Originally Published 1.22.09
Our monstrously spectacular 23rd episode, “eBay”, harkens back to a previous episode, but it is its format that brings me to this equally monstrously spectacular blog. I suppose the monstrous spectacular-ity may vary depending on your preferences, though…just take my word for it.
If you’ve seen the episode “Message Board”, then you’ve probably figured out that there are more than a few similarities between it and “eBay”. For starters, my character spends most of his time discovering a new and potentially dangerous function for the Internet. In addition, in both episodes I eventually get caught up in some of the more obvious pitfalls of said Internet tools, as Larry tries to warn me of the errors I’m committing.
I think that this episode, much like episode 11, can be and is still funny even though the two are quite similar because of how common the situations are. Everyone who has haplessly wandered onto a message board can understand how overly dramatic a seemingly harmless situation can become, just as anyone worth his or her virtual salt has seen firsthand how an Internet auction can get out of control. Bidding wars are nothing new, as I’m sure face-to-face auctions hold the same dangerous tendencies where some get caught up in the moment (I once outbid my high school science teacher on a box of random Star Trek paraphernalia…really), but the vendettas that spring out of an eBay auction are at the same time horrible and hilarious. The shared experience with the creators and viewers is what makes this episode work, which hopefully it does.
What really strikes me as interesting about this episode, though, is the format and how it compares to the standard episode of Franks and Beans. “eBay”, clocking in at a little under five minutes in length, is one of our longer episodes. However, it was one of the quickest to shoot, and I think that Larry will agree that it was one of the easiest to edit, as we basically have a steady-camera shot of a few difference scenes that were filmed in basic sequential order.
The speed in which the episode was completed happened for a couple reasons – first, Larry and I were wrapping up a day in which we had spent a lot of time filming for other episodes, and I was anxious to leave (but not because I don’t like Larry. Why do people keep insinuating that?!). Second, and more important, we didn’t use much of a hard-and-fast script. Not that we usually spend our time memorizing written lines, but in this case we really just dove head first into the episode relying on a lot of improvisation. And just like in “Message Board”, it seemed to go off without a hitch.
Once the final product was up and ready for viewing, I noticed the length and it struck me as, for lack of a better term, odd. As anyone who pulls up the F&B playlist (thousands and thousands of you) can readily see, the average length of our episodes might be, what, two minutes? Two and a half? And this is with more preparation, more writing, and more filming than this episode, usually by a lot. What makes it so hard for me to write four minutes of dialogue, when Larry and I can randomly rattle off as much if not more without breaking much of a sweat? This is something that I can’t wrap myself around quite yet – all the preparation that goes into a ‘regular’ episode (and there is preparation…I promise) and we come up with something twice as long by just turning the camera on and going with it. Naturally, a longer episode doesn’t necessarily mean a better episode…but I think you know what I mean.
This also leads me to think about more ‘conventional’ sitcoms, the 22-minute, broadcast-ready television sitcoms. “eBay” is, roughly, one-fifth the length of your average CBS sitcom when you discount commercials. If this one conversation about how easy it is to get sucked into spending too much money on eBay took up 20 percent of, say, as episode of “How I Met Your Mother” (or any other in that generic lineup), how does anything get done in your typical program? How do they not run out of time after the third scene? I can’t figure this one out – it took us four and a half minutes to tell ONE JOKE – and they’re expected to turn out complex characters and interesting situations in not all that much more time. Amazing.
A few more random notes about this episode before I wrap things up for this blog: At the beginning of the episode I make a call to a fictional toy shop (there aren’t many around anymore, to be honest) and ask for a “Rhinox” action figure. This is because I will do anything in my power to talk about the show “Beast Wars” with Larry, as it’s one thing we can agree on – “Beast Wars” was a great show. Tremendous. And Rhinox was the best character on the Transformers spin-off, though Larry may not agree with that. But I’m right. As we were filming, I actually did type “Rhinox” into eBay’s search function, and what do you know – there was a new Rhinox figure on the market. A few weeks later Larry bought it and mailed it to me – because that’s just the kind of guy he is. The kind of guy who mails stuff to you. Thanks, buddy!
One of the most frustratingly deceptive actions on eBay is the scheme of charging too much on shipping costs. Hey, there’s something I want and it’s ONLY 99 CENTS! YES! I WILL BUY IT AND – oh, wait, it costs 30 dollars to send a book…through MEDIA MAIL. You only have to let your guard down for one second and bam! They get you. I hate people who do this.
Our much anticipated “NO!” ending was, honestly, a thing of desperation. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of a good twist on our little tradition, and let’s face it – Larry wasn’t coming up with any pieces of gold either. Finally I said, “oh, just put your clothes on backwards or something” and we went with it. Just before we shot the dubious scene, though, Larry said, probably as an aside, “do you want me to walk in backwards when I do it?” BRILLIANCE! This is what made the ending. I was just going to have Larry walk in as always, only with his pants on backwards (shirt and hat, too, but “pants” is a funny word and I didn’t want to take away from that). And it would have been awful. But having Larry walk in backwards, stick his arms behind him and give ‘em that Larryesque shake did wonders for it and for our ending.