Monday, July 15, 2019

"Conceptual Loopholes"

“How does he always come up with these crowd-pleasing titles?”

Early in my half-hour-comedy-writing career, I pitched, had approved, and then wrote an idea for an episode of Taxi, entitled, “Nardo Loses Her Marbles.”

I had uncovered a troubling flaw in the character’s construction.  Here’s Elaine Nardo, driving a taxi at night, raising two children alone, and working in an art gallery during the day.  Suddenly, I wondered,

“When the heck does she sleep?”

Add up the hours.  There is no time for “Night, night.”

I had to write about that, the idea staring me right in the face, having eluded my bosses, who were more interested in stories not exposing the screaming implausibilities in their character’s “lifestyles.”  

I was reminded of that – from which our catchy title derives – “conceptual loophole”, watching a rerun episode of Gunsmoke – I am telling you, there is nothing on television! – in which they explore the previously ignored question,

“What do Matt and Kitty actually mean to each other?”

It’s weird.  You knew there was something between them, but that’s as far as it went, heir tacit arrangement mirroring the one in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, where two household “domestics” feel a genuine affection for each other which is never outwardly expressed.  I would not be surprised if Ishiguro got the idea for his novel from the situation on Gunsmoke.

(READ LIKE A DEVIOUS JON LOVITZ)  “Yeah, that’s where he got it.  I’m certain of it!”

It wasn’t exactly an “emotional wasteland.”  There were so many “Be careful, Matts” over the years, it was a regular comedy-sketch catchphrase.  There were also plenty of hugs between them – after he saved her from dying – but that’s nothing.  If he saved me from dying, I’d hug him.  And we’re not even that close.

Then suddenly, comes this atypical episode, facing the heart of their fictional relationship head-on.

Episode Logline:  “While Matt is out of town, putting lawman business ahead of Kitty once again…”

That’s what the story’s about.  Feeling endlessly neglected and taken for granted, Kitty Russell, owner of the Long Branch Saloon, blows her stack, rides onto the prairie, and cries. 

Finding a badly injured stranger out there, she eventually gets him to town, overseeing his recovery.  Soon, they’re a couple, Kitty finding her new beau gently attentive and kind, treating her like a woman, rather than someone to count on for a free beer on a hot day.

Their warming relationship, arguably a “rebound” reaction, follows Matt’s – you will pardon the expression – firmly “laying down the law.”

“Kitty”, explains Matt, minus compassion or empathy, “I’ve got a job, and I’ve gotta do it.  I wish I could change, but I can’t.  I guess that’s just the way it is.”

Fine, so she finds a new guy.  Unfortunately, his caring demeanor covers a chilling possessiveness, which – because the show knows “where the money is” – leads to Matt’s gunning him down, when he tries to kill Kitty.

In a post-shootout “follow-up”, Matt suggests that they later have dinner together, and Kitty amiably agrees.  Stopping his exit, Kitty softly calls, “Matt?”

Matt turns back to face her.  Seeing she cannot find the words, Matt replies, “I know, Kitty”, and leaves. 

Then they go for the “clincher.”

Alone with the saloon’s bartender, when he says, referring to Matt Dillon, “He’s an awful good man to have around, Miss Kitty,” Kitty glowingly replies,

“He’s the best!

Are you tearing up yet?  I am.

This episode aired during the eighth year of Gunsmoke’s ultimate twenty-year run.  

The matter was never mentioned again. 

But, as with Elaine’s sleep-questioning issue, they at least tackled it once.

Sparking an approving writerly nod, for facing the unspoken “elephant in the room.”

Now, if there were only a show explaining how Chester developed his limp…

I guess that was asking too much.

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