Television Tribune: In Defense of Character-Based Storytelling

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By Allen

One of the core tenets of graphic design is “Show, don’t tell.” It’s a simple truism at face value, but when viewed as a way of writing television, it’s surprising how much some shows benefit from it as a method of writing character interactions. I’ve noticed that most of my favorite shows of the last few years show exactly who each character is supposed to be early on, with changes and eccentricities being introduced slowly over time. Also, viewing your characters as pieces of a larger puzzle is the best way to strengthen the viewer’s connection to them because it directly encourages empathy.

Take Futurama for example. As shown by the header of this very article, each member of the main cast can be easily identified from a silhouette. You’ve got Leela with the poofy hair and efficient bun, Zoidberg’s creepy eyes and mouth, Bender’s eye and head shape, Fry’s hair swirl and upper lip, and the Professor’s…posture/creepy head. These silhouettes actually tell you quite a bit about the characters that they represent, and how they would interact with one another. Fry and Leela both seem fairly young and relatively normal-looking, so they’re probably friends. Zoidberg and Bender look clearly alien or at least inhuman, so one could assume this is some sort of sci-fi show. And just a few more leaps of logic from there, and you can extrapolate that maybe the robot and the human male are friends based on so many films from the 80s depicting this exact idea, and that the Professor is probably a crazy person. It’s these little guesses and stories where we fill in backstory that form the basis of a good cast. From there, the show sets about to defy those expectations. Fry and Bender fight all the time, Leela has the tendency to be a little unhinged, and the Professor shows genuine pathos when some of his experiments go awry. By the end of the show, we’re attracted more to what the characters have become, and less of what they started as.

This concept doesn’t just apply to drawn animation. Lost was another show that spends most of its first season introducing and slowly fleshing out characters. Each character had a stereotypical role, and the later seasons were, at the best, all about everyone trying to defy these roles. Unfortunately, Lost started to fall apart when the story was less about the characters and more about the stories happening to them. Which of the following plots from Lost sounds more interesting to you: Locke engages in faux military training and lives in a fantasy world all his adult life before finally taking on a leadership role on the Island, or Jack got Chinese tattoos from an Asian woman? You need to write from the bottom up, with characters and their motivations coming before what happens to them. Build the silhouettes before you fill them in.

A related writing technique for television characters is the “puzzle pieces” method. The idea here is that each character is a vivid, specific piece of a puzzle. Some pieces fit in with several others, and you can make something resembling an image by arranging them randomly, but there is only one absolute configuration of characters. The many television projects of Joss Whedon are classic examples of this: In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, everyone is dating someone else at some point. The good relationships stay because they fit, but the bad ones slowly show themselves to be ugly and messy (ahem, Buffy and Riley ahem.) That doesn’t mean that Buffy can only be with the people who she fits with; it’s all about experimenting with different interactions until you see what works (Buffy and Willow, Willow and Xander, Spike and Xander, Xander and Anya, Xander and anyone). Viewing TV writing in this way makes bad episodes and pairings make much more sense, since it argues that the writers were just trying something new.

Shows that blend both of these writing methods are one in a million, and they almost always received universal praise when it works. So next time you’re watching your favorite television show, stop and think about what exactly you find so appealing about it.

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Take Our Word: Kingdoms

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The Word

There are plenty of kingdoms in pop culture these days. With Game of Thrones‘s fourth season now long done, there’s been a severe lack of good royalty portrayed in television this year. On the games front, Shovel Knight has been the new hotness, and all the pomp and circumstance of a good medieval royalty story is there (King Knight and Enchantress Queen, I’m looking at y’all.) We’re going to be doing a little stretching to fit three diverse, quality pieces of media under the header of Kingdoms, so be prepared for some regal regaling of royalty.

The Recommendations

Allen

Queens of the Stone Age: I just couldn’t pick one thing to recommend from this California-based rock group. Their frontman, Josh Homme, is one of the most personable musicians based on his many public interviews and concerts, and QOTSA’s work is pretty consistently fantastic. I’d specifically recommend you go down at least one of two rabbit holes to get a full appreciation of their work: Listen to, in order: Songs For The Deaf, Lullabies To Paralyze, and …Like Clockwork. If you don’t have time to jam out to some of the best rock music of the last decade, at least poke around YouTube to find all of their music videos, particularly the ones for …Like Clockwork. Any good kingdom needs some Queens.

Here’s where you can buy …Like Clockwork on Amazon, which you absolutely should: http://www.amazon.com/Like-Clockwork-Queens-Stone-

Age/dp/B00CY1JUW2/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_mus?ie=UTF8&qid=1405475485&sr=8-1&keywords=like+clockwork

And if you hate long links, here’s one for their YouTube VEVO channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/QueensStoneAgeVEVO/

Magellan

Dungeons & Dragons Next Basic Rules: Although I haven’t had the fortune of playing pen and paper role playing games on any sort of a regular basis, I do love to collect books and look at the different ways that game designers choose to represent and implement certain concepts. D&D is a great case study of that, having gone through several generations of rules changes, all under the scrutiny of thousands of fans. This year will see the release of the franchise’s 5th Edition, and Wizards of the Coast has kindly put out a stripped-down version of the game for us fans to pick apart. It’s a free PDF that outlines a few core classes and other essential rules. From what I’ve read of it so far, it looks like Wizards has learned the lesson of 4th Edition and scaled back the combat focus, making the game less like an MMO and more like DnD. It has also learned the lesson of 3rd Edition and made the game much less complicated. Of course, it’ll take the full set of core books to see a complete picture of this new edition, but as it stands now this PDF makes me excited at the prospect of reading through and collecting DnD books again.

Here’s a direct link to the PDF if you’d like to take a look: http://media.wizards.com/downloads/dnd/DnDBasicRules.pdf

James

Demon Knights: When I think Kingdoms, the first thing that comes to mind is Moonrise Kingdom, which is a fantastic movie, but utterly too banal for Take Our Word. Instead, I am going to write about the demon Etrigan. With the release of the New 52 reboot of DC Comics came a somewhat surprising entry about the demon Etrigan. In the series, titled Demon Knights, Etrigan’s origins are explained. Etrigan is a demon bound to the immortal human Jason Blood, by Merlin. After Merlin’s death and Camelot’s fall, Jason discovers the poem that turns him into Etrigan. Oh, did I not mention? Etrigan spits out fat rhymes, in iambic pentameter. This brawling demon who rhymes every word he says is one of the most bizarre comic creations I have ever seen. And what’s absurdly funnier is the fact that it actually works. The character is interesting, with compelling stories, with Demon Knights set in a Medieval Europe ravaged by war and magic. There are many King Arthur references, as Jason Blood served at the court of Arthur, which further heightens the cool Medieval atmosphere. The plots are great and even though it was cancelled, it’s still one of my favorite New 52 reboots.

You can buy the first volume of this fantastic comic book here: http://www.amazon.com/Demon-Knights-Vol-Seven-Against/dp/1401234720
The Round-Up
My kingdom for some good Round-Up ideas! Ugh, even I hated that. Anyways, the first game that I think of when I hear Kingdoms is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. (Sorry, Kingdom Hearts fans. Go enjoy your metaphysical anime Disney nonsense and get back to me later.) The developers at 38 Studios ran into some economic troubles after the game’s launch, and the pushback from the Rhode Island government itself proved more interesting than the game itself.
The story of the company’s bankruptcy itself is recounted in the Giant Bomb wiki entry for the company: http://www.giantbomb.com/38-studios/3010-6332/
Kevin Dent also recounted the story more eloquently on Kotaku two years ago: http://kotaku.com/5913492/curt-schillings-big-huge-38-studios-debacle
And just the fact that it made local Rhode Island news shows just how serious this case got. It’s not fun to highlight game industry troubles, but it’s a reality of the business that people need to take into consideration: http://wpri.com/2014/02/11/sony-exec-blames-ri-pols-for-38-studios-debacle/

 

Incidental Insights: Why I Hate Happiness

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By James

Happiness is the most boring emotion. If you can take nothing else away from this article, know that happiness is boring. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that it’s a bad thing, just boring. My favorite books, movies, and even songs, are all tinged by dark characteristics. For example, my favorite movie, Adaptation, features a heartbreaking killing. The next movie,Being John Malkovich, features the loss of free will, and the slow but eventual onset, as a man spends his days trapped in someone else’s head. In fact, scrolling through my list of my twenty favorite movies, it is almost impossible to find a movie that isn’t in some way depressing. The only comedies on the list are Hot Fuzz, Dr. Strangelove, Death at a Funeral, andLock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. As it turns out, even my taste in comedies is dark. My musical predilections are similarly peppered with grim titles. My favorite album is calledHunger and Thirst, and contains such lighthearted songs as “White Liars”, “The Sickness Unto Death”, and “Happy People”, which oddly enough is not that happy. I would not consider myself a very dark person. Sure, sometimes I brood, and occasionally I stay up at night, convincing myself I am a vampire, but who doesn’t? The problem then resides in the material rather than my tastes.

I don’t search for depressing films. I really don’t. Of the movies that I watch, only around fifteen percent try to evoke sadness. And even if a film contains death, it doesn’t necessarily make me cry out with ecstasy. The book Hidden Empire by Orson Scott Card contains a major character death part of the way through, yet I didn’t find the book particularly entertaining. The movie Sweeny Todd had more blood than Dracula in a room full of polycythemia verics (for the record I had to look that one up).  Therefore, it isn’t the drama created by death itself. The only thing that I can think of that could explain my appetite for sorrow is the fact that sorrow is far more interesting than happiness.

Bear with me for a moment here, because the argument that I’m going to make would sound appropriate for the bassist in a grunge band. Which I definitely am not. One of the deeply imprinted social constructs is the pursuit of happiness. We are driven towards happiness through a biological imperative. Happiness is food, sex, and sleep. It’s only through abstract thought that we can find happiness in looking at art, and listening to music. The happiness that we get from movies are similar abstractions. You are happy because the imaginary woman that you knew for an hour and a half found her imaginary love who she knew for a few days. You are happy that an imaginary character managed to escape from the alien beasts, while learning about the value of friendship. Nothing in this is particularly natural, as a great depth of abstraction is required to identify with a person that you don’t know in a place that might be imagined. However, due to the residual drive towards happiness, abstractions still tend towards happiness, driving people to like happy media rather than sad.

Now for the question: Why is happiness boring? Well, what I said before is something of misdirection. Happiness itself is not boring in its own way. What has gotten boring however is the overuse of happiness in media. The gut reaction of most producers seems to make things happier. Books get adapted with fewer hard choices and more romance. The movie adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel Dear John allowed the two protagonists to be together. The reason was purely economic. Producers didn’t want the movie to tank, and made the calculated risk that a happy ending fixes everything.  The evisceration of the source material is expected, but the overuse leads to an immunity from real danger. Take Transformers. Sure, we were all sad when Optimus Prime died in the third movie. But did you really think for one second that his death and sacrifice would mean anything? The note of finality leads to a level of pride. A permanent sacrifice is noble. A temporary sacrifice is an inconvenience. Comics, of course, are the worst offenders, with a Superman that refuse to die for longer than a few months. But the happiness felt at the return of a character feels cheapened by the knowledge that death is impermanent, as lowering the stakes removes any drama. Nowadays,the easiest way to show that you are counter culture is therefore to make a movie sad. I’m not talking about romantic tragedies, with idealized deaths and an almost Victorian penchant for drama, but the gut wrenching tragedies wrought by the horrible realization that one man’s death may not mean a lot. We need the break from happiness, and from ultimately the repetition of the same emotion: static happiness, because while happiness is all well and good, we need a little sorrow once in a while.

Tridaptation: Y: The Last Man

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The Source Material

Today marks the inauguration of a brand new column here at Pop Modern, “Tridaptation.” It gives us three writers the chance to not just react to pop culture content, but also to dabble in role-play and wish-fulfillment. Every time this column rolls around, we’ll all focus on a common source material that we love dearly and outline how we’d adapt it to another medium. This week we’re taking a look at Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man, a graphic novel series which focuses on what the world would look like if all men on the planet but one suddenly died. Stick with us as each of us takes a crack at turning this epic into a feature length film.

The Adaptations

Allen

Director: Rian Johnson
 
Writer: Joss Whedon
 
Main Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Yorick Brown (I’d actually prefer a relative unknown actor for this role, but JGL could play the character perfectly), Danai Gurira as Agent 355, Rinko Kikuchi as Dr. Mann.
 
Plot: So, here’s my issue with Y: The Last Man as a film adaptation: it’s composed almost entirely of characters traveling and meeting different people. Because of this, it would work perfectly as a TV series, with each season covering a volume of the comics, or branching out and taking the ideas further. Keep the Dr. Mann/355/Yorick/Amp relationship at the center, absolutely keep Altar and her crazy backstory, and for the love of God, just shoot that final scene exactly as it is in the comic. It could be one of the greatest adventure shows of all time, rivaling Lost with an intricate mystery behind it all, and a story that is actually about the characters from the start.
Pitch: If you tied my hands up and absolutely had to make into a film, stick to the first few issues or so. If you’re in it for the long haul, whoever writes/directs the picture needs to realize that years and years are passing by that aren’t covered in the comics. And most importantly, realize that Yorick was never and can never be a schlubby nerd learning to talk to girls and be a man. This is why I didn’t choose Jay Baruchel or someone younger for the character; Yorick has sexual experience, a gorgeous girlfriend, and decent people skills. The most interesting part of his character is his death wish and inability to lead well and make decisions, not his awkwardness. Levitt can play young, and Whedon can punch up the dialogue with the right amount of humor. Johnson knows how to shoot both action and quiet conversation, so I think this combo would make a perfect Y: The Last Man something, be it TV or film. I just want it to happen so badly, I’ll take anyone competent at this point. Nobody would choose anyone but Gurira for 355 if they’d seen her on The Walking Dead: those characters line up almost perfectly. And Kikuchi as Mann is not only culturally accurate, but I’d also really like to see the young actress get a chance to stretch her acting chops with two other strong presences for such a long journey.
James
Director: Christopher NolanWriter: Jonathan Nolan

Main Cast:  James McAvoy as Yorick, Jennifer Lawrence as Beth, Rashida Jones as Agent 13, & Ampersand as that one monkey from Pirates of the Caribbean

Plot: The plot would involve the main story points of the books, with only minor glimpses at the external plots. The “other Beth” and the astronauts would probably be cut in order to make time for the series. I think the movie could do a Batmanesque trilogy to really capture the series, as one movie might be a little too rushed for the exploration of the themes. We can have character development and still try and keep the last scene, ala Stanley Kubrik.

Pitch: The Nolans know how to work with comic books. Christopher is known for taking independent movie concepts, and turning them into great blockbusters. He and Jonathan could write a killer adaptation of Y:the Last Man, and make a really cool adaptation of the source material. Nolan is also known for humor within dark movies, which is really what Y:the Last Man is: a combination of terrible events with funny interludes.

James McAvoy would be a great Yorick, as he has the right balance of cool guy and loser, which would play into the movie. Plus he isn’t the most beautiful movie actor, which makes him more suitable for the role. Jennifer Lawrence would be a great Beth, as an unexpected non-heroine role would be a revelation for most of the audience. The character is supposed to be somewhat air-headed, which I think Jennifer could play quite well.  Rashida Jones is radically under-appreciated, but I think she could make a great Agent 13, as she proved that she could play a decent action star, even in the movie Wanted.

Magellan

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Writer: Brian K. Vaughn
Main Cast: Andrew Garfield as Yorick Brown, Nicole Beharie as Agent 355, and Rinko Kikuchi as Dr. Allison MannPlot: Open in medias res on the group’s confrontation aboard their train to the Midwest. Tell the events of the first days of the plague and Yorick’s escape from Washington D.C. in flashbacks. Keep everything limited to Yorick’s perspective, finding another way to establish the Israeli stuff. From there, pick the most interesting vignettes to tell (the male astronauts arc, Yorick killing someone for the first time, the Japan arc, and maybe one or two more sequences depending on time constraints).
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Pitch: As my cohorts here have pointed out, Y: The Last Man would be tricky to adapt into a single film. It’s a series and a concept that begs detailed exploration. Admittedly, the property isn’t nearly popular enough to sustain a series of films, but it would thrive on television (even as a Netflix series or something like that). Still, let’s pretend for a minute (as we’ve already been pretending for several minutes) that we have to stick to feature length. That means the plot is going to have to be truncated to the vignettes that matter most to the overarching plot. Luckily, Y: The Last Man is built to be modular in that way. It’s best to start somewhere in the story where all the characters are together already so as to not waste time in exposition, letting the D.C. and Boston arcs get filled in with dialogue and flashbacks.
As for the cast, I think we here at Pop Modern are all agreed that you need an everyman who plays dopey and charismatic equally well. Ideally every role would be filled in by relative unknowns, but if we’re aiming for a rising star then Andrew Garfield would be perfect. The other two roles were a little harder for me to fill, since there really aren’t enough African-American or Asian-American women working in the industry right now. Still, Beharie and Kikuchi have respectable resumes and would do well. In terms of the writing-directing team, I figure Vaughn may be the best to re-frame his story. He doesn’t even have to script it, necessarily, just offer a plot outline. I picked Trevorrow as director for his work on Safety Not Guaranteed,  a movie which has a similar tonal blend to Y. Plus, the guy’s directing Jurassic World, so he has to have something going for him.

Diaries from the Multiverse: Game of Thrones

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By Allen

(Diary of Dietrich Windsworn)

299 AC

It’s always too hot here. With no ventilation or blasted windows, it’s just sixteen hours a day of that infernal ball of heat beating down on your face like so many drops of water. Water. W-A-T-E-R. I don’t really have much reason to write that word in Dorne. Prince Doran, bless that old coot, wouldn’t dare send us a droplet in times like this. With family coming in and out of Sunspear, once can’t help but feel like the Martells are busy these days.

But enough about the royalists and big shots, let’s talk about my day. I got up with the sun as usual, and set off to work collecting food. I headed down to the market, and Delia sold me a bundle of olives for half price because she said I have a “cute little face”. What she doesn’t know is I’ll be a man grown soon, and then she’ll be all out of things to call cute and/or little. So I did that. Later, I brought Hump with me to the watering hole, and we enjoyed a quick dip and sip before those damn guards with the pointy stabby things told us to “move or be moved.” Ugh, jackasses. Sometimes, I wonder if I could be a guard for the Martells. If it means getting to see Arianne and the Snakes every waking day, sign me the hell up. I swear, that family was just born with good genes. I suppose you reap what you sow.

I’m still torn up about Oberyn. The man always had nice things to say about the common people. He would bring his sister Elia into the streets, and they would dance topless as a newborn child for a while, until the inevitable peasant tried to cop a feel on the lady herself. I just can’t respect a fellow street dweller who insults our beautiful leaders in such a deeply personal way. It gives us all a bad name, and it’s not like we need more crap from the folks upstairs. I’ve always referred to the palace of Sunspear as “upstairs”, not necessarily because there are stairs inside, but because it feels like it’s always watching us, like parents in their rooms upstairs. Always watching, never interfering. At least it’s better than what I hear goes on in Westeros. One of the books I read mentioned how kings would have people brutally killed for simply getting too close. I complain about the heat and the hard living, but I like Dorne. I feel like we’re on the cusp of a big political shift, and if that means we don’t have to get involved in any wars overseas, count me in.

Anyways, back to my day. So I get my water, save some drops in my pouch, and head back home with Hump. The bastard gets a little feisty, and nearly drops me face first into a shockingly large puddle of shite. It was quite the experience. After that, nothing interesting really happened. I brought back the food and water, went running down to Hazzad’s house, and we kicked an old bundle of rags around for a few hours. Mama says I’m getting lazy, but anything is better than Maya’s typical day, which usually consists of: sleeping, bathing, flirting with men on the street, more sleeping, and more eating. Hey, it’s a living.

And then I came back inside, enjoyed the fruits of my labor, fed Hump, and sat down to read a book. I love having this time to catch up on things, but I miss being more busy. Ever since Baba left, I was supposed to be the man of the house. Turns out being the man of the house just means cleaning up after a shit-stained camel and lugging food back and forth.

But hey, I’d do anything for the family. I’d die for them.

Oh, and I polished my bow today. Both curves have a good angle now, and the string itself has excellent give and throw. I think I’ll bring it with me on the Meereen trip in a few days. I hear the Mother of Dragons is in town. I swear, I leave one hot place and head to another. Just once, I wish we took a trip to The Reach or Winterfell. I’ve always loved sailing ever since Baba brought us here so long ago. He said we were “getting back to our roots.” I dare you to find one actual living root in Dorne that doesn’t belong to a disgusting plant or parasitic creature. May The Smith guide my hand, The Father my decisions, The Mother my family, The Maiden my sister, The Crone my mind, and The Stranger…well, remove him from my bedchamber and bar him from our home. Time to do it all again tomorrow. Life goes on.

Seasoned Veterans: Scrubs, Season One

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In this new segment, we run through a season of television and discuss our general impressions, and some things that we like and don’t like about it. This week, we decided to kick things off for the inaugural Seasoned Veterans with the first season of Scrubs. Hope you enjoy. And if not, it was James’s fault.

Allen: Let me preface my bit on Season One of Scrubs by saying that I haven’t actually watched the entire season. The show was always on my periphery, and it was just recently that I discovered how good it is. With that in mind, I hand-picked the seven episodes that most represented this season: “My First Day”, “My Mentor”, “My Old Lady”, “My Bed Banter & Beyond”, and the 1-2-3 gut punch of “My Occurrence”, “My Hero”, and “My Last Day”. With that out of the way, I think Scrubs might already be one of my favorite sitcoms. It’s not just the writing and acting, which are both top-notch and hold up marvelously. It’s not just the humor and running gags of J.D.’s fantasies and Dr. Cox’s female nicknames for him. No, it’s the way the show makes me feel at the end of each episode.   Let’s all agree that the pilot knocks it out of the park. Not only are J.D. and the gang introduced, but everyone is immediately likable and believable. It makes Sacred Heart Hospital feel like a real place, and the most brilliant thing about Season One is just how quickly it hits its stride. “My Mentor” starts with one of the most clever cold opens ever from a filming perspective, and that cleverness pervades every aspect of the show. Ending episodes with plot twists, especially in a medical show, can feel cheap. It’s like the writers are profiting on the randomness of how an emergency room can be, with people dying and coming back to life every single day. But where Scrubs differs is how it handles these dark moments; the whole arc of Brendan Fraser’s character Ben (a shockingly subtle role considering Fraser’s stint in The Mummy and its sequels) feels very real and powerful, and the second half of “My Occurrence”, where the show takes J.D.’s classic “fantasy cutaway” gag and makes it the entire second half of the episode, only to reveal at the end that none of it happened. But the best thing about Scrubs Season One is how little the melodrama takes over the humor and storytelling. It wasn’t until “My Last Day” that I thought to look up or even cared about the various affairs and transgressions going on in the episodes I missed, but I really didn’t care. And it ends on such a beautiful moment that only Scrubs could pull off, with Cox looking like he’s juuuuust about to smack J.D. in the face before getting up, cleaning himself up, and getting back to work.

Favorite Episode: “My Old Lady” by a long shot, if only because I myself am going into a medical field, and even if most dental students don’t need to worry about their patients dying, the ending still hit hard, and made me cry much more than I anticipated.  

Magellan:

Impression: I love Scrubs. For all of it’s mid-run faults (the melodrama, the excruciating steps of the J.D.-Elliot will-they-won’t-they dance, the general characterization of some of the cast), Scrubs has endured as one of the few television shows that I’m always in the mood to watch. It’s the kind of show that I’ll stop on if I tick past it on cable, or that I’ll watch a random episode or two of on Netflix before I go to bed. The only other shows that share this dubious honor are probably FriendsSeinfeldFuturama, and the good years of The Simpsons. Having said all that, Season One of Scrubs is really the cream of the crop. Although it isn’t home to all the best episodes of the show, it is definitely the most even-keeled season in terms of quality. The pilot, “My First Day,” is one of the strongest sitcom pilots there is, coming out of the gate swinging with all of the punches that make Scrubs formidable (lovable characters, wacky fantasy sequences, great music, and a dash of wistful realism). The next few episodes are all classic as well, with “My Mentor” rocking that fantastic “Are You Having a Good Time” opener, and “My Best Friend’s Mistake” featuring quite possibly my favorite one-note dream sequence (the one where they’re on Family Feud and J.D. says “We’re gonna go with boobs.” Kills me every time). The season progresses with there almost without a single weak note, such that I would be wasting your time if I tried to rattle off all of the highlights. Suffice to say, the first season of Scrubs is by far the most solid first season of a sitcom that I’ve ever seen. Whereas even the strongest shows out there (like Seinfeld, or Community, or 30 Rock) take some time to find their sea legs, Scrubs knows what it wants to be from minute one and doesn’t stray from that vision.The only other show that I think can boast a similarly consistent first season is How I Met Your Mother, though even that season had some episodes that I don’t care as much for anymore.

High Point: It’s nigh impossible to pick a favorite episode from this season. Though my instincts as a lover of unorthodox episode formulas makes me want to say “My Bed Banter & Beyond,” I’m going to keep it simple and say “My Tuscaloosa Heart.” It’s not a particularly flashy episode, and it’s not necessarily the funniest of the bunch either, but it offers a new take on the typical “J.D. feels guilty for making a mistake” storyline that the show loves to rehash, and it provides some fascinating character development for both Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso.

Low Point: Again, tough to pick a worst episode. I think the most forgettable for me was probably “My Super Ego,” but even that one had its good bits. I will say the moment I liked the least out of the whole season came at the end of the finale, “My Last Day,” when Jordan comes around to tell every character the reason why they should be mad at everyone else. It felt not only like a cheap way to force a tonal shift, but also a cheap way to recap everything that happened in the season and simultaneously offer up a clip that could be easily replayed at the start of the next season. It left a bad taste in my mouth and tainted what could have otherwise been an unassailable first season of television.  

 

James: Impression: Scrubs is easily one of the most marathon-able shows I have ever watched. Despite the fact that the show started more than a decade ago, the gags are timeless. Every time I watch an episode, it balloons into another six or seven episodes. Scrubs has one of the most compelling narratives that I have ever seen in a comedy, with a clear progression of characters and plot. It is very easy to get hooked on this show, what with the genuinely funny sitcom jokes, and the almost addictive sense of progression. The most apparent strength of the show lies with the characters. J.D. may be the dorkiest character in the history of sitcoms, but his childish attitude and general positivity make him lovable. Turk is simultaneously one of the most and least stereotyped characters on tv. Despite his various attempts at sounding black, he is treated as a real character, and his role as one of the main characters shows a character who happens to be African American, without being stereotypically black. Though Elliot can be a well-intentioned klutz, there are more than enough capable women to balance her out in the form of Carla and Jordan. The show contains writing at its best, with seemingly very few biases in any direction. Scrubs is fantastically casted, and fantastically written, even from its first season.

High Point: I have to say that I really like the episode “My Bad”.  “My Bad” concerns JD’s mistake in pointing out a clerical error that Dr. Cox made to let an uninsured patient get a much needed surgery. Though he doesn’t know any better, JD’s screw up leads to the deeper side of Scrubs, a side populated with some ethical questions. Should a doctor be responsible to his patients or to his hospital? Is it better to pull a risky maneuver to save a life, or stick to the rules that will save most people’s lives 99 percent of the time? While the show heavily tips towards one side, it presents the issue with clarity and grace, in the struggle to explain that bureaucracy was actually intended for the best, and the greatest of individuals can still screw up. Heavy lessons from a comedy.

Low Point: “My Bed Banter and Beyond”. While the episode advances some plots, the focus is more on the romance and the possible implications for the show than it does on the comedy. Whenever the show gets serious about something other than medicine, the situation becomes very difficult. In the later seasons, the show benefits from an external complication (the episode with the camera), but the benefits are an exception rather than a rule. In general the episodes tend to be heavy handed, which removes most of the levity that makes these fun.     Well that was it. If you want to talk about your favorite Scrubs moments, comments are located underneath this article. Down there.

Epitosodes: Duck Dodgers

Duck Dodgers

By Magellan

The Episode

Season: 1
Episode: 9
Title: “The Green Loontern”

The Review

If I were to compose a list of my favorite television shows, it would have a healthy mix of Mad Men-style period dramas, quirky sitcoms from the 00s, and Warner Brothers cartoons like Animaniacs and Justice League that are smarter than they have any right to be. 2003’s Duck Dodgers covers all three. It follows the zany day-to-day adventures of a deeply sardonic and manipulative protagonist who must make his way through a highly stylized world that wants to do anything but accept him for who he is (Don Draper = DuckDodgers, see the connection?). Oh, also he’s an anthropomorphic duck who flies through space with his pig sidekick.

For those who don’t know, Duck Dodgers is based on a Merry Melodies cartoon from 1953 entitled “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century” (watch it here, it’s delightful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqAUiUDyFlY). Or, in a sentence, it’s Daffy Duck in space. That short film on its own is one of the more fun takes on Daffy that I’ve seen (matched perhaps by “Duck Amuck”), and Duck Dodgers runs with it. The show is wall-to-wall classic Looney Tunes-style slapstick and wordplay, along with biting science fiction parody.

The episode that I’ve chosen to focus on, “The Green Loontern,” is a bit of a special case. It deviates from the standard Duck Dodgersformula, telling a full-episode story rather than two ten-minute-long stories. It’s also much more iconic and memorable than most episodes, if only because of the DC Comics crossover. Now, I didn’t pick this episode to focus on because it’s the funniest (it isn’t) or because it’s the smartest (it isn’t) but because the way in which this episode shakes up the Dodgers status quo helps to elucidate just what makes that status quo so great.

First, let’s run down the plot. It starts off in typical Duck Dodgers fashion, with Dodgers leading the Cadet (aka Porky Pig in a space onesie) around town as he does errands. The brief minute or so that we see of this does a great job of establishing Duck Dodgers as an endearing jerk who just wants to make sure that the Cadet doesn’t put any of his things down on “the filthy sidewalk.” Eventually, Dodgers has to go pick up his dry-cleaning, which is when the story kicks into gear.

The cleaner’s seems to have had a mix-up, as Dodgers finds himself with a uniform much different and greener than his own. He tries the baggy number on, and finds that it magically fits his form when he dons the glowing ring that comes with it. Dodgers has now gained the powers of a Green Lantern, which leads to a delightful sequence as he tries out his newfound abilities around the city. Every line out his mouth in this sequence is pure gold (my favorites: “Time to mete out some sophomoric justice,” and “Whoa, check out the serious babe-age!”), and I could watch Daffy Duck fly around as a Green Lantern for hours.

“The Green Loontern” begins to lose me, however, when the crossover becomes more exaggerated. After Dodgers hangs the Cadet off a flagpole by his industrial-strength underpants, he’s whisked away to the Green Lantern base planet of Oa by a distress call. The planet is being ransacked by Sinestro (or, as Dodgers calls him, “Say-what-stro”) and an army of robots. The attack leaves three Lanterns and Dodgers to formulate a counter-attack and free the other members of the Corps. Although there are certainly some great moments of comedy thanks to how little Dodgers knows or cares about the Lanterns Corps. (take, for example, his version of the Green Lantern Oath:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfO5S1Iu_VU), the entire sequence on Oa, and the rest of the episode, smacks of tonal dissonance.

Maybe it’s unfair of me to criticize a children’s cartoon for mishandling its tone, but this particular cartoon is clever enough that I feel it’s warranted. My issue with the episode lies in the way it plays the classic straight-man/funny-man relationship. Normally, Dodgers has the Cadet or Marvin the Martian to act as his straight-men, characters who are, on some level, just as ridiculous as he is. The Cadet cleans up all of Dodger’s messes, but he does so while talking in that hilarious, stuttering, Porky Pig way. When Dodgers is forced to interact with and play off of characters that are more grounded in real-world reality and consequences, the formula begins to tear at the seams.

That’s not to say that superheroes are real, but they do care more about realism in terms of danger and consequence than cartoons. If Duck Dodgers were on any other mission, he could get blown up or disintegrated and stand up to do the next scene. In the world of the Green Lanterns, however, every threat has to be de-clawed in order for him to cope with them. The ray beams have to teleport people rather than injure them, the robots have to be given dopey personalities so that they can squabble about robot high school rivalries, and Sinestro has to be rendered no more intimidating than your corny uncle in a Sinestro costume. Mixing these two worlds has the doubly troublesome effect of cutting out the slapstick half of Dodger’s shtick, as well as neutering Sinestro and the Lantern Corps. in order for everything to mesh.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this episode quite a bit. Even though it was cheesy, I thought the Dodgers-Sinestro banter was hilarious. And, like I said, everything on Dodgers’s home world with the Lantern ring was classic in its charm and rapid-fire pace. All I’m trying to say is that there’s a lesson to learn here about blending worlds together and about adding well-known and specific rules to an otherwise zany and off-the-cuff cartoon universe. When you mix two properties together, you should think of it less as a liquid concoction and more as slicing two balls in half and sewing part of each together. No matter what you do, you’re losing fifty percent of what makes each universe special and compelling, so it’s vital that you pick two worlds that end up complementary. Some mash-ups are like a tennis ball and baseball, a sort of Frankenstein that you can get away with and still play either game passably well. This episode was more like a stitched together basketball and football. It’s amusing, and you can probably still have a lot of fun with it, but first you have to spend twenty minutes figuring out how to handle the damn thing.