Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The West Wing 1x01

"I am the Lord your God.  Thou shalt worship no God before me."

Oh, Mr. President, you charmer, you!

What we have here is a 57-page "Final Draft" written by Aaron Sorkin and dated February 6, 1998 (download here).  This thing comes complete with a teaser and four act, breaking down to: (5/16/9/13/14).

This script was actually a slow burn for me.  The teaser itself didn't do much to draw me in -- it was okay and had a decent act out, but I didn't find it all that enthralling.  Things got rolling pretty nicely in the first act however, once they introduced Josh and his off-the-cuff remark that inspired a righteous fit of umbrage from Mrs. Mary Marsh (uber-crazy-Christian-Elitist).  The call going out for Josh to lose his job -- and the fact that everyone was genuinely concerned that it could happen -- created the strongest 'story point' of the whole pilot.

There was a plot point about Cubans setting sail from Cuba, possibly getting caught in the middle of a storm... but it really didn't have much emotional impact.  It was interesting to see just how little everyone knew about this crisis... but still... I kept wanting the show to go back to Josh.

If there's one common thread in politics, no matter which side of the line you stand on and what time you live in, it's the idea that those who tell the brutal, honest truth tend to suffer.  If you rock the boat, then you get drowned.  Josh's part of the tale had the most stakes and as the skies darkened for this poor dude, I actually thought that he might end up being a one-off character. 

But his 'apology meeting' -- a last chance for him to save face and take back his comments from the offended Mrs. Marsh -- ended up being one of the strongest pieces of writing I've read in a while.  The pacing here, the fact that Mrs. Marsh not only refused to be satisfied but actually went even farther, becoming somewhat of a psycho herself.  As the tension continued to build, as it looked like it might get TRULY ugly, it set the stage for one of the best entrances of a character I've seen in a long time.

When President Bartlet entered, when the room silenced and jumped to its feet at recognition of him -- it was impressive.  When he then went about dressing down Mrs. Marsh and her collected crazy Christians it was, frankly, brilliant.  He tore them a new asshole, kicked them out of the White House and then, in one of the coolest bits, patted Josh on the shoulder and laughed with him about this comments (followed by a stern warning to 'never do that again').

What they do so well in this script is that they never reveal what the President is like as a person.  So when people start talking (and getting worried) about Josh having to be fired, you really get the feeling that the President might just be the kind of guy to give into that kind of political pressure.  But then you meet the man, see the kind of integrity he has -- his no bullshit approach -- and it completely flips your expectations on their head.

Brilliant.

All-in-all, I enjoyed this script... I definitely liked Josh's story far more than any of the others, but the others were decent enough.  Looking back at it, it really was all about that reveal -- every moment building towards the President walking into that tension-filled room and kicking ass.  For most it might be considered a bit of a gamble, to put so much weight onto that one moment but it paid off in spades.  It made me go 'hot damn, this guy is awesome... and I want to see more'.

Definitely worth a read!

Well, that's it, that's all.  30 days, 30 scripts... this last one sliding in just under the line thanks to one crazy freaking day... but we're done.

If you enjoyed this little romp, and would like to see more -- or have any suggestions for where to go from here, feel free to sound off in the comments.

Otherwise, have a great Canada Day folks!  Drive safe ;)

Cheers,
Brandon

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mike And Molly 1x01

Are fat jokes okay when they're being told by friends of fat people?

What we have here is a 43 page 'Writer's Second Draft' written by Mark Roberts and dated December 5, 2009 (Download here).  The show itself has a cold open, two acts and a tag, breaking down to: (9/17/14/3).

So, here's the thing: For a long time I've heard people (including myself, at times) bitch and whine that 'real people' never get TV shows; that TV characters never look like normal people.

Kudos to the Mr. Roberts and company for putting together a show that's put 'regular people' on TV.  And yet, at the same time, 99% of the entire script is fat jokes.  Worse, they're not even funny.

In fact, the only 'funny' joke I found in the entire script had nothing to do with weight -- and it was even kind of cute.

A TOILET FLUSHES AND A LITTLE BOY CROSSES OUT OF ONE OF THE STALLS. HE SEES THE TWO COPS AND NERVOUSLY STARTS TO CROSS OUT.
CARL
Hold it right there, fella.

LITTLE BOY
Yessir.

CARL
You wanna go to jail?

LITTLE BOY
No, sir.

MIKE
Then wash your hands.

THE LITTLE BOY NODS NERVOUSLY, CROSSES TO THE SINK AND WASHES HIS HANDS.

I think what bothered me most about this episode was that it really seemed to take the easy route in regards to the comedy here. I almost felt like they were saying 'well, might as well get these jokes out of the way' -- and, you know, I get it.  I get that you can't really have (even in this 'progressive' day and age) a show where you've got two obese main characters and not have some fat jokes in there.

Though, to their credit, the writer did also work in a few drug and homosexual jokes as well.

But the whole thing -- much like the premise of the show as the series/relationship moved forward -- felt forced.  It was like someone put a fat guy and a fat girl in a room together and went 'Now... KISS!", 'cause the only characters that do have any chemistry are Mike and Carl (which, notably, they do play off of as the series progresses with lots of latent homoerotic/bromance jokes).

Getting back to the script at hand, this thing appears moderately well-written.  The pacing clips along and there's not too much mugging for the camera.  But, oddly enough, I just kept wishing for more.  More substance.

Molly's mother and sister are pretty one-dimensional here, they don't do much except for act insensitive and flirt with the boys while Samuel -- the Senegalese waiter -- basically acts as a mouthpiece for a good number of the show's more 'edgy' fat jokes.

It is interesting to note that, being a Writer's Second Draft, there's a good amount of stuff in here that never made it into the final pilot that aired. I don't have a lot to say about it, but it's worth noting and, if you're interested, worth taking a look to contrast and compare.

All-in-All, I don't know.  I'm glad there's something out there trying to do something different.  It's worth mentioning and worth applauding.  But when most of the pilot is spent making fun of its own characters, making them feel 'not normal' even as the 'heroes' of their (fictional) world... I wonder how much has changed, really?

As I've said before, I've watched the whole season of this thing, taped it on my PVR, sat down every week and put in my 30 mins -- though I'm still not entirely sure why.  It's definitely gotten better since the first episode but the basis of the jokes hasn't changed all that much.

I guess I keep watching in the hopes that it'll get better.  That it'll find its stride and really bring home the laughs.  I keep WANTING to like it.

But so far I'm a solid 'meh' at best.

Tomorrow is the last script of our 30 day reading series (you have been reading along, right?? :P).  And, yes, I did save the best for last.  The West Wing 1x01.

Until then!

Cheers,
Brandon

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Entourage 1x01

The party don't start until they walk in.

What we have here is a 38-page script Written by Doug Ellin with Revisions By Doug Ellin & Steve Tompkins, dated 07/15/03 (download here).  Again, this is a cable show -- no teasers, tags or acts.

This was another show that I was aware of when it was on, I just never really got into.  I can see why it was so hot though -- this show is the TV embodiment of pretty much every straight young male's fantasy: Hot chicks, booze, drugs, privilege, respect and no responsibility.

Better yet, it's written in such a way that -- well, I ended up enjoying this script in spite of myself.  I knew I was being set up, I watched it happen and yet I still found myself sucked into the... adventure...(?) of Vince, Eric, Drama and Turtle.

The characterization here is so spot on -- from the absolutely brilliant descriptions off the top, to Turtle bitching about "Cheap piece of shit G4"s at the end of the episode. 

 
What works best about this episode is that it makes sense why these people are friends -- each of them have their own defined role and, more importantly, it really does feel like they've known each other since childhood.  There's a real chemistry here, the words on the page building into something tangible for the the reader.

As I read the script I felt like a fly on the wall, like I was watching real buddies being goofballs as they walked off with hot chicks and -- yeah... it's a 'living vicariously through the characters' thing... I get that now.

My hat's off to the writers, quite simply I've never read a script like this before -- that managed, so effortlessly, to make me feel included with their characters.

Complaint-wise, I don't really have much to say... the dialogue is tight, it moves fast and the characters all feel like living, breathing beings.  Most of them seem like dicks... but, yeah, that's part of their charm.  I think my only problem with this script is that it's so focused on the young male demographic that none of the female characters are anything more than cardboard cutouts.  The only character with any real substance is SARAH, Vince's Publicist and the only memorable scene she has is where she helps Eric use his celebrity-lite status (as one of Vince's entourage) to get a seat at a fancy restaurant.  It's a nice touch, but the scene is barely a page at most.

It's a smart move, it makes us like her (she's helping one of the good guys) but I kind of wish I'd seen more of her.

All-in-all, this is a really fun script and it's easy to get lost in.  If you're looking to try and learn anything from this script, focus on the characters and how they interact.  Every little move brings them closer together.  Piece together how the writers have done it... it's quite brilliant, actually.

Tomorrow I'll be tackling the penultimate script on this little journey: Mike & Molly 1x01 - Pilot.  I've watched this show since the pilot... I'm not entirely sure why... but it still occupies space on my PVR.  I don't dislike it but I don't love it.  Maybe the script will help to shed some light on that?

Until tomorrow!
Cheers,
Brandon

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dark Skies 1x01 - The Awakening

Holy. Shiat. No, really.

What we have here is a 104 page uncredited, undated 'Writer's Draft' (download here).  This, if you can't tell by the page count, is a backdoor pilot -- essentially, a TV movie that the writer hopes will end up turning into a series.. which, apparently worked.  This pilot has a Teaser and Seven (yes, Seven!) acts, breaking down as follows (5/17/15/19/13/14/14/7).

Okay, so, first off I don't know how I didn't realize that this was a 100+ page script.  I remember giving it a once over, but somehow it just didn't register.  Anyways, long story short, this is one of the most exciting and enthralling scripts I've read in a long time.

It starts off as a slow burn -- a young couple in love move to Washington in the '61 to try and make their mark on the world.  John Loengard has a job at the Capitol and his 'living in sin' girlfriend Kimberly Sayers desperately wants to find a job. John starts out... as some sort of aide (?) they don't really make that clear.  He's young and ambitious and eager to take on whatever they throw at him.  So, eventually, after a good deal of pestering, Loengard gets tasked with going through a bunch of old files to determine what departments should be cut.

Which leads him into investigating a little thing called 'Project Blue Book'.

Which leads him down one hell of a rabbit hole.

Ms. Sayers, however, thanks to a bit of networking on her own part, ends up working at the White House during the time of JFK -- which, while initially not all that interesting, leads to the most fantastic twist in the whole script.  I don't want to spoil it for you but, that said, if you think about it hard enough you can probably figure it out.  I saw it coming about halfway through, but it was still handled so well that I couldn't help but go 'DAMN!' when it happened.  (You'll know what 'it' is when you read it).

Essentially, it breaks down like this:  Aliens have been living amongst us for a while now, probably since the 40s or 50s.  It's your classic (almost cliché now) Men In Black sort of tale.  And yet one (of many) great twists is that the aliens we've all been lead to believe are out there -- the Greys -- they exist, but, like Humanity, they've been enslaved by some other alien race.  Some sort of parasite. 

Which the Greys brought to Earth when they crash landed here (ala Roswell). It's that parasite that's currently running around trying to enslave 1960's America.

Now, one thing that this script does incredibly well is raise the tension.  It's slow, deliberate at first -- we get a chance to know Loengard.  He's a decent guy, full of ambition and piss 'n vinegar -- and then he gets his big shot. A 'do-well-on-this-tiny-little-throwaway-project-and-maybe-we-can-see-about-where-your-future-lies' sort of thing.  And so he ends up auditing Project Blue Book, starts investigating one of the more serious claims of alien encounters.  He visits the couple in question and, using his own affable sort of charm, gets them to open up in a way that no one else ever could, gets them to start talking about what they know... in detail.

This worries Captain Bach and his men at Majestic-12 (who've bugged said peoples' home) enough to shanghai him later that night, to try and scare Loengard away.  We're talking a black helicopter, violent takedowns, guns to the head -- the show shebang. 

The message is clear: 'Back off!'.

Except it has the opposite effect.  And though he's notably scared by the midnight roadside attack/warning from these Men In Black -- remember, this is 1960's America... back when most folks still believed their government was on their side -- Loengard re-doubles his efforts. 

And you start to root for the guy. He's crafty, determined.  Scared shitless, but he can't give it up.

Hell, he's even surprised when they end up recruiting him to the cause.

It's all about layers, people.  Deeper and deeper this thing goes -- hell, by the time they started pulling wriggling alien... jellyfish/tentacle things... out of people's brains I was hooked.  Hooked until the bitter end, until a well-intentioned move on Loengard and Sayers' part leads to one of the greatest tragedies in American history.


Now, I'd never heard of this show before -- I actually downloaded it thinking that it was the pilot for Falling Skies (the new Spielberg Alien show) -- but man, this script kicks ass.  I actually want to try and track this series down 'cause if it's anything as good as this script then hot damn.  Apparently I've missed a gem.

Seriously, check out the brilliant description that leads us into the main titles:

MAIN TITLES - SURREAL IMAGES

NOSTALGIC IMAGES have been re-assembled into TECHNOLOGICALLY
ENHANCED IMAGES as perceived by an alien intelligence. They
transition us in time from the final moments of the
Eisenhower Administration to the opening days of the Kennedy
Administration.

The video images merge with bits and pieces of AUDIO from
spoken words, speeches and popular music. Our final
chilling image from this extremely odd slice of Americana
coalesces as we PULL BACK through the cornea of a human eye,
then out further to reveal --

-- a human face, mouth open in a silent scream of terror.
This man is ELLIOT GRANTHAM and we are watching a turning
point in human history.

A white laser beam drills into the eye. Swirling around the
cylindrical light are the very images we've seen, images
extracted from the mind's eye of the human subject.

We are being studied by someone, or some thing.

We watch as words slowly assemble themselves on our TV
screens. The name of this program comes from our past and
will change our future:

DARK SKIES

Quite simply: Read this script.  If you're even remotely interested in Sci-Fi -- hell, if you want to see a fantastic example of how to draw your viewer in, how to raise the stakes at just the perfect moment... read this thing now.

The saddest thing is that this show came about in 96/97 -- I can only imagine what would've happened if they'd made this show in this day and age, in our current world climate.

Man, I wish I knew who wrote this thing so I could give them proper credit.

Brilliant, brilliant script.

Tomorrow I'll be checking out Entourage 1x01.

But for now, read this thing and feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Cheers,
Brandon

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bored To Death 1x01

When you write your own show entitled 'Untitled Jonathan Ames Project', you've only yourself to blame if you're 'Bored To Death'.

Am I right?!  ...Right?  Heh.  *sigh*

What we have here is a 37 page script written by Jonathan Ames and dated 04/14/08 (download here).  This being a show for cable and all, there are no acts, tags or teasers.  I've no idea what version of the script it is as it's not marked anywhere.

So, the burning question is, of course:  Was I 'Bored To Death'?  (Kids, this is what happens when you grasp at the low-hanging fruit.  Aim higher, reach for them... uh... stars).

No, not bored to death.  Not terribly excited though either, unfortunately.

Actually... to be honest, I didn't much care for it.

Essentially:

Jonathan, a sad-sack borderline alcoholic, pot smoking, self-loathing, New York Jewish boy, decides to cope with his girlfriend ditching him ('cause he's too much of a sad-sack to change to accommodate her rather reasonable demands) by pretending to be a Private Eye straight out of the Philip Marlowe books he reads by the stack.

Now, like I said, I'm not sure what draft this is -- heck, it could be a first draft for all I know -- but for my 30-ish minutes spent reading this script and taking notes, I basically made one observation:

'Why?'

I'm not sure if this, like Flight of the Conchords, is one of those shows written with a specific actor in mind or if it's just a case of the show not being funny on the page (which happens and is totally normal)... but I simply didn't laugh.  I didn't understand why I should care about this guy -- he's having a relationship meltdown, so he... wants to be a PI?

Add in the fact that I didn't like the main character (who he was as a person) at all and, well, that didn't help things.

The dude's supposed to have this remarkably hot girlfriend, one who's taken all of his shit for an extended amount of time (even caring about him enough to tell him exactly what she wants from him: give up the booze and pot), but he refuses to do anything.  So she gets fed up and leaves him.

And then he spends all this time moping about his 'bad breakup' -- his entirely avoidable breakup -- until he finally throws (lurches) himself into this side job of his.  (Literally, he throws up an ad on Craigslist).

This is a guy we're going to want to tune into every week?

NOTE: This point, for some reason, actually pissed me off.  I was like 'Dude! You're letting her get away?!'   (Yes, I never knew I had issues with lazy, selfish slackers -- considering I used to be one... oooh! Internal drama!)

Jonathan spends an inordinate amount of time talking to two people, his friends Ray and George.  Both are incredibly different and yet neither of them really offer nothing to this script or the story at large... the conversations don't seem to mean anything (let alone move things forward).

Jonathan then goes on to tell pretty much anyone who'll listen that his girlfriend dumped him. And, I mean, yes, I get that he's 'upset' and 'heartbroken' (the dude does not seem even remotely upset... more like 'oh well, yeah, that happened') but as I read on I just kept waiting for something interesting to happen.

Okay, that's not entirely true.  See, on page 5 he puts his 'Private Eye' ad up on Craigslist... and then he goes off to hang out with his friend Ray for 3-ish pages... where the only 'new/interesting' information we find out is that Ray may or may not have Herpes.  Then on page 9 he's back home and he gets a call about his ad.

'Alright!,' I think to myself, things are going to get going.  He meets the client, finds out about the case, hops in a cab -- and goes to an Art Gallery opening that he was supposed to be working (as a Journalist) but forgot about.

From pages 15 to 19 he flirts with Suki, a Korean-American girl/friend, (whom he informs that he's now single) and gets high with his other friend George (who's some sort of big name)... and they talk about: drinking and getting high.

Half the script in now and almost nothing of any importance has happened.  This bothered me.  Like actually bothered me.

And then it hit me.

See, the more I read into the script the more it felt like there should be some dude in the background yelling: 'Whoa! We managed to get a show on the air where the main character's a pothead!?!'

'Cause this sad, lonely Jewish boy sure does love his weed.  Like, seriously, at least five times in this script he helps himself to a hit.

And that, essentially, sums up this show's main draw in this script.  You get to watch a low-motivation alcoholic/pothead ramble aimlessly with his buddies then stumble around and try to solve a mystery. 


 To be clear, for all my bitching about what essentially boils down to the 'concept', the real problem for me here is the execution.  That and my own expectations.  For some reason I came to this script and as I read it, I started to expect one thing... but the script veered, did a U-Turn and rode the Cloverleaf for a while. 

All-in-all I guess I just didn't 'get it' -- or didn't like what I got... I'm not entirely sure which yet.  Probably both.

As a side note to other poor writers who've had their scripts torn up or never quite understood the notes that find their way back (did they even read this thing?!):  You never know what your reader's bringing to the table -- be that baggage, or umbrage or a completely different understanding of the word 'vagina'.  There's no way to prepare for it.  Most aren't even aware of it themselves.

Hell, until this script I never would've realized that I've got an issue with lazy, selfish, slacker protagonists.  (DUDE! You just let her get away!?  Idiot!)

Either way, shake your head, call them a swear (or swear-lite substitute) behind their backs and move on -- 'cause sometimes that's just the way of the world.

Anyways, that brings us to the end of this... whatever the hell this thing turned out to be, tomorrow I'm checking out Falling Skies 1x01 - Awakening.

Until then,
Cheers!
Brandon