Blog 23 – Essence of Jeff

Originally Published 12.27.08

Now that Christmas has come and gone for 2008 (quaint!), it’s time to self-assess.  It’s time to think over the past year and assign meaning to it.  As I create my own personal top 10 countdown list (so popular these days!), I find that Franks and Beans, for me, falls under the category of “too fun to stop doing even if everyone would hate it.”  And so it is with great pride that I saw with a bellowing voice, “Eat it, world!  Franks and Beans is here to stay!”

“Essence of Jeff”, our 21st episode that just happens to sounds like it could possibly be the title of a soft-core pornographic movie, definitely covers some familiar territory.  Even when factoring in that all of our episodes hold at least some similarities in thematic events, this most current offering still probably ranks on top of that particular list.  This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with “Essence of Jeff”, or that it’s at all unimaginative (I’ll leave that for others to decide), but if nothing else, there’s a familiarity to it that probably makes it hard to find many distinguishing characteristics.

Let’s start at the beginning.  We open with a shot of fried eggs in a skillet, one of my favorite euphemisms for breasts.  It seems that any time we highlight food in an episode, which is fairly often, we have a really tight extreme close up of it.  Specifically “Grapes” and “Mustache” come to mind.  There are a couple of reasons why this is, though it probably comes back to the fact that I have a strange sense of what constitutes a creative camera shot, because I do enjoy a good, detailed close up…and our camera’s electronic capabilities lend itself to just that (even if it doesn’t always show up in the finished online product).

Another reason is for continuity, that warm, comfortable feeling you get when watching a show and the same thing happens over and over again.  It’s like a friend – predictable, assuring, and non-judgmental!  Or…at least predictable, depending on your friends of choice.  I find myself falling back more and more into some of the patterns we’ve established before, and I like those subtle nods to what has come before.  I don’t think it takes anything away from the actual joke, and it might itself become part of the joke after the pattern has been adequately established.

So…eggs.  If you’re quick to notice, we’re showing one solitary egg in our opening shot.  The next shot isn’t as accessible to viewers, but if you’re really observant (and can make use of that handy “pause” tool), you’ll see that Larry is in fact later cooking two eggs when I go ahead and throw the concoction into the mix.  This was strictly an editing decision, because for whatever reason, I completely botched filming the second egg dropping into the pan.  There was no real excuse for it – I was filming the shell, the pan, the crack, and then…nothing.  Maybe the stove behind the pan.  Why is this?  I can think of two reasons, and the more serious involves a brain tumor that distracts me and my concentration abilities from time to time, so I’m hoping that I just slipped up this time around.

The subsequent conversation plays on many familiar themes that have become a staple on Franks and Beans: my harebrained ideas, Larry’s curmudgeonly mentoring, an ultimate failure on my part.  The episode that most springs to mind is the first, “High School”, which probably ended with a funnier outcome, in all honesty.  This one hinged mostly on my ability to make pathetic crying noises, which can really only go so far.  But the conversation at the beginning, with Larry’s “skin-scraping” comment and my “herbs and spices” line, is one of my favorite and at the very least serves as a pretty good setup for the clash to come.

The crying that you hear as I run out of the room and Larry reluctantly follows, now that I think about it, shares some of its influence with Julia Sweeney and any number of Adam Sandler movies.  In this particular scene it’s extended in the editing stage by Larry – so that’s why it seems I’m wailing on for such a long period.

Why I chose the chewing gum/sock reference is really anyone’s guess.  I do think “chewing gum” in a nasally whine is a little funny, and the sock leads to the initial confusion, but why exactly I put that in the episode is not exactly clear.  Is it funny?  It has the potential to, at least.  Whether or not it delivers is up to others to debate, but the fact is that it’s not the primary focus of the episode – the punch line of sorts in “Essence of Jeff” comes from the running away and crying.  The second time it happens, it’s a matter of repetition and predictability; we’ve calmed Jeff down, we’ve taken control of the situation one more time, and then it happens all over again.  That inability to keep control of an extreme situation is what makes or breaks this joke and, by extension, this episode.

Our “NO!” ending is one of my favorites, at least in theory.  The idea of Larry falling down only to reappear with blood streaming down his face is not only visually distinctive but also pretty damn funny, in my opinion.  The problem with the execution is that I wasn’t allowed to break Larry’s nose to finish the effect – not even a little.  The question then became what could be an acceptable substitute, and I originally settled on ketchup.  In addition to being disgusting to have smeared all over your face (Larry assured me that he could still smell it lingering in his nasal cavities hours after washing it off), ketchup isn’t as red as it might appear in the bottle or your memory.  In fact, it comes off a little orange on film, or at least on our film, and that would do little more than confuse anyone watching – and this is beyond the initial confusion of what the endings mean in the first place.

We kept the ketchup, for its liquid consistency, on Larry’s hands for the final shot, and ended up using some Halloween costume makeup for the blood on Larry’s face (and thus the Joker costume played a new role in the show).  The results, as I’m sure is obvious, are so-so.  I’ve learned that it is challenging to show realistic-looking blood on film, meaning that I may have to scrap a future episode where one of us kills the other on screen, only to be sprayed in the face with blood from the stab wounds.  Well, maybe we’ll just have to go through with it for real.  Save the date on that one!

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