Wild Palms main cast (listed below, L to R)
|Created by||Bruce Wagner|
|Written by||Bruce Wagner|
|Music by||Ryuichi Sakamoto|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||5|
|Executive producers||Oliver Stone|
|Running time||285 minutes|
|Production company||Greengrass Productions|
|Distributor||ABC Distribution Company|
|Original release||May 16 –|
May 20, 1993 , 1993
Wild Palms is a five-hour miniseries which was produced by Greengrass Productions and first aired in May 1993 on the ABC network in the United States. The sci-fi drama, announced as an "event series", deals with the dangers of politically motivated abuse of mass media technology, virtual realities in particular. It was based on a comic strip written by Bruce Wagner and illustrated by Julian Allen first published in 1990 in Details magazine. Wagner, who also wrote the screenplay, served as executive producer together with Oliver Stone. The series stars James Belushi, Dana Delany, Robert Loggia, Kim Cattrall, Bebe Neuwirth, David Warner, and Angie Dickinson. The episodes were directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Keith Gordon, Peter Hewitt and Phil Joanou.
In the United States in the year 2007, the right-wing "Fathers" dominate large sections in politics and in the media. A libertarian movement, the "Friends", opposes the government, often making use of underground guerrilla tactics. The Fathers' leader is California's Senator Tony Kreutzer, who is also the leader of the religious sect "Church of Synthiotics" (similar to Scientology) and owner of the "Wild Palms" media group. Kreutzer's TV station "Channel 3" is about to start a new television format, "Church Windows", which creates a virtual reality on the basis of popular shows like sitcoms, using a new technique called "Mimecom".
Harry Wyckoff is a successful patent attorney on the brink of becoming a partner in the law firm where he works. He has two children with his wife Grace, a perfect housewife who also moonlights as a boutique owner: 11-year-old Coty, who has just been cast for the new "Channel 3" series, and the ever-silent 4-year-old Deirdre. His mother-in-law is the impossibly chic socialite and interior decorator Josie Ito, a woman of strong will and numerous connections. At night, Wyckoff is plagued by strange dreams of a rhinoceros and a faceless woman who has palm trees tattooed on her body.
One day, he is visited by a former lover of his college days, the alluring Paige Katz, who asks for his help in tracking down her son Peter, who disappeared five years earlier. As Paige is closely associated with Kreutzer's "Wild Palms Group", which Wyckoff's firm is going up against in court, their meetings raise suspicions and cost Wyckoff his promotion. After this, he gladly accepts when Kreutzer offers him a job at "Channel 3" with an even higher salary.
In the wake of his new career, Harry's wife Grace becomes alienated from him and attempts suicide. To his dismay, Harry learns that Coty is actually the son of Kreutzer and Paige, and that her search request was a plot to bring him and the Senator together. Meanwhile, Coty not only becomes a child TV star but also, due to his ruthlessness, a high-ranking member of the "Church of Synthiotics". Grace's mother turns out to be the Senator's sister who disposes of possible rivals with the same violently brutal means as her brother. Her only weak point is her former marriage to Eli Levitt, leader of the "Friends" and Grace's father, with whom she is still in love.
Kreutzer tries to get hold of the "Go chip", which supposedly will enable him (via his hologram technology, mimizine drug, and synthiotics becoming common household products) to become a living hologram with unlimited power; he does not even stop at murder. Disgusted by his methods, his fiancé Paige gives information to the "Friends". Harry discovers that Peter, a boy who has connections to the "Friends", is his real son who was taken away by the "Fathers" shortly after his birth. Kreutzer, who suspects Harry of collaborating with his opponents, has him tortured and kidnaps his daughter Deirdre, while Josie throttles her own daughter, Grace, to death.
Harry joins the "Friends" and works to broadcast a recording of Grace's murder. The broadcast causes a social uproar. "Synthiotics" facilities and the campaign offices of Kreutzer, who is running for president, are attacked. Even a transmission of a fake video that shows Harry as Grace's murderer, and the secret execution of Eli can't stop the upheaval. Josie is brutally killed by a former victim, Tully Woiwode. Kreutzer finally manages to get hold of the "Go chip" and has it implanted, but not before it is secretly altered by Harry and Peter. Kreutzer reveals to Harry that he is his biological father, just before he loses cohesion and dissolves into nothingness. As Coty, now the leader of the "Fathers", finds his followers dispersed, Harry, Paige, Peter and Deirdre escape the chaos, although Harry knows he must "go back" and lead the "Friends" against their enemies.
ABC aired the miniseries over five consecutive nights:
- 1993-05-16: Everything Must Go (approx. 90 minutes) - directed by Peter Hewitt
- 1993-05-17: The Floating World (approx. 45 minutes) - directed by Keith Gordon
- 1993-05-18: Rising Sons (approx. 45 minutes) - directed by Kathryn Bigelow
- 1993-05-19: Hungry Ghosts (approx. 45 minutes) - directed by Keith Gordon
- 1993-05-20: Hello, I Must Be Going (approx. 45 minutes) - directed by Phil Joanou
- James Belushi as Harry Wyckoff, a Beverly Hills based patent attorney and later, CEO of the Wild Palms group.
- Dana Delany as Grace Wyckoff, his wife, suburban housewife and owner of Hiroshima, a retro fashion boutique.
- Ben Savage as Coty Wyckoff, their 11-year-old son, a child actor on the verge of a breakthrough to stardom.
- Robert Loggia as Senator Tony Kreutzer, former sci-fi author, founder of the Wild Palms group, and of the Synthiotics cult.
- Angie Dickinson as Josie Ito, Grace's mother, a celebrated interior decorator with numerous connections and secrets.
- David Warner as Eli Levitt, Grace's father, former History professor imprisoned for terrorism. Founder of the "Friends".
- Kim Cattrall as Paige Katz, PR director of the Wild Palms group and Kreutzer's fiancée, she and Harry have past history together.
- Ernie Hudson as Tommy Laszlo, Harry Wyckoff's childhood friend, an eccentric entrepreneur who is also a closet homosexual.
- Nick Mancuso as Tully Woiwode, infamous and popular visual artist and toast-of-the-town, Tommy Laszlo's secret lover.
- Bebe Neuwirth as Tabba Schwartzkopf, Academy Award-winning actress who befriends Grace, and is part of the Wild Palms group.
- Aaron Michael Metchik as Peter Katz, a street urchin with mysterious connections with Harry, Grace and the "Fathers".
- Brad Dourif as Chickie Levitt, Eli Levitt's son from another relationship. Virtual reality boy genius and technology wizard.
- Charles Hallahan as Gavin Whitehope, Harry's associate at the Wild Palms group. Reformed alcoholic an Synthiotics devotee.
- Robert Morse as Chap Starfall, erstwhile pop star reduced to lounge singer status until the Wild Palms group "revives" him.
- Beata Pozniak as Tambor, the Wyckoffs' dutiful au-pair.
- Bob Gunton as Dr. Tobias Schenkl, Harry's psychiatrist upon whom he confides everything that is going on in his work and home lives.
- Rondi Reed as Eileen Whitehope, Gavin's wife, a "Lady-who-lunches" who also alerts Grace to a danger in her own home.
- Charles Rocket as Stitch Walken, a stand-up comedian who is also a surreptitious agent of the "Friends".
- Eugene Lee as Lt. Bob Grindrod, a corrupt detective of the LAPD under contract to the Wild Palms group.
- François Chau as Hiro, Grace's childhood sweetheart from her years spent in Japan, and an enemy of Kreutzer.
- Monica Mikala as Deirdre Wyckoff, Harry and Grace's silent four-year-old daughter, who gets kidnapped and used as a pawn later on.
- Cyberpunk author William Gibson has a cameo appearance as himself. When the author is introduced as the man who invented the term Cyberspace, he remarks, "and they won't let me forget it".
- Wild Palms producer and film director Oliver Stone also has a cameo. In a fictitious interview he appears as himself and comments on the release of files pertinent to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, revealing that the theories in his film JFK were right.
- Wild Palms director Kathryn Bigelow has an uncredited cameo. She plays the character Maisy Woiwode.
Oliver Stone had originally planned to film Bruce Wagner's novel Force Majeure, but then decided to film Wagner's comic strip Wild Palms, published in Details magazine, instead: "It was so syncretic. It was such a fractured view of the world. Everything and anything could happen. Maybe your wife isn't your wife, maybe your kids aren't your kids. It really appealed to me." Wagner referred to his creation as "a sort of surreal diary […] a tone poem", set in an "Orwellian Los Angeles". ABC agreed to finance the project on a budget of $11 million, but, remembering the eventual decline of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, insisted that the series had "a complete story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end".
Actor James Belushi compared the series (among others) to the British TV serial The Prisoner, and stated: "It's very tough, very challenging—a lot of viewers probably won't dig it." Dana Delany suggested that viewers should "let it wash over you, enjoy each scene, and by the end it'll make sense". Robert Loggia compared it to Elizabethan play The Duchess of Malfi and the ancient Greek tragedy Medea. ABC, bound to make sure that viewers wouldn't lose attention, had a supplemental book, The Wild Palms Reader, published and offered a telephone hotline with the show's initial run. These measures notwithstanding, Stone considered the atmosphere to be more important than the storyline.
William Gibson later stated that "while the mini-series fell drastically short of the serial, it did produce one admirably peculiar literary artifact, The Wild Palms Reader" (to which he contributed). Both Stone and Gibson called Wagner the creative force behind the series.
The United States of the year 2007 as depicted in the series shows a strong influence of Japanese culture, such as in dress and interior and exterior design. Holograms of Miss Alabama and girl group The Supremes even bear Japanese facial features.
Other interior details show the influence of Scottish designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928). Deliberately anachronistic elements include 1960s cars (like Studebaker police vehicles) and Edwardian fashion.
References in Wild Palms
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While the comic strip makes clear references with Senator Kreutzer to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, the series gives only allusions. Hubbard publicised a psychological technique, "Dianetics", which is practised in his "Church of Scientology". Kreutzer's technique is called "Synthiotics", and his religious organization "Church of Synthiotics". Kreutzer's organization has a naval subsidiary called "The Floating World", paralleling the "Church of Scientology"'s "Sea Org". In their reviews of the series, both The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly noted similarities.
Shortly after Harry joins the "Wild Palms Group", competing TV stations file a lawsuit against the senator's company, arguing that his new exclusive broadcasting technique "Mimecom" would create a technical monopoly. The lawsuit refers to the 1948 Paramount Consent Decree which forced major Hollywood studios to sell their movie theater chains to liquidate the existing oligopoly.
During a conversation, Kreutzer explains that his mother died as a victim of Executive Order 9066 because she had Japanese ancestors. In 1942, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed EO 9066 which led to the internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese living along the Pacific coast of the United States in so called "War Relocation Camps".
A manipulated video showing Harry killing his wife Grace (who was in fact murdered by her mother Josie) is broadcast on several TV channels. CNN alone is mentioned by name. After the broadcast, Harry contacts Josie one last time, sarcastically suggesting that she should start a weekly TV show featuring the murder of a surprise guest.
Artistic and other references
- The poem "Of Mere Being" by Wallace Stevens is repeatedly used as a mantra by Synthiotics members.
- "Running to Paradise" by W. B. Yeats is, among others, quoted by Senator Kreutzer in conversation with Harry Wyckoff: "The wind is old and still at play / While I must hurry upon my way, / For I am running to Paradise."
- Comedian Stitch Walken quotes a chapter title ("The Pool of Tears") from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "Down, down, down through the pool of tears."
- Grace alludes to her life as the Diary of a Mad Housewife—a very popular 1960s novel by Sue Kaufman, which deals with the mental breakdown of the titular character.
- The hologram of Dex Wyckoff recites Shakespeare's Hamlet: "It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you."
- When given a precious dagger by Eli Levitt, Harry quotes The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
- "The Hollow Men" by T. S. Eliot features in Kreutzer's last words: "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper."
- "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman is repeatedly alluded to and recited by the "Friends".
- Kreutzer repeatedly sings "Hello, I Must Be Going" from the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers. Animal Crackers can even be seen playing on a TV screen.
- "Synthiotics" entertainer Chap Starfall performs the Irving Berlin composition "Let's Face the Music and Dance", "In My Room" by The Beach Boys, Cole Porter's "All Of You", and Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower".
- While Josie visits Chickie Levitt, Kreutzer sings along to an interpretation of Victor Young's "Street of Dreams".
- When introducing herself to Grace, Tabba Schwartzkopf says "I'm a terrible person"; Grace answers: "But you break like a little girl", a phrase taken from Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman".
- During a test screening of "Mimecom", Harry's colleague Gavin Whitehope sings passages from the Jimi Hendrix song "Purple Haze", asking, "Are you experienced, Harry?" ("Purple Haze" appeared on Hendrix's album Are You Experienced.)
- Eli Levitt alludes to the Christian hymn Amazing Grace, mocking Mimecom as "A Mimezine grace".
- Gimme Shelter [The Rolling Stones] is used several times in the soundtrack
- Reminiscences of Seconds and Marathon Man can be found in Harry's interrogation scene.
- Film star Tabba Schwartzkopf has recently headlined a 21st-century remake of Magnificent Obsession.
- Eli Levitt's death scene resembles the execution scene in Alphaville.
- Upon being released after her "fifty-seventh" facelift, Josie facetiously refers to her nurse as Cruella De Vil.
- Harry and Grace's kidnapped son, Peter, visits his mother in the rehabilitation centre, asking if she has been given the same treatment as Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit.
- Oliver Stone appears as himself as a guest at a late night show, discussing his film JFK.
- Rebel Without a Cause is playing while Harry and Peter meet in a cinema.
- Early on in the first episode, Tully Woiwode and his sister discuss One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Brad Dourif (Chickie Levitt) debuted in this film.
References in dialogue or images can also be found to From Here to Eternity, Bride of Frankenstein, The Eagle Has Landed, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, Kwaidan, The Shining, Goldfinger and the TV shows Star Trek, The Mickey Mouse Club, and The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
- While describing the random seizing of a man in a restaurant, Harry points out "[it] looked like one of those Robert Longo paintings".
- Tully Woiwode is claimed to have sold "deconstructed" Hockney paintings.
- After Kreutzer has supposedly died, his son Coty states that he saw his body floating over the roof "like a Chagall".
- While being visited by Josie, Chickie Levitt prays the Jewish Kaddish.
- As seen throughout the series, the cult of Synthiotics is a fictionalized variation on some of the themes of Scientology and its inception is quite similar, with Kreutzer being partially modelled after L. Ron Hubbard.
- When asked about the effect the "Go chip" implantation will have on Kreutzer, his sister Josie explains, "he'll be like Christ".
- Buddhism is referenced numerous ways throughout the series. Several characters mutter, "Everything must go," an allusion to detachment. Hungry Ghosts, another Buddhist concept, is referenced in dialogue and by an episode title.
The recurring rhinoceros image is a symbol used by Keutzer's "Synthiotics" associates: Kreutzer's sister Josie tells his son Coty early on not to be afraid of the rhino. Later, Coty leaves one toy rhinoceros at the site of Gavin Whitehope's murder; another one is stuffed into the mouth of a murdered "Friends" collaborator. In Eugène Ionesco's play Rhinoceros, human individuals turn into rhinoceroses, symbolizing conformity and affirmation of a totalitarian mass movement. To character Paige Katz, the rhino also represents maternity.
In David Cronenberg's film Videodrome (1983), lenses manufacturer "Spectacular Optical" plans to change the viewers' perception of reality with their "Videodrome" program and forces TV station owner Max Renn to hand over his "Channel 83" for broadcast. In Wild Palms, the "Wild Palms Group" uses the "Mimecom" technique on its own "Channel 3" to manipulate their audience. In Videodrome, the organisation behind "Spectacular Optical" wants to release the viewers' potential aggressive energies and reinstate a strong North America which is currently "rotting from the inside". In Wild Palms, televised virtual realities are used to draw the audience's attention away from the state's increasing totalitarianism. In Videodrome, "Channel 83" owner Renn finally turns against the conspirators, killing their chief executive and shouting, "Death to Videodrome! Long live the New Flesh!" In Wild Palms, a manipulated video shows Harry murdering his wife Grace, proclaiming "Long live the Friends! Death to New Realism!"
In Philip K. Dick's novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), consumers immerse themselves into an artificial soap opera world, which appears virtually real, by taking a drug called Can-D. In Wild Palms, the pseudo-realistic effect is enhanced by a drug called "Mimezine". In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, a new drug appears on the market which enables its supplier, Palmer Eldritch, to affect the consumer's perception and personally appear in his altered reality. In Wild Palms, senator Kreutzer wants the "Go chip" implantated into his body, which as his sister Josie explains will turn him into a hologram and enable him to enter everyone's dreams.
In 2014, Cronenberg and Wagner collaborated on the film Maps to the Stars, starring Julianne Moore and John Cusack, which makes several references to the Wild Palms universe, including pieces of dialogue and certain situations and character traits.
In addition to Ryuichi Sakamoto's music score, a number of 1960s rock and pop songs and classical compositions could be heard in the series. On the 1993 released soundtrack album, the following songs were included besides Sakamoto's music:
- The Zombies: She's Not There
- Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford: I Need Your Lovin'
- Frankie Valli: Can't Take My Eyes Off You
- Lou Christie: Lightnin' Strikes
- Mason Williams: Classical Gas
The following songs and compositions can be heard in the series but are not featured on the album:
- The Animals: The House of the Rising Sun
- Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, Second Movement
- The 5th Dimension: Wedding Bell Blues
- The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter
- The Rolling Stones: No Expectations
- The Supremes: Love Child
- Richard Wagner: Parsifal, Prelude
A book, The Wild Palms Reader, was published by St. Martin's Press before the series aired. It included time lines, secret letters, and character biographies. ABC, concerned that viewers might get "hopelessly lost in the tangled story line", arranged for the primer to be published. It also included writing supposedly from the "world of the series". Contributors included:
- Norman Spinrad – sci-fi writer (Bug Jack Barron, The Iron Dream)
- Genesis P. Orridge (anonymous) – musician (Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle)
- E. Howard Hunt – CIA officer involved in the Watergate Scandal, writer of spy/sci-fi novels
- William Gibson – sci-fi writer
- Brenda Laurel – virtual reality consultant on the mini-series
- Spain Rodriguez – 1960s underground comic artist (Trashman)
- Hans Moravec – scientist and writer in the artificial intelligence field
While the comic series was published in book form in Germany, the Wild Palms Reader was not. Instead, a novelization, written by German dime novel author Horst Friedrichs, was published under the title Wild Palms.
Reviews of the series were mixed.
The New York Times critic John J. O'Connor called Wild Palms a "truly wild six-hour mini-series" resembling "nothing so much as an acid freak's fantasy, drenched in paranoia and more pop-culture allusions than a Dennis Miller monologue." He described it as "rich and insinuating as a good theatrical film, albeit harder to follow" and concluded, "You wanted something different? Here it is. And Wild Palms also happens to be terrific."
Ken Tucker in Entertainment Weekly stated that "in its length, scope, sweeping visual tableaux, and over-the-top passion, Wild Palms is more like an opera than a TV show." Comparing it to David Lynch's Twin Peaks, he decided that "unlike Peaks, which started out brilliantly lucid and then rambled into incoherence, Palms sustains its length and adds layers of complexity to its characters. It also has something crucial that Peaks did not: a sense of humor about itself."
Mary Harron of the British Independent suggested that viewers "forget about the message, and about what the rhino means. Wild Palms should be watched like opera; for its gorgeous images, its emotional set-pieces and its high style."
Readers of the British trade weekly Broadcast were much more negative, calling it one of the worst television shows ever exported by the U.S. to the U.K. It placed fourth on their list, exceeded only by Baywatch, The Anna Nicole Show and The Dukes of Hazzard. TV Guide also blasted it, offering the interpretation that Oliver Stone was condemning television while covertly lauding cinematic films. 
- Wild Palms was released on VHS cassette in the UK by BBC in 1993, where it aired between November 15 and December 7 the same year.
- It was released on CLV laserdisc in the U.S. in March 1995.
- It was released as a Region 4 DVD in Australia in 2004, a Region 1 DVD in the U.S. in 2005 and a Region 2 DVD in the UK in 2008.
- A blu-ray release by Kino International is scheduled for July 20, 2020.
- The Sunshiny Menace of "Wild Palms", review by John J. O'Connora in The New York Times, May 16, 1993, retrieved 2012-02-01.
- Benjamin Svetkey (May 14, 1993). "ABC's new "Wild Palms"". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
- Television: Never mind reality, just revel in the kitsch: 'Wild Palms' began as a cartoon strip, now it's a mini-series with a major twist, article by Mary Harron in The Independent, November 7, 1993, retrieved 2012-02-18.
- Aus dem Land der Alpträume, interview with Oliver Stone (in German) by Catherine Mayer in Focus 50/1993, December 13, 1993, retrieved 2012-02-03.
- Where the Holograms Go, entry in William Gibson's Blog, July 22, 2006, retrieved 2012-01-29.
- Wild Palms review by Ken Tucker in Entertainment Weekly, May 14, 1993, retrieved 2012-02-01.
- News about Wild Palms from IMDb
- Classification of the VHS release by the British Board of Film Classification.
- Laserdisc details from IMDb