The darkness is within us all, waiting for the right temptation — the particular provocation — that will allow us to damn ourselves.
The idea that evil is internal — not an external force — is the driving concept behind The Hitchhiker, a cable anthology series that is now available to local channels through the magic of syndication.
According to series creator/executive producer Lewis Chesler, the true nature of evil is best revealed through "conflicts within ourselves."
"With The Hitchhiker, we wanted to bring a level of psychological suspense that had not been present in mainstream television to that point," Chesler said. "The projection of that anxiety, psycho-erotic in a way, made for real engaging stories."
A dramatic, half-hour suspense series reminiscent of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, The Hitchhiker thumbed his way to 85 episodes, becoming the longest-running original dramatic series in cable TV history.
Hitchhiker first debuted in 1984 as Home Box Office's first dramatic series. Since then, it has won eight ACE Awards, delivered record-setting ratings for a cable series and paved the way for numerous imitators.
"In the '50s, science fiction was very popular, and people used it as an allegory of fears about communism and so on, manifesting `The Other' as people from outer space," Chesler said.
"I think today we also have anxieties and fears about what is within us, that subverts us," he said. "And as we approach the millennium, more people are realizing that we are more complex than we knew — that life is more ambiguous and paradoxical than we knew."
Using an anthology format to present "morality plays," each episode is introduced by the enigmatic Hitchhiker, played by Page Fletcher. When he appears, strange things follow: tales of greed, jealousy and the supernatural, that end in ironic twists of fate.
"He's a witness, not an avenging angel. He never interacts and he has an omniscience," Chesler said. "We chose the figure of a hitchhiker for two reasons: He represents the allure of freedom, the ability to transgress and break the boundaries, but he also represents danger and the unknown. He has that duality within him in that his behavior is not clear-cut — it's elusive."
The use of top movie and television talents is one of the reasons Hitchhiker has endured while hundreds of other cable-made series have faded to black. A number of major film directors, actors and writers were involved in the series.
Chesler is now working on Strangers, an HBO series he calls "the sequel" to The Hitchhiker. The pilot, shot two years ago in Paris, was directed by Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club), and features Linda Fiorentino, Tim Hutton and Joan Chen. The series will debut in January of 1996.
"The stories are about the American encounter with the mysterious `other.' They're like half-hour Last Tangoes in Paris, about Americans who go abroad and are on uncertain ground," Chesler said. "They're kind of dark, erotic, psychologically dense, very European."