I've been pretty busy this week getting my Rise Summer Challenge script finished. I'm happy to report it's pretty much done and will go off tomorrow! (I've stopped giving submission envelopes a kiss for luck, really, I have.) But rest assured, I've still managed to catch some TV. Last week, with Red Planet in mind, I looked at three hour long shows on. But don't forget that they will also consider thirty minute formats. So let's look at a couple of those.
When is the protagonist not the protagonist? When you are watching Entourage (ITV2). Season five, following the exploits of movie star Vincent Chase and his boys, has kicked off and it's as good as ever. I really love this show. It's so superbly written, so brilliantly executed, so hilarious, that it's baffling why ITV2 have not made more of a big deal about it and kept messing about with its time slot. But never mind all that. For our purposes, lets look at how the show works. As I mentioned, although Vince is the obvious candidate for protagonist, he is actually the least interesting character in the show. For the first four seasons, he didn't change that much. He was a playboy, a charmer, good hearted, but living life to the full. But not for nothing is the show called Entourage, and not Movie Star. His crew, from manager Eric Murphy, half brother and one hit wonder Johnny Drama, and all round dogsbody Turtle, have been fascinating to watch. They have all come of age in their own right. Not to mention his agent, the irrepressible Ari Gold. Starting as a relatively minor character, he has become one of the linchpins of the show.
I talked a little last week about working with 'unpleasant' characters. I was critical of Mutual Friends for basically not having any characters I could empathise with. But Ari Gold is a brilliant example of a character who is foul mouthed, rude, money orientated and morally debunked - and yet we love him all the more for it. How does this work? I think there are couple of reasons worth noting. One, he's funny. Really funny. And I've often argued that if a character makes us laugh, we will forgive them most things. But also, he is often, ultimately, right. He knows how to play the Hollywood game, and genuinely wants to do the best for his client. The third aspect is his relationship with his family. He loves his children, humiliating himself last season in front of a school principal for the sake of his son. And although he often argues with his wife, he has never cheated on her, despite the obvious opportunities such a man would have in Hollywood. So finally we come back to Vinny Chase. He made a great independent movie, then a blockbuster, and last season saw the release of his latest film. Cleverly, it flopped. Had it been a success there would've been nowhere for the series to go. Now, the focus returns to putting Vince back on the Hollywood map. For the first time, Vince questions where he is and what he is doing with his life. I can't wait to find out what happens next.
The other thirty minute show I'm watching at the moment is The Cup (BBC2). This series about a junior football team in Bolton, and moreover the parents of the players, is filmed as a mockumentary. And for the most part it's funny and works well. But coming back to our discussion about unpleasant characters, the lead here, Terry McConnell, definitely fits into that category. And I do sometimes find it difficult to get on board with his actions. He is socially inept, neglects his wife and is completely insensitive to others. Well, so is Basil Fawlty and David Brent, right? But there are significant differences. Cybil Fawlty is a shrew and we feel sorry for Basil. Terry McConnell's wife is the nicest character in the show. Brent doesn't hurt anyone, only himself. McConnell's antics contributed to the team manager having a heart attack and possibly poisoning the rival boy for his son's position (although we don't know this yet and I seriously hope it will be revealed not to be the case - it would be hard to justify character wise, even in comedy.) He's also casually racist and knows it too, unlike Brent who is just clumsily ignorant. Finally, McConnell claims he does everything to help his talented son become a professional footballer. But we can see that he doesn't really care about his son's wishes, but only lives vicariously through him. In fact, his son loves cooking more than football and would rather become a chef. Most of the time McConnell is oblivious to this and when he is aware of it, dismisses it with dismay. This stuff matters because I think it prevents The Cup from being brilliant. If, for example, the two were in tune, that McConnell was exactly the same, but his son wanted to play for Bolton as much as he did, you could empathise with his actions more. It's possibly the difference between a good show and a great one. If The Cup gets a second series, I wonder whether there will be a shift in McConnell's character, or at the very least his relationship with his family?
Good luck to everyone again with their competition submissions and this slot next week will be taking my first look at Merlin!