Starting: The OC

I wanted to look at The OC from the beginning because, as a network drama, it runs much longer than most cable series of the day. I was expecting 24 episodes. I guess I just didn’t remember that I had seen all 27 episodes that many times.

Approaching 27 episodes is a tall order, especially in a show about relationships. Sexual tension is great, but it can’t last. It’s the test of the arc theory. Yet somehow, The OC was riveting. They found ways to create tension every six episodes or so in most of the relationships. The more impressive feat is juggling so many characters. The show is easiest to break down when you look at individual characters and their relationships.

First is Ryan. He sees Marissa in episode 1 and that’s all she wrote. But Luke is in the way. Ryan still pushes ahead, but he gets in a little trouble when Marissa catches him with Caleb’s girlfriend. Luke is done in 7 when he’s caught cheating. So now Ryan is back to chasing Marissa, but Julie Cooper gets in the way with the help of the overdose to give emotional motivation. It doesn’t really stop them and they deepen their bond. But Marissa meets Ryan’s lost love Theresa and a crazy pants named Oliver. Oliver puts the strain on the relationship and then back comes Theresa! Fortunately, Theresa gets tossed away for a few episodes because she’s got a fiancee. But then she’s back… and pregnant! This is soap at its finest. Ryan is forced to choose and makes the wrong choice to make you want to scream “HOW DO THEY COME BACK FROM THAT?” and watch season 2.

Seth is the next hero and his story is focused early on Summer. He also has nobody else before her. So you have to throw things in quickly or it’ll be stalkery. Anna. And she’s just like him. But Seth needs a little difference. So jettison Anna and get Summer with Seth. But you still need to reconcile that Seth is finding himself socially and Summer is found. And they lose their virginities to each other to show they’re not so different after all. So they have some new relationship growing pains. But then families get in the way. And Ryan shakes Seth’s world, so he leaves and you’re screaming “HOW DO THEY COME BACK FROM THAT?” again.

Normally, this is enough story for a while, but there were 27 episodes (!!!!). So the parents get involved. Sandy and Kirsten deal with Jimmy, Caleb, Rachel, Julie, and more. Jimmy gets his own stuff with the SEC, Hailey, and more. Julie has Jimmy, Caleb, Luke, and more to deal with. When someone isn’t involved, throw them with someone they haven’t been with and figure out the conflict.

I’ve been working on an idea set in a college that’s inspired by the tone of The OC and I’m nervous I have to explore the relationships of faculty. Greek settled differentiating the storylines with a bit of an upstairs-downstairs dynamic of upper and lower-classmen. I’ll need to find a creative approach to finding other points of view.

Positives:

  • Good Alternatives – Seth and Summer are destined to be together as much as Sandy and whoever that bushy-browed love machine wants are (which happens to be Kirsten), so finding a way to derail that realistically is hard without putting Seth through the pain of seeing her with another guy. That feeling is one that we don’t want to watch because Seth can’t really be active. So give him a really attractive alternative. Not attractive in terms of model looks (although Samaire Armstrong is really pretty), but in terms of compatible personality. It’s real conflict.
  • Casting – I don’t watch the show if Mischa Barton and Rachel Bilson aren’t so attractive. Guy’s perspective. I don’t watch the show if Ben McKenzie and Adam Brody aren’t so dreamy. Girl’s perspective. I’d fuck the shit out of Peter Gallagher. Everyone’s perspective.
  • Jews – Positive Jewish role models in media are not always present despite stereotypes that everyone in Hollywood is Jewish. Seth Cohen made me proud to be a Jew and Chrismukkah is one of the most fun instances of pop culture Judaism in my memory.
  • Over the Topness – A show that plays around like this is allowed to have some crazy stories every once in a while. The cougar seducing her daughter’s ex is a bit played and spectacular, but it works in this show.
  • Constant Flux – The arc theory of 6-8 episodes holds. There is never a calm because there is always a storm somewhere. It just may not be ready to hit. Imagine a car crash. One car was going to the zoo. Fun. The other car was driven by a drunk. Boom. That two emotional reactions and they escalate.

Negatives:

  • Moving Out – I know you can’t just have the actors hanging around all the time because they are expensive, but how many people really move away? Maybe one, but it’s probably not coincidentally the person that needs to go. I’m looking at you, Anna.
  • Jimmy – This guy gets away with too much sleeze.
  • Trey – They recast you for a reason.
  • The mom – She was just annoying. Ugh. I get it. You’re a drunk. Go away.

Lessons:

  • Flux – Never stay stagnant. Always look to throw a wrench in as soon as people achieve equilibrium. But let them reach equilibrium. It’s nice to have good moments.
  • Be Yourself – The show has a voice unlike any other. The universe is one that exists because of tone.
  • Characters – More episodes means more characters. Maybe look to keep 13 in mind and the back 9-11 could have newer, more exploratory arcs. I don’t want to have to get broad if I don’t have to. But maybe that was the point.
  • Legal bullshit – Don’t get bogged down with SEC shit. It’s a mess.

Conflict: A Three Ring Circus

The amazing Juggalo (no relation) comes out to entertain the kids. He shows them three tennis balls. He juggles them easily. He asks a girl in the front row to toss him two more balls. Now he’s juggling 5 balls. Wow. He throws one ball way in the air and throws the other 4 away. Now he has batons. He juggles the batons and then catches the ball in the air and keeps juggling them all. Wow. Now, he’s lit the batons on fire. Juggles again. Now he’s on a unicycle. This guy’s amazing. He goes up 50 ft in the air to unicycle on a tightrope while juggling over a tank of sharks. It’s an amazing feat. Until he falls. And a curtain drops. It seems we’ll have to come back in the fall to find out if he lived or died. Only on Fox.

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Starting: Rectify

This show presented me with a chicken and egg type quandary that I’m still struggling to figure out. The 6 episodes of the first season are each their own entities, but put side by side, they link up to form a novel-like season. Is it a novel broken into 6 episodes or 6 episodes morphing into the Megazord of a novel?

I like Rectify a lot. It’s powerful and thought-provoking, while also really beautiful. Aden Young smolders. But I understand why people think it’s slow. It is slow. To me, that’s because this show wants to explore conflicts, but also just show what it would be like to come back from this on a human level. There isn’t a story that can be told about Daniel not experiencing women for 19 years, but a scene with him jacking off for the first time out is understandable. I’ve never felt so happy to see someone masturbate. Scratch that. Change someone to “a man.” It also has a bit of a 13 going on 30 (19 going on 37?) vibe because a chunk of his life was skipped. That stuff gets played separately from conflicts that drive the story.

I wanted to explore the slowness and I noticed that a lot of times, conflicts were teased, but not paid off until way later. Daniel and Tawny’s relationship was teased in 2, when Tawny and Ted are strained and Tawny and Daniel seem connected. It’s a sure thing again in 4 when she takes him to church, but I was expecting the kiss then. Instead, it’s the most sexually intense hug ever. The attempted kiss comes in 5, which feels late. Then, they don’t explore the consequences on Tawny’s marriage until season 2.

A lot of conflicts are set up right away, with the option to drop in whenever. The trial coming up, the business issues, Ted and Tawny’s marriage, the potential murderer Trey, and prison flashbacks are all introduced in the first episode. How can you do justice to all of those stories while also showing Daniel’s adjustment? You can’t. Here are some set-ups, developments, and when they pay off.

Senator and the trial against Daniel (1) -> continuous, not answered in season 1

Business is in trouble (1) -> Ted learns about the rental plan (4) -> comes back a couple episodes into season 2

Trey and George, witnesses/potential actual killers (1) -> Sheriff visits Trey (4) -> into season 2

Family of Hannah (3) -> Attack (6)

Melvin the turtle guy (3) -> Visits in the hospital with chocolate turtle (1 or 2 of season 2)

Wendell bashes his face (5) -> Daniel bashes his face (a couple into season 2)

Coffee up the butt (5-6) -> episode 4-ish of season 2

A lot of set-ups that are not paid off until way later. This makes it boring or just hard to remember. The times they get it right are interesting. It’s usually when something is set up and paid off in the same episode. Or the set-up is a development of a pay-off from before. The need for intimacy show by the hug pays off with sex with a woman at the end of 4. Setting up the baptism in 4 makes it a conflict whether or not he goes in 5. It also hints at a climax because events are climactic. Bobby Dean is introduced at the start of 6, although you know what he’s about from before. By the end of 6, it’s time for him to become the villain.

Positives:

Present – Other than the flashbacks to prison, we never get to see the past. This isn’t a show about what happened. It’s about what happens next. You can have that, Sundance marketing department.

Daniel’s Monologues – Daniel doesn’t speak much, so you better listen when he does. My favorite of his monologues was when he goes to Amantha’s and John opens the door. The speech about not even thinking that was a possibility is a look into the mind of someone coming back and it’s fascinating.

Coming Home – The show takes breaks from the conflict to just show Daniel and it’s gripping. They don’t overuse it because it can be boring, but Daniel playing Sonic or Daniel taking in Walmart are what the show is made of.

Pick Up Where You Left Off – There is a certain cohesion that comes from episodes starting exactly where the last one left. It helps to keep you oriented and it can make for interesting transitions, like in this. I might have noticed this more because I watched on Netflix, so I didn’t have to wait for episodes, but it felt good. The best of these is between 2 and 3. 2 ends with Daniel tugging it and Amantha creepily listening. 3 rejoins Daniel in the morning, where his jumping on the bed confuses a still-creepin’ Amantha. Hilarious.

Levity – The scene after Ted Jr. is coffee raped is hilarious. The whole coffee rape story is pretty funny, especially in season 2. When he sees his dad making coffee, he says something about how it’s time to buy new coffee because the stuff they have is bad. That’s just funny stuff. In a show so slow and heavy, you need to have some humor.

Negatives:

Take Time – Audiences are smart. They pick up what you’re putting down. If you put something down in an episode, audiences will start to see where you’re going. Don’t let them get ahead of you. This covers a lot

Trey – Trey is sketchy, but we know very little about him other than that. It’s kind of clear that he’s the other suspect for Hannah’s death. NOTHING happens with him in season 1. That’s a problem.

Holding It In – When something pisses you off, you can only stew so long before you have to let it out. Ted not confronting his coffee butt is excruciating.

Pacing – I want to scream at the TV sometimes and yell “Do something!”

Lessons:

Slow – You don’t have to chug along, but you can’t leave things hanging. Setting things up makes things easy for you to write, but too many makes it hard for viewers to follow. This show is the writers’ main focus. They know the ins and outs. Fans have lots of other shit to watch.

Don’t You (…) Forget About Me – Jared is such a weird character. Sometimes, I completely forget he exists. What up, Rectify?

Climaxes – Events (i.e. the baptism) are climactic. You can take time to lead up to the action by prodding the characters, which leads to fireworks at the payoff.

Binge Friendly – Making a show with the intention of people watching more than one at a time is silly because people just don’t have that much time in their lives and there are so many other shows. That said, once it does reach Netflix, heavier serialization will be rewarded by the binge experience. I’d even say the same for Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Breaking it up isn’t just to make it easier to digest. It makes you save some for later so you’re not a fat fatty.

Names – Amantha blows. Seniors and Juniors are tough to follow when you don’t always say it after the name every time.

Things I Would Like To See:

  • Rectify: Jewish Edition
  • What happened 19 years ago!!!!

Starting: Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is very different than a lot of comedies because it carries a serialized story throughout the first season that mines incredible laughs. You could say other premium cable comedies like Californication are serialized too, but none commit to being full-on sitcoms. That’s why I loved the 8 episodes from Mike Judge so much. They all work together and they’re hilariously funny. I wanted to know how that’s done.

The theme of the season is believing in yourself. It’s pretty cheesy, but the nebbish Richard in the pilot chooses to believe in himself by going with Peter Gregory and the slightly less nebbish Richard of the finale steps up to take the stage. The show is Richard’s, so it’s only natural that the theme is reflected through him.

The main plot of the show is starting a business and the season progresses with natural start-up issues taking up each episode. Here’s how to start a tech company in Silicon Valley:

1. Come up with a great idea and secure funding to help bring it to the next level.

2. Come up with a business plan and divide ownership of the company.

3. Come up with a great name.

4. Figure out what the company does beyond the initial great idea and establish a board.

5. Take the business to a show like Tech Crunch for publicity, create a logo, and establish a company culture.

6. Troubleshoot any additional issues with the product. Bring in outside help, if needed.

7. Bring out your product to the public.

8. Make sure your product launches as the best on the market and get ready to launch.

Positives:

  • A Story – The list above is basically tracking the A story across the season and it all flows naturally as a progression from the one before. All of the A stories are about starting the business, so the whole season is cohesive. It probably also makes it easier to come up with stories because you can brainstorm steps to starting a business and then just plug in your characters and comedy.
  • B Stories – The B stories of the show aren’t ever really involved with the A story. They don’t really matter to anything in the end. However, they’re hilarious ways to explore the personalities of certain characters. I’m talking about Peter Gregory’s Burger King, sesame seed dilemma, Jared’s trip in the self-driving car, or Gilfoyle convincing Dinesh and Ehrlich that his girlfriend wanted to sleep with Dinesh. They don’t matter to the business at all, but they are fun explorations of the characters that don’t take long because they only get a piece of a 30 minute episode. This would be tough to do in a 60 minute show because it would either distract or get stretched out too long over the episode.
  • Characters – Every character has a distinct, unique point-of-view and there are a lot of characters. Giving them all their deserved weight is incredibly difficult.
  • Casting – This is not about the writing, but the show is a comedy and the cast is all comedians that can act well. That’s a good move.
  • Ehrlich and Jared – When Jared enters the fold, it would have been boring to just let him in. The writers take advantage of an opportunity to tell a story and stick Ehrlich in the way as an antagonist. He’s a dick in his nature, so he can be the dick in the show. When necessary, because Jared actually belongs there, Ehrlich pulls back. In improv terms, he’s resting the game. It does well because you can play it again later.

Negatives:

  • The Carver – When you look at the progression, this just seems like filler. It’s not that figuring out the cloud part is less important than naming the company, but the issue is presented in a way that seems to just bridge to Tech Crunch. Maybe they could have been fighting outside help earlier in the season. I’m not sure.
  • Advertising – This is also not the writers’ fault, but the show was advertised poorly in respect to Big Head’s narrative. Josh Brener was a part of the team in the pilot and Zach Woods was not, but it was Zach and not Josh on every billboard. I kept asking the question “What is he doing here?”, which ends up being the reason he leaves in the show.

Lessons:

  • How to Stay Cohesive – Coming up with a concept for the season can help narrow down story concepts to form a progressing narrative. Starting a business is the engine that drives the story in all 8 episodes.
  • Short Digressions – When your A story is serialized, your B story can be episodic if it’s good enough (whatever that means).
  • (S)ABC ((Still) Always Be Conflicting) – Jared can’t just join the team. Someone has to get in the way. Richard can’t start the company without having a competitor. Enter Nucleus. Nothing comes easy. Or else we’d be watching porn.

Arc Theory:

Season – 8 episodes

Who are we? – 4 episodes

Tech Crunch – 4 episodes

The World’s Greatest Scientific Paper About a Dick Joke:

If you haven’t seen this, you should at least take a look. Ehrlich knows how long it would take to jerk every man off in the room and Vinith Misra proved it.

Starting: The Walking Dead

The first season of The Walking Dead is a delightfully compact story that flows perfectly and does great work to kick off the series. Unlike most American seasons, it is only 6 episodes long. This gives a lot of advantages to the writers, which they used. 6-8 episodes seems to be the length that audiences can stand a singular arc. I’ll explore this hypothesis more in future posts.

The theme of season 1 is safety through togetherness. It’s all about finding family, which can be both literal and figurative. Here’s a simplified look at the story of season 1:

1. Rick wakes up alone -> Family and safety might be in Atlanta -> They most certainly aren’t

2. Rick and gang need to get out of Atlanta at any cost -> The cost is Merle

3. Daryl wants to go back for Merle -> Probably a bad idea to send protectors back -> Guns could help -> Go to find Merle, but he’s gone

4. At least there are still guns -> But the guns aren’t coming easily -> Well… they actually are -> But the bad idea bites them in the ass

5. Regroup and come up with Plan B/CDC -> Argue over Plan B/CDC -> Go with Plan B/CDC

6. CDC may be hope -> It is not, there is no hope -> Life is hope

Positives:

  • Nothing comes easy – The biggest example that comes to mind is the guns. When Rick and gang go for the guns that they left in the street, you’re thinking that they’re going to face walkers to get them. Then, the Vatos show up. It’s unexpected and a big problem right away. The excitement is exactly what you want.
  • Pilot – Ooh baby this is a fun one. The intro is pretty much just Rick for 20 minutes, but it’s riveting. Information is introduced as needed, which allows the show to stay active.
  • Flow – Each episode builds off the one before it. The consequences of a solution become the conflict of the next episode. Leaving Merle on the roof becomes the catalyst for a wild journey. They are forced to leave the camp, which is a planted problem, to go back. Of course there are new problems there to get through. And once you get back, you have to deal with the shit that you set yourself up for, which is an attack on an unprotected camp. The attack spurs finding help for Jim and the rest, which leads to the CDC for the finale.
  • Nobody is safe – The body count is much higher here, likely because they don’t have to pay much for anyone on a 6 episode season. Even a strong supporting character in the group could be offed at a lower rate than in future seasons. The original group obviously needed to be shrunk to establish both the danger and the core cast that we care about.
  • Movement – This is a bit redundant, but the short season allows for constant movement. Things progress quickly and don’t need to be drawn out. It makes the pace of the season more to my liking.

Negatives:

  • Episode 5 – This is really the only thing I could think of that I really didn’t like. It’s an episode where the movement kind of stops. There is a lot of recovering from the events of the previous episode and it hurts the push. The CDC conflict is presented, but the argument is all talk. Without action, it becomes boring.

Lessons:

  • ABC (Always Be Conflicting) – Whenever somebody needs something, put something in the way of them getting it. And then another thing. And make those things seem impossible to overcome until the hero overcomes them.
  • Fake Left, Drive Right – When you hint at a problem, the audience will pick up on it. Use that to your advantage. The gun bag was surrounded by walkers, so the easy story is that they have to face walkers to get the guns. It’s definitely a conflict, but it’s expected. Instead, the Vatos show up. Who saw that coming? Nobody. That’s who.
  • Lick Your Wounds – Don’t dwell on the aftermath of an event unless you’re showing what conflicts the aftermath caused.

A Bad Haiku:

Rick and the walkers

Sitting in a tree. K-I-

L-L-I-N-G