Blog 33 – Why?

 

Originally Published 5.24.10

If ignorance is bliss, then how blissful do you feel after watching two men in their late 20s who apparently don’t know the alphabet offhand?  Or, perhaps you think of our homophonic 31st episode, “Why?”, differently – maybe we’re just practicing it like monsters would.  Wait, go back and read that last sentence again.  Fifty bucks says you thought I wrote “homophobic”.  Well, you should stop making such baseless accusations and stick to the task at hand.  Why would I write such a thing?  Insinuating that is getting pretty close to slander, my friend, so I’d watch myself if I were you – but I’m not, because I’m not a jerk.

Consistency is something I strive for in Franks and Beans, not just in each individual episode, but series-wide.  I doubt that I’m accomplishing all I set out to do, because things play out differently in the concept stage than they do when ideas become filmed reality, but I do think that I’m gaining some traction in this regard, and the last handful of episodes are a good example of this.  While episode 31 might not be very long, it gets its point across as well or better than pretty much any episode to date, in my opinion, as its quick, catchy punch line hits all the right marks.

As I see it, Franks and Beans has two typical jokes that it can tell – the episodic theme- and character-driven joke, and the quick, one-line, often physical joke that depends less on the people who present the joke than on the joke itself.

Let’s compare two of our previous episodes, “High School”, our ostensive pilot, and “The Slip”, episode 20 or whatever.  I don’t feel like looking up the exact episode number for that one – figure it out on your own, sheesh.  In either case, the jokes revolve around subverting expectations, but the manner in which we get to that point make the episodes fall into one of two categories.

In “High School”, regardless if you thought it was funny or not (you did, right?!), it’s easy to see that the joke – and in both cases there is usually one central joke, just different ways or presenting it – depends on the setting, the new characters and the buildup to what is ultimately a moment of moral defeat for one character.  In “The Slip”, the joke comes and goes in under a minute, and it all revolves around physical humor (not slipping on a banana peel…or getting punched in the face, depending on what version of the episode you watch).  If Larry and I weren’t such good actors and so integral to the show, it wouldn’t matter who played the characters in “The Slip”, because the joke is paramount.  “High School” plays things the other way around – the characters and the situation in this case are more than simply means to an end.  Each situation gets us to a joke, but in different manners.

This is the consistency I’m talking about, and the consistency I hope to achieve one day – if it is really an attainable goal.  I want Franks and Beans to have this balance, where we don’t have too many character-driven episodes in a row and we don’t have too many joke-driven episodes in a row.  I don’t know how we’re doing from a comprehensive perspective, but in the few episodes before and after #30, there’s a rare moment when everything seems to come together, like Halley’s comet or when you find an item that your REALLY want on eBay and the listing’s been misspelled (so…you know…you’re the only one who knows about it and can thus get it at a much cheaper price than you otherwise would…dammit, it’s not a perfect metaphor).

“Why?” obviously falls into the second category, as this episode is certainly driven by the overall joke of mistaking a letter for a word by recreating a popular melodramatic cinematic (…hydromatic) moment.  I’ve never seen anyone in real life fall to their knees and shout in agony to the heavens, but it’s been used so much in celluloid that it’s become a parody of itself in recent times.  Having Larry move on to “Zee!” brings the light of recognition to this joke, and it’s one of my overall favorites because even though we’re shouting it at the screen, and even though it’s quite obvious what we’re going for, this happens to be one of the more ambiguous jokes we’ve told – much different from the usual slap-in-the-face variety that we often revert to (funny in its own right, to be sure).  Having me go one step further and shout “Aaaaa!” heightens the overall mood – it would have been too quick to stop after just Larry’s bit.

I also enjoy the acting done in this episode more than in others – and I’m referring to the moments we’re not falling to our knees and screaming in agony.  I have the lingering suspicion that Franks and Beans would be twice as funny if Larry and I were better actors (for which I have no recourse other than to weep silently in bed at night), and this episode, where we actually do a halfway decent job at things, serves to do nothing but confirm those ideas.  Perhaps it’s just because we don’t have many lines, but the lines we do have…wow!  Look out.  I do think we’re getting better, if that’s any solace.

Our “No!” ending this episode might seem a little strange, and not just because Larry is standing on his head.  Seriously, do his legs look really skinny to anyone else?  Do you think standing on your head would alter the appearance – other than the obvious – so drastically?  Maybe I’ve just never taken the time to stare at Larry’s legs before.  I doubt I’ll start now, so I’m left with only one recourse – believing that Larry’s legs are wiry and brittle.

But no, that’s not what strikes me as weird with this episode’s requisite ending.  After we spend most of the proper episode shouting single words in an exclamatory fashion, we have this – a sequence where Larry shouts a monosyllabic word in an exclamatory fashion.  It seems fairly repetitive.  I suppose that’s okay, but it just sticks out to me every time I watch it.  I suppose that’s what happens when you have such disconnect between scenes in the episode, but that’s the theme we’re going for, and I’m happy with it, especially since it’s taken 31 episodes before it happened.

Blog 32 – Rip Off

Originally Posted 5.17.10

Much has been made in my comments on the last few episodes of Franks and Beans on the subject of parody and just where it fits in with the concept of comedy.  While I’ll qualify my claim by saying that when it comes to parody, there can certainly be too much of a good thing, but as a general rule, I’m comfortable with making the assertion that all good comedies have at least an element of parody in them.  Really, I defy anyone to name a good comedy that doesn’t have some parodic content to it.

Let’s take a recent example and look at last year’s comedy smash “The Hangover”.  While certainly laying its own groundwork, where would it be without its nods to “Rain Man” and “Three Men and a Baby?”  Going back 20 years to one of my favorite movies, “UHF” is chock full of parodies, musical and otherwise.  If you really want to go back to the early days of film, all you have to do is look to the Three Stooges – lost among the eye pokes and face slaps is a parody of the social class structure that 1930s and ’40s America was struggling to break free from.  I don’t claim that Franks and Beans holds much of a candle to any of these cinematic gems; I merely want to point out how important a concept such as parody is to comedy in general.  When used properly, it’s a tool that really can’t be matched, because parodies are built on information we’ve already assimilated into our own cultural lexicon.

Self-parody is just another form of this type of comedy, and our wonderfully self-referential 30th episode, “Rip Off”, plays right into this concept.  What separates self-parody from regular forms of parody, though, is devotion.  Self-parody doesn’t come along without a substantial store of very specific material.  While parody lives off of the never ending supply of popular culture, self-parody relies completely on the singular body of work it parodies.  Franks and Beans could have its ever popular “No!” endings from the first episode, and we did, because we’re mocking overplayed cliffhangers and those have been around as long as there have been cliffs to hang from, but for us to use self-parody, we had to have enough material to serve as a solid foundation.  Thirty episodes in, the result is “Rip Off”, an ambitious and context-laden episode that, in many ways, highlights some of our better moments while making fun of everything we do.

“Rip Off” welcomes back old friend of the show “Hardcore” Mark Moncheck, who is getting sincerely less hardcore the longer I know him.  Seriously, the guy’s married, has a steady job, gets regular haircuts…it’s a misnomer, I tell you.  The perfect role for Mark in any episode of Franks and Beans is that of the obsessed fan, because it’s not much of a stretch from who he is in real life.  Sometimes I think that Mark, Larry and I are the only ones who watch Franks and Beans – perhaps I’m not too far from the truth with that thought – but even if that were the case, Mark has the enthusiasm to simulate dozens and dozens of viewers.  Hell, it got him a recurring role on the show, so I guess it’s working out for him, too.

Joe Kromer is new to the show and, at ten years younger than both Larry and myself, newer to life in general.  Another fan of the show who was granted entrance in through our golden gates, Joe has since disappeared from the face of Brownsville, never to be seen again.  Seriously, I have no idea where to find this guy.  For a one-time character, though, he sure picked a memorable episode, and did a decent job with the “next time on Kielbasa and Kraut” line.  It probably took us all of five minutes to come up with that new title.

One of my great joys in working of Franks and Beans is writing lines that other people – of their own free will, mind you! – speak and act out.  Recreating the episode “The Sandwich” scene for scene, as short as it is, was great fun, even more so because we were using different actors.  Mark’s take on the “No!” ending was especially fun, because Mark couldn’t – for the life of him – not burst through the door of the room without looking really excited.  He was just playing it natural, I guess.

The premise for this episode is fairly simple – Larry and I find people stealing our ideas, and we decide to kill them, but then we end up doing the same thing they did in the first place.  Violence, another great comedic element, certainly has its part in Franks and Beans the series, and perhaps never is that more evident than in this episode.  I’m not sure how effective our out-and-out “I’m gonna kill them!” lines were – you’re supposed to show, not tell, after all – but even those served as means to an end.

Speaking of killing, Larry’s poor, wounded Jeep has finally been put out to pasture, though it still has a few more appearances before we give it its proper sendoff.  One of the reasons for its demise, however, might have come from the filming of this episode.  If you look for it, you’ll see it – as Larry is frantically backing up out of his driveway, the car makes a grinding sound, a thin waft of smoke can be seen, and then it kicks into gear.  I’m not saying that the Jeep wasn’t on its last legs as it was, but…oh, how we suffer for our craft.

The house Larry and I eventually burst into, breaking up the beginning of the famous “Mustache” sketch (keep an eye our for fake F&B’s crappy camera in the background…because they’re filming another rip off episode, not just going about their daily lives in a way that just happens to synch up with an episode of Franks and Beans), is actually Larry’s grandmother’s house.  We knew that we couldn’t film their scenes in Larry’s house (“the studio”), and our other options were fairly dim, and I think this new setting worked out really well.  It didn’t look like a house an 80-something-year-old woman lives in, did it?  That’s the magic of Hollywood, baby.

The fight scene that ensues was fun to do – so much fun, in fact, that I apparently had a hard time not smiling the entire time I’m physically assaulting Joe.  You can look at this in two ways: either I am a sadistic bastard who takes joy in causing others physical pain, or I should really be more aware of what I’m doing as I’m acting out a scene.  Pick your favorite!  It’s like a “Choose Your Own Ending” tale where one choice covers up my mental lapses.  The ‘punching’ sound effects make their return in this episode – they’re favorites of mine, and, for better or worse, I use them in a good handful of upcoming episodes.  There’s just something about them.

Tearing up a comic book is something I never thought I’d do – I’m more of the bag and board type – but I have to admit, tearing up the Punisher 2099 issue I bought for, oh, 15 cents or something ridiculous, was lots of fun.  It was like eating the forbidden fruit, only you weren’t REALLY eating it, because it was just for a show.  I hope that Stan Lee doesn’t revoke my Merry Marvel Marching Society card.  Yes, those exist.

The real humor in this episode takes place after the big fight scene, which is unusual for us.  Usually the punch in the face IS the joke, but this time it’s in turning the tables and doing exactly what we got so mad about in the first place.  I think it works, and even the line “I can’t find the Internet!” is pretty amusing.  We’ve set up the possibility for future conflict as Mark, nursing his black eye with a frozen bag of peas (a popular television remedy), expresses his hate for us.  Perhaps we’ll look back in on this theme one day, if only we could find Joe to make it happen.

Big props go out to Larry for all of the design work he did this episode, most notably the Funny or Die website parody “Laf or Perish”, which he created from electrons in the air.  It got me thinking that we should buy the domain name http://www.laforperish.com, but that’d be foolish.  Unless it’s be a BRILLIANT MARKETING TOOL!  Hmmm…

How could we top this blow-out-the-walls episode?  Why, it’s simple – with nudity.  Really, it had to happen.  Ever since iChat and its level of success (it continues to be the one episode everyone remembers), it was only a matter of time before we brought the big square censor bar back, and its effect is obvious.  Seriously, you didn’t think we’d do it eventually?  Well, here it is.

Blog 31 – Death and Taxes

 

Originally Published 5.14.10

You know the old phrase, “don’t believe everything you see on TV”?  Or, wait…maybe it’s “don’t believe everything you read on the Internet”.  No, it’s about hearing stuff, right?  “Don’t believe everything you hear”.  Oh, whatever – the point I’m trying to make is that there’s a phrase that people repeat often, and it has something to do with not believing stuff…that you would…otherwise…

Oh hell, let’s just cut our losses and move forward in this long-awaited discussion of Franks and Beans’ edutainmental 29th episode, “Death and Taxes”.  Do you like what I did there?  I combined three separate words to make one fantastic new one: educational, entertaining, and mental to create “edutainmental”.  “Mental” just because it fit so nicely.  Write it down, you saw it here first.

I wouldn’t say that Franks and Beans is necessarily a parody of anything in particular, though it does obviously have some parodic moments – the consistent “No!” endings being the best example – and this episode certainly falls into that category nearly from start to finish.  It’s hard to choose which of the many parodies is the most obvious, even, so let’s just start with the first one, in which we go so far as to even use a line of dialogue to point out the fact that we’re mocking some other form of pop culture.

In this case, it’s the “obligatory nervous guy” who happens to populate a high percentage of movietown, so it seems.  It happens so often that I don’t know that I can even name a specific example, but hopefully I don’t have to – every once in a while you’ll see a movie – usually a comedy – where it’s one character’s job to be uptight and stuffy while another character – the protagonist, in most cases – causes mischief and wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting something-or-other.  Characters to fall into the category of “ne’er-do-well” include a free spirited grade school child, a happy-go-lucky college student, or Adam Sandler.  Characters to fall into the category of “obsessive worrier” usually represent some overbearing authority figure, including a high school principal, emotionally aloof parent, or anyone else in an Adam Sandler movie.

In the case of such antagonistic characters, it’s not uncommon to bear witness to their never-ending quests to relieve their ulcer-inducing conditions with what amounts to substance abuse, either by drinking entire bottles of Pepto Bismol or by munching maniacally on nondescript pills a handful at a time.  Thus is born the crux of this episode – the acknowledgement of these characters and the logical conclusion to the question I’ve always had about them: simply, if someone would just start eating dozens and dozens of prescription pills, wouldn’t there be any real consequences beyond showcasing how wacky a main character was?

Trying to handle your own taxes come April 15th is a stressful situation for some, to be sure, but the reason we chose Tax Day as our catalyst for this episode was because of the authoritative overseer that could lead us to our second scene.  Yes, the shot of Jeff face down on the table, ever-so-slightly seizing with pills scattered all around, is a funny one (if I can say so), but it’s really just a means to take us to our second scene, where I’m dead under a white sheet.  Why Larry and his family are so nonchalant about having a dead body rotting on the couch, and why they still treat it as if it has some viable life force remains a mystery, but it sure does help to set up the final – and I think best – joke of the regular episode.

“You’re arrested” follows in line with a few other episodes in that it ends on a crisp, definitive phrase.  The timing, as with the other examples, is really what makes or breaks the joke – in addition to, of course, the idea that arresting a dead guy is still fairly impossible.  It also brought this episode’s title full circle, and it’s not every day when that happens.  When it does, though…look out.

Overall, this episode does have a few clunky lines in it (“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the movies, they’re absolutely true”…what?!), but I think the jokes are such that everyone can relate to them, and that’s really what we’re shooting for.  Oh, and I wasn’t really eating prescription pills in this episode…the pill bottle (washed beforehand to decrease the chances that I’d be taking estrogen supplements or something similar) was full of delicious Sweet Tarts.  Mmm.

Our “No!” ending for this episode, as I’m sure comes as no surprise, is our most involved to date.  It’s also noteworthy because Larry doesn’t actually say “No!” at all – though perhaps at this point that’s forgivable if for no other reason than the expectation of it was there.

An episode like “Death and Taxes” presented us with the perfect opportunity to cobble together a parody of NBC’s “The More You Know” campaign, and the message we were trying to get across – cynical as it may be – seemed to fit right in with the theme.

I find it ironic – and perhaps hypocritical – that we as a society feel the need to emphasize how bad certain drugs are, when we are able to turn right around in a metaphorical sense and advertise for other equally dangerous drugs.  This is the closest Franks and Beans has ever come to displaying any amount of social relevance or commentary, and I realize the danger in crossing the line between sketch comedy and pandering; there’s a time and a place for everything, but I don’t know that I really want Franks and Beans to delve too deeply into dredging up many of society’s ills.  The opportunity to point out some of the absurdities in how we can distinguish between some narcotics and the more “socially acceptable” ones, though, all the while spoofing the after-school-specialness of the “The More You Know” campaign, was too alluring in this case, and hopefully we did a decent job at getting the message across.

If nothing else, Larry and I had fun with props, as is evident by the fact that I decide to “step up” on something different in every camera shot and how I take drinks out of bottles labeled “alcohol” and “nicotine”, though I’m fairly sure neither were discernable on the screen.  The line “I’ll drink to that!” was an impromptu addition that I think really serves as a capstone on what was a very different, very interesting, and altogether “very special!” episode of Franks and Beans.  Social crusaders, both of us.

Blog 30 – Deus Ex Machina

 

Originally Published 4.18.10

Here it is, the episode Larry can’t pronounce and I’m not sure I understand.

If I had it to do all over again, “Deus Ex Machina” would have had a much more subversive ending to live up to the title.  Now that I think about it, there are probably more than a few things I would change with this 28th episode, but my baggy grey sweater is not one of them.  Seriously, look at that thing – it’s all comfy and non confrontational.  It’s like it’s saying “take a nap, I won’t judge you.”  Also, Larry is in this episode.

The opening shot of this episode harkens back to “iChat” in that we just kind of…begin.  There’s no lead in at all, and this is less of an artistic decision and more a product of the fact that thinking of some kind of relevant opening is actually really difficult.  That doesn’t mean we should just accept that as a creative limitation, but the truth is we are sometimes more concerned with the joke than we are with how we get there.  I won’t say that it takes something away from this episode, but it’s not something I really want to see continue.

I’ve mentioned this before, most recently in my commentary on “Replacement Larry”, but this is probably the best example of Larry using Franks and Beans as a showcase for his new obsessions – because in this case, there are two.  The first is the video game used for the opening shot, a highly addictive game called “NHL 3 on 3 Arcade”, which as you can tell by the name is a martial arts “Double Dragon”-style side scrolling game.  Or…wait.  Maybe I’m thinking of something else.  Anyway, the filming of this episode was predicated by an hour or so of “research”, in which I totally owned Larry game after game after game.  This is usually how things happen.  Larry buys a game and plays it for days at a time; I come for a visit, play once and completely destroy him time and again.  It’s a gift, really.

The second instance of Larry and his product placement just happens to be the main focus on this episode.  I will say that I’ve never – not once – seen Larry use his Bluetooth headset/ear-thing in real life.  This might be because I’m usually not standing right next to him when we’re talking on the phone, but this also might be a case similar to his weeklong trial with a Blackberry phone.  It’s new and exciting, yes, but does it seamlessly integrate into Larry’s life?  If not, then chances are it’s in a drawer somewhere in his house, waiting around to be unearthed in ten years’ time to be used in a Franks and Beans reunion movie, filmed entirely in glorious 5-D!  Wait, did I just say that Franks and Beans will no longer be filming new episodes in the year 2020?  NEVER!

While I sometimes have problems thinking of unique and acceptable openings for the show, I apparently never have an issue in deciding how Larry will leave a scene – he’s always going for something to eat.  ALWAYS.  This is not necessarily all that different from real life, in which sandwiches are never far out of reach.  They are pretty good, though.

Once Larry leaves the scene, we get into the heart of the episode, in which I am taken for all I’m worth by some invisible predator (not to be mistaken with the creature from the movie “Predator”.  It’s easy to mix them up).  This joke, admittedly, takes way too long to get to, and the build up isn’t necessarily worth the payoff that we get once we make our way to the end.  Having a one way conversation is challenging and, all things considered, I think this one worked out all right (I’m sure the audience appreciated looking at a still shot of me talking to myself, earpiece dangling precariously from my head), but looking back it seems that things played out exactly like you’d have expected them to.  Sure, this enforces the idea that my character is hopelessly ignorant in any kind of technological capacity and as such it has something of a “don’t open that door!!” parodic quality, but to me it seems a bit too predictable, and one thing I never want the show to be is predictable.  That “I guess I’ve gotten freaky” line was pretty good, though.

But let’s talk about this episode’s name.  What a name, right?  And it just came to me.  “God from the machine”, “Deus ex machina”…perfect!  Now if only we had an episode to match.  And no…that’s not my real Social Security number there at the end.  If by some fantastic coincidence I happened to guess someone else’s, please feel free to sign up for all the credit cards you’d like.  Once Dateline works its way back to me and this episode is played on network television, we’re sure to get that big break and the thousands of views we’ve been looking for.  Take that, random happenstance!

Once you are done watching this episode, I hope that you enjoy the simple wonderment that is our “No!” ending.  The surprise – unpredictability, perhaps! – of Larry using some goblin-like high-pitched voice catches me off guard nearly every time I watch it, and that – that! – is funny.  And just how many Steeler jerseys does Larry have, anyway?  Quite a few, my friend…quite a few.

Blog 29 – Honesty

Originally Published 4.06.10

There’s just something about openly weeping that I find funny, which is why I think our robust 27th episode, “Honesty”, is one of the more underrated gems in the Franks and Beans crown.  And before anyone thinks I’m making some kind of metaphorical reference to pride or confidence, please realize that both Larry and I own bejeweled crowns that we often wear around the set.  They’re pretty great.

This episode plays out in contrast to some of the episodes that immediately precede it, such as “Studio Audience” and “Replacement Larry”, in that “Honesty” is fairly understated.  As much fun as the more involved episodes – ones with different characters and location shoots – are to produce (and watch, I’m sure), there are also times when simplicity is a welcome change: times when Larry and I forego the frills and stick with a single wide shot of the kitchen table and three minutes of steady dialogue.

You’ll notice (YOU WILL!) that at the beginning of this episode, Larry is reenacting what I’m certain is an epic He-Man/Skeletor battle.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: one of the biggest challenges with this series is in coming up with realistic ways for episodes to begin.   I should probably, I don’t know, do some actual research and watch a few sitcoms now and then, but apparently I’d rather wander through the filmmaking wilderness (ok, now THAT was a metaphor) and continue doing what I almost always do: have someone reading a book/the newspaper/some mail to open a scene.  I’m sure there are different, interesting ways to offer establishing shots of characters, but when I try to think of any the best I can come up with is, evidently, Larry showing off new additions to his action figure collection.

Also featured in this episode is another ambiguous reference to my character’s relationship status, which without me realizing has become something of a running joke on the show (just not a very funny one!).  I’ve been seen hitting on the never-to-return character of “Lauren” in “Grapes”, looking to pick up girls in “Mustache”, hiding my girlfriend from the clutching grasp of Larry in “iChat”, and in this episode I mention that I’m having some sort of trust issues with an unseen girlfriend – all the while (with the exception of “The Gift”, in which I actually cared about these things) I’m doing nothing to hide the fact that I’m wearing a wedding ring.  At this point it’s too funny (in a relative sense…it’s not funny in any real context) for me to take it off or include some episodic answer, so my apparent adulterous ways will continue for the foreseeable future.  I hope my wife doesn’t read that last sentence.

The joke in this episode – the one that perhaps takes too long to get to – stems from one character saying something inappropriate that he can’t take back, as much as he tries.  This in itself is nothing new in a comedic sense, but I tried to extend this joke to its absolute greatest extreme to create what I hope is a memorable scene.  The huge difference in borrowing a Led Zeppelin shirt and murdering someone’s father is one that can never be reconciled, and I think this is the second, underlying joke: the “I killed your dad” line is funny in and of itself, but when you look at the wide gap between my character’s big secret and this more violent one, it becomes even funnier.

I think more episodes of Franks and Beans should end with sobbing, as this one does.  Plenty of episodes feature physical pain as a proper ending, but adding emotional pain to the mix really heightens my level of satisfaction with “Honesty”.  Perhaps that indicates some sort of festering mental illness, but even so, I’ll take it – my ability to act-cry notwithstanding, this is one of the stronger endings I think we’ve had during the series.

Our “No!” ending is fairly simplistic, but sometimes the simplest jokes get the biggest laughs.  In this case it’s not the slow motion video that gets me, but the audio.  To be honest, if I had this to do over again (and I think we all know that we don’t revisit episodes of Franks and Beans – once it’s done, it’s done FOREVER) I might try and tone down Larry’s wild flailings, because his rubber arm trick looks kind of weird when I watch it.  The noise, though, more than makes up for it, and I’m more surprised than I should be that we could get such a good effect from simply slowing down the video.  It’s the little things that make me happy (that’s what she said).

Blog 28 – Replacement Larry

 

Originally Published 4.01.10

This is one episode that I don’t mind watching again (as opposed to some of which I am IMMEDIATELY ASHAMED!), and I think it holds up.  Josh, my brother-in-law, really stepped up and made this work.  Larry did okay too, I guess.

Sometimes it’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Other times it just makes Larry mad at you for not writing a new Franks and Beans blog for months and months.  Which is it this time, I wonder?  Only the wind knows.  And Larry.  Because he knows all.

Franks and Beans returns this week with an all new retrospective look at the fantastically super episode 26, affectionately known in some circles as “Replacement Larry”.  This episode features a number of memorable lines, but more notable is obviously the inclusion of a brand new character in the F&B universe.  Before this episode, the only secondary character not played by superfan Mark Moncheck was a member of Larry’s immediate family.  To start pulling my weight around here (because really, I should stop riding the coattails of my past success) I brought someone in from my side of the family, namely my brother-in-law Josh Rager.

Josh is, as you can see in this episode, a natural when it comes to Franks and Beans.  And by this I mean he sure is good at playing up his part to the point where it becomes a caricature of himself, which I believe Larry and I tend to do as well.  Josh is really like this in real life – kind of.  By looking at the roles we all play as just characters who are part of a larger story, it was just a matter of time before we came up with something similar to the plot we have in this episode, where one of those characters gets replaced by one a little more agreeable.

The majority of this episode is filmed – ON LOCATION! – a mile or two away from our normal location of Larry’s house; interestingly enough, when deciding what the best place to film outside, walking down a sidewalk, we chose a spot right outside of a house Larry’s grandmother owns.  Keeping it close, I guess.  Outside shoots always add a different element to the process; namely, there are more distractions.  Sometimes it’s a car blowing its horn, sometimes it’s a dog barking, sometimes it’s a nudist sunning himself in a conspicuous location.  This time it was one of Larry’s neighbors, who decided that a few guys setting up a video camera on a tripod was a good time to shoot the breeze.  Such is the price of stardom, I suppose.

We here at Franks and Beans have referenced Ed McMahon twice on the show – once in the pilot episode “High School” (“I have this recurring nightmare where Ed McMahon’s chasing me…and I’m naked”) and now just slightly more subtle in “Replacement Larry”.  I am, of course, referring to the catch phrase “HEY-OOO!” which we repeat a few times during the episode.  Other than the fact that I apparently always have Ed McMahon on the edge of my thoughts, this was very much unintentional.  It has had, though, an unintended consequence: because of this episode, I have begun saying “HEY-OOO!” in real life situations whenever I get excited.  And I don’t know how to stop!  Perhaps Ed McMahon’s ghost is haunting me; perhaps it forever will.

Larry plays an understated role in this episode – perhaps we both do when compared to the over-the-top character that Josh plays – but he has a few memorable actions that are worth mentioning.  Even if they aren’t, I’m still going to mention them, so I guess you just have to deal with it…or stop reading.  Please don’t stop reading!

When Larry first approaches me in this episode – we just happen to be the only people walking down this desolate street – he comments on all of the various ways in which he’s tried to contact me in recent days.  Here’s one thing you need to know about Larry – he likes to add references to his stuff in episodes, whether they fit or not.  (And he hasn’t grown out of it yet.)  This is why Larry never refers to his vehicle as a car in any episode, which normal people would do.  No, Larry ALWAYS refers to it by the proper noun “Jeep”.  In “How To” he even backtracks so he can include a reference to his beloved emitter of greenhouse gas.  In “Replacement Larry” he mentions my Blackberry mobile device, by which of course he’s mentioning HIS new Blackberry mobile device.  But the joke’s on you, reference Larry, because you took your Blackberry back to the store just days after filming this episode!  That’ll learn you.

Another Larry-ism that bears mentioning is the long walk Larry takes after leaving Josh and me to discuss our future plans.  None of the things Larry decides to do in the background – trip over a rock, check his shoe while leaning on a telephone pole, etc. – were planned, at least by me.  All of these improvisations really add a level of humor to the episode that I think raise the quality to another level – a level that couldn’t have been achieved simply through dialogue alone.  Seeing it come together as seamlessly as it did was truly an auspicious moment, and one I hope we both can learn from.

I honestly wonder if anyone gets offended when Replacement Larry goes into his “maybe we could make out a little” speech.  The humor in this episode, as it’s intended, comes from the prospect of having a jovial conversation take a very unexpected turn.  I do actually fret that one day someone will watch this episode and think that the gay proposition is the only joke we’re making – and while shock value does of course come into play, as it has to, I’d like to think that the overall intention is much more innocent.  If you’re reading this and you are a bit miffed…you have my apologies.  Maybe I’ll buy you a Coke or something.

The final scene in this episode, which should be quick enough to have the right effect, probably would have worked better if I could have stopped myself from smiling after saying my line.  I’m working on it.

Our “No!” ending for this episode reaches hall of fame proportions, as I’ve heard that it surpasses all previous and surely all future efforts in this regard.  This would normally be daunting and just a little bit insulting, but I have to admit, the “silent movie” effect combined with “The Entertainer” music really does make for a nice effect.  What really sells this scene, though, is Larry’s dramatic acting and dramatic choice of wardrobe – who just has a hat like that?!  In any case, like many things in this episode, things really came together nicely for the ending.  We’ll be trying to live up to this as season two rages on.  And by “rages on” I mean “violently surges forward”.  Hope to have you on board for what is sure to be a fun ride!

Blog 27 – The Long Run

Originally Published 3.29.09

I’m posting this from an airport in Phoenix.  It feels quite business-like.  This is how dedicated I am, people!

If you never knew just how self-referential Franks and Beans could get, just watch the dramatic reenactment of our very first episode in this tale of new beginnings, this springtime flower that is episode 25, “The Long Run”.  In addition to sounding like a mix between a Bob Hope road movie and an Ernest Hemingway novel, this episode asks some underlying questions that “High School” left tantalizingly unanswered.  Or perhaps you never asked those questions and find my assumptions unbecoming.  Either way, dammit, I’ve got a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it.

“The Long Run” obviously has its origins in the beginning of the series; in many ways Larry and I saw this as a symbolic nod in the direction of everything that our self-proclaimed first season had become.  As the first episode in our second season (why we chose this as our relaunching point is anyone’s guess), this episode is more than just an extended version of “High School’s” signature opening scene, but it still serves as a reminder of what came before.

Thinking back to the show’s first few days, I can remember just what I had planned for the series.  The first episode, complete with character development and an easy-to-follow storyline, would be followed by a second in which the main plot – trying to get back into high school in order to reclaim some long-lost glory – would be furthered by new jokes and an expanding cast.  I had plans to film in the actual high school of record (the one we drove to and quickly from in the first episode), and even a lengthy joke where Larry would point out how my ever-encroaching hair loss would make it difficult for me to pass as the average student (“I’ll wear a hat!” would have been my well planned reply).

As it turned out, putting together something of that magnitude would have been next to impossible to accomplish.  If nothing else, two guys in their mid-to-late twenties walking around a high school with a video camera was sure to arouse some suspicion.  And beyond that, this plan might have netted us…what, five episodes?  A half dozen if we were lucky?  No, the evolution of Franks and Beans into what it is now was quick and necessary.  We do have recurring characters and plotlines, but by and large, the show is propelled by the “joke of the week” mentality.

“The Long Run”, in some subversive way, is the expression of that mentality in relation to the show’s original intentions.  Here I am, running with an apparent goal in mind, determined to accomplish whatever I’ve set out to do, when all of a sudden I get flattened by a car.  This IS the evolution of Franks and Beans.  Do you get it?!  Is it funny?!  I hope so.

Other than being a representation of the show in general, “The Long Run” discusses some other questions that I’ve had since the first episode aired roughly fourteen months ago.  In “High School”, much of the opening sequence is simply my character running as fast as he could.  I think you could look at this in one of two ways – either what I had to tell Larry was so important that I couldn’t stop for anything, or this is how I arrived every time I decided to visit.  The second option is, I think, the funnier of the two in a physical sort of way, and as such I had plans of mentioning my character’s exhaustive sprints in every few episodes – showing me running up the driveway or bursting in the door or what have you.  Would I have had an important announcement or a new impossible challenge with every entrance?  It’s possible, but as with anything, the possibilities were limited.  So if nothing else, this episode again begs the question, “why does he run like that?!”  Not answering it in episode 25 makes it all the better, I think.

Another connection I wanted to make, at least at first, was the importance of my message in relation to the distance I traveled.  I ran for about ten seconds in the first episode with news that I thought would be life changing.  What kind of message would I have if I then extended my journey by as much as I did?  I wanted to raise expectations – the longer I ran the more pressing the question would be.  And then it ends with a solution that is not at all satisfying, but at the same time the only one possible.   An ending as abrupt as my apparent death hopefully had the desired effect: unexpected surprise.  I wanted the episode to be all buildup and just a tiny bit of solution, which hopefully it was.

As the shots in the episode progressed, we see a number of different occurrences that might have the propensity to slip on by: the dog that decided to chase me the entire length of its property; the reality shot where Larry chugs on after me down the road; the many times I regretted eating right before I decided to undertake this; the similarity of the last few shots with the opening of “High School”; Larry’s masterful editing job in making all of the scenes match up even though some were filmed at different times of day.

If you’re wondering why we never actually see me getting hit by Larry in his Jeep, it’s because that faking something like that is HARD!  When it came down to it, out biggest obstacle was the slant of the road, followed closely by the fact that concrete is hard and my body is covered almost entirely by soft pink flesh.  My momentum would carry me downhill to the point where it would be almost impossible to stop myself and fall backwards at the rate the Jeep was traveling.  If we had more time (all of our episodes are filmed on a relatively tight schedule), I would have extended the running even more until we came to a more level piece of ground.  Even so, the solution to our problems was probably the most effective way to end the episode – cut it just a little short and leave the obvious to the imagination.  That way the physical restrictions don’t have a chance to overshadow the joke.

I understand that “The Long Run” isn’t going to be the episode that puts Franks and Beans on the map, but it was satisfying from a creator’s standpoint, if nothing else.  It tied our first season in with our ongoing second, and it brought back some more of the absurdities from our much-beloved pilot episode.  Why does Jeff do all of that running in “High School”?  Well, now we’ll never know.  Because he’s dead.