Friday, June 5, 2009

"Sometimes A Kiss Is Not Just A Kiss"

Best of the West.

The episode’s called “Daniel’s First Love.” Ten year-old Daniel Best, the reluctant western pioneer, has a crush on a new girl in school, thirteen year-old Jolene Hickerson, whose family hails from “hill country”, where people marry young. Jolene’s relationship with Daniel incenses Jolene’s “intended”, Jimmy-Jack McInerny, to the point where Jimmy-Jack refuses to go ahead with the wedding. Seeing the marriage plans obliterated, and aware of who’s responsible, Jolene’s irate father insists (at gunpoint) that Daniel replace Jimmy-Jack and marry Jolene instead.

That’s the basic premise of the episode. A ten year-old boy unexpectedly finds himself married.

I thought it was hilarious.

In the Second Act – be patient, there’s a point coming – Jolene and Jimmy-Jack reconcile and decide to run off together. Daniel, who “loves” Jolene, strongly objects. Jolene tries to explain why their situation is untenable.


Daniel, our marriage, it’s not a real marriage. Do you know what I mean?




That’s what I mean.

Realizing his position is hopeless, Daniel reluctantly relents. But not before asking for one final favor.


At least you can give me a good-bye kiss. For the good times?

At this point, the script (which I dug out of the garage) says this:



Still leaving?


(ENTIRELY CAUGHT OFF-GUARD) Yes. But I’m leavin’ a little sadder.

The episode played beautifully, especially on television. (Someday, I’ll write about how some episodes play better on TV than they did in front of the live audience, and vice versa.) My girlfriend, Dr M, who was just M at the time, was not at all happy. She had a serious problem with the kiss.

M thought it was outrageous for me to have forced a young actor into such an inappropriate situation. A ten-year old boy, delivering a deep, passionate kiss (though it’s unlikely he actually delivered one)? She found it disgusting.

And exploitive.

And wrong.

(And she may have harbored some second thoughts about me.)

Executive Producer, Earl Pomerantz, defended his actions. We’re doing a comedy, I explained. We are endeavoring to get laughs. It is precisely the “inappropriateness” that makes the “kissing moment”, and the entire episode, for that matter, funny. (For heavens sakes!)

There was no winning that argument. There was only (possibly) losing the girlfriend. At some point, we agreed to disagree and we let the subject pass.

Writers own their characters. They can make them do anything they want. And they do. (Two and a Half Men has an uncle bringing a parade of women home to have sex with, with, at least at the beginning of the series, a young kid living in the house. The problem is, you consider such behavior inappropriate and there’s no Two and a Half Men.)

Even though they’re imaginary, it’s worth considering whether a writer has a responsibility to the characters they create (and the actors who portray them). Twenty-something years later, looking back on that kissing moment in “Daniel’s First Love”, I’m thinking probably I was wrong.


growingupartists said...

Back when, kids kissing really was innocent, you painted a classic Norman Rockwell, but funnier, moment. If anything, blame the parents for selling their kids, but don't let anything steal from your romantic visions about life.

Write what YOU know.

BoyScribe said...

Sometimes I think we're a little too hung up on sex in the good ole USA. Kissing is a natural human function and while 10 may be a little young back in the day today some of my nephews have "girlfriends" and occasionally "kiss", albeit a trifle less passionately then described. Most likely there was no lasting harm to the fine young actor - just some butterflies at the impending moment and the desire to wipe his lips afterword to avoid the dreaded cooties.

One wonders though, if you had been a different sort of writer and had written a drama about a boy in the west who killed someone, a la Robocop II, would there have been the same objections? As a society we seem to have more objection to the depiction of sexuality than to violence. It puzzles me sometimes when parents loudly complain about sexuality on TV but don't notice the appalling body count and other violence their children watch every day.

I'll take the kissing every time - especially if it's as funny as you described it.

Mark said...

Does it make any difference knowing now that weeks after the series ended, Meeno Peluce was arrested for stalking Elly Mae Clampett?

Joe said...

I quote Eddie Haskell: "Nothing is inappropriate if it's funny enough."

A. Buck Short said...

Tell me this wouldn't be the first snarky response from at least someone in the writers' room, since it's been used in so many sitcoms in one form or another:

"Depends, was there any tongue?"

And a belated thanks to Peter J. for the youtube video in response to "Speaking of Basketball" the other day. Just terrific. Glad I stumbled back for a revisit.

steve MacDonald said...

No, you were right. Two decades of thinking about it have undermined your self confidence. Trust your decisions and don't reconsider things you can't change.

Word verification: suiessel.

Wasn't that a doctor who wrote extremely clever children's books?

Anonymous said...

If it makes you laugh, it's funny. Comedy is as simple as that... and so is life.
Anonymous Brian

Anonymous said...

You make it sound like a world without "Two and a Half Men" would be a bad thing.