Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 5

sherlock meme (1)

Martin Freeman as Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock.

On Sherlock Holmes
by Cara Winter

As we all know, since 2010 two shows (CBS’ Elementary, and the BBC’s Sherlock, which has also been picked up by PBS Masterpiece) have reimagined Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes within a modern setting.   As a writer trying to modernize a Victorian piece myself, I have been wondering  why, exactly, one of these modernizations has set the world on fire… while the other is just on?

It all starts with the fact that the BBC’s version came first.  In 2012, when CBS (as has been reported here and here) approached creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss about remaking Sherlock in America, Moffat & Gatiss politely declined.  Smartly, CBS chose not to embroil themselves in a legal battle by ripping off Sherlock whole-hog… and instead did everything they could to make their take on a “modern Sherlock Holmes” really, really different from Sherlock.

I get it, I do. CBS wanted to move forward; Sherlock Holmes was sexy, all of a sudden.  Who wouldn’t want to capitalize on that?  But, as all Moffat and Gatiss really did was move the characters and stories they loved into our century, creator Robert Doherty would have to change more than just the ol’ anno domini.  (By the way, his show Medium?  Genius.  So, I know he’s likely not the problem…)

So change, they did.  But… at what expense?  If you’ve ever watched Elementary for more than five minutes, well, you know…  it isn’t ground breaking.  It’s a pretty standard network cop show, with a huge budget and all the pretty pretty things.  (A Sherlock Holmes purist might say they ruined it.  Which I am not.  A purist, that is.)   But, how?   How did this happen?  Well, apologies to my lawyer friends (sorry guys!)… but my money’s on the lawyers.  The writers probably wrote a hundred drafts, and each time CBS’ lawyers said “no”, for fear of being sued (which was justified, as they were, you know, running with an idea that wasn’t theirs to begin with).

Still, even with a possible lawsuit looming, methinks they could have done more to capture the heart of the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

Starting with:

  1. Location, location, location

Elementary is set in New York City.  Hmm.  Concerning.  Because Sherlock Holmes’s address is 221B Baker Street.   It just is.  There isn’t even a Baker Street in New York City.

I’m kidding, of course; it’s not the address.  It’s that, even at home, Sherlock is an outsider.  Holmes doesn’t fit in to the one place he’s supposed to fit into.  That makes Sherlock Holmes’ relationship to ‘home’ tricky, and layered, and very important to his story. (Which, in turn, makes ‘home’ one of the characters in the story.)

By making Holmes an ex-pat living in New York, Elementary has completely ruined this lovely, all-important layer.   One could argue (and I do!) that if they wanted to set it in New York, make Holmes a New Yorker!  That way, the larger point could be conveyed that even when Sherlock Holmes is at home, he doesn’t quite fit in.

Which leads me to my next point:

  1. A Fine Bromance

In CBS’ Elementary, Dr. Watson is a woman.   Now, trust me, I love to see great women characters on TV.   But… the beauty of the Holmes/Watson relationship is that they are both men.  I’m sorry, it just is.  Blame it on societal conventions, or Sunday Night Football, or the whole of Christianity if you want.  Fact is, we live in a world where dudes aren’t supposed to be so fond of each other – yet Holmes and Watson are.  Sherlock gets this right, and as their friendship grows, it’s very moving and powerful to watch.

By making Dr. Watson a woman, Elementary has cut us off at the knees.   There are other gender roles you could play with; make Lestrade a woman, or give Sherlock two mommies!  Something!  Don’t change The Great Original Bromance, arguably the first and finest ever created, the one relationship which lies at the very heart of the whole thing.

(And not for nothing, there also seems to be absolutely zero chemistry between Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller.  They’re both cute, but they treat each other like strangers!   Conversely, the chemistry between Freeman and Cumberbatch is electrifying.  Come to think of it, everyone seems to have palpable chemistry with The Batch.  Oh, for a walk-on…)

But I digress.

  1. Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Moffat & Gatiss (or “MoffGat”, as I like to call them) have loved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories since childhood.  Their genuine joy for the work, therefore, comes through in the final product.  (Imagine that!)  And everyone involved with the show seems to share that love, and also have a sense of humor about what they’re doing (making telly, not curing cancer!).  As a result… Sherlock is funny. Very funny.

Elementary …is not funny.  I can’t even put my finger on why; it’s just all as serious as an E.R. heart attack.  Or, a 24 heart attack.   It’s as if Elementary is made by children trying to seem grown up, whereas Sherlock is made by grownups who enjoy life as though they’re still children.

Great adaptations take care, they take love, and they take a deep understanding of the source material.  And, as in any story (original or adapted), locations matter, but they matter because of how they inform the characters.  Relationships matter even more; relationships must be clear and universal, and most of all meaningful to the story.  And for the love of all that’s holy, let us laugh!  If you can get your audience laughing, they’ll care, and then they’ll follow you to the ends of the earth.  Or, if not to the ends of the earth, at least as far as PBS.

PS:  Fellow writers, it was very enlightening to examine these two shows side by side.  Next time you find a show “meh”, wait before you change the channel… see if you can figure out why.


Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

Diana Vaccarelli Sees the VERONICA MARS Movie

 

veronica mars.mov

by Diana Vaccarelli

I have never watched the television show VERONICA MARS, but the premise of the film intrigued me.

After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, Rob Thomas, the creator and showrunner of the series, has brought us this feature-length sequel. In the film, Veronica, now living in New York and interviewing for prestigious jobs at law firms, is pulled back into the life of a private eye when her ex-boyfriend, Logan Echolls, becomes embroiled in a murder mystery involving old high school friend Carrie Bishop.

Kirsten Bell stars as the super private eye just as she did in the series. She’s good, but as a fan who loved her in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, I expected better. She she does have good chemistry with Jason Dohring, who reprises his role as Logan, and they play off each other well. But overall, the acting in the film is subpar. Every major cast member I’ve seen before has been better before than they were here.

The signs point to this being a Rob Thomas problem. Thomas both wrote and directed, and while the script provides the actors with plenty of witty and comedic dialogue to contrast with a rather dark story, the story itself is unconvincing. Possibly even to the cast.

Why, for example, did Veronica so easily give up the New York life she worked so hard for? Why was I supposed to care about the small town sheriff booted from office because of corruption?

And where are the twists and surprises we expect from a good mystery? To be sure, we’re presented with a number of subplots which could have been interesting, but most of them end up as loose ends seemingly existing only to distract us from the fact that VERONICA MARS takes a very predictable plot path and even ends exactly as I expected it to.

If you are a fan of the show, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the film and be glad to see the return of familiar fictional friends. But as someone who didn’t watch, its lack of originality was a huge disappointment, especially in a genre where the whole point is to keep the audience guessing.

Z NATION: TV Review

An interesting review of the latest new zombie (aargh!) series in the Hollywood Reporter. We like it cuz the reviewer actually addresses the writing. Too bad there’s nothing better to say about it. (Yeppers, kids, to paraphrase Stan the Man, “With great public exposure comes the chance for great humiliation.”) Oh, well, at least the article doesn’t come out and tell us the guilty writer’s name cuz writing about writing is one thing but writing about a writer? Nah!”

Is this what writers really look like?

Is this what writers really look like?

by Tim Goodman

The best thing that could ever happen to The Walking Dead is the arrival of Z Nation on Syfy on Friday. The super-popular but critically underappreciated Walking Dead may be seen more favorably for its writing, acting, visual acumen and storytelling capabilities now that Z Nation proves you can’t just put hungry zombies on the screen and have something worth writing home about.

On the other hand, if all you want to see are zombies, zombies, zombies — meaning it’s all about the gory and not about the story, then Z Nation may be your thing. In fact, as a B-level entry it’s at least entertaining, and if some of the sillier aspects of the pilot can be improved on could be one of those mindless entertainment options we all need now and again.

But as a top-notch drama — nope.

Z Nation has the normal zombie premise — there was a zombie virus and the world as we know it was overrun by crazed flesh eating dead people. (At least in Z Nation, like the film 28 Days Later, the zombies can run instead of stumble along which heightens the action quite a bit — some of the running dead are pretty damned fast.).

The series picks up three years after the virus has cut most communication, destabilized the government and any working order and left every man and woman to fend for themselves. Except that Lt. Mark Hammond (Harrold Perrineau), a surviving Delta Force member, is still trying to carry out his orders, which is to take Murphy (Keith Allan), the only known human to survive a vicious zombie attack, from the East Coast to California and the last functioning viral lab where they will try to make a cure from his antibodies.

Simple enough — as most zombie stories are. Getting from one coast to the next is also a nice bit, since it will take forever and mean lots and lots of action.

Along the way, Hammond meets up with a ragtag group that will assemble almost against their will to see the mission through. They are Charles Garnett (Tom Everett Scott), an active member in the National Guard; Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith), another National Guard member; Pvt. First Class Simon Cruller/Citizen Z (DJ Qualls), who is stationed/abandoned in the Arctic as part of the NSA listening base; Mack and Addy (Michael Welch and Anastasia Baranova), two college kids learning how to fight for themselves; Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), who’s not a real doctor but does sell illegal meds; Cassandra (Pisay Pao) a quiet but strong survivor they found who also looks fantastic in limited clothing; 10K (Nat Zang), a military sniper who doesn’t talk much but also doesn’t miss much – his goal is 10,000 zombie kills.

The trouble with Z Nation is in the writing, which in turn makes some of the acting seem off.

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Herbie J Pilato: Happy Silver Anniversary to Samantha and Darrin

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today is the 50th anniversary of BEWITCHED’s debut on our screens. What better way to celebrate it than to turn this space over to the World’s Foremost Authority on this show, Contributing Editor Herbie J Pilato, author of 3 definitive books on the subject –  The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery, Twitch Upon A Star, and Bewitched Forever? Take it away Herbie J:

bewitched-hp

by Herbie J Pilato

So, what makes Bewitched great – and why are we still talking about it fifty years after its original lengthy hit run on ABC (from September 17, 1964 to July 2, 1972)?

Like any superior television show, feature film or live stage production, it all begins with the script.

And the pilot script for Bewitched, written by Sol Saks, is one of the most well-rounded half-hour initial teleplays ever conceived.

Saks explained it all in his wonderful book, The Craft of Comedy Writing, first published by Writers Digest Books in 1985 (and which I recommend every writer should reads, be they novice and veteran).

In a tight thirty minutes, the Bewitched not only introduces and marries the two main characters – Samantha, the graceful good and wise witch-with-a-twitch (portrayed by the one and only Elizabeth Montgomery, who was nominated eight-times for the role), and her mortal husband Darrin (a role shared by Dick York and Dick Sargent) – it manages to intertwine a solid B-story about Samantha meeting Darrin’s arrogant ex-fiancé (played by Nancy Kovak).  In the process, the pilot sets up nicely the entire premise of the series:  Samantha and Darrin love each other despite their differences, and the stern objection of her feisty sorceress mother Endora (played to perfection by Agnes Moorehead), and while he is initially shocked with his wife’s heritage, he loves her no matter what – if only requesting that she promise not to use her powers.

As the series continues, of course, Samantha breaks her promise on a weekly basis.  And the human home she shares with Darrin is not only frequently visited by the interfering Endora, but nosy neighbor Gladsy Kravitz (first played by the Emmy-winning Alice Peace, then Sandra Gould), and any number of witches, warlocks and various supernatural beings, or other-worldly sorts that arrive because of any assorted amount of magic mayhem.

Behind Sol Saks, the core premise of Bewitched was inspired by the show’s executive producer, Harry Ackerman, the master-mind of many of classic sitcoms, including Dennis the Menace, The Famer’s DaughterHazel, and the under-appreciated Gidget (which introduced the world to the Oscar-winning Sally Field).

Ackerman, a former executive for CBS, had an idea for a weekly witch series, which he titled, The Witch of Westport.  In a meeting with Ackerman, Elizabeth Montgomery and then-husband producer/director William Asher (who worked with Ackerman on I Love Lucy at CBS) had introduced a show concept called The Fun Couple, about a wealthy woman who falls in love with an auto-mechanic.  Ackerman suggested Bewitched and witchcraft instead of The Fun Couple and “richcraft.”

Elizabeth and Bill Asher loved the Samantha series idea, and the rest is history.  Bewitched became an instant hit for ABC.

However, that would not have transpired if all the pieces were in place beforehand…the pieces placed, again – in the script.

The characters of Bewitched were finely-tuned.  No two characters talked alike, looked alike, or behaved alike.  The stories were fanciful, but whatever transpired within the world of Bewitched made sense in that world.  There was a logic to the illogic of what was portrayed.  If Samantha placed a spell on someone, only Samantha could remove that spell.   Witches could work any kind of sorcery imaginable, but they could not alter time, and so forth.  The Bewitched writer’s bible for the series was crafted with immense detail by William Asher, and the show’s early writers, including genius minds like Danny Arnold (who later created the heralded Barney Miller sitcom for ABC), and Bernard Slade (who went on to attain super success on Broadway with “Same Time, Next Year”; and also with ABC’s The Partridge Family).

An important component in the over-all quality and presentation of Bewitched’s was the high-likeability factor and various talents of its cast:  Elizabeth, York, Sargent, Moorehead – and others like David White (Darrin’s conniving ad-man boss Larry Tate), Marion Lorne (the bumbling witch Aunt Clara), George Tobias (Abner Kravitz, the curmudgeon), Kasey Rogers and Irene Vernon (who shared the role of Larry’s wife Louise Tate), Bernard Fox (witch Dr. Bombay), Maurice Evans (Samantha’s warlock father Maurice, pronounced “Moor-eese!”), Paul Lynde (the practical-joking Uncle Arthur) – and twins Erin and Diane Murphy (as little magical Tabitha), and the also twinned David and Greg Lawrence (as Tabitha’s younger brother Adam) always hit their magic mark.

In short, their is no one reason why Bewitched remains a classic and beloved series five decades after its debut.

Just like there is not any one reason why any quality TV show, film or stage play becomes a hit.

Such success is always a result of a combination of factors.

With Bewitched, in particular, however, it was the perfection combination “X” factors – times a million.


Herbie J Pilato is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about him HERE.

The New Fall Comedies – First Impressions

If only network television had half the attitude that the interwebs do. These new show reviews, for example, have more strength than any series they’re writing about:

black-ishby the TV.Com Staff

The fall TV season is upon us, and right now you may be wondering what’s worth watching and what’s not worth your time. Which new shows look the most promising, and which ones deserve a spot on your Dead Pool. TV.com is here to help.

We’ve screened the inaugural episodes of nearly every new fall series and compiled multiple (and sometimes contradictory) opinions of each network newbie. Pilots will be pilots, of course, and lots of shows get better once they’ve had a chance to settle in. But for now, first impressions are all that matter.

Below, you’ll find our take on which new network comedies are looking good, bad, average, and just plain ugly. Check back soon for a rundown of the new network dramas!

BLACK-ISH:

TIM: I’ll like Anthony Anderson in anything, and I’m not sure there’s anyone who can play this role—black father wants his kids to be more “black”—better than he could. Black-isheasily could’ve focused only on what it means to be black, and much of it does, but it’s the family message that really comes through by the end of Black-ish‘s pilot, and that’s exactly why it could be a surprise hit for ABC. Well, that combined with its post-Modern Family timeslot. I’ll watch more of this.

NOEL: Black-ish isn’t perfect (ditch the voiceover stuff, please) but I’m eager to see what Anderson and showrunner Kenya Barris can do with this series that deals with race and class. Anderson’s great, Tracee Ellis Ross is perfect, and while he’s not as much of a comedic revelation as Andre Braugher was on Brooklyn Nine-Nine last season, Laurence Fishburne is so relaxed that he’s rather infectious.

JEN: Everything that both Tim and Noel said, plus more praise for Black-ish‘s cast. Not only is it full of great individual performers, but there’s an early chemistry within the group—even in the pilot and even with the kids—that makes the show feel real right off the bat. It’s enough to make you wonder why we’re often so forgiving of comedy casts that haven’t “clicked” yet; these guys don’t seem to need the extra time, and I’m eager to see what the show can do.

SELFIE:

KAITLIN: I’ll admit that Selfie, despite its stupid but actually fitting title, isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I genuinely like the way it wants to take down superficial American culture by poking at how ridiculous it has become. But even though the pilot was better than I expected it to be, it wasn’t really good. Similarly, Karen Gillan’s American accent isn’t awful, but it will certainly take you by surprise if you’re accustomed to her natural Scottish one. And maybe I’m slightly biased because I would like to see more of John Cho on Sleepy Hollow, but I think he deserves better than this show.

JEN: Based on the somewhat-thin premise—a shallow, social-media-obsessed Internet star attempts to fix her image and make some friends after an embarrassing video goes viral—I was ready to hate everything about Selfie. And the pilot is full of annoying, predictable, and trope-y elements, plus some cheeky allusions to My Fair Lady, on which the show is loosely based. But it’s not nearly as irritating as I thought it would be, and Karen Gillan and John Cho have potential as an “two different people who can each learn from the other” pairing. Bottom line: It’s starting on a really short leash, and I’m not sure how it will ever evolve beyond its initial set-up, but I can be convinced to watch a few more episodes.

TIM: The first several minutes of Selfie‘s pilot are so unbearably terrible that even when it gets slightly better (it’s still awful) toward the end, it’s too late. You’ll still be so furious over hearing about “likes,” “hashtags,” and “pushing up the girls” that nothing will ever make it better. Eliza Dooley is one of the worst characters to arrive on television in a long time, and watching Karen Gillan embody such a wretched person is painful. I want to watch Selfie like I want to watch people take photos of themselves at the 9/11 Memorial. Please, no more social media shows.

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Why ‘Modern Family’ — The Most Formulaic Show On TV — Is An Emmys Favorite

We here at TVWriter™ luv a well written and damning analysis, don’t you?

Not sure what we mean? Well, you won’t find out from the following article…which is a well written analysis to be sure, but far from damning. Which we also think is kinda nice:

modern-family-winsby Ashley Burns

TV company when it won its fifth statue for Outstanding Comedy Series. Only Frasier had ever had that kind of success before, having won five in a row from 1994 to 1998, and some could argue that Modern Family’s current run is more impressive, because it didn’t have the benefit of being spun off from a beloved series like Cheers (and others might then argue that Frasier was more impressive, because spin-offs are usually hot garbage).

Now with five wins in the five seasons that the show has been on television, Modern Family is arguably the most celebrated sitcom in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, with more Outstanding Series wins than Cheers (4), All in the Family (4), Taxi (3), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (3), The Dick Van Dyke Show (3), 30 Rock (3, despite being the best show ever created), The Golden Girls (2), Murphy Brown(2), I Love Lucy (2), Seinfeld (1), and even Friends (1), which was beloved, but not actually a good show.

Better yet, how on Earth did a show that debuted in 2010, anchored only by the star power of Ed O’Neill, become such a critical juggernaut? After all, the “mockumentary” style had already been celebrated at the Emmys in 2006, when The Office took home its only trophy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Simply put, Modern Family was created by two men, Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, who know a thing or two about writing, developing and cultivating TV hits.

Levitan already had five series under his belt by the time that ABC gave Modern Family a full season order right out of the gates in 2009. While Just Shoot Me! was his only show to catch on for more than two seasons, he also had writing credits on Wings, The Larry Sanders Show, Frasier, and The Critic, so there were hits among the misses. (He’s also the guy who brought us the horrendous Stacked, which will forever be cemented in my head as a hilarious Greg Giraldo roast bit.) Lloyd, on the other hand, wrote for The Golden Girls, Wings and Frasier, so he presumably picked up a number of tricks along the way. Together, Levitan and Lloyd had the experience to put together a winning formula, so all they needed was the story, and they found that in their own personal experiences.

Modern Family, like so many other sitcoms before it, is a show that was developed out of the idea that all of our families are crazy, but this fake family takes the cake while serving us pieces of morality. This “modern” family, as it is, focuses on one side – in this case, the Pritchetts – and the dissimilar people that they’ve chosen to marry, as well as the children they’re raising.

The series formula is quite simple, as each of these seemingly different but tightly-connected couples faces new problems each week, and they must overcome their differences to get past these obstacles. After all, the moral of this series is that no matter how wide the divide or the differences between two people, love and family are all we ever need. What makes us modern, I suppose, isn’t that a family features mixed-age or same-sex couples, as much as we’re still learning to overcome the new problems affecting us by using the same basic morals and lessons that we learned in Father Knows Best.

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