Rerun Junkie Episodes–“The Duke of Squigman”

In case it escaped your attention, I guested on an episode of Night After Night to talk about this episode as Squiggy is my favorite. During our discussion of the episode, I said I could write a blog post about the tag scene.

This is that blog post.

Because I feel that the tag scene of this episode is a perfect example of how reruns should be viewed in two different contexts.

If you haven’t seen “The Duke of Squigman” and/or listened to me, Lisa, and Chris discuss it (why the hell not? you’re missing out on some good shit), the quick synopsis of the episode is that Squiggy has been sleepwalking and when he does, he adopts the persona of -you guessed it- the Duke of Squigman. It turns out the reason that Squiggy is sleepwalking is because he can’t accept the fact that some people just don’t like him.

I know. I find that hard to believe as well.

The episode does a fabulous job of balancing the funny, the sweet, the absurd, and the emotional.

And then there’s the tag scene.

After the emotional conversation between Lenny and Squiggy about the psychological motivation of Squiggy’s sleepwalking, the boys are at the Pizza Bowl and Squiggy is attempting to hit on a woman sitting at a table. Naturally, she rejects him. Squiggy consults with Lenny about whether or not his feelings are hurt by this and Lenny affirms that they are. Squiggy acknowledges this and decides that he doesn’t care. He then proceeds to kiss the woman right on the mouth.

It should go without saying that this has aged poorly.

In the time this show was set (late ’50/early ’60s) and the time it was filmed (mid-late ’70s/early ’80s), this type of mild sexual assault was normalized and typically played for laughs. Of course it was. We don’t want to think of our favorites as sex pests.

Watching this scene in the context of the now, it’s not the laugh that it’s supposed to be. It’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t necessarily spoil the episode, but it definitely ends it on a sour note. As a woman, if a dude I had rejected forced a kiss on me, it wouldn’t be funny. It’d be a felony. ‘Cause I’d be going to jail. Living in a society in which there is a constant struggle in regards to the entitlement men believe to have to women’s bodies, in which violations of these boundaries are categorized and graded and the acceptable responses to them dictated by a certain script that ultimately makes them easier to dismiss, it’s kind of difficult to find the humor in the joke.

However.

In the context of the narrative, it makes complete sense.

Squiggy has confronted the issue that makes him sleepwalk. When presented with his next rejection, he checks in with Lenny, acknowledges that his feelings are hurt, and then soldiers on. That’s growth. Not a lot of growth, but it’s the growth that you’d expect to get from a character like Squiggy. At least he’s acknowledged that the woman has rejected him and that, yes, his feelings are hurt. But he ultimately decides that he doesn’t care. Now whether or not this is another form of denial is another story. But for Squiggy, just acknowledging it is progress.

Could this be accomplished without the forced kiss? Sure. No doubt that Squiggy could have showed his little bit of growth before insinuating himself into this woman’s space without forcing affections, and probably could have been done in such a way that would have garnered the same volume of laughs, with the added benefit of retaining much of those laughs in future viewings.

However, in the context of when the show was set and when it was written, it makes perfect sense that this would be the gag used to convey Squiggy’s limited growth, especially given the established behavior of the character being just a little bit slimy with the opposite sex sometimes.

In viewing the episode in these two contexts, I’m able to both acknowledge the problematic content without condemning the entire episode. I’m not absolving it of its offenses, but I am putting those offenses into proper perspective.

This approach allows me to have a more enjoyable viewing experience.