Podcast

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Secrets of Story Podcast: Episode One!

So for the last two weeks, we’ve had videos, and there are more to come, but today I thought I’d launch into yet another new multimedia venture: My very own podcast!

You guys have heard me as a guest many times on the “Narrative Breakdown” Podcast, but in honor of the launch of the book, I thought it would be fun to start my very own, or rather our very own, because I’m co-hosting with longtime friend-of-the-blog, James Kennedy, author of  “The Order of Odd Fish”!

You guys know that James frequently makes his objections known in the comments, so I thought it might be fun to let him pick at me in person, forcing me to defend stuff I’ve said here. For the first episode, we start with my post from a few weeks ago: Beware of Master Thespian. James disagrees, and we have it out, hopefully in an amusing way. We then try out a second feature: Free Story Ideas. I’ll let you listen to discover what that’s all about.

The music is from FreeMusicArchive.com. It’s “Lucky Me” by Scott Holmes, with an Attribution/NonCommercial license. I may keep experimenting with different music, so let me know what you think of it.

Will we have more episodes? Who knows! It depends on the reaction and how lazy we are. Let us know what you think!

UPDATE: The Podcast is now on iTunes and you can stream it here or download it by clicking on the title below and going to the SoundCloud page.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Rulebook Casefile: The Thematic Question of Stranger Things

Let’s look at the second scene in the pilot for “Stranger Things”. After a scary glimpse of a monster killing someone in a government lab, we cut to four kids playing “Dungeons and Dragons” in a basement. Mike, is both the creator of the campaign and dungeon-master:
  • MIKE: Wait... do you hear that? Boom! Boom! BOOM! That sound... it didn’t come from the Troglodytes. No. It came from something behind them...
  • Mike slams a LARGE TWO-HEADED MONSTER MINIATURE onto the map.
  • MIKE: THE DEMOGORGON.
  • The boys stare. Shit.
  • LUCAS: We’re all gonna die.
  • MIKE: Will, your action.
  • Will swallows. God, he wishes it wasn’t his turn.
  • WILL: I -- I don’t know --
  • LUCAS: Fireball him --
  • WILL: I’d have to roll thirteen or higher --
  • DUSTIN: Too risky. Cast a protection spell--
  • LUCAS: Don’t be a pussy! Fireball him!
  • DUSTIN: Protection spell -- !
  • MIKE: The Demogorgon is tired of your silly human bickering. It steps toward you. BOOM!
  • LUCAS: FIREBALL HIM, Will!
  • MIKE: Another step. BOOM!
  • DUSTIN: Cast protection!
  • MIKE: It roars in anger --
  • WILL: FIREBALL!
  • Will rolls the dice. Too hard. The dice scatters to the other side of the room. It lands in front of the bedroom door.
So what all does this exchange do for the story?
  • It foreshadows the fact that Will is about to be attacked by a real monster.
  • It makes us love Mike, for whom this overly-dramatic performance serves as a comically vain moment of humanity.
  • It introduces and differentiates the personalities of the rest of our ensemble.
  • It provides the thematic question.
The good vs. good thematic dilemma that fuels “Stranger Things” is innocence vs. experience, represented here by the debate between protection (protecting both your safety and your innocence) vs. fireball (endangering yourself and your soul by killing). Will is forced to choose. It’s always great to begin a story with this sort of thematic question asked out loud, which not only establishes the theme, but resonates throughout the rest of the story.

This quickly leads to another thematic dilemma: After Mike is called upstairs, Will finds the die and discovers that it was a seven. Lucas asks, “Did Mike see it?” Will shakes his head, so Lucas says, “Then it doesn’t count.” When they get outside, however, Will confesses to Mike:
  • Will: It was a seven.
  • Mike: Huh?
  • Will: The roll, it was a seven. The demogorgon, it got me. See you tomorrow.
Interestingly, this last exchange doesn’t happen in the script, reversing the meaning of hiding the roll. In the script, Will’s deception tarnishes him and seems to bring on his death, in a classic horror-movie sort of way (He chooses evil, therefore evil is done to him). In the finished version, it seems after Will’s disappearance that he was maybe too good to live in this world. The horror genre always invites us to blame the victim, one way or another.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Straying from the Party Line: The Dangling Dramatic Question in Stranger Things

Is “Stranger Things” a series or a miniseries? In many ways, this feels more like the first hour of a miniseries than the first hour of a series.
  • The premise is not established by midway through the pilot.
  • The premise does not lend itself easily to mini-goals that can be solved within each episode.
  • The dramatic question for this episode is not answered at the end of the pilot (What happened to Will?)
Indeed, I feel strongly that it should be a miniseries, and shouldn’t have a second season, but that ship has already sailed, so we’ll see how well they pull it off.

Of course, many of these things could also be said about the show this one most closely resembles: “Twin Peaks”. I’ve always felt that show should have a miniseries as well, and utterly failed to sustain itself as soon as Laura Palmer’s killer was found. I’d be interested to know if any of you disagree with that. I’ve never heard anyone make a strong case otherwise.

I would say that this is the price to be paid for not answering the dramatic question at the end of the pilot: you establish that dramatic question as the driver for the whole show, and the show has to end when it’s answered.

It seems to me that this was intended to be a miniseries until its huge success. The show just tied up too many loose ends at the end of the season. Mike and Eleven’s story felt like it had come to a natural and permanent conclusion. The boys were not ready to begin life as adventurers or demon fighters: One huge thing had happened to them and that was always going to be the big thing that happened to them. The teens’ story was even more finished and I have very little interest in seeing them again. Only Hopper seems like he has another season in him, and that’s a stretch.

What about you? Are you eager to see a second season? Can it possibly be as good as the first? Can it still involve the kids, the teens and the same adults, or should it jettison some of the old cast in favor of new faces?

The Ultimate Pilot Checklist: Stranger Things

Will Byers disappears after a night playing Dungeons and Dragons with his middle school friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin. His mother Joyce convinces Sheriff Hopper to look for him. Mike’s older sister Nancy is getting serious about a cad named Steve. A psychic girl named Eleven has escaped from a government facility run by Dr. Brenner. She takes shelter with a cook, whom Brenner kills, then runs away again, only to meet up with the boys in the woods as they search for Will.
PART 1: IS THIS A STRONG CONCEPT FOR AN ONGOING SERIES? (15/20)    
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Does the concept satisfy the urges that get people to love and recommend this type of series?
Yes, it’s scary and fun.
Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?
Not really.  We jump back and forth between the stories in a standard cinematic way.
Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?
 A government psychic girl and a nerdy boy.
Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?
 Does this show have an ongoing concept?
Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?
It’s hard to say what Netflix’s content expectations are, since this is rather different from their other output, but they seem to know exactly what they’re doing.
Even if the setting is unpleasant, is there something about this premise that is inherently appealing? (Something that will make the audience say, “Yes, I will be able to root for some aspect of this situation to recur episode after episode.”)
 Yes, we love the kids’ friendship.
Series Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong ongoing series?
Is there one character (or sometimes two, in separate storylines) that the audience will choose to be their primary hero (although these heroes should probably be surrounded by an ensemble that can more than hold their own)?
By a hair, it’s Mike.  Hopper is a close second, and Joyce third.  Those are the three doing the most to find Will.
If this is a TV series, is the hero role strong enough to get an actor to abandon a movie career, come to work in TV for the first time, and sign a five-year contract before shooting the pilot? (And even if not for TV, is the hero role still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
 Yes, that’s exactly what happened with Winona Ryder (minus the five year contract)
Is the show set in an unsafe space?
 The first thing we see is that there’s a monster right outside town, and then in town.
Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?
Yes, we have a lower-middle-class meets lower-upper-class romance going on.
Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?
Yes, Eleven walks up to them, and then continues to bring trouble to their door every week.
Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?
Yes, lots of bike riding and puzzle solving.
Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?
 Yes, they’re going to harbor a fugitive hunted by killers.
Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?
 Not necessarily. They do wind up generating episodic mini-stories, but the set-up does them no favors, as it doesn’t inherently lend itself to mini-goals.
The Pilot: Will this pilot episode be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the pilot contain all of the entertainment value inherent in the premise (rather than just setting everything up and promising that the fun will start next week)?
Not really.  The central relationship will become that of Mike and Eleven, but they only meet in the final frame.
Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?
 The little girl with a shaved head, tattoo, and hospital gown
Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 
 Not really, the individual pieces are all fairly derivative, but somehow it all comes together in a very addictive way. When I first heard good things about the show, I thought, “No, that looks too derivative.”  It was only overwhelmingly positive word of mouth that got me to watch it.
Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?
It sort of goes by quietly, but it’s when eleven kills the two agents who are trying to kill her.
Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?
 Where is Will? Will Nancy and Steve be caught?
Even if this is episodic, is there a major twist or escalation at the end (though sometimes this twist will only be new to, or only revealed to, the audience) that will kick future episodes up a notch?
 The kids meet up with Eleven
PART 2: IS THIS A COMPELLING HERO (OR CO-HEROES IN DIFFERENT STORYLINES)? (15/16)
Believe: Do we recognize the hero (or co-heroes) as human?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 Mike: He’s somewhat intentionally funny and somewhat comically vain in the way he introduces a new “Dungeons and Dragons” monster. Hopper: Smokes and drinks while spraying on his deodorant in the morning.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
Mike: The nerd, Hopper: The drunk
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
Both: The hero (Mike rushes out to rescue his friend)
Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
Mike doesn’t have much self-definition yet. Hopper: It’ll take care of itself, I ain’t got time for this, Don’t give me any shit.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
Mike: Drama queen, Hopper: Alpha male (Your wife looked worse when I left her)
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
Mike: Innocent, Hopper: Gruff
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Mike: Appeals to idealism, Hopper: Dismisses and disbelieves
Care: Do we feel for the hero (or co-heroes)?
Does the hero have a great flaw that is the flip side of his or her great strength?
 Mike: Naïveté, Hopper: Anti-social
Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?
 Mike: Yes, he has his role to play in the group and he’s pretty much stuck with it at this point, Hopper: Yes, he feels that his role requires him to be anti-social.
Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?
 Mike: Yes: innocence vs. experience, Hopper: We find out that he’s this way because he lost a child.
Invest: Can we trust the hero (or co-heroes) to tackle this challenge?
Does the hero have a great strength that is the flip side of his or her great flaw?
 Mike: Open and honest, heroic when roused. Hopper: Tenacious investigator when roused
Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?
 Mike: Good dungeonmaster, Hopper: Good cop, eventually.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 Mike: Only he insists they go out. Hopper: The other cops don’t spot the evidence he spots
Is the hero curious?
 Hopper only gradually becomes curious. Both gradually become attuned to clues.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 Mike: He’s got his bike, his walkie, and his flashlight. Hopper: Notices the indention made by the door knocking open, etc.
Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?
 Not really.  In the pilot, they’re both acting fairly generically.
PART 3: IS THIS A STRONG ENSEMBLE (BEYOND THE HERO OR CO-HEROES)?  (10/13)
Powerful: Is each member of the ensemble able to hold his or her own?
If this is a network TV series, are there at least two more roles that are strong enough to get TV veterans to sign their own five-year contracts? (And even if not for TV, are the characters still that strong, simply for narrative purposes?)
Matthew Modine and Cara Buono happily signed up.
Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)
Yes, they found an excellent cast of mostly unknowns.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?
 The kids quickly differentiate themselves in the fireball/protection debate. 
Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?
Yes, there’s very little backstory.  The kids are defined by their actions in the D&D game.
Do all of the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others? (Good characters don’t serve good, evil characters don’t serve evil.)
 Yes, until Mike convinces the kids to go find Will by saying “Will could have cast protection last night, but he didn’t, he cast fireball.  He could have played it safe, but he didn’t, he put himself in danger to help the party.”
Do most of the main characters have some form of decision-making power? (And is the characters’ boss or bosses also part of the cast, so that major decisions will not be made by non-regulars?)
 Mike is the decision maker for his group, Hopper is the boss.
Balanced: Do the members of the ensemble balance each other out?
Whether this is a premise or episodic pilot, is there one point-of-view who needs this world explained (who may or may not be the hero)?
 No.
Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?
NA
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?
 Partial polarization: Lucas: Head/Gut, no heart. Dustin: Heart/Gut, no head. Mike: Head/Heart, no gut.  Will was all heart, but he’s gone.
Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
Not really, it’s all the same for the kids.
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?
Eleven: quiet, Lucas: short-tempered, Dustin: dorky, Joyce: tense, Nancy: Self-satisfied, Steve: Slick
Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 
 We get little glimpses, but the show has 13 major characters to introduce, and there’s just not time to get much sense of this.
Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?
 Hopper
PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (18/22)                                                                
Template: Does this match and/or establish the standard format of this type of series
Does the pilot have (or establish) the average length for its format?
It’s 47 minutes
If this is intended for a form of commercial media, does the pilot have the right number of commercial breaks for its intended venue?
NA
If this is intended for commercial TV, does every act end on a cliffhanger or escalation, especially the middle one (and, if not intended for commercial TV, does it still have escalations happening in roughly the same places, simply for narrative purposes)?
 It’s for non-commercial media, but the act breaks are all there.
Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?
 Yes, most episodes will be one day.
Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?
 Yes, they intercut very well.
If this is a premise pilot, is the basic premise established by the midpoint, leaving time for a foreshortened typical episode story in the second half?
 If the show’s central relationship is Mike and Eleven, then no, because they only meet in the final frames.
Pilot Story Fundamentals: Does the pilot episode have a strong story?
Does the pilot provide at least one satisfactory stand-alone story (even if that story is just the accomplishment of a mini-goal)?
 No.  The closest thing is the tale of Eleven and the cook, but that’s not exactly satisfying.
Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Yes, actually. 
Is the pilot’s challenge something that is not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 Max: no.  Hopper: Slightly, because it might remind him of his own kid, but that could cut the other way.  Mainly, he doesn’t want to do it because he’s lazy and that’s not the point of this question.  
First Half: Is the problem established in a way that reflects human nature?
Does the hero start out with a short-term goal for this episode?
 Max: finish D&D module, Hopper: No, he’s just waking up.
Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?
Both: Will disappears
Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?
 Yes for both.
Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 Max: his mom, Lucas resists briefly, Hopper: Joyce
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 Yes for both.  They ask around but assume he’ll show up.
Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?
The bike is found.
Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
Yes, they both begin to search on foot.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
 Yes, there’s not much plot.
Are the stakes increased as the pace quickens and the motivation escalates?
 Yes, Eleven’s protector is killed, a curfew is imposed, etc.
Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?
Not exactly. Mike: It’s not a setback, it’s thinking about Will some more.  Hopper: It’s not exactly clear what he sees in the shed that convinces him they should finally form search parties. 
After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?
 Only in that they commit to searching on foot/bike.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 Yes for both.
After the climax, does either the hero, the point of view character or a guest star have a personal revelation and/or life change, possibly revealed through reversible behavior?
Hopper, no. Mike meets Eleven. 
PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (18/22) (The D&D game)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
No, this is the first scene with these characters.  We know that there’s a real monster our there, but we’re not really worrying about it coming here yet.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
Yes, we’re plunged in midway.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
Not at all.  They’re in a comfortable basement sitting down.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
Not at all.  They’ve been at this for hours and don’t intend to stop.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
It’s mostly non-plot
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
They’re up past Mike’s bedtime.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
It doesn’t directly affect the plot, but it introduces the characters
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
They seemed genuinely upset about being killed in the game. 
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
We’re rooting for Will to “survive”, and we’re rooting for the boys to be able to finish the game.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
Many: Lucas vs. Dustin about the spell, Mike vs. his mom about bedtime, Will vs. Lucas about the roll.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
In their debate about fireball vs. protection spell, we get a sense of the underlying tensions in the group.
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
That debate speaks to the boy’s transition from innocence to experience.
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
Not really.  Their emotions are pretty much on the surface.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
They debate about hiding Will’s roll from Mike.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
They all get up to search when the die rolls away.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
The die, the figurines.  (Most D&D players play without figurines, but of course on TV they should, because the more objects the better.)
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 Will makes the wrong choice and gets killed off in the game (once he admits to his roll later)
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
Mike goes from godlike to humiliated by his parents.    
Are previously-asked questions answered?
No, none of the questions from the first scene are answered.
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
Will Will admit to his roll?
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 We know there’s a real monster out there, and we’ve now seen Will die facing a pretend monster before bicycling out into the night, so we fear that that was foreshadowing.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
Does anyone want this (pizza)?, leads to a trip upstairs to Nancy’s room. 
PART 6: IS THIS POWERFUL DIALOGUE? (11/13)
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Very much so, even characters who have no patience for each other, like Nancy and the kids.  Even Steve Harrington gets to hold his own.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Very much so.  We don’t know much, but we get a much bigger picture than any of the characters.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Yes.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
 Yes.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
Yes.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the culturally-specific syntax of the characters (without necessarily attempting to replicate non-standard pronunciation)?
Not really.  Indiana is famous for having no accent, but there’s very little sense of place here.  There’s a sense of class, but that class doesn’t affect the syntax much.
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
 Hopper has cop-speak. 
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
 Brenner speaks like a man-in-black type.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Yes.
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Yes.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
Joyce and Hopper get close to landing some gutpunches on each other, but they hold back for now. 
PART 7: DOES THE PILOT MANAGE ITS TONE TO CREATE AND FULFILL AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS? (7/8)
Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?
Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?
It successfully mixes, horror / police / coming of age.
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?
Eleven’s situation is reminiscent of adolescent alienation.
Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?
Wonderfully so.  A fascinating mix of warm and chilly.
If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?
Yes, the Eleven storyline is deadly, the Max storyline is more comic, and the others are in between.
Framing: Does the pilot set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are there framing devices (flashforwards, framing sequences and/or first person narration) to set the mood, pose a dramatic question, and/or pose ongoing questions?
The opening at the facility does all three.  The date also helps frame the narrative, as do news reports on the TVs.
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the pilot? 
What happened to Will?
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
The opening scenes focus us on the monster.  Will is killed by a monster in the D&D game.
Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?
Not at all.  
PART 8: DOES THE PILOT CREATE A MEANINGFUL ONGOING THEME? (13/14)         
Pervasive: Is the theme interwoven into many aspects of the show?
Does the ensemble as a whole have a unique philosophy about how to fill their role (and competition from an allied force with a different philosophy)?
Max and his team are the nerds, in opposition to the bullies.   Hopper is the laid back-but-effective cop in contrast to the agitated-but-ineffective cops.
Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or ¾ of the way in. (Sometimes this will be the ensemble’s statement of philosophy, sometimes this merely be the implied theme of the series itself.)
Fireball vs. Protection spell: Confront the monster or seek protect: Embrace experience or innocence
Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Innocence vs. Experience
Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
Help your friend by lying about your die roll or tell the truth?  Lie to parents to be with a guy who may or may not be good? 
Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?
Yes, they all involve parents or surrogate parents.
Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?
Almost every scene with the kids and teens speaks to the theme.
Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?
Eleven is a likeable killer, and our heroes will have to deal with that when they wrestle with whether or not to hide her. 
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?
Class is well-portrayed.
Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?
Moreso the year than the place, but yes.
Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?
The Department of Energy, moreso than Defense, is the real man-in-black villain endangering America, which is pretty accurate.
Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
It’s a tricky question.  At times, it feels like Eleven’s killings are just supposed to be bad-ass, but that’s hypocritical given the show’s sanctity for human life in other storylines.  Part of the problem is that Brenner is so unconcerned by his employee’s deaths, both here and in subsequent episodes, that it’s hard for us to remember to care.
Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?
Yes.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the pilot episode’s story, forcing the audience to do that?
They have no time, since we stop mid-story.
Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?
Yes.

Total Score: 107/128