Search

Steve Makes It Up

Home of 'Nichecore' screenwriting

QATAR SOLO! – Moonbase 2029 – Week 2

Greetings readers! Steve reporting from moonbase 2029 here (an ambitious goal, a base on the moon by 2029? I know, but if Pumpkin-McLadygrab can become president with fewer votes than his opponent then anything is possible…)

“Don’t mess with us Steve” I imagine I hear you all saying. ( “You’re in Qatar, not on the moon. It even says so in the blog title.”) Sure, ‘MOON SOLO’ doesn’t carry the same wicked connotations of Edward Van Halen on the six strings, but I have an explanation. I always have an explanation.

eddie van halen
I refer the jury to exhibit E, an image of Dr. Van Halen at work…

I’ve come to the conclusion that the writer’s on our lovely project out here are the perfect case study for living on a future moonbase/space station. Forget those wacky Russian’s in Siberia training in a replica space capsule for a roundtrip to Mars. Writing on a Qatari TV show is a true experience in environmental isolation and long distance travel.

“S’plain how!” You demand. Okay, but why so aggressive? You can just ask nicely. There are several days every week where I never leave the safe, climate controlled confines of Moonbase Wyndham. The environmental conditions are simply too extreme outside to permit it. I would melt faster than a chocolate you forgot in the front pocket of your new white pants.

wyndham pool
Atrociously harsh conditions.

IF I do dare venture outside, it must be done either in excursions short enough to be supported by a severe change in wardrobe (Eddie Bauer wicking travel shirts? Buy stock. Immediately) or in the Uber or Taxi class travel pods which are readily available. There are no locations nearby that are suitable to visit without the technological support of a fully equipped environment suit, so if you want to leave the confines of moonbase Wyndham you are only heading to OTHER artificial environments with appropriate climate controls (and ample shopping.)

avatar mall
True pioneers are prepared to make do with only the barest of resources.

As lovely an experience as this all is, for a simple man from Earth who considers anything within an hours range on foot ‘walking distance’ it is quite a shock to the system. I see the my headphones sitting there, wondering why I keep them locked away in the safe all day. “What did we do to you?” They plead in the tinny voice that headphones have. “Why have you forsaken us? Are our lows not deep enough, our hi-hats not crisp enough?”

headphones
Truly a walkers best friend.

Seriously, BEST (reasonably affordable) HEADPHONES EVER.

No headphones; I love you like I love my wife, my dog, usually my cat and last but of course not least, the ‘Trek. But there is so little opportunity for me to use you here because it is physically not possible to pack enough shirts to wear on a long enough walk where your beautiful tones will be useful. (Note: distances here are measured in how many shirts I will sweat through to reach a desired destination. Headphones are really only applicable to a minimum two shirt walk, and once you get into any really suitable distance – say a four shirt walk, you’re just packing too much cotton fibre with you for the exertion to enjoyment ratio to balance out. MATH!)

Apparently when the Earth tilts just a *tiny* bit more to the north, the unending, blaring heat of the savage day-star will abate enough to permit travel outside in the three-to-five shirt radius, but we are not there yet, and I am skeptical at best.

So inside we sit, and inside we stay. The spa here is wonderful, (wait, a spa? With a sauna? Yes. For some bizarre reason I choose to stay inside sheltered from the heat yet spend some of my time sealed in a little wooden box that gets infinitely hotter – actually reality is it probably gets JUST as hot as outside – and sweat for fun. Explanation? I have none.)

tiny sauna
Here at the Angsana spa, you don’t have to go outsdoors. You can trap yourself in a tiny replication of it!

…and I haven’t yet tired of the expansive breakfast buffet – shout out to Jamal and Mary Jane – Holla! – the lovely foreign workers who seem to run the buffet, at least everytime I’m down there. I’m sure they read my blog. Who doesn’t?

Nobody asks you, people who don’t read my blog.

We pass the day arguing about how a team of fictional characters would go about joining a terrorist cell (“Dude, I get the impression you have NO CLUE how to go about joining ISIS. Maybe you should go read twitter and we can reconvene when you’ve had some experience!” – Not a REAL conversation we’ve had, yet… But close.) and discussing which North American food chain we should hit up for dinner. We watch Game of Thrones for examples on how to keep a multi-layered story full of characters whose names we can never keep straight progressing forward, and we make each other watch movies that one person loves and the others have never seen.

Made my compatriots watch ‘Human Traffic’ last night.

human traffic
Yeah the quotes are in French. Gotta respect both official languages…

I presented it as a glimpse into a period of my life from 19-24 that had a huge effect shaping the person I would become. After watching it I regretted exposing them to such wanton hedonism and actually feared somewhat for my own soul. I still LOVE the damn film, but man does it not-really-go-anwhere. One of those films that’s more experience than cinematic masterpiece. I digress…

That soundtrack though…

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, moonbases and shit. Today we ventured off-base to fulfill a screenwriting stereotype; writing on laptops in a Starbucks. It was a welcome change of pace mostly, but I’m a little weary of the folks around us wondering what the hell was wrong with the white people who seemed to be arguing real hard about just how you would leverage making someone dig their own grave as a form of interrogation. But these are the kinds of things you need to make believable if you want viewers to come back week after week to watch your show. Accuracy in interrogation and torture. If you can’t get it right, what’s the point?

dig own grave
See? We’ve obviously failed ‘cuz he’s enjoying this too much.

Saw a film in theatre’s here earlier this (last?) week – truth is I can barely remember what day it is anymore and I have several devices literally connected to satellites, atomic clocks and calendars to tell exactly what time it is. We saw ‘IT’ in a local megamall, and I can definitely say its worth seeing, all 90% of it that we witnessed. No, we didn’t walk out because we were scared (we all agreed that was our story and we’ll take the truth to our graves) but it was pretty obvious that the film had been ‘edited for content’ based on cultural sensitivities..

It’s been explained to me that Qatar itself doesn’t censor movies and TV, however they do not have their own distribution infrastructure so all of the media they receive comes from other sources in the surrounding territories, and I’m not sure if everyone is aware, but some countries in this neck of the globe have some curious ideas about what is acceptable viewing and what is not. **SPOILERS KIND OF** A seven year old kid having his arm bit off by a demon clown? Sounds good. Two fourteen year old kids kissing? UNACCEPTABLE! Also, apparenlty there was a Jewish kid in this movie. If anyone can tell me what his story was it would be appreciated, because he was essentially removed entirely from what we saw. Child murder = still fine. Jewish kid = not existant. Yeah I know there are some places over here that equate those two things, but to quote the eloquent ‘Million Ants’..

million ants
“Hey, you do you. I’m not touching this.”

The concensus is we’re not sure we’re going to spent more money on seeing movies in the theatre until we return. The edits were so obvious and jarring it made us wonder if locals actually knew EXACTLY what missing, and had become skilled at filling in the blanks themselves. “Hey, there’s a giant rocket ship shaped hole cut out in that thing. I wonder if I’m missing a slice of pie?”

To all those executives/directors/layman who think that screenwriting is a cinch because anyone can do it – HAHAHHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH! You fools. Not to type about how awesome I am, but I can say with 100% certainty that screen/teleplay writing is MOST DEFINITELY harder than brain science/rocket surgery, climbing Everest and passing a kidney stone all at once. (Note: not currently prepared to test my certainly not inaccurate claims.) I don’t know how sitting or walking around a room for eight-ten hours a day, thinking up wicked cool things to say and do, and then writing them down can be so perpetually exhausting, but it is. I’m running off a costant drip of adrenaline and utter fear-of-failure as we speak, punctuated by brief moments of hallucination and psychedelic lucidity.

psy brown
Marty! I dreamt I saw Denny Crane kicking me in the face and I fell into a pool of lava while John Laroquette watched!

I had a dream the other night that I was back at home, and the fact that I didn’t remember getting there was because I’d had a stroke and suffered brain damage. My subconscious is finding new and innovative ways to seriously fuck with me because until I woke there was NOTHING in the dream that the stroke couldn’t explain away, to betray I was dreaming. It’s hard to get used to the idea of living your life with nothing making sense, and then waking up again only to find that things only make so-so sense. Like I’d been playing ‘ROY’ too long and no one bothered to to tell me Blips & Chitz had closed for renovations.

roy the game
I got my high score by burning down the carpet store for the insurance money.

Needless to say this extended experiment in creative isolation is both taking a toll and inspiring me to new heights. For those who were there for the read, they’ll be happy to know I’ve entered ‘Diesel Wars’ into two pilot competitions, TWO!, so within the next several months I should be a pretty big deal because I mean seriously, two competitions? C’mon that’s practically a lock. In between fits of blending arabic mysticism with cutting edge Sci-Fi I’m finding time to read some work and sort out my own, so there’s always an up side even when things seem a little rough.

More reports from moonbase 2029 to follow in the near future. Until then keep watching the SKIII’S!

skis in space

Google has never let me down.

Advertisements

Qatar Solo! – The First Week

Is HAWT. Oh gods is HAWT. How hot is it? today was 37, but that doesn’t factor for 100% humidity. So it feels like 50 degrees. (I’m able to convert most things into ‘American’ for my American co-workers out here, but when it comes to degrees I just refuse. Your ‘Foreignheight’ system is just too weird..) But not to worry! Tomorrow it will be – 39. Oh. Today was the COOL day…

so hot moses
It’s so hot Moses…

Wait, 100% humidity? Aren’t you in a desert? Yeah, that’s what I thought at first too. But lo and behold it actually seems that I’m in some bizarre Matrix simulation where not only do we get desert heat, but we ALSO get full humidity from the proximity of the Persian Gulf, which surrounds this whole peninsula of a country. Every time I leave the hotel, there is a single, blissful moment before my nerve endings completely register where I think “Oh okay, this isn’t so bad…” Then the impulses reach my cerebra cortex (or whichever cortex it is that processes this, I’m no brain-scientist) and it’s back to “HOW THE F**K IS IT THIS HOT!?!”

Doha is definitely one of the most unique places I have ever been. We’re kept locked in a windowless basement for seventeen hours a day writing, so we don’t get much chance to explore (may or may not be ‘Fake News’) but there will be more of that in the months and weeks to come. What I have been able to suss out since I’ve been here though:

  • It’s hot.
  • There’s no grass, just the hardiest of moss.
  • When it comes to white people, we are the weakest colour on Earth, based on our ability to function in the heat. Seriously, every construction worker here is a foreigner from Africa, South Asia or the Philipines and they work ‘I don’t know how many hours a day’ outdoors, in this heat. It’s ludicrous.
  • In Qatar you can’t:
    • Drink
    • Show physical affection in public
    • take photo’s in malls
    • Gamble
    • Keep random stuff you find (must be turned into a Police ‘Lost & Found’ otherwise 6 months in a Qatari jail for you, if caught)
    • (as a male) be in an elevator alone with a woman wearing a Niqab

Today, the mens washroom outside our Writers Room/Conference Room was out of service, and the initial reaction from my Los Angelino co-writers was “Why don’t you just use the women’s washroom?” To which my reply was abject terror and a very slow head shake ‘No’. They understood quickly. I held it.

But you know what else? Everybody here speaks english. All the signs are in english and arabic. And everyone is exceptionally deferential & polite, both Qatari’s and foreigners. (As a note, the ratio of foreign workers to actual Qatari citizens is like 14:1. No seriously, go look it up.) All this accomodation of English/westerners kinda feels like ‘hand-holding’ sometime.

Because this whole place is geared towards westerners feeling welcome. Westerners CAN drink (in the select few bars you can find, if you dress appropriately and show them your passport) and westerners are not held to the same dress codes as workers or citizens. (Though apparently the ubiquitous male ‘thoub’ is only a cultural affectation and not actually a religious garb – same for the niqab/burka. Go fig…)

thoub
Wondering if they make one in ‘Dude’ size…

Apparently it is also super affordable and very well suited to this hell-baked landscape (no offense intended Qatari’s but c’mon, why on Allah’s green Earth do you live here?)

This place is also essentially crime free! However when they threaten to lock you up for not turning in someone’s lost iPhone, I can understand why.

Much like Che in Cuba, pictures of the Emir are everywhere:

emir

Apparently this is part of the diplomatic crisis currently ongoing between Qatar the rest of the Gulf states. So the story goes (as told to me by our Qatari host/show creator) Saudi Arabia is trying to spin the narrative that the Qatari people are dissatisfied with Emir and his reign. In response most public buildings and businesses have hung huge banners of this image on their exteriors as a kind of middle-finger to Saudi Arabia.

(Oh what, you didn’t know there was a diplomatic crisis ongoing in the Persian Gulf right now? Yeah, living here you woudn’t know it either…)

Doha is a place of remarkable beauty, set in a harshly gorgeous landscape. Imagine Vegas without booze, drugs, prostitution or gambling, and you have Doha. For instance:

vegas nightdoha night

Yeah, it kinda IS hard to tell.

We writer’s have only checked out the nightlife once so far, but I know that will change as the time goes on and stress levels skyrocket. You can’t bundle up four creative minds tasked with generating stories in a layered fantasy world behind the walls of a hotel for very long before someone stabs someone elses eyes out. The head writer is one of the most diplomatic people I have ever met, while at the same time being the first person to use phrases like “I hate that, and here’s why” or “Convince me, please.” Or what seems to be his current personal favourite “Explain to me what I’m not getting here.” I can barely fathom the amount of work this guy does, based on how much work we do.

Because let’s not forget, I’m here to work. And I’m definitely earning my pay. Caught the requisite traveler’s cold the other day, which left me in pretty bad shape yesterday. The kind of shape that were I in any job, I would’ve stayed in bed. (Hell, in most other jobs illnesses of much weaker intensity have kept me bed ridden) but I LOVE what I’m doing here too much to miss out. We spend eight hours a day (or more) breaking story, delving deep into mythology and trying our damndest to put together the most intriguing plot lines we can. Then we wait for the showrunner to drop in and cut the knees off everything we’ve done for the last half day. I’d say it’s frustrating, but it’s exactly what the job is, so frustrating isn’t the word. Challenging is. I’m here to write and create, and that’s what we do, all day and all night (when we aren’t in the sauna or hot tub)

Gotta say though, I’m a bit of a hayseed out here compared to my co-writers. One of them has credit on the upcoming SAW reboot. Another is a Harvard grad and accomplished actor/writer in he own right who says that the Winklevoss twins were unfairly portrayed in Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’ (she knows because she was there back then, and also knows the Zuck) The charming lady killer here has a history of writing credits and was once the personal assistant to Gwen Stacey (or whoever it was who portrayed her). Whereas when I talk about my experience with celebrities, all I can really dig up is that I once sold ‘The Age of Innocence’ to Forest Whitaker – which led to this sad exchange:

Head Writer: “Wait, you sold an adapted script for ‘The Age of Innocence’ to Forest Whitaker?”

Me: “No, I handed him the DVD he was looking for in HMV.”

forest whitaker
We’re still tight to this day.

But I do my Canadian best to essentially not be Canadian: I try to not attach a long preamble to the beginning of everything I pitch that sounds like “Okay, just throwing poop at the wall and hoping it stains, no attachment here…” or “Not wanting to talk over you or anything…”

kanye
Note: this blog does not in any way endorse Kanye beyond meme form…

But it’s hard.

But not hard enough that I want to quit, or leave, or anything like that. I love what I’m doing, and that’s entirely the point. Is this experience easy? Hell no. But does that matter? Not at all. I couldn’t be more pumped being here everyday, knowing what I’m getting up to do. I’m surrounded by wicked cool people doing wicked cool things and I revel in every minute of it.

Out here I really am part of the ‘ground floor’ of a new industry in Qatar, and it’s up to us to make sure that ‘Medinah’ (That’s the show, don’t google yet, give us some time…) is the best sci-fi show we can make it. There’s a ton of talent out here flowing like… well there isn’t any water here… so talent flowing like… ‘sand dunes?’ maybe? Except sand dunes move pretty slowly… Look I just have the immense pleasure of working with some fiercely creative minds on an incredible expansive project, and I would not trade it for anything in world (anything except a private villa where Marisa & the fur babies could join me, but none of those three could handle this summers heat back home, I’m at a loss as to what they would do out here)

More to follow in the weeks to come dear reader!

In the meantime, if you don’t have a stranglehold on your dreams, chase those fucker’s down and throttle them into submission yourself! No ones doing it for you, but no one’s stopping you either!

Let’s talk ‘canon’ and STAR TREK: Discovery!

A daily occurrence I find myself confronted with is an ongoing Facebook battle with supposed ‘Trek ‘fans’ who are bound and determined to shit all over everything Star Trek: Discovery, still weeks out from the shows debut.

Sure, I could just scroll on by when I see phrases like “This show is going to fail and kill Star Trek with it.” or “This show is being made by greedy producers who have no idea what ‘Trek is supposed to be” and my personal favourite, “The writers are just lazy, going back to the Pike era. If they had any talent they’d go forward, not backward.” I could scroll on by, but that robs me of the opportunity to bring my incomparable ‘Treknowledge to bear and utterly destroy those nay-sayers with observations steeped in facts and canon. If someone wants to express an asinine opinion about Discovery (hereafter DIS) they are of course free to do so, but then I am also free to express my intense mockery and harassment if their opinion is more “feels” and less “facts”. In my world, you’re not entitled to any opinion, you’re entitled to an INFORMED opinion. And if you aren’t informed, prepare for ridicule!

spock eyebrow
I believe the Human phrase is ‘Bring it on’.

This brings us to one of the most heated debates of all as we await DIS: How it fits into (or supposedly violates) ‘canon’. Typically I don’t provide definitions or synopsis of things (I trust that my audience is informed, see the benefit of the doubt I give you!?!) but for the sake of this discussion, let’s set our goalposts. Using just a single Google, the internets tells us that canon is:

“A general law, rule, principle or criterion by which something is judged” and “A collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine.”

In this case, the longstanding rule of ‘Trek is that if it appears on screen, it’s canonical, meaning it must be considered as accurate and relevant as anything else officially seen on screen. Every TV episode and every movie are canonical in the ‘Trekverse. Anything else; books, comics, fanfic/films, roleplaying and video games are not ‘canonical’, despite most often being based entirely on canonical material. This permits the creators of the shows and movies to stick to the most commonly absorbed material (more than 720+ TV episodes and movies at this point*) while not having to study all the auxiliary materials.

giant spock
Even I have a hard time canonizing Spockzilla.

[* – The Animated Series, TAS, is the only exception to this rule, as Roddenberry himself expressed that he didn’t want TAS considered canon because of the content of some of the episodes produced. Most of fandom accepts the stories from Spock’s youth featured in the TAS episode ‘Yesteryear’ as canon, and similar cherry-picking of important bits occurs throughout that series. This includes the ‘Antares’ class starship, which was alluded to in the TOS episode ‘Charlie X’ yet never seen on screen, but was shown to us in TAS. When it came time for the TOS remasters, the TAS Antares was modeled and inserted into the remastered episode, retroactively making the TAS vessel canon. I personally think MOST of TAS can be considered canon, and that which I find doesn’t fit I simply ignore, it’s not hard.]

Canon is important to ‘Trek because for more than 50yrs a great deal of effort was made to ensure that all of ‘Trek occurred in the same universe. At first canon was not so important, as it was seen as possibly being detrimental to the debut of TNG. If they were hamstrung by needing to stick to everything TOS established, TNG could never grow as it’s own show. But by TNG’s debut in ’87 the world had already seen 3 seasons of TOS, 2 seasons of TAS and four films, all of which stayed within the continuity of each other rather well. Not perfectly, but well enough for the tradition to continue. Continuity and canon in ‘Trek really took off with the arrival of DS9 in ’93, a show running concurrently to TNG, which needed to make sure that what it established for the universe didn’t contradict what TNG & TOS had already set out. Because ‘Trek is ostensibly about ‘our future’ the notion that shows happening in the same universe along the same continuity should fit together was perfectly reasonable at the time, and by and large still is now. Eventually ‘Trek movies ‘Generations’ through ‘Nemesis’ stuck to this (mostly) and VOY did a good job of incorporating what was already established into its own framework (and setting VOY 70K lightyears away from all the other stories was another decent way to dodge having to  make sure everything matched flawlessly.)

google galaxy
Recalculating route: You will arrive at your destination in 172 episodes…

This was compounded by ‘Trek visiting itself, particularly the DS9 episode ‘Trials and Tribbilations’ which inserted DS9 characters into the TOS episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’, effectively cementing the notion that everything occurs in the same universe. The VOY episode ‘Flashback’ went further by giving us a story that occurs during the events of ST: VI, of which we were unaware until this episode decided to shine some light on that time.

kirk meet sisko
Two captains, one chair. FIGHT!

Then ENT came along and some ‘fans’ became upset with what were seen as canon violations. Now I love all ‘Trek, but even I will admit many episodes of ENT have their problems, especially in the 1st & 2nd seasons, but those problems are typically story issues. There are some incongruous canon elements in ENT as well, but since they fit ‘Trek’s canonical requirements (appears on screen) a way must be found to reconcile what appears to be errors with the ‘factual’ ‘Trekverse record. “Romulans aren’t supposed to have a cloaking device until TOS ‘Balance of Terror’ even though a warbird equipped with one appears in the ENT episode ‘Minefield’ – Answer: It was a prototype, and being secretive as fuck, the Romulans managed to keep the whole thing under wraps for more than a century. Archer probably filed a report on the incident and the technology, but of course, at the time Starfleet was encountering new, dangerous races and enemies on a near daily basis so it’s no surprise that knowledge of this single encounter with an unknown species technology became lost in the archives.” See, it’s easy to apply a logical explanation to a canon issue that permits both pieces of canon to technically be accurate, even if they contradict each other. The ENT writers/producers realized their mistake, and when the Romulans appeared again at the end of season 4, we don’t get any cloaking devices. So while things aren’t perfect, nothing here violates canon in any appreciable way.

romulan warbird
Pay no attention to the warbird behind the curtain.

This also explains the ‘Kelvin timeline’ from Abrams ‘Trek ’09 and onwards. Wanting to ‘reboot’ ‘Trek after forty years seemed like a non-starter for most fans (I personally wouldn’t’ve minded myself, the originals all still exist, but whatevs) so instead they used a tried and tested ‘Trek staple, time travel, to open up a new universe where they did not need to adhere as closely to canon, as events would follow their own path in these new films. Like them or hate them, Abrams Trek films do a good job of sidestepping canon issues while remaining internally consistent. The Enterprise and crew have been time travelling since the 4th aired episode ‘The Naked Time’, so this is an amazingly familiar and versatile approach.

So now we reach ST: DIS, and people are whinging about all sorts of things they see as violations of canon. The uniforms don’t match those worn by the Enterprise crew in the ‘The Cage’. The ships look too much like Kelvinverse ships or ENT ships. The bridge is too shiny. The Klingons look different. “EVERYTHING IS WRONG” they declare, shaking their tiny fists at the stars. “Don’t these people know ANYTHING about Star Trek!?! I’ll never watch this show!” An empty threat, I’m sure. Peeps said the same thing when TNG was announced, and folks lost their minds over how ‘un-Trek’ DS9 was at first (now regarded by some – me at least – as the greatest of all ‘Trek shows…) So people complaining about ‘Trek isn’t a new thing, but frankly I’m fed up with it, because most of the complaints are asinine, petty and in many cases, uninformed.

picard facepalm
We all knew I’d never make it through this article without using this at least once, right?

How so you ask? Let’s look at some of the most grievous offences.

UNIFORMS:

Point of contention: This uniform from DIS –

dis uniform

doesn’t mesh with these uniforms from TOS ‘The Cage’ –

cage uniforms

On first glance, sure, seems like there’s a significant disconnect here. Should I run to FB and pound out my outrage, or should I look a little deeper?

riker janeway
Someone looks interested in ‘The Full Riker’.

Oh ho, what’s this? Two Starfleet officers from different ships/assignments, in the same time period, wearing two different uniforms!?!* Why who cut together this absurd – oh what? That comes from a CANONICAL source, the VOY episode ‘Death Wish’? Go figure. So now we have canonically established that Starfleet crews can utilize variations in uniforms across different assignments at different times. Sure we never saw any other uniforms in the Pike era, but we have seen that it is not out of the question that different ships might have different uniforms at the same time.

[* – Some will argue that Riker & Janeway were put together by Q in this episode, and that it’s possible that Q changed the uniforms for… reasons, but this is not borne out by the episode. The writers go out of their way to establish that this is in fact the real Riker, and not a Q illusion. Q even says he will erase Riker’s memory before returning him, so as far as the episode establishes we are to accept that this is the real Riker, in his real uniform.]

STARSHIP AESTHETICS

Some people have issue with this:

shenzhou
Shiny…

Existing in the same time frame as this:

constitution class
Swoon…

And yeah, I’ll admit there’s a difference in aesthetics between the two, but we know the Constitution class was a very special endeavour by Starfleet, among the first of its truly independent exploration heavy cruisers. It’s no surprise to me that vessel designs and aesthetics following this lineage:

nx class
Also swoon…

would still be in service 100yrs later, (I mean, the Excelsior class was in service for more than a century, and it didn’t exactly match the design lineage of other ships from the same era) Moreso, it’s not difficult to understand that Starfleet’s latest and greatest achievement, the Warp 8 engine, would be built into a bright, new design that tries to step away from the older, utilitarian appearance. Starfleet and the Federation want to put their best foot forward with ships leading their quest to ‘Explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, and new civilizations’. They aren’t sending the functional work-horses on this mission, they’re presenting their sexiest, flashiest take on a starship to wow the rest of the galaxy.

excelsior
Oh yeah, those two look exactly alike. No variation in aesthetics here…

THE KLINGONS

dis klingons

Here’s the greatest point of contention, and I admit I can understand how some people might be trepidated about the new appearance of the Klingons. I don’t agree, but I understand. In order to put this in perspective, let’s look at a few things:

klingon evolution
All top of the line models; they can talk!

 

First, any ‘Trek fan worth their latinum knows that the Klingon makeup has changed over the past 50 years. When ST: TMP arrived in ’79, larger budgets gave the production team the chance to make Klingons look truly alien, as opposed to being sun-loving folks who didn’t trim their eyebrows. For the next 25 years ‘Trek fans simply accepted that the appearance of Klingons changed with the advancement of makeup and budgets. In the previously mentioned DS9 episode ‘Trials and Tribbilations’ Worf even gives the issue a nod by stating, when asked why he doesn’t look like the Klingons on Deep Space K7, that Klingons “Don’t like to talk about it.” It was a funny bit of fan service, and everyone was in on the joke. And let’s not forget how this issue was compounded by the guest appearance of three TOS era Klingons in DS9, with the modern makeup.

kor koloth kang
Kang, Kor and Koloth!

Until ENT S4, when one story arc about Eric Soong, the Eugenics wars and super-human augments was rolled into a story about Klingons attempting to recreate the same in their genetics. When this went south, a genetic disease was unleashed on the Klingon population that destroyed their distinctive head ridges. It was a nice way of using an ENT story to explain away this difference that fans simply accepted out of course.

Apparently that was the worst possible thing Manny Coto and the writers on ENT S4 could have done for some fans, because it codified the idea that any visual inconsistencies within ‘Trek SHOULD be explained away. It unintentionally handicapped anyone who wanted to make aesthetic changes in the future by solidifying the notion that ‘Trek’s canon is static, and not evolving.

But here’s the thing: Canon is only useful as long as it serves the story and the production. To adhere to it unequivocally and without flexibility is to miss the point of why canon is there in the first place.

Remember this guy?

odan
“Have you heard the good news about the worm in my belly?”

Ambassador Odan from the TNG S5 episode ‘The Host’. He was a Trill ambassador who surprised the entire Enterprise crew when he revealed he was actually a symbiotic being, a host body for a helpless, long lived symbiotic organism.

Now what about her?

trill makeup

Also a joined Trill, but no weirdo head bumps, only super-sexy body spots. What gives?

Well believe it or not, this was the original makeup for Terry Farrell as Jadzia Dax:

odan makeup
Apologies, my camera was on the fritz so I took this image with an orbiting potato.

Original Trill head bumps and all. Now that’s canonical. What the hell happened? Who screwed the pooch and fucked up canon so bad on this one?

The writers and producers. They wanted the fascinating story elements of the joined Trill, the symbionts and the characterizations these would add to Jadzia’s character, but they hated the way the (even reduced) makeup changed Terry Farrell’s face. So they made a decision: Trill were no longer head-bumpy guest aliens, now they were Human’s with cool spots. The original Odan makeup was fine for the guest actor of the time, but the producers wanted to maintain the aesthetics of their talented actor, and made a change. Last I checked there was no army looking to crucify the DS9 producers for making a production choice about this appearance. In this case, the pressures and requirements of production necessitated this change.

But everything else about the Trill stayed the same. The symbiont was the same, the mechanics of the joining were the same, the potential complications for Trill’s becoming friends and intimate with non-Trills were the same. As far as story canon was concerned, everything was the same. From there on, all Trill were body-spot people, and the head-ridge Trill never made an appearance again.* There was also the need to explain how the Trill were a mysterious fringe species in TNG, but apparently were a widely integrated part of the Federation for centuries in DS9. Curzon Dax himself even served as a Federation ambassador to Qo’nos for decades prior to being re-hosted in Jadzia. For the sake of expanding the mythos and enriching the story, changes were made to canon.

[* – This is the currently the holy grail of ‘Trek retconning to me. I’m still formulating an occam’s razor-esque in-universe explanation for the divergence in Trill appearances. My current theory involves a Trill splinter species and outcast symbionts, but that’s for another article.]

Or what about this: How does this guy –

old cochrane
“That’ll do, nerd.”

Turn into this guy?

young cochrane
*Not in frame: A ghost.

They’re both accepted as Zefram Cochrane in ‘Trek canon, but they look COMPLETELY different. The in-universe explanation (provided by fans, not the show itself) is that the Companion being that rescued and cared for Cochrane after his shuttle crash morphed… his appearance… because reasons… Yeah. It’s an acceptable explanation as it’s vague enough to cover the issue, without introducing any new elements. Yet even this issue was further canonized by ENT when they mention that Zefram Cochrane did indeed go missing near the end of his life. If we’re to follow the approach of the nay-sayers, once Glenn Corbet passed on in ’93, the character of Cochrane should’ve never been seen again, since he would look different, and the writers should’ve been forced to leave this character out, rather than write ‘First Contact’.

double facepalm

This is an example of the handcuffing effects of canon. Most individuals in the Industry, in production, realize that for the sake of making a good story, canon is a guide, not a restraint. Where canon matters most is keeping the story consistent. If Picard’s mourns the anniversary of his father’s death one week, we can’t have him sending a message home to Dad next week. That’s what canon’s purpose is, to keep story elements consistent, not to discourage innovation and progress in a visual medium designed to entertain. Star Trek is one of the best franchises in terms of keeping its canon straight, and I often feel this effort has bred a terrible entitlement into some fans. Talk to a Gundam fan about canon and continuity and they’ll laugh you off, considering how many conflicting story lines, arcs and interpretations there are of Gundam in its own universe. ‘Trek fans are spoiled rotten compared to those counterparts.

gundam crossover
Did someone say ‘crossover?’

In the ‘Metamorphosis’ & ‘First Contact’ example with Cochrane above, we can see canon being employed properly, instead of fanatically. When we first meet Cochrane in TOS, Spock addresses him as ‘Zefram Cochrane of Alpha Centauri’ which was just fine until ‘First Contact’ where we learn Cochrane is a Human from Earth. This is an obvious break from accepted canon at the point in time the movie came out, but ‘First Contact’ is widely regarded by many as the best of the TNG films. There’s an old phrase in the Industry, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Without the retconning of Zefram Cochrane being from Earth, we would be without a whole chapter of the Trekverse experience. Canon was even aligned by ENT when they drop the line that Zefram Cochrane went missing after leaving his retirement home on Alpha Centauri. Rather than forgetting about the character completely, and his incalculable contribution to the Trekverse, because the actor who played him has now passed on, circumstances are changed to suit the story, and corrections are made after the fact. In this case Zefram Cochrane is still the inventor of Earth’s warp drive, and he will still become the man trapped on an asteroid in Gamma Canaris by the 2260’s. Canon was made to work FOR ‘Trek, not the other way around.

companion
“Stay with me forever, bad optical effect.”

So back to the Klingons. The Klingons aren’t the Trill, they’ve had a much more consistent history throughout the show than other aliens, and are the backbone of so many stories and events that it’s impossible to sum them up here. But some things we do know about the Klingons: Honour is good. Honour is used to justify essentially anything and everything in Klingon culture, the way Vulcan’s appropriate logic and real-life Human’s pervert religion. They are a warrior-heavy race that eschews most modern medicine and science beyond that which advances their aggressive ambitions. They are divided and united by the familial houses they are born into, and follow an authoritarian social structure.

‘Trek has spent 50yrs creating this back story, and now it looks like the Klingons are about to get another amazing reinvention. Roddenberry always wanted the Klingons to be more alien after the end of TOS, and ST: TMP gave him the chance to do what he always wanted. Then for 30 years the Klingon’s pretty much stayed the same, visually. Sure a certain writer/producer, Harve Bennett and a certain director, Leonard Nimoy may have completely fucked with the Klingon canon in ST: III when they gave them a ship called a ‘Bird of Prey’ (a reference originally used for the Romulans) as well as giving them a CLOAKING DEVICE, which was NEVER Klingon technology, until it was, but we as fans also forgave that pretty quickly as well, didn’t we? ‘Trek has altered and retconned canon as needed for decades, and the new show will function no differently I’m sure.

more klingons
2nd year Romulan is a very challenging class at Qo’nos High, especially with all 3 dialects…

Now I’m the type to avoid most spoilers and ‘leaks’. I’ve seen the DIS trailers, but that’s it. I don’t read much about it and I don’t go searching for details, because I want to be surprised when the show comes around. But I have heard through the grapevine a bit about the Klingons; how we’re seeing a physical disparity based on differing Klingon houses, how these Klingons are a more isolated off-shoot of the empire, and so on. When TNG came around and gave us Worf, we watched the Klingons change from sinister villains to complex characters. The same thing happened with the Ferengi when Quark took centre stage in DS9, and again to the Borg thanks to Seven of Nine on VOY. Now we’re being given the chance to go even DEEPER into one of ‘Trek’s longest lasting adversaries, explore their society even more than we have before and learn new things not revealed to us. The fact that the Klingon look has progressed again is also a great opportunity. They wanted to make the Klingons look more alien once 38 yrs ago, and now we’re being given that chance again. And let’s be real, these Klingon’s aren’t purple with tentacles and three heads, they’re still ruddy skin, head ridges and attitude. As long as they are still Klingons, driven by honour and aggression, preferring hand-to-hand combat over ranged weapons and confident to a fault, they’re fine in my book, because that’s what canon says they are. If DIS tries to give us Klingons who are servile, money grubbing fools, then yeah I’ll have a problem too. But that’s not what I’m seeing with the new show and the new look. I’m seeing Klingon’s looking cooler than they have in a very long time.

stupid klingons
Watch ‘Discovery’! Help eliminate Klingon poverty. MQGA!

When ENT starting exploring T’Pol and the Vulcan’s, a lot of fans felt the show was not respecting canon. Many of the Vulcan’s behaved in a far more self interested, un-enlightened manner, despite the trappings of logic still being apparent. Soval is much more of an arrogant prick than any Vulcan we’ve encountered before, and the Vulcan Dr. Yuris helps us understand that in the 2150’s, the all classic Vulcan mind-meld is considered a disease. It seemed that they had got the Vulcan’s ‘wrong’. But then in S4 we are given a multi-part story arc about the teachings of Surak being re-introduced to Vulcan society, and how this changes the Vulcan’s into the more stoic individuals we know from TOS onward. Rather than simply treat them as a static species that haven’t changed since the great awakening, ENT adds layers to the Vulcan’s we never knew were there. After Tuvok in VOY, most probably thought the Vulcan’s were about as explored as we’d get in the show. Thankfully they were wrong. They are a dynamic species just like Human’s, with conflicts and difficulties that continue to shape their culture throughout time. Had canon been adhered to without fault, we would never have had this insight into the Vulcan’s, and missed out on some fascinating stories.

vulcan dj
From Archer’s brief stint as a Vulcan DJ.

I believe we’re looking at a similar situation with the DIS Klingons. The writers and producers have looked through 50yrs of Klingon history, synthesized what we DO know about the Klingons thanks to canon, and determined where we can learn MORE, where there are more stories to tell and where the Klingons can be developed into even more interesting characters. And to boot, they get to look extra cool. If they still act like Klingons, behave boorishly and rude, then they are still adhering to the canon accumulated over the past five decades. We know of the great houses of Martok, Mogh, Duras and others, how wicked-cool would it be to see just how DIFFERENT each house really is, how the culture and style of each is a unique signature, rather than the same plastic body armor everybody wears. Moving the Klingons away from the typical ‘Trek monoculture and into a much more diverse arena is an inherent good, both for aesthetics and storytelling.  ‘Trek has changed the looks of aliens before to suit the story, with excellent results and without disturbing the larger universe that we all know and love. It can’t be stressed enough, ST: Discovery is a TV show, and a TV is an art form (commercialized or not) and art needs to have an aesthetic quality thats appreciable, like it or not. Anyone dealing with art and aesthetics will tell you that if you spend 38 years (or more) going back to the same well of images you will become old, stale, irrelevant. Updating the ships, the look, the Klingons, while staying true to what canon says about the story is not just an option for a new ‘Trek show, it’s an imperative to be competitive in the modern entertainment market.

jake sisko writing
Remember, poor Jake Sisko never saw a dime for his work.

Canon isn’t about slavishly adhering literally to the visuals that came before. Canon is about keeping the story consistent for the fans, while giving the writers and producers a good foundation to work from. If you want canon to be adhered to without question or rationale, you’re missing the point entirely, and even ‘Trek may not be for you, considering they tweak their canon as the story requires. As. The. Story. Requires. That’s the key here, because ‘Trek isn’t a collection of sterile fake facts, ‘Trek is a storytelling universe that lives, breathes, and changes with the stories in it. ‘Trek spoils its fans by doing an excellent job of sticking to what has already been established, but also needs to maintain the freedom to tell a good story, and as any writer can tell you, being literally chained to what came before is no way to be creative. And ‘NO’, that’s not a ‘challenge’ that good writers should be able to overcome, because with 700+ episodes of ‘Trek already behind them, so much has already been done and explored that being a slave to all of it turns your stories into travelogues of a fictional universe, rather than compelling tales of morality, ethics and the Human condition. Everyone who isn’t a writer thinks that concocting a unique, intriguing and unpredictable story is easy as shit, and anything they don’t like is the fault of a lazy writer ‘only in it for the money’. Those in the know understand that this is so far from the truth it would be laughable if it wasn’t so pervasive. (Especially the money part…)

I won’t have the arrogance to pretend I know what’s best for ‘Trek. I’m completely satisfied with allowing DIS and its creative team to tell me what their ‘Trek is, rather than me demand they conform to my sensibilities. That’s called pandering, and any fan worth their spican flame gems will say they don’t want to be pandered to. Canon is a tool, not a straight jacket. And I can’t wait to see what new canonical revelations Discovery brings to the table.

picard relax
Just waiting on Discovery…

 

 

3 things wrong with every screenplay

You’ve done the hard work on your screenplay: You’ve plotted, written, and rewritten it to as close to a near death experience as a screenplay can achieve, and yet it’s just not there yet. When those few amazing folks who actually DO read screenplays get back to you, they don’t have the kind of feedback you need. “How was it?” – “It was good.” – “What do you mean by ‘good’?” – “You know, I liked it.”

dude with russian

“It was far out, man…”

Rarely do we struggling screenwriters ever get the kind of feedback we need; someone to tell us just how badly we pooped the bed and where. Most people who read screenplays aren’t screenwriters, so they don’t have the insight needed to break the truth to you.

I can break that truth to you right now in three points, and it isn’t pretty:

(Or ‘What are the three things wrong with every screenplay?)

 

#1) No Inciting Incident.

Simplest mistake most screenwriters make. Depending on what source you subscribe to (and whether or not you’re a time traveller) the ‘inciting incident’ should appear no later than pg 12, ideally on pg 7, and in this modern era of Michael Bay edits and trick openings, some argue it needs to appear on pg 3. But what is it exactly? The inciting incident is the ‘call to action’ from Joseph Campbells’ assessment, only it applies to your whole story. The ‘Inciting Incident’ needs to mark the change from ‘regular, everyday life’ to the story your screenplay is telling. Without the inciting incident, the story doesn’t get moving, because there is no story to tell until it has come to pass. Princess Leia loading the Death Star plans into R2-D2? Inciting incident. (Without it, the Tantive IV is captured, the plans are retrieved, and ‘Rogue One’ was an ultimately pointless endeavour)  The (original) Ghostbusters encounter with the Library spook? Inciting Incident. (If not, they’d never have the ‘confirmation’ and data they need to prove that their ‘ghost catching’ theory can be applied to real life). In Die Hard, McLean’s choice to go to Holly’s work rather than meet her at home is what sets off his participation in the whole scenario = Inciting incident.

 

The inciting incident needs to be something that clearly defines where the change from the protagonists normal routine to the story you are telling occurs. In discussing a script with a client recently, we were trying to sort through where the inciting incident was in his script. He needed his protagonist to move from not having accesses to the resources he needed to having access to those resources and getting started on his quest. I told him that gaining access to those resources WAS his inciting incident, it just needed to be handled in a cinematic, interesting way. The client suggested that the protagonist could receive a phone call, letting him know he had access to those resources. I did my best to let the client know that unless it was the MOST EPIC PHONE CALL in movie history, that wasn’t going to cut it in terms of piquing the audience (and the readers’) interest. Simply having someone in your story say ‘Okay, go!’ isn’t enough for an inciting incident. The audience needs to know that after the ‘thing’ that starts it all, the protagonist’s world will never be the same again.

leia R2D2

“Wait, it says you’re rebooting. Okay, just need to complete these 74 adobe updates and then the inciting can begin!”

 

#2) Trying to do the Impossible

Working on a horror/thriller with another filmmaker. Got to the point where we needed to start developing the villains in the story, and my colleague became sidetracked by the notion that the villains shouldn’t be ‘villains’. They wanted to create richly three dimensional people whose actions were driven by deep seated motivations and beautifully crafted character moments. Great idea, great intention, wrong genre. When it comes to horror/thriller’s, the villains are integral, but not in the way the main-body characters are. My colleague wanted to place a dramatically developed set of villains into the story, yet wondered why they weren’t meshing with the horror world we were trying to create. Villains require thought and depth, for sure, but they need to operate as per the genre you’re working in. If they’re as three dimensional and sympathetic as the protagonists, what you probably have is a drama, not a horror/thriller.

Working on another crime feature with a writer/director, I learned that it was their intention to ‘switch’ protagonists by the third act, turning who you THOUGHT the protagonist was into the antagonist, and raising a supporting character to the protagonist role. When I asked the writer/director if they could think of ANY examples from existing films where this kind of approach worked, they weren’t able to produce any. (Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is the only example that comes to mind, and this writer/director was no Hitchcock.) This isn’t about telling writers not to be original, far from it, but it IS about making sure they understand the structure and boundaries of what they are trying to do. If you want to make a horror movie, make a horror movie. If you want to make a cop drama, make a cop drama, but don’t try to make it the most ‘thoughtful, in depth examination of the nature of horror between human and monster’ if that’s not what the story is really about. Know your style, know your genre. People upend the status quo when they strike upon something truly unique and inspirational, not when they set out to show everyone just how creative they are. Cliches exist and work for a reason. Use them.

pony death

“Then Rainbow Dash claimed the EVIL Allspark, and knew from that moment her desire to make the greatest pie in the world for her dying mother could not be stopped by mere mortality.”

 

#3) Your Protagonist sucks

Seriously, they probably do. Creating an intriguing protagonist is easily the hardest part of any of this, not because people can’t do it, but because they often don’t realize they have to. I finished a TV pilot a short while back that involved a very much ‘fish out of water’ protagonist with a big secret in their backstory. The main idea was to keep the audience guessing until the 3rd episode reveal of the protagonists big secret. I was so proud of how I interwove the ‘truth’ of this character versus the deception of the feint I was trying to employ, and I awaited praise for my amazing talents from my readers. The result? Turns out my protagonist was the LEAST drawn of all the ensemble. My attempts to keep details mysterious/hidden left the character feeling flat and empty. A great friend of mine pointed out that if the audience KNEW what the big secret was from the start, even if the other characters didn’t know, that would go a long way to generating tension and suspense in their interactions. I was sabotaging exactly what I was trying to do, thinking I was being clever.

But how did I get to the end of a 74 pg TV pilot without realizing this? My protagonist participated in action, drove the plot and made critical decisions all exactly where she was supposed to.  The story that happens around her is big, bold, full of action and peril, but the readers didn’t connect with her. Because I, the writer, knew what her deal was, and I saw all the ways she interacted with the other characters and plot, I completely missed the fact that others who don’t know her deal couldn’t connect with her. I thought my protagonist was the bomb, but she still needed work.

I see this problem, and the flip side of a totally boring protagonist, very often. Scripts that come from ‘a big idea’ or ‘a theme I really want to talk about’ usually have the ‘boring protagonist’ problem: Because the story is so much more about ‘what happens’ rather than ‘who it happens to’. If you’re Star Wars, it’s easy to get away with a boring protagonist (Yes, Luke Skywalker is NOT all that interesting. He’s a whiny farm kid who gets caught up in galactic politics. Good thing everyone and everything else around him is pretty damn amazing, because otherwise the ‘Luke Skywalker: A Star Wars Story’ movie would be a true snore. Now if you’re writing something that involves space-travel, laser weapons, rich world building and space-magic, you can probably get away with having a somewhat dull protagonist. But even THEN, you should STILL try, because you’re doing your work a disservice otherwise. Story comes from character, and if your character is a throwaway or not really important, then your story is probably the same. If the character is interesting, the audience will be on board with almost ANYTHING you want to do.

luke sucks

Just think of Jordan Belfort in ‘The Wolf of Wallstreet’. He’s a greedy, womanizing, profiteering criminal, but the audience loves him. Why? Because he’s interesting. Because we all know someone like him, who will take all the credit and reward but never their share of the responsibility or blame. He doesn’t let the world of high-finance tell his story, he IS the story. What about the ‘The Narrator’ in ‘Fight Club’ (Spoiler alert: The Narrator is Tyler Durden. Ed Norton is Tyler Durden.) He’s a useless, hopeless schmuck, yet the audience relates to how comfortably pathetic he is, especially in the beginning. He is the true ‘everyperson’ the story needs, and is captivating in how much he wants to change his life, without knowing anything about how to do it. How about Ellen Ripley in ‘Alien’? She’s a career crewhand like the rest of her co-workers, but while John Hurt and Yaphet Kotto argue about how much they’re going to make from their latest haul, Ripley is concerned with protocol, following the rules. Normally this would NOT be the sign of an excellent protagonist, but when compared to the other cast membes, Ripley’s moral compass stands out. (And if they had all listened to her and kept Kane, Dallas and Lambert OUTSIDE the Nostromo Lander for 24 hours, the alien would’ve never made it inside and the entire franchise wouldn’t exist – unless you presuppose the events of ‘Prometheus’ have already happened, in which case…)

 

Even if the rest of your film is terrible, the audience will remember a good protagonist. Take time and care crafting yours. You won’t regret it.

Was this unbelievably helpful? Head on over to the Screenwriting Services tab on my website and find out what OTHER kinds of help I am happy to provide.

Writers conquer the world, one story at a time.

BABY DRIVER & GLOW: The FUN is back!

Quick – Desert island, all time, top three favourite movies:

  1. Ghostbusters (1984) – There’s just no question.
  2. Charlies Angels (2000) – Shut up. It’s an awesome movie. I’ll write a blog about it one day and prove it.
  3. L.A. Story (1991) – With a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes it seems this film is being appreciated more and more as it ages.

(You would think the request itself would imply that High Fidelity should be on that list, but it just doesn’t have the cojones to stand up to those three power-houses)

What kind of snap, blanket, stereotypical judgements can we make from a list like this? They’re all comedies, pre 9/11 films. Two were written by the main actors. Two are ensembles. One has Richard E. Grant (swoon!)

richard e grant [He’s wearing a scarf and dgaf about it. That man is STEEL.]

In my mind at least, there is ONE factor that truly unites those three films: They’re all ‘FUN’. Uproarious, hilarious, high-paced Eff-You-Enn FUN! Ghostbusters is one inept scientist and his overachieving friends (also scientists) who use quantum physics to capture ghosts. It is equal parts scary and hilarious, and contains some of the most epic ad-libs and improvisations ever captured on film.

Venkman: Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole in your head, remember that?

Spangler: That would’ve worked if you hadn’t stopped me.

hole in the head

Ad-libbed. At least Ramis’ part. Hi-fucking-larious. Ghostbusters is a film that never takes itself too seriously, at the same time as it demands to be taken authentically.  It’s humour, special effects, frights and action all rolled in to one. Most fun I ever have sitting to watch a movie.

Charlie’s Angel’s, though?

Charlies angels.

Kinda in the same vein, except this is a film that makes sure you know from the opening sequence that you CAN NOT take it seriously. You will be very disappointed if you do. McG’s Charlie’s Angels is pure spectacle, and it never apologizes for this. It contains characters with comically complicated personal lives whose independent actions actually shape the course of the story, yet is dismissed as cheap action fare by most. It makes great use of music (ensuring that no film ever again will be able to use The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ on a soundtrack without invoking THIS scene.), stages several incredible action sequences and is thorougly enjoyable from start to finish.

L.A. Story?

roller skates in museum

Steve Martin demonstrates the ONLY way to visit a modern art museum. I mean seriously, what else do you need to know about this movie, other than Richard E Grant is in it, it features an intelligent freeway sign and has Sarah Jessica Parker in arguably her greatest role? It’s great. It’s 27 years old. Watch it.

‘FUN’s is my hallmark, it’s what I look for in my entertainment, because by my reckoning, entertainment is for enjoyment, and enjoyment is fun.

In the past I’ve pitched a few stories and concepts to people, and one of the bits of feedback I continue to get is “That sounds a little too ‘fun’ for what we’re looking for.”

Que? REALLY? Who’s pitching these ‘dull’ ideas that are apparently so desirable? I’m not sure about most everyone else, but I definitely don’t pick a movie thinking ‘Good, this’ll be a nice and boring time.’ (Okay, maybe I had that in mind when I went to see ‘Tinker/Tailer/Soldier/Spy’ and I was not disappointed. Love that movie BTW, but it’s about as far away from ‘Fun’ as one can get.)

Maybe it’s my idea of ‘Fun’ that’s the problem. I know some people prefer reality over fantasy. I know some people like deep, heartfelt stories over spectacle. I know that some people simply don’t identify with fringe characters, creative plotting or excessive editing. I feel bad for those people.

I spend a great deal of time talking with other writers and wannabe filmmakers (and a few REAL filmmakers) shooting the poop and talking movies/TV 24/7. Talking about a script the other day, I pointed out that this gritty, reality based crime drama needed a showdown, a scene where the anti-hero and the antagonist finally came together for some sharp dialogue, perhaps while stalking each other through the dark at the end of guns, in a factory of smoke & flame?

The response: “It’s not meant to be THAT kind of movie.”

What ‘kind’ of movie is that exactly? Another writer made the pitch to me the other day (which comes from Mamet or some other such skilled writer) that to simply have two characters who disagree, that makes your scene, that is drama. To tell a convincing story inside that construct, two character sitting across from each other, having a disagreement, is truly dramatic. I reply with ‘Yes. Now put both of those characters on a plane, set the plane on FIRE, and you have a movie.’

It’s called a ‘Motion Picture’ for a reason. It needs to move, it needs to be kinetic. It needs to have a life beyond dialogue. Of course there are exceptions: ‘Glengarry/Glenross’ is a fantastic examination of the social male heirarchy and of the capitalist whitling away of the dedicated worker, told almost entirely on one set through dialogue. ‘Hard Candy’ is similar, an almost-play staged as a movie. And these are both fantastic films.

Fantastic films with a small reach, small audience and small objectives. In my world, story, drama and character are BIG things. Big concepts, big emotions, big actions.

Hallelujah for what has come to us.

poster baby driver

If you haven’t flocked with the masses to the theatre to see ‘Baby Driver’ yet, you are a disappointment to me and every filmmaker who wants to entertain with fun and humour. This movie is AMAZEDOGS. Go and see it. Seriously.

…(waiting for you to see the movie)…

Wasn’t that GREAT!?! It’s a high paced adventure from start to finish. Every character is memorable in their own right, every scene carefully crafted to match the chosen song, and every stunt is real. It’s easily my most favourite movie of this year, and the best time I’ve had at the theatres all summer. I personally live a world with a constant raging soundtrack, and I’ve always envisioned this translated into the films I write. Everything has music in mind, a beat or mood that permeates beyond just filling the soundtrack. In ‘Raptor Pink’ Astrid raids a Human trafficking operation in a stunning spectacle of militarized poi and gymnastics, all while blasting Madeon’s ‘Icarus’ in her ears and on the soundtrack. ‘Monogamish’ opens with a beautiful dance number set to FUTURECOP!’s ‘Superheroes‘ that still warms by heart. And I have epic plans for Dance With The Dead’s (feat. Kristine) ‘Power‘ in the BRIDGEHEAD prequel series. Treating music as an integral element of the plot, rather than window dressing after the fact, always gets my attention.

‘Baby Driver’ came from visionary brit Edgar Wright, a man who has consistently produced hilariously entertaining fare, at least in my book. ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is a modern classic, and  ‘Hot Fuzz’ should be. ‘Paul’ is better than it deserves to be, and ‘At World’s End’ is highly underrated. Now he’s topped himself with a salute to humour, action and all the fun intensity of why we head to the movies. ‘Baby Driver’ isn’t weighed down by overwrought themes. It’s not saddled with a deeply tortured protagonist faced with an impossible choice. It’s about heists and driving very fast through Atlanta. There is romance between Debora and Baby that is so believable and yet still dramatically presented, because I pretty sure nobody in real life meets and courts the way they do.

The movie is about enjoying your two hours, and does that by providing you with a compelling plot, interesting characters and a heavy dash of motion picture spectacle, beacuse when you have the chance to be exciting AND dramatic, you’ve made yourself an excellent film.

how is he not Han Solo

And I mean seriously, look at Ansel Elgort. HOW IS HE NOT THE NEW HAN SOLO!?!?! Everything about him in this movie just SCREAMS that he’s a no-good smuggler with a heart of gold. Somewhere along the line somewhere, a casting director missed their big chance.

Which brings us to the other side of this coin:

GLOW

One of the newest arrivals from Netflix is also one of thier best. ‘GLOW’ doesn’t plummet down a dramatic rabbit-hole the way another female centred Netflix show (OITNB *cough*cough*) has tended to do. GLOW thrusts the audience into the 80’s and demands that you enjoy yourself. It achieves this by generating truly entertaining and unique characters, building a stylized enviroment for them to interact in, and then lets the story unfold.

“You mean, like this?”

the getdown

Whoops, sorry. That description also fits my OTHER favourite Netflix original. It’ll get it’s own post once I’ve finished it.

‘GLOW’ is a comedy with dramatic leanings, for sure, but the drama is never the primary motivator. Alison Brie’s Ruth Wilder is a fantastic protagonist because we both want her to succeed and we feel comfortable laughing at her failures at the same time. Ruth takes herself more seriously than anyone, which serves as a kind of effective innoculation against sillyness in this title.

Because let’s call it like it is: Wrestling is pretty silly. I’m not disrespecting the performers, they do things on a regular basis that would kill most typical humans and I completely respect the effort and skill they put into their performances, but it IS a little silly. The stereotypes, the soap opear stories, the insane aggressive bravado. Even in calling it ‘silly’ I’m not trying to slight it, merely place it in context with my ideas of storytelling as a whole. GLOW gives the audience the chance to be part of a well structured and hilarious journey through the world of professional wrestling, while also providing social commentary on how women are treated now versus 35 years ago.

heel

I mean, make no mistake, but GLOW is about standing up for women’s rights, women’s empowerment and their fair share in the world. GLOW plays off the social inequalities of the 80’s using a modern perspective in a way that lets the audience laugh at the ridiculousness of sexism and bigotry, while making sure it’s understood that these are forces we all combat, even today.

But it tells this tale with colourful outfits, hilarious mismatching of characters and ugly developments meant to pull at our heartstrings. Unlike OITNB there are no darkly dangerous moments, no real threat to life or limb. The characters move from one difficult situation to another, but there is a sense of enjoyment and ease that follows them. GLOW has a lot to say, and uses its sense of ‘Fun’ and adventure to make sure we never find that story too heavy.

So FUN is back. And I am thrilled by this. I want to see more and more titles move in this direction. We labour under expansive cinematic universes and grim storytelling, full of horror, pain and duplicity. Sometimes it’s great to be able to sit down, ready to watch something, and be excited for the ride we’re about to take. Like a roller coaster.

Imagine a play performed where the audience is on a rollercoaster? Now THAT would be something.

Honeycomb, ‘Trek & the Dudeist faith…

Things have changed, and they will never be the same again. Something from my childhood has been irreperably altered and I may never be able to return it to its original form. The forces of modernity and progress have claimed another victim, and a great chapter of our world passes into dust at this moment…

If you think I’m lamenting the new ‘Trek TV show, you’re wrong. But somehow it fits into this great statement my brain is trying to make. No, I’m not frightened about the state of ‘Trek and what Star Trek: Discovery is going to do it. No, I’m not a luddite fighting the pace of progress. No, I did not see your daughter there when I was pulling out of the driveway and I would like to point out maybe she was standing there because she LIKES having her feet run over by a Hyundai Accent. I’m not your daughter, I don’t know what goes through her head.

girl and car

(not pictured: A Hyundai Accent)

What I’m talking about today is going to have a lasting knock-on effect to every man, woman and child (who enjoyed Post’s ‘Honeycomb’ cereal). What I’m talking about today is a sign of the times a million measures stronger than Harry Styles or his musical career. What I’m talking about today goes to the very heart of what I care about and why I care about it.

I’m talking about how Post has changed ‘Honeycomb’ cereal. Just look at the title image. LOOK AT IT! On the left is the classic, old school rondell of carbs and artificial honey flavouring known as ‘Honeycomb’. Much like the Big Red Book That Won’t Fit On A Shelf, Honeycomb was always that outsized cereal box that sat in your cabinet, dwarfing the Lucky Charms, Froot Loops or (god forbid) the Alphabits…

[Sidebar: If you’re an Alphabits or Pro-Stars fan, I respect your choices, but question your taste in artificially flavoured children’s breakfast treats]

Honeycomb was the kind of cereal that was always there, morning or night. Each morning you could come down and rest assured that there was probably enough left in that big red box for one more bowl – that big red box seemed almost endless to a 10 year old. And at night, when you snuck downstairs after Mom & Dad were asleep to watch ‘Politically Incorrect w/ Bill Maher’ (All the kids did that right? It wasn’t just me?) there would STILL be some cereal left for you to go hard, elbow deep in carbs as midnight rolled around. While not my favourite cereal (That is a yet-to-be-fought cage-match between Cap’n Crunch and Froot Loops, but I can’t offer a purse large enough to entice both parties to the breakfast table.) Honeycomb has always been a stalwart standby, tasty and non-objectionable, ready to serve as an early morning wake me up or a late night way of defeating your calorie count. So imagine my surprise the other week when I encountered this:

honeycomb

As stated previously, on the left is the originator, the OG Honeycomb. On the right is the ‘new w/ more honey flavour!’ Honeycomb.

They changed it. New processes, new machines, new Honeycomb. But the ‘same great taste’ so they claimed. We will see about that.

I’m sure there’s a factory somewhere with a bunch of old Honeycomb machines now rusting and rotting out back, replaced by WiFi digital Twittered Instagramming machines that connect to the internet and waste half their day playing Minecraft. It’s a sign, a symbol of progress right? The center can no longer hold, and the new Honeycomb will come slouching towards Bethlehem waiting to be born…

Let’s back up a bit. Who remembers these?

C3P0s

80’s babies remember that cereal. I know I did. Ate it religiously as a child while it was available. It was my first real exposure to Star Wars, especially the stickers that came in the boxes, confusing me as a child by calling ‘Return Of The Jedi’ Star Wars 6 even though even this dumb kid could count to three (now reading was a different matter…) For decades after it went out of print (pressing? What do you call it when they discontinue a cereal? Cereal Murder?) I obsessed about that taste, knowing I’d never be able to recapture it, since that magic combination of oats and honey that WASN’T the Bees property was nowhere to be found. Until some connection in my brain went off telling me that in fact, C3P0’s were Honeycomb, just in a wacko shape. (Note: It seems all the C3P0’s presses were actually shipped to Australia, since they have a cereal brand there that still holds the classic ‘figure 8’ shape – Nutri-Grain it’s called, and it sits in your bowels like thermo-crete.) What a revelation! After that Honeycomb became a mainstay, part of recapturing my magical childhood where TV reigned supreme, there were diamonds to be dug out of my backyard and the local playground was the Millennium Falcon. Finally I was able to reach out and grab something I thought was lost to me forever.

And then they go and change it. Bastards. You wrecked my goddamend Honeycomb. How could you, you heartless monsters!?! I’m sure the executives at Post are just the laziest bunch of assholes you could ever imagine, sitting around, collecting paycheques, not knowing a thing about cereal or what it means to those who eat it. They’re just greedy fat cats only in it for the money, didn’t you know?

“But Steve,” asks the voice I keep on hand to ask me prompting questions, “What did the new Honeycomb TASTE like?”

Who the fuck cares what it TASTES like! Who are you on-hand voice, the integrity police? It probably tastes like Magog’s taint mixed with cilantro. Maybe cow manure processed in a meth lab. What the hell does it matter what it tastes like, when they’ve gone and ruined everything ELSE about Honeycomb that made it amazing? Like its… colour… and dimensions I guess? Shut up. This is an outrage. I’m so mad I could piss glue. Seriously. First a pumpkin king president and now this? Heads will roll, like the song insists.

Okay, fine. I’ll try this ‘new and improved’ Honeycomb. When I go off the rails bitching about how awful it is, I should probably be able to outline just why it’s such an offence to humanity. So here we go, we’re gonna try it.

cereal bowl

[Note: No photo’s seem to exist of the new cereal as yet, so just imagine the Honeycomb in this image smaller, yellow, and full of suck]

Fuck. Tastes pretty much the same. (Caveat: Not 100%, there is a reduction in relative mouth-feel that tells you this IS NOT the Honeycomb you grew up with. Guess new millennial hipsters can’t replicate everything!) Not completely, but enough that any wind in my ‘Honeycombs are the end of civilization’ rant was sucked from my sails. They changed a cereal I loved to accomodate modern manufacturing and production techniques, and they managed to do so without compromising the taste or overall experience. Go fig.

So this put me on to thinking about something else…

st disc

Points for finding a way to link breakfast cereal to ‘Trek.

Trek os

Ignore that.

This fall Star Trek: Disccovery will make it to CBS All Access and spread through the rest of the world. It’s a modern, contemporary take on the age old half-a-century franchise, with a fancy new look, made with current technology and current methods, with an eye towards telling stories in a faster paced, more intense market place. What Post did with my Honeycomb, CBS is doing to ‘Trek.

And I’m excited. I’m well aware there’s a ‘fan’ contingent out there (and I use the term only in its ‘fanatical’ sense, along the same lines as ‘extremism’) that is absolutely against this version of ‘Trek, I deal with their mouth spewing online almost daily.

shit

I do align, or frankly, understand these ‘fans’. Sure, not every ‘Trek is for everyone, and people have favourites. I know a few folks who simly aren’t down with the sci-fi hokiness of Voyager, or the drab political commentary or DS9, or the first three seasons of Enterprise, but they choose what they like from ‘Trek and don’t worry to much about the rest. I encourage everyone to be like them: If you don’t like something, you don’t share or participate in it. That’s simple. I’m not the type to say everyone NEEDS to love every ‘Trek (but I do, and that makes me better than you) but I encourage its constructive enjoyment on all levels.

But then I deal with people screaming for a boycott, whinging about set design and wishing that the show will fail (for real, I know) before it’s even aired. They cry out that this show violates established canon and is therefore more useless than a fifth controller for a gamecube. Being the all knowing, all comprehending LORD OF ‘TREK that I am, I’ve found myself able to easily dispell and quiet any ‘canon’ arguments out of the gate. IMLO (In My Lofty Opinion) the show appears to be set to do a fine job of giving us new ‘Trek while still belonging in the original Prime timeline.

“But their uniforms don’t match those from ‘The Cage!'” they whine:

riker and janeway

Wow. That’s a picture of two active duty Starfleet officers  from the same timeline wearing DIFFERENT UNIFORMS ON DIFFERENT SHIPS!!! Who on Earth thought that was okay!?! Outrageous.

“But they didn’t use different emblems for each ship, like in TOS.”

Explanation is not as neat, but just as effective: The Starfleet delta/arrowhead has been seen in numerous locales and on ships long before this era, especially during Enterprise’s run. The occam’s razor explanation is that each constitution class starship of the era was assigned a different logo as part of a Starfleet change in procedure, but this was abandoned as too problematic logistically a few decades later.

[For nerd reference, The United Earth Space Probe Agency’ was active as early as 2067, so at the tail end of Word War III]

“How can there be a female captain when Dr. Janice Lester said that Kirk’s world of starship captains ‘Didn’t allow for women'”? This argument is stupid. Plain and simple. First off, Dr Janice Lester was a psychopath and she was talking to Kirk about her relationship with him, anything she says should be relegated to the ramblings of a mad-woman. Furthermore, Enterprise showed us that Starfleet DOES have female captains as early as the mid 22nd century…

erika hernandez

I present you Capt. Erika Hernandez, skipper of the Columbia, NX-02, Starfleets SECOND warp 5 ship. Screen canon beats an offhand remark anyday.

“But the Klingons!” Yeah, they’ve changed Klingon makeup in the new show. Some speculate these may be a diffrent community or breed of Klingon. I personally couldn’t care. They changed the Klingon makeup in 1979, ’87, ’93 and ’09 and now ’17, and probably will again when makeup improves once more and all of our TV’s are 16K.  A cosmetic change to an alien race on a show that hasn’t been on TV for 13yrs is inconsequential at worst, and an amazing godsend at best.

“The writers/producers all suck! They don’t care about ‘Trek or the fans at all! If they did they wouldn’t be so lazy and get it right. All they want to do is rape ‘Trek and make money.” Goes the STUPIDEST process of reasoning I have ever come across. I hear a lot of armchair first officers bitching about the new ‘Trek , but you know who I DON’T hear complaining about the limited amount of information on the new show? Creators. Writers. Directors. Producers. The people who actually know what goes into making a show, giving it mass appeal, producing it on a budget and trying to make it the very best it can be. Unless you’re Brett Ratner, you care wholeheartedly about the project you’re working on. In the industry it’s simple math – People who hate what they’re working on usually don’t end up actually working on it. There are so many hard working, hungry professionals out there that there simply isn’t room in television production for ‘lazy people’ who only want to ‘make a paycheque’. The people who make this argument are the ones with the LEAST undestanding of making television, and irony of them spouting off as experts on something they are certainly not is never lost on me.

Because I couldn’t care about their bullshit. I’m not saying Discovery is going to be the greatest ‘Trek ever, because I don’t know, because it hasn’t aired yet. I’m hoping it’ll be great, and EVERYTHING I’ve seen up to now fits that assumption, but I figure before I go and start praising it, I should SEE it. Until then, I will abide.

the dude

Meaning it’s time for a lesson from my other faith, the one I am ordained in. Dudeism. There was a time when I cared THE HELL out of canon and upmost accuracy. This was also a time where I thought a whole show about a war with the Borg would be an amazing achievement. “It would be so cool!” I’d preach to my friends in high school. “If they really cared, they could put like a $1 million into every episode and REALLY give us something spectacular” I would say, terribly naive to the fact that each episode of any contemporary ‘Trek ALREADY cost more an $1 million to make, as if the money was what made it good. I was that guy once, when I was kid. But as I am no longer a child I put away childish assumptions and thoughts. I used to be uptight and rigid. Rules were rules, man. Disorder was chaos.

And then my body got older, and my experiences began to pile up. I learned how damaging hard-line, fundamentalist attitudes were not just to others but to myself as well. I needed to chill the fuck out. I needed to find a new way to enjoy the treasures from my past without letting them make me apoplectic about the future.

I watched The Big Lebowski countless times through University and years after, and found a new way to look at life – through the eyes of an unemployed underachiever, my spirit animal, my doppleganger. The one, the only, DUDE.

dude 2

I connected with something in The Dude which had eluded me my entire life – I was finally presented with a ‘hero’ and example who wasn’t the quintessential action man, person of action. The Dude is the opposite, because that’s like far out and everything.

Relating and embracing The Big Lebowski made a difference to many things in my life, my hardcore nerdism was only one element that needed guidance. As I stopped trying to direct every aspect of life and instead decided to follow a single path and wind up where it led me, I became a far happier, more enlightened person.

TBL isn’t an effective guide on how most should lead their lives. I know my wife would appreciate it if I found a different role model, but it wasn’t the free time or the ‘just above the poverty line’ residence I wanted. It was the peace the Dude had in his life. His world is literally just as he wants it, just as he created it. The Dude had no need for stress, demand or expectations, so he decided to live a life where those things were a non-issue for him. He didn’t care about wealth or power. He cared about his fucking rug that really held the room together. The Dude’s world was his own, and no one could take that from him.

So I followed that example. I wanted to be a screenwriter, so I started to live the life of one, and I’ve never looked back. I didn’t wait for someone to approve of my choice or even for myself to feel ‘ready’ for it. I just took the plunge. I wanted a life where my creativity was my meal ticket, where I could bust my ass for days working behind a computer and yet still wake up with The Price Is Right and go to bed after The Daily Show. So many people want so much out of life, but never bother to actually go and get it. They think they need to accumulate approval from their current life to leverage that into the life they want, and they’ll die trying to gather enough approval to get there. I saw the Dude, realized he had it figured out, and simply wanted to emulate the stark beauty I saw there.

Old Steve would’ve freaked out over the change in Honeycombs. The Dude instead abides. They’re good Honeycomb, Steve. Even if they don’t look the same. Even if they aren’t made the same, they TASTE the same. Same effect, same product, through different means. Almost as if the people in charge of Honeycomb knew they needed to modernize and update, yet took care to ensure that their product did not fall short of its fans expectations. Think maybe this is a metaphor for Star Trek: Discovery?

wow

The leader of the faithful does.

M*A*S*H – ‘Requiem For a Lightweight’/’Chief Surgeon Who?’

{‘Audit Season’ is a segment where I break down my personal experiences and the world building details of a property. Each entry contains my musing on the world building nature of the segments as well as how these stories affected my life.}

‘Requiem for a Lightweight’ – airdate 1st Oct ’72

Director – Hy Averback

Writer – Robert Klane

Hawkeye & trapper & cutler

Now I don’t often do a recap in my writing (just go and watch the damn episodes yourselves, they’re less than 25min long. Do the laundry or something while you watch them, be productive instead of sitting around all day waiting for bloggers to explain 45yr old TV show episodes to you) but I figured I’d give it a go here, just for fun:

“Hawkeye & Trapper find a new toy they want to play with, but can’t agree to share. Margarent sees the toy is distracting them, and tries to take the toy away. The only way Henry will prevent Hawkeye & Trapper from having their toy taken away by Margaret is if they agree to let this become the ‘Boxing episode’, so they do.”

Wow, that WAS easy. And anyone who’s seen and remembers the episode knows I’ve left out one incredibly important part – the ‘toy’ Hawkeye & Trapper are in competition over is Nurse Cutler, played deftly by Marcia Strassman. Now I swear I won’t let each and every audit of M*A*S*H episodes devolve into a finger wagging over blatant sexism, but it’s hard not to point it out here. Cutler is literally treated like a commodity, a prize for Hawkeye & Trapper to compete over. Her thoughts or opinions on her assignment and the attention of the two senior doctors are never explored beyond her mild desire to stay around these two dashing doctors who are just, gosh darn it, so good to her. Margaret doesn’t make things better when her solution to the doctors near harassment of Cutler amounts to sending her away. Now on one hand I try to understand, this IS the Army, and individuals need to be prepared to be re-assigned as part of the job, but through our modern lense we see another woman’s desires and objectives being sidelined by the lascivious wishes of the surgeons.

Now in the M*A*S*H universe, we know that the primary method of addressing this issue, Houlihan dressing down Hawkeye & Trapper for their distracting ways and making them respect her ‘authoritay’ is not going to happen, so the comedy needs to emerge from another source.

Image result for respect my authority gif

Hawkeye & Trapper are not written as characters who will take Margaret seriously, so the accepted understanding we have in our modern age of asking men to be responsible for their interactions with women needs to be put aside. Hawkeye & Trapper want something Margaret doesn’t want them to have. They need to convince Henry to go along with what they want, so he extorts them. All over the assignment of one nurse. Hilarity ensues!

And it does, once you get out of the first part of the episode. Once the boxing story is introduced, it becomes an episode of M*A*S*H I recognize. In fact, this is the FIRST episode in the audit that I distinctly remember watching as I grew up. This episode is chock full of the one-liners and word-play that I know shaped my sense of humour as a child. Things as simple as Radar describing the General’s boxer: “If he wanted to, he could be a platoon.” Or when McIntyre asks what happend to the individual who boxed last year “She’s gone!”

trapper boxing

Which leads to me another interesting point about sexims from this episode: In 1972 that joke about the female boxer would’ve landed because it was absurd. “A female boxer?” You might ask (as I frantically google ‘history female boxers’) “No such thing, just another bit of ludicrousity from the 4077” But watching the show today, that joke has a whole different meaning. There’s nowhere near the same stigma and ignorance around women’s sport today as there was 45yrs ago, yet the implication that in a major military unit fighting in a conventional war, the toughest boxer on site is still a woman, makes me chuckle. I take it as subtle dig at the passiveness and pacifism of the male characters in the show, since Hawkeye & Trapper are both lovers not fighters (as is evidenced by Trapper’s boxing abilities) Mulcahey (wearing William Christopher’s skin for the first time!) is a priest, Burns is an unequivocal weenie, and Blake is a hapless mess.

mulcahey

What a great segway into Colonel Blake! Henry is quickly becoming my most favourite character on this show, I’m sure I never gave him a fair shot in all the years prior. He’s overworked, underqualified and yet still manages to ‘command’ his camp. A good point was made that despite Henry being a complete pushover, he’s still in charge of the 4077, and him slamming the door on Hawkeye & Trapper over Cutler is a great example of this. I’m also in love with his monologue to himself after he first realizes Radar has had him sign half a dozen blank sheets of paper “…to save time.” His soliloquy is amazing considering that it runs under someone elses dialogue and was probably obscured by the laughtrack (if I bothered to listen to that format of the show). What I love most about Blake is how he is both inept and still capable. He couldn’t care less about how the camp is run, as long as it’s run. This makes him APPEAR to be a witless fool, but lets not mistake a lack of finesse for a lack of care. Henry is deeply devoted to the camp he runs and the people in it, evidenced by just how much shit he lets them get away with on a regular basis. The only times we ever see Henry get uptight are when the camp and its workings are threatened. His response to general Barker’s appeal for a boxer is one such instance, since if Henry were to outright decline or refuse, the 4077 would come under greater scrutiny from the General, thus putting its bizarre and manic workings under a much greater microscope than it needs. He is on the side of Hawkeye & Trapper so long as their antics do not threaten the “smooth” operation of his little domain. It’s this kind of pre-dudeist mellow that also allows me to push past Henry’s infidelity.

Blake & general

Though it’s never made a focus, Henry is indeed married. So far his wife has received little if any mention, but she does exist. For several episodes we’ve seen Henry involved in potentially compromising positions for a married man, but these are played off for humour, as so much of the sexist philandering in this show is. Ultimately M*A*S*H was made in the 70’s, a time of major socio-sexual revolution in America, and the laissez faire attitude about infidelity is a sign of the times. In that sense, I see Henry as far less of a pursuant, (unlike Hawkeye & Trapper) and more of someone prepared to make the ‘best of a situation’ when it came to the potential affections of women nurses under his… command. Oh crap, just stepped in another problem…

Won’t go there now, but I will use the previous discussion to outline a larger issue with a more prominent character: ‘Trapper’ John McIntyre is also married. And this is a bigger problem as far as the show is concerned when it comes to empathy for Trapper. In order for this story to work, we need to pit our two lead males against each other, however in any conventional situation, it’s clear who between them should be the primary suitor of nurse Cutler: Hawkeye. Trapper is married, and this has been in the forefront from the pilot episode, yet he pursues nurse Cutler in the same manner a single man would, competing with Hawkeye for her affections. As fun and humour as this is, it hurts our appreciation of Trapper because we as the contemporary audience are actively watching him pursue a morally objectionable act. If this was Rescue Me or Mad Men we would be able to understand his actions in the broader context of a complicated, flawed character, but Hawk & Trap are meant to be the good guys, we’re meant to relate and empathize to them and their need to flaunt authority in the face of horror, but this simple act pushes Trapper back a step. What I come away with, I’m not sure about others, is that Trapper is a great surgeon, a practical joker and a blast at parties, but he may not be the most moralistic or reliable friend. He’s the kind of mate you love to hang around with, but ultimately wouldn’t trust with your money or the task of picking you up from the airport.

 

‘Chief Surgeon Who???’ – airdate 8th Oct ’72

Director – E.W. Swackhammer (dibs on coverband name)

Writer – Larry Gelbart

emperor hawkeye

Among the first of the M*A*S*Hiest of M*A*S*H episodes, this is the one that clarifies just who the very best surgeon in the 4077 (hint: it’s Hawkeye) while setting us up with a third-act premise that M*A*S*H will return to time and time again.

What am I blathering about exactly? Let’s take some time to get there, because I have a word count I’m trying to hit and I don’t like my audits of different episodes to be different lenghts. This episode holds one of my favourite writing convetions, mainly technobabble. I grew up watching ‘Trek (surprise!) so I have a healthy ear for the techno sounding nonsense the characters need to spout to each other when talking about the future world they live in. The term ‘technobabble’ was coined to explain and provide context to this highly structured (but most often nonsensical) way of conveying information to the audience without them actually knowing what you’re talking about. “Rerouting the phase emitters and polarizing the secondary junction shunt should return power to your primary energizer coils!” Says Scotty/LaForge/O’Brien/Torres/Trip whoever, and the ‘Trek audience buys it because we know those words are supposed to mean SOMETHING in context with the universe. In M*A*S*H here we get an excellent example of surgerybabble between Spearchucker (He’s still here, wow) and Hawkeye. It sounds technical, and since I’ve watched ‘HOUSE MD.’ 3 and 1/2 times I’m pretty much a medical technician myself so I grasp what it is they’re communicating to each other, and this scene is used to put Frank Burns on the outside by demonstrating that HE doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Even though the audience is in the same boat as him, it appears to that much more inept because the other characters illustrate how thin his understanding is of the subject matter.

Now of course shows like M*A*S*H, HOUSE MD., Grey’s Anatomy and others have medical consultants on staff who fill in the surgerybabble with applicable and plausible phrasing, (but not on Scrubs, everything on that show that wasn’t Eliza Coupe was a hackjob not worth noting… [then whey did you note it, jackass?]) so unlike ‘Trek it’s not made up by the production designers, the language has a real-life beyond the confines of TV. I grew up knowing a lot of medical terms, what hemorrhage was, what a hematoma was, what tachycardia meant, and was always confused later in life when people were unaware of these medical terms. Guess I need to thank M*A*S*H for A) making me seem like a pretty smart kid when I was 10 and B) making sure my exhaustive knowledge of 70’s surgical terminology made me look like a complete loser when I was 17.

henrys office

So Hawkeye is the new chief surgeon! Hooray! Never mind that in the original novel and film that Trapper was made chief surgeon. The reason for such a change probably had something to do with the charisma and marketability of Alan Alda over Wayne Rogers (but they both so dreamy…) but it does lay the foundation for Rogers leaving in later seasons, feeling that Alda’s Hawkeye was receiving the ‘lead actor’ treatment on a show that was intended to be an ensemble from its first inception. In the context of the show it makes sense that Hawkeye is made chief surgeon over Trapper when one considers the different levels of responsbility we seen from both characters. Henry lays it out pretty clearly when he states that the chief surgeon needs to be able to devote more time than before to patients on all shifts, be available for consults at any moment. Based on the character we’ve had painted for us, Trapper is not that responsible. He may be an amazing surgeon, but between the two of them Hawkeye is the one I would count on to put himself out to help other surgeons or patients. I think Trapper enjoys his off time too much.

We are also painted a beautiful picture of what Frank’s place ultimately is in the show. When Henry establishes that he sincerely believes that Hawkeye is the better surgeon “…when the heat’s on.” cements Hawkeye’s legendary status in the minds of the audience, while finally qualifying that Frank is a ‘decent enough’ surgeon, but will never be the type to inspire confidence in his abilities. By awarding the title of Chief Surgeon to a man ranked lower than he is, M*A*S*H deliberately relegates Frank to the role of ‘punchline’ for the rest of his duration on the show. It works because it gives Hawkeye & Trapper a great target to practice on, but it undercuts Frank’s potential as an antagonist. Margaret serves as a better foil for Hawk & Trap in the future, while Frank is just good for setting up the laugh track (which I don’t hear anyways…)

debut klinger

We get to meet Klinger! Finally! And in all his glory of course, bucking for a section 8 psyche discharge by wearing women’s clothes. Now, when his character gets featured more prominently we’ll talk about the delicate nature of equating wearing gender non-conforming clothes as an expression of mental illness, but for now we can just enjoy his presence as another wacky background character adding colour to the 4077th. His character’s second appearance in the episode, naked, plays better to the mental health angle, but is immediately reduced when he returns to his dresses in later episodes. Henry is right thought when he comments that Klinger “Has the legs for it.” Jamie Farr has a set of calves I know a few gym folk would die over.

There’s insight into Radar here as well, when General Barker discovers him in Blake’s office at 3am drinking his booze and smoking his cigars. Radar’s response to being caught is priceless though: “I thought one of us needed to be reasonable.” It just goes to show how comfortable Radar is with his manipulation of Henry, and it gives a very different kind of Radar than we will see when Potter arrives in a few seasons. That Radar returns to being a very innocent, naive character, while the current Radar is much more sinister and self-motivated. Time will tell which Radar I enjoy more.

So why is this episode ‘super M*A*S*Hy’ to me? The story plays with several tropes that M*A*S*H will return to time and time again in its 11 yr run: The ‘big general comes to the 4077th, finds it to be a den of bedlam and vice, but ultimately warms to the unit and its inhabitants when he discovers how well they ‘doctor’. I’m going to keep track of how often we run with this chestnut in the future, but for now I know we have at least 2 examples, the Pilot and this episode. I will keep a running counter going forward. It’s a story point that works to drive home the purpose and message of the show, but it’s also a very ‘ends justify the means’ message, which can become problematic as we move forward. M*A*S*H is nothing if not replete with conflicting and counter-intuitive messaging.

‘Swarm Of Bees’ is on the case!

So I’ve been running silent for a few weeks, but not because I’ve become besties with my PJ’s and Netflix’s run of HIMYM (I’ll write about that in the fullness of time as well.) but because I’ve been neck deep in a couple projects. Those projects wrapped last week, so here I am now, free and clear to get back to hours of daily writing with no results or successes to speak of.

Those projects are currently battling it out with other projects as part of Storyhive’s latest (and possibly ‘Final’) funding blitz for a cool $100K to make your ‘longer than a short, shorter than a feature’ production – essentially a TV pilot or webseries is the directive here. I signed on to be part of two different teams, and the results are gonna be yuge.

Today I’m here to draw attention to the most innovative of the two pitches: A story about Fred Mulholland, a tough-as-nails homicide detective who’s just lost his best friend and partner in the line of duty, and the detective assigned as his new partner, a hard-drinking, womanizing, swarm of bees in a jar named ‘Swarm Of Bees.’

Swarm Of Bees: The Stakeout

Yeah, you just read/saw that right. A swarm of bees in a jar as a police detective. Look, if they can make Colossal with Anne Hathaway, there HAS to be room in the world of entertainment for a jar full of bees.

But seriously, why bees? Like WHY?

Image result for not the bees gif

I grew up watching 80’s & 90’s action movies (along with just about anything else that was on TV or rentable) – BTW – 80’s/90’s action movies are in serious need of a revival, you don’t get movies like the Lethal Weapons or Die Hards anymore. Everything is a giant tent-pole uber-film that has been shot and re-shot and re-edited until there can’t possibly be any glaring flaws left in the material – I’m looking at you Every Marvel Movie Ever.

Image result for guardians gif

That love for all things shooty/punchy/actiony has left me with a pretty good sense of what makes a good action movie work, and what an audience wants to see in an action movie. I’ve enjoyed playing with the tropes cemented in ’87 (Go back and LOOK at ALL the films released in 1987, it’s seriously like some bizarre locus in movie time, the way 1955 was a cosmic locus for BTTF.) throughout my struggling screenwriting career, but had never found a ‘proper’ way to bring an idea to the masses.

Until one day in film school…

Alasdair, a screenwriting super-carpenter/gay-jesus type, great friend of mine and sometimes collaborator once wrote a script in film school that involved a gag where a character is crushed under a falling bees nest multiple times. Or at least it was once, and we perpetuated the SHIT out of it into ‘multiple times. Man, the concept was so hilarious to my… 25yr old brain. We tried to work it into the final product, but bees have strong unions and there was no way any swarm was going to come on a student shoot for scale, we couldn’t even rustle enough honey for the crafty… Anyways, the bee-hive became a running joke amongst the writers, until one day someone (I wish I could remember who…) just randomly spit out the most epic bit of inspirational dialogue I’ve ever heard:

“Goddammit Swarm Of Bees! The mayor is up my ass about this! You get your shit together or you are OFF the case!”

Was that an angry police captain just yelling at an officer identified as a swarm of bees in jar? Yes. Yes it was.

When the laughter died down (radio telescopes [radio, because they can ‘hear’, get it? Ahh you don’t get it…] tell us that was 0.0004 seconds ago) I knew we had struck literal absurdist gold. “One’s a hardened police detective, the others a Swarm Of Bees.” It’s so beyond the realm of expectation or conceivability that to this day it amazes me the concept has lasted (in our minds). I enjoy comedy, but I don’t consider myself to be a ‘comedian’…

Image result for the comedian gif

Awwe thanks not-yet-Negan!

I write things that ARE funny, but I’m not convinced I’m the ‘comedy writer’ that some are. Like so many folks, I’m better at riffing on existing funny things, airplane food, the differences between men & women, sex, you know, the low-hanging fruit of comedy, than I am at devising my own entirely original hilarious concept. But here you are, hilarious concept achieved.

It IS hilarious though right? I mean, he’s a cop that’s a jar of bees, it SHOULD write itself. And guess what? It kind of did. Because I didn’t set out to write a comedy, I set out to write a five X 20min episode action webseries that featured a swarm of bees as one of the leads. Bees doesn’t talk to the audience (as you can see in The Stakeout – and if you didn’t watch it and read all the way to here, now you’re busted) as such, he buzzes the way R2-D2 bleeps & bloops, and everyone can understand him. Unless Bees is speaking Spanish (he is from south of the second border, which is much further south from our south of the border) in which case he gets subtitled into english (can’t expect the audience to accept a swarm of bees AND speak Spanish, now can we?) The whole point of the hilarity of Swarm Of Bees (or just Bees, as we call him) is that for all intents and purposes, Bees is a REAL, living, breathing character. No one EVER points out that he’s a bunch of insects in a jar. That would be rude, and un-called for. Think of it like BoJack Horseman, only Bees is the only anthropomorphized character.

And Mulholland & Bees, they’re action stars! Car chases! Explosions! Fruit Stands! Fist-fights! (yes, Bees too!) Sexy-Times! The new duo are chasing the man who killed Mulholland’s partner and his boss, the Queen B. Puns! Sooooo many ‘bee’ puns. Cuz’ if you’re gonna make something ridiculous, you should go all out, right?

And I ask this because there are a lot of people we pitch this to who DO NOT GET IT. They stare at us for a moment, and usually follow with a question: “Wait, so he’s a guy made of bees?” or “But… it’s just a jar of bees?” and we know who our audience isn’t. If you saw the initial concept and just thought ‘that’s funny’ then YOU’RE our audience.

Ferengi Rule of Scripting #303 – The audience comes to you. Not the other way around.

I think I just insighted something there. (Insighted is a word in my book – I’m also adding ‘cowardry’, “…committing acts of cowardry“) I’ve spent time lately trying to construct work for an existing audience, and I’m realizing that’s simply the backwards way to go about it. I want to APPEAL to a certain kind, or a variety of, audiences, but I find MY audience not when I show them something they’ve already seen, but instead something that is unique from me. I have so many concepts sitting, waiting to be actioned on. I need to do more with them.

S.O.B (serendipitous acronym…) is me and the team I was part of at our wackiest. (Ugh, I said wacky – anybody ever grow up with the children’s book ‘Wacky Wednesday?’ My grandma used to read that to me all the time. Wack.) We know that Mulholland & Bees are such a wicked combination of the WTF and Huh? that they’re bound to capture the hearts and minds of at least a small corner of the internet. So wish us luck in our knock at Storyhive’s door, and one way or the other, we’ll have Swarm Of Bees out for all to see soon!

(says every filmmaker about every project…)

 

M*A*S*H – Pilot/”To Market, to Market”

{‘Audit Season’ is a segment where I break down my personal experiences and the world building details of a property. Each entry contains my musing on the world building nature of the segments as well as how these stories affected my life.}

PILOT airdate 17 Sep ’72

Director – Gene Reynolds

Writer – Larry Gelbart

I’m not here to synopsize, if you haven’t seen the episode it’s like 45 yrs old at this point, go and watch it for christ’s sake, then come back and read, pretending you never had to do any homework. But yeah, this is the episode where Hawkeye & Trapper raffle off a trip to Tokyo with ‘Lt. Dish’ (of the ‘dishnetwork’ Dish’s I suppose…) to earn money to send Ho Jon to medical school in the US, then find themselves having fallen afoul of Brig. General Hammond when the plan, typically, goes awry at the last minute.

This episode is just about as M*A*S*H as they come, which isn’t a surprise seeing as this is what they sold the series on. All the elements from the original film are here, modified for TV. Everyone except Radar O’Reilly has been recast, so that doesn’t really need to be explored (except for the bizarro-Father Mulcahey played by George Morgan, like he’s from some Kelvin-universe version of M*A*S*H) There are a few slight differences here from the film, most of which I can see existing to placate a few producers who felt they needed to have some kind of input/opinion on the final product; O’Houlihan is now just Houlihan, no longer played by former starfleet officer Elizabeth Dehner, sorry, Sally Kellerman. Instead she’s brought to life by Loretta Swit, and we’re all the better for it. Hawkeye is less his bucket hat and signature whistle, and Trapper seems to have lost his moustache, but the rest of what we see is instantly recognizable. The protracted opening is a perfect call back to the feature, Radar gets to be Radar, Blake is a near Forrest Gump-ified version of his future self, and everything in Korea is as it should be…

I grew up watching M*A*S*H on north american TV, so I cut my teeth on the laugh track. I’m watching off the DVD’s on this audit so I make the POINT of turning it off and enjoying how bizarrely sardonic the humour is. What is LOST in doing that however is the constrast between the surgery scenes and the rest of the show. While the laugh track is offensive to everyone alive who has ever laughed, having it present but then also absent during the surgery sequences was an excellent way to illustrate the duality of how the characters live, and what the show is trying to say. One could choose to view the laughtrack itself as a kind of terrible joke played on the characters, intruding on their lives with its ‘humour’ and where the only safe place is the one location they are using the humour to defend from. One could choose to, if they wanted. But one could also just turn the damn thing off and appreciate the amazing screenwriting without the obnoxious voices of ghosts echoing in your ears (because you can be guaranteed that everyone who’s voice is recorded on there is now dead.)

hawkeye and dish

On the theme of creepy things, let’s talk about Hawkeye and his stalking. Now I’m gonna do my very best to make sure not EVERY article I write about M*A*S*H is obsessed with it’s latent sexism, but it needs to be addressed properly if we’re all going to get out of here with our equality and diversity intact. Hawkeye wants Lt. Dish bad, bad enough to hide out in her footlocker for… “X” amount of time until he opens it up Bela Lugosi style to ‘surprise’ her. Dish, being the calm, cool lithium addict that she is, isn’t fazed at all by a man appearing in her wardrobe storage. She just closes the lid on him again, to wait for… what? I want to see the part where Hawkeye gets out again and leaves “I really have to pee.” This feeds into something though: Lt. Dish spends most of show sending Hawkeye very mixed signals, she says she’s “Engaged and trying to be faithful!” all the while cooing and not entirely pushing back against Hawekeye’s advances. Don’t be mistaken though, Hawkeye is definitely the aggressor here. All Dish can do is “Tee hee, stop that!” to him playfully.

This is important because as an impressionable child who learned all his most important lessons from TV, Hawkeye was one of my first examples on how to treat the opposite sex. Now make no mistake, Hawkeye has nothing but love, affection and (some) respect for his female co-workers, but by today’s standards he’s living on the border of sexual assault and owns a summer home in the enclave of sexual harassment. He reflects the same kind of ‘advice’ that has been passed down from men to their sons for patriarchial years: “Persistence pays off”. I’m not going to refute someones anecdote about how indeed persistence did pay off in the end, but I’m going to say with a great deal of (unverified) confidence that it almost never works the way it should. From TV Hawkeye (not Sutherland Hawkeye either, that’s a whole different discussion – go check out my last M*A*S*H post) I learned that being self-depreceatingly funny while also being sexually aggressive was a surefire way to endear yourself to the ladies. It probably instilled a sense of good humour in me, because truth of it is we see Hawkeye being rejected much more than he succeeds. It works like this; seems to me anytime we enter a scene where Hawkeye is already settled down with a woman, he’s on his way to being a charming success, but anytime we witness Hawkeye trying to make the initial connection, we see him failing. I’m hoping that by watching the further 11 seasons of this show I’ll be able to suss out whether this trend holds up or not. Yes, it’s terrible to learn how to treat the opposite sex from a TV show but what was I supposed to do? It’s not like I could just hide in their closets… No, no I could not do that. Because no matter how much I would think I was being charming or coy, the police would tell me I was ‘trespassing’. So thanks Hawkeye, for giving me such a terrible impression of how women react to being stalked.

Let’s also not forget the entire point of this episode – Hawkeye and Trapper make money selling raffle tickets that entitle the winner to a weekend in Tokyo with Lt. Dish, you know, to enjoy her company and love of cherry blossoms. The show gets around the accusations of prostitution by ultimately pairing Lt. Dish with someone who’s never, ever been accused of sexual wrongdoing, a priest. Of course bizarro-Father Mulcahey is a paragon of virtue and never presented as anything less, so the short term selling of a person as a prize is made okay because the winner is very unlikely to do anything untoward to her. The ends justify the means in Korea! Wait, weren’t we sending a kid to medical school with all this money? Right!

not mulcahey

There’s one final kicker here, and that’s Hawkeye & Trapper’s interaction with Gen. Hammond. This is a trope/theme we will see replayed time and again in M*A*S*H, the ‘Two doctors physically assault another, but are SOOOO good at what they do that the law is powerless against them” trope. Let’s be real, in a *nearly* justified action they drug Frank Burns in order to prevent him from stopping their party, and when Hammond is brought to bear on the issue, his anger is melted by the fact that Hawkeye & Trapper are the best meatball surgeons in the army. Works out too well for them, since they end up stuck where they started, not in jail and waiting for the next set of choppers to arrive. This kind of thing will reappear again in M*A*S*H, mark my words.

The Pilot is an excellent window on what the show will be, feeling just like any other solid episode of M*A*S*H does. Not sure if this is a testament to how well executed the show is, or to how little the show changes over time. The situation demands further audits and investigations!

“To Market, to Market”

Airdate – 24 Sep ’72

Director – Michael Herlihy

Writer – Burt Styler

all gone

This is probably the very first episode of M*A*S*H that feels like it’s own episode, rather than a bite-sized version of the film. It follows the M*A*S*H book of storytelling where a problem is noticed by Hawkeye & Trapper, to which they engineer a truly hair-brained solution, that ultimately blows up in their faces, yet they still somehow succeed. In the same sense that the characters in ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’  can never manage to succeed due to being terrible, self absorbed people, Hawkeye & Trapper ALWAYS succeed, despite the odds, because they are just so darned lovable.

This episode does an excellent job of making comedy out of a very serious problem facing doctors in this situation, the black market. It’s the strength of this show, it’s ability to find comedy in what it is the doctors do in their situation, rather than searching for it in either the sad racial stereotypes the show perpetuates at this point or in mocking the comically sinister Burns/Houlihan duo. Jack Soo as Charlie Lee brings some amazing acting chops to what would’ve been a charicature role otherwise, and his expressions when Hawkeye & Trapper remove his desk to be potentially replaced by Blakes new desk (You’ll never guess, it’s made of oak!) are priceless, a great piece of acting and directing I think. This episode is FULL of that kind of thing, though the focus on events and characters OUTSIDE the camp rather than inside marks this as a story still trying to find it’s feet, it’s soul. As the series progresses we see more and more stories where the conflict, drama, and hilarious, wicked comedy comes directly from events inside the camp, driven by characters whose names are in the title sequence, and this is when M*A*S*H really starts to shine. I won’t at all fault what we have happening here, because it’s great entertainment in its own right, but it’s indicative of a show that has a long way to go before it finds its true groove.

Which brings me to a deeper issue with M*A*S*H thematics. The show tends to be divided up among fans between two eras; What I call the ‘Feature’ era, which is where we are now, and ‘Later M*A*S*H’. The differences work as such: The Feature era is of course directly connected to the film. All the characters from the film are here in the first season, though Spearchucker and Ugly John are hardly used and eventually phased out because you can only have so many featured characters per episode, and neither Spearchucker nor Ugly John are ever given any real development or chance to grow. Hawkeye & Trapper are truly where it’s at, and therein lies the big change. Some time in the future Trapper will leave to be replaced by BJ Honeycutt, and all of M*A*S*H will turn on this change. Why’s that? Right now, Hawkeye & Trapper are two peas in a pod, two jokers, both wild. They’re the best/worst kind of enabling friends who constantly challenge each other to ‘do better’, to be more outlandish. There’s so sense of restraint or responsibility between them, since neither of them cares to be responsible. When BJ arrives on the scene, he changes the dynamic Hawkeye has with the audience. No longer do we have two maniacs running the show, now we have a Jekyll/Hyde relationship, or more what I like to think of as a ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ relationship. Hawkeye will always be Calvin, brilliant in every way but unable to overcome his own internalized urges and emotions, whereas BJ is a much more refined character, a true Hobbes. He’s still a lunatic, don’t get me wrong, but there’s an honesty and heart to him that Trapper John McIntyre is missing. Trapper is nihilistic (“Bad news from home; My wife still loves me!”) while BJ is a true family man. He plays off Hawkeye’s deeper empathies and brings them to light, whereas Trapper simply trampled  right over them in order to reach the next drink, or prank. BJ becomes the philosopher who Hawkeye must gauge himself by.  By the era of ‘Later M*A*S*H’ we also have a change from Blake to Potter, and Burns to Winchester and these new characters do an excellent job of complimenting the remaining cast members better than their original counterparts do. I’ll touch on this again when we start to see these casting changes appear, but for now it’s enough to understand that the dynamic between Hawkeye & Trapper creates a very different kind of story than the ones we will see in the first and second seasons.

Want to know what’s crazy about these episodes? I’m pretty sure than until I lined them up for this audit, I’d never seen them before. That’s actually saying something because M*A*S*H was a mainstay on the TV growing up, so much so that in recent years I’ve only ever found one other episode in much later seasons that I was sure I hadn’t seen. I remember having a small prejudice against these earliest episodes when I was younger because they still featured characters I didn’t know too well and didn’t stick around (Spearchucker and Ugly John) and something about them didn’t quite feel ‘settled’ yet. Also, with Klinger not yet part of the cast I feel like a very important part of the show is missing. So yes, there are a few episodes even a die hard fan like me has yet to see, and if in performing this audit I can find MORE episodes I never realized I hadn’t seen, I’ll be a very happy individual. Not sure how likely that is after all though, since I’m literally wearing my M*A*S*H shirt as I write this and only a scant few tens of thousands of consumers out there can say that.

IMG_0983

*proof*

‘To Market, to Market’ also gives us what will become another mainstay of M*A*S*H, and that’s the ridiculous sight gag. Henry’s desk, flying away into oblivion is both a beautifully comic solution to our hero’s problems, but also serves as an amazing image on its own. There is a huge part of me that suspects the ‘Flying Lenin’ sequence from ‘Goodbye Lenin’ must’ve taken at least SOME inspiration from the desk sequence here. When you also consider that all the interiors are shot on a Hollywood soundstage while the exteriors were on location in the So-Cal mountains, it ’twas some brilliant directing and editing that managed to link both of these locations visually and continuously without ever creating the impression that the inside of Henry’s office ISN’T also out in the scrublands hills of wherever. We also can’t forget the hilarity of Henry rushing up to his liquor cabinet to check that the black marketeers didn’t take his booze, completey missing the fact both his prized desk and his office wall are missing. It’s the kind of over-the-top visual humour that will keep the show moving long into the future.flying desk

And mentioning Henry brings me to one last point. The lovable father/son relationship between Blake & Radar. In no way am I brilliant enough or have been around long enough to have deduced this myself, but over the years fans have noticed the caring ‘father/son’ thing between prognosticating Radar and ‘out to lunch’ Henry Blake. I see it too, but I’m pretty sure I see it a little differently. I don’t see a loving yet bumbling older father offering guidance to his young, naive son, I see an elderly dementia patient being tended to by his adult child. Think about it, Radar needs to do nearly EVERYTHING for Blake, and Blake can’t even remember what any of it is half the time. I know a few elderly folk fighting the good fight with Alzheimers, and the way Radar tells Blake everything he’s about to ask feels a lot like explaining for the twelfth time that it is not 1972 and this is a different prime minister Trudeau. Blake would be absolutely lost without Radar, and Radar knows it. So of course in true M*A*S*H fashion Radar goes about taking advantage of the situation he finds himself in. Do I advocate having your dementia stricken parent sign papers of which they don’t understand? No, not at all, unless they are Blake and you are Radar, in which case it becomes hilarious.

goodbye desk

One day Henry Blake will be my Hallowe’en costume – essentially as soon as I have a Hallowe’en party to go to and I don’t procrastinate and anm forced to  throw together another iteration of ‘The Dude’.

Until next time M*A*S*H fans!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑