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.

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!!!!

Back For Seconds: The Walking Dead

The main theme in season 2 of The Walking Dead is dissent from within. The first season explored the walkers as the antagonist, but they are always going to do the same thing: try to eat people. It gets old after a while. Or 6 episodes. Season 2 is what happens when two sides have fundamental differences about how to survive, represented by a hero and villain, Rick and Shane.

From the first episode of the second season to the last, Shane is the thorn in Rick’s side. Here’s how the season plays out.

1. Lose Sophia -> Go to search -> Carl is shot while searching

2. Carl needs a respirator -> Rick can’t leave -> Shane must step up

3. Shane saves Carl -> At the cost of Otis

4. Hershel wants them to leave once they find Sophia -> Need supplies -> Lori is pregnant

5. Daryl is injured while searching and then shot by Andrea -> Glenn finds the barn

6. Dale pleads with Hershel to stay to no avail -> Lori realizes they’re not safe -> She tries to kill the baby and Rick finds out

7. The group learns that they are not safe because of the barn -> Shane loses it -> Barn emptied -> Sophia is there

8. Hershel gets drunk and disappears right when Beth gets sick -> Glenn and Rick get him -> Kill strangers to protect barn

9. Strangers friends attack -> Randall injured and left behind -> They save Randall, Shane is mad -> Lori warns of Shane

10. Rick asserts himself over Shane -> Shane fights back -> Rick wins the battle, not the war

11. Must decide Randall’s fate -> Carl spares a walker -> Randall must die -> Can’t kill him in front of Carl -> Dale dies

12. Shane decides to take out Rick -> Rick takes out Shane

13. Regroup -> Rick re-exerts his leadership

Positives:

  • Shane always has a point – Despite the fact that he’s wrong, Shane is presented as a legitimate counterpoint to Rick. He is always looking out for safety, even if that means losing humanity.
  • Second Half – The opening of the barn is a great catalyst for the back half of the season, just as leaving Merle was for season 1. The consequences force Hershel to the bar, where they get Randall, who becomes a huge piece in the Rick/Shane fight. The story rises in intensity with each episode and culminates with a fantastic, although greatly overdue, climax: Rick ending Shane.
  • Shane dies – Once Shane killed Otis, you knew he needed to go. It takes forever, but the dude was no good.

Negatives:

  • Slow pace – The first couple episodes are alright. Sophia is the catalyst that led to Carl getting shot, which leads to the farm and problems there. The problem is that everything stops there. Things happen, but it all seems like treading water, as Sophia is not closer to being found and Lori’s pregnancy is not urgent.
  • Filler – The Glenn and Maggie story and the Andrea and Dale story are cool and all, but they really feel like digressions. Glenn and Maggie happens way too quickly and without context, while Andrea and Dale are just posturing about issues of free choice. It’s highly passive, instead of active.
  • No results – Sophia is lost in episode 1 and found in episode 7. The thought of trying to maintain interest in that is daunting. How many ways can you spin it before it’s stale. The answer is clearly not 6. Other issues are just the amount of time until issues are resolved. We know Lori is pregnant in episode 4. The first thing we want to see is a confrontation with her and Shane/Rick. That stays buried until 6. Don’t tease me like that.
  • One note – If the season is Shane v. Rick, you have to understand that the root of the problem is Lori and Carl. Every fight becomes a reflection of each man trying to be the father and husband, but it’s the same fight over and over. Nobody will change, so watching it repeat is boring. That’s why I wanted Shane dead much earlier.
  • Romance – Glenn and Maggie are meant for each other right when they meet. It’s pretty sweet. Unfortunately, it’s not due to the writing. They get a couple of scenes together, but the heavy lifting is done by furtive glances and clever editing. I guess you don’t NEED to see them fall in love. Although, it feels pretty important.

Lessons:

  • Actions Have Consequences – This is just always true. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Finding a way to chain these makes for interesting story.
  • Say It, Do It – If you present something interesting, you better give it what it deserves. Don’t tell me Lori is pregnant and then run away.
  • Urgency – Problems don’t seem so bad if you don’t have to deal with them today. I like to procrastinate. So do characters.
  • Escalate – The back half shows a great escalation of Rick and Shane’s tension. Hershel’s barn and Randall’s life are two major conflict points that ramp up the relationship to the point where someone had to die.
  • Wrap It Up – Don’t leave an open story like missing Sophia. It doesn’t take long for it to not be interesting. I was with Shane. Give up on the girl. She was gone.
  • Things Have To Happen – You’d think that wouldn’t need to be said.

Arc Theory:

Farm Arc – 7 episodes

Randall Arc – 6 episodes

A Messy Analogy That Explains It All:

Imagine Season 2 Shane is Robin Thicke. He came out with “Blurred Lines” and it was valuable to music (episode 1). You wanted to listen to the acoustic cover (episode 2). You needed to listen to it again (episode 3). You listen to the remix (episode 4). Then, he’s still pushing it and you realize it’s actually a pretty offensive song (episodes 5 and 6). Finally, he goes head to head with “Get Lucky” for the Grammy (episode 7). “Get Lucky” wins, so Robin pulls a Kanye and storms the stage to say that “Blurred Lines” is way better than “Get Lucky”. Most people agree, but it was still a dick move to steal the mic from T-Swift, who was accepting the award on Pharrell’s behalf.

So then “Blurred Lines” tries to make a comeback tour. Robin still thinks it’s a better song (8-11). Finally, he tries to get you on board with a big live performance, but you don’t buy a ticket because you’re done with it. You have to kill it. And then Weird Carl shoots it in the head to make sure it never comes back.

On The Fly: Tyrant – Season 1, Episode 10 – “Gone Fishing”

I used to admire my sister for her ability to predict story beats and dialogue of episodes of The OC while we watched it. I thought she had some sort of power of premonition. As I’ve started writing, I’ve realized I could start doing the same. No, I haven’t developed latent powers. I just want to create the story along with the writers.

That was a long way to get to Tyrant, which I thought had one big positive and one big negative in the latest episode. I wasn’t planning on writing about single episodes to keep the blog free of active spoilers, but I’m just going to assume you’ve seen the episode if you’re reading the thing about it. If not, SPOILERS.

Positive:

The Coup – The show has been building to this coup for a while and it seemed like everything was ready for Bassam to take his place as the new candidate and interim president. But that’s too easy. Instead, everything has to get turned on its head by…

Uncle Tariq – Rule for TV: If you don’t see someone die, they will come back, especially if you don’t like them (Fuck you, Jimmy/Steve. You know who you are.). When Jamal spared his uncle, I was all “kill that old motha fucka” because Tariq is a bad, bad guy. But you can’t just kill the bad guy. And when you don’t kill him, it bites you in the ass. Although, I can’t help wondering how Jamal thinks he can take Tariq back after blowing up his plane of elites in front of him. *wink* That wink is supposed to mean that I think that’s coming soon to a Tyrant near you.

Negative:

Emma – This is so close to being a positive. It’s been set up for a while. The family is not safe as long as they are in the country. That is a well-crafted conflict that has made the show interesting. They need to get on that plane. So, something has to stop them from getting on the plane. One of the kids getting held up is a good start, but that’s where I feel like we got short-changed. The writers backed off the gas by letting Tucker find her again, which was too easy. I thought as soon as they left that someone would kidnap them. Especially when she’s name-dropping Al-Fayeed all over the street. Imagine how much more suspense the finale would have if Bassam was sentenced to death, Molly and the son are trapped in the embassy, and Emma and the aunt are with enemies of the family. The writers probably talked about that path, but decided against it. There could be problems with their plan for the future if she’s kidnapped. I just think it’s a realistic way to make the finale pop more.

What’s Your Abbudin Name?:

Barry goes home to become Bassam. If you went home to Abbudin, what would your name be? I’m Hamit (aka Hank).

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