Blog 50 – The Rating Game

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The second season of Franks and Beans comes to a close with episode 48: The Rating Game, and Larry and I wanted to go out with as “big” an episode as we could possibly muster.  With no budget and one camera, the idea of “big” is relative, but we wanted to do as much as we could.  Our luck was running high on this day, as we were able to (gasp) shoot at a different location and (coronary) include five guest stars in one of our longest episodes of the series.

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Our first guest was Larry’s mom, who revived her role as “person who hands mail to Larry”.  Judging by how Larry takes the mail out of its envelope, she is apparently also the person who reads Larry’s mail beforehand and then doesn’t do anything to hide the fact that she is committing a federal offense.  Oh, and she interrupts a perfectly improvised scat in the process.

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There are many things that I learned from this episode, which in itself is a bit of a commentary on the show, as Larry and I openly refer to Franks and Beans as a concept, while filming for the show we are discussing (whatever).  The first of these lessons is that I should probably not wear this shirt anymore (which I still have), because a dark black top makes my skin look like it is being deprived of oxygen or something.  Maybe it’s the lighting.  But then there’s Larry, who comparatively looks like a bronzed Adonis (which is a really laughable concept if you think about it) when sitting next to me.

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The Franks and Beans official YouTube ratings have always been an…interesting point of discussion between Larry and myself, and our next guest, “Hardcore Mark” Moncheck (Larry, did Mark give himself that nickname?) illustrates our plot point by laughing at the “NO!” ending to one of our first episodes.  Oh!  And check out that Tree Hugger shirt!  It almost constitutes a guest appearance on its own.

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Larry’s beloved Jeep was literally traded in in the “Cash for Clunkers” program, and here we debut Larry’s new-ish Honda.  I love the scene where Larry and I, after a bout of depression, bolt out of the door, putting clothing accessories on as we run.  The “new car” joke is a callback to, among other episodes, “High School”, and is probably not that funny, but Franks and Beans is nothing if not self referential.

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Let’s take a minute to talk about the day that this episode was filmed, an early spring day in which Larry and I drove up to Homestead and the Dave & Buster’s parking lot, and all of the favors we called in to make this happen.  This day in March just happened to be the day of my brother-in-law’s wedding rehearsal.  Rather than try to be a supportive groomsman and help make an important day less stressful, I thought it’d be a good idea to get everyone to film an episode of Franks and Beans, shooting some scenes like the one pictured above as others went about fulfilling obligations.

The groom-to-be was Josh, known to the Franks and Beans word (as explained earlier: Mark) as “Replacement Larry” from the episode, uh, “Replacement Larry”, even took the time to be in this damn episode as everyone else waited on him to start eating.  After his scene, which took two takes, he ran very fast back into the building where he was probably yelled at.

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Josh is a well-connected individual, and by that I mean something other than his obvious ties to organized crime.  He was able to put me in touch with two people who are ACTUALLY ACTORS (I cannot stress this enough) and were in town, from Los Angeles, for the wedding.  First up is Heather Comstock, who, among other things, has at times painstakingly and meticulously entered in closed captioning text for various industry productions (her IMDB page proves that I am not a liar).  Heather, without ever having actually met either of us, graciously provided the line “Franks and Beans sounds like a gay porno troupe”, which to her (and, I guess, everyone else) had absolutely no context.  The fact that she did not know who we were probably helped in getting her to agree to be on the show.

In any case, I was pretty stunned at how well she acted out the scene, which caused me to be 1) embarrassed at how poorly Larry and I act, and 2) a bit starstruck at how well someone else could do it.  To this day, Larry tells me that he thinks I have a crush on this poor girl, to which I have no reply other than to remind Larry that there exists plenty of blackmail-able information on his part as well.

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Next up is Matt Easton, of whom we discusses extensively in our last post, so I won’t bother with the obsequiousness here, other than to say that Matt is a legitimate actor who might one day have his SAG membership revoked due to his appearance on Franks and Beans.  Check out his IMDB page.

Oh, and he was the best man in Josh’s wedding.

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Second only to the “gay porno troupe” line must be “#$%$ you, Frankenberry”, made in the quickly fading light as unsuspecting people, just looking for a night out to distract them from their terrible, stress-filled existences, walked by and into Franks and Beans immortalit as unintentional extras.

The idea of my character being more concerned with views for our videos than losing my wallet or, say, grand theft auto, was a bit of an understated end to a more ostentatious episode, but hopefully it wasn’t lost on anyone.  And it’s nice to know that I still look deathly pale in that damn black shirt from beginning to end.

Overall, the point is, watch Franks and Beans.  Watch it, damn you, and tell your friends to watch it.  There are more than seven billion people on this earth.  Is it too much to ask that at least half of them watch out show?  I don’t think it is.

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Our “NO!” ending is actually a “YES!” ending, as Larry and I switch roles for the final episode of all seasons.  That might not have been clear earlier, as before this there was only…one…such ending.  Larry was totally jealous of me as we finished editing, late into the evening.  “You always get the best ones”, he said, which I suppose meant that he was impressed with our work on “The Rating Game”, but I just took as sour grapes.  #$%$ you, Frankenberry.

Tree Hugger shirt: a meaningless update

It’s been over three years since the episode “Tree Hugger” first aired, and every once in a while, Larry and I pull the shirt out of storage and it makes an appearance.  So how’s the old guy holding up?  I snapped a picture recently a the results are there to see.

All in all, it’s not doing too bad.  Considering that, to create it, Larry grabbed a decade-old sheet of iron-on transfer paper, ran it through a laser-jet printer and ironed it to a plain Hanes shirt, singeing the edges while doing it, I’d say that it’s lasted longer than expected. But there’s noticeable wear, especially on the corners.  The word “Hugger” is pretty much indecipherable at this point.  Honestly, the fact that it is becoming more and more ratty makes this frankly awful design even funnier, at least to me.

I’m in the process of making some shirts to sell at comic book conventions and the like, and the thought has crossed my mind to make some actual Tree Hugger shirts as well.  The chances of this actually happening, though, are pretty slim.  For one, no one would buy them unless, for some fantastic reason, Franks and Beans became an incredible hit (and in the event that happens…look out)…and furthermore, it would take away from some of the uniqueness and humor of this, the original Tree Hugger shirt.  But you never know.

Seriously, though, if I ever become famous (FOR ANY REASON), I’m totally donating this shirt to a museum.  Perhaps the Smithsonian.

Blog 10 – Tree Hugger

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.