Title: Be Careful What You Wish For
Season 2, Episode 1
Airdate: August 10, 1996
Writer: Charles Lazer (Based on R.L. Stine’s book)
Director: Rene Bonniere
Description: When terminally unpopular Samantha meets a strange woman who offers to grant her three wishes, she soon finds herself in deep trouble.
I’m not sure if I ever watched this one on TV or not. After watching it, I think it seemed familiar, but I’m just not sure. I think I may have read the book back in the day. Anyway, I chose this episode as my first Goosebumps TV episode recap because I’m a sucker for stories about backfiring wishes and/or evil genies, as you’ll see in an upcoming recap, Wishmaster. (I’m having a hard time talking about this episode without also talking about Wishmaster, so fuck it – we’re gonna talk about Wishmaster.) This Goosebumps episode predates Wishmaster, and there are similarities between the two that really have me hoping the writers of Wishmaster didn’t take their ideas from Goosebumps. That would be weird. (But all these “careful what you wish for” stories pretty much follow the same formula, so maybe there’s no cause for concern. Maybe.) So let’s get into it!
The show starts with that iconic theme music, and I’m hit with instant nostalgia. I never watched a ton of Goosebumps growing up, but hearing the theme music again takes me back to the days of riding my bike home from whatever I was doing to watch the show.
The actual episode opens on a middle school girls’ basketball practice, where our heroine, Samantha Byrd (Melody Johnson), is doing terribly. She’s klutzy and a terrible basketball player, and I wonder how she even got on the team? Didn’t she have to try out? But then coach reassures her that she’s a natural “because she’s the tallest player” coach has, and it all becomes clear. Of course she’s a natural basketball player! All tall people are good at putting a ball through a hoop! That’s just, like, a law of nature!
Sam misses an easy pass, and our antagonist, Judith (Susan Cooke), makes fun of her, because Judith is THAT girl. You know the one. We all knew a Judith in middle school. Judith thinks the peak insult she can sling at Sam is a play on her last name. If I had a dollar for every time she tells Sam to “fly away,” I could take my boyfriend out for a pretty nice dinner. As Sam runs to retrieve the ball, she sees a weird-looking amulet on the gym floor and puts it on. Because floor jewelry is best jewelry!
Some boys in the gym get to the ball first and play keep-away, throwing the ball up on some gym equipment where Sam has to climb up to try to get it. Why are all these random kids in the gym during basketball practice? Sam’s foot gets caught in one of those rings that gymnasts swing on, and it comes loose off its hook, sending her swinging across the gym floor. Her friend Cory (Robin Weekes) gets a gym mat under her right before she falls and gets the wind knocked out of her. I guess we needed this scene to really drive home the whole “she’s awkward and clumsy” thing, huh?
At lunch, Judith continues to torment Sam to the point that she runs away, slamming into a lunch lady carrying a tray of cutlery and sending it all over the floor. Hold on a minute. Why was basketball practice before lunch? Aren’t most sports practices held after school? I’m so confused here. I’d guess it was just regular gym class rather than practice, but all the girls were wearing their basketball uniforms, so . . .
On the way home from school, Sam runs into a creepy woman dressed all in black and looking like she just stepped out of a flapper party, and sends all the contents of her purse onto the ground. Because Sam is clumsy, you see. Also, this woman carries eggs in her purse. I don’t know what to do with this information, but there it is. The woman sees Sam’s gym floor jewelry and says it’s hers and she’s been looking for it. Sam gives it back to her, then the woman asks her if she knows where Moss Avenue is. It’s all the way across town, and she wants to know if Sam will take her there. Now, I don’t think anyone has ever told R.L. Stine about Stranger Danger, because several of his kids’ stories seem to be telling kids that going off with a total stranger is the thing to do to avoid a worse fate. I’m not sure what the worse fate here would be, but Sam avoids it because along with being klutzy, she’s also a pushover. We learn that the woman’s name is Clarissa (but I doubt she’s going to Explain It All), and then she “rewards” Sam with three wishes when they get where she was going. Sam’s kind of like, Um okay, whatever lady, but Clarissa is super pushy about Sam making her first wish. Sam goes ahead and wishes to be the best player on the basketball team, then Clarissa gives her the amulet (which has a crystal on it that is now glowing red). Now, how many ways could that wish go horribly wrong? Hmm, everyone on the team dies, leaving Sam the only (and therefore the best) player on the team? Sam body-swaps with Judith, the best player on the team? Well, no, what really happens is everyone else on the team suddenly sucks and can’t play worth shit, including Sam. But everyone else is playing worse, making Sam technically the best player!
Clarissa shows up in the school hallway after the game, and Sam is understandably upset. Clarissa points out that she did get her wish, and next time she needs to be more careful how she phrases things. Yeah, this kid is pretty obviously unfamiliar with stories like The Monkey’s Paw and about a hundred other “be careful what you wish for” warning tales. This should be standardized learning in school – How to Outsmart Evil Genies 101. I would’ve kicked ass in that class.
Samantha declines making another wish just then, and the next time we see her she’s walking through the hallway telling Cory about Clarissa. Judith and her cronies are still tormenting Sam, and in a fit of pique she yells at Judith to leave her alone, then says she wishes everyone would just buzz off.
Oh, Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam. You still don’t understand the steps to this dance, do you?
Before the words are even fully out of her mouth, everyone is turned into flies. Clothes and books and backpacks fall to the floor as everyone literally buzzes off. This is so silly, but also kind of awful and creepy. Sam walks through school, and then home, careful not to step on any of the flies. Now maybe it’s because they’re all so new at being flies, but I’ve never seen a fly in danger of getting stepped on. Those little fuckers never stay still long enough to kill.
Clarissa is waiting for Sam when she gets home, and again points out that she did exactly what Sam asked for and she’s not a mind reader. Which, fair point. So, Sam takes some time to think of her last wish, and comes up with wanting everything to go back to normal, the way it was before the flies. Okay, great, quit while you’re ahead, kid. No? Oh boy. She wants everything to go back to normal, except she wants Judith to be her friend. Okay, we still might be okay there – no. She wants Judith to think she’s the greatest! Oh, shit. Well, this is going to go horribly wrong, isn’t it? Couldn’t just leave well enough alone, could you?
At school the next day, Judith is in full-on stalker mode, dressed like Sam, wearing her hair the same, fawning over how good Sam is at everything. Everyone else thinks it’s weird as fuck. Apparently the wish didn’t make Judith’s obsession a preexisting condition. Judith calls Sam over and over after school, then shows up in her bedroom when she’s going to bed. Um, Judith? Personal boundaries, girl. Learn about them. Sam manages to sneak Judith out of her room at some point, and then in the morning she’s right there on Sam’s porch again, wanting to walk to school together. Sam runs away from her, and smacks right into Clarissa again. Sam tells her that Clarissa’s wishes have ruined her life and she wishes she never met her. Clarissa frets that if that’s really how Sam feels, she can pull a Mulligan on her last wish. So, Sam wishes she’d never met Clarissa, but instead of leaving it at that, she wishes Clarissa had met Judith instead. Um, Sam? You really want Judith running amok with unbridled wish power? I mean, she hates you, what if she wishes something awful for you? This just can’t be a good idea.
Fortunately, Judith is too self-involved to waste a wish fucking over Sam. She wishes that wherever she was, people would gather around to admire her. I was imagining that she would then be the victim of stalking from everyone in town, but nope! She gets turned into a statue instead!
So I guess she doesn’t get to make her last two wishes?
I don’t love it, but this was good, silly fun. Sam’s kind of dumb when it comes to making her wishes, but what the hell – she’s a kid. This came out before Wishmaster, but the similarities are notable. Female lead with a traditionally masculine name? Check. A girls’ basketball team somehow involved? Check. A guy friend who may or may not want to be more? Check. Backfiring wishes? Well, that’s just standard. A character wishing to be admired/beautiful forever, then getting turned into a statue/mannequin? Check and check. I’d say this was Wishmaster for kids, but this one was out first, so . . . Wishmaster was this for adults? Huh . . .
(Because I feel obligated to mention it, the book ends not with Judith getting turned into a statue, but with her telling Sam to “Fly away, Byrd,” resulting in Sam turning into an actual bird and . . . flying away. But Sam is happy as she flies, so I guess good for her? I’m not sure which ending I like better. The book ending is infinitely more Goosebumps-esque; but the TV ending has the antagonist getting her comeuppance. I’m torn, guys.)