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Courage The Cowardly Dog: Doctor Le Quack

All of the Courage The Cowardly Dog episodes including Doctor Le Quack are set in a place called Nowhere. “Be quiet, Eustace,” says Muriel one morning, “you’ll wake the neighbours!”

doctor le quack amnesia specialist

 

eustace on the roof doctor le quack

This setting is perfect for western spoofs. Many of the Courage stories are horror spoofs but in Dr Le Quack we have the cartoon, child-friendly version of a wild western caper film.

GENRE OF DOCTOR LE QUACK

A caper story is a story in which the main characters pull off some kind of heist. (Also called a heist story.) A caper is a comic crime story. So, caper = crime + comedy.

The caper, also known as the heist film, is among the tightest and most focused of forms, built on a specific and high-speed desire line. That’s why caper stories are almost always very popular.

The caper is one of the most plot-heavy of all genres, right up there with detective stories and thrillers, and is designed to fool not only the opponent in the story but also the audience. The prime technique of the caper writer is trickery. Like a magician, you point the audience’s attention in one direction while the real action is happening somewhere else.

In heist stories (farce and caper), the mechanical plot is taken to such an extreme that the plots have the complexity and timing of a Swiss watch, and no character at all.

— John Truby

Breaking Bad makes use of caper elements e.g. At the beginning of season five when Walt and Jesse rig up an explosion to wipe out an incriminating laptop in police storage, and earlier in the seasons when they steal the chemicals from the factory wearing woollen hats with pompoms.

Western Symbolism In Doctor Le Quack

Western symbolism can be seen in many of the Courage stories. Here we have the story opening with the rising sun at dawn. While this is not specific to the western genre, the sun has symbolic meaning in a western. Though it has been used countless times in western movies and novels, readers never seem to tire of the age-old symbol of the sun setting on the cowboy riding or walking off into the sunset. Quite a few picturebooks end with characters walking off into the sunset, too. Here we have dawn breaking over the desolate plain. 

The sun can be a symbol of giving or taking life, depending on how it’s portrayed. The sun can break through and show brighter days, or it can be boiling hot and deadly if lost in the desert. Here, I don’t think it has any specific symbolic meaning. Along with the soundtrack and the big skies it is simply meant to convey the atmosphere of an old western film.

However, a rising sun in a story does indicate that this is going to be one eventful day, and that the events will conclude by the end of it.

dawn-nowhere

STORY STRUCTURE OF DOCTOR LE QUACK

WEAKNESS/NEED IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

Courage is cowardly. Nonetheless, he needs to save the day.

DESIRE IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

After Eustace accidentally hits Muriel on the head with a plank of wood Muriel loses her memory. Eustace takes this opportunity to get rid of the dog.

Amnesia comes easy in fiction. It is also conveniently specific. A taste of Applied Phlebotinum, a particularly shocking traumatic event, or even a simple Tap on the Head will be sufficient to make your character forget all about who or what they are.

— TV Tropes

He wants to get back into the house and do something for Muriel.

OPPONENT OF DOCTOR LE QUACK

Eustace is the first opponent but soon another comes along in the form of an evil French duck. As with the cajun fox last episode, this duck isn’t really French — he slaps on a French moustache which falls off later right before the main battle. I think the producers might do this because the same voice actor mimics a variety of different accents in parodic rather than realistic fashion.

First we see Le Duck’s lair. This is a Scrooge McDuck character, which of course comes from Dickens. His riches do not make him happy. He is collecting riches simply for the game of it, leaving bags of money just sitting around. He hasn’t even replaced his office chair, which looks as if it’s got a big bite out of it. This is a purely evil character motivated by power.

le-quacks-office

Then we see who is sitting on the other end of the computer.

le-quack-in-office

PLAN IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

Courage has already gotten back into the house by first trying to swing in Tarzan style from a tree, then with a pole vault.

courage-tries-to-pole-vault-inside

Eventually he gets in and via the Internet enlists the help of a doctor. Even the computer is anthropomorphised and has an evil personality of its own. These were the days when viewers were using the Internet for the first time and there was more mistrust than there is today.

internet-help

Plans change when it becomes apparent that the visiting doctor meant to help Muriel is actually a quack who wants to raid the silverware drawer.

The duck’s plan is to

  1. Knock Eustace on the head so he’s out for a while
  2. Torture Muriel until she reveals where her piggybank is. He can’t find any treasure in the house.

This is where the heist spoof comes in. The duck sets up a toy train track and binds Muriel up in rope reminiscent of a scene in which a beautiful young woman is tied to the train tracks. Instead of using this quite sexualised trope, the writers of this children’s story modify it quite a bit — Muriel sits on a chair nearby and the toy train throws pies in her face.

muriel-bound

le-quack-train-track

This familiar scenario [chained to a railway] first appeared in the 1867 short story “Captain Tom’s Fright, although a more rudimentary form of it was seen on stage in 1863 in the play The Engineer. However, it really entered the meme pool as a result of its inclusion in the 1867 play Under the Gaslight, by Augustin Daly. […] As bizarre (and horrible) as it may seem, this trope is Truth in Television. At least six people in the United States were killed between 1874 and 1910 as a result of being tied to railroad tracks.

— TV Tropes

The same trope is also used in games such as Red Dead Redemption.

red-dead-screenshot

Courage blows him up. When opponents are destroyed by Courage in this series it’s common for the opponent to say something understated like, “How annoying.” That’s what happens here. This feels a little meta. Why would the duck panic about being blown up? He’s a cartoon character who will bounce back to life before the next scene.

courage-blows-up-duck

When this doesn’t work the duck disgusts her by holding a plate of smelly cheese right under her nose.

stinky-cheese

Next we see a huge, muscled rat with tats appear in the doorway. It first seems that he has been attracted by the cheese, but when Courage pays him off we see that this has been Courage’s plan all along. The common sequencing in this story is that something happens, we worry about Courage, then we see he planned it.

rat-cheese

BATTLE IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

The final battle involves a vacuum cleaner. The duck tries to suck Courage up. But instead he sucks up all the planks nailed across the doorway and the whole thing blows up in a huge explosion, reminiscent of the explosions often used in train heist stories to wreck parts of a railway line.

exploding-vacuum-cleaner

The policemen Courage has tried to summon turn up at this point and stomp all over Courage to get to the duck.

SELF-REVELATION IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

We learn that this duck is a wanted criminal.

img_5895

NEW EQUILIBRIUM IN DOCTOR LE QUACK

We think the duck is going to prison. “We’ve been looking for you!” say the policemen.

le-quack-in-back-of-prison-van

But the duck breaks free — we get a flash scene reminiscent of something out of No Country For Old Men — and says to the camera that we haven’t seen the last of him yet.

le-quack-breaks-free

The Shadow Of Courage, Courage The Cowardly Dog

At first I wondered if the title “The Shadow Of Courage” were a riff on The Red Badge Of Courage but no — apart from the grammatical structure and perhaps some of the themes (of bravery vs cowardice) this plot line borrows little from the classic American novel.

THE SHADOW OF COURAGE TITLE

Shadows who disentangle themselves from their bodies are a staple of horror, and especially, perhaps, of camp horror comedy.

STORYWORLD OF “SHADOW OF COURAGE”

The Moon

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Freaks and Geeks Storytelling Tips

Freaks and Geeks promo poster

Genre Blend

Freaks and Geeks is a

  • coming-of-age
  • comedy
  • drama

This category of story is about the eternal adolescent quest to find out which version of yourself is the “true” one.

How This Show Is Different From Other High School Dramas

It doesn’t fall into the category of ‘cringe comedy’ even though teenagehood inevitably includes embarrassing scenes.

Lindsay's sceptical look

Lindsay’s teenage sceptical look

The creators were determined not to end each show with a typical “happy ending”. One notable exception is the pilot episode, which the creators purposely wrote as a self-contained story, in case the show was never picked up for production. This is also why you see a fully fleshed story in the pilot episode and why I’ve chosen to break it down as a story unto itself.

There is plenty of crossover between quite vastly different social arenas, with a main character weaving between all of them. (Though all the families are white.) Most high school dramas have set-in-stone cliques before the audience meets the characters, and the main character is usually an underdog, or a newcomer trying to work out which group to fit into (e.g. Mean Girls). Lindsay is more interesting than that, because although she’s not new to the school but she’s trying to actively switch groups.

Storyworld

Detroit

  • Fictional William McKinley High School during the 1980–1981 school year in the town of Chippewa, Michigan, a fictional suburb of Detroit
  • A middle-class suburban home near the school
  • The surrounding neighbourhood, including some rougher parts of town
  • The bleachers are a good place to hide under, to do things teachers can’t see.
  • The corridors can be either a walk of shame or a place to parade down. Lockers lining corridors also provide opportunity for characters who hate each other to get together, since lockers are assigned from above.
  • The guidance counsellor’s room is a place for moral questions to be posed and discussed.
  • Upper middle class (Neal) middle class (Lindsay and Sam) meets working class (Bill) meets military class (Nick) meets houseos (Kim).
  • The high school is a miniature battle field, where the mottos are about conquer or lose and men must be men. The school cafeteria is a good venue for enemies to be thrown together by force, as everyone has to eat lunch. Classrooms are good venues for characters to be bullied and victimised in front of a small audience.
  • The suburbs are cosy at first glance, with their manicured lawns and a 1980s apparent utopia, but dangers lurk around the corner, where you could meet your high school adversary at any time.
dining room table

This cosy scene feels stifling to Lindsay.

Freaks and geeks sam cafeteria

Cafeterias and corridors are particularly hazardous.

a walk down the school corridor is like running the gauntlet

a walk down the school corridor is like running the gauntlet

Lindsay is being asked to make big decisions about her life and has no clue. In 1980 there was a strong professional/working class divide.

Lindsay is being asked to make big decisions about her life and has no clue. In 1980 there was a strong professional/working class divide.

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Are Crime Shows Becoming Less Sexist?

 

 

Related: Why Do We Love Grimdark TV? from Bitch Magazine

Since so much horribleness goes on in the real world, I’ve reached the age where I have no time for stories about men whose motivations are spurred by the torture and murder of women. I can enjoy a good crime series, but if the crime is going to be against women, I want to see a certain amount of female agency. Sometimes this agency comes from the victim/survivor herself; at other times the focus is on the women who work to solve the crimes.

In my middle age I am sick to death of stories such as True Detective, hailed as ‘dark masterpieces’ which are about the way men deal with the rapes and gruesome murders of women in their jobs, and with the nagging, unreasonable, one-dimensional wives and girlfriends in their real lives. Even a great show such as Breaking Bad unwittingly, I believe, turns female characters into annoying, nagging sidekicks. (Vince Gilligan blamed the audience for hating Skyler; after watching that series three times I’m now sure there are things he could have done, or rather plot points he could have avoided, to make the female characters more empathetic, if that’s what he’d been going for.)

Crime writers who base their plots around the murder, rape and mutilation of female bodies need to be especially careful to go out of their way to present live women as rounded individuals. FFS, it should be part of the damn contract.

The following shows are not about the murder and rape of middle aged men. Far from it. There’s still that uncomfortable link between sex and violence in here, and crime drama isn’t for everyone.

If, like me, you would like to enjoy the suspense of a good crime show but you’d only sit through slightly more female-friendly crime, here are three series for your consideration.

THE FALL (Belfast)

the-fall-gillian-anderson

A lot has been said about The Fall, which is what made me watch it in the first place.

See: You Should Be Watching The Fall, a Serial-Killer Show Like No Other from Wired

The Fall: The Most Feminist Show on Television from The Atlantic

This is a story comprising two short series, both available now on American Netflix. Gillian Anderson plays the SIO (Senior Investigation Officer) looking for a serial killer of women. From the start, the audience knows who the serial killer is. He is not the serial killer of the popular imagination. Gillian Anderson’s character has some great lines, which show she isn’t wearing the rose-tinted glasses; she knows sexism when she sees it and she calls it out. This is immensely satisfying. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it. Continue reading

How Breaking Bad Makes Us Root For Walt

Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, said in defence of Skyler that if his audience sides with Walt, that’s on them. Not so fast. A large proportion of any audience is always misogynistic and that will affect their judgement of fictional characters. I was even sharing a doctor’s waiting room with a middle-aged white man who said with venom that Walt should have killed her.

But with Breaking Bad, hatred for Skyler White is also in the writing.

Skylar on the phone breaking bad

When a character in fiction  is required to do something very bad – something which any reasonable person would find morally reprehensible – and if the audience is required to empathise with that character (due to spending an entire series with them, say), then it’s necessary in the set-up for the audience to understand the reasons for the character’s actions. The audience must empathise, or else everything feels pointless.

CASE IN POINT: Breaking Bad, the AMC TV series

Walter White is one such protagonist. An ordinary guy starts cooking up meth for money. Yet we side with him.

For starters, he looks like the actual human incarnation of Ned Flanders. ie Mr Harmless-And-Well-Meaning. (Walt has none of the annoying personality traits of Ned Flanders, which would turn him into an unsympathetic caricature.) Even Mr White’s name is allegorical: bland and ordinary and reasonably common. Even the W-alliteration of ‘Walt White’ is ever so slightly comical and emasculating.

What makes us take Walt’s side?

The Whites have a disabled but smart-mouthed teenage son and a new baby on the way. In other words, Walt has more than himself to worry about. It’s easier to identify with unselfish characters than selfish ones.

Walter’s brother-in-law is a good contrast because, unlike Walt, who would be happy with the simple things in life, the brother-in-law is a police officer who craves action and excitement. He is not compassionate. He takes Walter along to a drug raid to ‘get some excitement in his life’ but unlike Walter, who sits in the back seat with an emasculating white bullet-proof vest over top of his jersey and a worried look on his face, the brother-in-law is hopped up on adrenaline at the thought of catching crooks. The brother-in-law and his police partner even make bets on the nationality of the criminals. For them, drug busts are a game. They don’t seem to look any further than that. In contrast, Walt thinks things through intelligently, and the audience is guided through his thought processes.

On the morning of Walt’s fiftieth birthday, his wife dishes up vege bacon. Walt’s fiftieth is not cause for celebration so much as reason to watch his health. Walt doesn’t complain about the bacon. He understands that he is being looked after.

The son, in contrast, is vocal about it, complaining that it ‘smells like band-aids’. He then makes a wisecrack about his father’s age. The audience empathises with Walt because all of us worry about getting older (if we’re lucky enough to ever get old) and all of us feel we should be looking after our cholesterol (or something – there’s always something).

Walt is a high school chemistry teacher, demeaning because of the poor pay – and although he knows his subject matter very well, he is jaded after many years of uninterested, disrespectful students. The shot of the bunsen burner flame licking Walt’s face as Walt drones on to the class is symbolic of his later demise. The audience watches this scene rather than listening to what Walt says about the importance of chemistry; the fact is, Walt is not an engaging teacher. He has somehow ended up in the wrong profession. Walt does care about his students. This redeems him. In fiction, teacher characters can be in the wrong job and yet retain empathy with their audience, but they must basically care. (Mr Holland’s Opus springs to mind.) Many empathetic characters are in the wrong job. (Peter Gibbons from Office Space, Elaine from Seinfeld – constantly – not to mention many people in real life who wonder what it would be like to have chosen a different job.)

Poor teacher remuneration, and a wife who spends too much time on eBay, mean that Walt  must wash cars to supplement the family income. He suffers humiliation after two of his disrespectful senior students witness him polishing the tyres of another student’s expensive car. When the girl takes a picture of him on her phone, we suspect she’ll send it round the entire school, or upload it to the internet. We know Walt’s humiliation won’t stop there. (Not like the good old days.) Humiliation elicits strong reactions in both the sufferer and onlookers, so even when a fictional character suffers a humiliation, the audience cringes in empathy.

See also: Teachers in the U.S. Seem to Be Getting a Raw Deal Compared to Teachers in the Rest of the Developed World from Jezebel

Walt’s ordinary life and ordinary expectations are apparent when his idea of a pleasant birthday weekend is to take a drive to see an exhibition of photos from Mars. We also understand from this scene that Walt has a genuine interest in science. We suspect (and later find out) that he is very good at his (science) work. The audience can easily respect someone who is intelligent.

Walt’s wife is inclined to puts the screws on. I suspect many men would empathise. Skyler White displays many unreasonable expectations – common to wives in fiction – that enable audience empathy with the husband.

For example, Skyler chides Walt for being late home, even though he wasn’t expecting the surprise party. (How many times have you seen a fictional wife scrape a perfectly good – microwaveable – meal scraped into a rubbish bin?)

Unlike Skyler, the audience was there with Walt when the boss wheedled him into staying on at work after five. Next, Skyler gently but surely puts the screws on about painting the baby’s bedroom. (Room-painting seems to be a common source of antenatal angst in fiction – I’m thinking Juno now.) She’d do it herself except he ‘doesn’t want her standing on ladders’. This low level guilt-trip takes place in bed, and then she wonders why he’s not aroused. Skyler makes a thing of this. Another common trope: Lack of sexual arousal* is linked with general hopelessness, marital difficulties and loss of masculine purpose in life. (This situation is reversed in the final scene of the pilot episode to symbolise a reincarnation of sorts.)

*Is it just me, or is this trope used far more frequently with male characters than with female characters? Even in modern stories, lack of sexual motivation is not commonly utilised as a symbol for hopelessness and malaise in women.

But Walt does not feel sorry for himself even when things are bad. He collapses at work and taken away by ambulance, but still wants the medic to let him out on the corner. He doesn’t have good health insurance. Many could relate to this feeling, I’m sure. For those without good insurance, the prospect of getting an ambulance bill is almost as scary as the illness itself.

Then the kicker: Walt White is diagnosed with lung cancer, even though he’s never smoked in his life. We all know people who smoke like chimneys and live til a ripe old age. But Walt has just two years to live. This now seems the ultimate unfairness, and marks the turning point. Whatever Walt is about to do, the audience can now accept. We’re with Walt all the way as the straight guy ‘breaks bad’.

Will he tell his wife?

So many storylines would be stymied, if people only talked to their spouses. But no. The audience knows that Walt can’t tell his pregnant wife. In fiction as in real life, there is never a good time to break bad news. When Walt gets home, Skyler is on the phone with a credit company. They are in financial difficulty, as usual:

Skyler to Walt: Did you use the mastercard last month? Ah, fifteen eighty-eight at Staples?

Walt: Um, oh we needed printer paper. (It’s not like Walt is careless and extravagant with his money – this is a guy doing his genuine best, yet still, ends don’t meet.)

Skyler: Well the mastercard’s the one we don’t use. (Slightly patronising tone.) So, how was your day?

Walt: Oh. Fine. (The words themselves don’t do justice to this perfectly judged bit of acting from Bryan Cranston.)

Although Skyler’s eBay habit and her constant wheedling expose weak character flaws, it is also important that the audience empathises with her. And I do. How was this bit of storytelling engineering achieved?

Enter the sister.

Evil sisters are oft-used in fiction to highlight the good points in another woman. Skyler’s sister, Marie, is unpleasant in a low-grade but constant way. She is in competition with Skyler. Marie does not take pleasure in any of Skyler’s happiness (the baby) or success (the writing hobby). When Skyler says she’s writing a collection of short stories, Marie asks why she isn’t writing a novel. (Short story collections ‘don’t sell’ – another unwelcome reminder that the Whites are short on money.) Yet Skyler accepts her sister’s bitchiness, refusing to take the bait. This trait in a character almost always engenders empathy. Thus, as Walt highlights Skyler’s less attractive traits, the sister highlights her best points. Now we have a deftly portrayed, rounded female character in Skyler. We want the best for her.

And Walt’s multi-layered reasons for breaking bad have now been set up. So he gets on with the job of cooking up some meth. But even when Walt engages in something morally reprehensible, he demonstrates good basic principles when negotiating with his partner in crime, ex-student Jesse Pinkman:

“You and I will not make garbage. We will produce a chemically pure and stable product that performs as advertised.”

Endearingly, and ironically – given the actual danger – Walt will also set up an emergency eye-wash station, and wants them each to wear protective coats. He knows nothing about the criminal world, and thinks they just can rent one of those self-storage sheds. (The police are onto that, apparently, so they buy a Winnebago.) So Walter is a hapless criminal, which endears him to a largely non-criminal audience. How many of us would know where to start, if we suddenly decided to take to the underworld?

Walt’s incompetence is demonstrated later in the episode as we watch him trying to douse a rapidly spreading grass fire with a single lab apron, and later again when he can’t even manage to shoot himself with the gun. (I’m reminded of Llewelyn Moss of No Country For Old Men. Moss is another small time crook who engenders empathy by getting in trouble with criminals far harder than himself.)

Comic Relief

When an ordinary guy turns bad, it is appropriate that heavy/dangerous/violent scenes are interspersed with lighter ones. In Breaking Bad the musical score lightens up and the audience is encouraged to take some scenes less seriously than others. This is a little heavy handed for my taste.

The ultimate in relief comes at the end of the pilot episode, just as we realise (along with Walt) that it’s not the cops who are after him – it’s simply a cavalcade of fire engines, and they’re screaming right past him as he stands on the side of the road in nothing but underpants and shirt. The engines are off to put out that fire he made.

This comical scene happens right after a scene of heightened tension, when Walt tries to kill himself (and fails). When we realise there is no imminent danger, we are almost as relieved as Walter himself.

Yet when we first met Walter, we saw a crazy man in a gas mask driving a Winnebago with dead bodies in the back. He could have been a psychopathic mass murderer, and all those movies about psychopathic mass murderers have primed us to think he might be. But the pilot episode of Breaking Bad makes use of the bookends structural technique, and now we’re back to the opening scene. This time, though, we’re on the side of the drug cook.

For me, the writers/actors/directors of Breaking Bad achieved character empathy in Walter White. And what a stunning example it is too. I never thought I’d be rooting for a meth cook.

Also Interesting

TV Study: Stranger Things (2016)

stranger-things-banner

**CONTAINS ALL THE SPOILERS**

Stranger Things is a Netflix series created by the brilliantly named ‘Duffer Brothers’, out this year but set in 1983. Though I suspect strong ‘recency bias’, season one scores a very high 9.2 on IMDb.

The show feels like a mixture of Twin Peaks (with the missing kids and small community), Freaks and Geeks (with the three nerdy boys playing Dungeons and Dragons and the older sister trying to find her place in the cool group), something done by Stephen King, and Minority Report (with its sensory deprivation bath and freaky magic-genius girl).

Minority Report Stranger Things

The show also feels a bit like the computer games Don’t Starve and Minecraft, with its own version of the Nether (“The Upside Down”).

Don't Starve

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Dollhouse Symbolism In Storytelling

Dollhouses in fiction serve various main functions:

  • Miniature representations of big, aristocratic houses full of furniture but devoid of real love
  • A mismatch between domesticity as we wish to set it up versus how it actually plays out
  • Fakery
  • Girlhood and naivety

The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter

If humans could inhabit their own doll’s houses they would be small enough to observe, and even join — what? Few have handled this theme with any kind of realism. The Borrowers and the Lilliputians are not part of the human race; their traditions and customs are their own. S.H. Skaife’s The Strange Old Man (1930) makes the human characters small enough — by a reducing drug — to live in a doll’s house at the bottom of the garden and see nature as it really is. The insects, birds and small animals they meet are not at all cosy, and life is full of peril and excitement. It is impossible to pretend, when presenting a disguised history lesson, that the world is anything but strange, ruthless, wonderful, sometimes ugly and dangerous.

However, these animal societies that are happening somewhere in the grass or at the back of the cupboard or in a doll’s house are spoiled by human intervention. They really don’t need it. The most specialised branch of this kind of story, the Mouse Tale, nearly always includes heroic endeavour against giants — the humans — who have to be natural, real and large.

— Margaret Blount, Animal Land

See also: Tom Thumb, Thumbelina and Other Miniature Tales

Tale Of Two Bad Mice Doll House

The immortal line about the lobsters, the ham, the fish, the pudding and the fruit, ‘They would not come off the plates but they were extremely beautiful’, is a definitive summary of what all doll’s houses are like — appealing to the eye but firmly defeating all four of the other senses, as the two bad mice discover.

— Margaret Blount, Animal Land

The Dollhouse In Gilmore girls

Emily and Richard’s house is large but it is stifling. Presided over by a matriarch who can’t be civil to any of the maids, dinner must arrive on-time, everything has a place and it is even an historic home, opened to visitors at a certain time of the year. Lorelei’s childhood room has a creepy dollhouse and is full of frou-frou. This house stands in stark opposition to the house Lorelei has made for herself, with its mismatching lamps her mother disapproves of and her refusal to stock anything in the kitchen. The dollhouse in Lorelei’s childhood room is empty and unplayed with just as the bedroom itself and the large house is mostly empty due to the only Gilmore daughter refusing, for years, to bring the grand-daughter to the house.

Lorelai had a dollhouse while growing up in the Gilmore Mansion, which is kept in her old bedroom. It is one of the few things that she actually likes from her childhood. Emily later threatens to give it away to charity if Lorelai doesn’t take it from her immediately, but Richard delivers it to her house so he can talk to her about Rory. While Jackson is staying at her house to avoid catching the chicken pox, he accidentally breaks it.

— Gilmore girls wiki

Jackson’s buffoonery is ironically, darkly funny because the dollhouse is so precious, and the only item that connects Lorelai to her parents’ house. But Jackson probably did her a favour. Over the course of 7 seasons, Lorelai does learn (mostly) to untangle herself emotionally from her parents, and the American Revolution Aristocracy that her parents — and the big fancy dollhouse — represent.

Monica’s Dollhouse In Friends

Monica's doll house

The character of Monica Geller has quite a bit in common with Lorelai Gilmore, save their separate fates at the end of the series.

Monica marries Chandler Bing, of course and, unable to conceive, the couple eventually adopts twins and moves out of their apartment into a larger house in the suburbs to raise their growing family. The dollhouse (inadvertently?) foreshadows all that is to come for Monica. This is what she was brought up to do: to build a family in a standalone house. Monica comes from an upper-class American family and the ownership of a gigantic dollhouse is a symbol of that.

 

Pam’s Dollhouse In Big Love, HBO TV Series

Remember Pam, the nosy neighbour from across the street? Pam is naive enough to believe Margine’s story at first, that her husband died in the Iraq War (which makes her a good fit as a friend for Marge, who is obviously equally naive). Pam can’t have children, but her interest in building a family — a typically Mormon aspiration — is symbolised by her hobby, which is working on a beautiful and elaborate doll’s house. She’s spending hours and hours on this to fill the void of having no family to tend to.

Big Love Pam who loves dollhouses

But Pam’s dollhouse does more than simply depict the childlike nature of Pam, and the void in her life. The episodes of Big Love open with a high-angle establishing shot of the street, in a new development somewhere in Sandy, Utah. This makes the houses themselves look like doll’s houses. These adult humans are ‘playing’ happy families, when behind closed doors they are anything but. The doll’s house is therefore a symbol of ‘play’, contrasting with ‘harsh reality’. The setting of Big Love is an excellent example of an apparent utopia.

A dollhouse is meant to be looked at — at least, the kind of doll’s house Pam makes are decorative — and they are storybook in their nature; staircases don’t need to go anywhere; furniture is arranged to be accessed from only one side of the house.

Doll’s houses are therefore like a stage.

The furniture you find in doll’s houses is from another era. You don’t find computers, phone chargers and flat-screen TVs inside doll’s houses.

Doll’s houses are therefore symbols of a former time.

All of these aspects of the doll’s house make it an excellent symbolic object for use in Big Love, where image does not match reality, where the family lives in modern society with anachronistic values and where the ‘staircase’ (to Heaven) probably doesn’t lead where Bill Henrickson thinks it will.

My Summer Of Love, 2004 Film

My Summer Of Love is about a 15-year-old girl who falls into infatuation with a rich girl home for the summer. They sort of fall in love, though it turns out the rich girl has been immersed in an elaborate fantasy life. There is a dollhouse in the older sister’s room. The girls play around with it, not as children, but to find a packet of magic mushrooms. This is where adult decisions rub up against childhood fantasies.

Only when we look back on this scene do we realise that the dollhouse is also highly symbolic of fakery. Even the name of Tamsin Fakenham is symbolic.

The Doll’s House, Short Story by Katherine Mansfield

This story appeared in Mansfield’s collection The Dove’s Nest and is considered one of her more important works.

“The Doll’s House” is concerned with the difficulties of the child in coming to terms with the brutal realities of class consciousness and social ostracism.

The social attitudes of the parents are an important feature of the story. e.g. Emmie Cole “nodded to Isabel as she’d seen her mother do on those occasions”. Lil, when ordered away by Aunt Beryl is seen “huddling along like her mother.”

“Your ma told our ma you wasn’t to speak to us” says Lil. The Kelvey children accept the social division as much as the other children do.

Note the significance of the lamp – this is symbol of light, of awakening.

“The father and mother dolls, who sprawled very stiff as though they had fainted in the drawing room, and their two little children asleep upstairs were really too big for the doll’s house. They didn’t look as though they belonged. But the lamp was perfect. It seemed to smile at Kezia, to say “I live here”. The lamp was real.

The lamp symbolizes light – truth. It is a contrast to the material splendours of the doll’s house, and to the materialistic values of the stiffly sprawling parents. It is significant that it is Kezia’s favourite as she is the only one in the story who has the courage and kindness to reach out across social barriers. Note that Else’s words at the end of the story suggest that she and Kezia share the same values.

Tom’s Midnight Garden

This story is not about a dollhouse but I am reminded of the experience of playing with a dollhouse as Tom explores the magical realm:

[T}his was a great disappointment to him–he found that he could not, by the ordinary grasping and pushing of his hand, open any of the doors in the garden, to go through them. He could nto push open the door of the greenhouse or of the little heating-house behind it, or the door in the south wall by the sundial.

Broadchurch Pilot Episode TV Writing

broadchurch-poster

Broadchurch is a TV murder mystery in which a village is a miniature for society. As one reviewer points out, “the death which happens at the beginning incites all sorts of unexpected human behaviour, with repercussions all around the town. Initially the show seems to be making the banal point that the residents of this bucolic town are not what they appear at first glance. But they are not what they appear at second glance either.”

Genre: Broadchurch takes the classic buddy detective template (she’s by the book, he plays by his own rules) and gives the procedural depth by showing the emotional aftermath of an unspeakable crime (drama).

22 (actually fewer) Steps In The First Episode (using John Truby’s movie steps from Anatomy of Story)

Self-revelation: This comes later in the series, no doubt. For now we see the set up. Ellie has compared herself to the more experienced Met guy and realised she may not have what it takes after all for the job she so wanted. She has probably overestimated her own abilities as a detective because she hasn’t been significantly challenged.

Ghost — Alec Hardy has a ghost which may or may not ever be revealed to us (it never was in Casablanca, in which we never really learn why the hero left America). But it’s only hinted at. (Later we’ll learn he’s hiding a serious health condition.) But Ellie on the other hand, has been living in a kind of paradise world, symbolised by her returning straight from holiday. In a paradise world, a ghost is not possible.

Ellie’s inciting incident: A friend of her son has been murdered. The inciting incident connects Ellie’s need with her desire: She needs recognition and she desires to help her friends to achieve justice by finding out the truth. This is a good place to put the inciting incident, because Ellie just thinks she’s had the worst day ever, not getting the job she wanted, but then that pales into insignificance when the murdered boy is found. This plunges her into the most harrowing career challenge of her life. (Another character asks if she’s ever done a murder case before — she says no.)

Storyworld

broadchurch looking out to sea

The town of Broadchurch in Wessex, England, is bracing itself for an annual influx of holiday tourists. This is a quaint village right next to the sea. The sort of place where even police officers can enjoy ice creams while in uniform.

broachurch icecreams pier

The story world is an outworking of your hero. Detective stories, crime stories, and thrillers often set up a close connection between the hero’s weakness—when it exists—and the “mean streets,” or world of slavery in which the hero operates.

— John Truby

The Sea

A walk along a clifftop leads to a steep drop onto the beach, which is the scene of the crime, and sets up this town’s relationship to the sea: 

The sea has both a surface and a depth, and just like the ocean, this little town has that dichotomy; there’s the 2-dimensional happy, safe, low-crime surface contrasted against the murky depths below — the ultimate 3D landscape where all creatures are weightless and live at every level. In this story, the ocean deep is not a utopia but a terrifying graveyard.

— see John Truby

The oceanic nature of the story world is echoed in the camera movement as the pilot episode opens. The very first shot is of a choppy ocean. Next we have a camera ‘swimming’ around the neighbourhood, zooming in on various houses, panning across rooms, as if all of this town is underground and we’re seeing it as a fish. The oceanic colour scheme is even used in Danny’s mother’s room, which is painted out in an oceanic theme. This colour blue is seen again in the grandmother’s shirt, in Danny’s lunchbox (which he is not there to collect.)

The fish movement camera is used again as Danny’s father walks along the main street. He’s talking about mundane things with friends and acquaintances, but the music tells us something terrible has happened. Who is following him? (Us.) Much use is made of juxtaposition, as his exchanges are cheerful and they’re talking about everyday things. We see a poster for the Broadchurch Fair, presumably a weekly, light, fun-filled event.

Broadchurch is an ‘apparent utopia’. This village appears to be perfect, but the perfection is only skin deep. Below the surface, the world is actually corrupt, rotten, and enslaving. Everyone is desperate to put on a good face to hide a psychological or moral disaster.

Character desire is clearly established in the first episode.

Ellie Miller comes back from holiday giving out souvenirs when she is called into her boss’s office and told she hasn’t got ‘the job’. She wants a promotion from detective sergeant to detective inspector. The job has gone to a man. Ellie wants recognition and respect and career advancement. We know this from the very first scene. Compared to solving your first murder mystery, this is a fairly low-level goal, as initial desires should be. Psychological weakness: We get the sense that while Ellie may be ready for promotion in her small town, she is not sufficiently in control of her own emotions to do a good job. She needs to be paired with her opposite in order to learn. Ellie wishes to be called Ellie rather than Miller — a symbolic difference in how each detective approaches the job. Ellie can’t work without putting her personality into it. Ellie is a motherly figure, asking for ‘all the gossip’, giving out presents like stuffed toys and lipgloss.

Alec Hardy — Hardy’s reasons for relocation are kept from us for now, but we know that he has been shifted from the Met to avoid the consequences of some kind of scandal to do with a previous, high-profile murder case. Moral weakness: Hardy has no people skills whatsoever, bossing people around to get the job done. But the audience will forgive him for this, as he is very good at his job and cares deeply about finding the truth. No doubt Hardy and Miller will each learn from the other. Alec Hardy will be a fake-opponent, and we can see that from the beginning because his skills and weaknesses line up so nicely with those of Ellie.

Alec and Ellie are almost like the mirror image of each other. Normally in a set up the audience gets a very clear picture of the main character’s psychological weakness as well as their moral weakness, but here Ellie’s psychological weakness is highlighted whereas with Alec we get his moral weakness.

Beth Latimer — the murdered boy’s mother. We see her in her natural environment, getting her family off to school for the day — she wants her daughter to attend a school event even though the daughter is trying to pull a sickie. Then her desire changes suddenly when she is told her son hasn’t turned up at school (he was supposed to be spending the night somewhere else) and she is hellbent on finding out where he is. Then she is hellbent on finding out whose is the dead body on the beach. In follow-up episodes we can predict that she will be equally hell bent on finding out the truth. Beth is a bit of a ‘rule breaker’, jumping over the boundary police line in a panic over her son. (If a character can’t do that then, when?) The audience wants to see her do just that.

Olly Stevens is introduced in his work office — he is a young journalist who has just been turned down from the last of the big newspapers and now he’s stuck here in this tiny town working on non-event stories. Olly wants excitement, and he needs to prove himself somehow to get his foot in the door of a major paper. Moral weakness: He needs to start respecting other people’s privacy. He leaks the name of the murdered boy to the press even though his police officer aunt has told him not to.

Trendy young vicar — Moral weakness: using the death of a boy to spread the word of God.

Ally/Allies — Ellie’s main ally is a fake opponent, the new guy from the Met. Her husband is her emotional support. She is friends with people on the staff, though her boss has things she is not telling her, as evidenced by a secret conversation with Hardy while they eat ice cream on the pier.

Opponent — We don’t yet know who the main opponent is, but it looks like it’s going to be a web of people, including her own son, who deletes files from his C-drive as soon as his mother tells him his friend has been found dead. In the village we’ve also briefly met a creepy newsagent and a middle-aged misanthrope who is always lurking off to the side.

Mystery — Ellie must first uncover her opponents THEN defeat them. As far as she’s concerned, the whole town is on her side. In the detective genre there must be a mystery to compensate for the missing opponent because these stories deliberately withhold the opponent until the end. So we need something to replace it: the mystery of who murdered the boy. In a different genre, this would be when the opponent is introduced.

Fake-ally opponent — We have the strong sense that Ellie is not yet aware of the extent of hidden allegiances and deceptions going on in this town (helped with the symbolism of the sea). Her son may fit into this category, even if he’s too young and naive to be deliberately oppositional. Ellie’s boss may be a fake ally — in this genre the boss often ends up making things difficult for the spunky underling. Since fake-ally opponents are usually revealed after the main opponent (or mystery) has been revealed, we’re likely to find out what the allegiances and alliances really are in the next few episodes.

Reveals — Reveals are things the hero learns as the story progresses, and each reveal is supposed to be more significant than the last. Since this is a TV series there will be significant reveals much later on, but there will be minor reveals right the way through. Ellie’s first reveal: She hasn’t got the job of DI. But the guy from the Met who botched that other murder did get it, and she’s going to have to work with him. This is great, because the best reveals are about the main character’s opponent. Ellie’s second reveal: That the death of the boy is suspicious. Ellie’s decision: Her decision to solve the murder with her new boss will help her to gain the respect she craves, which means her new desire is a ‘bend’ of the original desire rather than a completely new one, which is perfect. (A river changing course.)

Plan — The new DI speaks clearly to the family and to the camera — he promises to find the killer. Ellie is along for the ride with him. There are bound to be problems along the way, with the audience wondering how these two can possibly solve such a difficult mystery. They’ll have to change strategy several times along the way.

Opponent’s plan — we already see the son hiding information that may be helpful to Ellie. But we don’t yet know what else is going on behind the scenes.

Drive — this will come in subsequent episodes. For now, Ellie is in reactive mode, looking stunned.

Gilmore Girls and Modern Feminism

Why Fans Love Gilmore Girls

A Fan’s Notes On Gilmore Girls from The Awl.

Watching With Your Kids

Here’s a good argument for watching Gilmore girls with your daughter even if you see problems with it. I kind of live by this rule. That’s how my nine-year-old knows that sex is mostly recreational — honestly, it’s TV.

  1. I enjoyed the 90s and early 00s references (which would now mostly go over the heads of a younger audience).
  2.  Fast-paced dialogue. I may have a high tolerance for dialogue-heavy stories. My husband says he doesn’t know how I can follow what they’re saying, even though he likes Reservoir Dogs. Apparently, he doesn’t catch a single word of Gilmore girls.
  3. I most wanted to sit down in front of Gilmore Girls when I was feeling tired or had to do the ironing. On a particularly stressful day, I watched about three episodes in a row. Stepping into the world of Stars Hollow is like stepping into the world of Sylvanian Families, right down to the omnipresent kebab-shop fairy lights and small-town concerns, and the fact that even when the weather is ‘bad’ it is still really, really beautiful, Stars Hollow is pure fiction and therefore borders on cozy fantasy. Technically this is Arcadia, utopia — with more in common with The Wind In The Willows than with general TV dramas for adults. It should probably be considered suburban fantasy, because Stars Hollow is not really much like real life. For starters, there isn’t really much in the way of ethnic diversity. That’s not how I think of America, but then, almost entirely white towns with a token black Frenchman and token Asian families run by tiger-moms may well exist in Connecticut for all I know.

Lorelai's House, Gilmore Girls

Indeed, Stars Hollow almost makes you want to rush out and recreate the entire community out of paper. A true fan models their new home on that of the Gilmore Girls. Someone even drew up plans for you.

IS GILMORE GIRLS STILL GOOD FOR GIRLS?

A GG fan writing for The AV Club has provided a full summary of the first two shows though, as ever, your best bet is by simply watching. Gilmore girls is available on iTunes, and costs less than a lot of other shows, at less than a dollar per episode. (It’s also on American Netflix right now.)

I do have some nagging concerns about this ostensibly feminist show. The first is my usual concern: That a (very) young audience doesn’t necessarily know what’s irony and what’s not. (By *young* — my daughter is seven.)

Funny Gilmore girls quote. Love this. My dr told me today that it's better to look good then feel good! LOL he didn't know the Gilmore's already explained that.

However, this is a show for adolescents. So lets take a look at messages they’re definitely absorbing, all over the place.

1. ANTI-HEALTH-FOOD MESSAGES

Look at it one way and you might conclude that Gilmore girls is a show which depicts a range of body sizes. Compare the Gilmore girls to Melissa McCarthy’s character, whose fat* presence in Hollywood is a constant reminder that anti-fat messages pervade modern culture, especially for women.

*Fat is the non-judgey word, so I’m using it.

But we should look a little further than that. I’m going to argue that Lorelai Gilmore is a strong candidate for an eating disorder not otherwise specified. In Season Six, after Rory moves into the tennis house, Emily says to Rory (partly in jest), ‘You’re not bulimic, are you?’. Rory shrugs it off as ridiculous but I had been wondering the same thing in earnest for quite some seasons by that stage.

(I’m not the only one to have noticed this.)

An entire movement has popped up, in response to the horrible body-checking and anti-fat movement which women have been subjected to since forever sometime last century, depending on your culture. I happened across this inspirational poster on Pinterest and it pretty much sums up the culture I’m talking about:

Eat cake for breakfast

This is certainly one way of dealing with the anti-fat, dubious health warnings we (and in particular, women) are subjected to every single day. I happen to think sugar and transfats are so harmful that our family actively avoids those things, and this informs my opinion, naturally. Turns out Alexis Bledel thinks along the  same lines. In an interview she was asked about her diet, because women in the spotlight always are:

How often do you prepare your own meals?
Almost every day. I try to eat very healthy, organic, local foods, so I do end up preparing my own meals more often than I go out. I prefer to go out for a drink because in that case you pretty much know what’s being poured into your glass, as opposed to what’s going into your food.

– Alexis Bledel’s Mortal Enemy Is the Lat Machine at the Gym

Western cultures everywhere have now got to a point in food history where eating nothing but fast food is about as funny as any other kind of addiction. I.e. not very. (Jezebel fairly recently asked if sugar is the next booze. I say yes.)

Gilmore thought process

Lorelai Gilmore, the character, has responded to the anti-fat messages of the 80s and 90s by rebelling against her mother (who by the way, also can’t cook, but for classist reasons) and also against society in general. She takes bad eating to an extreme, and it forms the basis of a gag in pretty much every episode.

What are we if not world champion eaters?

Lorelai does not keep food in the house, including good coffee, which is partly an excuse to visit Luke at the cafe, but nor does she know how to cook. Lorelai is your stereotypical flighty female who drinks too much coffee for her adrenal health, and prides herself on eating sugary food full of trans fats until she feels uncomfortably full, swaggering around clutching her gut, which never actually sticks out during filming, because the actor does not eat like that.

It’s time to move past this now. A fully functioning human being knows how to boil an egg, women included. Failing to learn the basics of cooking is about as cool as failing to wipe your own backside. It’s not a feminist statement anymore, to support the fast food industry by refusing to keep whole foods in the house. But there’s more to my gripe than that, because after all, Lorelai is an imperfect mother and deliberately written that way.

The bigger problem is that the bad eating habits of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore send an erroneous Maybelline-esque message to all the young women out there who think that looking like Lauren Graham in your thirties is a matter of genes and good luck:

from 1991

from 1991

Looking like Lauren Graham has nothing to do with luck, however, and everything to do with ‘being on a diet since the age of 11’. Does the actress who plays Lorelai Gilmore really eat like this? All I needed to do was google lauren graham diet and I got the answer I expected:

“One thing I’ve learned is I actually don’t like variety very much,” she told SELF. “I like having the same thing over and over: assorted lean proteins, arugula salad, quinoa or brown rice with soy sauce, olive oil, lemon and salt. Those ingredients can pretty much get me through the week.”

From US Weekly:

Since the age of 11, Parenthood‘s Lauren Graham has been watching what she eats. “I’ve been on a diet for 35 years,” the 46-year-old TV star reveals in the May issue of More.

The trope of the skinny girl who can eat anything she wants is common throughout YA literature.

She’s so small; I can’t help but wonder where she packs all the food away.

— Resurrecting Sunshine, YA Novel by Lisa A. Koosis

 

Melissa McCarthy’s character, Sookie, has a far more healthy relationship with food, even if she is more prone to showing the outward signs of insulin resistance. She loves food, prepares it well and along with Jackson, who knows his fresh produce, is no doubt far less vitamin and mineral deficient than Lorelai and Rory.

Speaking of Maybelline, or makeup in general, we never once see any of the female characters without their maquillage. Emily, Lorelai, Rory and even the more down-to-earth Sookie are consistently depicted in full makeup, with not one scene taking place in front of a mirror in which said makeup is applied. There are occasionally scenes in which characters wear even more makeup than usual, such as when Rory sneaks out of her grandmother’s house to see Logan and hopes her grandmother doesn’t see her dark eyes and red lips, but let’s not be fooled into thinking that the less colourful faces of these actresses are somehow makeup free, even first thing in the morning. Perhaps in a town like Star’s Hollow it really is unheard of to spend waking hours without makeup (and also mornings in bed with male partners), but this whole thing smacks to me of another kind of beauty deception. I say this even though there is no place on the planet that looks more like a Sylvanian Families marketing shoot than Star’s Hollow, where everything looks perfect all the time, because honesty about female beauty is more important than ever.

I love Gilmore Girls!! If I ever have a daughter I might even name her Lorelai :)

… loin-fruit that she is, straggled out of bed to grace me with her presence? But then I asked myself,

The closest we see to disheveled is mussed-up hair

Here’s another thing saying pretty much this, about Sex and the City and a bunch of other shows which depict healthy looking women chowing down on junk food: The Myth Of Eating Actresses — And Why It’s Dangerous For Women from The Frisky

Also related: Is eating whatever you want really healthy? from Daily Life.

Gilmore Girls

In the first episode of Season Seven, Lorelai and Rory very uncharacteristically go to play ‘racquet ball’ (an easier version of squash?) but they don’t actually play — they sit on the floor and talk, like petulant teenage girls on strike during high school gym class. When two men walk into the room wanting to have an actual game, Lorelai tells them to go away — they’ve booked it for an hour.

As a fan of certain racquet sports, I find this behaviour extremely annoying. There are only a certain number of courts in the world, and people who don’t want to make actual sporting use of them should go home. To me, that scene feeds into stereotypes about girls and sport.

2. LACK OF AWARENESS OF THEIR OWN PRIVILEGE

I’m sure a lot has already been said about this: a story about rich white people living in the sort of fictional town which… well… really only exists in fiction. This is easy to criticise. I mean, in real life you don’t have a a busker creating music to the soundtrack of your very own internal dramas. In this sense, Gilmore girls is metafictive. The world does need way more stories about non-white people, granted. Should this be the show to do it? Probably not. The depictions of Lane’s Tiger Mom are stereo-typically Asian and we never do see Mrs Kim as a rounded character; she exists purely for entertainment. Ditto Michel Gerard, the concierge who works closely with Lorelai at the hotel. He is aloof and style-conscious in a stereo-typically French kind of way. This show isn’t about breaking into non-white subcultures.

What this show could do better, though, considering the age of its intended audience, is show some self-awareness of the privilege of its main cast.

For instance, there is an episode near the end of season one in which Lorelai takes Rory to taste test wedding cakes. It later emerges that she has no genuine interest in buying a wedding cake — she is only interested in sampling all the different flavours, for free. This isn’t said, but she’s doing this at the small-business owner’s expense. So although Lorelai Gilmore ran away from her privilege, finding it more stifling than helpful, she has the looks and the breeding and the skin-colour to fit neatly into a secure and fairly well-paid job at the hotel, and although the audience is reminded regularly that this was through Lorelai’s own sheer hard graft, in the real world, there was more to it than that. Lorelai Gilmore has the right accent and the right looks for running an inn, and no amount of hard graft is going to help many, many more women around the world working as hotel cleaners work their way into management by their early thirties.

gilmore!

I honestly don’t know if this is irony. Because yes, Lorelai Gilmore can (and briefly did).

The wedding cake taste-testing incident shows that Lorelai Gilmore lacks the moral compass to steers decent folk away from taking advantage of someone else’s time, even if that someone is a seemingly unimportant middle-aged woman who works in a wedding-cake shop.

Lorelai Gilmore completely misses the point.

In season five, episode fourteen, Rory borrows Logan’s limo and chauffeur to make an emergency trip to Stars Hollow. Upon returning the vehicle, she informs Logan that she ‘fed Frank a sandwich’, as in ‘I filled your car with petrol,’ or ‘I fed your monkey some nuts’. Did I need to mention that Frank is black?

Naturally, for those who watch further, the audience sees repercussions for privilege. Logan is indeed a problematic person whose own bad manners and gilded cage cause him grief. For the younger members of an audience, it’s perhaps worth pointing out the obvious.

That’s also why it’s important to keep watching until Season Six, where the theme of privilege and excess comes to a head. It feels at this point that all of what has come before has been in the sole aid of exploring what it means to be white and young and bright and pretty.

On the topic of Rory’s dropping out of Yale, I feel this failed somewhat in the narrative sense. It was too sudden. After watching five entire seasons of the strong-willed, kind, ever-sensible Rory Gilmore breeze through difficult social situations, offering wit and wisdom to her classmates, to suggest that the comments of one man could derail the plans she’s had for her entire life is not believable. In order for me to believe this of Rory, I needed to see more build-up. I needed to see increasing frustration with her life at Yale. I needed her to perhaps see through the bullshit privileged environment she found herself in. But no, Rory is mysteriously allured by Logan. I wonder if a younger audience has a problem with this love story. I find it unbelievable that a girl like Rory, who has seen both privilege and near-poverty (apparently) in her own family situations, would fall for Logan.

When Rory and Logan steal a yacht (at Rory’s suggestion) the idea of privilege is consciously explored when the judge expresses disgust at rich white kids using the world as their private playground, thereby increasing the number of community service Rory is required do. I feel a sense of unease that Rory’s misdemeanor raises her status among Logan’s friends, who throw a huge party in her criminal honour, each one of them dressing up in stripes. (Not far enough from the underprivileged version of ‘black face’, I feel.) When the camera is on Rory at her community service, the glossy cinematography of Stars Hollow doesn’t fit at all; nothing of the underclass is evident even though she is surrounded by those less privileged than herself. She is soon ordering the others around and they are (completely unbelievably) doing just as she tells them to do. Has she learnt anything at all from this experience? More importantly, has the young viewer?

In Season Six, even the privilege of Paris Geller is challenged after the tax office catches up with her parents. Paris becomes temporarily impoverished, which leads her to seek work in a kitchen at one of Rory’s events with the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), during which Marx suddenly makes complete sense to her. This article reminded me of that scene.

3. MODELLING OF BAD MANNERS

When main characters do bad things, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, the age of the Mary-Sue is over. I find it admirable that Rory Gilmore is written to be an excellent role-model who gets into three top universities through sheer diligence, and demonstrates her intelligence regularly by offering balanced commentary which is wise beyond her years. Such kids do exist. It’s hard to write a character like Rory Gilmore without fans eventually growing to hate her. Rory makes just enough mistakes.

The older Gilmore girls are a different matter. Emily Gilmore (as well as Richard Gilmore — by season four) are monstrous creatures, and I say this even though Emily Gilmore is strangely likeable, or perhaps just nice to watch. In a show designed for a tween audience, that’s okay, because at no stage is the audience invited to identify with either of the grandparent characters. The show is unquestionably about Lorelai and Rory.

But when Lorelai demonstrates bad manners and these bad manners go either unchecked or rewarded, this is another issue. The reason I consider this important is because Lorelai Gilmore is so obviously written to be a role model for viewers of adolescent age: a young, hip, fast-talking mum of the kind that exists in fantasy — the kind who is a teenage daughter’s best buddy. If you’re in any doubt about the power of a character such as Lorelai Gilmore, read this from a twenty-five year old fan of Gilmore Girls who has only more recently come to understand the character’s many shortcomings:

The show became a part of my identity, and also something sacred. A biblical text.

1. Lorelai Gilmore talks loudly and incessantly through every town meeting, every speech and even throughout someone’s funeral. Although she gets shushed quite often, this is always by a pesky old man character. Lorelai giggles and keeps on doing this. It reminds me of assemblies at a girls’ high school.

Gilmore Girls and Freaky Friday

2. Lorelai’s ability to manipulate men with flirtatiousness. During another funeral procession, Lorelai rushes up to the family member who has inherited a building and asks if she can buy it. Carrying the coffin,  he asks if they might discuss it later. Lorelai ignores his request and continues to harass the man. In the gets what the building she wanted, she and Sookie open their inn, and because this has been a longterm goal that the audience has been invited into caring about, to the viewer it seems she has got what she wanted because she was pushy and inconsiderate. I suppose this is a real-estate lesson in its own right. It’s also one you might want to discuss with your young co-viewer.

Gilmore Girls

3. Lorelai does not respect Luke’s ‘no’. A stunningly uncomfortable example of this happens at the beginning of Season Four, as Lorelai sets Rory up at Yale. Since Lorelai is overly-interfering in her daughter’s life (something so obvious I don’t need to go on about it at length here) that she insists Rory get a new mattress. Lorelai has arranged to borrow Luke’s utility van but Luke has said to get it back to him by a certain time, because he needs it. Of course there are mattress related dramas at Yale, and Lorelai ends up bringing home a second-hand mattress… late. Not only has she returned Luke’s vehicle later than he wanted, but she tries to get him to store the old mattress. Throughout that episode the perennially grumpy Luke continues to say no to Lorelai, and Lorelai continues with her pouty, ditzy act that attractive women of child-bearing age can often get away with, playing on the sexual tension that runs between Lorelai and Luke from the pilot episode. It might be worth explaining to a young viewer that good relationships happen when each partner respects the other. If you’re friends (or proto-lovers) with someone and you keep saying no and somehow you end up doing the thing you said no to, over and over again, that ain’t a good relationship. Saying no should be normal.

4. Lorelai actually doesn’t know when to shut-up. This is a big part of her quirky personality, and it’s part of what makes the scripting of Gilmore girls unique. But most of the time the audience is encouraged to find Lorelai’s outbursts cute rather than downright inappropriate. Let it not be said that Americans don’t do irony; Lorelai Gilmore has sarcasm in spades. At times Lorelai says what we all wish we could say, and at other times I feel the audience is invited to be complicit in a bitchy comment (about AV geeks, about someone’s clothing choice, about Kirk in particular) and I’m not sure a young audience is encouraged by the show itself to know the difference.

@Heidi Harris Someone needs to print this and frame it for Granny!

Though the AD/HD population is diverse and is not linked to ‘bad manners’, I think Lorelai Gilmore is an excellent fictional candidate for AD/HD. For many reasons, not least this one.

4. STOCK CHARACTERS WHO SIMPLIFY REAL LIFE ISSUES

What you get from Gilmore girls is a cast of hyperbolic characters. Every one of them has a stand out characteristic which makes them unique (though there is a disproportionate number of characters with OCD type quirks). The trick in drama, even in comedy drama, is to transcend the stock characters. Do characters like Paris really do this?

On screen fiction tends to tell the stories of the outward signs of OCD but more seldom gets into the darker, internal side of obsessive compulsive thoughts. Perhaps this is a failing of the screen compared to the novel. The difference is summarised here by Jody Michael.

Below we have the three girls most significant at Rory’s high school. When I first saw these characters, on Rory’s first day at Chilton, I was a little disappointed. First we have the overdone ‘mean girl’ — Paris, who does get more interesting as the series progresses. Paris is also a great example of a perfectionist who is so hell-bent on getting what she wants she ends up sabotaging her efforts. A lot of super-bright girls surely find themselves in a similar position. As a case study, Paris is fascinating.

The other two (Louise and Madeline) are ditzy rich girls who go boy-crazy after graduation. If this were a slightly more nuanced show, the relationships between these girls could have been written in a far more interesting way. Might tweens have got more out of Rory’s relationships with these three had the interactions been as nuanced as, say, the relationship between Lorelai and Luke, or Lorelai and Rory, or Lorelai and Emily? Instead, these relationships provide nothing more than a jump-off point into a range of bullying related issues, but the show itself does not offer the nuance; that’s up to the viewer. In real life, bullies do not always stand out a mile. Bullies are not always pretty. Most kids are bullies at least some of the time (including Rory, I might add, when she speaks disparagingly to the AV Guy). Bullying changes shape in senior high school. In this story, the overt nastiness typical of junior high school relationships continues through to the end of these girls’ time at Chilton. This doesn’t ring true.

There are still too few stories about the real nature of high school cliques, even though there are plenty of black-and-white mean girls in literature.

Gilmore girls

5. A SHOW WITH FEMALE PROTAGONISTS ISN’T NECESSARILY ALL THAT ACCEPTING OF WOMEN

In one of the earlier seasons, Luke is disgusted by a woman breastfeeding her baby in his cafe. Sure, Luke is disgusted by all sorts of things: children in general and mobile phones in particular. This makes for an interesting plot line when it turns out he has a 12 year old daughter. But the joking way in which Lorelai and Rory react to Luke’s disgust make them borderline complicit. Since there is plenty feminist of discrimination of women breastfeeding in public, anyone au fait with the disconnect between utility and the fetishization of the female breast may well feel uncomfortable with this particular scene.

In episode two of season five Lorelai makes disparaging comments about attending a venue full of women who had not shaved their legs. In Gilmore World, absences of grooming go punished. In the same episode, Lyndsay’s mother approaches Rory in the street and accuses Rory of being a homewrecker. At no point in that same episode is it said that it was not Rory who was married, and therefore Dean’s own fault for breaking up his own marriage.

By the way, there are a lot of jokes about prostitution.

Gilmore Girls

tumblr_m9afkamBF91qgmul2o1_250.jpg 250×350 pixels

I mention this not because I want to shield my daughter from knowing anything about the darker side of life, but because I don’t want my daughter to think, in a superior fashion, that being a ‘whore’ is somehow the best of all insults. That’s a long story, but suffice to say, using whore as an insult is not a very kind thing to do in a world where human trafficking is a huge problem, where lots of countries don’t look after their women and girls, and where the demand for female prostitution is as strong as it ever was in a world where we like to think women make ‘bad choices’.

Explain that one to a tween. Because all she’ll see is that ‘whore’ is an insult. Along with ‘slut’, and similar, with the flip-side being that virginity is a special prize.

To sum this issue up, this show is about women and contains a lot of feminist messages, but feminism has evolved a little since the mid 2000s.

(Bad Reputation blog has an interesting series of posts about widows, and Paris Geller gets a mention.)

6. TRADITIONAL VIEWS ABOUT SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS

To follow from the previous point, if you’re after ‘traditional’ for your tween daughter, this is what you get from Gilmore girls. What you may not get is ‘healthy’ and ‘progressive’.

Everybody’s scared of teenage girls, especially when they have sex. That’s well-known. “I’ve got the good girl,” Lorelai says to herself after over-hearing Rory admit to Paris that she never had sex with Dean. The implicit message is that Paris is the ‘bad girl’ for having sex with a boy… in her final year of high school.

What they are talking about is p-in-v sex, we presume. Until the end of season four, we only ever see Rory kissing, and I think it’s worth mentioning that we only see Rory kissing awkwardly. Alexis Bledel manages wordy scripts with ease, but where she does not shine as an actor is in any scene that requires intense emotion. She always looks supremely uncomfortable with her boyfriends. This makes me wonder about the ethics of asking young actors to perform in this way. The discomfort is so palpable that I wonder about the message: If Rory doesn’t seem to be really, truly enjoying the physical intimacy with her boyfriend, but has boyfriends anyway, are teenagers of high school age nevertheless obliged to make these relationships, even if they are bookish types?

The seasons get slightly more adult in theme as the viewers themselves grow up. When Rory loses her virginity (off-screen), the post-coital scene with Dean is as awkward as any ever were. The Event of Virginity Loss is a big plot point in any story for this audience, but I’d like to see a cultural shift in focus. Why was the break-up of Dean’s marriage resting upon the stretching of Rory’s hymen? Why wasn’t the marriage considered over before that, when it was clear that Rory and Dean had a close emotional connection? Something to discuss with young viewers is the murky definition of ‘cheating’ and ‘affairs’. How much weight do we as a culture heap upon simple physical acts? Is ‘virginity’ really that important? What counts as sex? Bill Clinton started that big conversation. I hope progressive culture has moved a little since Gilmore girls first aired, and that this storyline will continue to date badly. By Season Six, this emphasis on purity is questioned when Emily and Richard arrange for their Reverend to give Rory a talk about saving her ‘gift’ for one special man. Rory handles this with aplomb. (This is another reason why it’s important to watch Season Six.)

Rory’s third sexual partner is Logan. Gilmore girls continues to keep any actual sex off-screen, to the point where adult viewers might feel the relationship between Luke and Lorelai a little weird (though I can imagine it was a little weird for the actors, too, working with each other for several seasons before having to pretend intimacy. I don’t think I’d like to have to do sex scenes with a guy I’d been working with for four years.)

On the topic of Logan and Rory, it happens in Rory’s room at Yale. This scene could be the catalyst of an important conversation about consent with your adolescent daughter. Because as things between the two characters heat up, Logan says to Rory something along the lines of, ‘If you want me to leave, you’d better tell me now.’

This line is used a lot in fiction, and because of that, I’m guessing it’s used a lot in real life, too. (Robert Kincaid says it to Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County, for example.)

A problem with this sentence, when used by one partner to indicate that (or ask if) sex is about to happen, is that it suggests an uncomfortable subtext. When Logan says this to Rory, it sounds a lot like, ‘If you don’t want sex then you’d better tell me to stop now, because I’m about to get so caught up in the heat of it that I won’t be able to stop at any point between now and completion, so if you don’t want the full menu, tell me to leave now.’ That is an ultimatum of sorts.

But actually it doesn’t work like that, does it. In fact, boys are fully capable of controlling themselves (if they want to), and a girl can negotiate from the full range of possibilities; sex is not an all-or-nothing proposition. When a boy (or a girl) says ‘If you don’t want this, tell me to leave now,’ it can sound creepily manipulative.

purity-culture-valenti

valenti02

from The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

from The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

Other aspects of the sexual side of relationships are explored to a certain extent, and viewers will each make their own minds up about that. Rory experiments with an open relationship but when Logan decides he doesn’t want this, Rory is happy to drop everything for him.

Lorelai sleeps with Christopher after her second break-up with Luke, as a way to confirm to herself that her relationship with Luke is over. As a consequence she ends up using Christopher, and conveys to a young audience that this is one way of ending a relationship for good. Oh, and Luke storms round to Christopher’s house and sucker punches him. In real life, this can kill. (In Australia, the media now uses the term ‘coward punch’, after one such incident led to the death of a young man.)

Is it a teenage girl’s fantasy to have boys fight over her in this fashion? Should it be? Lorelai to Luke in the middle of the street: ‘Next time you get a hankering to punch someone’s lights out, take your anger out on me. I’m the one who deserved it.’ (I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean physically, but nor was it clear that she didn’t.)

7. PRODUCT PLACEMENT AND CONSUMERISM IN GILMORE GIRLS

As the seasons progress, we see more and more product placement (or perhaps I just never noticed it in the first few seasons). I wonder how much Birken paid for the episode in Season Six where Logan buys Rory a Birkin Bag. This is a bag which Emily has wanted her entire life. It’s talked about,  a lot.

The actor who plays Logan is very good, capable of expressing both stoned boredom and strong emotion.

In an earlier episode (Season Five, Episode 20), there is a scene before the opening credits in which Rory and Lorelai each watch their robot vacuum cleaners. Rory is at Yale and Lorelai is in Star’s Hollow. They are sharing a moment. This is probably the scene which smacks most strongly of product placement. It feels just like an advertisement for robot vacuum cleaners. (We don’t see them again.)

Like almost everything ever, we also see Rory working on an Apple laptop in her room at Yale. I wonder if someone on the set wanted a new Apple laptop that week?

Rory Gilmore and Apple Inc. Photograph

Ah, remember when Apple laptops were this huge? With colours?

I don’t think product placement is in itself a huge problem, and if you’ve made the decision to watch TV, you’re probably highly aware of it. But it’s something I would point out to a young viewer as part of media literacy.

The consumerism of the Gilmore girls, on the other hand, is over-the-top. When Lorelai orders fast food she orders enough for a football team (or perhaps a TV camera crew?). When the Gilmore girls go shopping they really go shopping. This would be realistic enough, I guess, if Lorelai were not a hotel manager, which would certainly pay enough to live a comfortable lifestyle (at least in this country) but not enough to waste money on ice-creams in winter before deciding it’s too cold for ice-cream and dumping it straight into the bin. Throwing food and goods out on a whim is a luxury most of the world does not have. And even if they did hypothetically have it, the environment cannot sustain that attitude towards material items.

Then there’s the unresolved issue of Lorelai’s borrowing a significant sum of money from Luke when she opens her own inn. Are we to assume she has paid it back before we see her jump straight back in to her wasteful spending? After breaking up with Luke (again) she throws out everything that reminds her of Luke, including a waffle maker because Luke made waffles. We never find out if she has paid Luke back.

8. ON THE SORE TOPIC OF SEASON SEVEN

I’d been prepped on this because The Internet does not collectively approve of season seven. A ‘truly stale Pop Tart’, even.This is the season that Sherman-Palladino did not write. Fans of the show saw a distinct change in tone and didn’t like how the plot progressed.

But since I’d basically been hate watching the first six seasons, I wondered if I might suddenly like the seventh? How’s that for logic?

I immediately detected a change in tone. When Kirk ploughs into the side of Luke’s diner, Rory’s retelling of the incident to Lorelai shows an uncharacteristic lack of empathy for Luke, who inherited the building from his father. Likewise, it’s not like Rory to be reflecting nauseatingly about what Logan’s gift of a rocket meeeeans for their relationship. The pre-season-seven Rory Gilmore would not have pretended to know its significance when her absent boyfriend calls to ask if she ‘got it’ (the rocket and the joke). This is especially infuriating after six seasons (almost — apart from her reason for taking a break from Yale, which was also out of character) of Rory Gilmore being the level-headed, wise one.

Do the new writers really get the character? Even her dialogue sounds a bit more ‘Valley Girl’ (as it’s apparently known), with more ‘likes’ and ‘I mean’s and various hedge phrases. Why? Why do this, when the fast-paced witty dialogue is really the thing that makes this show standout from various others on the Disney channel? This was especially obvious in Rory’s first scene in episode two of this season, as she complains to Lorelai about how much she wanted to travel the world (presumably on her boyfriend’s money), but her rich boyfriend doesn’t want to see her until Christmas. Rory even says ‘Oh yay’ and ‘Nutso!’ to which Lorelai responds ironically ‘Spoken like a true grown-up’. I sense from this counter dialogue that the writers are aware of what they’re doing to Rory, but they’re doing it anyway. After a while the dialogue seemed to regain its usual tone, but perhaps I just readjusted my expectations. For a while it seemed as if Luke’s daughter April had become ‘the new Rory’.

As for Lorelai, I’m convinced the season seven writers don’t think much of this character, because Lorelai Gilmore’s faults seem magnified, somehow. She talks all the way through a lecture on Einstein’s theory of relativity at Yale University’s parents’ weekend. She’s not talking about astrophysics, by the way, but complaining that Emily has attended even though she’s not a parent but a grandparent. Earlier that day we saw Lorelai prepare for her trip to France by listening to a Teach-Yourself-French CD. Instead of attempting the actual French, she thinks it’s hilarious to speak the English in a mock-French accent, which I’m sure the French will think hilarious. By this point it’s cringeworthy. The writers could have done something more clever such as have Lorelai make a genuine mistake, or crack a French pun — after all, the character of Lorelai Gilmore is supposedly very smart.

HOWEVER. Honestly, Amy Sherman-Palladino, the writer who left at the end of season six, left season six in a mess. It was a difficult job for the writers of season seven to claw the plot back ‘on track’, and although the final episode was predictable, I felt that it tied everything up nicely. There was no ‘rescued by a rich boy’ kind of happy ending, and I have to admit I had been dreading that possibility.

SO IS GILMORE GIRLS ANY GOOD? QUALITY-WISE?

TV-wise:

The characters are exaggerations and the non-white characters are caricatures.

Small-town life is equally caricatured, and nothing important ever seems to happen without the whole town assembling, or pressing their noses against a window (quite literally, at one point in Luke’s Diner). In other words, if it doesn’t happen in front of an audience, it doesn’t have the same gravity. This is a narcissistic show.

On that point, the actors always look as if they’re performing on a stage. This is part of the style, and is partly due to the fast-talking, but can be annoying if naturalistic is your thing.

The usual cheap tricks of long-running sitcoms are employed. It annoyed me that they used the very same actress (who you may even recognise from Twin Peaks) to play two different characters.

Some scenes are definitely tighter than others. There’s no real suspense — this is coziness itself — and the cliff-hanger at the end of each season is of average intensity, usually revolving around relationship conflict. This elevates the role of the Gilmore girls’ relationships with men to an important plane, despite being outwardly a show about mothers and daughters and female friendships.

If you watch the episodes too close together, Lorelai’s relationship cycle is extremely irritating. PICK A MAN, ALREADY. OR DON’T. JUST DON’T.

For a younger audience:

There’s something very calm and embracing about the atmosphere of Stars Hollow and surrounds. This is pure, unthinking escapism. In that regard, Gilmore girls works, and it would also work for girls whose lives are far less stable and privileged than that of Rory Gilmore. It’s nice to pretend that we are Rory Gilmore, insofar as that leap is possible. The coziness might well have the opposite effect, of reinforcing to a girl in the opposite of Rory’s position just how lucky other people can be.

Rory Gilmore is a fairly rare character in that she is a smart, feminine girl who the audience sees actually studying. She doesn’t magically come up with all the answers behind the scenes, playing sidekick to two boys. Rory makes certain things cool: coffee, flowing dresses and reading for pleasure. Throughout seven seasons, Rory is shown reading a wide variety of books. Here’s the Rory Gilmore reading list. This show might even prompt a non-reading fan to pick up some of these books. (I’ve only read 27 of them, but I aim to read many more before I’m dead.)

And here is a list of fictional TV characters who love reading. And The Lisa Simpson Book Club Tumblr. (Lisa Simpson is still the best and greatest female TV character, IMO. Everything I say about Rory Gilmore uses Lisa as a yardstick.)

What else to do, after you watched all of the Gilmore Girls?

You could watch Bunheads, but don’t get too into it because you will find it stops abruptly: The Cancellation of Bunheads: Why TV’s Most Underrated Show Deserved Better

There is, naturally, a Bunheads Wiki for true enthusiasts.

Or you could read Lauren Graham’s YA Book.

Where Are They Now? — Lots of actors had small parts on Gilmore Girls and then made it big.

What I Learned From Growing Up With Rory Gilmore from Bitch Media

Gilmore Girls And Third Wave Feminism from Candice, points out that Sooki St James was originally intended to be lesbian but networks weren’t ready. Also, Luke was originally a woman but notes came back that there needed to be ‘more testosterone’.  Also more on the topic of lack of diversity.

Gilmore Girls turned this viewer into a feminist.

8 Lessons Gilmore Girls Taught Me About Feminism

An academic paper on the Gilmore girls versus reality

Black Books Pilot (2000) TV Study

The pilot episode of Black Books is called “Cooking The Books”.

One thing Cooking The Books does really well is introducing the audience very quickly to the three main characters (all of them transcending stock characters, though based on stock), and weaving them together for gags at the climax. When broken down, we can see that each of the story strands indeed has the seven basic steps of a complete narrative. Indeed, even the minor characters, the Mormons, have their own complete storyline.

1. Weakness/Need

Bernard

Psychological need: He’s terrible with numbers and has no patience to learn how to do his own taxes.

Moral need:  He’s horrible to people, and as an example, doesn’t even know his own mother’s name.

Fran

Psychological need: She is a bit clueless and probably a drunk. For example, she’s ordered something to sell but has no idea what it is.

Moral need: Self-centred, she plans to get drunk while her friend gives birth ‘so that it can be like the good old days’. She has no desire to actually help the friend. She sells ‘a lot of wank’ to her customers.

Manny

Psychological need: Manny is highly-strung to the extreme, and can’t control his cortisol levels.

Moral need: He isn’t doing his job properly even though he’s being paid to do it. He is petty and in order to get out of a situation he’s been ‘caught out’ in he’ll continue to elaborate on the lie. (A common feature of comedy characters.)

The Mormons

Psychological need: They’re out proselytising but they have no idea what they’re really supposed to be saying.

Moral need: They push the word of god onto people even if they don’t want to hear it. (The audience knows this moral need already — it doesn’t need to be set up by the show.)

2. Desire

Bernard wants to get his taxes done so he doesn’t get in trouble with the tax department.

Fran wants to find out what the big round thing is that has arrived in her shop and which she has to sell in great numbers.

Manny wants to do as little work as possible while remaining calm. In order to do this he needs a ‘The Little Book Of Calm’ at arm’s length so that he can refer to it at any time.

The Mormons wish to convert Bernard to Mormonism, or something (they’re not really sure — what they really want to do is go door to door knocking, then onto the next one, as they’ve obviously been told).

3. Opponent

Bernard’s opponents are ironic. Normally people are annoyed by Mormons knocking on the door, but Bernard welcomes the distraction because he is in the middle of his taxes and has already paired all his socks. Bernard wants to get his legs broken, so the thugs who eventually beat him up are unwittingly doing him a favour. Bernard’s real opponent is the tax office, unseen by the audience.

Fran doesn’t have a clear, single opponent in this episode, unless it’s her friend giving birth, which will be standing in the way of her partying from here on in. 

Manny’s opponent is his immediate boss, who expects him to do work, which he can’t/won’t do.

The Mormons’ opponent is Bernard, who is a sort of ‘secret enemy ally’ — his only motivation is to procrastinate over his taxes but he gives them the impression he’s interested in hearing all about Jesus.

4. Plan

The main source of comedy in this episode is that Bernard’s initial, sensible plan does not work. His subsequent ideas get more and more ridiculous. In fact, this is the format of the entire show. As TV Tropes explains:

Black Books relied on A Simple Plan for pretty much all of its plots. The characters would decide to go to a party, or do their taxes, or write a children’s book, or something, and would more or less use this as a springboard for a lot of bizarre and/or appalling behaviour, until they eventually failed, or at best broke even.

Bernard plans to get his dodgy accountant to do his tax but this can’t happen, first because Bernard’s book keeping skills are terrible and second because the police come for the accountant while Bernard is sitting in his office. So he is forced to change his plan: He decides he’ll read all the instructions and do his tax himself. But he doesn’t know the most basic information about himself (e.g. His mother’s first name, let alone her maiden name), and he can’t understand the instructions. He welcomes any distraction. Finally, he reads a bit where he can delay filling out his tax form if he can prove he’s been sick/injured, so he plans to get his legs broken. He’ll swap this favour for a free book. But this plan doesn’t work even after he’s set it up because the man who has agreed to break his legs realises at the last second that he has in fact read this book and doesn’t want it anymore. So next, Bernard plans to start a fight with some thugs.

Fran’s plan is to ask everyone she comes across what they think the lighter thing is. Fran’s plot line is a mystery, of sorts.

Manny’s plan is to buy a copy of The Little Book Of Calm and read it while looking like he’s working but actually eating chunky soup at his desk. This plan goes wrong when he accidentally drinks the little book when it falls into the soup. For the rest of the episode he wanders round in a Jesus-like state spouting advice from the book.

The Mormons plan to come back later, after Bernard is finished being drunk, and work on their conversion then.

5. Battle

Bernard’s battleground is the fight between him and the thugs, which he picks deliberately. This is your classic ‘battle scene’.

Fran’s battleground should be the birthing room but she is instead having her own battle — rushing up to a customer and demanding to know what the round thing is. The scenes are similar in their levels of desperation. When another customer suggests the ball looks like ‘a fake breast that dads wear’, Fran is suddenly reminded of where she’s supposed to be.

Manny’s battleground is also with the thugs, until Bernard intervenes.

We don’t see the Mormons’ battle, but we do see Bernard drunk and saying goodbye to them, so we can assume this is their battleground. The looks on their faces show that they are rather taken aback by whatever has just preceded the arrival of our camera.

6. Self-Revelation

Bernard works out that the Jesus figure who he has woken up to is an accountant. He realises he can just get him to do his accounts (and also ask him for a wine and a sandwich with a pickle.)

Fran works out that the ball thing is a lighter when she sees Manny using it.

Manny’s ‘self-revelation’ comes in the form of cheese lines spouted out of The Little Book Of Calm which he has literally swallowed… and absorbed into his system.

When Manny opens the door of Black Books looking like Jesus, the Mormons run away.

7. New Equilibrium

Bernard has a friend who is going to do his books for him.

Fran has a best friend who now has a baby (and are they still best friends, since she forgot to turn up for the birth?)

Manny is a much calmer version of his former himself, and has a new friend in Bernard.

The Mormons presumably they think Manny is the second coming or something — we know they won’t be back — not by choice, anyway!

Irony in this episode

Irony is the ‘meaningful gap between expectation and outcome’.

Presentation Irony: This is when the audience is used to the tropes of a particular genre but the story throws us off course. The audience expects Mormons to be experts on all things biblical. But ironically, Bernard actually knows more about Jesus than the Mormons do. This is ironic on multiple levels: Because he knows nothing at all about taxes, even though that’s his business — no one in this show knows how to do their job properly — they’re all complete misfits. The other irony is that we expect people who know about Jesus to behave in a ‘Christian like manner’, and Bernard is basically a cynical misanthrope.

Opposite Outcome Irony: This episode has several instances of this kind of irony. Lemons become lemonade when the skinheads turn up outside Bernard’s shop, because he was just aiming to cut off his own wrist with an electric kitchen knife after trying desperately to persuade someone to break his legs for him. Also, when Manny almost dies from swallowing a book he absorbs its messages into his system and turns into a Jesus-like figure.

Surprising means to an end: “Oh come on Bernard, you’d really have to cripple yourself. You’re hardly going to do that just to avoid doing your accounts,” Fran says, the voice of reason. The look on Bernard’s face tells us that’s exactly the sort of thing he would do.

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