Back to School: Week Two…When All the Assholes Hijack My Writing Class

Heading to Week Three of Television Writing Class in just a bit, and I thought I could piece together a blog about my experiences so far. I blogged about my Week One Class, but never got a chance to check in after Week Two.

If Week One was all about everyone getting to know each other, then Week Two was all about people trying to prove their intelligence and show off their TV obsessions. Seriously, one minute the teacher is asking us what existing TV shows we’re thinking of writing a script for (the goal of the class, after all), and the next minute people are discussing how “Louie isn’t a sitcom; it’s a show full of existential vignettes.”

I’m not joking…someone actually said that.

Week two was a bit of a reality check because I was hoping all along that it was only in my previous life of being around sales people where there was always someone in the group who had to prove they were the smartest in the room. I wanted to think it was unique to typical sales guy douche baggery, but alas, it seems like every group has one…or three.

After a 15 minute tangent of a conversation between two people in class arguing about Louie and 30 Rock, the teacher finally asked, “So are either of you picking Louie or 30 Rock as your shows to write?”

Nope. Of course not. They just wanted to waste our time and hear themselves talk.

I honestly thought a room full of writers would make for a quiet setting, a bunch of recluses who are scared of public speaking and attention. I was very wrong.

I’m trying to figure out what I should do the next time a conversation is going off the rails. I might go with yelling out, “Can you two shut the fuck up so this guy (pointing at teacher) can teach us something?” But I was also thinking of going the less mature route of making a super loud farting noise to break up the discussion. I can’t decide which way to play it.

A few more random notes before I pack up my grapes and M&M’s and head off to class:

Arrested Development is the absolute gold standard of TV writing according to my classmates. If you try to say anything negative about this TV show, you will get ostracized from the group. Our teacher said one negative thing—that the writers of this show only wrote jokes for themselves, not for the general public—and I’m pretty sure at least five students are dropping out of his class because of it.

-If Arrested Development is the gold standard, then Whitney is…the poop standard? The pyrite standard? (ahh, that’s a thinker’s joke. You see, pyrite is a metal compound that’s often referred to as “fool’s gold” because it looks a lot like gold, but is actually worthless compared to gold.) Whatever the opposite of “gold standard” is, that’s Whitney, according to my class.

-The TV show I’m picking to write a script for is Happy Endings. If you don’t know it, give it a shot. It’s a good one. And if you do know it and happen to have some really brilliant ideas on what would make a good episode for that show, feel free to send it my way.

-Finally, I think our professor has done too many drugs in the past. Why do I think this? Well, for one, he’s constantly referencing all the drugs he’s done in the past. And two, he seems to keep forgetting which class he’s teaching while he’s lecturing us. And in Week Two, he was supposed to bring in DVDs that had episodes of sitcoms on them for us to watch as a class, but he screwed up and brought only Portlandia episodes, which is a sketch comedy show. I’m trying to figure out how long until I’m allowed to scream out, “Hey, Prof, I’m paying for this class out of my own pocket. That’s right…not my parents’ pockets, not through some loans that I won’t see the repercussions of for years…MY. OWN. POCKET. So why don’t you get your head out of your ass and bring the right material to class?” It’s probably still too early to do that, but it’s coming.

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Reviewing Three New TV Shows: The Bitch in Apt 23, Girls, Veep

Apparently female-led TV shows are all the rage these days.  When the new TV schedule launched last fall, people were praising all the shows that suddenly focused on women.  There are three shows in particular that women seem to have gravitated towards, but the only problem is that they are all differing levels of horrible.  There’s Whitney (Colossal Disaster), 2 Broke Girls (Regular-sized Disaster), and New Girl (Whatever one step below a disaster is).

I know what you’re thinking…how do I know so much about these “TV shows for women,” right?  Well, on my most unlucky nights, I’m sometimes forced to watch TV with women.  Unfortunately they don’t pick to watch the same NHL Network highlights over and over.  They pick the three shows mentioned above.  Whitney is so horrible that on one episode, you could actually hear boo’s coming from the automated laugh track.  2 Broke Girls is possibly the least funny sitcom anyone’s ever created.  And the only redeeming quality of New Girl is the hotness of its lead actress, Zooey Deschanel.  But even that isn’t enough to give the show any staying power in my mind.

I take most of my cues on what new shows to watch from Entertainment Weekly.  The magazine reminds you of every new show coming out on a weekly basis, and they make solid recommendations most of the time.  But I was naturally a little skeptical when I saw three more female-led shows hitting the TV within a couple weeks of each other.  EW gave all three solid reviews so I thought I’d try them all out and report back on my experience.

Here are my reviews and rankings of the three new shows in question:

3. Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 (Three episodes aired, Wednesdays at 9:30pm on ABC)

Terrible name.  Terrible show.

This sitcom is about June, a 26-year-old woman whose job as a mortgage broker transfers her from Indiana to New York.  The opening episode jams the theme of “naive midwesterner in a big, scary city” down our throats.  June’s life plan is to be married with a steady job by 26, have two kids by 30, blah blah blah…  All of that goes to shit when her office and apartment are seized by the feds because her boss is accused of embezzling money.  From there her life spirals out of control when she catches her fiance cheating on her with her new roommate, Chloe.

Chloe is the “bitch” from the title.  She’s apparently a con artist that does whatever necessary to drive her roommates crazy (walk around naked, have loud parties on a Tuesday night, go to the bathroom while her roommate is in the bath tub).  These roommates inevitably get fed up and leave, and Chloe gets to keep their rent money and security deposit.

This premise seems halfway decent if the show was centered around Chloe and a revolving door of roommates, but instead it seems like June is the center of this show.  That’s unfortunate because it means we’re in for 10 more episodes of her bouncing back and forth between, “I’m 26 and my life plan isn’t on track anymore, poor me,” and, “You’re right, why do I care about my life plan so much?  Let’s be spontaneous.”

After watching all three episodes, I can confidently tell you not to bother with it.  The plots are horrible and all over the place; the characters haven’t been developed very well; the funny parts that are supposed to be centered around the outrageous Chloe and her antics fall more than flat (as an example, in episode 2, the “humor” was centered around Chloe calling her dad “Scott” and treating him like a friend instead of a dad).  And somehow, these two women who were ready to rip each other’s throats out in episode one are suddenly chummy and happy to coexist in episodes two and three.  It’s also beyond unbelievable that June would stay in this apartment with the stuff Chloe puts her through.

Best minor character: James Van Der Beek…played by James Van Der Beek.  I’d watch a show based purely on this guy looking for acting jobs, but unfortunately Don’t Trust the B only gives us three minutes of him per episode.

Status on my DVR: Cancelled effective immediately

2. Girls (Three episodes aired, Sundays at 10:30pm on HBO)

Go ahead.  Laugh at me for thinking I might enjoy a show titled “Girls.”  But I like HBO original programming, and I usually give most of their new shows a try.  I understood the premise to be, “young adult trying to find her niche in life struggles to get by in a recession-era New York City.”  I thought it would be a show that all young adults could relate to as they try to find their place in the world.  I was hoping for universal themes and plots.  Unfortunately, after three episodes, it seems like this is a show for women only.  Here are some of the main topics and issues the characters have dealt with so far:

-Unwanted pregnancy and the subsequent abortion

-Getting your period when you think you’re pregnant

-Getting tested for STD’s because the guy who you have sex with regularly may or may not always use a condom, and may or may not be sleeping with other women

-Being a virgin at the age of 20-something

And for the most part, these things weren’t dealt with in a humorous way.  I could maybe get on board with that.  It’s a particularly heavy show, and while it’s extremely well done, I just don’t think it’s for me (call me immature, but I really do need some laughs with my daily dose of abortion, periods, and STDs).  The reason I haven’t ditched the show entirely is because I’m amazed by Lena Dunham (not in a “she’s hot” kind of way like Zooey).  She plays the lead character, Hannah, but also is the creator/executive producer of the show, and she writes and directs the episodes too.  That’s pretty friggen amazing for a 25-year-old.

Best line so far: “There is seriously nothing flakier in this world than not showing up to your own abortion.”  See, now that’s abortion with a humorous twist!  If only more of the show could be that funny.

Status on my DVR: Not cancelled yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

1). Veep (Two episodes aired, Sundays at 10pm on HBO)

Brilliant.  The idea to create a show focused on the Vice President of the United States isn’t brilliant itself.  But the combination of the genre (comedy), the tone (hapless satire with just the right amount of subtlety) and the lead actress (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) make it extremely promising.

You could almost describe Veep as “Parks and Recreation in the White House.”  It has the politician who means well but tends to put her foot in her mouth far too often. And it has her surrounding staff of misfits who can simultaneously get her out of a jam while creating a whole new problem.  If you like Parks and Rec, The Office or Arrested Development, give this show a chance and I promise you won’t regret it.

Best Minor Character: Speaking of Arrested Development, Tony Hale, who plays Buster on that show, is cast as Gary, the VP’s body man.  I have no idea what a body man really does, but it apparently includes taking a “sneeze bullet” for the VP.  And while we’re talking about the minor characters, I have a feeling that if you watch Veep, you’ll enjoy the VP’s staff more than the VP herself.  They are all amazing in their own way.

Best line so far: “Did the President call? No?”  It’s a running question from the VP to her receptionist, and you have to watch to appreciate it.

Status on my DVR: Taping all episodes, on the rise as one of my favorite comedies.