NBC Experiments in Television which ran commercial free and as filler for Sunday evening programming post-football season. The series is vaguely reminiscent of The Twilight Zone in the fact that it reflected the concept of thinking about what was just viewed as a social commentary instead of blindly watching flickering images on the screen simply for entertainment. In 1969, Jim Henson co-wrote with longtime Muppet writer Jerry Juhl and directed his own installment of this anthology series entitled The Cube. The Cube is an avant-garde teleplay in which a man (Richard Schaal) is trapped in a cube. The cube is white and made up of several black lined squares that serve as hidden doors, cabinets, and windows in which other characters may come in and visit the man, but he cannot follow them out because each person has his own door and must go through it. Although he cannot follow the other characters to leave through these specific doors, groups of characters are seen as entering and exiting while sharing a door. The man is told that he can leave the cube if he really wants to, but is never given clear directions on how to leave. When he asks how to get out, a member of “the management” simply tells him that “the most direct approach is usually the best.” The characters that enter serve to misguide, belittle, and mock the man in order to incite frustration, pushing him closer to the brink of madness. One woman comes in and seemingly attempts to seduce him, but when he finally kisses her, a doctor and nurse come in to take his vital signs and write down observations. Could it be that the man is simply involved in an experiment and is being observed? After all, it is revealed to him that he signed up for this and that there are several other cubes. One man enters claiming to have escaped another cube and warns the man that he has been tormented and mistreated. He leaves, but the recurring management member explains that the visitor is merely an actor. Another recurring visitor is Arnie (Hugh Webster) the blue collar handyman. Arnie is an interesting character. He assures the man that he can get him anything he needs and tells him that there is no organization among the nut jobs that run the place. At first it seems that Arnie is the only one that is friendly to the man and trustworthy, but later he is observed explaining to another character behind the man’s back that the man is trapped in the cube until he dies. Two other visitors appear to be helpful at first, but eventually their motives come into question. One such visitor blatantly admits that she is not reliable. She warns him that everyone is a liar and that even she is lying at that very moment. The other manipulative visitor criticizes that the man simply cannot handle a paradox and raves about the different paradoxes that exist in science. He and the man discuss the concept that nothing is real and everything is merely a projection. The man finally decides that he is the only thing that is truly real because he feels both emotions and can physically feel things and make observations by using his senses. He can attest that he is real based on his observations. He seems to think that this realization will magically release him from the cube. As he is explaining his realization, however, he accidentally cuts himself and bleeds jelly. Not only will the man never be released from the cube, but he can no longer trust himself or his own observations. This episode is a bit drawn out and long. Although I thoroughly believe in the concept of television as a medium to be used to inspire thought and social commentary, this episode becomes so heavy with meaning, that there is very little entertainment. It does contain elements of dark humor and a little suspense, but it does not build the suspense slowly to the point that the viewer shares in the panic, claustrophobia, and resignation the man experiences. The man starts out on a panic level of 8 and grows to a level 10 in a short amount of time instead of starting at a level of concern like a level 3 and slowly building to a level 10 of lunacy. There is also little connection between the viewer and the man. He is not given a name so as he can be Joe Schmoe or the every man, but in this anonymity he also lacks any personal relationships that make the viewer rally with him to escape the cube. If he were a father, a husband, or a hero we would push for him to find his door. For all we know, this man is a vile murderous criminal who is in limbo awaiting entrance to Hell or he could already be in purgatory. This show does several things right. It does evoke thought from the viewer instead of turning him into a television-watching zombie. The rapidly changing society of the 1960s saturates the show as a character points out that the world is changing and that the only ones that do not change are chickens! If that rally cry was not enough to get folks to think, the professor who points out to the man that the concept of reality versus illusion should have given viewers something to think about and discuss. The show explains that we are not real. People are projections of what they want others to see. This argument is still relevant today with the growth of social media. People can exist on two planes, in real life and digitally in a place in which we can edit our appearances and statements to project whatever we feel will be more socially acceptable. As a diehard Henson fan, I can see a lot of similarities between The Cube and Labyrinth. Although both differ greatly visually, the concept of the man being trapped in a cube, trying to find his way out mirrors the idea of Sarah working her way through the Goblin King’s Labyrinth. Both are met with characters who try to trick, mock, and confuse them by altering the physical surroundings or by clever wordplay. Either way, not all of Henson’s works provide a happy ending and not all of his characters play fair. The Cube is available for rent or purchase via iTunes. It is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck there! Keep a look out for Muppet performer Jerry Nelson (Gobo Fraggle, The Count, Floyd Pepper) who appears as a monk and Jerry Juhl who is projected during a party scene. I give The Cube 3 out of 5 rubber chickens! Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.