Originally posted 5.24.08
Episode 9, “Tree Hugger,” is now online, and it represents a role reversal between myself and Larry in more ways than one. Bucking the usual trend, Larry took the initiative on this episode and came up with the starting plot points. This is not to say that all of the writing is usually squarely on my shoulders, mind you. Our usual routine begins with a stupid idea on my part, some scribbled dialogue on a blank sheet of computer paper, and some half mumbled camera shot suggestions.
As we work through the loose shooting script, Larry will chime in with his ideas on how to improve the scene or how to reword the joke so that it actually makes sense. Not all of his suggestions are used, not all of his suggestions make sense in their own right, but most of them are and do, and there you have it, the secret to the success of Franks and Beans.
For example, Larry is the one who insisted that I modernize the dialogue in the first episode and refer to my video game system not just as a Nintendo, but as a Nintendo Wii, which I do have in real life and will beat you in tennis if you ever meet and play me. This addition seemed inconsequential to me, but dammit, Larry wanted it in and that’s what he got. In an episode soon to be aired, Larry once again threw his substantial weight around and brought into the scene a humongous megaphone, and it actually did make the scene funnier as a result. So that’s collaboration for you if I’ve ever seen it.
Another way in which this episode represents a role reversal is that Larry is now playing the fool, rather than the calm, sometimes dismissive “mentor-like” figure he plays in many of the other episodes in which I’ve done most of the scripting. It’s interesting that we’d each choose the role of hyperactive idiot for ourselves rather than the voice of reason, but I guess there’s a reason everyone liked Curly over Moe. At any rate, I found that I am quite good at getting into the role of someone who is haughty and self righteous, but I try not to think about it too much.
What I think is my favorite joke in this episode is also probably the most out of place scene. To show the passage of time (in which Larry does little more than vulgarize his idea for a great t-shirt) we cut to a scene of a winding clock – which probably hasn’t been used in a ‘real’ production for six hundred years, only to pull out to find that I’m actually winding the clock on my own (gasp! He’s breaking the fourth wall!). I love this sequence but it was actually inspired by an obscure camera foul-up a number of years ago on The Late Show with David Letterman, and for the life of me, I can’t imagine why I still remember it. The show came back from a break and the camera panned over to Letterman, who was standing behind his chair, adjusting its height. When he realized that he was being filmed, he angrily dismissed the camera with several waves of his hand. Why I still think about this throwaway moment in time (because of this I’m probably forgetting something actually important) is a mystery, but I’ve always thought that brief moment of candor was particularly funny.
Finally, this episode features swearing for the first time ever, and oh man, we chose the mother of them all. The reason it was blurred and then bleeped out is not necessarily because we’re prudes (though I don’t think anyone thinks of themselves as a prude…even prudes), but simply because I think that a censored curse word can sometimes be funnier than an uncensored one. There’s a scene in the first season of Sealab 2021 where people from the FCC let out a big long string of curse words, all of which are, of course, censored. A provided DVD extra allows us to hear the scene without the censorship, and I think most would agree that the censored scene – when more is left up to the imagination – is the funnier of the two.
Look at this, so much thought put into a nonsensical episode of a nonsensical two-to-three-minute-per-episode series. See? We don’t just push record on the camera and say whatever comes to mind.
Well, okay. Sometimes we do.