Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2023 September 08 • Friday

In "The Carriers", an early Mission: Impossible episode, the team has to infiltrate a deinitely-Soviet-but-technically-not-Soviet-because-the-foreign-countries-are-always-fictionalized-versions-of-real-countries training camp for agents who are going to be sent to the United States ton infiltrate everyday society.

Not exactly sleepers, the idea is that these agents will have jobs in which they interact with large numbers of people. Because the agents will all be infected with a deadly and highly contagious plague, of which they'll be unaware.

It's a good episode, notable for, among other things, the guest stars George Takei and Arthur Hill.

But what about your doctoral thesis? you ask. Well, pop cultural representations of small town midwest American life has been done to death, so why not try pop cultural representations of representations of small town midwest American life?

Here, you can compare the (presumably) behind the Iron Curtain fake Illinois town of Willow Grove, from "The Carriers", with the explicitly behind the Iron Curtain fake town of Indian Springs, Nebraska, from the movie The Experts.

The plot of The Experts is kind of like "The Carriers" in reverse. There's a fake midwest American small town in the Soviet Union where Soviet agents are undergoing immersive training to become so American that they blend in perfectly, with the idea that they will become undetectable sleeper agents in the United States.

The problem is, improbably, that all of their information about American life appears to come from 1950s Saturday Evening Post magazines. And so actual Americans played by John Travolta and Arye Gross are brought in as "experts" to bring the fake Americans up to speed.

These two don't know what they're doing, of course. They think they're in a real Nebraska town and getting paid to manage a night club. Since they're from New York City (where you can see posters for Fishbone and Sonic Youth concerts on the street), the time machine aspect of the situation just seems like a natural part of hicksville.

The plot of "The Carriers" was anticipated by the 1951 movie The Whip Hand and The Experts was certainly looking back at the success of Back to the Future (1980s guy in 1950s small town America) while also pointing forward to the movie Pleasantville.

Dancing is important to both "The Carriers" and The Experts, with IMF member Cinnamon Carter being assigned to study go-go dancing in the fake town and John Travolta hitting it off with future wife Kelly Preston on the dance floor.

When Pulp Fiction came out, I remember someone remarking that Tarantino had got Travolta to dance again. Well, it hadn't really been that long since The Experts.

And interestingly enough, Travolta's outfit in The Experts, and the centrality of the dancing scene, seems quite similar to the famous Pulp Fiction number, set in a retro 1950s club.

Dave Thomas of SCTV fame directed The Experts and there are actors playing parts that clearly could have and perhaps should have been played by Rick Moranis and John Candy. Certainly there could have been things for the whole SCTV crew to do, though the film's cast do an excellent job.