Reduce

We wanted some comfort telly recently, so a few Law & Order eps were screened and it was comforting.

This evening The Goddess and I tried a new police procedural show — and boy oh boy were there a heckuva lot of shots of:

  • driving to/from work/crime-scene/witness;
  • walking to/from office/room/building.

It was unfortunate timing for the latter show to follow so soon after some L&O eps.

But still illuminating from a storytelling point of view.

(I know Apocalypse Now is a galaxy away from television police procedurals but it was all I could find on reducing right down.)

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Box Watch: The Good Wife


By Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21898254

I was looking forward to the week’s viewing when I realised that The Good Wife ended last week.

Hard to believe it’s been seven years since housewife Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) stood by her husband, disgraced and jail-bound state’s attorney Peter Florrick (Law & Order alum Chris Noth). At first I was rather leery of Ridley Scott and Tony Scott‘s involvement as executive producers: purveyors of loud and unsubtle big screen epics and extravaganzas, I assumed they would overwhelm creators Robert and Michelle King‘s kickarse pilot script with Sturm und Drang — but no. They provided awesome production values and produced consistently entertaining television for 156 episodes.

While reviews of the series finale ranged from “contorted” (Variety) and C+ (AV Club), to “single-minded” (Hollywood Reporter) and “the right note” (Salon), I thought it did an okay job of closing the show. Sure it felt a bit like a slave to its pilot but it made sense, it was true to character, and left an opening for a sequel, The Good Lawyer was sufficiently satisfying while still leaving the audience wanting more. Not so sure about the creators’ farewell letter to fans — I’m a believer in if you’re explaining, you’re losing — but it’s their show.

So. That’s that, then.

What do I watch now?

 

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Boxwatch: The Return of Fox and Dana


By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17424488

The original run of The X-Files was not quite the appointment viewing that Law & Order was. When I did watch it, I thrilled to the case-of-the-week but quickly tired of the overall story arc — especially once I realised how that was progressed:

  1. a witness reluctantly testifies to Mulder with potentially earth-shattering information;
  2. Mulder leaps to the conclusion that this witness is The Key to the mystery or conspiracy he is trying to unravel;
  3. the witness disappears or dies;
  4. the witness’s uncorroborated testimony has a sliver of information that leads to another witness;
  5. repeat from 1. above.

The above recipe worked a treat for the show but my viewing began to slip as I tried with less and less success to block out the conspiracy blah-blah and enjoy the case-of-the-week. The last I saw of The X-Files was the feature film Fight the Future which was two hours of conspiracy gibberish, made slightly passable by the gravitas of Martin Landau and Armin Mueller-Stahl and feature-budget SFX.

So… Mulder and Scully are together again, and the truth is still out there. As an audience member, I’m like, Yeah, nah. As a writer, it’s disappointing to see it hasn’t refreshed its find-witness-leap-to-conclusion-lose-witness recipe — I mean, after nine goddamned seasons and two feature films, don’tchathink the heroes would’ve learned to protect their witnesses better by now? And, shockingly, it suffers from say-my-name-ism — following is an exchange verbatim:

EXT. PUBLIC MEETING PLACE -- DAY

FOX MULDER exits a car and joins DANA SCULLY on a busy city street. It’s been years since they last saw each other.

SCULLY

(off Mulder’s mode of transport)

Uber?

MULDER

I hitchhiked.

(off Scully)

Relax, Scully, I’m kidding.

SCULLY

I just worry about you, Mulder.

Really? Haven’t they been reading my blog?

 

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Ongoing

At the end of Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again, our hero, broken in the first act of the story and now painfully reconstituted as a stronger, more focused, more realistic hero and human being, walks into the figurative sunset with the love of his life.

I stopped reading the series at that point.  I knew if I continued, it would just go on and on and on:  there would be more villains, more life-obstacles – more of the same, but different.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever been a big fan of ongoing serials. My comic collection is made up largely of one-off’s, mini-series and trade paperbacks.  As for the viewing library, even though I was a massive fan of Law & Order, it’s taken quite a conscious effort to get myself to buy up to the sixth season of the show, as opposed to the complete runs I have of The ShieldThe West Wing, and The Wire.

I think real life is exciting and ongoing enough, thank you.

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Monkey Say

Spotted recently on the box:

INT. POLICE INTERVIEW ROOM – TIMELESS

Our HERO DETECTIVE studies his SCUMBAG PERPETRATOR from across the METAL TABLE.

SCUMBAG PERPETRATOR

... Okay. I’ll talk.

Our Hero Detective reaches across to the RECORDING DEVICE and pushes the ‘Rec’ button.

HERO DETECTIVE

I’ll just record this.

In a post-Law & Order age – in the too-small shadow of the short-lived Interrogation, even – shouldn’t that scene have played like this?

INT. POLICE INTERVIEW ROOM – TIMELESS

Our HERO DETECTIVE studies his SCUMBAG PERPETRATOR from across the METAL TABLE.

SCUMBAG PERPETRATOR

... Okay. I’ll talk.

OUT ON our Hero Detective pushing the ‘Rec’ button on the RECORDING DEVICE.

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Gone Soft

Channel-surfing earlier in the month led to us tripping over a Law & Order ep. Jack McCoy was now the District Attorney; reporting to him were new faces Cutter and Rubirosa. Anita van Buren was still the lieutenant down at the 27th Precinct – she had her own new faces in the form of Lupo and Bernard.

Curious, we tuned in.

The ep’s A story followed the detectives, soon augmented by the district attorney’s office, as they raced to track down an online blogger preparing for a big and messy shooting spree. Y’know: the usual L&O stuff that is so slick and smart and fast it still makes the majority of cop shows out there dumb and slow.

The B story was more interesting in that it followed van Buren (S Epatha Merkerson) as she underwent some scans for what we presumed was cancer. We learned more about her in this one ep than we had in the preceding decade and a half of (admittedly occasional) watching. Something was up – especially since the ep ended on her getting the results of her scan and showing us her reaction.

“That’s not right,” I said to my Goddess as the credits rolled. “They’ve gone soft, they have.” She nodded and yawned and picked up her briefly forgotten horseriding book.

A quick google to get to the bottom of this abberation revealed that the ep was the series’ finale.

Ah. Well.

Just this once, then.

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L & O: Oh No

After twenty seasons, Law & Order has been canned.

I readily confess to not having watched the last eight seasons as fanatically religiously as the preceding twelve, local broadcaster scheduling notwithstanding. It has been comforting to know that it continued to chug along as I took up with the likes of Miss Marple, Wallander, Orange Roughies, Dexter, The Closer, The Shield, and The Wire. A nice warm glow was almost always guaranteed when chancing on a L&O episode whilst channel-surfing.

Alas – until we start rerunning the show down here – no more.

Its been an institution. Its time has come.

Time for more of the same – but different.

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Roughing It

Let’s say I have to write a scene with corporate suits speaking corporate-speak. I want it to be fluid – a language that’s appropriate to the characters but still accessible to the audience. Minutes and minutes of talking heads yakking at each other – but interesting. Touchstones are Oliver Stone‘s JFK, the ‘law’ halves of Law & Order episodes, and any episode in Aaron Sorkin‘s West Wing.

My first instinct is to just write the scene and get it over with. This can be difficult if I’ve little or no idea how suits talk to each other. In the past it’s become a war of attrition: the objective of narrative-propelling talking heads can be forgotten in a distressing and dispiriting fug of expository dialogue, with an end-result of dropping the scene completely, followed by a period of self-loathing whimpering in The Goddess’ compassionate and patient arms.

I know what I want. I can almost taste the scene. The problem is writing the scene that I want even though I very probably have no idea what happens in it.

The solution is awfully simple: take tiny steps. Write what I know. Then write it again. Repeat until well done.

I’ve noticed a pattern to how some of these scenes take shape. Below are the stages of development that a scene can undergo:
–  the nugget,
–  the description,
–  as good a start as any, and
–  a work draft.

The nugget

INT. CORPORATE BLOCK – DAY

TWO SUITS cook up a plan.

The description

INT. MONOLITHIC CORPORATE BLOCK – AFTERNOON

BOUFFANT and COIFFURE walk and talk about BALDY’s imminent death.

As good a start as any

INT. ROTHERAY & TEMPLAR OFFICES – AFTERNOON

JAMESON RODERICK and TREVOR ALMOND prowl the open-plan offices and corridors.

RODERICK

[PLACE HOLDER: confident growls of world domination]

ALMOND

[PLACE-HOLDER: squeaky noises of dissension]

RODERICK

[PLACE HOLDER: growly grunts of alpha-maleness]

A work draft

INT. OPEN-PLAN OFFICES, ROTHERAY & TEMPLAR BUILDING – EVENING

RODERICK JAMESON and TREVOR ALMOND walk and talk as paralegals, interns and secretaries work into the night.

ALMOND

Did -. Did you –

His more athletic companion glares at him as a BEAVER-LIKE INTERN cuts in:

BEAVER

Sorry to interrupt, Mr Jameson, but Sir Templar asked me to give you this.

Roderick relieves him of an UNMARKED ENVELOPE and, after a microbeat, the intern takes the hint and disappears.

ALMOND

(off envelope)

Is -. Is that –

Roderick steers his cream-doughnut-loving toady towards –

INT. CONFERENCE ROOM – CONTINUOUS

– where Almond slips out of his grip and takes a trembling breath:

ALMOND (CONT’D)

I -, I’ve changed my mind.

They stare at each other for a long beat. Almond, of course, looks away first.

RODERICK

It’s too late.

(off Almond)

It is done.

OUT ON Almond: there’s no turning back now.

As you can see, each draft gains more depth and colour and tone – I’m building on what’s gone before and with each tiny step I’m that much closer to what I want. What I wanted in the first place and what I end up writing may be two very different things but that’s for another post. What matters is that I’ve now got something to really work with.

Another seventy-or-so more scenes to go.

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Box Watch

It’s pretty quiet on the box at the moment. The last few months were very pleasantly crowded with:

Most of them have finished now (or in the case of Studio 60, I stopped watching). The Goddess and I have tried some new and returning shows, without great success.

  • Despite the presence of Six Feet Under alumnus Rachel Griffiths, Brothers & Sisters tried so hard to stop us from switching channels, we turned the box off completely.
  • Having read somewhere that Hu$tle had shuffled up to the big con in the sky, I was surprised to see it return – only to find that it was sans Adrian Lester. Who cares about a bunch of grifters, no matter how funny (Danny), pretty (Stacey), reliably versatile (Ash) and wizened (Albie) they are? We want the cool black guy back!
  • Saving Grace looked very promising with Holly Hunter in the lead. Unfortunately, for us, yet-another-cop-show with a smart-mouthed, promiscuous, boozin’, law-bendin’, gun-totin, ass-grabbin’ protagonist who happens to be female just doesn’t wash.

 

So far, not so good. Still no sign of my beloved Shield or the satisfyingly dense Wire. And waiting for us on the trusty VCR are the pilots for The Street and Burn Notice. The Law of Averages is on our side.

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The T.V. Week is Filling Up Nicely

It was a lean autumn* as the third season of Desperate Housewives lurches from one cliffhanger to another, sometimes leavened only by a game of “Spot the Marcia Cross Stand-In/Body-Double”.

There was a brief flutter of excitement when TV3‘s site FAQ said that Battlestar Galactica was returning to the screen. Unfortunately they meant Season 2, which has been available on DVD for the past year or so (duly devoured only early this year). Which’ll explain the 11:00pm scheduling.

Still, as we enter winter, two household favourites return today: Medium and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Closer scrutiny of the T.V. guides in the next few weeks might be rewarded with The Shield‘s Season 4 and The Wire‘s Season 3.

Hope is a terrible thing.

 

*    For telly maybe – it’s been nice to catch up with last year’s movies.

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