A change of heart

What a difference a week makes. I watched the second episode of MY OWN WORST ENEMY and I must have missed some important information in the pilot. Are Edward's handlers going to keep sending him on missions knowing every time he'll turn into milquetoast Henry? Really? I figured Edward and Henry were going to have to hide that information, not just whine about it to the boss.

So I'm back to agreeing with the conventional wisdom: it's a ludicrous premise. But that's not the reason I won't be tuning in next week.

The second episode -- the title of the episode even -- deals with Henry's issues about Edward sleeping with his wife. I have no arguments there: these are important issues. In the similar series JEKYLL, even going near the wife and family was the uncrossable line for the mild-mannered doctor. In ENEMY, super-spy Edward seems to be having wild sex with wifey pretty much every night.

Which quite properly bothers Henry. Though, oddly, he's not bothered that a dangerous stranger is sleeping with his wife, the woman he's supposed to love. He makes no effort to warn her, or whisk her away to safety. Though he tries to devise a password-protection system with some doctor he knew twenty years ago, he makes no such attempt with his own wife and family. In fact, he doesn't seem very bothered by Edward's presence in the family home, or bed, at all.

He's only bothered that the stranger is better at sex than he is.

Talk about your breathtaking level of self-involvement. Did no one anywhere down the line on this show (or up the line) find that a teensy bit disturbing? Not to mention fatal to the premise of the show: we have to like Henry for the show to work. Edward is already a cold-blooded assassin -- who's gonna cry if he gets whacked? Henry -- even if "unreal" -- is the one in danger of losing the real life and real connections he's built.
Henry is the one in danger of getting erased.

If he's just another preening jerk? Feh. I'm done.


Another announcement

JAWBONE is now a FINALIST in the tvwriter.com Spec Scriptacular competition.


Another review

I'm bucking the word on the street and admitting I liked the pilot for MY OWN WORST ENEMY. Thought it was fun. Thought it was nicely performed. Thought it had some genuinely interesting moments.

I'd say original moments, except I did notice a lot of the nifty bits involving communication and interaction between the two guys inhabiting one body seemed kinda similar to equivalent bits from Steven Moffat's JEKYLL. Really, really similar, even.

Though, lest you think "aw, she just prefers everything British," I actually didn't like Jekyll. I thought it had serious tone problems -- as in some minutes it was a straight-up comedy and some minutes a psychological drama. Now I love a little comedy in my drama and a little drama in my comedy (chocolate in my peanut butter, peanut butter in my chocolate), but this was like two different shows sharing the same commercial breaks. Hmm. I guess that was intentional. Appropriately Jekyll-and-Hydish. Just not much fun to watch.

An announcement

JAWBONE has now made the semifinals at the tvwriter.com Spec Scriptacular competition.


A slight emendation

Re-reading what I wrote yesterday about David Kelley's first draft script of Life On Mars, I seem to have said that I believe Mr. Kelley has a hang-up with his own perfection. That's not what I meant. Though with his history of uber-clever, successful writing, he'd have damn good reason for thinking highly of himself.

So, no offense to Mr. Kelley personally. Or to any of his previous -- and one hopes future -- wonderful shows.

But his script was still a miserable adaptation. Though I have heard that the Kelley script that was actually shot (and discarded) was a later version that hewed more closely to the original BBC show in tone and character. I hope so. Everyone's allowed a crappy first draft. Though even the later draft clearly wasn't what the network wanted. And what they wanted was pretty darn good.

Maybe even super-talented writers just can't write something they don't at heart agree with. David Kelley's best work is about lawyers. And Life On Mars isn't a lawyer show. Not just in its subject matter -- in its philosophy. It argues that the kind of elegant thinking and reasoning -- seeing both sides of an argument, and protecting the intangible rights behind the laws even at the expense of the person immediately in front of you -- while GOOD THINGS (can't argue with that), can also lead to deadening of the instincts, and even of the soul.

Deep stuff. But it's cop stuff. Not lawyer stuff.

Still, I have to give credit to Kelley for bringing the show to ABC and seeing it got made. Thanks, man.

Now go write some awesome lawyer stuff.

A review - and a long post

I watched Life On Mars.

I was going to sleep on my thoughts and re-watch the show tomorrow with both the old David Kelley script and the original BBC script open on my laptop. But I don't think I need to. And I don't think I can sleep until I get this all written out anyway.

I'm going to compare the series to the BBC version. And somewhat to the Kelley version that DIDN'T wind up on your screens tonight. I know that's not really a review. But there are going to be a million reviews out there. I'm more interested in figuring out what the heart of the original series was, where the ABC version -- or the Kelley version - got it wrong. And where they fixed things, got them right, or even improved them. Cause that's what we try to do as writers. Figure out what's important. Make mistakes, sure, but then figure out WHY they're wrong. And desperately try to fix them before the cameras roll. (Or in this case, after. Yeesh.)

The teaser begins in the modern world...

The BBC version took a lot more time establishing Sam's modern life. That's easier for them to do, of course, they HAVE more time. But it was nice to show how different, and technological, and politically correct police work is now versus was then. It was also nice to see Sam Tyler as the clear and decisive head of his unit, as problems will ensue when he is subordinate to Gene Hunt in the past.

So, score one point for the BBC. But a very small point.

I don’t dig the it-wasn’t-the-perp-it-was-his-identical twin stuff. I never like the identical twin trick. (After reading something similar in the Fringe pilot script I have yet to bring myself to actually watch the Fringe episodes on my DVR.) And unless they’re varying significantly from the BBC plot, it’s also not necessary. So that’s score two for the BBC. (Oops, writing now from the end: they DID change the plot significantly. I’m rethinking as I type. The score may change. Stay tuned.)

Continuing on…

WHOA. ABC has a MUCH BETTER TEASER FADE OUT. I cried. Couldn’t help it: a stunning revelation of the Twin Towers standing, new, beautiful and full of hope, beats a billboard for an expressway overpass any day. BIG point scored for ABC.

The 360-degree “only so many details” shot of 1973 lower Manhattan was nearly equally stunning. Awesome set decoration. The Manchester shot was great too, so I’ll give that a tie. (Though I’m from New York and I’ve never been to Manchester, so the ABC version edges ahead for me.)

Moving into the meat of the show…

I loved the BBC’s Gene Hunt, Philip Glenister. But now I love Harvey Keitel just as much. I gotta score a dead tie there. But I’m going to give an extra point to ABC for realizing they had it wrong the first time, firing the original actor, thinking of Harvey Keitel and making that happen. Nothing against poor Colm Meaney. I’m sure he’s a fine actor, but the only thing he had going for him as Gene Hunt was a slight physical resemblance to Mr. Glenister. And I’m tired of that kind of casting.

Actually, I think the Colm Meaney casting was part of a more serious problem with Kelley's whole take on the series.

Kelley’s script's theme seemed to be: modern-day people like Sam (and us) are better, more competent and more moral than their benighted 1973 counterparts. Always. In every case. In his script, Sam Tyler is a saint and Gene Hunt is an evil joke. No way Harvey Keitel would ever have taken the part as written in Kelley's script. And no way I'd watch it for very long. "I'm right and you're wrong" just doesn't make for a very interesting show.

So what was the BBC show about? Duh. It's a BUDDY COP show. Straight up. Two completely different guys from completely different backgrounds (and ERAS) who HATE each other right off will eventually grudgingly accept that each one has something the other lacks and together they will make one amazing policeman. This is not earth-shattering. We've seen this show before. And it worked before. Hell, MOST SUCCESSFUL DRAMA includes some element of this-one's-partially-right and that-one's-partially-right and if they could only figure that out and get together... Okay, not just drama. Most rom-coms and comedies work on some version of that dynamic. Most of our RELATIONSHIPS in the real world work like that. Or don't. Maybe because, like Mr. Kelley, we're a little too hung-up on our own perfection.

Pats on the back are nice, but do not make for appointment television.

The BBC version accepted that many things ARE better now. Miranda warnings are a good thing. Videotaped interviews are a good thing. So are warrants, and lawyers (sometimes), and all that pc stuff. But the BBC show worked on the principle that, though Sam was usually technically right, Gene was always EMOTIONALLY right. With all of his sensitivity training, the modern cop is less in touch with his “feelings” than his 70s macho counterpart. Gene Hunt has much to learn from Sam Tyler. But Sam Tyler has just as much to learn from Gene Hunt.

And there’s your series.

And this new ABC version gets that. Somebody at the studio saw the Kelley version, said "hold on a minute" and made the fix. Some studio suit. Who is that guy? I want to work for that guy. And I’m having to rethink my whole position on studio notes.

Which brings us to the scene that made me stand up and cheer. In the original BBC version of the Mrs. Raimes interview, Sam – eyes on the investigation – doesn’t see that his justifiably intense questioning of the witness is NOT HELPING. So Gene steps in, gets the woman a cup of tea and a biscuit. Gets her to relax and chat. And gets the information they need.

In the Kelley version, evil Gene is bullying poor Mrs. Raines, and Mr. Perfect Modern Cop Sam steps in to save the day. Oh, and there’s a cutesy lawyer thing that made me want to hurl. (Note to David Kelley: NOT a lawyer show.) So, yet again: 70s Gene is wrong, modern Sam is right, and we are all better than our parents. Woo-hoo. And yawn.

In the new ABC version, they go back almost word for word to the BBC version. Down to the fabulous over-the-table-leap at the end of the scene where we see Gene and Sam are suddenly, finally a team that WORKS. Together.

I stood up and cheered at that shot when I saw it the first time on BBC America. And I stood up and cheered tonight again. So, I give this scene a tie.

But for fixing something that was terribly wrong, at great expense and risk of negative publicity (how often does THAT happen in Hollywood???) I give extra points to ABC. And again, to that miracle suit. Who IS that guy?

And then suddenly we’re at the end. All kinds of stuff from the BBC version is just gone. And the scene – that never really rang true – where Annie’s ex-boyfriend tries to get Sam to risk suicide as a way to “wake up” – has been replaced with Sam staring down a gun and misreading (maybe…) the killer’s ramblings as a suicidal way out of his nightmare. So much better. Color me impressed.

And then the BIG change. There was a marvelous scene in the BBC version where Sam is faced with a choice: betray his ideals and destroy a key piece of evidence, or pass the evidence on, knowing that it will allow the killer to go free in 30 years and take the woman Sam loves hostage. Sam makes the choice: he trashes the evidence. And Gene says: welcome to the team. And he doesn’t mean it in a good way. He means it in a Faustian way.

It’s a killer scene. And it’s just gone. The kid, Colin Raimes, becomes the modern-day killer instead. Hence the whole awkward (but apparently now necessary) twin thing.

And I’m okay with that.

Because this is an American series that is going to have to sustain 22 episodes a year, possibly for years. As opposed to a British series that will be over and out in two series of 8 episodes each.

We have plenty of time to watch Sam struggle with difficult choices. We have hours and hours and hours ahead. (I hope - were you watching? Watch.)

At the end of the episode, instead of a killer all neatly tied up, we now have a future serial killer running around as a red-headed tyke. Creepy stuff to mine in episodes to come. As is having Sam consider killing that child instead of just destroying evidence...

So I take away my earlier demerits. And I call this a tie. I know my math is off - but I do have to give the BBC version points for being ORIGINAL. Besides, a tie is a win for ABC, 'cause after reading the Kelley version, I NEVER thought a tie would be possible.

I’m excited to see what they do next. And where they go when they’ve run through the sixteen British episodes and have a chance to stretch (or tank) this thing on their own.

I'm excited. Which I haven't been much so far this season...


An exhortation

I just gave blood. And you should too. It's not so bad. Yes, the needle is HUGE. But it goes in quick and comes out quick: the vampires at the Red Cross are very good at what they do and the whole thing is no big deal.

I did make the nice lady nervous by insisting on watching super closely as the needle approached my arm and went in. It's a minor hang-up: I don't mind sharp objects and needles as long as I am watching their every move and nobody's sneaking up on me.

I promised her I wouldn't faint. And then asked: how many people actually do?

At my location, because it's a Red Cross office and not a one-time blood drive: not many. At mobile blood drives, about one an hour. At mobile blood drives at high schools: all the freakin' time.

Do we get less tweaked by the sight of blood as we get older? Or is it a simpler explanation: all those people who were mightily embarrassed in front of their high school friends know better than to ever try again.

Not that that's any excuse for YOU: the nice lady said she could bring you right out of a fainting fit in seconds, no harm done. And the office is nice and quiet, so not much embarrassment either.

An announcement

Which you already know if you are reading this -- welcome to my new, actually a blog, blog site! Ever-more-glorious writing updates and discussions of the Fall 2008 season to come soon!