Monday, January 28, 2013

Childhood Scares, Scars and a Book Recommendation to Boot...

Sometimes I fear I peaked during the single digit years of my life.  

My brain was a veritable sponge in the late 70's.  From Agatha Christie to Stephen King, I read hundreds of books and retained warehouses-worth of information. However, I've never felt the inclination or capability to read or remember a tenth as much in my adulthood.  Brain space that should have been prime cerebral real estate for literature and philosophy has instead been clogged with TV show themes, commercial jingles and forty years worth of World Series champions and Oscar winners.  In other words, banal and trivial bullshit.

It's even sadder to realize that I probably haven't matured much emotionally beyond those formative years either. One need only examine my relationships (both platonic and romantic) from the past, present and probable future to deduce that. But that's a "TMI" subject for a blog that will never be written. But between the ages of three and ten, I experienced more misadventures and non-hormonally fueled adrenalin rushes than in the decades since.

If I was to track that seven year saga, Page One would open with the summer day I was taken captive for several hours by a bunch of honest-to-God reprobates I later nicknamed "the Kidnapping Kids".  As time has passed, it's been reduced to a pastiche of thin strips of memory: fluorescent colored tricycle spokes; hands and feet bound to a creaky wooden chair with two knotty jump ropes; the basement air musty yet rife with the smell of cherry flavored candy, and no one believing me when I tried to report this juvenile crime.

Good times.

The final act of the epic tale would cover that fateful June afternoon when a...

Hmmm...there's a word I want to use.  The "R" word.  A word which some have attempted to vilify and hold in the same "you can't say that" disregard as the dreaded "N" word.  Personally, I hate the idea of ANY word being off-limits, whether it begins with an "N", an "R" or even an "F".  

But a couple years ago, I had fun writing a sub-plot/running gag in a sitcom spec script, whereas I replaced the gasp-inducing "N" word with the far more silly and congenial word "nincompoop".  So the script was speckled with lines like "Nincompoop, please" and "You my nincompoop" and so on.

Trust me, it reads funnier in context, as most things tend to do.  In that spirit, I will used the word "retired" and all its derivations to sum up that final event. Now where was I...?

The final act of the epic tale would cover that fateful June afternoon when a...retired kid threw a steel walker at me.  It came less than an inch away from putting my eye out.  

Instead, a geyser of blood erupted from my torn left eyebrow, while the fucking little retiree danced a little jig of malevolent glee. Seven stitches and nineteen hours later, the bullied became the bully, and I whaled away on the retired bastard with both fists as well as the edge of a paddleball racquet. For the next year or so, before it faded and became somewhat less noticeable (save for causing a break in the brow), I could have given Harry Potter a run for his money in the jagged facial scar category.

And thus would end the story. Never claimed it was a "feel good" tale, did I? 

It's interesting to note that over thirty years later, in each of my screenplays, the main character is taken prisoner and held against his will.  He is wounded in some singularly painful yet ultimately "it's just a flesh wound" manner.  By the end, either revenge is doled out or justice is served in some fairly violent denouement.  I've often noted other aspects of my life that have shone through in my writing, from the obvious to the borderline subtle.  But it wasn't until this morning as I composed this blog that I realized how my childhood continues to echo and resonate. Apparently the ripples in the pond have not quite ebbed away.

Just one more thing...

This blog was originally intended to be a brief discussion of a book I first read when I was a kid, sometime between Mommie Dearest and The Amityville Horror.  However, I derailed myself after my first few sentences, leaving the wreckage you just combed through.

The book I was GOING to chat about was purchased for me undoubtedly due to its cover. I'm sure my mother assumed it wasn't anything more corrupting than your average 70's comic book, as it even had an innocuous title: Super-Folks by Robert Mayer.

Imagine being eight years old, and the first page of a book you open details the horrific deaths of Superman, Batman, Robin, the Marvel Family and Snoopy. Yeah, even Snoopy.

I'm not sure my eight-year-old brain comprehended the sexuality (both hetero- and homo-), the satire and the complete & utter deconstruction of the superhero mythos that Mayer pulls off in Super-Folks. It's a work that's clearly had a lasting impact and influence on the works of Grant Morrison, Kurt Busiek and Alan Moore, among other comic book writing luminaries. 

Although Super-Folks was out of print for over twenty-five years, it was finally re-released in two different editions in both 2003 & 2005, so I'm sure one can track it down on Amazon or your local public library. The newer editions may have lost the hyphen between Super and Folks, but I'm sure they retain everything else. Written almost a decade before pop culture milestones like Watchmen, I'd recommend it to anyone regardless of what their geek status may be.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

TV Finale Thoughts Part 2 of 2: Selling the Drama

From ALIAS to VERONICA MARS, there have been just over a hundred TV dramatic series finales over the past few decades.  True, many more dramas have come and gone, but most of those never had the opportunity for even a half-hearted or slapped-together farewell episode.  But when I decided to pick my top three favorites of all time, I wanted to do my due diligence.  

You see, after publishing such a compilation, it's not uncommon for readers to spring forth decrying any number of candidates that appear to have been snubbed. One risks concussion with all the time spent slapping one's head with "Oops" after "My bad" after "D'oh!"  So I scoured the internet, combing through list after list of literal show stoppers to ensure no show would be overlooked.

Now, a dramatic series finale can have all sorts of effects on a dedicated viewer. 
It can make you laugh, make you cry. 
Make you smile and make you sigh.  
It can make you ponder and make you wonder.  

And apparently, it can even make you come up with cheesy rhymes for a half-baked blog.

I won't waste any time and space discussing what didn't make my list. Suffice to say, regardless of whether the show dealt with funeral directors, outer space refugees, cops, doctors, federal agents, mobsters, superheroes, lawyers or vampires (and yes, those last two may be redundant), they were all considered and subsequently dismissed for perfectly logical and sound reasons.  Or at least that's what I'll say right now so I can tra-la-la past that quagmire and get to:



THE WIRE is the one series I can honestly say I feel like a better person for having watched it. A series that juggled literally dozens of characters and just as many story lines, dealing with hardcore and hard hitting issues from drugs to politics to the public education system.  From the biggest villain to the smallest extra, THE WIRE was overstuffed with performances that were genuine and unforced.  The writing felt so visceral and so real, you'd swear someone hid a microphone on a Baltimore street corner and transcribed the dialogue into script after amazing script.

With an almost impeccable track record of excellence going into the finale, how could David Simon (creator & head writer) possibly resolve so many plot threads? How would he conceivably cover (much less tie up) the final resolutions to over 20 different characters?  How in the world would he ever be able to satisfy the small but fiercely dedicated audience that loved this show so much?

If I knew how he did it, I'd be sitting here writing something a lot more important & impressive than a blog. But he did do it. Perfectly.

#2  LOST

I could have easily transposed THE WIRE and LOST on this list.  Perhaps it's a battle of the head and heart, but despite the flaws and frustrations of LOST's final season, the series finale packed one mega-powerful wallop.  We knew years in advance that it would be polarizing. So it was easy-peasy to anticipate the scores of people who would be left disenchanted and disappointed by the perceived lack of resolution to what must have seemed like hundreds of mysteries and stories.

I wrote a recap & review that went on longer than The Return of the King, but I'll plug a link to that here instead of repeating myself more than I am already prone to doing.  If it ain't "clickable", then I'm sure it's "cut and paste-able".


As any beloved series nears its final episode, the audience will wonder how it will all end.  What will be the final outcome for the story lines and will their favorite characters finally attain whatever goal they have been striving to reach? However, a few shows broke away from the pack of likable ensembles, choosing to concentrate on what could best be called an "antihero".  Stories based around a protagonist who would be considered the antagonist anywhere else.  The bad guy.

When THE SOPRANOS was nearing the end, all anyone could ask was, "What's gonna happen to Tony?"  Would he live or die?  Would he pay for his crimes or get away with it all?"  

The same sort of questions have arisen over the ultimate fate of Walter White on BREAKING BAD. But there was one other show that had the same issues to work out for its finale.  A series that not only handled it brilliantly, but did it in a way that none of us had guessed at beforehand.  

Of course, I'm talking about THE SHIELD.

I won't reveal the ultimate fate of Vic Mackey, as I know there are many who will read this who have yet to watch this balls-to-the-wall dynamo of violent intensity.  But it's not a spoiler to say this: if you do invest the time in watching all seven seasons, unlike so many other series, you will NOT be disappointed in the resolution Shawn Ryan (creator & head writer) pulls off here.

Honorable Mention:
BABYLON 5, for setting a course five years in advance, and even though the ride was bumpy at first, it finished in a spectacular and truly satisfying manner. Some shows, one can say, "Oh, they're making things up as they go along."  You couldn't say that about B5.  Well, you could, but you'd be wrong. And stupid. Folks can go on and on about the greatness of the 21st century take on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and it certainly was great.  But BABYLON FIVE dealt with a galactic canvas as well, with a far smaller budget or critical hoopla -- and finished in a way that pleased all B5 fans. That's something BSG can't claim.

A Few Great Moments in Drama Finale History:
The final six minutes of SIX FEET UNDER made up for two seasons of being bummed out.
The destruction of the "love triangle" between Beecher, Keller & Schillinger on OZ.
Spike's sacrifice (albeit short-lived) on BUFFY...
...and the crew fighting till the very end and beyond on ANGEL.

Dishonorable Mention:
Some may nominate THE SOPRANOS for the infamous smash-cut-to-black that left the fate of Tony and his family in the air. Having re-watched it recently, I have come around to accepting if not totally embracing the ending.  Others may nominate QUANTUM LEAP, which informs us with a postscript that Sam never returns home.  The fact they spelled his name incorrectly was far more egregious than Doctor Beckett's sad fate.  Finally, there's the "It was all in the mind of an autistic child and his snow globe" ending of ST. ELSEWHERE which is often recognized as one of the biggest WTF moments in TV history.

No, I'm picking the US version of LIFE ON MARS.  Week after week it became painfully apparent that this was a pallid version of the exceptional UK series.  But the worst decision was to not only ignore the original's finale, but to reveal that the cops are actually all Mars-bound astronauts.  It was nothing short of ludicrous.  I've never muttered the phrase "You've gotta be fucking kidding me" as many times in such a short period of time.

And with that, I bid you goodbye, farewell and amen.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

TV Finale Thoughts Part 1 of 2: Put On A Happy Face

8 months from now, I'll be perched on the edge of my couch, white-knuckling my way through the remaining minutes of the last episode of BREAKING BAD.  It's only the best TV series on today...HOMELAND can suck it, thank you very much.  Of course, based on an almost unparalleled string of excellent episodes season after season, Vince Gilligan and the gang have a HUGE challenge ahead of them, as the audience expectations are as huge as any since either LOST or THE SOPRANOS.

Though not an optimist by nature, I'm dead certain that the BREAKING BAD finale will be nothing short of stellar (talk about about mounting expectations).  In fact, I fully believe it will crack my "Best TV Series Finales of All Time" list.

But it dawned on me that despite all the nonsense I've written about TV over the years, I've actually never gotten around to composing any such list.  Well, it's possible I might whipped one up back in the MySpace days, but I don't feel like digging through that horrible pit of rotting pseudonyms and festering band pages to find it.

Now it's confession time: 

Originally, I was set to bang out yet another NOTE on my Facebook account and link it to a "What's your favorite TV finale" type of question asked on an FB Group page, when yet another thought hit me like a bag of wet socks. Maybe, just maybe now's the time to finally try my hand at a blog.  Chances are you've already read my initial effort, but before I go any further, let me give credit where credit is due (or blame, either one works): if not for Carol Landers (on the Jay & Jack Facebook Group page) asking the TV finale question I'm clearly too lazy to look up and get the exact wording for, I never would have ventured in this mysterious bog.  I mean blog.  Or do I?

My plan is to chop the list I've formed in my noggin into two categories: comedy & drama.  And then, just do a Top Three for each.  No need to Super-Size or Tarantino-ize this one bit.  So, without further ado (other than playing Words with Friends or quoting Shakespeare, when else does anyone use "ado")...TODAY's blog will be about remembering laughter. 

Does anybody remember laughter?


Now, when you look over this mini-list, you'll see there are some notable omissions.  With one important exception (coming in at number three), sitcom finales simply don't need to be two to three times as long as a regular episode.  Especially if they're not two to three times better than a regular episode.  Hence, no FRIENDS. Thus, no SEINFELD. CHEERS was considered, but the still- too-damn-long finale didn't leave quite as lasting an imprint on me as say, the episode when Diane leaves ("Have a good life").

#3 M*A*S*H

Yes, it's the series that lasted three times as long as the actual Korean War.  Good Lord, Hawkeye must have been traumatized, just look how much he aged in a few years!  And while the episode may be flawed and last longer than most miniseries, just like Private Ryan, it earned it.  

One of the first "dramedies", M*A*S*H was a series that balanced wisecracks and slapstick with the horrors of war. So here, the length was justified.  I can honestly say I haven't watched it in nearly thirty years, but so much has been seared into my consciousness. I've never forgotten Hawkeye in the loony bin, the tragedy of the woman smothering her crying baby, Winchester and the Chinese musicians...and that final shot of BJ spelling out the word "GOODBYE"


As the ownership of the WJM station changed hands more than once during the show's run, there was nothing implausible about all-new management taking a hard look at the employees as the natural way to cut costs.  The twist was the owners deciding to keep the one incompetent (Ted Baxter) and simply fire everyone else!  

The writers' daring decision works both comedically and as a final commentary on the state of local TV news.  The classic scene of the group hug and that small huddled mass shuffling over to the box of tissues to dry their eyes -- it's one of the most iconic moments you're likely to see on any comedy series.  It really was a long way to Tipperary, and to this day, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW remains the standard bearer and template for all sitcom finales. 


Did anyone ever notice they never named the bizarre little town in Vermont where D-I-Y author/TV host/innkeeper Dick Loudon and his wife Joanna bought the Stratford?  SO there's already a clue that things are a  Toss in a slew of oddballs ranging from an heiress turned maid to three grungy yet polite woodsmen (two of whom were always mute), and the finale plot of a Japanese conglomerate purchasing all the land except the Stratford Inn was par for the course.  Or should I say Golf Course, as that's what the entire town becomes.  Until Dick is hit by a different sort of oddball: a golf ball right off his melon.  Fade to black...

...and he wakes up, switching on a familiar lamp on a recognizable nightstand beside a bed so many viewers had seen dozens of times before.  The studio audience reaction was undoubtedly the loudest EVER, especially as the woman beside him is revealed to be Suzanne Pleshette!  For he's not Dick Loudon, he's Doctor Bob Hartley. It's the one time a show got away with an "it was all a dream" scenario that was met with universal acclaim and approval. Unless MODERN FAMILY turns out to be the dream of Al Bundy, I don't imagine this will ever be topped.

Honorable Mention: 
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, as it lampooned the plight of the Bluths and the fate of the TV series with equal fervor, mirroring the pilot episode tick by blessed tick of every hilarious minute. Although the slated return (14 new episodes on Netflix) might render the finale somewhat moot?

A Couple Great Moments in Sitcom Finale History: 
JD watching his future life flash before himself in the "real" finale for SCRUBS.
David Brent telling Finchey to "fuck off" in the final episode of THE OFFICE (UK).

Dishonorable Mention:  
ROSEANNE, a series that at one time was one of the best -- took a horrible turn and hit the skids in its waning years, culminating in a totally joyless and altogether annoying series finale.

Despite my best intentions, even this brief list has resulted in a rather lengthy blog. However, it's only appropriate that I manufacture a bit of suspense, and wait until tomorrow to post MY TOP THREE DRAMA FINALES OF ALL TIME.

From ado to adieu, that is what I bid to you.

My First Blog: Seat Fillers, Place Holders and Time Killers

Life is a series of seat fillers, place holders and time killers.  The key is to keep each of these to a bare minimum.

A few of you read that and thought: "Say, that's actually somewhat profound.  Maybe a tad bit obvious, but sage words regardless."

I'd guess the rest of you are thinking: "Really?  This is the sort of moronic drivel he's gonna blog about?  If I wanted to read crap like this, I wouldn't toss away my fortune cookies after my chicken with broccoli."

Whichever way you may feel (and trust me, I know all about tossing cookies), this blog is a microcosmic example of my first sentence.  When I decided late last night to finally join the thirty-five million bloggers around the world (I totally made up that number), I had a specific article in mind. Hell, half of it was already written and waiting to be unleashed into the inter-web-ular ozone. But there was only one teensy tiny problem: regardless of being brilliant or boring, concise or endless, there was one thing I simply KNEW it wasn't:  

It wasn't the stuff "first blogs" are made of.

Being someone who tends to the obsessive side of things, not to mention it being the wee hours of the night, that realization stopped me cold. Half a box of Wheat Thins and three hours of sleep later, I sat down with one gnawing notion.  

Damn it, I need to write a genuine "My First Blog".

My first thought started off with the words "please allow me to introduce myself".  For ten seconds, I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat (most likely due to a contact high from that freaky caterpillar). Then I shook it off.  I can't spit on the likes of Robert Zemeckis for choosing the most obvious of songs for his movie soundtracks (such as "Sympathy for the Devil") and then turn around and do the same so-on-the-nose-there's-blood-gushing-out-of-it thing.

But cheesy and obvious blog titles aside, did I really need to "introduce myself"? Chances are most people who read this already KNOW me, although very few might know me all THAT well.  And how revelatory and confessional would I want such a journal to be?  Is this meant to be a series of cathartic releases where I write the words I haven't the courage to discuss? Or will I prefer to be skating on the icy veneer of the trivial, gliding along the slick surface of entertainment and pop culture with pithy commentary festooned with words both big and coarse as fuck (there's one)?

In all honesty, I don't really know.  But that's my fall-back answer to many things.  

Here's what I DO know:

While I can foresee that some of my blog posts will be auto biographical in nature, I'm not going to start things off with any sort of blow-by-blow accounting of my life up until this moment.  Over time, most things make their way to the surface, be it treasure or trash.  I suspect that will be the case here as well.  So interspersed between my observations about film, television, music, sports, "the news of the day" and so on...I'll probably talk here and there about my ongoing journey to becoming a screenwriter (stop groaning...STOP GROANING, I SAY) as well as other aspects (both good and bad) of what makes me, well...ME.

It's unlikely that any topic will end up being off-limits.  Be it relationships, occupations or just a bad movie I watched late last night...everything is potential fodder.  Seat fillers, place holders and time killers: they're the stuff LIFE is made of, and the stuff of this, my first blog.