"The Ray Bradbury Theater" The Playground (TV Episode 1985) Poster

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I Did not Understand the Conclusion
Claudio Carvalho25 March 2009
Charles Underhill (William Shatner) lives in the suburb with his wife and their five year-old son Steve (Keith Dutson), but he does not allow Steve to go to play in the nearby playground with other children. Charles has a childhood trauma with the bully Ralph (Mirko Malish) and his friends, and he frequently sees his ghost challenging him, until the day he decides to go to the playground with Steve and face the wounds of his past.

I did not understand the conclusion of this intriguing episode. The story has a promising beginning, it is well developed but I was completely disappointed with the weird open conclusion. My vote is four.

Title (Brazil): "The Playground"
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The Ray Bradbury Theater--The Playground
Scarecrow-8810 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
William Shatner stars in the second episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater that came on HBO primarily in the 80s. It is called "The Playground", with Shatner giving (what I thought) was a strong performance as a tormented adult named Charlie who has never recovered from the bullying he suffered at the hands of kids in and around a playground where he lived. The playground, as presented by director William Fruet and writer Bradbury, looks like Hell on Earth to Charlie when we see it from his perspective. When not in his perspective, however, it looks like any normal city playground. Prior to his arrival, Charlie's sister (Kate Trotter) has taken his son, Steve (Steven Andrade), to the playground without his approval (she harps endlessly—and perhaps, realistically—about Steve not being so sheltered and needing to be with kids his own age so he can face the real world), and we see him playing tag joyfully with kids who don't look like sharp-toothed demons with tattered clothes and dirty faces. Ralph (Mirko Malish) was the kid that led the cruel bullying antics that left Charlie, as a child, in a constant state of terror and dread. Ralph re-appears to Charlie when he once again passes by the playground that represents, symbolically, a Den of Evil to him. Ralph calls out his name, mostly shadowed by darkness, but that distinctive voice once again strikes a horror that leaves Charlie visibly shaken and disturbed. He doesn't want his son to face the same horrors, takes Steve to the playground, and "wills" (this is up for debate) a switching of personalities that has his Steve in his body and vice versa. As the little child monsters besiege Steve (with Charlie's personality inside the body), Charlie (with Steve's childlike personality) rides the swing, takes a brief look at his dad being hit and ridiculed, and eventually leaves the playground. Director William Fruet even distorts the lens with the kids on the playground modeled as if right out of Lord of the Flies, and there are enough close-ups and establishing shots that allow us to visually see the memories of the past made manifest in the tormented mind of a scarred adult man. My favorite scene has Shatner recollecting running from the kids after they belittle and attack him, chasing him to his front door, as his sister realizes that her brother has legitimate reasons to feel as he does for his son's welfare. I think "The Playground" adequately describes the long-lasting effects of the trauma of bullying. I was bullied as a kid, and the emotional wounds will never be fully healed. Memories return to me, from time to time, and when you see Shatner walking about his house, 3 a.m. in the morning and unable to sleep due to restlessness, it has merit, I believe. I think Shatner perfectly imbues his Charlie with the pathos required to inform us exactly what childhood experiences victimized by mean kids ganging up on you can do long-term. That abuse can be long-reaching even as you are a 40-ish year old, as the consequences of bad seeds can lead to dysfunctional, unsettled adult lives. I am happy that this hasn't stunted my ability to live a somewhat emotionally healthy life, but there are times where the memories return, if just for a little while until I shoo them away. Charlie seems unable to function unless he confronts the past, even if he might actually be destroyed by them. The ending could leave some a bit miffed and bewildered because it is open for debate. Did Charlie and Steve actually have a switching of personalities, or is this simply Charlie addressing what ails him psychologically in a dream state? Could it be that this is a sacrifice with Charlie volunteering to enter the lion's den so his son can be left in peace? Open endings often infuriate and dismay, but sometimes an episode has lasting, staying power if we must offer our own conclusion, provide our own answers, fill in the blanks as we see fit, without the benefits of others doing it for us.
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Good although a little confusing
calsinic20 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I'd recommend first time viewers really pay attention to the scene where Shatner's character is telling the story of his childhood bullying at the playground. You're still left to wonder exactly what is going on with the ending, which is disturbing on a psychological level (assuming he & his son really did swap minds, it's kinda disturbing that his son would just walk away as he was bullied & beaten by a pack of kids) no matter how you spin it. The only way it would really make sense is if the bullying is all in Charles head & it really wasn't taking place with the exception of his past.

All in all I liked it, & with Shatner it's much the same as usual with him in the way that you either like him & his style or you can't get past it. I find him entertaining so I'm always willing to give his work my time, at least in his younger (1950s - mid 1980s) days.
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One of the Circles of Hell
Hitchcoc23 March 2015
While he could enhance the sentimentality of childhood, Ray Bradbury also could take on the nightmares of childhood. I'm not sure I understand the ending totally, but the whole portrayal of the playground is frightening. William Shatner's Charlie, a single father, has been traumatized as a childhood. Before the pre-frontal cortex gets its act together, children can do things that lack conventional conscience. Charlie fears the playground and yet is drawn to it. He still lives in the same neighborhood where the kids of his day tormented him, and now his own son wants badly to be a part of the culture. The boy is pretty fearless and innocent. When we see things from Shatner's perspective we see fangs, facial distortions, horrors coming from these beings. At some point one must seek to confront or nothing will change. Charlie/Shatner knows that he will be haunted for his life it he doesn't act. That gets us to the end. Make your own conclusions.
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