Stark Raving Mad was a modern “Odd Couple” sitcom from the end of the 1990s starring Neil Patrick Harris as a book editor named Henry McNeeley. Henry’s boss assigns him to horror novelist Ian Stark, played by Tony Shalhoub. Henry is afraid of germs and heights, so working for a horror novelist isn’t exactly his dream job. Let’s run through the pilot episode which is available on YouTube.
Their first meeting is particularly uncomfortable when Henry walks into Ian’s office and accidentally knocks over a lamp. Henry is alarmed as the man appears to be hanging from a noose.
Henry freaks out because he thinks Ian is dead, but Ian frees himself from the noose and his harness. Henry points out that Ian’s legs were cold and Ian explains that he had been sitting on ice. Ian explains he was doing research for his writing. Henry shows Ian multicolored index cards and makes an origami swan. Ian tells Henry he doesn’t like “peppy” people.
The next scene opens with Henry arriving at a bar. He asks the bartender, Maddie, played by Heather Paige Kent where he can find Ian. Ian is singing “Vehicle” by Ides of March on stage while Ian’s typist, Jake (Eddie McClintock) plays the guitar. Maddie offers Henry a drink. Henry declines and implies that working with Ian will eventually drive him to drink.
Then there’s a montage (with the instrumental portion of “Vehicle” still playing in the background. Ian walks around on the ledge of his apartment building and Henry is worried Ian is going to jump or fall off the roof. The montage continues as Henry and Ian are fencing.
After Ian pretends to have been decapitated, his head coming out of the couch cushion, Henry has a meltdown. Jake makes a reference to “the guy who plays piano and sings about Congress”, which is Jake’s “dumb guy who might not be quite as dumb as he seems” moment. Characters like that seemed to be all over 1990’s sitcoms. Henry leaves Ian’s apartment and goes home.
In the next scene, Henry is sleeping when Jake comes to his apartment and shows Henry pages Ian wrote after Henry had left. When Jake leaves, Henry starts reading the pages Jake gave him. There are alternating shots of Ian dictating the pages and Henry reading them with increasing interest and eventually changing words.
Henry brings his boss (Harriet Sansom Harris, best known for playing Dr. Frasier Crane’s agent, Bebe) the pages and she’s pleased. Henry says he doesn’t want to work with Stark anymore and threatens to jump out the window unless he gets a different author.
In the next scene, Henry is sitting in front of a corkboard with different colored index cards pinned to it and a boring middle aged man in a shirt and sweater vest is droning. Henry looks bored, despite an earlier desire to work with this author.
Jake and Ian come home to find Henry suspended from the ceiling by the harness Ian had used and with the noose around his neck. Ian asks him what he’s doing and Henry says he’s trying to be “less phobic”. Henry mentions he read Ian’s pages and compliments them.
Ian asks how Henry got the pages and Jake leaves. Henry admits he was wrong and that maybe he needs Ian. Ian says “I need you.” Henry is happy and then Ian turns around with his tape recorder, pretending the admission he needs Henry is part of a scene in his story.
This was a fun show to revisit via You Tube. Even though horror has never been my favorite genre, I liked Shalhoub on Wings and Neil Patrick Harris in Doogie Howser. I also generally like shows set in literary environments. What I really find amusing though is the irony of Harris playing a hand sanitizer toting germaphobe when two years later, Shalhoub would be playing a character famous for similar neuroses (Detective Adrian Monk).
Watch the full episode below and leave your thoughts on Stark Raving Mad in the comments.