Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Big Bang Theory: the 4th season - more problems.

I guess what can be said about The Big Bang Theory is that it has gone steadily downhill for the last season and a half. The third season was a big (and a rather unexpected) disappointment. The fourth season, unfortunately, has been even worse.

There are of course numerous reasons for the decline in quality, but I'll concentrate on the five big ones. These are:

1) Amy Farrah Fowler's character.
2) Sheldon degenerates even more.
3) The characters aren't underdogs anymore.
4) Lack of antagonists.
5) Writers don't know how to write Penny and female characters.

1) Amy Farrah Fowler's character: I don't know what the writers were thinking when they decided to create another Sheldon in Amy Farrah Fowler's character. She doesn't work at all.

I have nothing against Mayim Bialik as an actress. I liked her in Macgyver and as Blossom when I was a kid. It's just that on TBBT her character creates a black hole that sucks everyone else inside with her.

But why is AFF's character is so bad? Well, The Big Bang Theory is (or was) supposed to be about men vs women and geeks vs normal people. Every character should be an outcome of these four character attributes.

Mayim Bialik's character unfortunately doesn't follow these guidelines. In fact, her character isn't defined at all. We don't know if she's a geek or a normal person. And to be honest, do we even know if she's a man or a woman? She's just sitting there doing absolutely nothing.

2) Sheldon degenerates even more: I wouldn't have believed after the third season that Sheldon's character could get any worse. But that's what happened. Sheldon doesn't have any personality anymore. He only shouts out caricaturish lines that don't have anything to do with his twisted idealism.

If the writers did happen to get an idea where Sheldon has idealistic thoughts (like becoming a robot) the whole thing turns into a very ugly and lazy slapstick. Sheldon is supposed to become more human as people with asperger's tend to do. He's not supposed to regress.

3) The characters aren't underdogs anymore: Everyone roots for the underdogs so there's no good reason not to have them on the show. However, the writers went to silly lengths to make sure that none of the characters were in a 'down' situation.

Howard having a girlfriend is ok, since Bernadette is a funny character. But Leonard's conquests this season have been awful and have come out of nowhere. The most unfortunate instance of 'no underdogs'-theme has been Raj having a deaf girlfriend - off-screen. That's simply wrong.

4) Lack of antagonists: let's count the best antagonists so far on the show: Leslie Winkle, Dr. Gablehouser, Stuart, Wil Wheaton, and Leonard's mom. How many are left? Well, none basically. Wil Wheaton had a quick but unnecessary cameo in the Indy episode. Others have been missing in action.

When you take strong antagonists out of the equation, you're not left with much. It shouldn't be that hard to come up with story ideas where someone stands up to the guys. I myself managed to write a spec where Dr. Gablehouser shows Sheldon who's the boss, so it obviously can be done.

5) Finally: Writers don't know how to write female characters: This wasn't really a problem during the first two seasons. The characters were new so in certain ways Penny's character wrote itself. Now that we know the characters, we should get more insight into her.

Too bad that this doesn't happen. Instead she gets dumber and meaner as the seasons go further. She doesn't seem to have any ambitions whatsoever. Someone pointed out it might have something to do with those pesky middle aged divorced men on the staff...

Speaking of women. Nicole Lorre (presumably Chuck's daughter) has come up with the funniest storylines up to date: Barbarian Sublimation and Vegas Renormalization. I wonder what's she's doing on the show nowadays.

In conclusion: 11 episodes behind: 1 that was funny. No wonder I have become more and more afraid of watching the next episode. It might be funny, however the chances unfortunately are that it isn't.

Friday, December 3, 2010

V (2009) and V (1983).

Hmm, what should I say here? Okay, I was a big fan of the original series. It's one of my favorites and also likely the best scifi miniseries of all time.

So when I got the long-awaited news that there would be a remake, I had some relatively high expectations for the show. Surely these new guys in charge would know how to pull off a moderately good show, close to the the original from the 80s.

But that's not exactly what happened. We didn't get a good show. Unfortunately, we didn't even get an okay show. So what went wrong then?

I guess the biggest problem with the new show is that it doesn't have any themes or characters that are interesting.

The original was about transformation and people rising up to the challenge. It was about the visitors coming after us and slowly getting rid of our precious rights. It was about human condition and the way we act in a crisis.

The new one isn't unfortunately about any of these things. At all.

The original had interesting and memorable characters: the gung-ho journalist who wanted to get to the bottom of it, a holocaust survivor and his family, a mother willing to sell his only son to the visitors, a kid willing to betray his precious family and a heroine doctor who would become the unexpected resistance leader.

The new version doesn't have any characters like that. The FBI agent is more or less only doing her job, the priest doesn't have any clue, the kid only wants to have sex, the journalist doesn't know who the bad guys are and the rest of them are basically nobodies.

There simply aren't any transformative characters on the show. The characters in the new version serve mainly to create shortcuts to the visitors - which makes the show as lazy and unimaginable as you could ever imagine.

Furthermore, it doesn't feel like there's any kind of threat going on at all. Nobody seems to be in trouble. And if nobody's in trouble, you don't have a story.

It didn't help the new show that they spilled all the beans in the 42 minute pilot. It's mind boggling how many of those crucial plot points they spent - that the visitors aren't here for benevolent reasons and that they are lizards. (the original by the way spent half its length to get to the shocking revelation about the visitors)

The producers of the new version told it was done because most of us had already seen the original, so we knew who the visitors were and what they were up to. The logical question to that is that since we knew who they were and what they were up to, why did they even make the new series in the first place?

I personally don't think there's anything wrong about making a new series. It's just that these new guys had no idea what they were doing. All the good parts from the original are missing. None of the allegories to Nazi Germany are there. There are no themes, no values, no substance, no nothing.

I don't care what happens to the characters in the new version. I'm almost rooting for the V's to kick the crap out of the resistance. Well, almost.

Nevertheless, the original was and still is an amazing achievement in storytelling. For example, take at look at this clip. (it's really that good)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How to (and how not to) pay tribute to ABBA.

Here's how you do it right:

And here's how you do it wrong:

The Simpsons has maybe like five seconds of ABBA's Waterloo that serves as a joke. Great episode by the way. (Mother Simpson S7E08)

The Community on the other hand shamelessly plays numerous ABBA songs throughout the episode and the songs have no connection to the episode whatsoever.

You might say that "so what, those songs made the episode better".

Yes, I agree. But it's still über lame.

The important thing here is that ABBA is perhaps the best band of all time and (coming from an artistic viewpoint) you are not supposed pay tributes to the band unless you have earned it. (by writing superb comedy in this case)

The Simpsons writers thought that they were good enough to play five seconds of ABBA. The Community writers however decided that they had earned to play full ten minutes of the band in one single episode.

I don't know if you can find a better example of Hubris than that.

What we got here is pretty much the difference between talented, humble writers and writers who don't seem to be aware of their unfortunately very limited abilities.

Does it really come as a surprise that The Simpsons is the best sitcom of all times and that Community is a pretty pointless and awful series?

I don't think Community was even paying a tribute here. Instead they were riding someone else's coattails. Which is something they do all the time.

And by the way, this same Community episode also had a random "I love you - I know" reference. Can it get any more lame than that?

Comedy isn't about making empty, pointless references. Comedy is about meaning, purpose and significance. Like that Simpsons clip above.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Best sitcom of the last ten years.

I understand that people say how comedy is subjective, but nevertheless, if I had to pick the single best sitcom in the last ten years, it would be The IT Crowd.

The IT Crowd? Yeah, you probably haven't seen it. It's a British sitcom that has been running on Channel 4 for the past four years.

It's about three IT support team members, Roy, Moss, Jen and their boss Douglas working in the basement of a fictional company Reynholm Industries.

Or should I say, "working" because none of them seem to be interested in their work. Some seem to be even wildly incompetent (especially the head honcho Douglas).

Despite the show's premise, most of the time the show really isn't about their work. I guess it's more a show about the absurdities of life.

For example, a running joke on the show is the question about what the "IT" stands for. We haven't gotten an answer so far.

The show is filmed both in front of a live audience and also on location. The creator and the writer of the show Graham Linehan is also known for the comedy series "Father Ted".

Now, what makes the show perhaps the best live-action comedy on tv? Probably the best way to answer that is by providing you actual material from the show.


This clip from "The Work Outing" (S2E01) doesn't unfortunately include the whole episode, but in any case the story goes here that Jen, Roy and Moss go to a theater to see a "Gay musical, Gay".

Watch what happens here. After failing to use the bathroom for customers, Roy decides to use a restroom for the disabled while Moss uses the restroom reserved for the staff.

The scene where Jen finds Roy in a wheelchair and Moss as a bartender is not only totally absurd but also one of the funniest I'll ever see.


Or how about this other clip from the very same episode? Jen's date seems to be a bit gayish and in the end she can't resist anymore and asks the inevitable question. I bet you didn't see that twist coming.

That is what comedy should be but unfortunately most of the time really isn't.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Graham Linehan both wrote and directed "The Work Outing". In fact, he has written every episode of the series from scratch and has also a co-director credit on each one of those.

It has been said that the quality of the show is because of Linehan's clear vision and because the show isn't group written, like for example Two and a Half Men. (some call that "comedy by committee" writing)

I myself believe that Graham Linehan is a comedy auteur and that the guy is obviously a genius. (I guess David Kelley who wrote basically every episode of Ally Mcbeal qualifies too)

In any case, writers like these make the rest look like complete amateurs. It's like pack your bags and go home.

Now, it shouldn't also come as a surprise that a couple of years ago NBC tried to remake show in the U.S, like it did with The Office. The pilot wasn't picked up. I've seen it and it was pretty awful to be honest.

The original show is such an unique combination of deadpan writing, acting and directing that I believe it's impossible to transfer it for the needs of the U.S audience. I just don't think it can be done.

But I've heard that there's another remake coming up later next year...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What's wrong with those new sitcom pilots?

Okay, so I think have seen the new comedy pilots. Those are "Running Wilde", "Raising Hope", Better With You" (picture), "Shit My Dad Says", "Outsourced" and "Mike & Molly".

Unfortunately, when it comes to the quality of these new pilots, all were pretty bad. Not one was even decent.

Makes you wonder how bad the other two dozen pilots were that didn't make the cut.

Okay, I'll give you that Billy Gardell's and Melissa McCarthy's acting was pretty solid in Mike & Molly. Too bad the other parts on the show aren't working.

So why are these new pilot shows so bad?

Well, if you watched any of these shows, did you find a single one of them actually going somewhere?

Probably not and that's mostly because these shows didn't have good premises.

If you don't have a good, interesting setup, your show has nowhere to go.

The problem with these new six shows is that none of them have any potential to say anything even remotely meaningful about the way we live our lives.

None of the characters are interesting. Just because the synopsis of the show describes the characters as "funny, charming, ambitious etc" doesn't mean that you're in for a treat. You need more than that.

Besides, characters itself don't get your show anywhere. What defines your show is how the characters interact with each other.

That is what helps to create conflict, tension, wants, needs, success, failure, humor, drama and meaning in general. The essential stuff.

That's why a show like Frasier was so successful. The characters were relatively well developed, but what made the show was the quality of the relationships - the brothers being competitive snobs and the rest of the cast being the voice of reason.

The same way Everybody Loves Raymond was successful because it perfected the family dynamics. Every character had strengths and weaknesses compared to the others. That's why they were able to milk it for so many years.

And then there was Friends. You know why it was so successful? Because of the relationships. Somehow all the characters managed to find a way to be genuinely friends with each other. That's a lot harder to do than it sounds. No wonder its success is yet to be repeated.

In the end all these shows were successful because they figured out the premise. They figured out the characters. And then they figured out the character relationships.

Those are the building blocks of good sitcoms. Those are all that we need but unfortunately not what we got this season.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A scene that didn't make any sense. (Grey's Anatomy)

I hadn't watched Grey's Anatomy but some people kept saying how it's good. (Oprah among others)

Well, since I noticed last night that a re-run of an episode was on tv, I decided to watch the last fifteen minutes.

As you might know (from the picture), we were in a situation where a woman dies in a surgery, his husband blames the doctors and eventually goes on a killing spree at the hospital.

Anyway, somehow the shooter gets wounded. And isolated. (this was when I started watching the episode)

Then one of the doctors apparently gets an idea to go talk to him. Even though the doctor (as far as I know) could and should have just walked away.

This doctor's behavior is really dumb, unless he 1) wants to die or 2) wants to save the shooter. I think both are somewhat plausible and acceptable scenarios when it comes to drama.

But that's not what happens. Instead we get to hear dialogue where 1) the doctor doesn't want to die but 2) he doesn't seem to care about saving the shooter's life either.

Oh man. This doesn't look good. What is going on in here?

Then the shooter reveals that he's got only one bullet left.

Now this doctor suddenly "wakes up".

We get a really long (and not well written) speech about how he's had a good but painful life and that he's actually willing to die - OR that the shooter could kill himself and that he might this way see his wife in heaven.

What the...?

First, what is the doctor doing there?

Second, his willingness to die doesn't match his behavior five minutes ago. Third, this other 'choice', "see your wife", comes totally out of nowhere and is pretty ridiculous too.

Finally, it's against hippocratic oath for a doctor to suggest committing suicide. In case someone forgot.

The doctor's rationale for what he's doing is a total mystery to me...

Anyway, the resolution is that the doctor walks away (I don't know why, if he wants to die) as the swat team is about to arrive. Off screen we hear a single shot and assume that the shooter committed suicide.

Honestly, I had no clue what was going on in here. The scene didn't make any sense to me.

Now, would the whole thing have made more sense if I had watched the complete episode? I doubt it but I sure as hell hope so.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Appreciating Louis Theroux.

I just watched the latest documentary by Louis Theroux. It was about kids on medication in the United States. A well spent hour, if you ask me.

Anyway, you might remember him from Michael Moore's Tv Nation that ran in the mid nineties on NBC.

More than that he's known for his documentary series on the British BBC. Especially for his "Weird Weekends" series.

We have seen Louis for example with Neo-Nazis, with Fred Phelps, in jail, having a liposuction, as a WCW wrestler, in adult entertainment, trying to figure out women's bodybuilding, in Harlem...

Interesting stuff. Theroux has been willing to put himself in challenging and sometimes even funny situations.

But the reason I like him is because of his approach towards his subjects. That is that Louis is an exceptionally non-threatening, friendly and polite interviewer.

That's right. Non-threatening, friendly and polite.

I also like him because he's open-minded. He seems to be genuinely interested in different people and different phenomena. He likes to learn new things, and he doesn't come off as a judgemental person.

I think those qualities are rather rare in today's world coming from an entertainer. (he calls himself a presenter though)

What passes today as entertainment is basically opposite of what Theroux stands for.

Today's entertainment is mostly uninsightful and empty, not really interested in characters and real human beings, not interested in finding out anything new and not interested in being decent and dignified.

Worst of all, today's entertainment tends to be all about hype and zero about substance.

Theroux's shows are so refreshing because they don't have anything to do with hype. There's no unnecessary drama, there's nothing forced. Everything unfolds naturally. That's why his documentaries are usually compelling tv.

He doesn't know everything. But he wants to learn. He doesn't always understand. But he wants to try.

And more often than not, it pays off. One way or the other.

I just wish we could have more stuff like that on tv. More writers like him. Writers who'd be interested in learning new stuff. Writers who'd know that they don't know everything. Writers who knew that they have to respect us, human beings.

Well, at least we've got Louis Theroux.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How about showing some class on tv?

Another Chuck Lorre entry? Yes, but he unfortunately earned it. Let's take a look at what we have seen on his sitcoms lately.

Last week's Two and a Half Men episode: 16-year old kid has a threesome.

Last week's The Big Bang Theory: One of the guys uses a robot to masturbate.

This week's Mike & Molly. Discussion and 'jokes' about masturbation and oral sex.

This week's Two and A Half Men: Co-protagonist professes his love to his girlfriend but casually cheats her in the very same episode.

That's three different shows and four episodes in a row.

When you have that many sitcoms on air and almost all we get is stuff about sex and cheating then I guess you have to describe that as rather depressing.

I was especially disappointed in Mike & Molly. It's not exactly a good show and it may get cancelled, but it's nevertheless supposed to be good-hearted fun. Too bad it wasn't in that episode.

Alan cheating his girlfriend at the end of Monday's episode of 2 1/2 Men - what in the world was that?

You know, I'm not saying that you can't or aren't allowed to write about outrageous and raunchy stuff. Because South Park has managed to pull it off again and again and again.

The difference here of course is that while Trey Parker and Matt Stone have artistical integrity and ambition, Lorre and his folks are out there more or less to make an easy buck. (at least when it comes to 2 1/2 Men)

In a way it's amazing how on South Park you can even write an episode about queefs (google it if you don't know and want to know) and still come out smelling like roses.

But that's the way it is when you know what you're doing and you actually have something to say.

On the other hand, when you have no passion for what you're doing...

We can only hope that Chuck won't completely destroy his only good show, The Big Bang Theory.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Five characters make a modern family.

Okay, let's take another try with this subject matter. Hopefully it makes at least some sense this time.

So, I've been kinda disappointed that Modern Family won the Emmy for best comedy series.

I mean, yeah, the show can be pretty funny. The absurdist stuff definitely works. Eric Stonestreet is a treasure and Ty Burrell can be funny too. (especially in the moustache episode)

However, in my opinion the family part on the show doesn't work. Cameron and Mitchell with their adopted daughter is the only part that I find believable.

Other than that, I feel that the dynamics aren't there and the show even seems a bit dishonest to me. Especially when the writers try to pull off those emotional wraps and try to inject some meaning into those episodes.

It just doesn't feel like a real family nor does it feel like a real show to me.

But why is that so?

Well, I guess the biggest problem is that there are simply too many characters on the show:

Jay the dad, Gloria the mom, Manny the son, Mitchell the son and dad, Cameron the dad, Phil the dad and son, Claire the mom, Haley the daughter, Alex the daughter, Luke the son, Dylan the boyfriend...

It should have been pretty obvious that there's too much ground to cover here and it's almost impossible to pay attention to all those storylines at the same time.

In comparison, let's take a look at the casts of some other current popular and award winning family and "family" sitcoms.

The Simpsons: Homer is the dad, Marge the mom and Bart, Lisa and Maggie are the kids.

30 Rock: Alec Baldwin is the dad, Tina Fey plays the mom while Kenneth, Tracy and Jenna play the kids.

Entourage: Ari Gold is the "dad", Eric is the "mom", Vince and Johnny Drama are the kids and Turtle is the family pet.

All these shows have five main characters, and yet, Modern Family has ten.

When it comes to having characters on the show, you have to keep it relatively simple and not make it unnecessarily convoluted. That's why five characters is about right. Ten is simply way, way too many.

I mean, could you for example imagine five more main characters on Entourage? I don't think so.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Law & Order wasn't any good.

I guess this is going to be yet another negative post but I don't think I have much of a choice here.

So why was this much revered show bad even though it went on for 20 years and even won Emmy awards? Well, that's because it had such an ass backwards premise, that is "let's convict the bad guys".

You might think that, "hey, wait a minute, that's a good premise". But it's not.

Notice that I'm not saying here that "let's _get_ the bad guys" is a bad concept itself. I'm just saying the "let's _convict_ the bad guys" is a bad concept.

The reason that I liked "let's get the bad guys" shows like 24, NYPD Blue, The Shield, Matlock and The Practice is that all of them (even The Shield) were about defending the weak and the innocent.

These shows would make you identify with the situations and the characters. Like in Matlock when a person was on trial for a murder that he or she didn't commit or when Vic Mackey showed sympathy for people in bad situations even though he didn't have to.

These shows had:
1) Interesting premises.
2) Stakes that were high.
3) You rooted for the characters.

Law & Order was a bad show for the same exact reasons :
1) It was way too much of a boring premise.
2) There was not much at stake.
3) It was impossible to root for our protagonists (prosecutors).

I mean, think about it. What is interesting about a show where you have the guilty party already locked up or about to get locked up, then you have the evidence that he's guilty and all you have to do is to survive through the defense attorney, the "bad guy"?

There's nothing interesting about that at all.

What's at stake here? The worst thing that could happen is that the guilty party manages to evade a conviction. That isn't even close to being a high stakes situation compared to what happens in those other shows.

If the guilty guy walks free, then so what? Unless he's going on a total murder rampage afterwards, it really isn't interesting.

But in any case, what has to be the worst part of the show is that our protagonists do not care whether the accused is guilty or not. If they convict an innocent person, our guys just shrug it off like it was no biggie. "That's the way it is. Let's get some coffee".

So we are supposed to root for guys like these? Huh. I can't believe people liked this show.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chuck Lorre's Vanity Cards.

You'll see cards like these at the end of Chuck's shows. Have you ever read any of them?

I have. Some of them are okay, I guess. I have laughed at them. At least twice anyway.

However, most of the time his cards fall in to one of these categories: 1) childish 2) lame 3) Chuck passes the buck 4) Chuck blames others 5) Chuck tells us how he wants to win an Emmy award some day. (FYI, he hasn't won one)

I have been thinking about this 'winning an Emmy thing' and Chuck's vanity cards pretty much give us the answer to why he hasn't won and likely will never win one.

Lack of talent is obviously the biggest reason.

But his ultimate nail in the coffin is him choosing to write those cards in the first place. He shows us that he's not that interested in storytelling.

That is because every second that he spent on writing a vanity card he could (and should) have spent on making those scripts a little bit better.

Because in the end, the only thing that matters is the quality of those scripts. Nothing else matters. It's that simple.

By the way, here's another way to end an episode. By David E. Kelley:


In that clip we have Kelley's now late grandmother telling us how his grandson sucks when she says 'you stinker". Pretty funny, if you ask me.

Does it really surprise anyone that Kelley has won 10 Emmy awards and Lorre hasn't won a single one?

What a difference in attitude between these guys. Kelley says "the buck stops here" while Lorre says "wanna hear a dick joke?".

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Good Wife, A Bad Show.

I've seen only the first 15 minutes of this show about lawyers. So how on earth can I say that this show isn't any good?

Well, that's because once upon a time it took me something like two minutes before I fell in love with a show called 'The Practice".

If you haven't seen that show, I say go go go. It's on DVD.

But anyway, let's list the token reasons why 'The Good Wife' isn't a good show:

1. Uninteresting characters.
2. No atmosphere.
3. No urgency.
4. The not so good acting.
5. Really bad writing.
6. It's a thematical mess.

Do you need more reasons to not watch a television series?

There's a reason why the network executives were against developing lawyer shows in the eighties. They thought these shows would be boring and nobody would watch.

They were both right and wrong.

They were proven wrong when Steven Bochco and David E. Kelley, genius writers who understood life, were able to turn seemingly ordinary events into extraordinary.

But the network executives were proven right when they decided to greenlight 'The Good Wife', a show written by people who have no clue what they are doing and have nothing meaningful to say.

I had to quit watching after I saw the worst cross-examination I have ever seen on a lawyer show.

That is, when one of the protagonists on the show bombs his cross-examination but the show portrays the event as a success.

I simply couldn't stomach more than that. That's not how you make 'compelling tv'.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What to show and what not to show: The IT Crowd season premiere.

Ah, yes. Ah, yes.

You might be a fan of the show. If not, you should be. Because 'The IT Crowd' is in my opinion the best comedy series of the last ten years.

Unfortunately, the first episode of the fourth season wasn't really funny at all.

Here's one reason why it wasn't good: (Okay, that's going to be two reasons actually)

1) It showed us things that we shouldn't have seen and
2) It didn't show us things that we should have seen.

The episode starts with Roy holding photographs that used to have his now ex-girlfriend in those. But she isn't in the pictures, because Roy had photoshopped her out.

The problem with this is that I started asking: why? Why would he do that?

Did you understand why he did that? I would think that you were puzzled too if you watched it.

In short, it's not good when the audience starts asking questions why something happens.

The other problem I had with this storyline was that it started with Roy telling us about the break-up so we did not get a storyline about the dating process itself.

Why didn't they show that? Because we haven't seen Roy dating (m)any women before. Why make something as important as dating a mere footnote. Didn't make sense to me.

No wonder it wasn't a good episode after it made mistakes like those.

When you write your scripts, you have to know what to show and what not to show.

Comedy is not about having characters in implausible situations.

I've been lately watching critically praised shows like Parks & Recreation and Community.

I didn't really expect them to be any good since there hasn't been any 'real' buzz over these shows. Nevertheless, I decided to give them a go.

Well, it wasn't exactly a good idea. I didn't end up liking either show at all.

That is because both are poorly acted and poorly written. Both have uninteresting characters. Both have 'jokes' that aren't funny.

Community especially excels in being completely chaotic. Nothing makes sense whatsoever on the show. It's just rapid fire stuff -  and then to the end credits.

Shame, shame, shame.

But I guess watching those shows wasn't that bad of an experience to me. Because it made me think why these two comedy shows and too many others aren't really funny at all.

Good question, right?

Bad writing - yeah, I guess, but so? Uninteresting characters - yes but so? Unfunny jokes - yes but so?

Doesn't really explain that much.

If I had to sum up in one sentence why comedy shows aren't really good anymore, I would say that it's because we don't see characters in ordinary situations anymore.

I know, sounds lame and unhipster and uncool and so on. But the truth is that every funny comedy series has more or less been based on real stuff.

Like All in The Family, King of The Hill, The Simpsons (the early seasons), Family Ties...

All classic shows. These sitcoms respected you and me and life in general. These shows had storylines that we all could relate to.

We had characters that were real. Problems that were real. Pain that was real.

Alex Keating dating an older woman. Hank Hill having serious problems with his bowel movement. Marge Simpson having an 'affair' with her instructor. Edith Bunker being sexually molested.

Those days seem to be gone. Now we have shows like Community being written by people who don't seem to know much about life.

How things have changed... ...and not for the better.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

To read a screenwriting book or to go out and play some ice hockey?

If you didn't already know, the guy in the picture is David E. Kelley, quite possibly the best television writer ever.

Looks like he's about to play some ice hockey right there. In fact, he even used to be a professional hockey player before he became a ten-time Emmy award winning screenwriter.

But why do I show you this picture of him as a hockey player?

Well, I show it because for years I've had this idea that playing ice hockey or other team sports is a great way to experience drama and that playing them (or even watching) will make you a better writer.

Because when you watch or play the game, don't you feel emotions that are totally different from what you're used to? You're excited, your heart keeps beating, you sweat, you hold your breath. I mean, you simply feel alive.

I think that's what watching good entertainment on tv should be too. It should mesmerize you and take your breath away.

That's why I think that in the end a hockey player and a (great) writer aren't that much apart from each other.

Because as a player you need to make quick decision. You have to be able to read your opponents - just like you have to be able to read your characters and the situations when you write.

You need to have a clear vision of the game, you need to get 'the big picture' - just like in good drama or comedy you have to know what it is all about.

When you play team sports, you will quickly learn the consequences of wrong and right decisions. Just like in good comedy or drama which are basically all about making big decisions and then dealing with the consequences.

I guess there's this flow thing too. If you're a hockey player, you know what I'm talking about. Because writing is about flow.

And being constantly creative.

So if I had to make a decision between like reading a screenwriting book or playing hockey, the decision would be pretty easy. I'd go play hockey - just like David Kelley did.

Not that there's anything wrong with reading screenwriting books...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Trust us, we have the story all figured out"

Remember 'The Nine' (2006), ABC's short-lived drama series about a hostage situation?

I saw some of it and wasn't impressed. The story was boring and didn't go anywhere.

The show getting cancelled shouldn't have surprised anyone. There was a good reason for that.

Because the premise of the show was that the hostage situation happens in the first episodes, and after that the characters go back to living their normal lives.

That's right. A show where basically nothing happens after the first episodes. Do you think that was going to be interesting television?

I would think that you were going to say 'of course not' and 'epic fail'. But for some reason the network executives bought the idea that it would be a good concept.

The only problem with this was that it couldn't work. You can't have a climax first. That's storytelling 101.

So how could the executives have been so incredibly dumb that they greenlit a doomed show like that?

Well, I happen to know for a fact that when the producers pitched the idea to the executives, they had mapped out ahead like three or four seasons of the show.

What I'm thinking here is that maybe the producers managed to sell the show to the executives based on the idea of "don't worry, as you can see, we have it all figured out".

Even when the whole concept made no sense at all.

Now, fast forward to this season. ABC brings us a show with another stupid premise, called 'Flash Forward'. The premise is that the characters see into their future and then go back to living their normal lives.


I've heard that in this case too the producers showed the executives very detailed plans about where the series was about to go.

For your information, Flash Forward is not going anywhere. It simply sucks.

I just can't help but remember the good old days when we had shows like X-Files. Speaking of that show, do you think that Chris Carter knew exactly where X-Files was about to go when he pitched it to the Fox executives?

The wikipedia tells us that he didn't. Fortunately he had a great idea and he didn't have to camouflage it with those detailed one hundred episode outlines.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Big Bang Theory's disappointing third season.

Well, I'm not saying that the third season of The Big Bang Theory hasn't had anything good in it.

I did like the tattoo sleeves. Wil Wheaton was a good addition. Bernadette was pretty funny too and I liked Leonard's mom. But other than that, I have been very disappointed.

Top-10 reasons for The Big Bang Theory not delivering this season:

1) The pairing of Leonard and Penny.

I don't think there's that much to debate about this. Of all the characters on the show, Leonard and Penny have the least amount of chemistry. The pairing hasn't added anything to the show. They aren't funny or interesting together. So why are they still supposed to be a couple after this season?

2) Too much one-dimensional Sheldon.

Sheldon was a pretty reliable source of comedy in both season one and two. His character seemed believable. In season three, after Jim Parsons got the Emmy nomination, the storylines started to get too much about him. Unfortunately Sheldon turned into a cartoon character.

3) Characters are less likable.

Sheldon, Raj, Howard and even Penny became less likable than they used to be. Just pick any given episode and see for yourself. What's worse is that Leonard is now a whining douchebag and yet he is supposed to be our 'hero'.

4) It's not an ensemble show anymore.

The Big Bang Theory is supposed to be written like Frasier and Everybody loves Raymond. We have an amazing cast and interesting characters. So why won't the writers utilize them together?

5) The premise changed.

The show is supposed to be about men vs. women and geeks vs. normal people. After Penny and Leonard became a couple, I have been asking myself, what is this show about?

6) 'The smart is the new sexy' is missing.

Is there anything on season three to prove that these guys are actually smart? Do they come up with solutions to anything? (Mars rover & space toilet in season two)

7) Badly structured episodes.

There are plenty of examples that could be mentioned, but the absolutely worst has to be in the Stan Lee episode where Sheldon goes to jail and gets released in less than a minute. (Episode 3x16)

8) Lazy writing with the jokes.

Not that I value 'jokes' in any way, but before the third season began, I thought that if they ever resort to using a helium joke on the show.. ..well, we already got the helium joke (3x09).

9) They changed Stuart to protect Leonard.

He was confident and cool in season two. After the producers saw how Leonard and Penny didn't work at all, they decided to 'fix' the problem by making Stuart pathetic, so that Leonard wouldn't look that bad.

10) Dropping Leslie Winkle from the show.

The writers said that they didn't know what to do with Sara Gilbert's character. I thought she was very good at making Sheldon more believable as a character. When she left, Sheldon kinda left too.

Still four episodes to go. I won't quit watching, though.

I'm going to let Chuck Lorre disappoint me the way he intended.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Amazing Race: best reality show ever!

Let's count the reasons why The Amazing Race rules:
1. The Drama on the show is natural and not contrived.
2. The tasks are interesting.
3. Almost all the contestants are relatable.
4. You always root for at least one team.
5. The sightseeing.
6. We get to see different cultures.
7. We get to know new people.
8. Your whole family can watch it together.
9. Travelocity gnomes make me happy.
10. And Phil Keoghan's eyebrow is just amazing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Strong women and quality sitcoms.

I recently thought about how important roles female characters have played lately in sitcoms.

I thought about this because for some reason we don't really have strong women in quality sitcoms anymore.

The only exception, I think, is Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock. Other than that, it's not good to be a sitcom actress nowadays.

Ten years ago, things were quite different. We had among others:
Roz Doyle and Daphne Moon in Frasier.
Ally (and the rest) in Ally Mcbeal.
Debra and Marie in Everybody Loves Raymond.
Rachel, Phoebe and Monica in Friends.
Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte in Sex and The City.

That's a pretty almighty list. Can you believe that Peri Gilpin as Roz Doyle was never even nominated for an Emmy? Today she would be a slam dunk for a win.

Last year it got so bad in the supporting actress category that Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig were nominated for Saturday Night Live - a sketch show. I mean, how much worse can it get than that?

In my opinion, not having well written female characters on sitcoms reflects pretty accurately how the quality of sitcoms in general has deteriorated lately.

The reality is that when you don't have characters like Marge Simpson, you don't have shows like The Simpsons either.

So, if I were thinking about developing a new sitcom, I would probably start with the female characters.

I would think that this is how a show like Modern Family was actually conceived.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Talent or hard work?

How many times have you heard the saying "success is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration"?

Sounds inspiring, doesn't it? And I guess, to some degree, I agree with that.

Because when you write scripts, you have to be patient. That means that your ideas won't usually come up without effort. You have to actively search for them. And you can't give up too easily.

So, yeah, I think I can live with that statement. (originally by the inventor Thomas Edison)

But how about this: "talent is overrated","talent is mostly a myth", and even "there is no such thing as talent".

Were Larry Gelbart, John Hughes and David E. Kelley only "working hard" when they wrote scripts in one or two days?

I don't think so. These guys were super talented (Kelley still is) and "hard work" didn't have that much to do with it. They worked hard because they had talent, not because they were compensating for the lack of their God given abilities.

For some reason in today's society people seem to be actively downplaying the importance of talent. "If you only work really hard, you might be able to make it..." (everybody's equal)

Let's face it. That's mostly a myth. Talent does matter. More than most of us are willing to admit.

But then again - for those who are disappointed about talent actually counting - just look at this guy.

Maybe you can make it too!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ten characters in a sitcom is simply too much.

The critics are saying that "Modern Family" is the best sitcom on tv right now. Critics say that It's better than 30 Rock or The Big Bang Theory.

Now, I have watched maybe like seven or eight episodes and I have found the show to be occasionally funny. I especially liked the second episode "the Bicycle thief".

The problem I have with Modern Family is that when you have ten characters and a twenty-one minute show, it's not possible to cram them all into every single episode and then expect it to miraculously work and make sense.

It's rather weird to watch episodes where you have three storylines and at least one of them has only two beats: the beginning and the end. The middle of the storyline, however, is missing. (at least this is how it seems to me when I watch the show)

That's not good, but it's exactly what happens when you try too hard or haven't figured things out yet. Too many characters in one episode - it really bothers me when storylines are half baked at best.

Also, to be honest I'm not exactly a fan of the faux-documentary style that they use on the show. In my opinion the interviews just pull you out of the story (I  absolutely loathed interviews on The Office too),

But I don't know. Maybe the producers on the show will learn from their mistakes and season two will be better. In my opinion, it's not (at least yet) the best sitcom on tv.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

When storytelling goes bad: Part III

Why was the British version of The Kitchen Nightmares so good and the U.S remake on Fox so bad?

I guess the Fox executives thought that having a compelling story about a struggling restaurant and the restaurant owner simply wasn't enough.

Have you seen the original series?

All I can say is that sometimes less is indeed more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Celebrity Apprentice: 3rd time is the charm?

There's nothing more surprising than seeing people you thought were utter douchebags turn out to be decent and down to earth human beings.

Yes, I'm talking about Bret Michaels on Celebrity Apprentice.

I knew him from that 80s rock band that I hadn't ever listened to. He also had that stupid Rock of Love show on VH1 or wherever it was. Yes, and there was also that sex tape too.

Honestly, him being a good guy, I didn't see that coming at all.

Just goes to show how easily we judge people in our everyday lives.

But anyway, I'm personally rooting for him, Bill Goldberg, Curtis Stone and Maria Kanellis. (I had no idea she was so smart too)

I just hope that this season the producers and The Donald are smarter and give everyone an equal chance of winning.

Last season was a complete travesty, when Trump fired Tom "I cannot believe he's a good guy" Green and kept Dennis Rodman, even though 1) he was drunk 2) didn't even show up at the task and 3) wanted to leave the show.

The producers should pay attention to the old adage "give people what they want, not what they expect". We are tired of the 'ratings!, ratings!' trainwrecks.

It pays off to have likable people on tv.

That's why a "boring" show like The Biggest Loser is a hit too.

When storytelling goes bad: Part II

Ah, Glee, the new hit show on Fox.

This high school musical dramedy recently won best comedy/musical Golden Globe and was just awarded a Peabody.

It's supposedly the frontrunner at the Emmys. I would guess that you haven't watched it. I did check it out to see whether it could be spec worthy.

Well, it's not.

I really am not that demanding when it comes to entertainment, but sometimes even yours truly has to draw the line somewhere. Glee is one of those shows.

Minute seventeen in the pilot: the main character, a choir leader, has bought drugs from a dealer.

I didn't like where this was going, but I still decided to give it a fair chance.

Anyways, he then wants to recruit one of the sports guys to his choir.

Okay, I guess.

But he does this by accusing the jock student (innocent) of being a drug dealer and that he will send him to jail if he doesn't join the choir.


All I can say that if this passes as entertainment, then I don't want to be entertained. I had to give up after three episodes.

Cruel is the new cool.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where did David E. Kelley go?

If you ask me, my biggest personal hero happens to be this guy who in 1999 took home Emmys for both Best Comedy Series (Ally McBeal) and Best Drama (The Practice).

Those were the days. There was nothing better than watching an episode of Ally Mcbeal and then the next evening you got a fresh new episode of The Practice. I really, really miss both shows and all those moments of enlightenment.

A quick fact: David has won 10 Emmy awards, but it's already been 10 years since his last win. So what happened, Youstinka?

Anyways, David has a new pilot in the works called 'Kindreds'. I don't know what to think of it. Is this going to be another 'Legally Mad' that doesn't get picked up? We'll see.

When storytelling goes bad: Part I

I just watched most of Season One of 'Mad Men', the AMC series that has been hailed by critics as a work of genius.

It took me a long while to actually consider watching it, because I didn't find 'the premise' of the show to be interesting at all. I couldn't see what the buzz might be about. It didn't make any sense to me.

So I watched it, and didn't like it.

That 'Mad Men' turned out to be a pretty bad viewing experience for me didn't come as that big of a surprise. Because as you should know, when critics fall in love with a show, there's always a good chance that the show itself isn't really that good.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the case with 'Mad Men'. The critics once again took the bait. They 'love' the show. The audience, however doesn't care. You and me, the general folks, do not watch the show. Because it's not good.

So what's wrong with the show? The answers to that can be found from looking at the basic requirements of a "good" show.

1)What is the premise and the theme of the show? Is this a show about a family? Is this a show about the people at the agency? Is it about the times and lives in the 60s? Is it about the actual substance of their work?

If you like the show, you probably say that, yes! It's about all of those. But that's not a premise. A premise is something like "Jack Bauer has been framed in an assassination attempt against the President". What is the premise in Mad Men?

And how about the theme? A theme should be something like "life is absurd, but it makes more sense than we think" á la Picket Fences. Mad Men doesn't have a recognizable theme either. That's a bad sign too.

2)Who and what are the characters? There's been plenty of hoohaa about how the characters on the show are more defined than on other drama shows. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. We don't know most of the characters at all. They are not fully fleshed out, they are cardboard cut-outs and fresh from stock. That's bad too.

3)Where is the drama? I couldn't find drama anywhere. The ad men are basically never in trouble. They never have big problems with their clients. Yes, I know you might say that there were some problems and that Pete Campbell 'saves' the guys by coming up with his own ideas. But in general, there's no real trouble. A real problem means something like "if we don't get this client, we're done". So there's no drama coming from there.

Of the characters, excluding Campbell, nobody is in trouble either. Just because Betty Draper is troubled does not mean that she is in trouble itself. There's a difference. And if anything at all happens, it's always resolved in less than twenty minutes. That's not compelling.

4)Who is Don "the lead" Draper? This is a big no-no on the show. We have no clue who Don Draper really is. You never know what he is going to do next. We have no idea how he is going to react to any given situations on the show. It's all a guessing game. Because the writers in all likelihood do not know who he is. They only know how he dresses and how he combs his hair. (back and to the left, back and to the left)

5)The focus on the show. Easily the biggest problem. Is there a lead? Who are the supporting characters? Who are the token nobodies? This is why the show is such a mess. People come and go. Supporting characters get suddenly individual scenes, even though we might know nothing about them. Somehow they suddenly lead the show. That cannot be good storytelling.

The most bizarre moment that I managed to see on the show really illuminates how bad Mad Men can get. Because there's a sequence in the fourth episode (the firing and reinstating of junior), where Don Draper's character goes in ten minutes from a lead to supporting character and then to an extra. That is simply wrong and bad television.

That is not quality writing.

It's also pretty disturbing how the writers on the show write these 'fake' endings. For example when Betty crashes the car and is sent to a psychiatrist by Don. The ending of the episode is when Don calls the psychiatrist and asks how Betty did in the session. I think the writers were hinting that there's some kind of a patient/doctor confidentiality that they were breaking. Well, obviously there wasn't, but they tried to nevertheless sell that angle.

Also it's rather cheap when we see a pregnant woman taking a glass of wine. Shocking - and then we go to like End Credits. Not really interesting, in my opinion. But basically that's the way they roll.

I'm not saying that 'Mad Men' is the worst show on tv. It has great production values and Vincent Kartheiser and Elisabeth Moss are doing great acting in it. It's just that almost everywhere else the show is a failure.

The fact that the show looks good doesn't mean that it's actually good. Because it's not.

And Yes, I did get the nuances. Seriously, I did.