Friday, June 13, 2014

One liners are funnier in The Middle of a scene

I drive by a high school to get to the train station.  Today there was nobody there because, except for Graduation on Saturday, school’s done.  But check this out.  With no high school, there was no traffic.  As in none.  As in even though I still hit every light there weren’t any cars in front of me.

There was even an accident in the middle of the road that I had to get around and I wasn’t even close to late.  Wow.

Which brings me to timing.  Sometimes things just work out.  Other times you need to plan.  It’s as true in writing as it is for the commute.  Case in point, a scene from the TV show, “The Middle.”

I love that show.  It’s very clever and they write well.  I am often surprised but it’s easy to backtrack and figure out how they got there.  Wonderful learning experience.

In this particular scene, the oldest boy, Axel, delivers the line, “Some people just mature faster.”  It’s got comedic potential, but isn’t huge.  The actor’s delivery helps, naturally, but the scene has to work and here a whole lot of things came together.  For two seasons Axel has been set up as wandering around the house in nothing but socks and boxer shorts.  He also is known to drink directly from the carton – any carton.  And he has a way of speaking that has been built over dozens of episodes – kind of over the top unless you actually have lived with a teenager and realize that, no, it isn’t over the top.

So all of the classic elements of his character are in place – standing in front of the fridge (holding the door open) in boxers with a jug of milk in one hand and jug of juice in the other.  But then there’s this new thing just for the one episode, he’s trying to grow a beard and it looks terrible.  So terrible that he’s failing miserably.  Of course he doesn’t realize how awful it is.  But it’s all we can think about when he turns to face the camera with his smug little smile covered by a mascara enhanced cookie duster and delivers his line.  “Some people just mature faster.”

That’s funny stuff BUT they weren’t done yet.  The juice spills when he takes a drink and runs down his stomach.  Captain Oblivious and hysterically funny.  It isn’t nearly as funny without all the pieces.  That’s planning.

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