New Year’s Steve

Author: Craig A. Schwartz & Sylvia Mulholland
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 4
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




An irresponsible slob is forced to keep all his New Year’s resolutions, no matter what.


STEVE SHERMAN is a flawed man with a life that needs work: he owns a decrepit small-town bar, a girlfriend who thinks he (and as a result, the relationship) isn’t moving forward because he’s a serial liar and promise-breaker, he loses far too much gambling, and he is estranged from his priest brother. He has a few good things on the horizon — he intends to propose to CAROL, his girlfriend of five years, as soon as he pays for the engagement ring, and he plans to sell his bar to a family restaurant franchise called SteaknStein’s. However, Steve makes a series of New Year’s resolutions to help improve his life: stop smoking, drinking, gambling, eating junk food; he also needs to exercise more, fix up his bar so it’s more attractive to SteaknStein’s, and (as a promise to Carol) make amends with his brother, AL. He even makes a couple of joke resolutions, like getting a “girlie-man makeover,” “punching out BOB BRYERSON” (the corrupt mayor and Carol’s ex), and “hooking up with ELVIRA” (an employee at Steve’s bar).

Steve plans to finally pay off the ring and propose to Carol at his bar’s New Year’s Eve party — their fifth anniversary of being a couple — and Carol finds the ring receipt in her pocket. She’s expecting it, but Steve has to use the money to pay off more gambling debts. When he doesn’t propose — after promising a big announcement — Carol is furious. They get into an argument, and she announces her intention to leave him, and the small town of Resolution. On top of this, the owner of the SteaknStein’s chain feels Steve’s bar is quite a bit too seedy for a family restaurant. Around the stroke of midnight, Steve has an encounter with a mysterious OLD MAN, who says some vague and odd things about Steve keeping his resolutions. The following morning, Steve finds he has to keep them all. He tries to smoke a cigarette, but various forces of nature prevent him. It reaches a boiling point when he accidentally causes a gas explosion in his apartment attempting to light a match. He finds the same problem trying to drink, culminating in one of his employees taking all of Steve’s liquor from the bar as payment for his work. He can’t get junk food, Elvira is practically throwing herself at him, he can’t even drive because that prevents him from getting more exercise — and all of this is distracting him from patching things up with Carol, who’s angry with him.

Finally things start going his way when he discovers a loophole in his resolution not to gamble — gambling is based on an uncertain outcome, but if Steve bets on something with the certainty that he’ll win, he does. He wins enough to pay the jeweler for the engagement ring, then continues betting. This gets the attention of the mobsters who own the casino, but Steve even gets out of that by betting them that he can get out of the casino unharmed. On his way out, Steve bumps in to Bob Bryerson and has to try very hard not to punch him out. He fails, which lands him in jail and prompts Bob to have Steve’s liquor license revoked. With the extra time, Steve uses his portable tape recorder — on which he has recorded all of his resolutions — to put together his resolutions coming true, so he can plan ahead and see what’s still on the list. Steve is released when his brother posts the bail. Steve immediately goes to see Carol, who’s already moving out of her apartment. She won’t change her mind — she’s accepted a job out of town and is going to take it. Steve returns the ring to the jeweler. Steve goes to see his brother, and they rehash their years-old argument. Steve goes to get a makeover, then goes to see Bob Bryerson. The receptionist confuses Steve for a state health inspector and leads him before City Councilman, where he pleads his case to keep his bar open. It works. The Steaknstein’s owner has arrived again, wanting to “party” with Steve, who tells him off. Just then, Al and the church choir show up to do emergency renovations. The Steaknstein’s owner approves of the passion and tells Steve to call him when renovations are complete. Steve and Al make up.

Steve finally convinces Carol to see him. He takes her to dinner at his bar, where Al has decorated to create the illusion it’s New Year’s eve again. She’s pleased, everything seems okay, but just as he’s about to propose, Carol says she’s still leaving. Plus, there’s one more resolution to deal with — once Steve has kept his resolutions, he will be “the biggest thign anyone’s ever seen,” and he literally starts to grow, destroying the renovated bar, terrifying everyone, until a wino exclaims that Steve’s the biggest thing he’s seen, at which point Steve shrinks back down to size. As Carol’s in a cab on her way out of town, Steve rushes to the church to ring the bells, which haven’t rung since they met. This finally gets Carol to relent — she agrees to marry Steve and stay in town.


Starting out, there’s some good stuff. Steve’s problems, and his resolutions to fix them, are set up pretty well. The introduction of other characters, and all their problems with Steve, are established nicely, with brisk pacing and tight, witty dialogue. The first sign of trouble comes with the Old Timer, the one who (it appears) has “cursed” Steve to keep his New Year’s resolutions. It’s a device that just doesn’t seem to have been thought through. Who he is — guardian angel, God, demon, wizard, whatever — isn’t quite so important as why he’s so interested in Steve. Why is Steve so special? This isn’t really a question worth answering, so why raise it? Why does there have to be some real, cosmic implications that he’s been “cursed” or something? The authors do a pretty good job of bringing real-world practicalities (such as Steve’s favorite fast-food joint being closed by the Health Department) to illustrate the “curse” preventing Steve from breaking his resolutions, so couldn’t it all just be coincidental? Steve, perhaps, sincerely believes someone — or something — has “cursed” him, but it’s left as a question — coincidence, curse, or fate?

Steve’s character arc needs a bit of work. Right now, the major beats of his character are pre-resolutions, frantically attempting to circumvent the “curse,” and finally accepting that he can’t break the resolutions and it’s probably for the best. Shouldn’t he already know this? He made the resolutions to begin with. Most of the people Steve interacts with would probably be better off if Steve had never been born, a flip on It’s a Wonderful Life that probably has some comic potential. Here you have a guy who’s slowly ruining his own life, as well as the lives of everybody around him. The script has an “all about Steve” mentality that makes sense because he’s the main character, but it doesn’t spend much time considering how Steve is destroying other people’s lives. It might be interesting to use this anti-Wonderful Life parallel to shape both Steve’s character and give all the supporting characters a little more usefulness. Nobody really seems to like him — including his longtime girlfriend — so maybe his big change should be less about accepting the resolutions and more about realizing he can use these resolutions not just to make his life better, but to make everyone’s life better. Carol, Al, Diamond Jim, Elvira, Bill, Pinky — these characters should go from loathing to loving him, and conversely Steve should go from being the self-absorbed jerk he’s portrayed as through most of the script to somebody who, by bettering himself, realizes he can use the new Steve to better things for everyone. The idea of this is already here (he wants the Steaknstein’s buyout to provide a better life for himself and Carol), but it’s still mainly about Steve, instead of Steve and the assorted cast of locals.

Finally, it’s obvious from the gags with the smoking and drinking that something is preventing Steve from breaking his resolutions — does he need to listen to the tape after every instance to remind himself and the audience about his resolutions? This takes up far too much time to explain and reexplain something that’s already clear. It also loses logic. We already know he’s figured out what’s going on when he manipulates the gambling resolution, but when he’s in jail he acts like he’s just figured it out. If the scenes about him figuring it out are omitted, and more emphasis is placed on Steve wanting to anticipate other resolutions he has to keep, the story will make a lot more sense.

Posted by D. B. Bates on August 20, 2006 2:13 PM