Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to Resurrect a TV Series

The Breaking Bad spin-off for Bob Odenkirk "Better Call Saul" starts up on AMC. Odenkirk is a hilarious guy who I am not quite sure can carry a series but is awesome in small doses. His style and antics seem to fit that Jeremy Piven in early Entourage days where you love to see him enter a scene but for a full 30 to 60 minutes, you might get tired of his gimmick. Odenkirk was awesome in one episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm as "Porno Gil". A preview for the new Breaking Bad spin-off on Grantland mentioned how some series can never be revisited. The writer cited The Sopranos, which was the show that kickstarted the Golden Age of television storytelling that we are supposedly in today. One could return to the Sopranos universe if handled well, and here's how Chase and company could do it.

The frustrating finish to the series left people wondering if Tony was shot or not at the end. I side with his was shot from behind. Chase came out and said "no, he lived". I think Chase's ending was fantastic, and us moderns just couldn't accept it. Chase could bring back the Sopranos crew for a mini-series, maybe four episodes tops. Starts the mini-series in the diner again, except the opening shot is filmed from behind Tony and shows the "members only jacket wearing man" coming out of the bathroom and shooting Tony in the head. The mini-series is how everyone else reacts and handles his departure. As Chase explicitly stated, these mobsters were scumbags, they were horrible people, and they still made people cheer for them. Tony's intelligence (smart guido) and his natural charm and leadership held that rickety ship that was the family together. The mini-series would focus on life after Tony. Because James Gandolfini is dead, they cannot shoot new scenes with him but that is not the point. How do the scumbags carry on? Do they survive an onslaught from the NY families? What happens to that harpie Carmella? How do AJ and Meadow react? As much as the show was about the mob, it was about the unraveling of Boomer family life and cultural change. The mini-series would explore this idea, which was the story behind the Mafia set pieces. If anything, it may be more appropriate with the loss of the great patriarch both in his family and his mob family.

Through the years, I have waited for one of these upscale dramas to take a leap and do this with a final season. With a lead alive and not dead, you start the final season with the lead's death. The rest of the season is the characters struggle with dealing with the loss of X, including flashbacks that reveal the state of their universe and the lead before the death. A perfect show set up for this was Mad Men. Don's spiral downward is what Matt Weiner has hinted at for years, yet somehow he still writes Don as getting a big win. Weiner has a giant ego, but not big enough to commit to the downer ending that is a slow motion collapse over the last two seasons. While I loved Mad Men, I really disliked the introduction of new characters and weird diversions when what I, and many of my peers, want to see the resolution and where this is going for Don and Co. Imagine Mad Men starting the final season with Don Draper found dead, bloated and reeking of alcohol in his apartment all alone. The season weaves the story of how the company and his family process his death with the story of how he got there. We know the ending (Don is dead), but we are sucked into how did this happen and what are these fools going to do now?

This will not happen. it would be fun and different, but I am just a blogger, not a Hollywood producer. Leaning on an old Hitchcock approach, sometimes the suspense and anticipation is not purely in the event, but in how people handle the event and learning what the mysteries were behind it. LOST had a bit of fun with this when LOST switched to the flash forwards instead of the flash backwards. Of course, J.J. Abrams screwed up LOST with the time jump and some other weird choices, but hey the guy needs to focus EVERY STORY ON PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIPS. Maybe this would be a bad story-telling device, but wasn't it great fun when Breaking Bad started the pilot with Walt in the desert with a gun, and the entire pilot was how he got there? The death of a lead, especially one with as much audience, script and character development as a Don Draper or Tony Soprano, in the first scene of the final season would be one helluva hook for those of us at home. How did Don lose it all? How did Tony let his guard down? What will the island of misfit relatives and friends do now that the big cheese is gone? Did they still need him? Is that why he died a depressing, sad ending?


Percy Gryce said...

All good ideas, but The Sopranos finale is really not that weird or hard to understand. The point is that there isn't necessarily justice in this world. Bad guys like Tony could survive all the investigations and mob hits and even having to kill his own nephew and still not be called to account. Tony got to continue on his merry way. I thought that was made quite clear in the final Journey lyric: "Don't Stop."

Suburban_elk said...

As much as the show was about the mob, it was about the unraveling of Boomer family life and cultural change. The mini-series would explore this idea, which was the story behind the Mafia set pieces. If anything, it may be more appropriate with the loss of the great patriarch both in his family and his mob family.

Anthony Soprano, David Chase's hero or anti-hero or both, was father to us all.

Chase said that the epic started quite basically with a joke he had, that went along the lines of "mob boss walks into a psychiatrist's office", which he explained was so funny to him, that the country and society was fucked up enough that even a criminal personality couldn't take it.

But in the final season Tony's motivations for therapy are cast in another light: that he is using therapy as a practice ground for his cons.

But the idea of Anthony Soprano as a patriarch to all the viewers, which is most of the connected world but especially America, is not a stretch, because who else would it be?

Or perhaps America does have real world heros. Bruce Jenner. Mike Tyson. Leon Sphinx.

But Tony was a stand-in father. We all loved him, nevermind the sociopathy and narcissism. How fucked up is that. I guess i would interpret that to mean, that the typical viewer is thinking, "well I am a narcissist; if only i could be a sociopath too everything would be roses."

nikcrit said...

Nice. I agree that Odenkirk is a small but tasty pleasure, and that it's a dicey gambit to base a whole series on him..... if it does work, no doubt it'll have to be a class-act ensemble approach, etc., blah-blah.

Also, I was glad you publicly acknowledged you watched Entourage; for some reason, i really enjoyed that show though i was always aware I should treat it as a 'guilty pleasure' and be careful about who 'fessed up to on that fact; Piven, of course, was a great caricature and the purest talent on the show. But I'll admit I liked the other storylines and characters as well. Always felt show did pretty good job depicting behind-the-scenes entertainment biz, e.g., world of middle-class flacks, press and agents.

PA said...

There is obviously no objective truth about what happened to Tony but it's fun to speculate. I lean to the 'shot in the head' theory. There was a lot of foreshadowing of this, such as Bobby saying how you don't feel anything, the light just goes out.

The "Don't Stop" lyric can go either way. The song wants to 'not stop' yet it stops abruptly at that line.

Also, all episodes ended with the music fading. The series finale was a dead stop.

PA said...

A line of cultural continuity can be drawn from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad. The Italian wise guys show was the last hurrah of the distinct Catholic etho-white, early 20th century immmigration identity. It's degraded or fully assimilated. Its cultural ways are forgotten by all but senilescent patriarchs. Their kids are crass, superficially liberal like Meadow or slackers with a nasty streak like AJ. New blood leadership could have come from heir-apparent Christopher but he self-destructed.

In the end, the Wobs were swarmed by Chinks in that last episode Chinatown scene. The few Wops who survived the fratricidal war were pathetic. Shitbag henchman Paulie was the senior man left.

Breaking Bad in this vein can be seen as a reset back to core Anglo-America, this time represented by the (literally) disposessed and culturally NAMified but very much alive young Jesse. Who happened to possess the founding virtues and quaint goodness even.

What's interesting is that both Jesse and the sboluc patriarch Walter WHITE both dig themselves out of a very deep hole through the course of the series.

In the end, Walter's children's future is secured and Jesse too drives off toward a fresh start.

nikcrit said...

Breaking Bad in this vein can be seen as a reset back to core Anglo-America, this time represented by the (literally) disposessed and culturally NAMified but very much alive young Jesse. Who happened to possess the founding virtues and quaint goodness even.

Figurative "jesses" in this country are likely NAMified as part of their formative experience and are very much alive then and now; ditto for many american NAMs who grew up from day-one around lower-middle-class whites like Jesse.....i sorta lost track of hte show after season two or three (up to when Gus had that sensational demise in the hospital room) but didn't Jesse even have a NAM love interest, who he may or may-not have gotten pregnant? I seem to remember as much during the period where Jesse was in deep angst over having to kill 'Gi' or whatever his name was, the nerdy genius that was Walt's first co-worker upon him being set up in a factory by Gus.

(this relates to a theory or qualitative explantion i'm working up in which i contend that American prole youth who have formative exposure to both black and white working-class culture are distinct and probably higher-IQ in the aggregate than such a class and ethnodemographic in, say, Brazil or other South American societies often cited by alt-righters when trying to make a negative forecast of the greying of America, etc......details forthcoming, lolz.)

peterike said...

I haven't seen "Breaking Bad" beyond the fourth episode (yes, episode, not season), so I gots no comment on that. But I love the idea of a Tony-free Sopranos re-boot.

PA is correct about the demise of Italian-American culture. And in that sense, the show very cleverly gave us the two arcs out of that sub-culture. Meadow's rise "up" into the SWPL world, all prog cliches firmly in place (and she wants to be a lawyer, right? hah). And AJ being the utterly dispossessed white male who has nothing but hip-hop culture and slacking. School marginalized him, society gave him nothing to do and relentlessly denigrates his species (the white male Christian). Where in hell will he be ten years later? If he's lucky, he'll get into some union gig via his father's connections and become a carpenter or something. He's probably not all that stupid, just foundering and lost. Otherwise, what? Maybe he ends up driving a delivery truck, salaries kept low by an endless supply of Mexican labor. Or he gets into whatever pieces of organized crime are left to the Italians once the Russians and Chinese and Mexicans and whoever else carve up their turf.

PA said...

I was talking earlier with a friend who says that Jesse was not NAM'ified. Rather, he was a form of juggalo. I bring this up because through the show, the lower class backdrop was mostly white. His few Hispanic friends were on the 'white Hispanic' side. True to Albuquerque, there were next to no blacks there, barring the rare talented tenth presumed transplant. The parties he threw to drown out the guilt over shooting Gale were, as I recall, all white.

The music he listened to sounded vaguely hiphopish but to my outsider discernment it didn't sound like what I'd imagine blacks (or whiggers) to listen to.

His mannerisms were whiggerish, like saying "bitch" to everybody but again, this may be more a contemporary white trash thing. There was no signature ghetto black "muthafucka" in his parlance.

The FOB Hispanics like Tuco and his crew lived in a different world. In the first episode he had two heavy-accented Mex partners in meth but that fell apart fast.

I bring it all up because I'm kind of looking again at the idea of NAMification of lower class whites. It may not have been the case with Jesse.

His first girlfriend was a hot white goth chick. Possibly cast as a nod to the Mia Wallace character in Pulp Fiction. His second girlfriend was a nice looking Hispanic single mother.

dsgntd_plyr said...

But "Better Call Saul," does start with the lead character dead. Or more accurately, "dead."

"Saul Goodman," is a made up identity, his real name is James McGill, but in the opening scene of the pilot he goes by "Gene," and is managing a Cinnabon in Omaha (fans of "Breaking Bad," get the joke).

Goodman/McGill had to be buried because various gangsters and Feds are searching for him because of his relationship with Walter White.

I've watched all 3 episodes, and you're seeing the real-time development of a criminal lawyer into a criminal lawyer. it's really good.

dsgntd_plyr said...


Very few MSM reviewers understood what Vince Gilligan did in BB wrt race/class. Good observation about the FOB hispanics. They only associated with upper (middle) class whites via drug sales, the legal system, and/or white hispanics.

Suburban_elk said...

Be careful what ideas you put out there, or they will get poached.

With PA's idea under discussion right know (elsewhere); talent attracts like and emerges. My jokes have been poached. I don't give a shit, sort of. Here is a sad story. Did one of those market research focus groups for 20 or 40 bux for an hour or two, this was 15 or so years ago, and the topic under discussion was an energy drink, and how should they sell it. The drink was like snapple. I suggested that there be a bunch of Amazon Indians in the jungle drinking this drink and tripping out. Am i thanked for my eager helpfulness? no the stupid bitch focus group leader lifts her nose at me and snorts, in mockery. She even repeats what i says, in that "can you believe this guy" sort of way. (I should have stood up to her … somehow.)

See where this is going? two or three years later there is an advertisement on the television. Amazon Indians sitting on rocks by a stream, in loincloths with blow guns and seeing colored trails in the trees: drinking that drink and shooting down a giant frog. It was a good advertisement, maybe it is on youtube.

PA said...

"Very few MSM reviewers understood what Vince Gilligan did in BB wrt race/class."

I joked earlier that Breaking Bad depicts races as such: Whites are complicated, Injuns are gentle, Mexicans are scumbags, and Blacks are oncologists.

But I've been thinking now that the real focus has been on White lower class, with others as props. And White lower class grows through downward-mobile Whites. Jesse's parents are upper middle class.

nikcrit said...

Remember Gus's reaction when he came upon this private karaoke video of Gale's? Priceless.