Wednesday, May 31, 2017

NOBODIES

Here’s a FQ that prompted an entire post.

Craig Russell asked:

Have you seen the new TV Land offering "Nobodies"? It’s produced by Melissa McCarthy and is about a trio of sitcom writers, trying to make it while having personal lives.  I wondered if you had seen it and had any insight.

I’ve just seen a few episodes and thought it was… okay. The actors are fine, there are amusing moments, but generally I find the show undercooked. And they go after easy targets.

When the jokes aren’t inside Hollywood jokes, most of the humor comes from the three leads either humiliating themselves or acting like jerks.

My biggest problem (and this is my pet peeve with a lot of series) is why do we care? This team of writers (and by the way, rarely if ever are there writing teams of three) has a job. Okay, it’s on a stupid kids’ animated series but it’s a steady job. They work in a cool office on a studio lot. There are a thousand unemployed writers who would kill for that job. Not to mention the viewing audience. How many miserable office drones or Roto-Rooter men would trade jobs in a second?

That’s one of the standard problems with doing shows about writers. People who have “real” jobs and do heavy lifting find it hard to feel sorry for highly paid TV writers who get annoying notes. Not that the problems we face aren’t legit and just as soul-sucking, but it ain’t digging ditches.

Again, in the pilot – the plot is that they have a spec screenplay they want to sell so they can make lots of money. We’re paid lip service that one of the writers is a single mom and another has a family with kids to support. But beyond that they’re never mentioned.

The big story complication is they lie in a meeting at Paramount and say that Melissa McCarthy will play the lead of their movie. Then they text Melissa and go to her husband and neither of those ploys work so they resort to plan B and try to get Jason Bateman who they pitch in a pick up basketball game.

So getting back to the “why do we care?” question: They are writers good enough that they can get a studio meeting. Maybe Paramount didn’t buy this one but so what? There are other places to go and there are thousands of screenwriters who can never get one meeting. The three writers obviously know Melissa McCarthy to where she’s trading texts with them. They’re friends with her husband. They have connections to where they have access to Jason Bateman.

Boy, for struggling writers they sure have it easy.

In general you want your characters to desperately NEED something. E.G. -- Selling a movie means he doesn’t lose his house. Then you make it as difficult as you possibly can for that character to achieve his goal. How does a roof repair guy who knows nobody in the industry somehow get to Melissa McCarthy? Do you see the difference?

So the show is okay, but I think it could be better and funnier. It’s obviously a lot of Groundlings people getting together, having some fun, knocking out some shows.   But I feel a little like I’m intruding on someone else’s party. No one is throwing me out, but no one is making me feel particularly welcome either. If I want to stand off to the side and laugh at their jokes I can stay. In a sense, I’m the nobody.

23 comments :

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ken said, "rarely if ever are there writing teams of three"
Didn't we have a writing team of 3 working for Kim Cooper on "Almost Perfect" lol :)


Steve Mc said...

RE shows about writers, and stakes, and caring about the characters, all fair enough points, but Episodes? All the observations about the writers in these shows having, by most people's standards, a pretty sweet, charmed life are absolutely valid, but they apply to Episodes too. And that's been pretty successful, albeit in a cable sense, hasn't it?

Brad Apling said...

The Dick Van Dyke Show. Three writers (Rob, Sally and Buddy) with a fall guy (Mel). Part of it takes place in the writers office, a good slice at Rob's home (mostly the living room). Your thoughts on what made it last 5 seasons and what made the audience care. Thanks!

Brian said...

There seems to be more and more shows about entertainment, to the point that one wonders if the people writing them have done little else than watch TV and film. Not that I am saying that one era favors another, but over the years, I've enjoyed sitcoms about doctors, taxi drivers, folks in a neighborhood bar, blue collar workers, a hotel owner, a woman who is experiencing life after a kidnapping, a fellow reminiscing about his childhood and three families based in Florida, proving that not everyone need be in entertainment.

i like some of them, too, but in the end, good writing will out.

Salad Is Slaughter said...

Just from the description it sounds like an "Episodes" knockoff. I miss that show.

Hollywoodaholic said...

When Hollywood writers don't even care about this show or find it funny, it's really in trouble, because no one else is going to care about these characters.

VP81955 said...

From the bus ads, I didn't even know this series was about writers. Shame on the producers...Melissa McCarthy and her husband.

Ken Levine said...

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was about people not "writers." You cared about Rob & Laura and by extension, Buddy & Sally. For the most part the problems they tackled were relatable to all.

And yes, David Isaacs and Robin Schiff and I teamed up on ALMOST PERFECT and cost the studio lots of extra money because we needed a waiver from the WGA every time we wrote a script together. It cost the studio an extra 50% per script. But when ALMOST PERFECT ended so did our three-way partnership. No one was going to hire writers going in knowing we would cost 50% more.

Terrence Moss said...

I'm glad these nostalgic diginets have stepped in where Nick at Nite and TV Land have stepped out. Their shift in programming strategy was a mistake.

Gwendolyn said...

Talk about good writing. As I was about to turn off the TV last nite what to my wondering eyes did appear but Room Service. (Frasier on Hallmark channel.) A sophisticated tale of pseudo-adultery (?). Hallmark showed the whole episode but bleeped out "jack***".

VincentS said...

...and this was Larry David's genius in CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. There's an old martial arts saying: Don't push, pull (look at the kitchen fight scene in THE BODYGUARD for a demonstration). Instead of negating his character's success he uses it to fuel the irony that no amount of success can free him from his neuroses and insecurities which is the comic foundation of all the episodes.

Frederick Herman "Freddy" Jones said...

Ken;

I read your post with great interest.

When you say, "In general you want your characters to desperately NEED something." I will, generally, agree with you. It's especially true concerning action/drama/adventure/sci-fi/thriller/horror works. It's also true in comedy, but comedy is unique.

A sitcom can survive quite well by focusing on and putting into action a character's internal motives, weaknesses and conflicts. It does not have to be about overcoming a huge obstacle in every episode. Sometimes the comedy comes from not overcoming the obstacle.

For example, how does the episode of The Tony Randall Show that you recently posted hold up to the observations you made about Nobodies?

In this episode, why do we care about the judge? There are a ton of people who would love that job. He seems to have a really nice home, he's a single dad, and he even has a housekeeper. His wife died and that's unfortunate, but it's not what sustains the episode or provides the conflict.

What was the judge's goal in that episode? He wanted to win an election. Actually, he didn't even have much of a desire to run in the first place, and the stakes did not matter because we all knew he'd be ok, even if he lost the election. When he did lose, he didn't seem to care much and there's always the next election.

You found a good hook, losing an election to a dead man, and hung the rest of the episode on it. It was funny, but I did not come away watching a character work extremely hard to overcome obstacles to reach a goal.

That being said, I also didn't enjoy Nobodies enough to make it part of my viewing habits. Something is a bit off with it, Great News and a host of other modern sitcoms. It's like an element is missing, or too many elements are there competing for laughs. It's difficult to explain. I enjoy it, and it's good. It's just not great.

Buttermilk Sky said...

You're right about THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. I would add that it was the first sitcom about TV writers. Audiences felt like we were being given a look at a secret, glamorous world, and finding it was full of the same problems and pitfalls as working for the gas company (deadlines, demanding bosses, etc.). Now, as someone observed, everyone is in show business. You'd better have something fresh to tell us about writing for TV or the movies. Which is why we come to blogs like this one.

Hamp said...

Waaaay off topic but I had an interesting online run-in the other day.

I was playing an online game and one of the players in my random group was "BigWaveDave." It gave me a chuckle. I mentioned the show and yes, he was a big fan.

Stephen Robinson said...

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW also ultimately felt like a normal suburban husband with a "fun" job but still relatable. Darren came across the same way on BEWITCHED. It didn't seem like he was a "Mad Man" who had tons of money and no "real" problems.

One reason I quickly came to prefer THE MIDDLE to MODERN FAMILY is that the Hecks felt "real" with relatable, compelling stakes. If they lost their jobs, you'd wonder how they'd pay the bills. There was a really good episode where Sue forgets to file for her student loan and has to pay the tuition in full to stay in school. You really do get a sense that her life could dramatically change... for the worse... if she doesn't stay in school. And her father's sacrifice in order to ensure she does has weight. Even when she's debating a major, her dad gives her a talk that reinforces how important school is for her. As opposed to MODERN FAMILY where you don't worry about the literal well being of any of the characters.

There was even a plot line where Clare returns to work -- though it's not necessarily because she has to -- and easily winds up working as the head of her dad's company. This felt like a lost opportunity -- from personal experience, I spent just 3 years home with my son and I'm finding it an uphill battle to get back into the workplace.

Jim said...

Great Post Ken. Hope those morons who thought that people give a rat's ass about Hollywood writers and their shitty lives, read this.

Anonymous said...

@Salad is Slaughter - Good news, Episodes will be back this August.

Mike Barer said...

The show simply title LOVE on netflix is about a TV writer. He is always throwing away career opportunities for his girlfriend from Hell. It was created by Judd Apartow, but I think it's semi-autobiographical.

Ralph C. said...

The male lead in "Love" is actually an on-set tutor/teacher for the young actress. He was that on her TV show set and when she was on the movie set. He did help write an episode of the fictional TV show and had a chance to write on a movie.

Kosmo13 said...

Rob, Buddy and Sally working together doesn't necessarily violate the rule of no three-member TV comedy-writer writing teams. Rob was employed separately by the Brady Lady corporation, while Buddy and Sally worked for a separate company that manufactured Martin & Lewis coloring books.

Mike Barer said...

Thank you for that fact, Ralph! The male lead is the all time good guy. He also has, in my opinion, a striking resemblance to Ken.

Ralph C. said...

Glad to help. I enjoy that show a lot, too.

Myles Warden said...

Good points