Here’s the thinking that went into the episode I posted yesterday. Did you watch it yesterday? Okay, I’ll wait.
Dum de dum… check it out now, funk soul brother, check it out now, funk soul brother… dum de dum de dum… movin’ on up, to the eastside…
Done? Great. Here we go.
Again: the task (see Tuesday’s post) was to break up the central relationship, reintroduce the other characters, work everyone into the story somehow, be funny and hopefully touching. And we only had one half hour to do it. We could not do a two-parter or an hour. I’m sure there are better ways to achieve this goal, but here is what we (me, David Isaacs, Robin Schiff) did.
We didn’t want to go for with a big argument. That seemed the easy path. Also, we didn’t want a long shouting match. That would get old and tedious, and we’re not doing WHO’S AFRAID OF VIGINIA WOOLF:THE SITCOM. Kim & Mike could have a fight and it could get heated but it had to be short and somehow motivated. And most important, we didn’t want the audience to hate either one of them. Or us, but still better us than them.
It was nice to see that you guys didn’t guess it on Tuesday.
Anyway… the discussion led to “what triggers arguments?” We thought, if there was one universal sentence that kicked off major arguments that would be a great device to get us going. And we could use it to break up other characters’ relationships too. Great! Just one little hitch: what is that question???
Several days and many blind alleys later we landed on this: “Any couple could break up in five sentences, no matter how committed they are, if the first sentence was ‘if that’s the way you feel then what are you doing with me?’”
We would use it for comic effect twice and then have Kim & Mike unconsciously fall into the same trap.
Where we left the series after season one: Mike & Kim had vowed their undying love (we sure shot ourselves in the foot with that one, didn’t we?), Gary was divorced from his wife Patty but still was smitten by her, and young Rob had a party girl, Shannon, who drove him insane but the sex was unbelievable so of course he stuck it out. Insanity is a small price to pay for nookie.
The one thing we had going for us was the finale of the first season was the wrap party of the fictional show they all worked on. That gave us like a two month hole before they returned to work. We could fill it with whatever necessary backstory we needed. One of you astute readers picked up on that.
To break up Gary & Patty we first had to get them back together again. We decided to have them re-marry. That allowed for a big wedding scene. Lots of room for fun and interaction with our characters. And the Gary/Patty split would occur right at the altar. We could exploit some quirk of Shannon’s to push Rob over the edge and they too could break up at the wedding. We needed to set a pattern. It had to happen twice before Kim & Mike.
Device aside, at the heart of Mike & Kim’s break up had to be the fatal flaw of their relationship. Opposites attract but they also repel. We had established that she was a Type-A workaholic and he was more laid back. For the most part he catered to her schedule in the first season. So during the hiatus we said she catered to him. And hated it. It drove her crazy. She was bored out of her skull. But he loved it. That felt like a good place to start.
So now we went to the greaseboard and beat out the story.
For the teaser we needed to reintroduce Kim & Mike to the audience. Kim wanted to have sex on the balcony. The more conservative Mike didn’t. Right away you see how different they are.
The first scene takes place in the office. We catch up on what’s been going on and set up the wedding. Rob enters in dreadlocks. I don’t know if any sex is worth that but still. You can see it’s starting to get to him. By contrast, Neil is studying the Kabbalah (I like to think Madonna got the idea from US.) and wants no human contact. We thought it would be a fun payoff to have Neil be the only one in a relationship at the end of the show. We love that ironic shit!
Then we go to the wedding. Establish the fatal flaw in the Gary/Patty relationship – she’s a materialistic bitch. And I should mention that Lisa Edelstein was GREAT. It’s not easy to pull off an unlikable character like that and still be so funny and likeable. Lots of jokes about Patty’s extravagance. Oh how we loved that marble staircase! Patty's fall down the stairs was my favorite gag from the series. I've seen it a hundred times and it still makes me laugh every time. (That was a stunt double, by the way, we who did the fall. One take.) However, the reform joke is truly one of my favorites.
Gary & Patty split, Rob & Shannon split, and Mike & Kim get out while they’re still a couple. Act break.
We also re-up Mike’s conservatism. With every joke in some way we try to better define our characters.
Now we go back to Kim’s house for the party post mortem. Their discussion offhandedly leads to their relationship issues. Many big arguments just seem to evolve and escalate without the participants realizing it.
By the time Kim utters the trigger sentence hopefully we’ve brought them to a place where there’s no turning back. They each want different things in life and it’s clear they’ll never be able to accommodate the other. Kim says “Can we just come in again and start over?” and Mike says, “What would be different?” They both realize it’s over.
We follow that with a scene the next day. Kim, Gary, and Rob are alone lamenting their fate. We say that Kim & Mike talked all night but got nowhere. We wanted to establish that ultimately their break up wasn’t a five minute conversation and that was it. We also wanted to establish that this was the new direction of the series – our lovable test-friendly characters each finding their way alone. And then button the scene with Neil showing up with the rabbi.
For the tag we often would try to callback something from the show. Nothing seemed funnier than Patty falling down the stairs so we constructed a way for Gary to fall down them as well. (Again, we used a double. No actors or animals were hurt during the filming of this show.) I love the last line. Patty asks if he’s okay and he says “No, you crazy bitch!” It’s not a constructed joke. It’s just an attitude line. The best laughs come from character.
So that was our game plan. It might be fun to watch the show again now that you know how and why we constructed it that way. I actually think it’s the best show I wish we never wrote.