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April 27, 2008

A Touch of Frost: Season 13

With 13 seasons and 37 feature-length episodes, A Touch of Frost is bound to have an off episode or two in its run. The real downside about MPI’s A Touch of Frost – Season 13 collection is that it’s not a collection at all. The show only ran one episode in that “season,” and as such the DVD only contains one, “Endangered Species.” Instead of waiting for possible Season 14 episodes to bundle this lackluster episode with, MPI went ahead and released it solo. At the risk of sounding too harsh, it’s really an episode for fans/completists only. I urge casual viewers or non-viewers to check out MPI’s releases of earlier seasons. After I was assigned to review the Season 11 & 12 collection, I spent time catching up with what I’d missed. It’s a great show, but “Endangered Species” left a lot to be desired.

I couldn’t explain the decision-making process, but for the first time in the show’s history, it’s gone to a Law & Order-esque “ripped-from-the-headlines” approach for its stories. I don’t know; maybe it was like that all along, and I am just too ignorant of big British news stories over the past 15 years. Either way, the two crime stories featured in this episode — one about exotic animal smugglers, the other about a teacher-student sexual relationship — felt a bit overdone. And when Frost faces off with both a crocodile and a tiger (in two separate scenes), somebody should realize they’re heading dangerously close to sitcom territory and either play it for laughs or just pack it in and go home.

A Touch of Frost’s writing has always been characterized by an empathy for the criminals. Not sympathy, mind you — this show does not let them off the hook, but it does show, firsthand, their rationale. With “Endangered Species,” the mysteries were interesting enough, but they didn’t spend nearly enough time with the criminals. I don’t want to give spoilers, even if I’m not recommending this, but each case offered razor-thin motives for both the innocent and the guilty. Frost is usually better than this.

Since the mystery aspects disappointed, I had some hope that the usual “Frost’s failed personal life” subplot would hold my interest. It’s a continuation of the relationship Jack started with the woman at the gym in Season 11. It wasn’t bad, but for anybody who’s watched A Touch of Frost, you pretty much know how and why the story will end for the couple. It’s a bit disappointing, as the show continues to age (and may reach a point where it doesn’t return) that Frost can’t grow a bit, realize his commitment problems, and either stop making himself miserable by entering disastrous relationships or ease off on his job obsession. I guess this isn’t necessarily a criticism of the show, and the fact that I’ve gotten so worked up about it offers some evidence of its emotional impact.

Nonetheless, I’d tell anyone but a die-hard fan to skip this season’s DVD. Here’s hoping Season 14 (scheduled to air in Britain sometime this year) will show a return to form.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Film Monthly, Reviews

April 20, 2008

Weak Week

What happened this week? You’ll find that, with most of these shows, we got good-not-great outings. I’d call it post-strike jitters, but with the exception of The Office, I’m pretty sure these episodes were shot pre-strike. Nothing was outright awful — even My Name Is Earl managed to bounce back with the help of exceptional guest stars — but nothing came close to the inspired brilliance of last week’s The Office. (Okay, The Riches came pretty close.)

Bones (Fox) — I’m surprised how much I missed this show. I would compliment them for quickly falling back into the rhythm of the series after the strike, but I know Fox intentionally held up several episodes “just in case,” so I don’t even think we’ve hit the post-strike material yet. Nonetheless, a very good return with a genuinely compelling mystery. On this kind of standalone procedural, the mysteries are often so convoluted they don’t make sense (like CSI) or they’re so generic there’s nothing to grab onto (like Law & Order). I like Bones because, once they found their footing, the characters shine brightly enough that it doesn’t matter if the mysteries were lame. So when the mystery is top-notch, as this week’s was, it’s all the better.

I also have to add that John Francis Daley is a fantastic addition to the cast. I never thought he’d be bad — I was a huge fan of Freaks & Geeks — but I was a little concerned they’d have trouble integrating “FBI shrink” into the stories. While he had very little to do with the mystery, the subplot involving him and his girlfriend (and juxtaposing their relationship with Bones and Booth) was great. Nice comeback, guys!

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW) — Malvo, one of the weirdest characters in the history of the show (even weirder than Todd Bridges’s hilarious paranoid militant), returns from prison with the promise of turning his life around. The catch? He wants Chris to tutor him. From this wacky-mismatch sitcom premise comes a very funny episode, but one with a dark undercurrent that this show doesn’t often utilize, despite its mid-’80s Bed-Stuy setting. The writers mined a lot of laughter from the idea of Malvo’s thuggish, sociopathic behavior clashing with the Rocks, but at the same time: Malvo is a thuggish sociopath. There’s something a little unsettling there, and it actually made the ending a little depressing. Why couldn’t he have turned his life around? I know it’s a sitcom, and I’ll admit it was a good, ironic way to end the episode, but it’s interesting to contemplate the true feelings of the writers as to whether or not a person like Malvo can reform himself.

King of the Hill (Fox) — Upfront, I’ll say I enjoyed this episode. It was as funny as any King of the Hill episode, and I laughed a lot. Thinking about it for this column, though, has me wondering whether or not anything that happened in the story fit with Dale’s character. Obviously, the selfishness and total lack of consideration for Joseph’s feelings are pretty solid — but Dale’s the paranoid conspiracy nut. Wouldn’t an offer from a private school freak him out and make him wonder what kind of crazy information they want to fill Joseph’s head with? I’m not sure if this would have taken the episode in a funnier direction, but it would have been more consistent with Dale. He’s never been shown as particularly greedy or money-obsessed — in fact, the usual struggle between him and Nancy is the fact that his exterminator business doesn’t make any money.

Medium (NBC) — Bringing back Kurtwood Smith — and opening the possibility for him to return more often — was a masterstroke. Bringing in Kelly Preston…I’m not so sure about. She’s not bad or anything, but she seems to get pigeonholed in “sleazy vixen”-type roles. The idea of her and Joe working closely, and the recurring theme of possible psychic-related marital problems, makes me worry about what her recurring stint will bring to future episodes. Stay strong, Joe.

My Name Is Earl (NBC) — Last week’s episode sucked so hard, I said, “I’ll give it another week — if Earl’s still in a coma and the wacky antics of Randy/Joy/Darnell don’t improve, I’m done.” Then they cheated by bringing back Beau Bridges and Nancy Lenehan as Earl’s parents. The episode was actually really funny and featured a great comedic turn by Michael Peña as a truly strange drug dealer. Even better, if it featured any crappy sitcom coma fantasies, I don’t remember them. The rest of the episode was that solid. However, I acknowledge that about 80% of the episode’s success came from Bridges, Lenehan, and Peña’s guest appearances. My “one more week or I’m out” policy is extended until next week, when we most likely won’t have ringer guest stars taking over the show.

The Office (NBC) — Like this week’s King of the Hill, I don’t have much to say about this episode: I laughed a lot and, unlike Hill, I didn’t find anything terribly out of character. It just didn’t approach the show at the top of its game — difficult to do after last week’s “Dinner Party,” but I guess I still expected something more out of Michael’s sadness and obsession with both the chair model and with being fixed up with somebody hot (without coming out and saying it).

The Riches (FX) — “Well, that was a weird ending.” That about sums up my thoughts on this week’s episode. Everything about it was great — Cael getting involved with the Travellers, Dahlia attempting to lead a good life (or at least trick the parole officer into believing it), and especially Wayne and Sam’s “bonding” as they attempt to swap out a towel full of Pete’s blood with a towel of Wayne’s blood — but that ending…I don’t know what to make of it. Maybe I’m just being overly dense, but when the parole officer said, “It’s over,” did he mean, “Come with me to jail” or did he mean “I sort of like you, so we’ll just forget you ever showed up”? I’m leaning toward the latter, but if that’s the case, I hope this subplot doesn’t die. It’s an interesting turn that would feel wasted if they just dropped it now.

Scrubs (NBC) — I think I have to retire this show. Like Stargate Atlantis before it — although still much, much better than that show — I find myself unable to say anything about it. Maybe it’s just been on too long. The characters are set and, for the most part, unchanging (even the “big morals” they learn in pretty much every episode don’t change them enormously), and at this point the stories exist mostly to string together fantasy sequences and moments of absurdity.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

April 27, 2008

Back from the Strike

Well, here it comes — the mighty return of shows in the wake of the writers’ strike, along with the impressive return of a series that aired last winter in Britain, the second season of BBC’s Robin Hood.

Bones (Fox) — With a more-disgusting-than-usual crime and a tackling-issues approach to college athletics, this episode could have turned out pretty badly. Though it didn’t have the normal level of character depth (despite the usual amusing banter, they mostly took a superficial look at why Booth loves sports), they made up for it with a mystery that kept doubling and tripling back on itself, to the point where my initial guess — which I later dismissed — turned out to be right. It had a really tight, complex (but not ridiculous) story that, I guess, didn’t leave as much time for characterization. The final scene with Booth and Brennan in the diner was pretty nice, though. Also: what the hell happened to John Francis Daley?

Everybody Hate Chris (The CW) — I enjoyed Chris’s struggle to collect cans among the homeless in Bed-Stuy (and his even more difficult time collecting them in white neighborhoods), and I also liked the way it came around to being about the relationship between Chris and Julius. Meanwhile, the idea of Rochelle betting she could go a week without yelling was an inspired story choice. I even sort of liked the ending; giving the money to Kill Moves was a nice, sweet moral, and having him spend the money on crap typically undermined the sweetness — but in a good way.

Lost (ABC) — Lost came back from the strike with probably the best Ben-centric episode they’ve ever done. (Okay, now that I think of it, this may only be the second or third Ben episode, but nonetheless, it made his character vastly more intriguing.) More than that, they seem to have taken a page from season three — coming back from an extended break kicking ass. I know they have fewer episodes to tell the same story, but the episode didn’t feel rushed — just balls-to-the-wall. Great effort all around, including the smoke-monster effects (which sometimes looked cheesy in the past).

Medium (NBC) — What a great theory on the unsolved 1982 Tylenol killings. For those who don’t watch Medium but still, for some reason, elected to read my thoughts on it, the theory the writers posed was this: stuck at the airport during a blizzard, six people with different backgrounds and no connection to each other discuss people they’d like to kill and figure out a way to do it and, theoretically, not get caught. (It’s ironic and awesome that they draw on each person’s background to hatch the plan, rather than pulling it out of thin air.) And, of course, they would have gotten away with it if not for the meddling psychic.

With a great turn from Herman’s Head himself, William Ragsdale, playing the distraught husband/murderer. He really sold me on both aspects of this, and although they underplayed this, the genius is in the setup — in a semi-drunken state, he put a contract out on his wife. Even if he wanted her dead at the time, the grief sets in when he realizes that, okay, maybe sometimes he wishes she were dead, it’s a different story to actually have it happen. Ragsdale made the emotional disparity very believable, making it all the more difficult to believe Allison.

Having had many frustrating experiences with discompassionate doctors (this seems to be a recent thing, too — I wonder if House is making these doctors think “If I’m a total dick, they’ll think I’m a genius!”), I also enjoyed the subplot with Joe and the ophthalmologist. They’ve touched on the psychic issues with the other kids before, but with Marie they have an opportunity to explore the idea of psychic influences in someone too young to have a clue what’s happening. She can know the animals on the eye chart without being able to see it properly, and she has no idea why. It’s an interesting aspect to tackle.

My Name Is Earl (NBC) — Absolutely atrocious. Sorry, guys. You had a good run until this season. I may tune in next year just to see what’s cooking.

The Office (NBC) — I’ve read some complaints about this episode, I guess because it’s so dark, but I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever laughed harder. It may not have had the tight story and characterization of something like “The Negotiation” or “Dinner Party,” but the transformation of Ryan is unbelievably great, and Michael’s pathetic desperation to find a hot woman took him to a dark place, and I think it’ll only get darker. Is it mean to say I look forward to it? (On a related note, the groundwork of Ryan’s failure as a big-shot corporate player has been laid — that should give us hilarious results.)

The subplot with Jim unintentionally causing everyone to get locked inside the office park felt, initially, like a throwaway. When I thought about it, I’m actually starting to think they’re laying more groundwork. To what, I have no idea, but it was an interesting choice to have Jim come up with this great idea everyone supported, only to have it blow up in his face because he forgot a pretty major detail. Suddenly, everyone forgets his great idea. Could this suggest a promotion in the future? A promotion where he’ll fail?

Reaper (The CW) — Like Lost, Reaper returned with a great episode, possibly their finest effort to date. I do have to wonder how often Ken Marino and Michael Ian Black can get killed before they just stop coming back. Not that I want them to stop coming back — they’re great additions to the show. I also wonder what will happen to the apartment now that the Devil’s plan has come to fruition; after all, Sam’s dad is still credited as a series regular, and I can count on one hand his number of actual appearances. (Besides which, having them move out of their parents’ houses betrays the series’ look at “slacker loser” zeitgeist.)

The Riches (FX) — What a downer. I’m still loving this show, but it didn’t exactly leave me feeling good. So who else thinks Cael’s getting conned? I’m also a little intrigued by what’s going on with Dale and the other Travellers. They’re certainly up to no good, but the not-so-veiled threat from the faux-developer makes me think nothing will end well for the Malloys this season.

Meanwhile, we were treated to an incredibly depressing birthday party and Dahlia’s disappointing relapse. I’m not entirely convinced the writers sold me on the idea that Dahlia’s suddenly so obsessed with honesty and trust that a lie from Wayne — even one of this magnitude — will send her over the edge, but I guess most addicts look for excuses instead of reasons. Beyond that, I’m still having a hard time with Wayne’s inability to explain his actions. “You never would have come back if you knew Pete was dead” doesn’t quite fly with me as a reason to lie, and Dahlia knows Dale’s crazy. She tried to shoot him last season, for crying out loud. Wayne telling her what he did, but much sooner, would have solved this whole conflict. I don’t know, we’ll see where they’re going with this. I just hope the strike-truncated season finale next week doesn’t leave everything up in the air.

Also, I’m not sure yet how I feel about DiDi’s romance with the security guard. I like seeing Joan of Arcadia’s Michael Welch (who was pretty much the only reason to watch in the downward-spiraling second season), but it seems kind of bland so far.

Robin Hood (BBC America) — I won’t pretend this show is a masterpiece. It’s a fun action-adventure show, but through the first season it had two major flaws. First, the plot of nearly every episode revolved around one of the Merry Men getting nabbed by the Sheriff’s men, then Robin and the rest staging a daring rescue. I don’t have a problem with the idea that we get to know these characters by putting them in jeopardy — the problem is the repetitive nature of the jeopardy. If they had a more widespread cast of villains, it would have gone a long way toward varying the routine.

The second problem was related to the first. When Robin came to Nottingham Castle to rescue the imprisoned character of the week, he inevitably had a personal confrontation with the Sheriff, which inevitably resulted in Robin getting the upper hand and saying something like, “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now.” The Sheriff always had an answer, but that’s basically like pointing out the fundamental flaw in the series: whatever half-assed reasons the Sheriff has in the short-term, just killing him would make everyone happier. It’d also end the series.

In the second-season premiere, Robin Hood undid both of these problems: first, we’re given the impression of variety among both villains and storylines. The Sheriff introduced the Black Knights, a group of influential leaders who, we learn, are taxing the shit out of peasants to finance a Blackwater-esque army of mercenaries to overthrow King Richard upon his return to England. Secondly, when Robin pulls the old, “Why shouldn’t I kill you right now?” retort, the Sheriff bluntly states that Prince John — for reasons unknown — has a standing order to burn the entire area to the ground if the Sheriff dies an unnatural death. This could tie into a subplot from last season, but I don’t remember.

I also liked the appearance of the Sheriff’s creepy, snake-obsessed sister. Her death will undoubtedly give the Sheriff more interesting motives and strengthen his characterization. On top of all this, this writer did a nice job of reintroducing the ensemble and adding a variation on a theme — Edward gets nabbed and imprisoned by Gisborne, but in a nice twist, Robin and his men have no clue, and in order to save his own life he has to enter into a pact to spy for Gisborne. All of these elements will hopefully lead to a more interesting, focused season.

(The show’s occasional employment of heavy-handed political allegory is a minor flaw. I thought I should point it out so readers won’t assume I’m ignoring it, but it’s not a problem that bothers me.)

Supernatural (The CW) — Another solid post-strike return. It worried me at first because the intro with the two nerds was waaaaaay too derivative of one of the better episodes in Buffy’s final season; fortunately, despite their nerd antics, this episode turned out to be a lot of fun. Shot as a spoof of “reality” haunted-house shows like Ghost Hunters, the writers and production team did an exceptional job of creating legitimate scares using nothing but the shadowy, claustrophobic environment. The documentary style also lends itself to more visceral scares — it feels a little more real, even though it’s not.

If I were to have any real complaint, it’s that the first show to come back after the strike had less Sam and Dean than were used to. However, they did a great job casting the guest stars (two of whom are making their second appearance, and I hope they make more) and getting us invested in the death of Corbett and his ultimate “hero” moment. Some might complain that the writers wussed out and churned out a quickie joke episode because they’re on a tight schedule, but this episode’s story and supporting characters made this the best variation on the haunted house story that this show has ever done.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

April 13, 2008

The Beginning of the End (of the Season)

Last week, My Name Is Earl returned to Thursdays with an hourlong episode that, despite a few flaws, was actually pretty good. This week, NBC’s full Thursday-night line-up trickled back onto television with post-strike episodes and/or episodes stockpiled in case the strike lasted so long they ran out of programming. How did these shows fare against Earl’s triumphant return; how did Earl itself do in its second week back? (The answer is below, but here’s a hint: not well.)

I thought I’d take this opportunity to address the sporadic complaint that I cover all the NBC Thursday comedies except 30 Rock. Here’s the thing about 30 Rock: I didn’t jump on the initial bandwagon because I don’t find Tina Fey funny as a comedienne. Maybe she’s some kind of genius writer, but it never came across on Saturday Night Live (her reign as head writer didn’t exactly impress me) and the first few episodes received harsh reviews. Why would I check out a show made by and starring somebody I don’t find funny when even people who like her didn’t enjoy it?

As the season rolled along, the buzz for the show increased. Comparisons to Arrested Development and The Office flew around. Finally, this season, I read a description of an episode that made me laugh out loud. I decided to break down and check the show out and, if I found it funny, I’d be sure to keep watching. The episode in question had an A story that guest-starred Carrie Fisher as a grizzled, former-hippie sketch writer that inspired Fey’s character to break into the business; its B story had Alec Baldwin trying to psychoanalyze Tracy Morgan’s rebellion against authority, culminating in an offensive/hilarious one-man show as Baldwin impersonates ’70s sitcom stars while role-playing as Morgan’s family members; and its C story stranded all the other characters in a comedy wasteland involving a “page-off.”

I’ll admit upfront that I love Alec Baldwin, I loved Tracy Morgan on Saturday Night Live (and, at the very least, give Fey credit for initially building this show around him), I’m a big fan of Carrie Fisher, but…something felt off about this show. Something about the way it was paced, the way the jokes built, the way the story flowed…despite hearing laugh-out-loud descriptions of this episode, I found myself not enjoying it much. Even the infamous Baldwin-impersonating-black-sitcom-stars scene went by too quickly to be enjoyable. It’s too bad, because by this time I’d heard so many good things that I wanted to like the show; I was even willing to put up with Tina Fey to enjoy the supposed comedy gold, but I just don’t see the comparisons to other great recent sitcoms. I hope that clears up why I don’t watch the show.

Canterbury’s Law (Fox) — This show has been all-but-officially announced as canceled, and who could blame it? It’s getting CW-caliber ratings. While I like the show, I elected to stop watching it this week, to avoid getting hooked and then enraged by its inevitable cancellation.

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW) — It strikes me as unusual that the show keeps on trying to pair up Chris and Mr. Omar (earlier this season, Chris was stuck staying in his bachelor pad while his family was sick). Nonetheless, this episode managed to find some solid (but not preachy) moral ground as Chris realized it was more important to comfort a widow than it was to go to a Run DMC concert.

One weird nitpick: at the end of the episode, after Greg goes to the concert alone, he’s wearing a shirt that clearly said RUN DNC. Maybe they couldn’t clear the rights to a real Run DMC t-shirt and assumed we wouldn’t notice, but I’m surprised they didn’t toss in a joke about Greg not actually knowing a thing about Run DMC and accidentally attending a Democratic National Committee rally.

King of the Hill (Fox) — Late in its run, The King of Queens did an episode with a similar premise when Carrie (Leah Remini) discovered a nice way of making money as an actor in an open house. Watch this episode back to back with this week’s King of the Hill makes for an interesting study of how writers can approach a similar situation in totally different ways; on The King of Queens, the actors start to act like a real family, and Carrie is baffled and horrified when the house is sold and the actors drop the act.

Here, Peggy (who became a realtor this season) needs to sell a house in the drying-up market. When she discovers the uncouth residents of the home won’t leave, she decides to cast actors to play the family. The actors aren’t comfortable with improv, so Peggy writes an epic script that illustrates how important the house is to the “family.” Things get weird when they do a dress rehearsal at the Hill residence, somebody offers to buy the house…and Peggy accepts without talking to Hank.

The differences in stories have so much to do with the characters’ natural reactions to a similar situation. In Carrie’s case, she’s needy and desperate for the “perfect family” she’ll never get with Doug and Arthur; with Peggy, her misguided, duplicitous nature forces her to take charge of the situation with a series of elaborate — and escalating — lies. Both episodes were fantastic, but I have to give King of the Hill the edge for tying it to a subplot reenforcing Hank’s character. (The King of Queens had an entertaining but unrelated subplot in which Doug spends their tax refund on an ice cream truck.)

Medium (NBC) — This week, Rosanna Arquette helped to make a pretty twisted episode into an effective mystery. Allison has dreams of her seducing men who turn up dead in disgusting ways, described by the woman as she breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly into the camera, like she’s giving advice. In the waking world, Allison has a chance meeting with the woman — an author — who, not surprisingly, denies responsibility for the crimes. (In fact, logic dictates she could not have committed these crimes against men twice her size and half her age — it’s physically impossible.) It would have been pretty difficult to top last week’s two-parter, and I’m not saying they did, but it was a worthy follow-up.

The only lingering disappointment is that they made no mention of Joe’s new patent plans, leading to my continued belief that the past two weeks’ episodes were shuffled out of order. If I’m wrong about that and they dropped references to it in order to give Devalos some much-needed screen time, I can forgive it.

My Name Is Earl (NBC) — I don’t know what to say. All season, I begged for them to release Earl from prison; they finally do, and now I think the prison storyline would be an improvement. I guess the writers are trying to shake things up by keeping Earl in a coma and forcing his family/friends to continue the list without his confused-but-firm moral guidance. If it will lead to episodes like last week’s, I’d be okay with this; unfortunately, it led to an episode that rivals “Our Other COPS Is On” for worst episode of the series.

The coma-sitcom fantasies do nothing for me, and there were more of them this week. Maybe if they switched it up each week with different old-TV genre parodies, but they’re sticking with a sitcom that, I guess, is supposed to parody how unfunny many multi-camera sitcoms are, or perhaps point out how weird and repugnant Earl’s characters are compared to ’50s and ’60s archetypes. It falls flat, but then again, so did the rest of the episode.

Here’s the basic timeline issue: Randy is trying to uncover what occurred on one drunken night that he doesn’t remember. We’re well into the third season of the show, meaning that this drunken night must have occurred at least three years ago (probably more). So why is it that everyone’s acting like the whole thing happened yesterday, up to and including throwaway visual jokes like Earl’s tarred-up feet scuffing a dance floor? I hate applying logic to sitcoms, especially one as cartoonish as My Name Is Earl, but that’s what I’m stuck doing when the jokes aren’t even funny. Bad jokes easier to swallow when something about it makes sense or has entertainment value.

The Office (NBC) — My annoyance with My Name Is Earl was short-lived, however, because 30 minutes later The Office aired an absolute masterpiece, shattering the genius record of last season’s “The Negotiation” with an episode that did a great job of reintroducing the characters and story threads left behind with the strike, while firmly reestablishing its dark, drab worldview and awkward humor. I could list the great little touches in the episode, but if you’re watching this, chances are you’ve seen it and understand.

One thing I really loved was the attempt by the writers to show the functionality of the Jim-Pam relationship in comparison to the Michael-Jan trainwreck. I have a bad feeling that this positive portrayal of them will, at some point, end in disaster. For now, though, I can relax and enjoy it. This is a rare “will they or won’t they?” couple whose show wasn’t ruined by bringing them together.

The Riches (FX) — Booger! The Riches keeps upping the ante on the exposure of the Malloys’ fraud. This week, we had tag-team storylines in which Dahlia has to find a legitimate job and a place to live to appease a parole officer, while Wayne has to contend with a fellow lawyer (played by Revenge of the Nerds’ aforementioned Booger, Curtis Armstrong) who happened to go to law school with Doug Rich. Fortunately, Booger’s clueless; unfortunately, his terrifying Russian boss isn’t. Shit is hitting the fan, and I’m not even sure I want to know what Dale has planned with the creepy old Irish guy hanging around the Traveller hovel.

Scrubs (NBC) — Maybe it’s the time apart, but I felt in this episode — more than any before — that the increasingly wacky, cartoonish moments of Scrubs don’t exactly jibe with the attempts at drama and pathos. I don’t know if it’s because what formerly occurred as weird fantasy sequences are now supposed to be believed as reality, or if they aren’t doing as good a job of switching gears. Maybe it was just an off episode in that sense. I laughed a lot, but at the end of the episode I felt a little empty, like I do at the end of a Family Guy episode: lots of laughs that amount to nothing.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

April 6, 2008

The Sun Sets on Jericho

All right, I got my rant about CSI out of the way last week — let’s get back to business.

Aliens in America (The CW) — Last week, I decided to go on a rant about the low-quality but enduring (hell, thriving) CSI franchise, which caused me to miss reviewing last week’s unbelievable Aliens in America — by far the series’ best, and they’ve set a pretty high standard so far.

Winter has set in, and the Tolchuks are looking forward to their upcoming vacation to…Vancouver. When Raja foolishly attempts to pray before their flight, he’s flagged as a terror suspect and the entire family is thrown out of the airport. The frustrated Tolchuks give Raja hell for it, prompting him to leave the family. Meanwhile, Justin gets frustrated at Gary’s apparent disinterest in everything he does. In a nice twist, Gary is equally annoyed at his sons disinterest in sports, cars, and power tools.

Aliens in America’s ability to simultaneously skewer and reenforce traditional family values is one of the things it does better than any show in recent memory. Even Arrested Development’s values were as dysfunctional as the Bluths themselves. Dysfunctional as the Tolchuks are, they still operate as a family unit, and in this episode they discover just what that means.

Did I mention it was also hilarious? Justin’s rendition of “Space Oddity” might eclipse his uncomfortable Rent duet with Franny as the series’ funniest moment. I also admire this show for its ability to play on Americans’ “terrorist” prejudices without political pandering. The Tolchuks getting tossed from the airport marks one of the series’ funniest and most frenetic sequences, and the family’s visit to a mosque they think Raja frequents has to be seen to be believed.

Canterbury’s Law (Fox) — Though its rapid, unscheduled move from Mondays to Fridays is undoubtedly a portent of early cancellation, I’m enjoying this show. Like the first season of Rescue Me, a show that shares many of Canterbury’s writers, I still barely have any idea who the characters are, but it’s clear both the writers and actors know. They’re laying groundwork, slowly but surely, and I assume in the long run audience patience will be rewarded. Of course, there probably won’t be a long run, and consequently no rewards.

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW) — I admit the easter episode was a bit of a disappointment, but they bounced back with a great episode centering on Chris and Drew. They cut school in search of Wayne Gretzky, while at home the Rocks freak about the mysterious disappearance of both sons. The episode got a lot of mileage out of the fish-out-of-water syndrome Chris and Drew experience once they’re out of Bed-Stuy. The episode also had a great, extended callback to the infamous GRITZKY/#98 jersey Julius bought from Risky.

Jericho (CBS) — It’s really disappointing to see this one go, but I guess it’s a little easier to swallow this time around, since they’ve given audiences a proper finale. Granted, Jericho still had plenty of juice left, but I’m not exactly going to be sending Air Force jets or pints of blood to CBS to keep it on the air. Viewers got seven taut, well-crafted episodes with great guest stars and some subtle, even-handed political commentary — plus, a shitload of kick-ass action.

Echoing my CSI complaints from last week, I wish CBS could take a little ratings hit from a show like this. I know it’s tough to stay the #1 network, but the “all procedural, all the time” format can only work for so long before people get tired of the Bruckheimer mold. Even NBC, which has renewed Law & Order: Original Recipe for its 900th season, has a little variety in their programming (besides which, Criminal Intent has already been thrust onto USA Network, indicating the first sign of bland procedural fatigue; ironically, Criminal Intent is the most entertaining of the Law & Orders). When CBS dares to take a risk, and it doesn’t pay off immediately, they get rid of it. Remember Viva Laughlin? Neither do I, and they only canceled it in September…

Or, if it’s like Jericho and it does do well right out of the gate, they practically sabotage it with awful scheduling tactics that make sure the viewers didn’t return after the series’ early mixed-bag/finding-its-footing episodes. By the time it turned into a show worth saving, CBS had already killed it.

Is it telling that I no longer watch anything on CBS? Does this speak to a snotty critic mentality, or CBS’s quality vacuum? You decide.

King of the Hill (Fox) — I don’t usually like episodes that focus on Kahn, because he’s such an asshole, but this episode did a great job of exploring the character’s vulnerabilities while featuring a plethora of the show’s trademark subtle one-liners. My personal favorite:

“We initially came to make fun of you, but that was great. It actually makes you miss you around the office. It’s too bad they make you telecommute.”

“They…make me?”

Medium (NBC) — Another two weeks, another two-parter. Unlike the last two-parter, which was solid until a predictable ending, this one was a masterpiece — possibly the height of Medium’s quality to date. Focusing on Anjelica Huston’s private investigator’s tragic past, with a wonderful subplot in which Joe both gets inspiration and argues with Allison about money for an idea involving solar panel magnification, the two episodes did an exceptional job of building the confusing, dream-contorted mysteries and semi-mundane domestic problems that have become the trademarks of Medium. What’s more — it built a conclusion both shocking and inevitable, but not nearly as predictable as the previous two-parter.

Would this have been as effective without the mysteriousness and, shall we say, brusqueness of Anjelica Huston’s Cynthia Keener? If we knew less about her, it would failed. If they had cast a lesser actress, it also would have failed. But hey, this isn’t just about Huston’s Emmy-worthy work — everyone involved with this show should take a bow. With The Wire out of its way, I’m tempted to call this the best show currently on television. If it’s not that, it’s definitely duking it out with Lost for the top spot.

My Name Is Earl (NBC) — The last time My Name Is Earl did an hourlong episode (“Our Other COPS Is On!”), it was a series low point. Considering the rapid quality decline during this season, I found myself dreading the show’s return.

To my surprise, it was actually pretty funny. The “coma sitcom” stuff was both gimmicky and pointless (practically speaking, the point was: Jason Lee stars as Earl, so putting him in a coma for the entire episode after returning from a six-month hiatus…might disappoint some viewers; creatively, it’s a total waste and a comedy vacuum), but fortunately it didn’t dominate the episode. We spent more time watching Earl’s friends and family react to the coma, providing us more proof than ever that this isn’t just a vehicle for Jason Lee. It boasts one of the finest comic ensembles currently on TV.

The Riches (FX) — The new season’s second episode was wonderfully done — ably using the entire ensemble, performing the usual balancing act between “will they get busted?” suspense and black humor — and now, this week’s return to Eden Falls has settled into last season’s groove. As Wayne tries to balance Hugh’s insanity and Dale’s stupidity with this season’s new “13 million dollar payoff,” he also finds himself dealing with the arrest of Cael. If you recall, last year he and some pals broke into the school’s computer to change grades. This has finally caught up with him, resulting in potential expulsion.

Like The Wire, The Riches’ soap-opera structure makes it difficult to judge individual episodes in terms of quality. This felt like a step back after the season’s first two episodes, but it also started some gears turning on storylines that could carry us through a season or more. Perhaps the biggest revelation is Dale’s misguided attempt to blackmail Wayne; he didn’t come out and say it, but it’s pretty clear that he’s using the hidden body of Pete — the real Doug Rich’s friend — to get what he wants. Is Wayne finally going to have to put Dale away for good? (As annoying as the character can be, I hope not — Todd Stashwick is doing great work in the role.)

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

Adrenaline

Author: Justin Ware
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

An unlucky-in-love geek joins a group devoted to the artificial creation of one-night stands — by forcing women into adrenaline-pumping situations.

Synopsis:

None

Comments:

To start, Adrenaline has a great premise with huge comic possibilities. The dialogue is consistently witty, and the slapstick set-pieces work well conceptually, although some (like the skydiving bit) go on long enough to feel laborious. Fitten and Courtney get just enough development to avoid being clichés. However, it would be nice to see them taken a little further — maybe Courtney isn’t as perfect as she seems or Fitten has more specific sexual frustrations. More importantly, the gang of adrenalists don’t have much depth (including Chip, despite his significance in the story).

What I kept waiting for, from the introduction of the adrenalists on, was an explanation for why all these people have banded together…to get Chip laid. There’s not much indication that the others do more than assist in his conquests. In fact, in the third act it’s revealed that one of them is married and one is divorced. Why did these guys join up? What do they stand to gain? I thought it would head in a direction where Fitten makes the others realize they’re being used, generating conflict and comedy as the teamwork dissolves and each of them tries to manipulate the plays to get the girl for themselves, for their own specific goals (e.g., making an uninterested wife jealous). It would offer more variety than the gags that exist to humiliate Fitten.

A development like that would also solve the problematic third act. In its current state, the surprise reveal forces Courtney to radically shift her personality. It’s impossible to believe someone initially portrayed as intelligent and articulate (and discriminating when it comes to men) would do a 180 into Stupidville, which makes the third act frustrating despite the twist and happy ending. If the conflict, and Chip’s decision to “woo” Courtney, came more from a desire to get rid of Fitten (who has destroyed his team), it could provide a similar surprise ending — in which Fitten fights for Courtney, which makes her soften and fall for him, only to learn this was Chip’s plan all along. This one relies more on the characters we know and care about, and less on believing first that Courtney has turned into an idiot, then that she’d have set up her own elaborate plan to humiliate Chip, which strains credibility.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:16 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

April 1, 2008

Time Well Wasted

Author: Unknown
Genre: Drama
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A teen desperately wants to use a baseball scholarship to escape his small Texas town, but his slowly eroding life may make leaving impossible.

Synopsis:

None

Comments:

The writer does a good job of evoking the setting through the choice of locations, actions, and showing us the characters’ everyday lives. Many interesting films have this slice-of-life feel, but Time Well Wasted misses opportunities. A story with a barebones plot like this needs to rely more on the strength of its characters to reenforce its theme(s). The characters here don’t have much depth, and the bizarre third act muddles the theme.

Letting us know early on how much Gill wants the baseball scholarship (symbolizing his desire to get out of Alba) will help us understand the impact when he risks giving it up for the impregnated Bailey. It’s never made clear what Bailey’s doing in Alba in the first place, which makes it confusing when Gill’s only choices are to stay in Alba with Bailey or ditch her to go to UCLA. We’re told she’s from LA, and there’s a too-subtle implication of a funeral that I guess was supposed to be for Bailey’s parent or parents? This needs to be made much clearer, so we can understand why it’s impossible for Bailey to go with Gill — no family, no friends she can stay with, etc. She’s stuck in Alba.

Many scenes consist of people just hanging around, talking, yet by the end we know very little about these characters. I give the writer credit for not writing on-the-nose dialogue (though it does veer into melodrama in the third act), but there’s not much subtext, either. It’s just people talking, offering a minimum of character depth without providing a window into the true nature of the characters, especially Gill. The negative portrayal of Outcast fans came closest to providing subtext, but it doesn’t tell us much about them other than implying they’re less intelligent or unique than Gill and Bailey.

Until the out-of-nowhere death of Bailey, I was operating under the assumption that the theme here was the inability to escape fate. The pregnancy jeopardizes Gill’s opportunity to flee a small town where he’d rot, setting him on the exact same path as his father, but his problem is solved almost instantly by Bailey’s death. He has a tough to choice to make, but then it’s made for him. What is the writer trying to say with this? Is this still a comment on fate? Maybe if the pregnancy was made a more important part of the story earlier, her death would have more impact and we’d have a clearer idea of why her dying is necessary for the story.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:19 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

April 7, 2008

Perfect Plot

I had trouble sleeping last night for a really dumb reason. It’s been a week since I sent Disappear to the Big-Shot Producer, and somehow reading through other peoples’ work made me realize something:

Disappear had a serious plot hole, and now it was out of my hands, ready to be scrutinized by people who may notice it and not care, notice it and toss it aside, or (if I’m really lucky) not notice it at all. The hole is a basic logic flaw that affects many thrillers and action movies: why do villains go to such elaborate ruses when it’s way easier just to shoot somebody?

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 4:12 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Screenwriting Articles, The Big-Shot Producer, The Writer

April 5, 2008

Nothing Ever Happens

So the second script I read had one unfortunate side effect: very little in the way of plot. It gave me an early Richard Linklater vibe because of the setting and the writer’s penchant for meandering scenes of characters just hanging out. Although he defies many conventions, Linklater’s a master of subtext and conflict. For instance, Dazed and Confused has a very loose plot — seniors want to beat up next year’s freshman class — that sets up the characters and their minor goals over the course of the night (e.g., “beat up a freshman”/”don’t get beaten up”). It has the traditional obstacles and changing goals, but it’s mostly a movie about hanging out. Yet, from the conversations these characters share, everything they say tells us a little something about them. Their attitudes on superficial things like music, acid-induced dreams, fashion — what a person discusses and the way others react to it all tell us things about who they are.

The script I was given had the loose plot and the deliberate (some might say “plodding”) pace of a Linklater film, but it didn’t have much else in common. When the characters talked about buying a keg, all they were talking about…was buying a keg. That’s a problem. Similarly, the characters desires and goals are shielded until, quite literally, just before each goal is altered. (In one case, we don’t know a character wants a scholarship until page 100, and he gets the scholarship on page 102 — ooh, the suspense. In another, the character reveals he’s unwilling to take the scholarship because he knocked up his girlfriend and needs to take care of her. Beyond logic problems I won’t go into, this is another conflict that’s brought up way too late and then resolved almost immediately. In literally the same scene that he mentions it to the love interest, she’s hit by a drunk driver and killed, leaving him to take the scholarship.)

I don’t want to go on and on ranting about this particular script, but I do want to bring up some fundamental tools of drama that this script should have employed but didn’t.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:36 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Screenwriting Articles, The Big-Shot Producer, The Writer

April 3, 2008

The Bead™

Sometimes I read a script that I just can’t figure out. I know it has problems, I can even put my finger on what they are, but I can’t offer up solutions; granted, some people don’t like solutions, but offering solutions while I point out problems has never failed me, and one of the unfortunate side effects of covering so many scripts is that I am, at this point, a better reader than I am a writer. The only way to solve this kind of problem is to figure out what’s causing it, but what happens when I can’t even do that? I know the characters are thin, but why? I walk myself through the story, reminding myself of surprising moments of nuance and subtlety that give the characters depth. Why is it that, at the end, I felt like they were paper-thin? Something went awry.

I can’t pretend to understand how it happens, but when I actually talk out these problems, I figure them out. It’s all in how you’re telling the story. Here’s the story, and here are its flaws. But what if the writer did this, that, or the other? The solutions present themselves, and if you do it right, you can solve every single problem in one fell swoop — and if you’re really good, you can do it without insulting the writer.

You’ve found The Bead™.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 1:33 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Screenwriting Articles, The Writer

April 14, 2008

Television Without Purpose

I don’t visit many Internet message boards anymore because, as I failed to mention the other day, message boards are just too time-consuming, especially if you participate. The few I look at, I don’t read regularly, and I participate even less frequently. But there was a time, when I was working one of my many dead-end jobs and had assloads of time to kill, where I became obsessed with a website called Television Without Pity. For those who aren’t aware (because you have better things to do with your lives than obsess over TV), it’s a site where folks write long, snarky recaps of television shows. At their best, they approximate the experience of watching a show, simulating the things that run through your mind so you can say, “Thank God I’m not the only one who didn’t think a single moment of 24’s fourth season made sense.” At their worst, they descend into rambling, pseudo-intellectual garbage overanalyzing the kind of reality shows most people half-watch as they do laundry or cook dinner.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:45 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Blog Posts, Pop Culture Rants

April 8, 2008

Based on the True Story of Steven Seagal

A few years back, I worked for a well-known tech company that I’ve taken, in writing, to calling Motorama. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist figure out the actual company, but it may take a rocket scientist to think of Googling “Motorama” in search of embittered ex-employees giving fake names to everyone and everything around them. I worked in their super-secret contracts department and, in fact, had to sign a non-disclosure agreement stating I would not discuss any of their state or federal contracts. Consequently, it’s difficult to discuss the screenplay idea it gave me.

I’ll only say this: thanks to loopholes in the contract provisions, I discovered an easy method of embezzling from the company. Well, not easy, but easy enough. With so little oversight, all you really had to do was falsify some invoices, and Motorama would pay out. Because you know what they did with invoices, for accountability purposes? Threw them away. I hope that doesn’t violate the agreement. There’s a more complicated part of the scheme that I won’t discuss, but needless to say it gave me a screenplay idea that never got off the ground. Why? Because there’s no story.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:30 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Blog Posts, The Writer

April 2, 2008

The Co-Op

Things have officially gotten weird with the Big-Shot Producer. I fired off the fourth draft of my confusing conspiracy thiller, Disappear on Monday. I expected the usual month (or two…or three…) of silence, followed by an unenthusiastic “What else you got?” followed by me scrambling to turn one of my demented scripts into something reasonably mainstream. Instead, I received a lengthy response urging me to join some sort of bizarre co-op.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:53 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Blog Posts, The Big-Shot Producer, The Writer

April 15, 2008

Fahrenheit 451: The Book Is Now the Movie!

I’ve loved Ray Bradbury since my misspent youth. In fact, there was a very long period where I’d never actually sit down and read a book unless it was one he wrote. Despite this, I’ve always kinda hated Fahrenheit 451. The ideas and themes, while admirable, don’t justify the plot holes and and overwrought heavy-handedness. I guess my biggest problem, from the first time I read it*, is with the timeline. We’re to believe it takes places approximately 200 years in the future, and it’s strongly implied that the switch over from firemen who put out fires to firemen who burn is in the distant past — so long ago that the idea of firemen putting out fires is little more than a rumor. So, here’s a silly question: why do these people know how to read? If all books are outlawed, why teach them to read?

I’m annoyed that I can’t remember my other complaints, and that even after watching François Truffaut’s 1966 film version, I can’t recall them. Truffaut’s film, which I’ve just seen for the first time, has some key differences from the novel — some better, some worse — but unfortunately, it shares with the book the crappy “why do these people know how to read?” plot hole.

I guess the biggest difference is the incorporation of Clarisse (Julie Christie**) into more of the story. Her actions in the novel replace other characters’, and there’s a whole creepy, added section involving a school where she’s branded as something akin to a traitor after getting fired for (one assumes) her radical ideas. I didn’t hate this change, but I didn’t like it, either. Her mysterious disappearance in the book was effectively creepy, so having her become something of a love interest felt too easy. I seem to recall the character being much younger in the book, and Montag wasn’t in love with her so much as fascinated by the questions she asked. That’s a more interesting dynamic to the relationship than the blasé “Montag thinks she’s hot so he starts reading books.”

Another huge change is the ending, which the film vastly improves. You want goofy, graceless symbolism? Try Bradbury’s novel, where the city he just fled is destroyed before his eyes and Montag starts to remember quotations from the Bible. Subtle, huh? I much preferred the film’s more poetic idea that each of the people in the little reader refugee shantytown has selected a book to commit to memory, thus becoming the books. It’s actually kind of a subtle opposite to Linda’s obsession with her “family” on the television — while Linda strives to become the TV show, these people strive to become the book. It’s a little less obvious than the “ignorant, godless people were too busy watching TV to notice there’s a war going on” ending Bradbury chose.

I know I’m crazy for feeling this way, but I find there’s nothing creepier than an old, outdated glimpse into the future. It makes me think of alternate universes and such — if the ’60s had kept on going, this is what the future would have looked like. Movies like this one, Logan’s Run, even the Mad Max movies, in many ways, wear the period of their making on their sleeves, and it terrifies me even though I enjoy the movies. Much as I hate George Lucas for not letting me own the real trilogy on DVD***, I give him credit for creating a futuristic world that isn’t overwhelmed by garish ’70s-ness. Unlike, say, the Star Wars Holiday Special. I guess maybe I should credit this more to production designer John Barry than to Lucas himself. Fuck Lucas, man! The prequels sucked. Suuuucked.

Okay, I’m getting off-topic here. One other complaint about the film is the remarkable quality and condition of the books everyone keeps reading. It’s nitpicky, I know, but it bugged me to see mostly pristine copies of books getting tossed around in a future world where nobody reads. Where are these books coming from? The book hints at pirate printing presses, which is fine, but would they really bother with hardcover binding and glossy, full-color dust-jackets? Wouldn’t you be more likely to find a bunch of pulpy sheets of paper tied together with some string? Or, if you did find a real book, wouldn’t it be in horrible condition? I had a paperback copy of All the President’s Men from 1975 whose spine split in half the last time I tried to open it; I had to go and get a new copy. So, yeah, it’s a little difficult to believe pristine books would survive into the dystopia.

In the interest of fairness, here’s another switch I like: in the novel, the Captain humiliates Montag in front of a fireman card game to explain, in great detail, about a dream he had in which Montag spouted off book nonsense, and the Captain himself responded to each with quotations from books — thus showing their meaninglessness. In the movie version of this scene, Montag and the Captain are alone, in the attic library of an old woman who looks uncomfortably like Tom Bosley, and the Captain makes similar observations without going on and on with quotations and hypothetical statements from his alleged dream version of Montag.

I’d like to close by pointing out some irony. Bradbury has said repeatedly that the book is not about censorship, fascism, or anything truly political (Truffaut must not have gotten that memo); in fact, he wrote a book about how the then-new medium of television makes people stop caring about literature and would, at some point, make us stop caring about facts altogether. I don’t disagree with the sentiment (you can’t if you’ve watched any cable news channel for more than 30 seconds), but it’s hard not to point out that he personally worked on a TV anthology series, Ray Bradbury Theater, that converted many of his short stories into 30-minute episodes. Is this the pot calling the kettle black, or did he just realize 30 years later that money is awesome?

*Yes, I’ve read it four times, hoping each time that it’d improve with age. It hasn’t, and in fact, the most recent paperback version I read has an essay by Ray Bradbury, written 50 years after the novel’s original publication, that ruins the book even more. At first, I thought, “Finally, I can get some insight from the man himself on why he’d insert all these crazy plot holes when he’s normally such a careful writer.” Instead, he quotes extensively from a stageplay version he also wrote, which opens up yet another plot hole by showing the Captain having an extensive library of books. I guess he’s going after the same idea as the computer in “I Have No Mouth, But I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison: by keeping them around, he can remember why he hates them to begin with. Still, I think he could do that with no more than a dozen. A full library, powerful image that it may be, makes no sense. [Back]

**Christie also plays Montag’s wife, known as Linda in the film (Mildred in the novel). Though it’s an exceptional dual performance, it’s kind of dunderheaded and obvious in terms of symbolism, so put that under the the column of changes I didn’t like. [Back]

***A version of the Star Wars trilogy with the original version intact was released, but it contained comically inferior, low-resolution and low-bitrate versions taken directly from old Laserdisc releases (so the prints were likely sourced from VHS). Waste of money and an embarrassing way to treat a classic movie trilogy. Even more embarrassing than digitally inserting Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen. [Back]

Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:50 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Blog Posts, Reviews

April 12, 2008

Prove It All Night

I mentioned a few days ago that I sometimes lurk around misc.writing.screenplays (actually, now I stick with the moderated group), just to see what’s going on. I don’t have much interest in posting, and it’s easy to check in once a month and read all the worthwhile posts in maybe half an hour. They really don’t talk much about writing except to newbies, which is fine, except when they get distracted by politics, which they do. A lot. It makes it a chore to read unless you just skip those threads. I’m all for political discourse, but I’ve been lurking and (very rarely) posting there since around 2001, and it all comes down to: same shit, different day. It’s reached a point where I can’t figure out why posters allow their buttons to be pushed, or derive pleasure in pushing the buttons of the others, because it’s always the same argument.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:09 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Screenwriting Articles, The Writer

April 11, 2008

Quantum Leap

Tonight, I watched a Quantum Leap rerun that started making me think about the potential for a remake. I’ve heard rumblings of remake attempts in the past that are detailed enough to make me think they at least had one in development at one time, but obviously it’s never come to fruition. It’s one of my favorite shows of all time, but there were always a few elements to “leaping” that went unaddressed. (And yes, being that I loved the show, I fully understand that this was a show with a science-fiction premise that had very little to do with science-fiction. Probably for the best, since the attempts they made to explain things scientifically — most notably in the earlier episodes, and dropped pretty quickly before the end of the second season, then resurrected it when the “Evil Leaper” showed up and tried to ruin the show — were pretty retarded.)

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:31 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Blog Posts, Pop Culture Rants

April 10, 2008

Blown Wad

I felt pretty confident when I sent Disappear to the Big-Shot Producer. Not just because I thought I finally had a solid draft and, because he confessed to never “getting around” to reading what I sent him in June, I dodged the bullet of ruining my chances with that imperfect draft (which I knew had major flaws when I sent it to him; I just didn’t have the time to fix them, hoping instead that he’d saw the raw potential). That was part of the reason, but the main reason was: with semi-frequent harassment, it takes him about six months to read something. From me, anyway. He’s busy with other projects, and at the end of the day I’m nobody. I knew I could send it to him and have a huge window to continue work on new projects, so when I got the inevitable “What else you got?” question, I’d…actually have something.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 3:11 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Blog Posts, The Big-Shot Producer, The Writer

April 17, 2008

Room Service

Poring over* somebody’s screenplay, I’ve realized something: detail is a lost art.

Have you ever read an old-timey screenplay, something from the ’40s or ’50s? The screenplay for Treasure of the Sierra Madre is ridiculously vivid, jammed with visual information and nuance you don’t get in a modern screenplay. I can understand a desire to be concise for the sake of the reader. The most important rule in any kind of writing is to know your audience and cater to them, and the audience for a screenplay is generally “overworked readers who only read the dialogue” and “barely-literate producers who would rather read a two-paragraph synopsis.” However, there’s a big difference between brevity and eliminating necessary details.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:34 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Screenwriting Articles, The Writer

April 26, 2008

Notecard Theory

So for all you non-writers, there’s this theory floating around — mainly but not exclusively in screenwriting circles — that notecards will magically help to improve structure. There are about 90,000 different methods of doing this, but the most useful one I’ve heard works like this: for every given scene, you write down a general description of what happens in the scene, followed by (a) how it fits into the overall story, (b) the characters involved in the scene, (c) their conflicts within the scene, (d) how these conflicts are resolved, and (e) how this scene reenforces the theme. In theory, you should have all the answers and a fully-loaded 3x5 notecard, or you should cut the scene. (Or rewrite it until you can provide all the notecard information.)

Most of the time when I hear the notecard theory, it doesn’t work like that. It’s a much more useless structural idea: you map out the scenes with notecards so that you can shuffle them around. I’ve read lengthy, possibly apocryphal stories (all of them coming from unsold spec writers) explaining how notecards saved their script. One part of the story doesn’t work, so they shuffle one scene from the first act to the third act, and — boom! Citizen Kane 2: Razing Kane. Am I an anomaly for never really having problems with an overarching structure or misplaced scenes?

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 1:50 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Screenwriting Articles, The Writer

April 30, 2008

Getting Burned Out on a Character

In mentioning the notecard theory the other day, I started rambling about a novel I’m in the process of revising and editing. It’s in pretty good shape in a general sense — nothing huge to rewrite — but it had enough flaws that I needed to get organized on it.

I neglected to mention that, until a day or two before that post, the novel had been sitting, lifeless, while I distracted myself with easier (and potentially more lucrative) screenplays about people beating up Nigerian 419 scammers. I spent much of last summer revising it, then I decided, “I need to get on that novel again” and put it up in the little status sidebar, thinking if I let all my shame hang out, I might do something about it.

Well, I am doing something about it, but not because of its shameful flaccidity as it flaps in the wind. I just got burned out on this particular set of characters.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 4:24 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Screenwriting Articles, The Writer