“But when you bring someone back, you want to make sure it’s not just a cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers version of the original sketch, where you have the exact same gag with different names. It was very, very difficult for us to figure out how to do it. [The concept] really goes back to the difference between the cultures of an inner city school and a more privileged school in the suburbs.”
I really like reading people break down their craft, especially (tv) writers, and especially comedians because I always get so lost in the funny that I forget and then later remember that there is such an intricate science to comedy. Sometimes I’ll hear a joke and then think about how it was constructed (something is said, then the turn or element of surprise at the end) but I’ve never been good at setting up a joke or constructing one myself. I think that if I think about it enough, when the time comes to write one, I’ll have picked up the basics by osmosis and it will become innate.
So reading this is fun for me, to learn how this duo comes up with one of their more popular sketches. It also offers insight into how this particular group works and the way their writing dynamic seems to play out.
If you haven’t already, you should watch BBC America’s Orphan Black. I should probably post something about the writing (this being a lot of the point of this blog and all) but like most Orphan Black watchers, you should watch for it’s lead (and supporting and secondary and guest) actress Tatiana Maslany. She is nothing short of amazing in the way she portrays up to maybe 8 (i honestly have lost track) different characters and makes them each their own person.
Yes, the point of acting is to be able to embody different characters with ease and believability but Tatiana does it for the same production often in the same scene as as the picture above details (this gifset on tumblr is better), she portrays a character pretending to be a different character, which basically creates a new character.
I’m a big Joss Whedon fan (have you caught on to that yet? No? It’ll become more evident I’m sure) and while I loved his short-lived show Dollhouse, I wasn’t a big fan of Eliza Dushku playing the lead role. [For those who dont know: Dollhouse had the idea that a human body could be “rented” out to other people, companies, etcwith the original owner’s mental personality removed. The “doll” became a blank slate and the Dollhouse could “imprint” a new personality as requested by the client. So it required being able to embody many different personality types, sometimes with amazing quick changes.] And she didn’t really exceed my expectations during the show’s two seasons. There were maybe a couple of moments where I was impressed. People like Eliza because she’s “hot” and is a “tough action girl” type character, but her acting isn’t all that impressive. Not for the purpose of that show especially. And her mediocre skills stood out in stark comparison to her co-stars (especially Enver Gjokaj who really could switch from one character to another and really make me believe that they were completely different people.
So watching Orphan Black with Tatiana Maslany makes me wish she’d been discovered years ago and was the lead of that other show about one actress playing multiple characters. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do so. It’s got a great beginning story-wise (should lead to some interesting philosophical places) and great acting (most of it done by Tatiana Maslany).
Let me know if you watch!
I just finished watching A Different World. Despite being such a huge fan of The Cosby Show, I’d never watched the spin-off. I finally have made my way through most of the episodes (thanks to YouTube, since only season 1 is on DVD right now). And I loved it. It was well-written, fun, funny, had great character development, and tackled the issues of the day without losing the above. All in all, it was just very real.
It wasn’t perfect; the season 1 to 2 cast/production staff shake-ups in cast were definitely a game changer, some other characters went in and out, Jaleesa married Col Taylor (which I was not a fan of), and then completely disappeared, and there are a few really weird/corny dream sequence, cast-talent show episodes that I kind of skipped through. Granted, I spent most of my marathon pining for Whitley/Dwayne scenes anyway, but even that was handled pretty well for a will-they/won’t-they arc. The lead up to their involvement wasn’t rushed or forced (unlike most of Ron’s cast love interests)–it helps that even when Dwayne was supposed to be hung up over Denise in season 1 and they were on a date, he still had globs of chemistry with date-crasher Whitley–and when they got to together, they actually stayed together for several episodes, across a season finale, before the inevitable split up. And when they got back together, they were together for good (one break up is fantastic numbers for a WT/WntT. A good amount of tugging at our hearts (though I’m sure over 6 real-time years it may not have felt good) without overdoing it like some shows (the Ross/Rachel effect I guess). A Different World had a diverse African-American cast (meaning diverse amongst the black community; there isn’t just the token, cool, black best friend), good writing, and actors with great chemistry with one another. And it raised issues of black history, racism (on both sides of the divide as well as within the black community), classism, war, politics, date rape, AIDS, and other issues that were (and unfortunately still are) plaguing the black community. There’s nothing else like it. Which leads me to wonder, where are the shows like this today?
We had a really good run of quality, family friendly, uplifting black television in the early 90s. The Cosby Show, A Different World, Family Matters,The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I could be missing some, but these 4 are the pinnacle. Of course there was also Living Single, Martin, The Wayans Brothers, The Jamie Foxx Show, and a few other shows towards the late 90s, but these shows were more silly, general sit-coms. They were escapist and pure fun. That’s not bad, it’s just not my point. [I’ll add ABC’s My Wife and Kids to this list, though it started in 2001, as somewhere between the classic sitcom nature of a show like Martin and the life-lessons of The Cosby Show. It did try to have life lessons but really did err on the side of silly a lot.] They also aired on UPN and The WB, which is again, not bad, but the other 4 aired on 2 of the 3 major networks of the time, in a day when FOX/UPN/WB were just starting out and there weren’t cable networks dedicated to black television
And this is part my problem, my concern, really. Those shows (which were a part of NBC’s juggernaut Must-See-TV line up and ABC’s super-popular TGIF block) were hits of their day and were reached by millions of audience of all colors. Now, we have several channels dedicated to black television (both old and new, reality and scripted) and I can’t say that any one has created a show like the 4 I’ve been mentioning. And there aren’t any black sitcoms on network (the big four) television at all right now (if I am missing one, please inform me)(and someone tell me what’s on my9 and CW, they’ve been focusing on white teenage supernatural shows, no?). We have all this television space (and, increasingly, YouTube and Netflix and Hulu space) and still no one has created shows like these. Well-written, focusing on educated black people who want to know their history and raise the lowest common denominator of entertainment? That’s seems absurd. I had a Facebook status with the question of why shows like ADW don’t exist today, and someone said because I hadn’t written it yet, and while I appreciate the challenge and hope to someday do so, where are all the other people like me who miss these shows and want people to watch more than Love and Hip Hop (which I am disappointed to see is not at all like the movie Brown Sugar)?
Elizabeth Meriwether’s (New Girl) tweeted this the other day and I think the answer is related to my question.
Some of the responses were that we started being honest with ourselves and that 9/11 happened. These things could be true. I also read somewhere (I can’t cite the source right now, sorry) that especially in this post-9/11 world, we went from utopian fiction and ideas of the future to dystopias and world collapse. Probably why zombies are at an all-time high of popularity right now. These things are probably related to why we don’t have uplifting black sitcoms on right now.
Maybe I’m just a family friendly (but not corny) kind of girl. But shows like Cosby, ADW, Fresh Prince, and Family Matters showed the world and young kids (both of other races and blacks ourselves) that we are more than just the stereotype. And while a lot of people say that the things those shows presented aren’t reality, if we don’t see them exist anywhere, how can we make them a reality? ADW made kids not only want to go to college, but Historically Black Colleges. Cosby showed kids that we could be families of doctors and lawyers or even get our PhD in Education while being an actor/comedian. We can grow up in Philadelphia and become the fresh prince and then the number one movie star in the world (as a black lead in several sci-fi films at that, something no other black actor or actress has pulled off (well, Sam Jackson and Zoe Saldana too. My interest in black sci-fi is another blog post). Black kids are nerds too (though Urkel style has been adapted by hipsters now) and we can accept that and be happy with it. Despite them not being reality, they can lead us to a new reality. This is why we need shows like these on today. The other stuff isn’t bad (a lot of the reality is bad, #scriptedtelevisionforlife) but it doesn’t challenge us or teach us anything. These shows did. And I want more like it.
But I suppose, as they say (paraphrasing): The [television show] you want to [watch] doesn’t exist? Create it.
Related post: Why Are Black Sitcoms Less Available to Us?
I just have no words. 30 Rock is over. What will I do without Liz and Kenneth and Jack and Tracy and Jenna and everyone? Most people who love TV like I do love Tina Fey and all that she has done for funny since forever ago. And now Queen Tina of TV (as I’ve been calling her all day) is (currently) no longer filling our Thursday nights with the wise words of her daughter Alice. (I want to go to there.)
It’s pilot season and we know Tina has a deal with Robert Carlock (her fellow 30 Rock co-producer) and NBC so hopefully whatever is already in the works hits our screens by this fall. But for now, we mourn the loss of so many wonderful turns of phrase, outrageously hilarious moments, and fantastic meta moments (like the Lorne Michaels title plate coming up in the middle of the hour-long episode right when the first 1/2 hr was over–one of my favorite jokes of the night). 30 Rock was brilliant and while Nielsen America may want The Big Bang Theory, there are plenty of people who want the 30 Rocks and the Communitys and the Parks and Recreations–shows that actually make the watcher think and laugh at the same time. Shows that understand how we love television and how invested we get. Shows done by people who clearly love what they do and don’t do it just for the paycheck. I hope that more shows like 30 Rock come to our TVs, because they are done by people who love TV for people who love TV.
Goodbye 30 Rock. I’ll miss you. I miss you already.