John Ostrander: “My Mysteries are Many for I am TV’s ‘Legion'”

LEGION
by John Ostrander

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!

• Talking Heads, Once In a Lifetime

Okay, I’ve finally found a TV superhero show I like more than The Flash, which is saying a lot. It’s Legion, Wednesdays at 10 PM (ET) on FX, and it stars Dan Stevens in a role that’s world’s away from his stint on Downton Abbey. He plays David Haller, a man who may be the world’s strongest telepath and, because of his schizophrenia – their diagnosis, not mine – perhaps the most dangerous.

The show is from 20th Century Fox in association with Marvel TV and is the first to link with the X-Men movie franchise which, for contractual and bureaucratic reasons, is separate from the Mighty Marvel Movie Franchise over at Disney. It’s not only unlike any other superhero TV show out there. In fact, it’s different from any other TV show, period.

What makes Legion so different is the use of the concept of the Unreliable Narrator. That concept means the reader/viewer cannot trust the facts of the story as presented. The device is most commonly used in fiction with a first person narrator, but it can be used in film and television and it’s being used very effectively here in two ways.

The show’s creator and showrunner, Noah Hawley (who also wrote and directed the first episode), wants the show to be told from Haller’s perspective. The story is about him, but since he can’t trust his own memories neither can we. His perception of reality around him may be off as well. David is an unreliable narrator.

At the same time, Hawley skews the design elements so that they match Haller’s mindset and are disorientating to us. His way of presenting David’s life cannot be wholly trusted either. Hawley is also an unreliable narrator.

There’s a key moment in the first episode when David’s being held at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital (which itself seems to be a nod to A Clockwork Orange) where he is drugged, tested, questioned, evaluated. There’s a strong suggestion of a sinister governmental organization – as if there is any other kind – called Division 3 who seem ready to kill Haller.

David is eventually rescued by his sort of girlfriend named Sid and people connected with a place called Summerland run by Dr. Melanie Bird. There’s running and people shooting at them but, in the middle of the escape, David stops and begs of Sid, “Is all this really happening? Are you real?” She reassures them that it is happening, she is real, and they must run.

Those questions, for me, are the center of the episode and maybe of the series. Is this real? Is this happening? Can David trust it? Can we?

In the second episode, David – now safely (?) at Summerland, is being helped by Dr. Bird and her associates. Dr. Bird insists that David is not crazy; the voices he hears are part of his telepathic powers manifesting and always have been. One of her associates helps guides David through buried or forgotten memories but, again, we’re not certain how reliable those memories are and neither is he.

As I’ve been thinking about the show, I’m now questioning even what I think I know. What if Summerland is not the beneficial place we’ve been told it is? What if kindly Dr. Bird is not all that kindly and the evil Division 3 folks are really the good guys? What if David Haller himself is not a “hero” but more of an anti-hero or even an outright villain? He’s is the Legion of the title and I’m put in mind of the gospels of Mark and Luke where Jesus meets a man possessed of demons who says “My name is Legion for we are many.” David has a lot of voices inside him.

If you know my work, you can see why I’m fascinated by the show. It may not be for everyone; you may prefer your heroes and villains a little more clearly identified. Me, I’m fascinated by it. I like murky.

The character of Legion was created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in Marvel’s The New Mutants #25 where he was the son of Charles Xavier, Professor X of the X-Men. The TV show doesn’t precisely follow the comics’ continuity but I think it’s very true to the concept, re-interpreting it for this day and age. I’m fine with that.

The show demands attention and some thought. I hope that it has some answers for the questions it poses, unlike such shows as Twin Peaks and The X-Files). Right now, I’ve settled in for the ride.

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.


John Ostrander quite simply is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared.

Peggy Bechko’s World of the Innocent, the Eager & the Doomed

“My hopes, dreams and aspirations were no match against my poor spelling, punctuation and grammar.” Red Red Rover

Okay writers, is that you? It might be, even if you aren’t aware of it. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s the STORY that counts, right?

Hmmm, well, yes. BUT, if you can’t get anyone to read your story because you just can’t handle the basics then your STORY won’t mean much.

People are busy… editors and producers even more so. They don’t have time to mess around with your work if it’s littered with spelling errors, grammar that makes no sense and punctuation that throws everything into a tailspin.

You can sit there at your computer and argue with me all you want in your head, but facts are facts (no, there are no ‘alternative facts’). If your material is all but unreadable it won’t get read.

Readers for screen scripts don’t have the time to mess with it and it sure won’t reach a producer’s hands (unless you know him personally and put it in his hands, in which case he won’t read past the first few pages). An editor will pitch a fit.

So, what to do if your skills are lacking. You can take some courses, not a bad idea in any regard. But there are helps out there.

You can try Grammarly.  Sign up for an account and get the free version to test out. If it’s really helpful and you really like it, there’s a fee-based version you can go with

No, I’m not associated with Grammarly in any way. I don’t get paid. Your choice. I have used it and found it helpful. Be careful not to take what it tells you too literally as you’re writing fiction, not staid business correspondence.

There are some of my favorite books as well. They’re small, slim volumes by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. Picked them up while working in a college bookstore so mine are kind of old and battered hardcovers:

The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed

Both of these books are amusing and helpful and have been on my writing shelf for years. Yes, you read that correctly. I can still get myself into a corner when it comes to spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Despite the fact that it’s obvious and a lot of you reading this will groan, pay attention to whatever writing software you’re using.

MS Word, Scrivener (you can get a 30 day free trial on this one!) and most dedicated script softwares have features that highlight errors in some way.

I’ve just begun using Scrivener and despite the learning curve I’m coming to love it. And it even has a ‘script’ writing element. Check it out if you’re interested. (Again, I’m not profiting from mentioning it).

These are the tools I use. You may have discovered equally wonderful, or even more wonderful ones you use. If you have suggestions go ahead and post them in the comment box. It never hurts any of us to have new tools in the tool box!


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. blog. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

LB: At Last! The Real Differences Between Writing Film, TV & the Printed Word

by Larry Brody

One of my favorite blogs is ComicMix, which quite simply is the most more interesting and best written and edited sources of comics industry information on the net. (You may have noticed that TVWriter™ regularly features columns by two of Comic Mix’s glorious writers, John Ostrander and Dennis O’Neil.)

I admire the blog’s entire staff for its varied comic book work and its amazing insight into creativity as a whole. Today’s case in point is the most recent column by CM’s Marc Alan Fishman, one of the creator-partners at indie comics company Unshaven Comics and a force to be conjured with indeed.

“Game On, Comics Off,” the particular column in question is a look into the relationship between video games and their comic book spin-offs as Marc discusses why the comic book versions of hugely successful games like World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed et al so often end up tanking when it comes to sales.

It’s quite a perceptive analysis, but that’s not a subject that TVWriter™ has much to do with. What knocked me out, as we used to say back in the days of Frank Sinatra and the ratpack, was an absolutely spot on throwaway paragraph that positively screamed, “Epiphany! Epiphany!” and which I think all of us who write TV, film, and prose fiction of any kind should take to heart.

Here’s The Paragraph To Always Remember:

When a book becomes a movie, the movie must drop nuance and backstory for increases in action and visual exploration of settings. When a movie becomes a TV show, it drops the quality of the settings, and becomes stifled by commercial breaks interrupting story. When a TV show becomes a movie, it loses the ability to explore nuanced characterizations afforded to longer interactions across multiple episodes.

Got that? Read it again. And again. The bottom line here is that Marc has answered, clearly, succinctly, and incredibly accurately, the age old fan question: “But why isn’t the [film] [TV show] [book] more like the [book] [TV show] [movie]?” in a way that not only is easy to explain to fans but also clarifies the adaptation process for everyone involved in writing said adaptations.

In other words, if you let Marc’s words roll around in your head and become fully absorbed, the odds are very, very good that the next time you attack an adaptation project the writing is going to be not only better but easier because you’ll have a finer grasp on what it is you have to do.

And anything that makes the world’s most difficult creative endeavor (AKA writing) easier is to me as important and sacred as the most revered pronouncementfrom, yeah, God.

Thank you, Marc Alan Fishman, from the bottom of my creative soul.

And as long as we’re talking about it, why not check out the full column HERE ?

Dennis O’Neil: Ha Ha Ha

by Dennis O’Neil

Here’s the plan. You’ll wait until the office is closed for the day and the lights are all out and then, possibly wearing a tool belt, you’ll sneak inside and remove the appliance from its place near the big chair and take it home and put it on the couch and sit next to it. Then you’ll tune in NBC’s new comedy, Powerless. (Did I mention that this will be on Thursday night?)

You’ll turn on the laughing gas machine, the one that belongs to your dentist and place the mask over your nose and mouth. This is necessary, according to you, because you might not find the show funny and yet it’s supposed to make you laugh and if it doesn’t you’ll feel frustrated and to avoid this ugly feeling you can sniff the laughing gas and have yourself a good chuckle and maybe a gas-induced laugh is better than none at all.

Enough of that.

I know very little about Powerless, not much more than it’s about an insurance company that deals with the collateral damage that would inevitably accompany the damage superheroes cause while doing their superstuff. Not the worst premise I’ve ever encountered.

This is not new, this conflation of humor with superheroics.

A few weeks back, I mentioned Herbie the Fat Fury, who appeared in the American Comics Group titles, and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, part of the Captain Marvel posse,  and The Inferior Five which, if memory serves, was about a quintet of costumed goofballs who did superheroish feats of the goofball variety. And on television there were Captain Nice and Mr. Terrific, whose live action adventures may have been inspired by Batman.

Ah, Batman. Saving the best for last, were we? Batman, of course, was a comic book crusader for years before he made his way to the tube. He had also appeared in two movie serials, in newspapers, and as an occasional guest star on the Superman radio series. So it was probably no great surprise that he’d pop into your living room sooner or later.

But how he popped – that may have qualified as a surprise. This Batman was not merely a dark clad vigilante who prowled the city ever seeking to avenge his parents’ murder by assaulting crime wherever it was found – he was a dark-clad comedian who assaulted crime. Yep. Funny ha-ha kind of dude.

I won’t burden you with my opinions on how Batman’s comedy was achieved. Let’s just agree that is was achieved, for a while quite successfully. Then public taste moved on, leaving Batman to a protracted afterlife in rerun city. Quirky thing: Adults coming to the show for the first time tend to see it as what is was intended to be: funny. Kids, though, are more likely to enjoy it as action-adventure. I await explanations but not, I confess, on tenterhooks.

Meanwhile, we have a new show to sample.

Maybe we’re lucky.


Dennis O’Neil is one of the top writer-editors in comics, having guided the careers of just about every superhero the world has ever heard of. He’s also a damn fine writer of TV. LB still remembers that time he and Denny collaborated, without ever knowing they were doing so. Or knowing each other either. Ah, the magic of TV! This post was first published in Denny’s column at ComicMix.

Peggy Bechko’s World of Time Management for Writers

by Peggy Bechko

Managing your time. Making time for your writing. Finding time.

Whatever you call it, it can be tricky while juggling kids, relationships, job, whatever else you’re involved in that you can’t really give up or set aside.

So, in the spirit of my back to basics mood at the moment, here are a few ideas ( 5 tips) to help things along.

  1.  I always suggest keeping a notebook or notecards with you. That way you can jot whenever something occurs to you or whenever you observe something that needs to be remembered, even if away from your writing place.

Or take notes on your phone or record messages to yourself on the phone if you can.

There are also great tiny recorders you can use to capture notes to yourself then plug into your computer and transfer like the Yoday voice recorder.  Inexpensive too!

  1. Set priorities and do your darndest to stick to them. Talk with your spouse, your kids, whoever is going to be around and work at getting them to understand how important this is to you.

You have to let others know that at times you’re going to have to say no to things that drain away your time minute by minute and that you must stick to your ‘to-do’ list to keep things moving. Remember to do the most important first. Plainly, there will be bumps in this road.

  1. Creating goals that are good for you is a great help. Decide perhaps you’re going to create a certain number of pages or words during a session. Maybe go with an amount of time. Or best yet, set a goal of how many words you want to get down on paper during the amount of time you have available. Stick to it!

If you do this you’ll minimize distractions and get a lot more done. Remember – the world of social media is out to get you and rob you of all your productive time!

  1. Dedicate a writing space, no matter how small. Even if it has to do double duty. If you have to write on the kitchen table, do it at a time when you can clear the table, set up your laptop and do nothing but write at the table. It helps train the mind that this is the time for writing. If you can convert a closet or set up a small desk somewhere, so much the better. If a sit/stand desk like what I use from Veridesk is good for you and in your budget, go for it. Work with what you have.
  1. Finally, don’t put enormous pressure on yourself. If you’re forcing yourself into doing something you don’t want to do you’re not going to get very far. If this is something you want to do you WILL begin to set your parameters and goals. If that doesn’t happen then perhaps writing isn’t for you and it’s time to move on to other things.

 


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. blog. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog, which is where this post first appeared.

GOLIATH: A slingshot loaded with compelling legal drama

TV Series Review by Lew Ritter

GOLIATH is an old fashioned legal drama created by David E. Kelley and Jonathan Shapiro. It is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Both co-creators are veteran writers with extensive legal and TV writing background. David E. Kelley is the veteran writer/producer with extensive credits going back to the 80’s with shows such as L.A. LAW, PICKET FENCES and more recently BOSTON LEGAL.

GOLIATH is about a down and out lawyer taking on a simple case that uncovers a far more deadly conspiracy. The stakes are higher than expected not only for the client but for the protagonist, Billy McBride, who needs the win in order to jumpstart his career and give him back his life.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Billy, a onetime powerhouse lawyer, whose career has fallen on hard times. At the beginning of the series, he has just been released from jail. As a Public Defender, he is too drunk to even remember his client’s name. He even wears a sleep apnea machine in bed. He lives in a dilapidated suite of rooms in a seedy motel in a once trendy section of Santa Monica and spends his days drinking in a dive bar and chasing small civil cases to earn a living.

The irony is that McBride was a co-founder of Cooperman-McBride, a Goliath of a law firm with branches all around the world. This time out, he is hired to handle a simple civil suit to obtain modest damages for a family whose husband committed suicide aboard a boat.

Billy, however, quickly uncovers discrepancies in testimony that expose a more sinister conspiracy by Cooperman-McBride. Its client is Born Tech, a defense contractor with deep pockets and even darker secrets. The official report indicates that the man’s boat blew up. However, the video captured by a nearby fishing vessel indicates a multi- magnitude explosion that created a huge tidal wave which nearly capsized the fishing boat.

The story features Billy and his spunky band of legal eagles as David taking on Goliath. Billy takes the case in order to get back at Donald Cooperman, his former partner. Cooperman had suffered some unexplained accident that left burn marks on half his face. He rarely leaves the confines of his office and spends most of the day spying on his employees.

The series is full of terrific scenes depicting complex legal maneuvers and sparring over the testimony of witnesses. The lead attorney/partner on the case argues with Cooperman to drop the case and settle before the case explodes. At every turn, she is overturned by Cooperman’s hatred and disdain for Billy.

The disdain proves to be totally unfounded. Every time the Cooperman lawyers attempt to place a legal stumbling block in Billy’s path, he outmaneuvers them. At the end of Episode Two, the judge dismisses the case on a legal technicality. Billy lambastes the judge for bias. The enraged judge charges Billy with hefty fines for contempt of court. However, there is a method to Billy’s madness. It allows Billy to introduce new evidence and keep the case open.

Thornton is at the top of his game as Billy McBride. Thornton is an A-List actor, who dominates any scenes that he is in. He brings a surprising depth and aura of menace to his role. He is capable of dealing with the same unscrupulous tactics needed in order to defeat his adversaries at the Cooperman firm.

The standout cast includes Maria Bello, as Billy’s embittered, ex-wife and Nina Ariana as Billy’s spunky partner. She’s fearless and hilarious as a low- rent lawyer/real estate agent who brought Billy into the case. Tania Raymond is winning as the vulnerable Brittany Gold. Harold Perrineau is a standout as the judge who manages the courtroom circus with his dignity intact.

GOLIATH never stops providing surprising plot twists and great episode ending cliffhangers. At the end of Episode Two, after winning a small victory, one of the characters is struck down by a hit and run meant for McBride. At the end of Episode Three, the reclusive Cooperman lures one of the young associates up to his penthouse office to seduce her. And at the end of the series, the mega law firm is served a well- deserved defeat.

The show is a solidly entertaining legal thriller that benefits from Billy Bob’s strong lead character. The writing gives us as many compelling characters as plot twists, and even a happy ending, with Billy McBride seemingly back on course as a successful lawyer.

There are, however, other plot threads left dangling that support a potential Season Two. The show doesn’t break new ground, but it delivers a good dose of binge-watching pleasure that I look forward to re-experiencing when Amazon brings it back.


Lew Ritter is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.

munchman Looks at the Bright Side of Life

munchman’s TV Musings #12
by munchman

The current state of the US of A being what it is, yer friendly neighborhood munchman has found himself forced to take a long, hard look at what he’s been writing – and thinking.

The result of that long, hard look is the realization that considering the situation, ranting and raving about the sad offerings to be had on our TVs and computer screens and the idiot machinations behind them is, way too obviously, a total waste of time and resources.

With that in mind, here are some recent shows and events that have managed to bring el munchero a smile or three, and I for reals hope they will do the same for you.

  • It may sound silly, but the fact that Agent Carter showrunners Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters are even as we speak hard at work developing an ABC series “based on the Disney theme park mythology” according to Slashfilm. muncherola well remembers his first time at Disneyland at the age of four and how utterly  beguiled I was by the Disney fantasyverse that had now become real. I even saluted the captain of our submarine ride and thanked him for the tour. If Michele and Tara can bring even half that much joy into the world it will have become a better planet indeed.
  • HBO is working on a new comedy called Divorce from Sharon Horgan, co-creator and star of Catastrophe. And methinks, that if this thing turns out half as funny/moving as the darkly funny Catastrophe and soothes a divorcee soul or two, well, that “better planet” thing will have struck again.
  • The other day a friend having conniptions over “That Asshole in the White House” sent me a 4 month old column from Ken Levine, one of the funniest TV and blog writers ever. It’s about the problems that he and his partner David Isaacs had back in 1980 when writing a comedy pilot about the White House pressroom. Seems that no matter what they wanted to do – like name the fictional president – the network, ABC, said no. The bright side here is that kind of stifling is no longer the case even on broadcast networks, where writers now have more freedom than ever before, and way more than current members of the White House pressroom, for sure.
  • Indie created and produced web series are becoming better and better. Don’t believe moi. Check out these: My Gay RoommateHollywood Hitmen, Acting Dead and many, many more that y’all can find via sites like Snobby Robot and Stareable, etc.
  • Mindy Kaling of The Mindy Project fame is developing an ABC pilot about a lesbian couple in Kansas. munchaderio isn’t a big Mindy fan by any means (reminds me too much of a certain ex from back in the day – which isn’t all that far back becuz this kid still ain’t all that old but anyway…), but maybe MK will do better this time. (See? I really am thinking positively. And Mindy Kaling becoming a better writer is certainly a more likely possibility than that ex I mentioned every becoming a better anything – oh, wait. Damn)
  • Sites like CV Independent exist. Digest that statement for a minute, then visit the site. See? It’s a good thing, yeah?
  • J.J. Abrams is doing an HBO series called Glare. This ensures that the first season will be accessible and interest-piquing and the second season will be wild and out there and fascinating and the third season will either be utter chaos (hey, munchmunster likes chaos) or won’t exist, giving us all more time to kvetch about more important things.
  • Marco Polo has been cancelled by Netflix!
  • The best news yet. Season three of Rick and Morty will definitely be out and about in 2017, as reported at an Adult Swim development meeting broadcast on Facebook Live. What makes this bit of not-so top secret intel so meaningful to yer insubordinate servant here is that I got it from an article at Christian Times. If Christian Times is digging Rick and Morty, maybe the good ole U.S. isn’t doing so bad after all. (Unless it means that Rick and Morty has made an abrupt about-face in tone and storylines…No! It can’t be! Forget I said that, ye gods of reality story-making. Forget it, I say!

That’s it for now, gentile gentle readers. I’m off now to gird for war. In keeping with my new awareness that the current cultural/political situation in my adopted homeland needs fixing – and soon – yer insolently insubordinate servant is taking some time off from this column and all other TVWriter™ duties to join the Resisters and fight for Truth, Justice, and the Gen-u-Wine American Way.

How will I do it? I dunno yet. Maybe start a blog?


The insolently insubordinate yuman known as munchman has been at TVWriter™ since the very beginning of this site. He wants us all to know that he’s cooler than we are. And we think you’ll agree when we say to him, “Dood, we don’t effing care!” We aren’t sure whether he’s really leaving us or not. Either way, you can still learn more about (but not all that much, really) HERE