Television

Exhibit 1.8.18

On Editing a Novel #24

 Ball Room Guide

 

ADDING A BALL SCENE TO YOUR NOVEL. Look, after 23 of these, it’s probably time we admit the only novel we’re familiar with is Pride and Prejudice and even then we’ve only watched it, not even that long one with the hot Darcy but the one with Guinevere from that King Arthur movie where everyone was dirty and not Richard Gere. Wait, is King Arthur from a novel? So we’re familiar with between one and two novels and here’s what we know: in between 100% and 50% of cases there’s a ball scene.

The presence or absence of a ball scene is therefore one of the best ways to tell if you’ve got a novel on your hands or something else, possibly a cookbook or spec script for Reba. Those are equally valid projects, but they aren’t in any way in need of a ball scene (unless it’s an episode where Reba goes to a Victorian-themed dinner party and feels out of place being just a countrified divorcee making ends meet in which case, yeah, maybe there’s a ball scene but you know what there will definitely be: a compelling through-line with the opportunity for a strong B-plot about Barbra Jean).

This is just off the top of our head, but the thing about a ball is that it’s a large social gathering from the Greek ballizein first used in English around 1639. So that should probably get you somewhere. Greeks, 1639, etc. It pretty much writes itself. Also, large. You get the idea. Social. American actress Lucille. Blah blah blah.

This Reba script is really where your focus should be if you can find a way to keep most of the action in one room because with the wardrobe alone we’re going to be stretching the budget. They’re going to want to know that not only can you write good lines, you can write good line budget, am I right?

No, seriously, am I? Who writes the line budget? Sometimes I think I should have gone to that workshop at the UCLA extension. Greg would have loaned me the money if I asked Mom to make him.

But the important thing is that if you want your novel to be a novel you’ve got to find a way to get characters in a room where they dance in this way where they change partners and I don’t know it’s never really made sense to us why anyone does what anyone does in those scenes but maybe if Reba’s dancing with handsome guest star Martin Mull–or maybe just Martin Mull, like, he’s there at this thing because he knows the host–meta!–and then they switch and suddenly he’s dancing with Barbra Jean–O no!–and it’s like will the swirling winds of ball fate bring them back together again–ball fate!–and no it can’t because there’s no money in the budget to add Martin Mull to the cast or maybe he’s already on the show because honestly we’ve never seen but let’s check–

Reba was cancelled in 2007. Huh.

Comment / Posted in Dancing, Editing, Television

Exhibit 1.3.8

An Unnecessarily Obscene Letter to the Game of Thrones Universe

Look, dickholes, I’ve been loving your show. And I don’t mean to call you dickholes, but I’ve been thinking it over and you’re something like dickholes. It’s not you. It’s your civilization. Every so often a character on the show throws something out like, “We’ve been guarding this giant wall for 8,000 years,” and, you know, I get that they’re proud of their family’s commitment to standing in the snow but I’m like wait, wait, wait–these dickholes have been here for 8,000 years and haven’t invented Applebees?

I’m joking. Sort of. Just because we invented Applebees after less than 8,000 years doesn’t mean everyone should have, but is a Hardees too much to ask for? I’m joking again. That’s me joking. You guys might not even care for reasonably priced 3-course meals that serve families on a budget. I don’t know that but I know this. Your civilization has been around for more than 8,000 years and you’ve accomplished these things:

1) Giant wall
2) Training crows to carry letters

That’s it as far as I can tell. And it doesn’t make sense because I see wheels and pulleys and you must be this close to the inclined plane so it’s like, come on you shitbirds, learn how to build machines already. I’m not asking for Terminators or anything, just, you know, something more complicated than what my Tamagotchi comes up with if it lives more than a week before starving. For example: It takes your king a month to go on a ski vacation which means every trip anywhere is basically the Oregon Trail. How many jerkoffs have to die of cholera before you guys get trains?

You know how many Applebees I could visit in a month? Enough to enjoy a whole asston of their new sizzling Cajun shrimp.

So let’s think this over. I mean, you’ve got the crows. That’s pretty cool. Our crows just act like stuckup goth kids. Of course, if they get sick, we can save them with crow penicillin and make them see better using lasers. In fact, our crows might live to be 8,000 and they don’t have to stand on a wall unless they want to. Come to think of it, maybe you should make one of our crows king and save yourselves a lot of action and sex-packed intrigue.

But look, that’s really not the point here. The point is this: some of our people don’t think our entire planet is much more than 8,000 years old. And that means you guys are falling behind in all areas except incest technology. But it’s cool because it also means we’re pretty stupid sometimes, too. I mean, we don’t have an entire continent of people afraid to row across a tiny ocean, but we’ve got the Palins. They’re sort of like your Lannisters only exactly like your Lannisters.

Still, if this were a game of Civilization, even Gandhi would have ridden you down with his war elephants by now. Not because he wanted to hurt you, but because those elephants could teach you how to navigate using stars and take tenure-track positions at the universities you seemingly don’t have. You daft fucks.

But I get it. You’re too busy stabbing each other to invent the shovel and dig up all the petroleum in your soil. Maybe if we had dragons, we would have turned into a civilization run by middle school boys, too. And maybe if our winters lasted a decade, we would have also taken a few millennia off.

O, no wait, we would have eaten queso blanco nacho platters at our centrally heated Applebees until it was time to jetski.

Tighten it up,

A.

4 Comments / Posted in Bad Ideas, Civilizations, Television

Exhibit 25.13

(as spoiler free as possible but still not something you are going to want to read if you haven’t finished the show)

Well, it’s also probably not something you’re going to want to read if you have any respect for me. I realized midway through writing a comment on my friend Chris’s post here–a comment in which I referenced midichlorians for god’s sake–that I might as well fully geek out a little about Lost. I don’t feel good about what I’m doing either. We should all just pretend it’s not happening.

I thought the finale was ideal. And I don’t mean ideal in that it answered all of the questions that had been raised by the show (or most of the questions [or really any of the questions]), but it was an episode that could naturally return us to the show’s past, resurrect old characters, and conclude on a note that was both ending and beginning. That, to me, is a pretty impressive capstone. It was touching, exciting, and, most importantly, fit coherently within the ongoing arch of the show. This wasn’t Seinfeld‘s finale which attempted a similar of cohesion but had to violate the basic tenants of its world in order to do so. This was an ending that made sense. This was an ending.

Now, there are issues. Serious ones. As much as I admired the finale as 2.5-hours of television doing something wonderful with an impossible task, Lost‘s six seasons are hardly as ideal when taken as a whole. I completely understand anyone frustrated or bothered by last night’s episode when there’s so much left unsaid about the island’s magic, the Dharma initiative, the numbers, etc. At least for me, it was clear we weren’t going to be getting any of those answers for weeks and so my expectations might have been a bit different. Lost, correctly, went in the direction of concluding its characters’ stories rather than its setting’s. I think that’s a choice the show made a long time ago, and while some of those central mysteries remained unanswered if not problematically confused at this point, I think we should have been aware that we were always watching a show about characters confronting those mysteries not the mysteries themselves.

Would I have preferred a show more concerned with its own mythology? I don’t know. Like most of the people I know who love(d) Lost, that mythology is what I found captivating and kept me going through early stumbles (or anything involving Kate). And, yeah, I have a lot of unanswered questions and a bit of bitterness that some things I think should have been answered weren’t (specifically, I think if the creators were serious in having mapped out the ending so far in advance, they should have used the time with the Dharma folk to say far more about what the Hanso Foundation knew and the “rules” between Ben and Widmore when the creators “knew” they weren’t coming back to those things). And I have a great deal more bitterness about the things that were a waste of time or simply confusing (specifically, everything about this season’s temple).

Mostly, I think the show probably did itself a disservice by making the Dharma stuff too captivating in the early seasons and then more or less hoping the audience would be satisfied by rolling it haphazardly into the Jacob/MiB storyline. This season, we learned the show we were watching was really one about a mystical ancient conflict with the very fate of the world at stake. I can see why they must have thought something this grand would make us forget all the pettier mysteries, but I don’t think many of us were capable of letting go. As much as I enjoyed all this talk about “the light,” I still think questions like how Charlie knew the song to type into the keypad are more interesting for being smaller (and for coming naturally out of the characters we’d been with from the beginning). But I can appreciate the ambition behind it all, and I’m willing to chock up these disappointments to the nature of producing an open-ended television series.

(O man, I just replied to a comment on my comment. I’m really hitting some new lows today. If only I weren’t enjoying this so much…)

Basically, there were a lot of false starts and loose ends, and I think that’s fine. Sometimes the rules changed halfway through the story. Sometimes things we spent a long time thinking were important weren’t important. Sometimes the show cheated. It wasn’t perfect, but perfect wasn’t and shouldn’t be the goal. Being surprising and entertaining and emotionally moving is the goal, and if you can manage to do that more often then not when producing over 100 hours of programming, you’ve succeeded. You’d have to be some kind of monster not to have been moved by Sawyer and Juliet’s reunion last night, yet that’s a relationship that’s less than two seasons old. So we could look at that relationship and lament that it’s so disconnected from where the show began and acknowledge that it’s clearly something they just threw together on the fly or we can enjoy how everything we saw before changed those characters until the relationship not only made sense but seemed inevitable. That it somehow became the emotional linchpin of the finale is great and surprising and is exactly what Lost has been able to do that most shows can’t. It made me care. I might have started caring because of the polar bears and the four-toed statue, but the show convinced me that was only background to what was really important. A complicated mythology isn’t enough on its own, and if the cost of making a compelling show is making one that leaves things unanswered, then I’m fine with that. Answers are overrated.

I guess I don’t know what else to say except that it was a great show and it ended well.

2 Comments / Posted in Finished, Lost, Television

Exhibit 22.15

Twin Peaks

As Carlin recently reminded us, it’s important to watch the following video every so often. And, yes, you do have to watch the entire thing. Otherwise how would you ever learn the folly of recording a gratingly repetitive pop song about love in an unlikely falsetto while being backed by your current girlfriend and your recently dead girlfriend’s identical cousin?


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: rock n’ roll only leads to trouble. Also leading to trouble: whatever this is.

2 Comments / Posted in Hurt, Madisons, Television

Exhibit 12.10

As part of my continued withdrawal from The Wire I’ve been trying to find a new television show on DVD to really take an interest in and fill my lunch hour in a way Chef Boyardee never can. So, not at all because Emmy voters told me to, I’ve begun to watch Mad Men just like everyone else started to 13 months ago. This way I can go back in my own mind and re-have all those conversations I ruined last year.

Last Year
You: Oh, god, are you watching Mad Men? It’s great.
Me: Is that like a spinoff to Mad About You?
You: No. Not at all.
Me: Because that show was great, right? I mean, cousin Ira! Yeah!
You:
Me: I bet Paul Reiser would be available for a spinoff. Maybe I’ll post this to the message board.
You: What?
Me: So, how ’bout this September 2007 weather?

Mental Revision
You: Oh, god, are you watching Mad Men? It’s great.
Me: Totes. Don Draper!
You and Me: (high five) (on the flipside) (nodding)

My initial impressions are positive. Seems smart, exceedingly well made, etc. The problems are mostly confined to the fact that its treatment of ’50s-early ’60s patriarchy and sexism is far more a matter of male wish fulfillment than anything else (at least through the first disc. I imagine there are some comeuppances to come up). There is also a bit of uncommitted yearning for a return to a simpler time, but my guess is that once the show complicates its boys club office the same way it complicates its portrait of domestic life that things will start to take off. We’ll see.

Anyway, I only bring it up in order to work in a heavy-handed Mad About You reference and to explore my least favorite aspect of the show, a little problem I’ll call The Wink Conundrum. Fair warning, there’s nothing I’d call a spoiler coming but I am going to be referencing moments from the first three episodes.

The Wink Conundrum is not unique to Mad Men or in any way a conundrum. Here’s an example of the type of little moments, winks if you will, which I hate in novels, stories, movies, etc. and which Mad Men has in abundance through the first few episodes: A mother calls her young children into the kitchen where she’s smoking with a friend. The children have been playing and one has a plastic dry cleaning bag over his head. The mother, angry, yells for the child to come closer so she can chastise him. We all know what’s coming…or not. “If the clothes that were in that bag are on the floor, you’re going to be in big trouble,” the mother says.

Wink.

Moments like these are inevitable in a show like this to a certain degree, but it’s that heavily implied wink that always ruins it for me. Yes, some pregnant women smoked and drank in 1960, but we don’t have to see the most conspicuous drink order this side of a Sam Adams’ commercial to get that message. Moments later we see a guy slap a young boy in front of the boy’s father after the kid spills something. The father approaches angrily…he’s going to attack the other guy…nope, he too is mad at the kid. Wink.

The Wink Conundrum is actually an ancillary of the Forrest Gump Problem, something which might have an actual name and certainly existed long before Mr. Gump. Still, that awful, awful movie was my first encounter with it though it’s pretty much informed almost every major novel of the last fifty years that takes place in the near past. The Problem is simple to spot by its arbitrary and anti-narrative tendency to insert either historical figures into the path of the protagonist or, alternatively, insert its protagonist into specific historical events (see Ragtime, Middlesex, Against the Day, Kavalier and Clay, etc.) God, I hate it when novels do that (which is not to say I hate the novels themselves although I usually do) and the do it a lot. Thanks to this issue, I’m currently under the impression that everyone in the 1920s had the chance to meet Henry Ford and Houdini because they spent their days wandering around the country making cameos in each citizens’ life.

What binds the two phenomenons together is a post-WWII/popular culture nostalgia that manifests itself as false condemnation in the case of The Wink and nudge-nudge navel gazing in the case of The Problem. I suppose at their heart both stem from an innate to desire to see one’s generation (or, if one feels guilty enough, one’s parent’s generation) as having sprung from uncivilized chaos (The Wink) yet having succeeded to produce greatness and meaning (The Problem).

I doubt it’s just a boomer issue either, but I guess we’ll see when someone writes a novel wherein the protagonist meets Kurt Cobain at a basement show in Seattle, does drugs until ’96, starts a search engine company which makes him wealthy, moves into a penthouse in Manhattan next door to Warren Buffett’s, watches 9/11 from his balcony, is converted to Christianity by Rick Warren, and then ends up becoming the first ambassador to Space Australia (I’m guessing on that last bit).

I’d like to believe that a novel like that will never be written (or that a holographic cable show won’t come out in 2050 with winking nods to eating organic food), but it’s inevitable. Hopefully whatever poor soul has to write that book at least does it with a sense of humor that seems to have skipped a generation.

You didn’t see where that post was going, did you? Oh well, we’ll always have the Mad About You joke.

Comment / Posted in Fiction, Movies, Television

Exhibit 12.9

Apparently there is now a show where people have to contort themselves into shapes in order to match the hole in a wall that is coming rapidly toward them. Appropriately, it’s called Hole in the Wall. It appears to be an international phenomenon with different versions for each country. The producers are under the impression that every nationality wants to see their own people–not smelly foreigners–pushed into a pool of local, patriotic (and green) water. They’re right.

Here is a casting call posted to YouTube for the American Version which contains some examples. Did you know this show has been in places as diverse as Russia and Netherlands (sic)?

I’ve never really felt any draw to write for television before, but now I desperately want to get in on the ground floor of this hole phenomenon (See what I did there? That’s going on my cover letter). I even made a note for sweeps week: rhombus.

This is going to be the best domestic drama ever! Even in the clips the wall and the scared Japanese people have a whole Ross-Rachel thing going on. Will they kiss? Won’t they kiss?

I’m thinking season two goes into kind of an upstairs/downstairs scenario to really get to the bottom of these class issues I keep hearing about.

Comment / Posted in Missing The Wire, Netherlands, Television

Exhibit 11.16

In atonement for what may have been several unprovoked shots at Baltimore while watching The Wire, here’s a live version of Gram Parson playing “Streets of Baltimore.” By the looks of things, this was filmed with an 8mm camera pointed at a black and white television resting underwater.

Comment / Posted in Baltimore, Parsons, Television

Exhibit 11.14

UPDATE: It’s wisely been brought to my attention that this post may contain spoilers about The Wire. I don’t think there’s anything that gives away a plot point here but certainly characters are referenced, etc. As I would hate to ruin anyone’s Wire watching experience, I definitely should have pointed that out. I’m sorry.

More importantly, this post also gives away my preferred form of themed Uno. So now you know.

Last night we finished The Wire and there really isn’t much more for me to say except that if you haven’t seen it we can’t be friends.

I’m not joking.

Each one of you will be presented with this simple quiz. If you pass, great, you can come over any time and play Harry Potter Uno. If you fail, not only will we not be friends, but I’ll probably key your car.

‘The Bunk’ is:
A) A Police Bar
B) A Stash of Heroin
C) Extremely Huggable

Randy Wagstaff’s father is:
A) Cheese
B) Method Man
C) Shaquan God Allah

Brother Mouzone reads:
A) Harper’s
B) The New Yorker
C) Whatever Brother Wants

Omar’s best boyfriend was:
A) Brandon
B) That Latin Guy Was Okay
C) Oh, It Can’t Be What’s-His-Name

The ex-Mrs. McNulty is:
A) Surprisingly Attractive
B) Really, She’s Not Bad
C) Yeah, But She’s No Beadie

Omar:
A) Fo’ Sure
B) Oh, Indeed
C) (whistling)

Democratic Primary:
A) Clarence Royce (incumbent)
B) Thomas Carcetti
C) Anthony Gray

Rawls was:
A) A Regular
B) Just Enjoying the Drink Specials
C) Into It, Sure, But Not, You Know

Baltimore as a city:
A) Scares the Hell Out of Me
B) Presents Growth Opportunities for My Import/Export Business
C) I Love Ace of Cakes

Good luck.

6 Comments / Posted in Omars, Television, Theories

Exhibit 9.7

Things I could do if I wasn’t spending all of my free time watching The Wire

1. Update this blog.

Well, that’s pretty much it.

Comment / Posted in Blogs, Sacrifices, Television

Exhibit 9.6

So I know I’m about as late to this party as Daniels was late to fully support an investigation into Avon Barksdale’s drug empire, but my god The Wire is great.

This, by the way, may just be the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone: So the first disc of The Wire had three episodes on it after which we were hooked on the show (and to dropping references to the show) like McNulty is hooked on justice. The second disc came from Netflix and we planned it so that we would watch one episode the day it came and two the next day. (By which I mean we planned it like Bubbles and Johnny Weeks planned to rob that copper truck). So it’s the next night at about 10:45 when we finish the second episode on the disc and realize that even though every other disc in the season has three episodes on it, Disc Two only has two episodes. We freaked out like America freaked out the first time Omar kissed Brandon. It’s honestly the most depressed I’ve ever been in my life. Happy ending: Heather and I drove to Blockbuster five minutes before it closed to pick up the next two discs with Netflix delivering the final disc of the season. I really wish I had a Wire reference to go out on here.

It’s entirely likely that I just didn’t watch a lot of TV for many years and so it’s just an illusion created by Netflix and internet streaming, but there really has been an incredible increase in the amount of high-quality programming on TV. In fact, if someone argued that mainstream TV programming has eclipsed mainstream film as a place of narrative innovation, I’d agree like Judge Phelan agreed to a warrant to wiretap public phones near the housing projects.

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Anyway, it’s easy to look down on television but this really is a place where some of the best stories are being told at the moment. A lot of it is certainly HBO’s influence. They seemed to be the first to realize that with DVD (and now the internet) that dramas could have longform plots without losing audience. When ER was the best show on television–think about that for awhile–the show clung desperately to an episodic structure with a few loose tangents to the point that it ultimately went off the rails when storylines were exhausted and everyone realized there wasn’t a plan. Same thing with The X-Files.

Comedies got onboard as well and while the ratings haven’t been there yet, it’s impossible to argue with the brilliant, single-camera reinvention of the sitcom done by shows like Arrested Development and The Office. There was a time when some poor souls had to watch Perfect Strangers and while we still have our share of Balkis out there, at least there’s 30 Rock.

These new shows aren’t trying to be mini-movies but are now free to be something closer to serial novels (any prospective Ph.D.’s reading this should feel free to jump all over that dissertation I just started for you). There are certainly problems with the comparison–I’m pretty sure Dickens never had to write around Fagin walking off the set like Mr. Echo on Lost–but by and large the work being done has space for the short and long plots like no other medium. Only a handful of movies a year are able to develop characters and set a tone with the precision of television’s best. I’m too scared to even do a comparison with novels.

As scared as Pryzbylewski was when he hit that kid.

1 Comment / Posted in Omars, Second, Television

Exhibit 2.21

The Real World by season:

1992 – New York
1993 – Los Angeles
1994 – San Francisco
1995 – London
1996 – Miami
1997 – Boston
1998 – Seattle
1999 – Hawaii
2000 – New Orleans
2001 – New York (again)
2002 – Chicago
2002 – Las Vegas

After that I got a girlfriend or a car or went to college or graduated (just like you did), because I’m pretty sure there was never one in Paris despite what Mary-Ellis Bunim keeps telling me.

Comment / Posted in Television, Who's Next? Minnesota., You did too