When rewatching The Fugitive, I marveled at the fact that we basically love Tommy Lee Jones after he says one (personality-filled) sentence: “My my my my my my my, what a mess,” but I asked myself if that line would be as appealing in the mouth of someone other than Tommy Lee Jones, and I can’t tell for sure.
Rhimes, on the other hand, had created a name-brand of appealingly snarky dialogue that can be hand-crafted for every actor and situation. She makes it looks effortless, but it’s actually a very tricky business:
- You don’t want it to sound canned, as if you stayed up all night thinking of the perfect line.
- You don’t want the other character to helpfully set-up the witty retort, or it’ll seem too easy.
- It needs to sound tossed off, without the character putting too fine a point on it.
- Most importantly (and this is what most shows get wrong), you don’t want it to be totally lacking in empathy. As the always-great David Wong points out here: most “witty banter” actually just consists of incomprehensible cruelty and the audience is simply supposed to ignore that.
- Harrison: What are you drinking?
- Quinn: I can't stay is what I'm saying. I don't do blind dates.
- Harrison: My parents met on a blind date. They've been inseparable ever since.
- Quinn: I'm happy for your parents, and for you, because it means you exist, but I don’t do blind dates.
- Harrison: This isn’t a blind date.
- Quinn: What?
- Harrison: It’s a job interview. What are you drinking?