AIR DATES: June 28, July 5, 1993
A fitting epitaph to the series, in three parts.
First, the man of the title: Joe’s father, University of Chicago physics professor Roland Winston, had long tolerated an odd, quiet visitor who pretended to work in his lab. This man, Jim, would arrive promptly each morning, sit at a desk and write longhand or type page after page of some unknown magnum opus of science.
Joe and the crew often clashed with Jim when they would film in the lab space, but were fascinated by his ethereal demeanor. After he declined to be interviewed, Joe and Dan rigged a system of hidden video cameras in the lab to record his typical day’s activities.
The result, set to music, is a poetic, haunting portrait of a true outsider, a man who may be imbecile or genius.
Out in the field, Joe interviews a range of people about their experiences with Matches Ads (well before the advent of Internet dating.) Some seem content; others miserable; one or two possibly delusional. Most of the interviews take place in the subjects’ homes, which adds texture and insight beyond the typical man-on-the-street encounters.
Back at Joe’s house, he and Bob and Dan and Noel are making a mess in the kitchen. A grey-suited man knocks at the door — he’s from the FCC, and the show has violated several broadcast standards and must be shut down. Thankfully, he’s thwarted at the last moment by a surf tune, which causes him to dance uncontrollably and abandon his mission.
At the end of the show, Joe and Bob are alone in the basement. It’s a summer day, and friends await. Joe grabs a bat and ball and they exit. Chris, the camera operator, puts down the camera, and joins them. He shuts off the lights on his way out.
Except for the ending coda, much of this episode was originally created for “Joe’s Basement Returns!”
Popular at festival screenings, “The Strange Little Man Who Lives in My Father’s Lab” would be more widely distributed if not for ethical and legal problems with its production.