Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"the Baffling Difficulty"

I feel like the “Lead Character” in a show they may have done – and if they haven’t they should – about a retired detective who ends up solving contemporary cases.  (And by the way, if you are going to imagine something, you may as well imagine yourself as the “Lead Character.”)  (By the Way “Number Two” – If you ever do this show, send me a dollar for making it up.)

I have previously mentioned the show Bull, which I regularly watch but find naggingly unsatisfying.  Why do I watch it?  Because it’s a courtroom drama and I watch all courtroom dramas.  (Unless they are soap operas masquerading as courtroom dramas, in which case I don’t.)  Though riding comfortably high in the ratings, I sense that, creatively if not commercially,

Bull is in serious trouble.

I know.  My expertise is in half-hour comedy.  But, to me, a concept is a concept, and a story is a story. 

Interlude of Gratuitous Self-Aggrandizement:  The one time I met Steven Spielberg, he sincerely complimented my ability to “crack” the story of a script I’d been assigned for his anthology series, Amazing Stories.  (Which I hear is coming back on some streaming service.)  My honest response to his dizzying praise was, “In half-hour comedy (unlike in movies which can be developed for years), we “crack” stories every week.  That’s, maybe, the biggest part of our job.” 

That’s my “credentials.”  Though I have nary a single credit in one-hour drama.  (And have no idea how to define “nary.”)

For those who have not seen Bull – and for those who have – Being “On the Spectrum” obliges me to include that superfluity – Bull concerns a high-tech jury consulting operation, whose job it is to, first, tailor the juries to their strategic advantage and two, articulate a trial narrative most susceptible to exonerating their clients.

First Conceptual Difficulty in the Series

A team of high-tech jury consultants costs big money to retain.  As the result, the clients are invariably super-rich, and often generically unlikable.  A noteworthy exception was a “First Season” episode, in which Bull evokes the jury’s unconscious prejudice towards a commercial female airline pilot charged with “Negligent Homicide”, winning the case for the pilot, whose bosses wanted her to take the fall rather than incurring adverse publicity for the airline.
That, to me, was the most successful episode of the series – jury consultants, representing the underdog, simultaneously alerting the jury – as well as the audience – to their buried biases against females doing what were once exclusively men’s jobs.  The episode was interesting, suspenseful and factually plausible.

Unfortunately for Bull, it represents the pleasing exception, rather than the discomfiting rule.

Mostly, they do “Don’t hate me because I’m successful” cases, in which the jury – as well as the audience – come to acknowledge their submerged feelings of envy.  Hardly as egregious a personal failing as misjudging half of humanity. 

Consequence of Concept Difficulty Number One:

Primarily super-rich clients, challenging the “Sympathy Factor.”

Then, there’s the storytelling.

In the “Season Two” debut episode, a billionaire’s wife, faced with a less than generous “pre-nup”, stabs herself three times, and then shoots her unlikable husband, later claiming that he stabbed her and she blew him away in self-defense. Also on hand:  The victim’s mega-corporation board members, wishing to avoid an exorbitant “buy-out.”

Talk about the “Sympathy Factor.”

I hated the murder victim, I hated the widow, and the hated the mega-corporation board members.  Who, then, was there left to root for?  (I just sickened myself by sounding like a network executive.  But this time, the “Likability Note” seems correct.)


Any viewer of Law & Order would expect the presiding coroner to readily determine – from the “Angle of Incidence” of the stab wounds – whether said stab wounds were self-inflicted, or otherwise. 

The show never went anywhere near that area. 

The following week’s episode – concerning an accidental death during a fraternity hazing – required so much suspension of disbelief I have now expended my entire allotment until 2037.

You can tell a show feels on shaky terrain when it injects its dubious storylines with personalized “Overlays.”  The “case at hand” becomes suddenly secondary, when Bull “goes to war” against

– A notorious “Dragon Lady” adversary.

– His former girlfriend.

– The one person who ever bested him in court.

 – His original mentor.

 – His identical twin from a parallel universe.   (Not yet, but stay tuned.)

If you truly believe in the stories you are telling, emanating from the show’s anchoring premise, you do not need extraneous “Overlays.”  Perry Mason never argued in court against his cousin.

The thing is, aside from suggesting a more likable clientele and my thematic “Be true to you school” (the show’s underlying idea) exhortation, I feel frustratingly stuck.  I can easily articulate the problem, but have no constructive plan for ameliorating it.  (From the Latin word, “melior”, meaning better.  At least I can solve etymological mysteries.)

I have imagined lunching with one of Bull’s Executive Producers (whom I know).  But what exactly could I tell him?  What could he learn from a (marginally bitter) retiree, offering criticism but no cure?

Then, a thought floated to mind during meditation this morning.

When you are confounded by what to helpfully say…

…………………..  (For added suspense.  And now, the answer.)

Don’t talk, it occurred to me.


And just maybe,

Something valuable will come up.

Sounds like a sensible strategy to me. 

And if it works,

I will apply it to the issue that is really baffling me, one so paralyzingly confounding, I cannot even write about and am relegated to analogizing alternatives instead:

The confounding difficulty:

Healing the country.

(I apologize for the abrupt “change of direction.”  Few things elicit my being uncharacteristically “at a loss for words.”  But the foregoing conundrum is one of them.)

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