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01/13/2007: Giving 'em Wrinkles
You know one of the things I totally adore about The Office? Michael Scott is a really good salesman. He is an appalling boss, yes, but several times this year we have seen him sell paper really, really well. Every time it happens, I fall in love with the show all over again.
Michael is the embodiment of the Peter Principle. His competence as a salesman clearly got him promoted into exactly the job he cannot do. If he wasn't a good salesman, we'd be wondering how he got his job at all. But the fact that Michael's salesmanship makes logical sense isn't the reason I love it. The fact that Michael is good at something makes him much realer, and *that* is what I love. Once I realized he could be competent, I wasn't only more sympathetic toward him, but I also *believed* in him more. He was more like a real person, with lovely layers and contradictions and complexity. Wrinkles.
On The Office, these Michael moments have been lovely but small. However, moments in which unexpected - but plausible - traits are revealed in established characters are often among the most memorable moments in the history of a show. Sometimes, in fact, these moments are enormous, and get accomplished in "special episodes," like Archie and Mike ("Meathead") talking while locked in the basement on All In The Family, an episode that revealed a sympathetic, more humane Archie. This would be too heavy, too non-standard, for a spec. But often these moments are just right... they occur in ordinary episodes... the very best ordinary episodes. These are episodes that would have made the most wonderful spec scripts.
For example, the best-loved episode of Mary Tyler Moore is probably the one in which sweet, proper Mary laughs at a funeral. One of my all-time favorite M*A*S*H episodes is the one in which close-fisted Charles secretly makes a generous Christmas donation to the war orphans. The best episode of Lou Grant, in my opinion, is the one in which self-obsessed Rossi supports and listens to a colleague who is recovering from a rape -- amazing television. And there was that stunner of a development on Battlestar last season, in which President Roslyn, our closest thing to a moral compass on that amazing show, tried to fix an election. It left me gasping.
Make a spec that does this, that reveals a shocking but believable new aspect to an established character... and you've really got something. Reveal the best part of your bad guy, the worst impulse of your hero, the serious side of your comic relief, the silliest moment of your stuffed-shirt or the paper-sellin' soul of the incompetant boss. Go on, wrinkle 'em up.
Lunch: scrambled eggs with fried tortilla chips and hot sauce in 'em.