Archive for TV

movies, writing, TV

Epic Overkill

A couple of weekends ago, I rewatched the Hobbit trilogy. It’s weird that it takes longer to watch the movies than to read the book they’re based on. They took a fairly simple book that was written to read to a kid at bedtime and turned it into a bloated epic. It’s pretty obvious the parts in the movies that came directly from the book. They tend to have a warmth and wit and are on a “human” scale (using the term loosely for this story). It made me think about epic vs. intimate in fiction. I think sometimes when writers or filmmakers go overboard in trying to make things exciting by making them epic, it comes back around to being dull. I kept checking the clock while watching these movies, and usually during the biggest, most “epic” scenes.

I think a lot of that comes down to something I’ve heard said about the news, that two lives lost is a tragedy, and two thousand is a statistic. Seeing one character we care about in a reasonable amount of peril against a foe they have a chance of fighting against can be gripping, but seeing thousands of faceless CGI characters we’ve never “met” in a massive battle is boring.

I had a similar problem with the overkill in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There were so many cases when our heroes would be overwhelmed by swarms of orcs, and those scenes got kind of ridiculous. It was hard to believe that they could survive those odds without major plot armor. The scene would end up being the hero fighting about six stuntman orcs while dozens of CGI orcs swarmed around. I guess all the bonus extraneous orcs were meant to make the scene exciting, but it had the opposite effect on me. If they’d kept it to the few stuntman orcs, it would have made for a more engaging scene.

I think one way that the Rings of Power series worked for me was that the fights all had reasonable odds. It wasn’t a mass of CGI characters. It was mostly characters we knew fighting a realistic size opponent. We saw more of the one-on-one fighting in a way that seemed like either side had a chance of winning, without the need for plot armor and with skills that fit what we knew about the characters.

I’m in no danger of going too epic because that kind of mass battle doesn’t really interest me, but looking at things this way made me more aware of what interests me. I’m far more engaged by character interactions than I am by battles, and if you want me really engaged, make me care about the people. A few weeks ago, I had to pace the living room during an episode of Andor (to switch franchises) because I was so anxious about what would happen to the characters in a big heist/fight scene. I cared about those people, and the focus was on the characters we knew instead of them trying to make everything massive (it turned out that they actually had some other plans, but COVID restrictions meant they couldn’t do a big crowd scene, and so they wrote around their limitations in a way that made the story work better).

If you make me care, you don’t need all the epic bells and whistles to engage me. The makers of The Hobbit movies wasted a lot of money on CGI when they had strong enough characters (and actors) to keep us involved with something on a smaller scale.

writing, TV

Sympathy for the Villain

I’ve mentioned more than a few times that I’m not a fan of villains. I don’t pull for the bad guys until/unless they truly turn themselves around in a way that shows they know where they went wrong and sincerely feel bad about what they’ve done. I don’t care how sad their backstory is or how sexy and misunderstood they are. I’ll still be on Team Good Guys. And I resent stories that try to make me feel bad for the villains because they grew up poor and were mistreated, or anything like that. In the real world, the real villains on a big scale tend to be those who grew up with privilege and feel entitled.

But the series Andor is doing some interesting things about building (and removing) sympathy for villain characters, and not by doing the usual “sad childhood” things. I’m going to try to keep it vague to avoid spoilers, but I recommend watching this series. Even if you don’t like Star Wars, this isn’t really “Star Warsy.” It’s more of a spy thriller in a science fiction setting. There are no Jedi, there’s no mention of the Force. It’s a look at life under the rule of the Empire for people at all levels of society.

One thing they do to make you look at the villain characters in a different way is to put the various storylines in silos. There’s a storyline about the Imperial Security Bureau that’s tracking down and eliminating threats to the Empire. There’s no doubt that these are the bad guys, but because everyone in the storyline would be considered villains, the protagonist of this storyline is a villain but is sort of the “good guy” for this story, as long as it’s not intersecting with any of the actual good guys. They do all the sorts of things you do to set up a protagonist. This woman is clearly smart and capable, and yet she’s an underdog because she can’t get people to listen to her. She’s figuring out what’s going on with the rebel movement, but she gets in trouble for crossing jurisdictional boundaries instead of praised for spotting a potential threat. I think just about anyone who’s worked in a business setting can relate to feeling like the smartest person in the room but not being able to get anyone to listen because they’re all stuck in petty bureaucratic fiefdoms. When she finally got recognized for her work, I caught myself cheering for her — and then I remembered that this is a bad thing. We don’t want the Empire figuring out what’s going on with the rebels. It was an interesting way to make us sympathize with her and see her as a human being without playing the “poor, sad backstory” card. It won’t make me hate her less when she comes into actual direct conflict with any of the good guy characters, but it does make me see the threat they face. This incredibly competent person who’s had to struggle to be recognized is scarier than your typical mustache-twirling one-dimensional villain.

There’s another character that’s giving me emotional whiplash. In a way, he’s similar to this woman in not being able to get his superiors to listen to him, but what we see first about him is that he’s focused on appearances. The very first thing we learn is that he’s had his uniform tailored and enhanced to have extra decorative piping. It’s such a silly little detail, but it tells us so much about him and sets up what he ends up doing. I hated this guy more than any of the Star Wars villains because he reminded me of people I’ve had to deal with. I referred to him as the Hall Monitor from Hell. When he got consequences I felt bad for him because his consequences were bad, and we also got a glimpse of where he came from, but then when it was clear that he’d learned nothing, I hated him again. Either way, I care, whether it’s wanting to see him get taken down a peg or four or hoping he learns something and gets better.

I’ve struggled with writing villains and tend to keep them offstage, but I’m going to study this and see if I can use any of it in my work. Can I show things from the villain’s perspective and make readers care, even if what they care about is the villain falling into a volcano?

TV, movies

A Golden Age

I’ve been thinking lately about what my 11-year-old self would think about the times I’m living in now. That was the age when I fell full-on into geekiness and there wasn’t enough of the geeky stuff I wanted to satisfy me.

I’d been obsessed with Star Wars since I first saw it when I was 9, and in the fall of my sixth-grade year we were still a year away from The Empire Strikes Back (I was living on a military base overseas, so we wouldn’t get it until November of the following year after it was released in May in the US). Around that time, I discovered fantasy as a genre. I’d read books with magic and had even read The Hobbit, but that fall I found the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lloyd Alexander Prydain books, and The Lord of the Rings. I’m not sure which of them I found first, but I do know I read them all during that fall (though I stretched out the Narnia books and didn’t finish reading the series for the first time until early the following year).

The problem at that time was that there wasn’t enough of these things. There was one Star Wars movie, and there was no home video, so the only way to see it over and over again was to go to the movie theater, if it was playing anywhere. Which it wasn’t, especially not on military bases in Germany. There wasn’t a lot of related media. There were mostly just iterations of the original movie — the novelization, the comic book version, the audio drama version, the “storybook” version that had photos from the movie to illustrate the novelization. The way I “saw” the movie repeatedly was to read the novelization while listening to the soundtrack album. The only new stuff that wasn’t just the same story as the movie was one non-canon sequel novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which originally was meant to be the sequel if the movie did well enough for a sequel, but then when it was a smash that got scrapped and Lucas planned a whole saga with a bigger mythology. I guess the Han Solo books came out around that time, but I didn’t find them until about a year later. And there was the infamous Holiday Special, which was terrible but which we were excited for because it was something new in the Star Wars universe.

For Lord of the Rings, an animated version of the first half of the saga came out around that time (I’m not sure when it was actually released, but it came to one of the base theaters nearby that fall, right around the time I read the books). I was so excited about that, then was rather disappointed. And even if I’d loved it, there was no home video, so no way to watch it if it wasn’t at the theater.

It would have blown my mind then to imagine there being eleven Star Wars movies, plus multiple TV series. And it’s all streaming, so you can watch it whenever you want to. You could watch Star Wars content every waking hour for weeks before repeating anything. I was watching Andor last week and it struck me that I was watching a Star Wars TV show, and there would be a new episode a week later. In the days when it was three years between Star Wars movies, that would have been an unimaginable luxury.

And then on Friday night, I watched the latest episode of Rings of Power, which also amazed 11-year-old me. Not only do we have full movies of the whole Lord of the Rings saga, but now there’s a TV series with new stuff in that world, so we get to visit that world again without knowing exactly what will happen because we’ve read the books repeatedly.

I’m really enjoying both of these series, and not just because it’s so exciting to have new content in worlds I love. I think I’d enjoy them even if I hadn’t already been a fan. Andor is actually pretty peripheral to the main Star Wars story, though without that character and his actions, the events of the first movie wouldn’t have happened. But in a way, that’s what I like about it. It fleshes out that universe and shows why the Empire was terrible (beyond just the “willing to blow up whole planets to make a point” thing) while telling a new story I haven’t seen or read before. And Rings of Power is just gorgeous. It’s an immersive wallow in that world, getting to see different aspects of it than were in the main saga.

Twice a week right now, I get to indulge my inner 11-year-old and live out some of the biggest dreams I imagined when I was that age. And if I want to watch something related to these universes between episodes, there’s plenty to choose from.

TV

So Much Star Wars

I’ve been gradually working my way through the Star Wars Clone Wars animated series, and am deep enough into it that I’m starting to see characters and situations that have been referenced in some of the live-action works, so the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.

However, I still have a bit of a problem with the animation. There’s something really weird about the way the people look. I mostly listen to this show while doing something else, almost treating it as a radio drama, rather than watching it because the look of it bothers me so much, and I finally figured out what it reminds me of. The people all look like action figures, with their hair and clothes molded out of plastic. It’s like the action figure version of what they do in the Lego animated pieces. Or it’s computer-generated animation that looks like someone made a stop-motion animated movie using their Star Wars action figures.

And that got me started pondering … is this series the Toy Story of Star Wars? Is this what the Star Wars action figures get up to when we’re not looking? Or is it the drama that’s playing out when the kid who owns the action figures is playing with them (like the action sequence at the beginning of one of the Toy Story movies that turned out to be the kid playing with his toys, and this was the scenario he was imagining). Maybe this is some kid filling in all the plot holes of the prequels by playing out stories with his action figures.

It’s a pity that the animation is so weak in this series because the stories are actually pretty good and flesh out the characters rather well. There are occasional moments when it seems like the writers remember that this was originally supposed to be aimed at kids and they throw in a more kid-friendly episode, but most of it is pretty heavy and complex. I kind of wish we could have seen some of these storylines in live action, in at least an hour-long episode, though I think the special effects might have been complicated. Some of these things could only be done in animation. I’m getting used to most of the voice casting that’s different from the movies, and I’m no longer hearing the guy from Timeless when Anakin talks (that was disconcerting at first until this role became more familiar).

It still blows my mind that there’s so much Star Wars content now that at any time I want to watch something Star Wars, I can just turn on the TV and watch it — and I still have a few seasons of this series plus the Bad Batch that I haven’t even seen yet. I remember when I was a kid and the only thing that existed was the first movie. They didn’t do action figures until nearly a year later, so we couldn’t even make up new stories with those. We had to rely on pretending our bicycles were X-Wings or TIE fighters when we rode around the neighborhood. I actually liked the infamous holiday special because it may have been bad and confusing, but it was new Star Wars content while we waited three years for the sequel. Now it would take ages to get through every Star Wars movie or show, even if you watched something every night. Nine-year-old me would have been overwhelmed.

writing, TV, movies

Do We Really Need Villains?

Before Christmas, I wrote a post about low and high tension stories and whether you really need to have edge-of-your-seat tension for a book. Sometimes you just want to go on a fun journey (literal or metaphorical) without having to worry about the hero’s fate. In the same post, I talked about the requirement that the hero be proactive and defeat the villain, while it can sometimes be really satisfying if the villain causes their own downfall, without the hero doing anything to cause that downfall.

Now I’ve been wondering, do we actually need a villain?

My latest bit of joy has been the new version of All Creatures Great and Small that’s been on PBS. I rewatched the first season the week after Christmas and the second season is on now. This is a show that goes beyond cozy to downright cuddly. It’s the story of a young veterinarian from Glasgow who gets a job in the late 1930s working for a practice in Yorkshire, where they treat both pets and farm animals. His boss is gruff and demanding but turns out to be decent at heart (he mostly just likes animals more than he likes people), and he sometimes has to deal with difficult personalities but there isn’t really a villain in the story. The interpersonal conflict generally comes from people who have good intentions but disagree about the right way to deal with a situation or from people who have an emotional involvement that clouds their judgment. Otherwise, there’s a lot of “man vs. nature” conflict in figuring out what’s wrong with an animal and how to fix it — or how to deal with it if it can’t be fixed. There is some personality clashing within the vet practice, especially once the boss’s younger brother joins them, since he has a very different attitude about life (at first, you might expect him to be a bit of a rival to our hero, but they become best friends). The closest thing to a “villain” is a rival vet, but they aren’t trying to hurt each other. They “defeat” the rival by trying to do a better job of diagnosing and curing a farmer’s cow. Nobody’s really mean. There’s no evil at all, and it’s quite refreshing. This is a show I can just sit and watch without doing crosswords or knitting, so it keeps my attention even without all that conflict.

In fact, I find it ironic that the show that’s on before it has felt the need to shoehorn in a villain. That’s Around the World in 80 Days, and you’d think that just trying to deal with all the stuff they’re facing on this great journey would be enough conflict, but they’ve thrown in an enemy who’s trying to sabotage them. And I can’t watch that show without also doing something like crosswords or knitting because it doesn’t entirely hold my interest.

Another no-villain thing I’ve seen lately is Encanto, the Disney movie. It’s about a family in a Columbian village. The family all has magical powers they use to help the village, but one of the daughters has missed out on a magical gift and has realized that things are going wrong (hmm, where have I seen something along those lines before, the person without a magical gift who solves things for the magical people …). There’s conflict within the family, but there’s no villain, no evil person causing the problems. It’s just good people trying to do their best and sometimes going about that the wrong way. There are still a lot of emotional stakes. There’s even tension and action, all without a villain.

I’m reading a fantasy novel right now that may not have an actual villain in it. There are some not so great people, but they’re not what I’d call a villain, not someone that they have to defeat to save the day. I’m only about halfway through, so it could change, but mostly it seems like the force they’re having to fight is nature. So, it can be done (though this is an established author).

The series I’m developing does need a villain, so I can’t play with this concept here, but now I have a mental challenge to see if I can come up with a story with no villain.

TV, movies

The Mini-Break

That break was just what I needed. I didn’t do anything particularly exciting, but it was a nice little reset. I caught up on housework, did some cooking, took care of some shopping and errands, and otherwise I mostly rested. I didn’t set an alarm in the mornings, and although I didn’t sleep that much later than I usually do, it was nice sleeping that fifteen or so minutes later without guilt. I made a fancy “brunch” type breakfast on Saturday morning (though it got interrupted by a phone call). I did a lot of reading, did some knitting, and watched some movies/TV.

I’ve been watching the series Community, which I somehow missed while it was on. I know I was aware of it, but I’m not sure why I chose not to watch it. I think it must have been on at the same time as I had ballet class, and it didn’t sound like the sort of thing I was interested enough in to bother recording. Really, there’s no way to describe what this show is about or like that accurately reflects what it is. It’s sort of about life at a quirky community college, but that’s not really it. The inciting incident is that a hotshot (and kind of sleazy) lawyer gets disbarred when it turns out that he didn’t actually get a bachelor’s degree, so now he’s going back to community college to catch up so he can get his license back. He tries to hit on an attractive classmate, finds out she’s struggling in Spanish class, claims to be fluent, and offers to tutor her. She’s onto his ploy and foils it by inviting other members of the class to join in a study group. Even after his ruse is exposed, they decide to keep studying together. The series is about this study group as they become friends and deal with school.

But even that doesn’t describe what it’s really about. It’s this weird blend of snarky and sweet as this group of deeply flawed people gradually learns to be better, but somehow it never comes across as A Very Special Episode in which they learn A Valuable Lesson. As the series progresses, it becomes rather surreal, with the occasional realistic, relatable episode. There are pop-culture references, fantasy sequences, random musical numbers, epic paintball games that play out like popular movies, animated bits, and other weirdness. The characters who seem to have it all together turn out to be a mess, the characters who are a mess have their moments to save the day, and it’s all utterly addictive.

Traditionally, I celebrate Labor Day weekend with chick flicks. I wasn’t entirely in the mood for that, so I didn’t do any kind of marathon, but I did watch one when I discovered that one of my unsung favorites that was part of how this tradition kicked off was on Amazon Prime: I’m With Lucy. I like this one because it’s got an unconventional structure and is nonlinear. A woman on her way to her wedding is trying to convince her friend to let her introduce her to a guy at the reception. The friend says she doesn’t do setups. The bride says she spent a year accepting all the blind dates and setups she got, and that’s why she’s getting married now. We then see all those blind dates, but we don’t see them in order. We see bits of each and bounce around among them, with no idea which of these guys she’s going to end up with. The dates that start badly end up going well, and vice versa, which keeps you off-balance. Watching it this time around, I found myself surprised that it flew totally under the radar. I didn’t see it until it was on one of the cable channels on a Saturday afternoon. I never even heard of it when it was released (hmm, looks like it played at a film festival then went straight to video in the US), but it’s got a great cast and really good New York settings. It’s not quite on a par with When Harry Met Sally in quality, but it scratches the same itch.

I went back to work on Monday, doing some brainstorming to figure out what I need to revise for the book (but otherwise taking it easy), so I was eager to get going on Tuesday. The changes I’m making seem to be working. I’ve made it through most of the parts that needed to be revised, and now I’m moving forward with the new content.

I’ll have to finish this book before I get another good break. I’m planning to ease off during the fall as I focus on developing a new possible series, and I’ll give myself plenty of time to enjoy doing my favorite fall things.

TV

Island Fantasies

I’m barely watching any regular TV right now, other than the news and maybe stuff on PBS, but I gave the new version of Fantasy Island a shot this week. I watched the original when I was a kid. It was part of the Saturday-night programming line-up, after The Love Boat but, as I recall, I only got to stay up to watch the whole thing during the summer. While I liked the idea of a vacation where you got to live out your dreams, I recall my main interest being in the guest stars. They seemed to mostly cast people who were known for other shows on the network, so it was a good way to see a favorite actor from another show in a different role. My memories may not be accurate, but it seemed to me that they were a bit cagey as to whether or not there was anything truly supernatural going on, with the fantasies mostly being things that someone with resources could set up. To a large extent, it was The Love Boat on an island, and I recall there being a lot of the guest characters falling in love with each other (or it’s possible that my brain has merged the two shows, since they ran back-to-back).

Then there was the 1998 TV version, which I loved because they took it in more of a true fantasy (as in genre) direction. It had a kind of Twilight Zone vibe, and it was much more overt that there were supernatural things going on. I only remember a few episodes actually airing, but IMDB has airdates for all the episodes that were produced. I wonder if those were planned airdates and the show didn’t actually run then because the way I recall it, they did the usual for ABC (known as the Already Been Cancelled network then) thing at the time of running three episodes, running the preview for the next episode at the end of the third one, and then never showing any more episodes.

Anyway, since I’d liked that version a lot, I tuned in for the new one, and it seems like an uncomfortable hybrid between the two versions, though without the celebrity guest stars (at least, not anyone I recognized from anything else). It’s got that drenched in sunshine, happy vacation resort mood of the original and the obvious supernatural angle of the 1998 version, since the fantasies could only have happened with some kind of magic, but I found myself utterly bored. I didn’t get any sense of the regulars and what their relationships were, and there wasn’t any real tension in the fantasies.

I found that the 1998 version is streaming free on tubi, so I watched the pilot last night to make sure my memories weren’t skewed, and although it is dated and very much a product of its time, I was much more captivated with it. Part of it is the travel agency that sends the guests to the island. I’m a sucker for the “mysterious business you never noticed before is just what you need, and then you can’t find it again” trope, and they completely got me when they used a pneumatic tube to send something from an American city to a remote tropical island. Then there’s the hint that the staff on the island are working off some kind of sentence, so they have to help the guests learn whatever cosmic lesson they’re there for in order to eventually be able to escape from the island. We got to meet most of the regulars and get a sense of what was going on with them before the guests showed up, so there was something to carry us through the episodes and there was a mystery to figure out as to how and why they were there.

So I may skip the new one and just rewatch the 1998 version that’s more to my taste.

When I was considering that “stay in your lane” advice and trying to figure out what I could write that would fit my previous work but still be in a subgenre that sells well, I toyed with the idea of doing a series of paranormal romantic comedies along those lines, though I think I’d do a remote mountain resort instead of a tropical island. Have the regulars on staff with an ongoing storyline and a new couple for each book having to figure things out and get together. But that idea is way on the back burner because I’m less concerned about sticking to a niche, and I’m not excited enough about that idea to have put any additional thought into it.

TV

New TV Perspectives

One interesting effect of the pandemic is that TV programmers are having to get creative while TV production has had to slow down. Last year, there were all those specials with performances by people in their homes or in limited sets outdoors. I enjoyed getting these little concerts without all the bells and whistles. Now PBS has filled a programming gap by getting shows from places other than England.

Right now, they’re showing the series Atlantic Crossing on Masterpiece, and it’s a Norwegian production about how the Crown Princess of Norway and her children (including the very small boy who is the current king of Norway) took refuge in the United States during World War II after the Nazis invaded Norway. Even Sweden, where the princess was originally from and where her uncle was king, wouldn’t let them stay there, for fear of enraging the Nazis and risking their neutrality. But Franklin Roosevelt, who’d met the prince and princess during an earlier tour, offered to let the family come to the US, and so, after a harrowing escape, they ended up staying at the White House. Meanwhile, her husband and father-in-law were in Buckingham Palace during the Blitz. She gets a lot of pressure to try to influence FDR to get the US into the war or to at least try to help free Norway.

The interesting thing about this production is that the characters speak the languages they would have been speaking in those situations, with subtitles. When they’re in Norway or when Norwegians are talking to each other, it’s in Norwegian. When they’re in Sweden, they’re speaking Swedish. When they talk to the German ambassador, it’s in German. Once they get to America and England, it’s in English (unless the Norwegians are talking among themselves). American actors play the American characters (Kyle MacLachlan plays FDR), and it looks like they have British actors playing the British characters. I’m more accustomed to American and British shows in which everyone speaks English, and you can tell they’re supposed to be foreign people because they speak English with a foreign accent.

I’ve been learning Norwegian, so this has been great practice in listening for me. I don’t think I’d understand it fully without subtitles, but I pick up on a lot of words, and I seem to do better with each episode, either because I’ve learned more in the meantime (last week’s lessons were particularly applicable to this story) or because my ear is getting better attuned to it (probably both). It’s also an interesting perspective on the war, looking at it from the point of view of people whose country was invaded, and they have to wrestle with the dilemma of whether to stay with their people or get away and try to do some good where they can while staying out of Nazi hands. Meanwhile, there’s also the human story of a family that’s been separated and finding a sense of home in a new place. Apparently, the current king of Norway still speaks English with an American accent because he spent a good chunk of his early childhood in the US, and FDR was like a godfather to him.

I wouldn’t mind PBS picking up some other foreign productions beyond the usual British fare. I don’t mind reading subtitles, and it’s interesting seeing the other perspectives.

TV, My Books

Mental Casting

If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you should have received the link to get the Enchanted, Inc. short story (it was in the newsletter). If not, you can still get it by subscribing. A link to get the story should be in the welcome message (if I did it right).

Re-reading and editing that story was an interesting experience, taking me back to when the series was brand-new, with everything but the first book only being a vague idea in the back of my head. I have to admit that the story got me a little misty. I’ve generally felt like writing emotion is my weakness, but it seems I can do it when I try. I think it helped that this story was purely self-indulgent. I didn’t think anyone else other than maybe one friend would ever read it, so I went further than I might normally go with the pathos. Maybe I should let myself go more often.

It’s been interesting continuing my rewatch of The Office while working on this because it reminded me that one reason I first started watching that show was that when I saw one of the promos, it hit me that Pam was pretty much the way I imagined Katie. The series came on not long before the first book was published, so at that time I’d written two books in the series. I didn’t have strong mental casting for Katie, but then this show came on, and there she was. I didn’t imagine Katie with the curly/frizzy hair Pam had in early seasons. Physically, she looked more like Pam did when she got a bit of a makeover and her hair was straighter and a little shorter. But the way she dressed and her mannerisms were very much like the way I saw Katie. It’s weird to have a character you’ve been writing suddenly be brought to life for you in some entirely unrelated thing.

But then over the years as I wrote more books, Katie became more her own person in my head and although she still looked more or less the same, I no longer saw that specific person, mostly because I wasn’t thinking about The Office anymore. Then lately, the two things converged once more, with me editing a story in which Katie was discussed and made a brief appearance while I was watching the part of the show where she changed and started looking more like Katie, and poof, the Katie in the story was basically Pam in my head.

Alas, even if they did make an Enchanted, Inc. series, Jenna Fischer has probably aged out of the role, since Katie was 26 in the first few books and turns 27 between book 3 and book 4.

I have no idea who would be good casting now. When they were talking about a TV series, they were planning to go with an unknown they could make into a star, though at one time there was mention of going after Hillary Duff. And before that, there was a time when apparently Anna Faris was trying to get something put together for a movie. I don’t know how real any of that was or if it was just agents and producers talking and spouting off names.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the story (or enjoy it, if you don’t have it yet). I’m planning to add some other free stories as newsletter exclusives along the way.

TV

Revisiting The Office

I haven’t been watching a lot of TV or movies this summer, but I did find myself revisiting The Office (the American version). I rewatched the first season while John Krasinski was doing his “Some Good News” online show and had an Office reunion, but then got sidetracked and didn’t look at it again once I finished that season. But then recently I overheard a conversation in the grocery store in which a teenage girl was talking to a woman I believe was her aunt about her obsession with The Office. Then I saw an article about how popular it was for lockdown viewing. The episodes are short, so it’s perfect for when you just want to watch a little of something without sitting there for a whole movie. I got out my DVDs and got into season 2.

Something that struck me was how sweet it was at its core. It’s about a terrible workplace with a clueless boss and annoying coworkers, but there’s still so much kindness there, mostly because of Jim. He certainly can be a jerk at times, and some of his pranks on Dwight can be a bit mean, but he’s also the heart of the office, the one who can pull everyone together and make them feel good. He notices when others are sad or upset and does things to make them feel better. He intervenes before the office awards ceremony to keep the clueless boss from giving out prizes that poke at people’s sore points, and his Office Olympics manage to find a strength for everyone.

And even the annoying coworkers and clueless boss aren’t necessarily bad people. They generally aren’t acting out of malice. Michael is selfish and acts out of self-interest, but he’s not intentionally cruel. He really does love his employees and wants them to love him.

All of this is a big difference from the British version, which may be funnier in ways, but it got pretty mean and nasty. Their boss is truly toxic, not simply clueless and immature.

The other thing I’ve noticed while rewatching and looking at it from a writer’s perspective is that they do such a good job of showing vs. telling, and how you can use subtext to show something that’s different from what we’re being told. In the early seasons, it seems like they’re showing us that Jim is the true leader in the office while Michael is mismanaging his people. There’s an episode about Michael trying to make the workplace “fun” with jokes and antics that actually make everyone uncomfortable. He’s afraid work won’t be fun anymore if he can’t forward jokes full of sexual innuendo. That’s followed by the “Office Olympics” episode about Jim making a boring day at the office while the boss is out fun for everyone in a way that makes everyone feel good while they still end up getting their work done. Or there’s the episode about a fire alarm in which we see Michael rushing out of the building first and then getting obsessed with showing his business and leadership acumen to the temp who’s in business school juxtaposed with Jim pulling everyone together with games while they’re stuck outside. It’s clear that Jim has more leadership skills than the actual boss does, and the terrible corporate structure doesn’t seem able to find and nurture his talents. If this were a realistic workplace, that office would probably have been a revolving door, with a lot of turnover, and upper management would never have figured out that Michael was the problem. They’d have prioritized keeping him, I suppose because he really was decent at sales, without realizing how much he cost them.

Meanwhile, the romantic storyline at this point in the series is an excellent use of subtext. It’s clear to us (and to the makers of the fictional documentary being filmed about the office) that Jim and Pam are in love, but in the first couple of seasons, that’s entirely subtext. Neither of them says anything overtly about it. They claim they’re just friends. Pam is engaged to someone else. But in their interview segments they praise each other. We see that she lights up around Jim but seems to wilt around her fiance. We see him react to her interactions with her fiance by asking out someone else (a pre-famous Amy Adams). Then we see from their interests how right Jim and Pam seem to be for each other and how wrong they are for their respective significant others. All without a single word about their feelings for each other — at least, not an honest word. It’s all told with little clues, facial expressions, and body language. I want to take notes, or attempt to write these scenes as though I were writing them in a novel to see how I’d describe what they show us and see if I can maintain the same subtext in prose.

Sometimes the show gets a little stressful to watch because I had a boss very much like Michael. He even had the same first name and a very similar hairstyle. He was less childish, so he didn’t have the aura of innocence underlying Michael’s selfishness, but he definitely was the kind of boss who wanted to make work “fun” by his definition of fun, which was a frat party. If you didn’t want to get drunk and didn’t want to spend your leisure time partying with your coworkers, you weren’t going to fit in very well and weren’t going to move up within the company. He was also very big on “loyalty,” but that was a one-way street. I’ve been away from that job for more than twenty years, so it’s a little easier to take with more distance than it was when the show first aired.

Fortunately, I’ve never worked with a real Dwight.