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The Hitchhiker, also known as Deadly Nightmares in the UK, is a mystery anthology series that ran on HBO from 1983 to 1987, and the USA Network from 1989 to 1991.

The series' only regular character is an unnamed wanderer called The Hitchhiker, briefly played in early seasons by Nicholas Campbell, but most memorably played by Page Fletcher. The Hitchhiker starts each episode by describing its main character and what he/she does, and reappears toward the end, explaining the moral of the character's story, and reiterating how he/she eventually screwed up.

Though the series cast a lot of little-known Canadian and American (and later, European) actors, it also showcased lots of established stars and up-and-comers before they became famous, including the likes of Kirstie Alley, Helen Hunt, Willem Dafoe, Brad Dourif, and many others.

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The Hitchhiker was a prominent mainstay of the mid-late-1980s mystery/supernatural anthology boom, which also featured Ray Bradbury Theater, The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales from the Darkside, and The Twilight Zone.


This series provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: The series is fond of this — Alice Ames, Billy Bolt, Billy Baltimore.
  • Amoral Attorney:
    • In "Remembering Melody," it is implied that onetime hippie Ted has become one.
    • Steve (Ken Olin) in "Best Shot" is a particularly Jerkass example of one.
  • Art Imitates Life: In the episode "Man at the Window," desperate playwright Arthur Brown (Edward Albert) records other people's private conversations to get inspiration for new work.
  • Asshole Victim: Lots of the main characters are jerks whose fate at the end serves them just right. See: Jerry Rulack in "Why Are You Here," Jane L in "The Legendary Billy B," Jake Purley in "Doctor's Orders," Kurt Hoffman in "Lovesounds," Jack Rhodes in "Videodate".
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  • Beware the Nice Ones: In "New Dawn," long-suffering wife Dawn (Nancy McKeon) is loving, gentle, and patient toward her lawyer husband Ken, who would much rather create crappy art and sleep around with other women than spend a minute with his wife. In the end, it's the seemingly harmless Dawn who's revealed to be the person who brutally killed Ken's lovers — and nearly killed Ken by accident.
  • The Casanova: Serial womanizer Jack Rhodes. Or Peter. Or Jeff. Or Mark. Or whatever alias he chooses with the women he goes on one-night stands with. ("Videodate")
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Billy Baltimore Jr., as masterfully played by Brad Dourif.
  • Dark Secret: Many episodes revolved around these, including "WGOD" and "Doctor's Orders".
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cabin boy Rick in "Cabin Fever", when dealing with washed-up director Cameron.
  • Death by Flashback: Peter in "Joker". After explaining to a mental hospital psychiatrist how he drove a woman named Theresa (whom he thinks is his ex-wife) to suicide with his cruel, harassing pranks, he becomes so overcome with grief that he screams more hysterically than ever and has a fatal heart attack.
  • Death Trap: After blowing up his young, sexy wife and her similarly young and good-looking lover, arrogant classical music conductor Kurt Hoffman (Klaus Kinski) is killed by the high-end sound system his wife's lover had created for him.
  • Dirty Old Man: Conductor Kurt Hoffman and his wife Veronica. ("Lovesounds")
  • Downer Ending: Almost every episode featured the main character(s) dying or suffering an extremely unpleasant, albeit karmic fate.
    • Subverted in "The Curse". Cursed businessman Jerry Macklin is asked to cut off the head of a serpent; if he cuts it off before the serpent strikes, he lives. If not, he dies. The serpent crawls out of his body, and for a moment we hear Jerry screaming in agony as the camera cuts away from him. But he wakes up with his mysterious snake tattoo gone, and just a small scar in his chest, seemingly scared straight and reformed after being such a greedy, callous individual for most of the episode.
    • Averted by "Last Scene", in which the actress typecast as a blonde bimbo proves at the end it was all a put-on to prove she could play a scary villain!
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: The title character in "The Miracle of Alice Ames" sincerely believes that Brother Charles means for her to spread the message of God's love for mankind. Even after he makes the poor girl walk the streets in a skimpy outfit and she has a John force himself on her.
  • Driven to Madness: In "Coach," track coach Billy Bolt becomes increasingly paranoid as his son Kenny (Jonathan Crombie) draws closer and closer to breaking his old high school 100-yard dash record.
    • Richard in "Man's Best Friend", who loses touch with reality as his dog ostensibly kills people who are bad to him.
  • Drugs Are Bad: An oft-revisited theme, particularly in episodes like "Why Are You Here" and "O.D. Feelin'"
  • '80s Hair: Lots of it, especially in episodes focusing on protagonists/antagonists in their teens and 20s.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • While not necessarily evil, tabloid reporter Jane L's (Kirstie Alley) loyal assistant Hodie (Andy Summers) from "The Legendary Billy B" is disgusted, yet still calm when their expose results in the wife of a famous actor killing herself. Jane L, on the other hand, is hysterical because another gossip tabloid apparently stole their scoop.
    • In "Made for Each Other," timid serial killer Wax refuses to shoot the prostitute he and his new friend Trout had kidnapped, due to his extremely naive belief that she likes him. Turns out he had other plans of his own — poisoning Trout's milk and killing him.
    • In "Man's Best Friend," Richard won't let his dog Big Boy kill his estranged wife Eleanor, even if he's unreasonably concerned she dumped him to have an affair.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave:
    • The episode "Lovesounds," where the conductor, his wife, and his wife's lover all die.
    • "A Time for Rifles" — best friends Lou and Joe, and Lou's wife Rae.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • The premise of the episode "Ghostwriter," where writer Jeffrey Hunt (Willem Dafoe) fakes his death to become a literary legend.
    • In "Joker", stalking victim Theresa seems to have become so broken by Peter's stalking and pranks that she locks herself in the bathroom and slits her wrists in the bathtub. In reality, Theresa is alive, and, as Peter had insisted all along, his ex-wife Melissa with a new name and hairdo/hair color. Knowing her Sad Clown of an ex-husband, she decided to outsmart Peter by taking a page from his playbook — filling the bathtub with cow blood and leaving the faucet running to make it appear like she killed herself.
  • Fanservice: Lots of male and female nudity, especially in the HBO era.
  • Former Teen Rebel: Lawyer Ted, and his seemingly corporate friends Mike and Annie, who used to be hippies in college. Their old friend Melody is back to remind them that they sold out to The Man. ("Remembering Melody")
  • Good Girl Gone Bad: "One Last Prayer" features aspiring rock singer Miranda, who's quite talented but rather unsuccessful due to her sweet, wholesome image. One day, she switches to a sexier, edgier image, but she also turns into a diva, verbally abusing almost everyone she comes in contact with.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Played with in "Homebodies." Mentally-unstable, yet wimpy teenage sidekick Jimmy (Christopher Collet) begins having second thoughts about his friendship with the older, more vicious killer Ron (James Remar) during a break-in of an ostensibly vacant model house, and it takes the convincing of the O'Mell family to prod him to turn on Ron. It turns out that the house really was vacant, and that the O'Mells were Jimmy's hallucination of the model family mannequins come to life, a seeming justification for him to end his association with Ron in the most violent way possible
  • Hide Your Children: Unlike other similar Genre Anthologies from the era, the series never had children as main characters, and only a few who were supposed to be teenagers.
    • Some episodes, such as "Hit and Run," had children in supporting roles, but never as protagonists or antagonists.
  • I Lied: In "The Curse," greedy playboy businessman Jerry Macklin (Harry Hamlin) promises the voodoo lady that he'll fix the run-down building he owns, but willingly breaks that promise, focusing instead on sexual conquests and jet-setting. He naturally pays big-time for initially failing to live up to his end of the deal, but redeems himself in the end.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Commonly played straight with the main characters. These are people who have been getting away with bad things for quite a while, only to meet their karmic end toward the end of the episode.
  • Karmic Death: Played straight numerous times in the series.
  • The Killer in Me: In "Man's Best Friend," perennial loser Richard adopts a dog who's so loyal that he kills anybody who pisses his master off. The dog is actually Richard projecting himself through an imaginary pet, though it's implied in the middle of the episode, as Richard has gone so far off the deep end he's crawling around on all fours like a dog.
  • Laughing Mad: In "Joker," deranged stalker Peter pursues a young woman named Theresa who reminds him of (and actually is) his ex-wife, and subjects her (and once, a male friend with romantic interests) to a series of increasingly mean-spirited pranks.
  • Love Triangle: A common theme in the series, and it never ends well for the people involved.
  • Meaningful Name: Ex-track star turned obsessive track coach Billy Bolt in "Coach". And his son Kenny.
  • Meddling Parents: Billy Bolt to Kenny in "Coach". It turns out to be a subversion, though, as Billy doesn't want his own son breaking his 20-plus-year-old state record in the 100-yard dash.
  • Number of the Beast: In "Lovesounds," conductor/main antagonist Kurt Hoffman's password to the sound system is "666v".
  • Oh, Crap!: Happens a lot, when the main character/eventual victim realizes they got more than they bargained for. Usually followed up by a loud scream before The Hitchhiker reappears to narrate the moral lesson.
  • Parental Neglect:
    • The reason why rich girl Donette (Helen Hunt) turned to drugs and partying in "Why Are You Here".
    • Criminals on the run Trout (Bill Paxton) and Wax (Bud Cort) bond over their unhappy childhoods in "Meant for Each Other".
  • Pedophile Priest: The pervy Brother Charles (Joe Pantoliano) in "The Miracle of Alice Ames".
  • Reality Changing Miniature: In the pilot episode "Shattered Vows," Jeff (Bruce Greenwood) is a young playboy who is engaged to a much older woman, but uses a figurine of a married couple to kill his older fiancee, so that he and his new lover, the woman's stepdaughter, can inherit her fortune. Jeff eventually meets his end and breaks like a figurine would, when his pet parrot escapes, claws furiously on the figurine's heads, and knocks it to the ground.
  • Running Theme: A lot of the HBO episodes focused on decadent Reagan-era yuppies and their lifestyles.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Chris (Dean-Paul Martin) in "Secret Ingredient". He sells an overpriced vitamin powder called Fit Forever that come with a secret ingredient (hence the episode's title), not to mention an exorbitant price.
  • Sell-Out:
    • The episode "Remembering Melody" features Ted, a high-strung lawyer in his mid-30s gripping with the fact that he's become the person he hated back in his college days as a hippie. His ex-girlfriend/housemate Melody, now jobless and homeless, has returned from out of nowhere to remind him of that. It turns out she's actually been dead for two years, and she's back to remind the rest of the college gang that they promised never to compromise their youthful ideals, but ultimately broke that promise.
    • In "In Living Color," The Hitchhiker says that photographer Eric Coleman (Ray Sharkey) used to be a humanitarian, but has since focused his efforts on sensationalism.
  • Sibling Rivalry: The main theme of "WGOD". As a boy, Reverend Nolan Powers (Gary Busey) was envious of his younger brother Gerald, a talented gospel singer and their mother's favorite. As an adult, fire-and-brimstone preacher and radio host Nolan is haunted and taunted by Gerald's spirit, until he confesses on air to murdering him when they were kids.
  • Smarmy Host: Jerry Rulack (Brad Davis) in "Why Are You Here". Despite being a middle-aged, dorky TV host, Rulack pretends to be cool and hip just to get sensationalist scoop on a group of rich, decadent, young party animals.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: In "Why Are You Here," sensationalist TV host Jerry Rulack's camerawoman has had it with her boss' disingenious, pushy nature and quits in the middle of the current assignment.
  • That Syncing Feeling: When sleazy gossip tabloid reporter Jane L (Kirstie Alley) and music geek/paparazzi (Andy Summers of The Police) discover that the man purporting to be long-dead rocker Billy Baltimore is actually his son (Brad Dourif) miming to recorded samples of his dad's guitar playing, and quoting old interviews, all to make it appear like Billy B's "back from the dead."
  • Twist Ending: Many examples, including "Man's Best Friend" and "The Legendary Billy B," to name a few.
  • The Undead: Billy Baltimore (Sr.) in "The Legendary Billy B". Reanimated by his Cloudcuckoolander son and namesake.
  • Un-person: After leaving his family and running over a man while driving off in a huff, Ray Ketchum becomes one in the episode "Hit and Run".
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Music exec Bob Ames in "When Morning Comes".
    • Lawyer/frustrated artist Ken in "New Dawn". He barely survives at the hands of a serial killer (actually his meek, long-suffering wife), but his lovers don't.


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