CTP Episode of the Day - 12.13.06 - Small Potatoes

Today's Cherished Episode: Small Potatoes (4x20)
Original Air Date: April 20, 1997
Written By: Vince Gilligan
Directed By: Cliff Bole

Mulder and Scully investigate several not-so-blessed events in a small southern town.

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"I have a theory. Do you want to hear it?"
"Van Blundht somehow physically transformed into his captor then walked out the door leaving no one the wiser?"
"Hey, Scully, should we be picking out china patterns or what?"

Some "Small Potatoes" Tidbits & Musings:

-- "Small Potatoes" was episode 4x20 and it aired on April 20 (4/20), 1997.

-- The episode title, "Small Potatoes," is a phrase meaning "a person or thing regarded as unimportant; an insignificant amount or sum." It is how Eddie thought of himself (and possibly how his father would have described him).

-- Darin Morgan was a legend in the X-Files realm. He wrote four of the series' most bizarre (and arguably best) episodes -- "Humbug," "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," "War of the Coprophages," and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." And he played a memorable role as the genetically mutated Flukeman in "The Host." And even though his job on The X-Files was pretty much his first real job of any kind, after the third season, he decided he needed a rest.

-- "I was tired of doing the show," said Morgan, who left the writing staff without a backward glance. "I didn't want to do it anymore. I'd only done four episodes, but that was enough for me. I wanted to stay home and maybe work on my own stuff."

-- Vince Gilligan, however, wanted Morgan to work on his stuff; specifically, an episode designed to change the mood around the X-Files office. "I was proud of 'Paper Hearts,'" said Gilligan, "but that script was exceedingly dark, and I didn't want to get a reputation for only writing about doom and gloom. You know, the funny thing is that I came to television from writing features and six of the seven movies I had written were comedies."

-- "So I went to Chris and said: 'You know, the season as a whole has been great, but it's been kind of dark, especially with Scully getting cancer and all. I think we need some comedy like Darin used to write, and since he's not around, I'd like to take a crack at writing a comedy episode.' And Chris said, 'Absolutely.' He was very supportive."

-- As Gilligan wrote the episode, he thought he knew who would be exactly right to play the part of Eddie Van Blundht -- his friend Darin Morgan. "I was lucky enough to see Darin's performance in a student film he made while he was at Loyola Marymount, and I thought he was just great. Very funny," Gilligan said. So he launched a telephone campaign to drag Morgan out of retirement.

-- Morgan said, "He told me that the part was written with me in mind, and that I should just be myself. So I said, 'Well, what do I play? A kind of good looking, handsome guy? Searching for true love?' And Vince goes, 'No, you play a fat, ugly loser who's impregnating women, basically raping them because you were born with a tail.' I said, 'Oh, okay, Vince, send me the script.' Then, a few minutes later, he called back. He said, 'The character's kind of a loser. But I don't want you to think that you're a loser.'"

-- Morgan maintained adamantly that whatever acting ability he once possessed had long since evaporated. "Vince caught me on a good night," he said. "Immediately after saying yes, I thought, I should have said no."

-- Be that as it may, most everyone around the show maintained that he played the part perfectly. And rather atypically for this bunch of perfectionists, most everyone involved in the production of "Small Potatoes" had at least a moment or two of pure enjoyment while making it.

-- "'Small Potatoes' was probably the script that was the most fun to write," Gilligan said. "I wrote it in 14 days, which was pretty fast for me at the time that I wrote it. Later on in the show, we had less time and had to write them even faster."

-- "A great, great script. And it was fun to do," said David Duchovny., whose favorite bit of business was the heaven-help-me eye roll -- a last take improvisation -- that he threw in at the exact moment he realized that he was going to have to chase Eddie through the corridors of a small-town gynecologist's office.

-- Gillian Anderson smilingly recalled leafing through a stack of prop department photos of Morgan as Eddie, choosing the proper one for "Mulder" to use in his scene with Amanda. "I mean, the props guy comes in with the stack of photos of Darin with all sorts of different expressions," she said. "And, of course, we're all sitting behind the video monitor going through them and laughing hysterically."

-- The actress also lit up at the memory of her hospital room scene with actress Christine Cavanaugh, who was the voice of Babe the pig in the movie of the same name, which was why her unique voice sounded so naggingly familiar. When Amanda revealed that she was impregnated by Luke Skywalker, it was one of the rare scenes where Scully's pragmatism triumphs over Mulder's zealotry. "I also enjoyed singing the Star Wars theme song with her," said Anderson.

-- "David and Gillian were both wonderful in this episode," Gilligan said. "David is such a natural comedian and Gillian is also a great straight man -- woman. And when you are writing comedy, you've got to have a great straight man to make the comedy work."

-- In the first drafts of Vince Gilligan's script the very special babies of Martinsburg sprouted angels' wings instead of tails. "I wondered if it was genetically possible to be born with something akin to wings," Gilligan said. "I had our researcher Jessica Scott look into it, and she said there's a condition that causes something like an extended scapula -- which was fine except there was nothing cute about that. So we decided they'd look a lot cuter with tails, and we called them monkey babies instead of angel babies."

-- But "no babies were harmed in the making of this episode," Gilligan joked, noting the tail was added via the use of computer generated animation. When the birth scene was filmed, the newborn used in the shot had a small green sticky dot placed on her behind and that was used by the special effects producers as the tracking mark to add the animated tail later. Gilligan noted his original idea of the babies having wings would have also been much harder to animate, and that was another reason the switch to tails was made.

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-- On the cover of the "World Weekly Informer," in the bottom right-hand corner, there is a picture of none-other-than The Stupendous Yappi, a character created by Darin Morgan who was also seen in "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space".

-- One of the headlines on the tabloid newspaper is "ETAP Bigshot Busted." "ETAP" is a commonly used brand name on the X-Files, and is so-named because it is prop-master Jim Pate's name spelled backwards. The man in the mug shot over the headline is one of the show's assistant prop men.

-- Star Wars was one of Vince Gilligan's favorite films, and he thought it was "kind of nice" to be able to incorporate it into the plot of this episode. Gilligan noted that Star Wars creator and director George Lucas was very good about permitting mention of his creation in "Small Potatoes."

-- The character of Amanda Nelligan is named for a movie producer friend of Gilligan's.

-- Gilligan based the plot of this episode on an actual case in his home state of Virginia where a fertility doctor was accused of impregnating some of his patients.

-- The character of Dr. Alton Pugh was named for a family who lived across the street from Gilligan when he was a little boy. "That name just always stuck with me," he said.

-- Gilligan noted that much of the dialogue in the scene inside the doctor's office (with all the couples discussing the situation) takes place off-screen (meaning dialogue is being spoken by a character who is not appearing on screen) because many of the lines in this scene were added and dubbed in later. "I felt that more explanation was needed so the audience would understand what was going on," Gilligan said, "So I added in a little more dialogue which was looped in later. Whenever you see that on TV -- a lot of the talking being done by someone other than who's on screen -- it's a good bet that the writer thought of something better and the dialogue was added in later."

-- Gilligan explained that he was on set for the entire "Small Potatoes" shoot. "Usually the writer is only there at the beginning," Gilligan explained, "but I didn't have to be anywhere else, and I thought it would be great to hang out with Darin and the cast and crew. So I spent the full two weeks of shooting on set. I learned a lot and it was an awful lot of fun."

-- Gilligan said that Morgan was "very accommodating" when it came time to do his "plumber's buttcrack" shot. "In the first take of the subsequent scene, when Mulder chased down Eddie and pulled his pants down to show Scully where Eddie's tail had been removed," Gilligan explained, "somebody had loosened Darin's pants and when David pulled them down they came way down. They had to stop filming for 10 minutes because everybody was laughing so hard. I nearly burst a blood vessel." (Some of this joke appears on the Season 4 gag reel.)

-- On the "Small Potatoes" DVD commentary, Vince Gilligan said that he "could not remember" where he got the idea for the "the H is silent" joke. But fans have long thought that the inspiration for this gag was David Duchovny. Duchovny's name was often mispronounced (as was Eddie's), and the "H" in Duchovny is also silent. As Mulder and Scully went to interrogate Van Blundht's father, the "H" dropped from the "Van Blundht" name beside the door -- a possible reference to the fact that David Duchovny's father, Amram Ducovny, dropped the "H" from the spelling of his name.

-- Gilligan said that Eddie's remarks about the spelling of his name were a way to indicate the character's self-esteem problems. "Repeating the joke in comedy is fairly routine," Gilligan said, "but writers usually use the 'rule of three' meaning that you shouldn't repeat the joke more than three times. I think in 'Small Potatoes' there's something about the 'H' being silent three times."

-- "I thought a lot of people would be able to relate to someone always feeling like a loser," Gilligan explained, "because most of us feel like a loser at one time or another in our lives. Even though I meant 'Small Potatoes' as a comedy, I think it's still kind of poignant because of the way Darin plays the character. People can relate to him and the way he feels about himself."

-- The scenes inside the police station were shot at an old warehouse in Vancouver used by Stephen J. Cannell Productions. "Our stages were full and we needed to shoot elsewhere," Gilligan said. The scene between Mulder and Scully outside the interview room was shot on a standing police set for the show The Commish.

-- In the scene where Eddie was giving his personal information to the police officer, there was a piggy bank with the pig dressed in a police uniform sitting in front of the computer monitor. "Those piggy bank props had to be specially built and cost about $3,000 each," Gilligan said. "I think they made about five of them, because that was what Eddie used to hit the police officer in the head so we had to have extras. You can't see it on screen, but the piggy's badge says 'Vince' on it. Our prop master Ken Hawryliw had that put on there especially for me, even though no one could see it." Gilligan noted that at least one of the banks was not destroyed during filming and he still has it today.

-- Screen Actors Guild rules specify that if an actor is doing a "stunt" he or she must receive stuntman pay each time the shot is filmed. The actor who got hit in the head with the piggy bank got $400 each time he got hit, so "he wanted to shoot that scene as many times as possible," Gilligan said.

-- Gilligan had lots of praise for the episode's director Cliff Boles, who would later direct another Gilligan classic, "Bad Blood." "It's such a pleasure to be on set with him," Gilligan said. "He runs a relaxed ship and he has lots of great stories. He directed episodes of many classic TV shows and lots of movies, and it's very cool just sitting and listening to him talk."

-- Eddie's address -- 17 Prospect Parkway -- was once the Virginia address of Vince Gilligan's girlfriend Holly Rice.

-- "When we were shooting the scene where Mulder and Scully arrived at Eddie's house, it was raining," Gilligan explained. "And even though you can't see the rain, that's why Gillian had an umbrella. Then, when they got up onto the porch of the house, which was shot on a different day, you could clearly see the sunlight streaming behind them, so the shots didn't match. That's one of those things you just have to live with. It can't be helped."

-- When the episode aired, there was much speculation on the internet that the "leaf blower" outside Eddie's house when Mulder and Scully arrived was Mark Hamill (keeping with the Star Wars theme), but it was not. "Though that would have been a good idea," Gilligan said. "I actually wanted Glen Morgan, Darin's brother, to play the part of the leaf blower. He and Darin look a lot alike, and I wanted Mulder to think he was seeing Eddie, but it would turn out to be someone who looked like Eddie but not exactly. But when it came time to shoot the scene, Glen wasn't available and we had to get someone else."

-- "A lot of people couldn't figure out what the leaf blower was all about," Gilligan said. "I added that in the script because I was afraid the audience was going to be ahead of me and figure out before Mulder and Scully did that Eddie Sr. was not the old man at all but really Eddie Jr. The leaf blower offered up a bit of a distraction."

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-- A lot of footage was cut from the scene where Mulder chased Eddie through backyards of the neighborhood. "Originally, they were jumping fences and ducking under clothesline and the scene went on for a lot longer," Gilligan explained. "But as is often the case on TV, you have to 'kill your darlings' and cut out things you really like because of time constraints. And I really liked that chase scene."

-- "That married couple that calls each other 'baboo,' I borrowed that from friends of Holly's and mine," Gilligan explained. "They call each other baboo all the time." (In the Peanuts comic strip, Sally Brown also calls Linus her "Sweet Baboo.")

-- The interior scenes in Van Blundht's house that took place on the first floor were shot in the same house at which the exterior scenes were filmed. But the scenes that took place upstairs were filmed on the X-Files soundstage.

-- Mulder's line, "You think the fall killed him?" after the senior Van Blundht's body falls from the attic, was a Duchovny ad lib.

-- Only one mummified corpse of Eddie Sr. was created, so cast and crew had to be very careful with it on set. "In the autopsy scene, they first wanted Scully to cut the corpse's head off, but if Gillian made a mistake, that would ruin the prop," Gilligan explained. "She was using a real Stryker saw in that scene, so they had her cut into a piece of plaster hidden from the camera to create the dust that comes up like she was cutting into bone."

-- "David was absolutely hilarious in the scene where he broke off Eddie Sr.'s tail," Gilligan recalled. "There was a lot of dry dialogue going on in the background as Scully explained his condition, and the scene was played straight, but David made it very funny."

-- Gilligan also had great praise for Duchovny's work in creating the "dual" role in the episode, calling it "some of the best acting David did throughout the whole series. When David first entered Amanda's hospital room as 'Eddie as Mulder,' you just knew it was Eddie," Gilligan said. "David and Darin were good friends and had been good friends for a long time, but during shooting David spent a lot of extra time with Darin on the set, learning to copy his mannerisms and his expressions. That, of course, led to Darin imitating David during the breaks, which was also hilarious. But in that scene with Amanda, there was one thing in particular -- David did this 'thing' with his teeth, and that was exactly Darin Morgan."

-- There was a slight difference in the suits and ties worn by Mulder and Eddie/Mulder in the hospital scenes, offering one subtle way for viewers to tell the difference between the two.

-- Amanda's parting line, "May the force be with you," was added in much later.

-- The scenes in the hospital locker room and utility room were shot in an abandoned mental hospital in Vancouver. "I don't think there was a single episode shot in Vancouver that we didn't use that hospital for something," Gilligan said. "One scene or another was always shot there."

-- When Mulder surprised Dr. Pugh coming out of the shower in the locker room and Pugh dropped his towel, "David's eyes drifted down for a minute and that was David's idea," Gilligan said. "Again, adding that little touch that makes the scene funnier."

-- Gilligan noted that the small room Mulder was locked in by Eddie was indeed a very small utility closet in the abandoned hospital. "I really don't know how they got the camera in there with David," he said. "But I wanted to show again that even though Eddie has done these things, he's at heart a good guy. Even though he locked Mulder in this closet, he left him a sandwich, apple, and a cola."

-- Gilligan also enjoyed the scene with Mitch Pileggi and wished he had more for Pileggi to do in this episode. "I said Gillian was a great straight man," he said, "and Mitch is also a great straight man."

-- Gilligan noted that in Act 4, "David really got to sink his teeth into playing Eddie, and he was just terrific." Gilligan said that Eddie/Mulder fumbling with the keys at the office door, the pratfall in the office chair, and many of his other reactions in the X-Files office and in Mulder's apartment were added by Duchovny. "David added a lot of those touches that were not scripted, and they were just terrific."

-- Pretty sad that Scully's idea of a big Friday night was working on that monograph for the penology review ("Diminished Acetylcholine Production in Recidivist Offenders") or running tissue samples on Eddie Sr.

-- The shot of Scully walking away from Mulder as he tried to open his office door was not Gillian Anderson but one of her doubles. "We needed to add that shot in later, and Gillian wasn't available on the day we shot it," said Gilligan. "So necessity is the mother of invention."

-- "After working on the show for three seasons at that time, I was able to see the acting strengths of both David and Gillian, which were many," Gilligan said. "I often wrote less dialogue for them in certain situations because I knew that a simple look, a glance between the two of them, would tell the story as well as any dialogue I could put in their mouths. Gillian in particular had such an expressive face that very often she could get across very complex emotions without having to explain them in words. David, on the other hand, was naturally very funny, with that very dry and deadpan sense of humor. So very often when I knew there was a funny moment, a funny line was called for in a scene, I would actually leave it out and defer to David hoping he would come up with a better line on the set than I would have written. And very often, that turned out to be the case."

-- Mulder's Virginia driver's license very closely resembled an actual Virginia driver's license of that time. "It looked exactly like the one I used to have," said Gilligan. "The prop department did a great job." Mulder's social security number appeared as his driver's license number, which was accurate at the time, but Virginia has since discontinued using the social security number on the license because of the risk of identity theft.

-- Mulder's driver's license revealed his home address for the first time: 42-2630 Hegal Place, Alexandria, VA 23242. His license expired 3/31/1999, and confirmed his height at 6 feet 0 inches tall. The number 2630 was the same street number for the building used in exterior shots of Mulder's apartment in Vancouver -- 2630 York Avenue.

-- Eddie's question about where Mulder slept was a reference to one of the favorite questions posed on the alt.tv.x-files newsgroup. Mulder wouldn't get an actual bedroom until two seasons later.

-- "I was proud that I found a little way to insert the Gunmen into the episode," Gilligan said, referring to the message from the Gunmen on Mulder's answering machine. "Marty Mulder," for whom the woman with the sexy voice left a message, was a reference to the Season 2 episode "3" when Mulder used Marty as an alias.

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-- David Duchovny's scene in Mulder's apartment in front the mirror, channeling DeNiro from Taxi Driver was "all Duchovny," Gilligan said. "That was a perfect example where David took a couple of lines of dialogue from the script and came up with that whole bit ... all that stuff. And he was just great."

-- "When Scully looked out the peephole of her door and saw the fish-eye view of 'Mulder' standing there, that was a shot I didn't think we needed," Gilligan explained. "I wanted to keep the surprise till Scully opened the door, but Cliff Bole, the director, wanted to do it, and it just showed why he's a great director. It was a great shot and now I can't imagine the episode without it."

-- The song playing during 'Mulder' and Scully's talk was Al Green's Funny How Time Slips Away. "Al Green is one of my favorites, and I wanted that song," Gilligan said. "The only thing I wish was that it was a little bit louder in the scene."

-- In the Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn) by Rob Zombie & Alice Cooper was also heard in this episode.

-- "This was one of the few times we used source music in the early seasons," said Gilligan, "source music being music that is not part of the score, but rather a song that already exists. We used a lot more in later seasons."

-- "Gillian was a little nervous about the scene between Scully and Fake Mulder," Gilligan said. "She didn't want it to seem like all Scully needed to give in and kiss Mulder was to get a little wine in her. I didn't want it to come across like that either. But I told her that these two characters had such a history and had such a great deal of affection for each other that was always just under the surface, and this was more about the two of them loosening their inhibitions just a little. This was not a complete stranger, this was Mulder. I think Mulder's line at the end of the episode that he was no Eddie Van Blundht either meant that he realized maybe he needed to bring his emotions a little closer to the surface and maybe he needed to be a little more like Eddie. Eddie's message to Mulder at the end is 'you need to seize the day.' Carpe diem. And I think Mulder took that to heart."

-- This scene made shipper hearts go pitty-pat, and Gilligan was quite aware of some of the fans' desire to have the characters get together in a romantic sense. "Obviously if Mulder and Scully were real people we'd want them to be together," he said. "But it just makes more interesting TV and it's easier to write for them if they are apart."

-- The Cumberland Reformatory, where Eddie was being held at the end of the episode, was named for Cumberland County, Virginia, where Vince grew up.

-- Eddie's close-ups in the final scene had to be reshot because the word "Superstar" on his hat was too small to read.

-- I was pleasantly surprised while listening to Vince Gilligan's commentary about this episode that one of my burning questions about The X-Files was answered! In the final scene between Eddie and Mulder, Eddie told Mulder to "treat yourself," a phrase that was used numerous times during the course of the show. I always found this phrase quite odd and wondered if it was a Canadian thing. Well, Vince provided the answer! "Treat yourself" was a favorite catchphrase of David Nutter who directed many of the show's early episodes including "Ice" and "Beyond the Sea," and it was used as a tribute to him. Thanks, Vince!

-- "Many people thought the character mopping the hallway behind Mulder and Scully as they left the Reformatory was supposed to be Eddie," Gilligan explained, "but it was actually just one of the inmates who stole one of his Superstar hats; Eddie told Mulder that people kept stealing his hats and his therapist would bring him a new one."

-- Actress Christine Cavanaugh is best known for her voice work (Babe in particular, but also Darkwing Duck, The Powerpuff Girls, the voice of Chuckie Finster of Rugrats fame, and the title character of Dexter's Laboratory), but she has also appeared in front of the camera a few times in TV series such as Cheers, Empty Nest, Wings, Everybody Loves Raymond, and ER and in films like Jerry Maguire.

-- Lee de Broux (Eddie Sr.) was a well-respected TV and film actor appearing in numerous bad guy roles in the 70s and 80s. He has the distinction of appearing as a guest actor in both the first and final episodes of the series Quantum Leap.

-- Once & Future Retreads: In addition to Darin Morgan, Robert Rozen (Dr. Alton Pugh) was a Doctor in "Soft Light." David Cameron (The Deputy) was a Young Scientist in "Space." Forbes Angus (Security Guard) was the Tissue Bank Technician in "Shadows," the Government Scientist in "Soft Light," the Doctor who removed Scully's chip in "The Blessing Way," and the Funeral Director in "Bad Blood." Peter Kelamis (Husband #2) was O'Dell in "Lazarus," Lieutenant Foyle in "Fresh Bones," and Assistant D.A. Costa in "Mind's Eye." P. Lynn Johnson (Health Department Doctor) was Dr. Sheila Braun in "Born Again" and Deborah Brown in "Die Hand Die Verletzt." Carrie Cain-Sparks (Duty Nurse) was the Maid in "Our Town" and the Train Station Clerk in "Nisei." Constance Barns (O.R. Nurse) was a Nurse in "Sanguinarium."

-- Although Vince Gilligan told him the part of Eddie Van Blundht was written with him in mind, Darin Morgan thinks there was another reason that Gilligan offered him the part. "He knew, without asking, that I would show my buttcrack on national television," Morgan said. But did the role of Eddie inspire Darin to think about acting again? Nope. "I hated every minute of it," he said. "On the set, I realized that whatever talent I once had as an actor had long since exited offstage. My acting career was over."

-- Even though he was less than pleased with his performance, returning to the show as a guest star did have its rewards. "I get along real well with David Duchovny and we had some laughs," he said. "When Eddie became Mulder and he was trying to pick up on Scully, there were certain mannerisms David was doing to imitate me. He did a really bad imitation of me laughing. My parents got a big kick out of that."

-- But Morgan's mom and dad weren't the only ones watching. After playing Eddie in this episode, Darin was offered the role of cartoon character Dilbert in a live-action sitcom based on the comic strip. He was also offered a writing job on the film Casper 2, but of course, Morgan turned them both down. He did go on to write for and direct a few episodes of Millennium and was working with Frank Spotnitz on his short-lived series The Night Stalker

-- "I thought this was one of those episodes that showed the wonderful elasticity, I called it the stretchability, of the show," said Chris Carter. "It showed that we could go in some kind of wild direction -- a show about a baby with a tail -- and figure out how to turn it into a touching episode basically about Mulder and Scully and their regard for one another."

-- "Small Potatoes" was David Duchovny's Emmy submission tape for that season.

-- "Small Potates" was named by TV Guide as one of the 100 Greatest Television Episodes of All Time (it came in at #72). The only other X-Files episode on the list was one that Darin Morgan wrote, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," which was #10 on the list.

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(Thanks to chrisnu for today's pics.)

Please share your first impressions, favorite (or cringe-worthy) moments, classic lines, favorite fanfic, nagging questions, repeated viewing observations, etc., as today we celebrate "Small Potatoes."

Polly