Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Believe Care Invest: Killing Floor

Why Jack might be hard to identify with: He’s a Republican homeless drifter. Who can identify with that? 

  • It’s tricky because he doesn’t have a life: He’s just drifted into town, seemingly for no reason. No job, no friends, no history he wants to talk about. So he doesn’t have much life for us to believe in, but he has a very consistent voice, plainspoken with a lot of periods, and a very unique way of looking at the world.
  • I mean, it’s very tricky that a tweedy Thatcher-hating BBC writer with no military or police background (who’s never lived in America) can one day choose to write about a badass Clinton-hating American military-policeman-turned-drifter (who’s never lived in England). And Child insists he does no research! It’s really remarkable that he’s created a believable voice, but it’s totally convincing. He has really channeled this guy, seemingly out of the ether.
  • The first paragraph is “I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.” We can tell he’s being falsely arrested, and there’s no bigger humiliation than that.
  • We love what he can see, and what he knows. As he’s being arrested, he notes: “The guy with the revolver stayed at the door. He went into a crouch and pointed the weapon two-handed. At my head. The guy with the shotgun approached close. These were fit lean boys. Neat and tidy. Textbook moves. The revolver at the door could cover the room with a degree of accuracy. The shotgun up close could splatter me all over the window. The other way around would be a mistake. The revolver could miss in a close-quarters struggle and a long-range shotgun blast from the door would kill the arresting officer and the old guy in the rear booth as well as me. So far, they were doing it right.”
  • But then they make a mistake and Jack convinces us he could turn the tables, but he’s too smart to do so: “The guy with the shotgun came closer. Too close. Their first error. If I had to, I might have lunged for the shotgun barrel and forced it up. A blast into the ceiling perhaps and an elbow into the policeman’s face and the shotgun could have been mine. The guy with the revolver had narrowed his angle and couldn’t risk hitting his partner. It could have ended badly for them. But I just sat there, hands raised.” We believe him.
  • As he’s being arrested, he tips the waitress, so we know he’s a good guy. (And he does so in a very manly way: “I crammed egg into my mouth and trapped a five under the plate.”  Lots of cramming and trapping in this book!)
  • He gives us lots of news we can use has he describes his arrest. Number one: Never say anything at all, not even to acknowledge your rights. “Again I didn’t respond. Long experience had taught me that absolute silence is the best way. Say something, and it can be misheard. Misunderstood. Misinterpreted. It can get you convicted. It can get you killed.”

Monday, December 21, 2020

Believe Care Invest: Gone Girl

Fun fact: There are two of my books that I never did BCI for! Here’s the first one! 

Why Nick might be hard to identify with: We’re invited in this first chapter to assume that he’s killed his wife. By the time we’ve found otherwise, we’ve got lots more reasons to dislike him, such as the fact that he cheated on her.

  • Sure he’s creepy, but he’s creepy in oddly specific ways. Here’s the opening paragraph: “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.” He’s a thoroughly convincing creep, because he notices things non-creeps just don’t notice.
  • “At that exact moment, 6-0-0, the sun climbed over the skyline of oaks, revealing its full summer angry-God self. Its reflection flared across the river toward our house, a long, blaring finger aimed at me through our frail bedroom curtains. Accusing: You have been seen. You will be seen.”
  • He feels guilty about everything. He has been seen, and will be seen, which turns out to be prophetic, as he will be the subject of national scrutiny shortly.
  • He’s in a bad marriage: “One of us was always angry. Amy, usually.”
  • He’s lost all to the modern world: “Blame the economy, blame bad luck, blame my parents, blame your parents, blame the Internet, blame people who use the Internet. I used to be a writer. I was a writer who wrote about TV and movies and books. Back when people read things on paper, back when anyone cared about what I thought. … I had a job for eleven years and then I didn’t, it was that fast. All around the country, magazines began shuttering, succumbing to a sudden infection brought on by the busted economy.” Flynn used to write for Entertainment Weekly, so she’s mining her real-life experience for pain she went through and gifting that pain to her character so that he will be more sympathetic to us
  • He moves home (supposedly) to take care of his mom. He says to his twin sister Margo, “I’ll come back, Go. We’ll move back home. You shouldn’t have to do this all by yourself.”
Why Amy might be hard to identify with: She seems a little dippy, and unliberated.

  • Crucially, we don’t hear her speak in modern day, Nick just sums up their brief morning conversation without quoting her, so modern-day Amy is not real to us yet. If we’d heard her talk there, and she was well-characterized, and then we jumped back to the diary, we might have been able to guess that the diary was fake.
  • Once we arrive at the diary, we get a totally different voice from Nick, with exclamation points and nonsense words: “Tra and la! I am smiling a big adopted-orphan smile as I write this. I am embarrassed at how happy I am, like some Technicolor comic of a teenage girl talking on the phone with my hair in a ponytail, the bubble above my head saying: I met a boy!” This is also a thoroughly convincing voice, partially because it is so different from Nick’s.
  • We’ve sensed from the title, from Nick’s creepiness, and from the words “The Day Of” that she’s going to disappear in the present day.
  • In her diary from five years earlier, she’s embarrassed that she’s surrounded by “real” writers, but she just writes quizzes for women’s magazines.
  • But then she points out that she actually can write: She says in parentheses: “(Adopted-orphan smile, I mean, that’s not bad, come on.)”
  • Indeed, she has good observations: “Carmen, a newish friend – semi-friend, barely friend, the kind of friend you can’t cancel on – has talked me into going out to Brooklyn” She’s perceptive in a totally different way than Nick. She’s emotionally and sociologically perceptive, he’s physically and economically perceptive.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

TV Checklist Spreadsheet!

The hits keep on coming! Last week, I shared a massive spreadsheet of all of the Ultimate Story Checklists I’d done for movies. That was an update of an old one, but I’ve never done one for the TV checklists, so here it is making its big debut! This one was especially hard to do, because the checklist has changed gradually over the years and I never went back and updated the old ones, so this was a massive pain. I hope you enjoy it! 

UPDATE: I alternate colors for the different sections of the checklist now. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Reviews Are Always Appreciated!

Hi, has my book/audiobook or the podcast been helpful to you? If you haven’t done so, and if you have a few minutes, could I ask you to review the book and/or podcast in these places? (Preferably, with, y’know, five stars, which is just a handsome number of stars) 

Of course, it’s always important to get lots of Amazon reviews. (Scroll down and click Write a Customer Review)

Maybe you like my audiobook? You can review the book on Audible. (Click on “More options”)

And hey, what about the podcast? You can like and review us on iTunes. (I don’t see how you can do it here, but you can do it by searching for The Secrets of Story Podcast in the iTunes store, then clicking on Ratings and Reviews)

Or you can review the podcast on Audible! We don’t have any reviews there yet. (Once again, click on “More Options”)

Thank you all so much for your support throughout the years.  The book and audiobooks make great Christmas gifts!  The podcast, alas, makes for a crappy Christmas gift because it’s free.  

Thursday, December 10, 2020

It’s All Built to This

UPDATED: I realized The Fugitive wasn’t on there!  And I added alternate colors for different sections of the checklist. 

Hi guys. Many years ago, I tried collating all my existing checklists into an Excel spreadsheet, but it was sort of slapdash. Since then I’ve shortened and finalized the checklist and analyzed a lot more movies, and I’ve needed a better resource for writing my book, so hoo-boy, folks, I finally did it for real. 

It’s all come to this. This things really works beautifully. Did our recent Head-Heart-Gut podcast leave you wondering how it works in more examples? Just download this checklist and scroll down to Head-Heart-Gut and you’ll have 29 examples all lined up in a row. It’s a beautiful thing. I know I’ll find it useful and I hope you do too.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Episode 24: Agency with Parker Peevyhouse

Parker Peevyhouse returns to discuss when a character should break their own rules, which results in discussion of The Mandalorian, Knives Out, and whether superhero movies suck. Check out this blog post we cite a few times.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Believe Care Invest: Weeds

Why Nancy might be hard to identify with: 
  • She realizes the teen she’s dealing to is dealing to 10 year olds, then, to get him to stop, threatens to reveal that he’s gay.
  • She’s hypocritical, saying to the PTA that they should ban sugary drinks from the school vending machines, but indirectly dealing drugs to them. You might think we wouldn’t, but we actually identify with like hypocritical characters.
  • The way she talks about race with her black suppliers feels refreshingly real.
  • Her husband just dropped dead and now she has to raise two kids.
  • She’s cruelly gossiped about by the other PTA moms, “I think she got a little botie between the eyes”
  • Nobody respects her. Her supplier Heylia says, “looking in the dictionary the other there, saw your picture sitting up in there, next to ‘dumb as white bitch’” Nancy responds, “Alright, alright, fine, I’m a bitch-ass bitch.”
  • She finds out the teen she’s been dealing to has been dealing to 10 year olds and genuinely feels bad about that.
  • She subtly trips the bully chasing her son.
  • She’s resourceful in solving her problems, even if it’s distasteful.
Five Es
  • Eat: She’s dieting, “I miss carbs”
  • Exercise: No.
  • Economic Activity: She’s a very active drug dealer.
  • Enjoy: She enjoys snarking.
  • Emulate: She wears an imitation bag to look like the richer housewives
Rise above
  • She cracks down on her dealer for dealing to kids, so there’s some money she doesn’t want.
  • She tries to keep Celia from fat-shaming her daughter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Believe Care Invest: The Sopranos

Why Tony might be hard to identify with: 
  • He’s clearly a psychopath.  We sense that, despite the self-pitying talk typical of psychopaths, he’s not really someone who deserves any sympathy. 
  • He doesn’t admit what he does. He says he’s a “waste management consultant,” then helpfully adds, “The environment.” We see that his behavior is different from what he’s saying, which always makes people more believable.
  • He’s fat, and he gets the paper in his robe, not exactly like the blinged-out gangsters we’re used to.
  • His mom won’t answer the phone when it’s dark out, which feels delightfully real.
  • He describes his attack in a unique way. “At first it felt like ginger ale in my skull.”
  • We would loathe him if he wasn’t suffering panic attacks that sent him into humiliating therapy.
  • And of course he has an evil mother, which always makes evil characters likeable.
  • Everyone disrespects him. Even his likeable behavior, like watching baby ducks try to fly, is looked down upon by his family.
  • His malaise is universal: “Lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” Melfi responds, “Many Americans feel that way.”
  • As he gets sucked into the MRI his wife tells him, “What’s different about you and me is that you’re going to hell when you die.”
  • Originally Tony engaged in no violence and nobody liked the pilot, then Chase added the scene of Tony (with upbeat doo-wop music playing) running down someone with his car, and people loved him. He’s active and good at his job!
  • “Who do you think you are?” “I’m the person who says how things go, that’s who I am!” We always like having a hero in charge.
Five Es
  • Eat: They’re all eating all the time. When he finds out his grandma isn’t coming to his party, Tony’s son famously says, “No fucking ziti now?”
  • Exercise: He sure gets active when he gets violent.
  • Economic Activity: His life is his job.
  • Enjoy: He loves the ducks. He loves running the guy down.
  • Emulate: He wants to be like his father and feels he can’t. When he runs the guy over, he reveals the real reason for the violence: “You tell people I’m nothing compared to the people who used to run things??”
Rise above
  • He decides to see a therapist for his mental (and physical) health, which isn’t allowed at his job, to put it mildly.
  • He puts his professional relationships at risk to keep his friend’s business from being ruined.
  • He’s doing a favor for Artie.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Believe Care Invest: The Good Place

Why Eleanor might be hard to identify with: 
  • For the first ten minutes, we’ll scared she’ll be too much of a goody-goody to identify with. (But Bell wonderfully conveys behind her cracking smile that maybe she’s not.)
  • But then, when we find out the truth, she’s such a horrible person that she’s potentially offputting. “You need me to lie to old people and scare them into buying fake medicine. I get it man. Which one’s my desk?”
  • Her first line is “I’m great, thanks for asking. Oh, one question: Where am I, who are you, and what’s going on?” Saying you’ll ask one question and then asking three feels like it’s not written.
  • When she’s invited to go on the tour, she gives a little confused twirl and says, “Oh, did I have a purse? No, I’m dead, right.”
  • Her real life is believably mundane, “Well I was born in Phoenix, Arizona, I went to school in Tempe, Arizona, and then I moved back to Phoenix, Arizona”
  • The details of this world are so odd: They hear someone in the Bad Place screaming, “The bear has two mouths!”
  • She concludes, “I was a medium person, I should get to spend eternity in a medium place!” What could be more universal than that?
  • She just died, and she died in a very “traumatic and embarrassing” death. “You were in a grocery store parking lot, you dropped a bottle of something called ‘Lonely Gal Margarita Mix for One’, and when you bent down to pick it up, a long column of shopping carts rolled out of control and plowed right into you.” “Oof, that’s how I died.” “No, there’s more: you were able to grab onto the front of the column of shopping carts, but it swept you right out into the street where you were struck and killed by a mobile billboard truck advertising an erectile dysfunction pill called ‘Engorge-ulate’. Funnily enough, the first EMT to arrive was an ex-boyfriend of yours--” “—Okay, that’s it, I get it, thank you.”
  • She’s given a tiny home she’ll supposedly love, whereas her neighbor has a mansion. “As you can see, the interior has been decorated just as you like it, in the Icelandic primitive style, and of course you love clowns, so…” he shows her that her house is filled with clown paintings. Even though we don’t know yet she’s been mistaken for another Eleanor Shelstrop, Bell lets us know she’s straining to pretend to be happy about this.
  • She then finds out she’s in an impossible situation: She has to fake her way into heaven. “Those aren’t my memories, I wasn’t a lawyer, I never went to the Ukraine, I hate clowns, there’s been a big mistake. I’m not supposed to be here.” It always sucks to be told “You don’t belong here,” and that’s what this show’s all about.
  • Tahani’s condescension is humiliating.
  • She does feel bad about her life and death: “Do you think anybody cared that I died?”
  • He had crummy parents, which always makes bad people more likeable.
  • Well at first we hear that she’s “a lawyer who got innocent people off death row.” But then we find out the truth.
  • Chidi says, “So your job was to defraud the elderly –sorry, the sick and elderly?” She responds “But I was very good at it. I was the top sales person, five years running.” We always like it when our heroes are good at their jobs, even if they’re horrible jobs.
  • The plan she comes up with is clever and resourceful. “You could teach me how to be good… Let me earn my place here.”
Five Es
  • Eat: They have frozen yogurt. At the party, she drinks a lot of alcohol and steals shrimp. “Lemme get more of them shrampies.”
  • Exercise: No.
  • Economic Activity: Well, not anymore.
  • Enjoy: Well, she likes eating and drinking, “Did you fill your bra with shrimp?”
  • Emulate: The whole show is about emulating good people when you’re a bad person.
Rise above
  • The whole show is about rising above yourself in various ways.
  • Not at all.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Believe Care Invest: Scandal

Why Olivia might be hard to identify with: 
  • It’s a bit off-putting that she’s kinda smugly confident and unflappable. The D.A. has a point when he says “Your Spidey senses aren’t evidence.” 
  • She’s got what is ultimately an ugly job.  She’s horribly abusive to the president’s lover: “I want to warn you. Because you seem like a fine person. So you should know what could happen. It could become hard for you to find employment, your face would be everywhere, people would associate you with a sex scandal. All kinds of information about you could easily become available to the press. For example, you've had 22 sexual partners? That we know of. Also there's that ugly bout of gonorrhea. And your family...Your mother's mental illness. A psychotic break? 2 years in Bedford Hospital? I bet that's private. She's runs a daycare now, right?” (But Olivia does come around to the side of the angels in the final minutes and agree to fight for the mistress against the president.)
  • Harrison lures Quinn (and us) in with a bunch of lies about how “We’re the good guys, slaying dragons, gladiators in suits”, but gradually reveals the truth once she is (and we are) committed: “It’s not about solving a crime, it’s not about justice, it’s about our client.” This will be a pulpy show, but it’s moral murkiness will be very believable. Olivia smirks and asks “Did Harrison feed you a line about being a gladiator in a suit?”
  • She doesn’t have much suffering or embarrassment, but we slowly come to realize that she’s lost something due to something that something that’s happened in her past. The D.A. says to her, “You don’t have the muscle of the white house behind me any more, you’re just a private citizen who is, by the way, annoying.” We eventually find out she has a big weakness, she’s still in love with the (very married) president and it tears her up inside. Without that bit of suffering, we’d reject her.
  • Before we meet Olivia, Quinn hears the name “Olivia Pope” and says “THE Olivia Pope?”
  • Then we meet her and she’s standing up to gun-toting Ukranian gangsters, armed with nothing but her confidence: “What’s going to happen is that you and Vlad are going to take the three million and leave right now to make your flight.”
  • She’s the queen of the power moves: The associates have a vote about whether to take the case, the other three all vote no, but she says “my vote always comes down to my gut, my gut tells me everything I need to know. We’re taking the case.” Finch asks “Why do we even bother voting?” But Olivia just dismisses him by saying, “You’re pretty, and smart, so pretty, so smart.”
  • She has the power to say, “You tell the president of the United States to make time for me.”
Five Es
  • Eat: No. She’s not very human.
  • Exercise: No.
  • Economic Activity: She’s always working.
  • Enjoy: After watching Olivia work, Finch says “God I love this job” and Olivia implicitly agrees.
  • Emulate: No.
Rise above
  • At the end of the pilot, she realizes that she has to rise above her job and stop trying to silence the president’s lover.
  • While she’s being all badass with the kidnappers she’s also inquiring about whether Finch has proposed to his girlfriend.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Episode #23: Head, Heart and Gut

We’re back!  James and I have a rousing discussion of Head, Heart and Gut (And Spleen, and Groin, and Spirit, and a zillion other permutations…)  Read more about it and see lots of neat charts here!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Believe Care Invest: Master of None

Why Dev might be hard to identify with: 
  • He’s not hard working, because he’s coasting off a commercial he recorded a few years before, so he’s just focused on sex, food, and self-doubts. Ultimately, he ends the episode choosing to have a gourmet sandwich even though he knows it will hurt two kids’ feelings (because they made their own sandwiches for him.)
  • We start off with a pre-cum discussion, which we’ve never heard before on TV.
  • He apologizes to his sex partner for using “Uber X”. “I just didn’t want you think I was being stingy with the Ubers.”
  • He realizes that his life is kind of empty without kids. He hears about a wonderful moment a father had with his son and replies, “Fuck, the highlight of my year was when I crashed Zachary Quinto’s Halloween party.”
  • He’s certainly responsible in the bedroom.
  • We see that he’s good at pitching products, for what that’s worth.
  • We love watching adults treating kids like adults. He pretends that the boy is beating him in arm wrestling. We see that he probably could be a great dad, if he didn’t choose his life of sandwiches instead.
Five Es
  • Eat: He’s eating in a restaurant with his friends.
  • Exercise: Never.
  • Economic Activity: We find out he acts in commercials, but economic activity is certainly not a big part of his life.
  • Enjoy: He loves pasta, sex, and bounce houses.
  • Emulate: He pictures how happy he might be with kids.
Rise above
  • No.
  • He makes kids feel great.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Believe Care Invest: Mad Men

Why Don might be hard to identify with: 
  • We’re supposed to root for a guy to sell cigarettes??
  • The wealth of meticulous period detail creates a very believable world.
  • We don’t get much detail about Don’s life yet. The show is intentionally hiding the specifics of his life from us, which it can get away with to a certain extent by giving us a co-hero in the form of Peggy, introduced in her own storyline.
  • He doesn’t just drink, he likes old fashioneds and rye. He smokes Luckies. Everything is specific.
  • We love that he keeps a stack of pressed shirts in his desk for when he spends the night at a girl’s apartment.
  • He’s having a crisis of confidence, “Midge, I’m serious, I have nothing. I am over, and they’re finally gonna know it. Next time you see me, there’ll be a lot of young executives picking meat off my ribs.”
  • He’s got a deadline: “Sterling’s having the tobacco people in in nine hours, and I have nothing.”
  • We can tell when he quizzes the waiter that he’s good at his job. Later, when Midge jokingly says “Don Draper is the greatest ad an ever and his big, strong brain will find a way to lead the sheep to the slaughterhouse,” we can sense she kind of means it. ii. He pauses to look at his purple heart medal, and we don’t suspect yet that he’s an imposter.
Five Es
  • Eat: Well, he certainly drinks like a fish.
  • Exercise: He uses one of those bizarre chest stressing devices in his office (while smoking).
  • Economic Activity: He’s obsessed with his work problem, writing ideas on a napkin when we first see him.
  • Enjoy: He enjoys having sex with Midge, finally seeming relaxed afterwards, and asking her to marry him (We won’t find out until the end of the episode that he’s already married.)
  • Emulate: We will eventually learn that “Don’s” (which is to say Dick’s) life is all about emulation, but we don’t suspect that yet.
Rise above
  • Not yet
  • I’ve taken “high five a black guy” off the list, but this is a big example, which is very important for a period show. He chats up his black waiter, who instantly gets yelled at by his white boss, but Don shoos the boss away, then says to the waiter, “You obviously need to relax after working here all night.”

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Believe Care Invest: How I Met Your Mother

Why Ted might be hard to identify with: 
  • He’s whiny, he’s a stick in the mud, he’s kind of dippy. He’s drawn to Barney, who is a racist misogynist (“Lebanese girls are the new half-Asians”).
  • We just believe in him a bit. The details of the imaginary wedding he’s planning make him feel real. (“So do you think you’ll ever get married?” “Well maybe eventually …some fall day, possibly in central park, as simple ceremony, we’ll write out own vows, band, no DJ, people will dance, I’m not going to worry about it”)
  • It always helps with believability when heroes have personal theories like his “Olive Theory” (“Every relationship should have one person who loves olives and one person who hates them”).
  • He’s lovelorn. Our heart breaks for him when we find out he’s planned out his wedding carefully but can’t find anyone to marry.
  • He’s losing his best friend, which we’ve all been through.
  • He’s good enough at making charming conversation with Yasmin and Robin that feel like we can root for this guy to find love. He cleverly and ironically wins Robin over: She’s supposed to be showing solidarity with her friend who got dumped, so he tells Robin that she can throw her drink in his face in front of her friends. He wins by looking like a loser.
  • But ultimately he’s a dip and it’ll be hard to root for him over the course of the story.
Five Es
  • Eat: He and Robin go out to dinner.
  • Exercise: Never. (Never in the history of the show?)
  • Economic Activity: Not really. He mentions he’s an architect, but concerns about work and money don’t seem to be a big part of his life.
  • Enjoy: Not really.
  • Emulate: He’s torn between wanting to be like Barney or like Marshall, two very different role models.
Rise above
  • No, he’s not focused at all on work (we don’t even know if he has a boss or not), so he can’t rise above it.
  • He’s enthusiastically helpful to Marshall in planning his proposal.
  • He cheers up Robin’s friend by letting Robin throw a drink in his face.

Friday, November 06, 2020

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Everybody on TV Is Bad at Their Job (Except On “Law and Order”)

Back in the day, “Law and Order” would try to compete for Emmys, but it would never do as well as its rival, “NYPD Blue”. It was understood that “Law and Order” was the more frivolous show, because it was strictly about the cases, whereas “NYPD Blue” was a true drama, because it was equally about the case of the week and the lives of the detectives at home.

One of the reasons that seemed more artistic was subtext: If we were following both a home drama and a work drama, they could complicate and inform each other, and each one would be packed with subtext because we knew about the other. When they talked about the case we would see that they were really talking about their homelife drama, and vice versa. “Law and Order” couldn’t work on multiple levels like that.

But I preferred “Law and Order”. I always thought that “NYPD Blue” should maybe have a different name: “Shitty Cops”

If, week after week, your policework is affected by your homelife, you’re a shitty cop. And if your policework is constantly emotionally affecting your homelife, you’re a shitty spouse. Give me the cops of “Law and Order”, who pass the basic competency bar of leaving their homelife at home.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love lots of shows wherein home and work dramas get intermingled. As long as the show acknowledges that this is a serious failing on the hero’s part.

Dre on “Black-ish” is played by a former “Law and Order” detective, but he acts more like an “NYPD Blue” cop.  He lets his work drama drive him to make volatile and disastrous decisions at home, and his home drama drives him him to make volatile and disastrous decisions at work. Then, as he will every week, he gets his shit together, corrects his way of thinking, and fixes both situations. 

When he calls his family meeting, he begins by saying, “I may have to be ‘urban’ at work, but I’m still going to need my family to be black. Not black-ish, but black. We are going to keep it real.” The family meeting does not go well, making him more upset, and at the end he announces: “Tomorrow I have a very important presentation to make and you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to go in there, I’m going to keep it real as [unintelligible]”. The actions he takes both at home and work create train wrecks, primarily because they affect each other.

This is all well and good. This is a comedy, and Dre, unlike the cops on “NYPD Blue”, is a buffoonish figure. It’s fun and believable to watch his homelife and worklife negatively affect each other …And besides, it’s just advertising. I’m not being asked to root for him to save lives. He can screw up an ad campaign without any killers going free, so it’s all fun and games.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Straying from the Party Line: Black-ish

So what checklist questions does “Black-ish” not check off? 
  • It doesn’t bring different economic classes together. We’ve seen this before on the show’s ABC neighbor “Modern Family”, but it’s less of a problem here. On that show, our heroes are very concerned with social justice issues but seem totally unaware of their extreme economic privilege, making the show hard to watch. Dre and his family, by contrast, are very aware of their privilege, and how precious and precarious it is. One recurring gag will be Dre encouraging his son to make poor friends and failing.
  • There are no secrets or escalations or twists: This show is a real throwback to an earlier era of gentler pilots. There is no sword of Damocles here. There aren’t even any potential romances for the kids yet. It’s a low conflict show. This brings us to…
  • Trouble won’t walk in the door: This is often a concern for family shows and also for shows about advertising executives (which is to say, “Mad Men”). Dre lives a fairly drama-free life: He’s only in danger of ennui. But the show has now gone for 150 episodes, so that’s turned out to be enough of a driver. But this brings us back to what we discussed last time, when Dre was hurt by something that would only hurt Dre. Dre’s life will be fairly easy, but he’s a volatile character on the inside. He’s a tinderbox, so we never know what he’ll perceive as trouble that we (especially blithe white viewers such as I) wouldn’t regard as a problem. He may not break bad like Walter White, but he, too, has suffered a life of big and small humiliations that have keyed him up, creating enough potential drama to sustain a series.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Rulebook Casefile: Playing with Expectations in the “Black-ish” Pilot

Kenya Barris knows we’ve seen pilots before, and he knows we’re trying to get ahead of him. So he plays with us.

We meet a wealthy, overconfident man with a closet full of individually lit sneakers, and he assures us in voiceover that he’s absolutely sure he’s going to get a big promotion today. He promises his family and co-workers it’s coming. Then his boss gathers everybody in the conference room and announces that sure enough, someone is going to be promoted to Senior Vice-President. Our hero confidently picks up his stuff and begins moving over to the “senior management only” side of the table before the boss announces the name. On the way, he cockily says to a woman of color: “Sabrina, I’m not going to forget about you when I become one of them, alright?”

It’s only after Dre has shoved others aside to take his new place that the boss finally announces, “So without any further ado, I’d like us all to give a warm congrats to…”

…So what’s going to happen? Well if we’ve ever seen a pilot before, we’re sure of one thing: Dre is not going to get the promotion. Everything in the pilot so far has set us up for a big reversal. Overconfidence must be punished! But then Dre does get the promotion! We’re shocked. Why did they try so hard to set us up for a reversal and then not deliver?

But there’s one hitch: Specifically, his boss announces that he’ll be “the SVP of our new Urban division.” And Dre has already told us in voiceover that he considers “urban” to be a ridiculous term. Dre is clearly not pleased, and says in his voice-over, “Wait, did they just put me in charge of black stuff?”, then we cut to commercial.

So why did Barris push all of our “they’re about to announce someone else got the promotion” buttons, only to have our hero’s overconfidence be validated after all? Well, it sends us on an emotional rollercoaster: We’re excited for him, then worried about his overconfidence, then almost pitying his delusion that he’s going to get it, then shocked to be happy for him …then shocked again when we realize that, in Dre’s mind, this is a slap-down. As far as he’s concerned, he didn’t really get a promotion. He’s only been put in charge of his own ghetto. Sure enough, when he gets home, his father calls him, “head puppet of the white man.”

Burris has toyed with our pre-existing narrative expectations in order to convey to us the hero’s peculiar emotional state. This moment establishes the tone of the whole series: Dre is a winner but his psychological and cultural baggage makes him feel perpetually dissatisfied. As in any good ironic story, he’s either winning by losing or losing by winning. 

It’s always good to hurt your hero in ways that would only hurt your hero, because then you have a unique and volatile main character. Only Dre would be heartbroken by this news, and that makes him compelling.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Believe Care Invest: Black-ish

Why Dre might be hard to identify with: 
  • He’s wealthy and his problems basically boil down to “rich guy ennui”.
  • He begins with a long, funny self-deprecating voiceover. He’s rich but humanized in various ways right away. He wakes up to see looking like a mess as she sleeps.
  • To an extent, we believe in him for the same reason we invest him: We come to share his keen awareness of his surroundings, including tiny and large slights he receives. These details make his world feel real.
  • Like many successful black people, he has two metaphor families that he has to juggle (aka code-switching) We recognize this as a real struggle and the language is convincing. Ironically, part of his job is to tell them how a black man would talk. (“We wanted to know how you think a black guy would say good morning?”)  He insists that a black man wouldn’t talk differently (and gets insulted when they start calling him black-sounding nicknames like Dr. Dre), but on the other hand, he gets offended when his family doesn’t talk black enough.
  • His daughter mocks his cologne. His son is going out for field hockey (“Isn’t that woman’s sport?”) His son named after him now lets his white friends call him Andy. (Andre Jr: “I think it’s edgy but approachable.” Dre: “I think it says ‘I hate my father and I play field hockey.’”)
  • He gets appointed senior vice president, but only in charge of “urban” advertising, which his father sums up as “head puppet of the white man”
  • He’s got a classic strength/flaw combo: He’s think-skinned, and we can see how that messes up his life, but once we’re in his POV we come to agree with and share his sensitivity to slights.
  • Like a lot of buffoon-ish sitcom fathers (especially on ABC), he tests our investment a bit, but ultimately just before the end of the episode, he proves that he’s good at creating advertising campaigns (“LA is Colorful”), and that he’s a pretty good father (throwing his son a “hip-hop bro-mitzvah”).
Five Es
  • Eat: Eats a breakfast croissant.
  • Exercise: He’s got a basketball hoop, but he plays incompently.
  • Economic Activity: His job is a big part of his life. Rainbow says, “breaking down barriers is equally important to money, but just so I’m clear, there is a salary increase, right?”
  • Enjoy: He’s very excited about his upcoming promotion and likes playing “the one who made it for all of us” with the other black employees at work. He seems to enjoy his closet of sneakers a little.
  • Emulate: He wants to join the white-people club, but also wants to be like his defiant father.
Rise above
  • He decides to put his job at risk to assert his blackness.
  • Not really. He treats his white, gay assistant as an honorary black man, which he definitely feels is magnanimous.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Ultimate Pilot Checklist: Black-ish

Dre Johnson is an advertising executive, married to a doctor (Rainbow), living with four cute children (Ruby, Andre Jr, Jack and Diane) and his acerbic father (Pops). He’s expecting to be promoted to Senior Vice President, and gets it, but finds out that he’s only the SVP of the ‘urban’ division. Meanwhile, his son has gone out for field hockey instead of basketball and decides he wants a bar mitzvah. 


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 funny and edgy.

Does the series establish its own unique point of view on its setting?

The tourist van driving by sort of does that: This will be a sociological study.

Is there a central relationship we haven’t seen in a series before?

No.  It’s a familiar sitcom family.

Does the ongoing concept of the series contain a fundamental (and possibly fun) ironic contradiction?

He wants to be an exemplary black man, but the more exemplary he becomes the less black he feels.

Does the concept meet the content expectations of one particular intended network, venue, or audience?

It’s a very ABC show.

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.”)

 The setting is pleasant.

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)?

Yes, Dre.

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?)

Well, Anderson had given up movies for TV a while before, but he had starred in some movies.

Is the show set in an unsafe space?

It’s made clear in the opening that they don’t feel entirely welcome in their neighborhood and he doesn’t feel very comfortable at work. 

Is this a setting that will bring (or has brought) different economic classes together?

No, everybody’s rich.  It’s a recurring gag that he wants his son to have poor friends, but that never pans out.

Will trouble walk in the door on a regular basis?

Not really.  Sitcom mini-dramas will have to be whipped up every week. 

Will the heroes be forced to engage in both physical and cerebral activity on a regular basis?

Not really. 

Are there big stakes that will persist episode after episode?

Big in their own way: Have I lost touch with my culture and can I save my kids from the same fate?

Will the ongoing situation produce goals or mini-goals that can be satisfactorily resolved on a regular basis?

Sure, little parenting goals and work difficulties.

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)?

Yes, it’s sort of a premise pilot, in that his growing dissatisfaction with his son and job reach a bit of a breaking point, and both are established at midpoint.

Does the pilot feature an image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the show)?

The family labeled “The Mythical and Majestic Black Family.”    

Is there something bold, weird, and never-before-seen about this concept and/or pilot? 

Not really.  It’s basically an update of “The Cosby Show” with a bit more discontent added in.   

Is there a “HOLY CRAP!” scene somewhere along the way in the pilot (to create word of mouth)?

Sort of with Junior wanting a bar mitzvah (that was showcased in the show’s ads), sort of with the Rodney King ad, but it’s generally a pretty gentle show.

Does the pilot build up potential energy that will power future episodes (secrets that will come out, potential romances, etc.)?

Not really.

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?



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?)

 His wife looks like a mess in her sleep and he thinks funny stuff about her.  He imagines himself being gawked at by tourists.   Making the Rodney King ad is funny. 

Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?

Everybody knows that he’s going to be Senior Vice President. 

Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?

 He’s still feels like an angry working-class person on the inside.

Does the hero have three rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?

”Keep it Real”, Succeed on his own terms, “I’m still going to need my family to be black.  Not black-ish, but black.”

Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?

His job’s metaphor family is clashing with his background.  Ironically at his job, part of his job is to tell them how a black man would talk.  He insists that a black man wouldn’t talk differently (and gets insulted when they start calling him black-sounding nicknames), but on the other hand, he gets offended when his kids say they don’t see color.  To a certain extent, this whole show is about a clash of metaphor families (aka code-switching)

Does the hero have a default personality trait?

Cocky but frustrated

Does the hero have a default argument tactic?

Absorb humiliations unflappably until he snaps.

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?

He’s thin-skinned and oversensitive to slights, both at work at at home.

Does the hero feel that this flaw cannot be resolved until it’s time to abandon the world of the show?

He’s only going to become more uncomfortable as he gets richer and his kids get nerdier.

Does the flaw resonate with the theme and/or setting of the show?


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?

He sees problems others don’t see. 

Is the hero good at his or her job (or family role, if that’s his or her primary role)?

Yes, he proves at the end that he’s good at creating advertising campaigns (“LA is Colorful”), and that he’s a pretty good father (throwing his son a “hip-hop bro-mitzvah”)

Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?

His family has no black pride.  His coworkers are insensitive to race.

Is the hero curious?

 Sort of.  He persists with interrogating his son.

Is the hero generally resourceful?

 Sort of.

Does the hero use unique skills to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody else on the show would do)?

 Sort of.


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?)

Yes, Tracee Ellis Ross is a TV star and Lawrence Fishburne is a movie star.

Are all of the other regular roles strong enough on the page in this first episode to attract great actors? (ditto)

The entire cast is strong.

Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct and defensible point of view?

 Both his wife and his mother make good points, from very different points of view. 

Is each character defined primarily by actions and attitudes, not by his or her backstory?

Yes, we get little glimpses of each character’s backstory, but they’re more defined by their current roles.

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.)

Very much so. 

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?)

No, his boss is not a main character yet, but will become one.

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)?


Does it take some effort for the POV character to extract other characters’ backstories?


Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut (or various forms of 2-way or 4-way polarization)?

Dre: Gut, Junior: Heart, Rainbow: Head, Pops: Spleen, to a certain extent.  The other kids aren’t clear yet.

Does each member of the ensemble have a distinct metaphor family (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?

Junior: the white version of black (he calls his field hockey team the Field-Mob), Rainbow: Upper class doctor (“Breaking down barriers is equally important to money, but just so I’m clear, there is a salary increase, right?”), Pops: Working class (“…before you start in with all that mess.”)

Does each member of the ensemble have a different default personality trait?

Junior: Nerdy, Rainbow: Placid, Pops: Sour and bemused

Does each member of the ensemble have a different default argument tactic? 

Junior: Predict objections and prepare elaborate defenses, Rainbow: Hold her tongue, then call you aside, Pops: Mutter snipes, then pretend he said nothing.

Is there at least one prickly character who creates sparks whenever he or she appears?


PART 4: IS THE PILOT EPISODE A STRONG STAND-ALONE STORY AND GOOD TEMPLATE FOR THE ONGOING SERIES? (22/22)                                                                   

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?

Yes, 21 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?

Yes, 3

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)?

1st: Finds out that he’s on the “urban” vice president. 2nd: He gives a too-black presentation and his job is clearly in danger.  3rd: “Be damned if I’m calling him Andy, though.”

Does the pilot establish the general time frame for most upcoming episodes of this series?

One day will be common.

Do all of the pilot’s storylines intercut believably within that time frame?


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?


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)?


Is this episode’s plot simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?


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)?

Yes, he gets the promotion he wants but he doesn’t want to just be the “urban” vide-president.

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?

Get his promotion and move his seat to the senior management side of the table. 

Does a troubling situation (episodic pilot) or major change in the status quo (premise pilot) develop near the beginning of the episode?

He finds out he’ll be the “urban” SVP.  He finds out his son wants to play field hockey instead of basketball.   

Does the hero eventually commit to dealing with this situation personally?

Yes, in the second half

Do the hero’s efforts quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?

His boss and co-workers behave in an inappropriate manner towards him.

Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?

He just complains to his family.  

Does this culminate in a major midpoint setback or escalation of the problem (whether or not there’s a commercial break)?

His son wants a bar mitzvah.  He decides he’s not integrated enough at work but his family wants to integrate too much. “I may have to be urban at work, but I’m still going to need my family to be black.  Not black-ish, but black!”

Second Half: Is the mini-goal resolved as the ongoing trouble escalates?

Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?

He decides to give his bosses a very black ad campaign and give his son an African coming of age ritual. 

By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?


Are the stakes increased as the pace quickens and the motivation escalates?

He’s almost fired.

Does a further setback force the hero to adopt a wider view of the problem?

His son and father mock the African ritual.  Rainbow has found out about work and she’s had enough.

After that setback, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal?

His pops set him straight and he says “Whatever you do, make sure it’s right for who you are.”

Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has the hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?

Yes: He decides to do an ad campaign his boss will like and throw his son a “hip-hop bro-mitzvah”

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?

Yes: His new “L.A. is Colorful” ad campaign is very different, and he thinks as he presents it: “‘Urban’ can mean hip, cool and colorful, just like my family.  Taking a cue from my son, I decided to get my foot in the door and really make some noise.  Funny thing is, I didn’t feel urban.  I just felt like a dad who was willing to do whatever he had to for his family, and isn’t that the American Dream?”

PART 5: IS EACH SCENE THE BEST IT CAN BE? (21/22) The scene where his son asks for a bar mitzvah and Dre calls a family meeting

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?

Just a little.  He’s been increasing pissed about his family’s lack of blackness.  He’s just endured another humiliation at work and we’re right to be worried that he’ll take it out on his family.  

Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?

No, it begins at the beginning.

Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?

It’s the kitchen/dining room, so they’re fairly active.

Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?

The mom’s cooking is being interrupted.

Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?

Lots of plot elements are colliding.  Junior’s friend Zach is a distracting irritant.

Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?

The kids have made it clear they have other places to be.  

The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?

Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?


Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?

Dre’s having a meltdown and upsetting everyone else “Daddy’s scaring me!”

Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?

We sort of agree with him and sort of with Rainbow. 

Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?

Very much so.  Very different ideas about how to be black in America.

Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?

Surface: Can Junior have a bar mitzvah? Can the twins have a playdate? Suppressed: How black should we be?

Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?

Dre calls it out.

Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?

Not for long.

Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?

Pops is subtly egging Dre on. (“But when I say it, I’m wrong.”)  Junior tries to convince his dad to go along with the bar mitzvah by saying “You won’t have to worry about anybody calling me ‘Andy’ anymore, because when I convert, I’ll have a Hebrew name!” 

Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?

He kisses Rainbow, Rainbow hugs Junior, Junior high-fives Zach

Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?

The mom hands out food, Zach takes a grape soda without permission, which symbolizes taking their son from them (and grape soda has previously been associated with ghettoization).  Diane squeezes a squeaky toy to feel safe.

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?

”If she thinks I’m finished with keeping it real, well I’m just getting started.”  Dre gets pushed to the edge over the course of the scene.

Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?

The family gathers to commune but ends up upset and alienated from each other.

Are previously-asked questions answered?

Will Junior make the team?

Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?

What does Dre now intend to do at work?

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 have growing fear that Dre’s going to do something drastic at work and with his family.

Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?

”If Stevens and Lido really wants an ‘urban’ SVP, I’ll give them their urban SVP!”  Then we cut to his Rodney King-focused ad. 


Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?

Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?


Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?

We’re not supposed to fully agree with his attitudes.

Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?


Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?


Do the characters interrupt each other often?


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)?

Well, he worries he’s not as culturally specific as he used to be.

Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?


Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?

Sort of.  We learn about the culture of an ad firm.

Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?

Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?


Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?

Yes: “Big butts, R&B, and dancing: Those were the black man’s go-to’s!”

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)?


Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?

Yes, even the doctor.

Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?

Yes, when Rainbow finds out he’s almost been fired.


Genre and Mood: Does the series tap into pre-established expectations?

Does the series fit within one genre (or compatible sub-genres)?

Family sitcom. 

Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)?

There are no unrealistic elements.

Separate from the genre, does the pilot establish an overall mood for the series?

Hip, sarcastic.

If there are multiple storylines, do they establish the spectrum of moods available within that overall mood?

The impression is that there will not be a spectrum of moods on the show.  Both stories are in the same register.

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?

There’s a jaundiced voiceover.

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? 

Will he accept the position under the limited terms he’s offered?

Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?

There’s an increasing sense that something will go wrong at work.  They know we’ve seen TV shows and they set us up to expect that the reversal will be that he doesn’t get the promotion, only to be surprised when we get a different reversal (he gets it but it’s only for the ‘urban’ division.) ‘Urban’ has already been set up to a ridiculous term.

Is the dramatic question of the pilot episode’s plot answered near the end of the story?

He accepts the job (it’s being etched on his window) as the credits roll.


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)?

He and his pops have one philosophy (“Sometimes I feel that in order to make it, black folks have dropped a little bit of their culture”), while his wife and children have another (“Don’t you think that’s beautiful? They don’t see color!”)

Does the pilot have a statement of philosophy and/or theme, usually either at the beginning or _ 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.)

All of the above, plus “Not that I want to go back to being the big, scary, black guy, but I have to admit, it did kind of have its advantages.”

Can the show’s overall ongoing theme be stated in the form of a classic good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?

Make money or be true to your working class roots. 

Throughout the pilot, do the characters have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?

Put up with humiliations at work to make money, abandon your religion to have a party, etc.

Are the storylines in the pilot thematically linked (preferably in an indirect, subtle way)?

 Very much so: He feels like he’s treated too black at work and his family is not black enough at home.

Are small details throughout the pilot tied into the theme?

The meaning of grape soda, etc

Will the heroes grapple with new moral gray areas in each episode?


Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?

Does the series’ set-up reflect the way the world works?

Well, like its ABC companion “Modern Family”, they’re unrealistically wealthy, so normal rules don’t really apply.

Does the series have authentic things to say about this type of setting?

We become aware of little slights Dre can see from his unique perspective.

Does the ongoing concept include twinges of real life national pain?

Yes, his first “urban” ad campaign has flashes of Rodney King, etc.

Are these issues presented in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?


Do all of the actions in the pilot have real consequences?

Yes, he almost gets fired, etc.

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?

No, it’s voiceover heavy and he sort of synthesizes it.

Does the end of the pilot leave the thematic dilemma wide open and irresolvable?


Total Score: 116/128