Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 9

luther-300x175LUTHER
by Cara Winter

10 things that went through my mind upon watching the pilot episode of the UK’s LUTHER

  1. “Nice, Idris Elba. He must be the aforementioned “Luther”. Good day to you, sir. Looking fit.”
  2. “Hmm. He’s kinda angry.”
  3. “Woah, wait, he’s the good guy?  He just let that guy die! Or, maybe even caused that guy to die!  But I thought this was a show about a cop!”
  4. “Oh, he is a cop. Woah…”
  5. “He’s so angry. What’s he so angry about?”
  6. “Dang, he just kicked in that door.”
  7. “And his estranged wife is standing right there, watching him kick in her door. I’m a little afraid for her.”
  8. “Maybe she should call the cops – oh, wait.”
  9. “Okay, he didn’t hurt her. He can stay.  He’s fierce.  I like him.  This is awesome.”
  10. “Wow.  This show could never get made in the U.S.

So, imagine my surprise to hear that LUTHER is going to be remade, here, in the US.

If you haven’t seen it, the original LUTHER is an interesting show. The formidable and god-like Idris Elba portrays the title character, a complicated detective who is consumed by his work.  He’s ruthless, obsessive, and more interested in results than in doing things ‘the right way.’  When he gets angry, it’s visceral, and you feel afraid for those around him (or excited that some bad guy’s about to get it!). And when he softens, and his vulnerability is laid bare… you feel afraid for him.

It’s a good set-up, well-written and well-acted.  So why wouldn’t it work in the States?   I think it could.  But here’s the rub:  Will American TV executives put an African American man in the lead of a dark and complicated show, portraying a guy who isn’t “nice”?  Will executives (in this case, those who work at Fox) allow us to see an African American male lead who’s strong, human, and flawed, complicated and deeply emotional, one who’s NOT a drug dealer or some other negative stereotype?

It’s a really interesting question, isn’t it?  It’s rumored that Elba isn’t going to play Luther in the American version.  If not, who is?   (If they cast a white dude, I’m literally going to destroy my television and move to Uzbekistan.  Or at least I will figuratively.)  Of the major networks and cable outlets, Fox seems to be doing a better job than most of casting African American men in comedic roles, and a few supporting roles… but a leading man?  Complex, conflicted, ruthless, and uninterested in the moral high ground?   NOPE.  Not one.  Not yet, anyways.

Why?  Why hasn’t this been done before?  And why would it be so ground breaking to do it now?  Sheesh, I mean, I can’t count the ways.  But surely you’ve heard or read some of these stats, like… 1 in 3 black men in America will spend some part of their lives incarcerated, or 48% of African American men don’t finish high school, let alone go to college.  In other words, the kids are not alright.  Why?  I could go on for ages, but we won’t (here); suffice it to say, anyone who doesn’t think that most African American men face horrible discrimination — in the classroom, within the justice system, and in society at large — is either a fool, or has been brainwashed by Fox News.

So if you write a show about an American “Luther”, race relations are going to have to come up. They MUST play at least SOME PART in why Luther is the way he is… or else the whole thing is a horrible lie.  I mean it, people, this isn’t a sitcom!  You can’t show us this guy’s personal demons, and his dark side, and his vulnerability, and ignore have the fact of his race, considering what race means in America!  You just can’t.

So what this means is, they’re going to have to ‘go there.’  Luther is poised to become the first show in America to spend even a little bit of air time talking about race relations.  And if they do, and if they can really and truly re-create Luther as he was in the UK, and if they can find someone as enigmatic and compelling as Elba to play the lead… it’ll be the most influential show on American television since M*A*S*H.

But… will they?  Do they have the balls?

Listen, Fox, if you’re reading this…  and I dearly hope you are… please know that we, your audience, want you to ‘go there’.  We are praying that you will.  Actually, I think we really need you to.  Because when Luther gets upset, when he puts his fist through that door, guess what?  This amazing thing happens… we feel for him.  We have empathy for him.  And empathy… is the whole ballgame.

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

Cassandra Hennessey: The Meaning of “Too Many Cooks”…?

TooManyCooksCapture

by Cassandra Hennessey

Adult Swim has always been known for its innovative and out-of-left-field programming such as Metalocalypse, The Squidbillies, Robot Chicken, The Venture Brothers, Tim and Eric, among many, many more shows.

For a week at the end of October at 4:00 a.m., Adult Swim aired this 11-minute alleged cheesy homage to 70’s/80s TV shows that soon morphs into something… well, even if you see it, you won’t believe it. On the surface, “Too Many Cooks” sucks the viewer into a friendly vortex of old-school TV nostalgia with seemingly familiar characters and premises but soon thereafter the warm fuzzies are gradually replaced by a deepening dread and general feeling of “What did I just watch?!” that will linger long after watching. (Even longer than the diabolically catchy earworm of a theme song!)

I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.

If you’re brave, check it out here:

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DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU!!!

“Too Many Cooks” is pure genius– pure evil genius– brought to us by its creator, Chris “Casper” Kelly (who also is the creative mind behind the aforementioned “Squidbillies”). He states he just wanted to do something weird– in the vein of his idols David Lynch, Andy Kaufman and fellow Adult Swim alumni Tim and Eric– but never gets into the specifics of “what it means”. Perhaps he himself doesn’t know or even wants to mentally delve into the chaos he has wrought in his audience’s minds.

Perhaps the allure of “Too Many Cooks” is that no one knows what the hell it’s supposed to “mean”.

Well, let me venture a guess (and this is just speculation on my part…)

I believe the “meaning” behind the most bizarre 11-minutes of viewing EVER is an absurd illustration of the gradual and subversive gratuitous violence that has become the norm in Television programming. This incremental and ultimately dominant pernicious presence; constantly in our faces, making us long for the “Golden Era” of TV all the more, while trapping us in its nightmarish landscape of mindless, unadulterated carnage…

…Or I could be completely full of crap.

I’m sure college courses will be dedicated to dissecting this video for entire semesters in order to decipher its true meaning.

Maybe then we’ll find out if there really is one….


Cassandra Hennessey is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE

Cassandra Hennessey: The 7 Deadly Sins of Overwriting

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by Cassandra Hennessey

There are many ways any aspiring writer can send red flags a-waving to a prospective agent or publisher.

Allow me to demonstrate:

INT. UPTOWN OFFICE – DAY

Our handsome hero, HARRY HOLMES strolls into the office which boasts a tropical motif complete with rattan furnishings and potted palm trees the size of luxury SUVS.

He saunters jauntily toward the RECEPTIONIST who is a youngish fiery-haired former cheerleader. She files her nails with a pink emery board. He adjusts the right lapel of his Jos. A Banks navy blue suit jacket, clears his throat twice and grins like someone’s just called his number at the supermarket deli.

HARRY
Hi. My name is Harry. Harry Holmes. What’s your name?

SUE
(puts down file, smiles sadly)
Susan; but most of my friends—the ones I’m on speaking
terms with—call me “Sue”. My mom still calls me “Suzy-Q”.
Since childhood. For as long as I can remember.
Even in front of my dates. I wish she’d stop doing that…

HARRY
(cringes comically, smoothes back gelled hair)
Sorry for the childhood trauma you’re currently
experiencing, Sue, but I was wondering if I could
speak with your employer, Mister Walters? You
see, Sue, I’m here to audit his books for embezzlement.

SUE
(drops her emery board in shock, gasps)

Not Mister Walters! I’ve known Mister Walters for years!!
He’d never steal money!

HARRY
(shaking his head, dubious)

Sue, Sue, Sue, I believe you may not know Mister
Wayne Walters as well as you think you do!

Sue grasps the phone and frantically dials a five-digit extension. Waits for three seconds, practically holding her breath. When the phone on the other ends is picked up, she instantly blurts out—

SUE
(with hysterical tears on her flushed cheeks)
Wayne!! How could you do this? Wayne, say this isn’t true!
There’s a Mister Harry Holmes here, telling me you’re a
thief and a crook! Say something, Wayne!

END SCENE.

(Thank Goodness…)

OKAY!!

Can you guess what’s wrong here?

There is sooooo much to work with (to be truthful, it actually pained me to write something this horrible… but it is for the greater good, so I made the sacrifice…)

Here are the Seven Deadly Sins of Bad Writing (in no particular order…)

  1. Deluges of Details. Character appearance is not THAT important to note every single detail. I mean, unless the hangnail on the protagonist’s pinky plays an integral part in the story, I suggest you omit it. Same goes with surroundings. You want to set the scene, not “set dress” it.
  1. Going Through the Motions. There’s no need (or space) to start a running tally of gestures, expression, stances or involuntary tics and twitches.
  1. Too much supposition/narration either revealed by the character or in the descriptive action paragraphs. If it’s not essential to the story, it has no place in the script.
  1. Curb “Talking Head Syndrome”. Dialog should be brief and to the point.
  1. Too much exposition, like salt, spoils to the “plot pot”. (See Sin #4).
  1. Adjectives. Don’t. JUST DON’T.
  1. Overuse of a character’s name in dialog. Unless your character’s doing this for a specific reason (being obnoxious, or perhaps suffering from amnesia), one character should not address another by name every time he/she speaks.

When writing for television, trust that the director and actors will do their very best to “flesh out your characters”.

Yes. I used the word “Trust”.

It’s the best advice for your script.

Trust me.

I know. It’s your “vision”, your “brain-child”, your “baby”. I get it. But if you’ve written your best and raised, nourished and doted over this brain child of yours well enough, it can and will survive in the world all on its own.

Then you will be the proud parent-writer of a great manuscript!

To demonstrate, here’s the sample god-awful scene how it SHOULD be written:

INT. UPTOWN OFFICE – DAY

HARRY HOLMES enters and approaches the receptionist, SUE. She files her nails behind her neat desk.

SUE
May I help you?

HARRY
Name’s Harry Holmes. I’m here to see Wayne Walters–

Harry eyes her name plaque on the desk. It reads “SUSAN” but he says—

HARRY (cont’d)
–Sue.

SUE
It’s Susan. And your business with Wayne—Mister Walters?

HARRY
Let’s just say I investigate incidents like embezzlement.
So, may I speak with your boss or do I come back with a
subpoena?

Sue picks up her phone and dials an extension.

SUE
(into phone)
Mister Walters, there’s someone here to see you…
(whispers to WALTERS)
…About that situation, Wayne.

Sue opens WALTER’S office door to allow Harry to enter. WAYNE WALTERS rushes to block Harry’s entrance, but Sue blocks him. She tosses him her name plaque.

SUE
Consider that notice of my resignation.

(to HARRY)
Have a good day, Mister Holmes.

With her purse and emery board, Sue exits the office with a SLAM of the door.

…Aaaand CUT SCENE!!!

Better, right?

No description of the furnishings. No tics, twitches, gulps, blinks, grimaces. The dialog sets the tone of both characters. And Sue’s actions speak louder than words when she quits, without the use of exposition or supposition. We KNOW she’s more than merely a “receptionist” to Wayne. We KNOW she knows something’s rotten in Denmark, and we definitely know she doesn’t want anything to do with either Harry or Wayne.

TAA-DAA!!!

The 7 Deadly Sins have been eradicated, and the script has been saved!


Cassandra Hennessey is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE

Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 8

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CALL THE MIDWIFE
by Cara Winter

For several years, I’ve been hearing about the fantastic the UK series CALL THE MIDWIFE, and having been told I must watch… I’ve started.

I’ve started, that is, having Braxton-Hicks contractions.  And I’m not even preggers.

I don’t know about you peeps, but watching actresses writhe in the pretend-pain of pretend-childbirth gives me PTSD-like flashbacks to August 19th, 2007 at 5:43pm, and the 26 hours that preceded it.  And while I marvel at the wonder that is my kiddo… I don’t particularly like to relive his actual birth.  So… I had a tad bit of difficulty settling into the show, knowing that at any moment I might start cramping up.

All kidding aside, this show is actually quite special for a number of reasons.  The attention to detail when recreating post-war England is remarkable; sets and costumes, hair and makeup, cars and locations – all tack-on, slap-yo-mama perfect.  The writing is quite good – thoughtful, of the period, and brilliantly not calling attention to itself.  Just the facts, ma’am… and, oh, how dramatic those facts are.

Created by Heidi Thomas and based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, CALL THE MIDWIFE revolves around a particularly mean and grubby area of East London in the years just following WWII.  Our fish out of water is the dainty, pretty Jenny, the newest midwife to join the staff at Nonnatus House, a nursing convent.  Jenny (played by Jessica Raine) is gentle, pure, and sweet – which sorta made me hate her a little, at first.

But, no matter, within a couple episodes I got into her character, as well as her cohorts, midwives Camilla “Chummy” Browne (played brilliantly by my favorite woman on the planet, Miranda Hart),  Beatrix “Trixie” Franklin (played by Helen George) and Cynthia Miller (played by Bryony Hannah), as well as the elderly and mischievous Sister Monica Joan (played with impish glee by Judy Parfitt), who quotes poetry, eats too much cake, and might have a touch of dementia… that is, if it suits her present needs.

If I have one pet-peeve, it’s that it can be a tad melodramatic at times.  When Jenny praises one of the working-class women she’s helping, she tells her she’s ‘a hero’ – which the woman doesn’t scoff at.  I grew up around many so-called working class women, and let me tell you – someone calling them heroic to their face? Would have elicited a loud guffaw from one or more of them.

But in the case of CALL THE MIDWIFE, I’m happy to gloss over this nit-pick, for one simple reason:  this show breaks new ground.  Never before has a TV show’s sole purpose been to examine what women go through to propagate our species. (Which is, you know, kinda important, if you think about it.) Through this show’s lens, we get to examine an extremely interesting time.

A time when pregnancy and birth were actually quite perilous… and midwives were on the front lines.  The show examines our pre-birth-control world, in which children were always unplanned, and how a woman’s life was quite literally controlled by that inability to plan — much like, I imagine, being on a ship adrift in the ocean, without a workings sail, or anchor. And with a hole in the hull.

The episode where a woman who doesn’t even speak the same language as her husband gives birth to their 19th or 20th child…?  Oh, MY GOD, I went running to make sure my Pill prescription wasn’t set to expire before 2025. In other words… before we lived by the grace of God, now we live by the grace of Margaret Sanger, and I prefer Margaret Sanger.

If nothing else, CALL THE MIDWIFE gives us perspective.  It’s easy to forget how lucky we are, nowadays, and how far we’ve come.  And how much we owe to the women who came before us.

You can see CALL THE MIDWIFE on PBS and streaming on Amazon, and Season 4 scheduled to hit the US airwaves in 2015.


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

Diana Vaccarelli Sees OUTLANDER, Season 1

Outlander-2014-TV-Show

by Diana Vaccarelli

I’m a romantic at heart and after seeing a promotion for the new Starz show OUTLANDER, based on the series of books written by Diana Gabaldon, I had to give it a chance.

The first season is over now, but what a ride it gave us!

The TV series, like the books, follows the story of Claire Randall, a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743 Scotland . Claire is thrown into a time that she only knows through the history books. Her heart is torn the life she knows and Frank, her husband, and her new timeframe…and newfound love, Jamie Fraser for Jamie the Scottish warrior she is forced to marry in order to save her life.

What I enjoyed most about the show was how it showcased both time periods. The 1940’s were filmed gray and dark, and when Claire went back to 1743 the cinematography was brighter, with more color. Not only did this give the viewer a clear and understandable contrast between time periods, it also provided a metaphor for Claire allowing her heart to open up and her life itself to become brighter.

I also loved the casting of this series because each actor brought the book’s characters to life in such a way as to allow us to see exactly how Diana Gabaldon envisioned them. Much of this has to do with the excellent casting and the decision to use actors unknown to American audiences, which meant that viewers had no preconceived notions to overcome.

Caitriona Balfe plays the heroine, Claire Randell. Caitriona brings passion and fire to this character and does it with a grace and elegance that is not usually seen on television. Sam Heughan portrays young Jaime Fraser our hero and one of the two men our heroine is in love with.

Sam shows both the tough side and the romantic side of Jaime. In one scene he takes a whip to the back and doesn’t shed a single tear or beg to make the pain stop. In others he is tender and sweet – and charming – as he displays his love for Claire. Watching him as this character, I too began I fall for him.

Tobias Menzies is brilliant and award worthy in the duel role of Frank Randell, charming husband to Claire, and Frank’s pole opposite ancestor, Black Jack Randall. Frank is loving and faithful and stops at nothing to find his missing wife. Black Jack is cruel and has no compunction about torturing anyone who gets in his way.

But the two characters are, in fact, more complex than they may sound here. Menzies shows us the darkness in Frank when he can’t find Claire. And the unexpectedly vulnerable side of Black Jack.

The writers of the show have done a brilliant job bringing the book to life. They follow the story, but also have added new elements to attract the audience and also give us a deeper understanding of Claire’s inner turmoil. One added scene, in which Claire and Frank run to the stones, stands out in particular because of the way it clarifies the relationship between the two of them.

The show will return to Starz Network April 4, 2015, which seems very far away. I don’t know what I’m going to do until then!

Diana Vaccarelli Sees CHEF

by Diana Vaccarelli

chefI’m a foodie and love to eat. In spite of that, or maybe because, I had no expectations when I sat down to watch the film CHEF, written and directed by IRON MAN’s Jon Favreau.

Jon Favreau not only wrote and directed this film but also stars as Carl Casper, a highly regarded chef at a prestigious L.A. Restaurant, who quits his job to escape his controlling employer,. Finding himself in Miami, Carl teams up with his ex-wife, an old friend, and his son to open a food truck. As the truck takes to the road, Carl finds himself back at his roots.

As much as this film is about food it is more about family, with food the link between family members. Carl and the others have long been estranged, and toiling on the truck not only returns Carl to his roots, reminding him of why he loved being a chef in the first place, it also brings father and son back together.

The cast of CHEF is stellar. In addition to Favreau, we are treated to John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, and even Robert Downey Jr.

But it isn’t Jon Favreau’s contacts list that makes this film so enjoyable. It’s the script he has given the actors to work with. Favreau has written a screenplay filled with fully formed characters and witty and fun dialogue as well as with dramatic elements, an amalgam that I found a very pleasant surprise. I enjoyed how the story returned the protagonist to his roots so he could heal and grow, and how Favreau used food and its preparation as the way for Carl and his son to reconnect. This too was a surprise.

All in all, I simply hadn’t expected this kind of storytelling from the man who wrote and directed IRON MAN. It is great to see Favreau return to his independent film roots and be so thoroughly at home – and in control.

If you enjoy feeling a strong tug at your heartstrings, CHEF is for you.