Last night I watched TV as I puffed along on a treadmill at the gym. Jim Belushi’s sitcom was on. I was listening to a podcast on my headphones but the
Big Bang Theory writing is flashy, fast and funny. Good writing there.
onscreen captions caught my eye. It was an According to Jim episode with all the predictable elements: a hot wife, Jim, a wacky neighbor who is fatter than Jim so the “star” looks smaller. There were a couple of cute kids running around.
David Cross tells a story about Jim Belushi (in Cross’s excellent book I Drink for a Reason) that is pretty awful. I won’t repeat it here. Go get Mr. Cross’s book for the full chewy goodness. Anyway, Jim is no John. But that wasn’t why I disliked the show. Yes, there was a tone of he-man homophobia which was distasteful and seemed dated to me, but it was the writing that was most egregious.
Perhaps it was the captions that alerted me to what was going on in the episode. I don’t mean the story per se. I mean the subtext of bad writing. Jim was there to crank out the stale and predictable jokes. The neighbor was there to make Jim seem more normal. The part of the wife could have been played by a whiteboard. She may, in fact, be a terrific actress. We’ll never know. No one on the staff was writing for her.
As I ran on the treadmill I wished I’d seen it from the beginning so I could keep a tally of how many times the wife’s lines were:
“Okay. Okay? Okay.”
And then back to “What?!”
Wouldn’t it be great if everybody in the show got great lines? It’s either a power/insecurity thing* or the actress really couldn’t remember words longer than a few at a time. Maybe some day she’ll get to be a mindless exposition device. On this show, she may as well have been a cue card.
Watch The Big Bang Theory. Everybody gets great lines, not just Sheldon. Watch King of Queens reruns. Kevin James was consistently funny and you never once thought, “I bet that guy’s a real prick.” King of Queens was an underrated show, but it’s exactly what According to Jim would have been if it were any good.
Good luck to Mr. Belushi in his new fall show, The Defenders. I sure hope he got a whole new bunch of writers. I don’t want to see Jerry O’Connell going through entire shows saying “What? What? What?” so Jim can throw out another pithy line. It won’t matter too much. From now on, at the gym I’m sticking to Writing Excuses podcasts on my iPod.
*William Goldman relates a great story about the tense set of Charlie’s Angels. The actresses grew to hate each other and counted all the lines and words to make sure no one was getting more lines than they were. The writers ended up calling it Huey, Dooey and Louie dialogue because the angels would each have a line of equal length at all times.
Angel 1: “I think we should…”
Angel 2: “Get to the beach!”
Angel 3: “…and find our Charlie!”
A producer was asked the secret to Charlie’s Angels success. He didn’t laud his writing staff or the acting. He said one word: “Nipples.”
Filed under: Media, Rant, writing tips, bad writing, charlie's angels, david cross. I Drink for a Reason, jim belushi, television