Cara Winter: Introducing “Somebody Cards”, a new web series

SCards Photo

by Cara Winter

About a year ago, I met a very talented comedy writer, Jason Dummeldinger*. Jason had written a couple episodes of a sitcom he called “Somebody Cards” …both of which I thought were hilarious.

(*Yes, that is his real name. No, it’s not a euphemism.)

We decided to hatch a plan to cast the thing, rehearse a bit too long, hold a few public readings, and then produce the series ourselves for the web (along with a third producer, the effervescent Eddie Follis).

With the pilot episode ‘in the can’ and almost ready to go live online, I sat down with Jason to pick his brain about his brain, his brainchild, and his brainchild’s brainchildren. The following is our interview.

C: Hi, Jason.

J: Oh, hello. I didn’t hear you come in.

C: How are you?

J: I’m doing well. Just enjoying my Meerschaum pipe in front of my fireplace. How are you?

C: Okay. First off, what is “Somebody Cards” and how did it come to be?

J: Somebody Cards is a sitcom about a family-owned baseball card shop in Wrigleyville and the very absurd things that happen in and around the shop. It started out simply as kind of “Cheers” in a card shop, but I really wanted to explore more absurd story ideas, so I started thinking about crazier cartoon universe ideas happening in a real world setting.

I knew it had to start with the family itself, so I came up with “Gramps” the 45 year-old grandfather to 29 year-old twins “Charlie” (girl) and “Ryan” (boy). Then I added the always magical “Crayon” who works for the shop and often sets the shenanigans in motion.

On “how it came to be” I’d have to say I learned a big lesson from a bigger, as in epic, project I was fumbling around with. It was a large scale series of biopics of baseball players from history. After a number of false starts at producing this, I asked Tim Kazurynski, who graciously acted in an episode about Mark “the Bird” Fidrych, for some advice.

He nudged me toward a class at Improv Olympic where I met with my teacher Michael McCarthy. Michael got me to pare down my scope and think more in a non-traditional sitcom vein. And then I decided to absurd the shit out of it.

C: So, what do you love more, comedy, or baseball?

J: Comedies about baseball. But seriously, probably comedy by an eyelash. We always need laughter. When baseball season is over I can cheer myself up with “Bottle Rocket” or “Dr. Strangelove”.

C: So, if you were on a deserted island, and you were only allowed either comedy, or baseball, you’d pick….?

J: Deserted island would definitely be comedy. If the Cubs lost while I was on a deserted island I would be inconsolable. Digging deeper to answer a question you didn’t ask, if I had to choose six comedies to watch on repeat, they’d probably be “Bottle Rocket”, “Dr. Strangelove”, “Safe Men”, “Being There”, “Life of Brian” and “Spinal Tap”.

C: What chance do you think the Cubs have this year, anyhow?

J: I think they got really hot at the best possible time. I wanted them to beat the Cardinals in the NLDS, so I’m very happy. I say I won’t be disappointed if they don’t go any farther, but we’ll see if I’m lying or not in a few days. That sounds like I know they’re going to lose. Maybe I’m from the future. More on that later.

C: To what extent did Cara Winter**, influence your decision to go ahead and produce your own sitcom for the interwebs?

J: I’m sorry, who?

**Full disclosure, I’m speaking of myself, Cara Winter, a producer on the show, and yes, I’m speaking of myself in the Third Person. Cara plays a vital role in the success of the show, and the other producers couldn’t do without her. Really. She also ‘tweets’ as Buckets the Dog (@SomebodyBuckets), a very important character on the show, without whom the entire first episode would just completely fall apart.

C: Tell me about the evolution of the characters. For example, wasn’t “Charlie” a male character, at some point? When did you realize that you’d written a complete Sausage Fest, and throw the ladies a bone?

J: Crayon came first, and he was part of my other baseball project. He was a worker in a cardshop and would occasionally say funny stuff. I took that character and shop and plugged them into this idea, added Gramps and his close-to-his-age grandkids, and made it all kookie. Crayon then became an amalgam of Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kaufman characters with a hint of unicorn to him.

And, yes, in the first outline of the pilot Charlie was a guy, and Howard Johnson, the Monty Python biographer, gave me the genius advice to introduce a female character. So Charlie became Charlotte, who can’t stand her given name, and is now subsequently Charlie.

When I started writing Ryan I was thinking of him as a Frasier or Alex P. Keaton type, an uptight business minded character, but he completely evolved purely through (actor) Jake Szczepaniak’s portrayal into a totally different type (who’s actually in the process of figuring out who he is).

And Gramps, the glue of the family, has always been Sam Malone meets Hawkeye Pierce meets Alex Reiger. But he also has a lot of potential for nonsense.

I’d also like to point out that “throw the ladies a bone” would be a “that’s what she said,” moment if I were prone to saying that.

C: Tell me about the setting — why Wrigleyville? Why a baseball card shop? Why present-day?

J: Wrigleyville is a place I know very well. Baseball card shops are pretty boring unless you’re into baseball card shopping. And present-day is really easy to pull off for costuming and setting. But if you combine the three elements and add janky time machines, occasional zombie attacks, a cranberry mafia, the IRA, and Tony Clifton conventions… things get a little crazier.

C: In the first episode, there’s a little …shall we say, “science fiction” involved. Do you have any major science fiction influences?

J: I grew up on “Star Wars”, “Planet of the Apes”, “The Black Hole”, “Back to the Future(s)” and others, so yeah, there is a definite sci-fi influence in my world.

C: Tell me about casting — why use human beings, as opposed to cyborgs?

J: I know a lot of humans which gave me a casting pool to work with. But don’t think for a minute that we won’t be including a cyborg down the line.

C: If you could have any actor, living or dead, in your next episode, who would it be?

J: Peter Sellers would be Aubrey Thatchell, a character that you will meet soon enough.

C: If you could have any Cubby, living or dead, in your next episode, who would it be?

J: I guess that would be Jake “The Terminator” Arrieta. He would play his own cyborg-self.

C: If you could have any Somebody Cards Producer, living or dead, in your next episode, who would it be?

J: I hear this Cara Winter character is supposed to be hot shit.

C: Do you think you’ll ever let any of your Producers also write, on the show?

J: Producers write…? Hahahahaha. Those are words that are funny together. Sure, why not? Actually, I encourage everyone to bring ideas to the writing table. I love getting ideas from my cast and crew. We’ve done some work based on everyone writing a line to light some story fires.

C: How many more episodes are we to expect? Can you tell us a little about some of them?

J: Hopefully hundreds. But the first season is shaping up to be about 10-12 episodes, and yes I’d be happy to tell you a little bit about them. Lets see, I teased zombies, time machines, the cranberry thing, IRA and Tony Clifton, so…in as fragmented a manner as possible: Macbeth and the Wrigleyville Trixie Witches, Jenny Finch’s sushi restaurant, the Titanic (sorta), Maleficent (sorta), an NSFW Dr Seuss, Footloose (sorta), the dreams of Buckets the Dog, and whatever else the trained monkeys I call producers churn out.

C: In conclusion, how do you think this interview went? On a scale of 1-to-10, with 10 being the best interview ever…

J: I loved this interview. I’ve been following TVWriter.com since the 70’s. I’m very excited for the paper edition to come out.

C: Thanks, Jason! This was fun!
J: Thank you, Cara. I enjoy fun.

For updates including SCREENINGS, online LAUNCH date & URL, behind the scenes photos (especially of Buckets the Dog), and other goodies, follow Somebody Cards HERE on Facebook.

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

Cara Winter on LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX

Last Tango in Halifax

Anglo Files 15
by Cara Winter

Last Tango in Halifax  is a drama written by Sally Wainwright (writer/creator of the remarkably good Happy Valley) starring Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as widowed Alan and Celia, childhood sweethearts who haven’t clapped eyes on each other for 60 years. Thanks to the ubiquitous (now even for octogenarians) Facebook, they find each other again, meet for coffee, and instantly remember exactly how they felt as kids.

The first few episodes were delightful, and kept the focus on Alan and Celia.  I have been a huge fan of Derek Jacobi since I was a young’n, and watching him in this role is a treat. He is at once an older gentleman, and a child, able to express 60 years worth of longing in a single look.  Jacobi is a genius at his craft, and if you haven’t seen him as anything other than the Archbishop in The King’s Speech… please see him in this.  Anne Reid’s performance is also solid; you don’t feel as though she’s ever forcing a single moment, everything is nuanced, organic, and rich.  And it’s not every day you get to see actors of-a-certain-age in a straight-up love story, either (so kudos to BBC and Wainwright for making Last Tango in the first place!)

From the point they decide they want to be together, Real Life begins to thwart Alan and Celia’s union.  For example, Alan finds out Celia voted for Thatcher, while he’s Labor and reads the Guardian.  They also begin to realize they’re from completely different worlds (Celia’s is posh; Alan’s is salt-of-the-earth).  Yet, more or less right away, they realize how little things like this matter.   Even when their daughters turn on one another, and the whole family seems at odds… as far as their being together, it does not matter.  In it’s best moments, this show reminds us that life is short, and love transcends all.

I was less interested in the plot-lines of Alan and Celia’s extended family;  Sarah Lancashire plays Celia’s uptight, perfect-home-havin’ daughter Caroline, who is a closeted lesbian, and going through a nasty divorce; Nicola Walker plays Alan’s hard-working, sexually indiscriminate daughter, Gillian.  While I tend to be a fan of using over-40 women in any fashion on the telly, I did ultimately feel like their stories were forced.  The performances were not to blame; the actors are wonderful.  It just all felt a bit manufactured; drama for drama’s sake, things constantly thrown at Alan and Celia, presumably to see if their love for one another could be thrown off course. But… how many teen pregnancies, lesbian lovers, and alcohol-infused sexual escapades can one family have?  To me, this exposes the weakness of the premise; once Alan and Celia have fallen in love, the “story” really is over.  Or, should have been.

Last Tango was widely viewed in the U.K. and here in the U.S., and won some awards.  I think mostly this is due to the strong performances by the cast (especially Jacobi and Reid), and the strength of the dialogue (albeit hampered by the plot), and smart direction.  It’s worth watching, for sure, just to see Derek Jacobi in the role of a lifetime.

Last Tango in Halifax was a BBC One production, re-broadcast on PBS, with Seasons 1 and 2 now on NETFLIX.  Season 3 exists (try PBS?), and a 4th is in the works.


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

Cara Winter on Why DOCTOR WHO is Awesome

DrWho1

 The Anglo Files 14
by Cara Winter

As a writer, I am always fascinated by how and why certain stories ‘catch on’.  Why do some films or TV shows crash-and-burn, while others capture the imagination of legions, scoring passionate, die-hard fans?

If the world-wide reaction to the new STAR WARS trailer has taught us anything, it’s that die-hard fans are often life-long fans, as well.   But, why?  What are the components, what is the magic recipe, for creating a tale that inspires such rabid fandom?  And what’s inside the head of a super-fan; and why do they get so attached?

My current working theory is that the younger a person is when they are introduced to a great story (or, one might say, indoctrinated), the more that story sticks with them as they grow older.  The UK television hit DOCTOR WHO has rabid, die-hard super fans (called Whovians), similar to STAR WARS and STAR TREK fans.  So I thought it might be interesting to interview a young Whovian, a super-fan in the making, and pick his brain about why he loves DOCTOR WHO.

Below is the transcript of my interview with a 10-year-old Whovian named Thomas, about his love for the 1,000-year-old Doctor.

CW:  I understand you’re a big fan of the UK television series DOCTOR WHO.  Can you tell my readers a little about yourself?

THOMAS:  I AM ALMOST ELEVEN YEARS OLD.  I LIVE IN KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN, AND I AM A FIFTH GRADER. 

CW:  How did you get into DOCTOR WHO

THOMAS:  I GOT INTO IT BY MY FRIEND, JOSH, WHO’S A GEEK ABOUT THESE SORTS OF THINGS. AND HE TOLD ME I REALLY NEEDED TO WATCH THE SHOW. SO I DID, AND I GOT REALLY INTO IT.

CW:  How many seasons of DOCTOR WHO have you seen? 

THOMAS:  I HAVE SEEN ALL OF THE NEW SEASONS, AND I’M WAITING FOR SEASON NINE, BUT I HAVE NOT SEEN ANY OF THE CLASSIC SEASONS ALL THE WAY THROUGH. 

CW:  I’ve actually never seen DOCTOR WHO, and I’m thinking about starting to watch. As a newbie to the show, what episode/s or season/s do you think I should watch first?  

 THOMAS: SO, I RECOMMEND WATCHING SEASON ONE, BUT NOT ALL THE WAY THROUGH.  SORRY, CHRISTOPHER  ECCLESTON, BUT YOU’RE NOT MY FAVORITE DOCTOR.   I RECOMMEND WATCHING THE EPISODE “ROSE”, “DALEK” AND THEN I RECOMMEND WATCHING “THE EMPTY CHILD” AND “THE DOCTOR DANCES” AND “FATHER’S DAY” AND, UM, “BAD WOLF”, AND “THE PARTING OF THE WAYS”.  AND THEN WATCH THE REST ALL THE WAY THROUGH.  ESPECIALLY, DON’T SKIP SEASON 2, OR SEASON 3, OR SEASON 4, BECAUSE THAT HAS MY FAVORITE DOCTOR IN IT. 

CW:  What do you love most about DOCTOR WHO

THOMAS: I LIKE THAT HE GOES AROUND IN TIME AND SPACE, AND HE GETS A TON OF FRIENDS, AND HE’S REALLY OLD, AND HE CAN TRAVEL INTO ALIEN PLACES.  AND I LOVE HOW HE HAS HIS TARDIS, WHICH IS A BLUE BOX WHICH IS SMALL AND CAN PROBABLY FIT INSIDE YOUR CLOSET, BUT IT’S SUPREMELY BIG ON THE INSIDE.

CW:  Which actor so far has been your favorite Doctor? 

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Thomas as “The Doctor”

THOMAS:  MY FAVORITE DOCTOR, BY FAR, HAS GOT TO BE DAVID TENNANT, WHO WAS THE TENTH DOCTOR, AND WAS IN SEASON 2 SEASON 3 AND SEASON 4.   I JUST REALLY LIKE HIM.  HE’S FUNNY, AND HE’S WITTY, BUT HE’S ALSO VERY SMART AT TIMES. HE’S SMART WHEN HE NEEDS TO BE SMART, AND FUNNY WHEN HE NEEDS TO BE FUNNY.  I LOVE HIS FAKE GLASSES, TOO. 

CW:  Who is your favorite companion? 

THOMAS:  WOW, THAT’S TOUGH. I’M GONNA SAY AMY POND, CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS, AND RIVER SONG.  THAT’S MY TOP THREE. 

CW:  Apparently people’s opinions vary wildly as to what actor should play the Doctor, after Peter Capaldi’s done. Do you have any opinions about this subject?  

THOMAS:  NOT REALLY, BUT – I KINDA LIKE THE YOUNGER DOCTORS, BECAUSE THEY SEEM MORE, LIKE, FROLICKY?   KINDA CRAZY-ISH?  BUT, NO, I DON’T HAVE AN OPINION AS TO WHAT ACTOR SHOULD PLAY HIM NEXT.  

CW:  Do you think the Doctor could ever be played by a woman? 

THOMAS:  UM, I DON’T KNOW.  I MEAN, LIKE, IT FEELS LIKE THE DOCTOR HAS TO PLAYED BY A MAN, BECAUSE THE DOCTOR’S LIKE, THE DOCTOR.   BUT AT THE SAME TIME, THE MASTER HAD REGENERATED INTO A WOMAN, AT ONE POINT.  SO I DON’T KNOW, IT COULD BE TOTALLY POSSIBLE!

CW:  Could the Doctor be played by a kid?

THOMAS:  UM, I DON’T KNOW.  IF THE DOCTOR WERE PLAYED BY A KID, I FEEL LIKE IT WOULD TAKE THE WHOLE POINT OUT OF HIM BEING, LIKE, 2,000 YEARS OLD.   IT SEEMS LIKE 20 YEARS OLD, I THINK, MIGHT BE THE MINIMUM.  

CW:  The Doctor has never been played by an American actor. Would you like to be considered for the role someday, despite being an American?   

THOMAS:  I DON’T KNOW.  I THINK IT WOULD BE REALLY, REALLY FUN TO BE THE DOCTOR.  BUT IT’S KIND OF LIKE HAVING THE LEAD ROLE IN A PLAY.  YOU’VE GOTTA PRACTICE EVERY DAY.  BUT IT WOULD BE FUN TO BE THE DOCTOR, AS YOUR JOB.  LIKE, GOING INTO A CROWD OF WHOVIANS AND BEING LIKE, “I’M THE DOCTOR!” AND THEN PEOPLE WOULD BE LIKE, ‘OH MY GOSH!!!’  THAT WOULD BE PRETTY COOL.

(Side bar: I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say he’d be perfect.  Check out this video Thomas made:

CW:  Would you like to write for the show?

THOMAS:  THAT WOULD BE PRETTY FUN, TOO. BECAUSE YOU CAN CHOOSE WHAT HAPPENS IN THE STORY. OR, LIKE, IF YOU’RE A CHILD, AND YOU MAKE UP ALL THESE GAMES OF DOCTOR WHO, YOU COULD MAKE THAT COME TO LIFE, IN AN EPISODE.  

CW:  Some grownups talk about seeing the show when they were younger, and it scaring the bejezus out of them. Are there any moments in any episodes that stand out, to you, as being the scariest? 

THOMAS:  I ACTUALLY CAN SAY THAT THERE IS A VERY SCARY EPISODE:   IF YOU ARE GOING TO WATCH WITH YOUR CHILD, I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND SEEING “THE EMPTY CHILD” AND “THE DOCTOR DANCES”.  IT’S a TWO-PARTER EPISODE.  A GOOD EPISODE, BUT IT IS PRETTY SCARY, IN MY OPINION.  I WAS CREEPED OUT BY IT.  ALSO, THE WEEPING ANGELS ARE PRETTY SCARY.   BUT ALL THE OTHER CREEPY EPISODES ARE, AT MOST, HALF AS CREEPY AS “THE EMPTY CHILD”. 

CW:  What’s your favorite episode or episodes?

THOMAS:  “THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR”, and “A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR”, and “TIME OF THE DOCTOR”, and “SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY”.

CW:  If the Doctor existed in real life, and you could talk to him – what would you ask him? 

THOMAS:  PROBABLY, “COULD I TRAVEL WITH YOU?”

CW:  If he said yes, where would you go?

THOMAS: I DON’T KNOW, IT DEPENDS ON IF IT’S JUST ONE TRIP, OR AS MANY TRIPS AS I WANT.  CAUSE, I KINDA WANT TO GO BACK IN TIME, BUT ALSO WANT TO GO TO THE FUTURE.  AND I KINDA WANT TO SEE AN ALIEN PLANET.  

CW:  What character/s in the DOCTOR WHO universe do you love most, besides the Doctor himself? 

THOMAS: I REALLY LIKE CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS, WHO’S INTRODUCED IN SEASON 1, BECAUSE HE’S LIKE, TOTALLY SUAVE AND COOL.  AND HE MAKES JOKES A LOT AND STUFF.  HE CAN HOLD A SMILE WHILE BEING VERY SERIOUS.  AND  I LIKE RIVER SONG BECAUSE SHE HOLDS SO MANY SECRETS. THAT’S PRETTY COOL.

CW: What character or characters do you hate? 

THOMAS: I LIKE THE MASTER, BUT IN (SPOILER ALERT) THE MASTER’S VERSION OF MISSY, I DON’T REALLY LIKE HER. SHE JUST SEEMS SO RUTHLESS.

CW: I imagine you feel a sense of kinship with the Doctor. What is it about him, do you think, that you identify with?  Or what is it about him that you like?

THOMAS: I LIKE THAT HE’S WISE, BUT FUNNY, AND REALLY SMART.  I DON’T KNOW.  HE JUST SEEMS REALLY COOL.  HE’S REALLY NICE, HE’S FUNNY.

Well, there you have it.  Everything that makes a Whovian tick.  Everything that makes them come back for more.


Special thanks to Thomas, and Thomas’ mom, Sarah, for her assistance with this interview, as well as for the photos / video.


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

Cara Winter sees Broadchurch & Finds It (OMG!) Wanting

AirunGarky.com-Broadchurch

The Anglo Files #13
by Cara Winter

Maybe it’s because I am currently attempting to write a gasp-worthy, twisty-bendy, shock-ya-shock-ya mystery pilot myself, lately I have spent a lot of time thinking about BROADCHURCH.

Much lauded during it’s first season, I sat down and basically binge-watched the entire first season… and for most of it, I was stunned. It was tremendously well made, well acted and pretty to look at.

And then came the final episode of season 1… and,  NO.  Just, NO.

**MULTIPLE SPOILERS AHEAD**

The show begins with the murder of a young boy, and the local P.D.’s investigation, led by two detectives (Miller, played by Olivia Coleman and Hardy, played by David Tennant), an odd couple if ever there was one, each with their own baggage.

During the investigation (which lasts the entire first season), Miller and Hardy suspect almost every soul in town… including the boy’s father, played masterfully by Andrew Buchan (the depth and power of this actor’s emotional life takes your breath away – he’s one to watch, no doubt about it).

As the investigation unfolds, one by one people are eliminated as suspects, usually by way of something unsettling, foul, or just not what you’d expect from the ‘good folk’ of a small seaside town.  These twists make for compelling viewing, as each suspect transforms from angel, to devil, to ordinary flawed human being in a single episode.

I especially loved the storyline of trailer park matron Susan Wright (played by journeyman actress Pauline Quirke, who’s been doing this longer than I’ve been alive).  At first glance,  Susan was sullen, mean,  sinister even…I, for one, was sure she’d done it.  But scratch the surface, and all we have in this person is another heartbroken (and innocent) soul, looking for peace, and forgiveness, and a clean slate.

But it all came crashing down during the final moments season 1, when ‘he who done it’ was revealed.  The way the killer gives himself up – awful.  The confession, right there on the spot.  Terrible.  A full-on “I just couldn’t take it anymore!” breakdown…  ERGURAAAGG, it made me want to crawl through my TV and strangle somebody.  It just felt cheap, and beneath them, after an entire season of gorgeousness!

As Season 2 was about to premiere on BBC America, I pressed on.  Aaaand, things got worse.  For one, Hardy’s backstory (failing to get a conviction, over in another town, for a different murder) has now become a front-story  (is that even a thing?!)!   Meaning, the characters from this old case… are now here, and inexplicably living in Broadchurch.  WHAT?!

It was bad enough when Hardy was having some sort of life-threatening medical condition in season 1… but now, this?  His past isn’t just going to figuratively haunt him — it’s going to actually haunt him?   I can’t handle it.  It’s too much drama in one man’s life.  And especially for the incredible Tennant, it’s heartbreaking to see such an actor being used so thoughtlessly.

This is not to say BROADCHURCH (or, as I like to call it, DAME-RECTORY) can’t still redeem itself.  But it was informative for me, as a writer, to review when and how they lost me.  It brought me to this realization:  You have to tread very, very carefully, when working in realism.

When you’re writing about a bunch of zombies, or a masked, winged crime-fighter, or Charlie Sheen as someone you’d leave your child with… you have a certain amount of creative license.  You’re already asked the audience to take a huge leap with you, so suspending their disbelief again for maybe a cheaply placed plot point — whatever, it’s BAT-MAN, what’s plausible about that, to begin with?

But with a show steeped in realism, you cannot make a single illogical mistake.  You cannot underestimate your audience’s intelligence; you cannot cheat them, and you cannot trick them.  You cannot haphazardly pick “dramatic” plot points; you must create real, emotional human drama.

And, above all else, you must employ logic.  You have to tap into your inner Spock and ask, “What is the logical thing to do?” and then let that play out, beat by beat, detail by detail, moment by excruciating moment.  Yes, even if the star is David Tennant.

I’ll keep tuning in, for now.  I suppose I’m still curious.  But, sadly, I’m not counting the days and hours until the next episode airs.  And these days, the countdown (hashtag #countdown!) is the whole ballgame.


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

Cara Winter sees The IT Crowd

The Anglo Files 13
by Cara Winter

I know how weird this is going to sound.   Nevertheless, here it is:

Some of us don’t care about football – at all.  Like, not at all.  We aren’t excited to hear your drinking stories.  We don’t see any point in watching the Grammys.  And we’re not heading out to see Fifty Shades of Grey this weekend, or any weekend (nor did we read the book).

It can get lonely, being so outside the norm.  The mainstream is just …so… main stream. There are times when it seems as though nobody understands, and that people are just a bunch of bastards, with bad taste in everything.

IT-Crowd-meme

And then, a trusted friend comes to the rescue by recommending The IT Crowd.  And in one fell swoop, our faith in humanity is restored.

The IT Crowd is a British sitcom written by Graham Linehan, starring Chris O’Dowd (an actor most famous for playing the cop-slash-love-interest in the film Bridesmaids),  Richard Ayoade, and Katherine Parkinson.  Set in the London offices of the soulless, stereotypically straight-laced “Reynholm Industries”, the show revolves around the 3-person IT Department, whose offices are housed within the bowels of the company’s corporate headquarters.

It’s hard to say what I love most about the show.  It’s pretty much everything, I think?  The writing, the direction, the physical comedy, the laugh track.  Even the sets make me happy.

But no.  No, it really is about the people of the IT department.  First there’s Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade).  I dunno, maybe it’s his aversion to swearing, or how poorly he lies, or his ‘sweet style’… but I think I may love him?

moss

Yep, I love him.

Then there’s his best friend and co-worker, Roy (Chris O’Dowd), who is clearly inspired by Oscar Madison– a little slovenly, more than a little bit lazy, and thoroughly annoyed by anyone who doesn’t work in IT.

(Here he is trying to get a date with a girl who only likes bad boys…)

it_loner___by_negima56-d4qva4y

Clearly, internet memes were created for these people.  Or, by them. Possibly both.

In the pilot, it is clear that Moss and Roy have been happily ensconced in their underground geek-lair for some time.  Enter (*gasp*, another human being!) Jen, their new manager (Katherine Parkinson, who viewers might recognize from Sherlock) who knows a sum total of nothing about computers, and who is horrified (at first) to be associated with anyone deemed by the main stream to be terminally uncool.

As Jen discovers just how bizarre this geek underworld is… she is also figuring out that she belongs there.  For as much as she wants to hide from it, she is a misfit, an outsider, a freak — just like Moss and Roy.  And for because we love Moss and Roy, we cheer for Jen to just loosen up and learn how to let her freak flag fly… even if it is done somewhat reluctantly, and under an assumed name.

Each episode is a little gem; the one where Moss tries to report a workplace fire (references below); or the one where the gang goes to the theater (to see “Gay: The Musical!“; Roy is caught using the handicapped toilet, and Moss finds himself inexplicably working the wet bar); ah… and the one where we find out what’s behind the Red Door.  I’d tell you what’s on the other side, but… yeah, no.  You’re just going to have to embrace your inner geek, and stream it for yourself.

Trust me.

In short, I love this stupid show. It makes me so happy.  I think it’ll make you happy, too.

(By the way, have you tried Cuke? I know, it’s so good– god, I’m thirsty…)

 

Episodes of The IT Crowd are currently available on Netflix and Hulu.


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

Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 12: The Honourable Woman

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Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa Stein in “The Honourable Woman”

by Cara Winter

 Full disclosure:  For whatever reason, on this particular day, I felt like watching something with Jake Gyllenhaal in it. But when I typed “Gyllenhaal” into my DVR’s search engine, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s work also came up, and at the top of the list was her latest Golden Globe-winning tour-de-force, The Honourable Woman.   Intrigued by this BBC co-production starring Gyllenhaal along side more than a few British heavy weights (like Stephen Rea, Eve Best, and Lindsay Duncan), I decided to give it a whirl.

Man.  I was *not* disappointed.  (Sorry, Jake… I’ll get around to seeing whatever you’re up to, another day.)

The Honourable Woman is a six-part miniseries, written and directed by Hugo Blick (and was a co-production with BBC and SundanceTV).  Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein, Baroness of Tillbury, an Anglo-Israeli businesswoman who has taken over the reigns of The Stein Group, the company her late father founded many years prior.  What unfolds is the gripping, complicated, and emotional story of Nessa and her family.  It begins with the death of Nessa’s father, when she and her brother were children; then, quickly, we are in the present day, and Nessa is announcing her earnest yet misguided attempt to bridge the gap between Israel and Palestine, with Stein Group’s plan to bring high-speed internet to the West Bank.   Then, while still basking in the glow of their hopeful promise… the child of the family’s nanny Atika (played by Lubna Azabal)is kidnapped, catapulting the entire family into panic and turmoil.

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa is a force of nature; she doesn’t sit, stand, or raise an eyebrow without an emotional impetus. It’s hard to explain, in words… it’s as if Gyllenhaal swims in her emotional life.  Not a single line is wasted, or thrown-away — everything comes from the gut, with her, from the complex chemical concoctions of a woman in turmoil.  Each of her scenes feels dynamic, fresh, and painfully real, as though the actress is truly living Nessa’s nightmare.

Blick’s careful crafting of the story is brilliant– you never feel that you’re being manipulated, there are no gimmicks or gasp-inducing reveals; nor does anything happen too easily (my  primary complaint with typical TV mysteries or spy thrillers).  And everything is complicated, everything is emotional — even though the characters try, like hell, to simplify, and at all costs, hide their true feelings.

There is also a great deal of mystery surrounding these characters, and the phrase “Do you trust me?” is employed like an operatic motif.  Also wonderful is Nessa’s brother Ephra (played by Andrew Buchan), who’s storyline is an echo of stories that play out in the war-torn West Bank every single day…  for it is a particular kind of anguish to be completely powerless to protect those you love.   It reminds me of the play Via Dolorosa, by another Brit, David Hare — as both are profoundly personal examinations of the extremely political Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Regardless of the issue at hand (whether it’s the Stein Group’s plans, the kidnapping, or MI-6 looking into all of it), you are keenly aware that it is all happening, at once, with every breath each character takes.  Mid-way through the second episode, you’re begging Blick to give them a ray of hope — but it never comes.  Just as with Israel and Palestine, it seems all the rest of the world wants for them is a little rest, some peace; but for them, peace seems an impossible dream.

The Honourable Woman is on SundanceTV, and is also available streaming on Netflix.


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

 

Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 11: HAPPY VALLEY

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by Cara Winter

“I’m Catherine, by the way.  I’m forty-seven, I’m divorced, I live with my sister who’s a recovering heroin addict.  I have two grown-up children; one dead, and one who doesn’t speak to me.”

So begins Happy Valley, a BBC drama created by the fiercely talented Sally Wainwright (Season One available on Netflix).

The heart and soul of this show is Sergeant Catherine Cawood, who’s no ordinary woman; she’s adept with a truncheon, she chases (and oft tackles) bad guys, and is oddly proud of getting kicked in the face.  Oh, and the little boy she’s raising calls her “Granny”. Because she is one.

Happy Valley is a beautiful and stunning drama, starring Sarah Lancashire as Catherine, who simultaneously battles the drug-riddled streets of her small Yorkshire town, and her own demons.  Yes, this is a “cop show”, or it would be if one were overly concerned with categories.  But it is the most unique cop show I’ve ever seen, and surpasses all (yes, ALL) of it’s American brethern, by leaps and bounds.  IT IS A MUST-SEE.

My beef with most American cop dramas today, is that the horror of certain acts is glossed over, lost in the shuffle of smooth talk and pressed pants suits, and too-pretty detectives.  No one even registered shock when they found my friend Gia Mora shot to death on an episode of Castle, recently.  (Holla!  You were a pretty, pretty corpse.)   To me, it seems the creators of these types of shows are concerned with solving the mystery for the viewer in 48 minutes, they forget the very human “drama” altogether.

Not so, with Happy Valley.  And here’s why:

1. By firmly, openly, and graphically addressing the violence before them (as one would in real life), events take a natural and emotional toll on the characters – yes, even the cops who are trying to stop it.

2. By putting Catherine at the center of both the current crime, and a past crime (the rape of her daughter, for which her rapist was never punished), everything becomes intensely personalized for her.  Almost everything at work reminds her of what she’s lost at home, and it makes her even more determined to see justice done.

3. One, and only one, major crime is at the center of the six episode arc.  You’d think this might make it too slow, but au contraire —  with plenty of moving parts and twisty turns, Wainwright keeps us on the edge of our seats.   There is little or no “fix you a cuppa tea?”, unless it is accompanied by backyard cigarette and a talking-to from Catherine’s concerned sister Clare, played with grace and soul by Siobhan Finneran (who was also Downton Abbey’s “O’Brien” — but virtually unrecognizable as such, here).

Precisely because of the long arc, meaningful events (both past and present) have time to “land”, main characters’ home lives can be expanded upon, delved into, deepening how much we care about crimes, both past and present. No sooner are we introduced to Catherine, her challenging job, her teetering home life, and her troubled past, we are thrust into a young woman’s kidnapping, a plot instigated by an ordinary, work-a-day accountant Kevin Weatherill (played with frightening realism by Steve Pemberton).

While some have complained that the accents are too thick, I never found that to be true.  Even if you have trouble with the brogue, that is no excuse!   Just enable the subtitles, renew your Netflix subscription, and strap in.  For while Happy Valley is disturbing, no doubt about it…  it is also the best TV drama since Breaking Bad.  And I can’t wait to see Season 2.


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