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This weekend, The Outsider, a new crime-mystery miniseries starring and executive-produced and co-directed by Jason Bateman and already garnering major critical buzz, will debut on HBO. It’s the latest remarkable achievement for the Emmy/Golden Globe/SAG Award-winning Hollywood veteran, but the Outsider premiere notably coincides with the 35th anniversary of Bateman’s perhaps greatest (and certainly most rock ‘n’ roll, if most overlooked) onscreen moment: the double-episode “Dregs of Humanity” story arc of his unjustly failed and forgotten NBC sitcom, It’s Your Move.
It’s Your Move only aired from September 1984 to February 1985 (it was doomed from the start, as it had to compete with ABC’s un-topple-able Dynasty), but it became a cult classic. And many of its participants moved on, no pun intended, to bigger and arguably better things. It gave 15-year-old Bateman — who’d become a teen heartthrob thanks to his recurring role as villain Derek Taylor on the Ricky Schroder series Silver Spoons — his first starring TV opportunity, as the even more dastardly high school anti-hero Matthew Burton. And two years after It’s Your Move’s cancellation, the show’s creators, Ron Leavitt and Michael G. Moye, and Bateman’s co-star, David Garrison (who played Matthew’s gullible and aptly surnamed nemesis, Norman Lamb), found huge success with another snarky comedy, Married… With Children. (On Married…, Garrison portrayed Steve Rhoades, another put-upon beta-male for which Norman seemed the unofficial prototype.)
And most importantly, It’s Your Move spawned one of the best fake bands ever, the Dregs of Humanity — who could have been as big as the Rutles, Josie & the Pussycats, or even Spinal Tap if they hadn’t been (spoiler alert!) dramatically and hilariously killed off in the double-episode’s wacky climax on Jan. 9, 1985. And to add insult to the band’s injury, "The Dregs of Humanity: Part 2" was actually preempted in most of the U.S. (other than the West Coast) by a President Reagan press conference. It’s Your Move only lasted five more episodes before it too was killed off.
So, the Dregs of Humanity were born when Matthew’s dopey sidekick Eli lost the money that had been earmarked to hire a flesh-and-blood band called Morning Breath for the upcoming school dance. Crafty grifter Matthew Burton, in a stunt that surely must have inspired the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey” video and might’ve implied that he was related to Tim Burton, saved the day by stringing up a bunch of druid-robed science-class skeletons on marionette wires and having them mime along to a heavy-metal banger titled “Sweaty Betty” — while looking like a band of matching, marching Iron Maiden Eddie mascots, all masterfully puppeteered with immense enthusiasm by Eli.
Adding to the credibility of the “Dregs” episode was the fact that the actor playing Eli, Adam Sadowsky, later became the president of Syyn Labs — a “League of Extraordinary Nerds” that “fuses the worlds of technology and interactive sciences with artistic mediums to design and construct visually dynamic spectacles that inspire thought and provoke conversation” and built the Rube Goldberg Machine featured in OK Go’s "This Too Shall Pass” music video. It’s no wonder he was so adept at making those lifeless bags o’ bones seem like real rockers! Oh, and also in the school gymnasium audience that day, playing “Boy No. 3,” was rock legend Donovan’s actor son, Donovan Leitch — who was no doubt so inspired by the Dregs’ scary showmanship that years later he formed his own real-life rock band, Nancy Boy (as opposed to “Nancy Boy No. 3,” oddly).
With all that going for them, the Dregs of Humanity understandably became overnight sensations. And Matthew quickly took charge as the bony faux rockers’ shady new manager — orchestrating a major-label bidding war, a Rolling Stone feature penned by none other than aspiring rock journalist Norman (who was all too easily duped into believing the Dregs were the real deal), and a $20,000 headlining slot at the Hollywood Palladium.
It made sense that Matthew was able to pull off this ruse, because, as Michael G. Moye told the Archive of American Television in 2015, Bateman’s conniving character was “a kid who basically ran his high school not through thuggery, but by the fact that he actually was pretty much a genius. He might not have been a genius always, but clearly this kid was going to be a politician. Clearly this kid, when he grew up, was going to be a senator, because by the time he was done manipulating and having kids work for him, he could do whatever he wanted. Yeah, he could have all A's — but he could also have his principal's driver's license suspended. I mean, he could do things. He could just sit back in his chair and basically be the Godfather without any guns, without any threats, without any blood. He was that kid.”
Still, Matthew eventually realized he was in over his head. And so, on the little-seen, preempted Part Two episode, he blackmailed Norman — whose professional reputation would be ruined if the truth came out — into staging the Dregs’ tragic, gone-too-soon, rock ‘n’ roll demise. And sadly, that Palladium concert never happened. Instead, Norm bought a car with his Rolling Stone paycheck, loaded up that car with the skeletons, and pushed them off a cliff into their watery grave. And, of course, the Dregs instantly gained Jim Morrison/Kurt Cobain/Tupac-level notoriety. Candlelight fan vigils were held; a distraught Matthew granted an exclusive MTV interview to original VJ Nina Blackwood (who consoled him on the air and sycophantically claimed to be old pals with the Dregs from their punk days); and the Dregs were even posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It’s definitely a storyline that belongs in the Television Hall of Fame — although Blackwood, who played herself on the show, admits that she never expected the teenage Bateman to go on to such success (and she seems highly amused that she was contacted for this story 35 years later). “This is hysterical. You probably remember the episode better than I do,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I thought [Bateman] was delightful and talented. Who would have thought he’d become such a huge star? He was a good young actor, yes, but he really has made a great reputation for himself.”
Blackwood laughingly says the Dregs of Humanity were “no Spinal Tap” — though we beg to differ, and we still hope they’ll be magically resurrected for a 35th anniversary concert this weekend at the Hollywood Palladium, or that “Sweaty Betty” will be reissued on vinyl, or that there’ll at least be a proper airing of the Part 2 episode for the viewers in Eastern and Central time zones that never got closure. But the VJ is pleased that It’s Your Move has found a cult audience after all this time.
“It is always a crapshoot with any TV series,” Blackwood muses. “You just never know in the television business.”
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