Saturday, July 25, 2020

Breaking Down Bosch on TV

When you're a writer, you always notice structure in a story, no matter the medium.

Not sure why the wife and I never started watching Amazon Prime's Bosch TV show, based on Michael Connelly's series of books, but a few weeks ago, we pulled the plug.

And have loved every moment of the first three seasons. Titus Welliver as the titular character is fantastic. Now, I say that as someone who's read only a handful of the Bosch books so he may or may not be everyone's first choice, but with Connelly on as an executive producer, he saw something he liked. Besides, it's a different medium. I love his intensity and Bosch's sense of justice no matter the cost, even to himself or his career. We're just a couple of episodes into the fourth season and I so love the fact that Bosch was assigned the main case because he wasn't the target of the victim, a dead lawyer who had gone after cops. How'd Bosch miss this guy?

Jerry Edgar, or J. Edgar, is Bosch's partner. Played by Jamie Hector of The Wire fame, he's naturally much younger than Bosch. You do get the typical veteran-to-younger guy vibe, but that's okay. J. Edgar dresses nice, has a wife and two young children, and is in a different place in life. Hector does a fine job of saying much by saying little, and I liked how his character gradually changed over the first three seasons, especially the third as he came to understand what makes Bosch tick.

The imposing Lance Reddick plays Irvin Irving, a guy who ends up being promoted to interim chief of police. I swear, if he were interrogating me, all he'd have to do was just stare at me and I'd talk. Another veteran of The Wire, Reddick brings a simmering intensity to even the most mundane of scenes. When the chief experiences a personal tragedy, there is one scene Reddick nails.

Amy Aquino plays Bosch's long-suffering lieutenant. Like all the cast in this show, she fits right in with the hard-boiled detectives of her squad. She gives as good as she gets, and is always there to back Bosch. We got a little of her backstory in season three and its...dicey.

I could go on, but I wanted to circle back to being a writer and watching a show like this. Each season is ten episodes, each about 45-50 minutes, give or take. The writers spin multiple threads during season three. There's the murder-of-the-season, there's the cold case involving the murder of Bosch's prostitute mother, there's Bosch's family life (teenaged daughter and ex-wife and her husband; the ex is a professional poker player), there's J. Edgar's family, and Chief Irving's story. That's five not including the bad guys who are involved in the season-long mystery.

I find it fascinating how well the stories ebb and flow, play off each other, and become resolved. Sometimes, it's about a 30-second scene with a few lines of dialogue. Other times, it's a full section. I haven't yet sat down to analyze a single episode, but I'm thinking about it. It seems so effortless, but I know it's based on long and hard work. You can learn structure and story by breaking down a book or TV show. I did it with The Da Vinci Code back in the day and a few episodes of Castle.

I'll keep watching for structure as we get through season four. It opens up new ideas in my head for how to craft a story. Writers. We're always learning.

The only problem with binge viewing? You eventually reach the end. Next season is next year. But I'm gonna enjoy this show. It'll probably lead me to the books.

What are the best Bosch books?

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Prodigal Son: Come for the Premise, Stay for the Twists


I had seen the promos for Fox’s PRODIGAL SON back in 2019 and my eyes slid off it. “What if Hannibal Lector had a son and they solved mysteries together?” Wasn’t interested.

A few weeks ago, with my wife’s urging, we gave it a try. I am converted.

The Premise

The story focuses on Malcolm Bright (played by Tom Payne), a former FBI profiler, who now works with a small team at the NYPD. The police squad is led by Lt. Gil Arroyo (perennial favorite Lou Diamond Phillips) with Detectives Dani Powell (Aurora Perrineau) and JT Tarmel (Frank Harts) as part of the team. Keiko Agena plays Dr. Edrisa Tanaka, the medical examiner.

It is Malcolm’s father who is the serial killer known as The Surgeon, and for good reason: he is renowned surgeon Dr. Martin Whitly. Rouding out the main cast is Malcolm’s mother, Jessica (Bellamy Young) and his sister, Ainsley (Halston Sage).

The pilot centers on a copycat killer who is using The Surgeon’s MO, so Malcolm is brought in. As a kid, Malcolm was the one who exposed his father, leading to his arrest and imprisonment. Lt. Arroyo was there and has taken a fatherly interest in Malcolm ever since.

The Central Question

This is your typical killer-of-the-week type of show, but it is the characters who help lift this show above the mundane. Despite my initial reticence, you might have thought the premise alone would have hooked me, but I’m not a huge fan of serial killer stories. Still the dynamics of Malcolm’s character make it pretty interesting. With a title like PRODIGAL SON and Malcolm’s own mental issues, there’s a strong chord throughout the show asking the simple question: Is Malcolm like his father? Could the younger Whitly succumb just like his father?

The “Is he or is he not a killer?” is a nice twist on the traditional “Will they or won’t they?” question we ask of shows like CASTLE. Speaking of one of my all-time favorite shows, the pilot is very similar to to CASTLE’s pilot. Shrug.

There is also the question revolving around Malcolm’s continued flashbacks to one night, when he was a child, and saw a woman in a chest. Was she a victim? Who was she? And what happened to her?

The Characters

Even if a premise hooks you, it is often the characters who compel you to stay. Here, despite the guardrails of a network television show, the characters are pretty darn good. Malcolm’s great and his mind trips are, well, a trip. His relationships with the various members of his family are dramatic if not a little too dramatic. When he visits his dad, they’re always very formal, with the son referring to his dad as “Dr. Whitly.” But it’s really neat to see the progression of their relationship as the 20-episode first season goes on.

Speaking of The Surgeon, Michael Sheen is having a blast. He knows he’s often the comedic relief and he plays it up. It’s a little jarring at first to see this serial killer be funny and you laugh at his comments, but Sheen does a fine job. Know what else he’s good at? The sudden shift from funny to dangerous, sometimes at the blink of an eye. It is in those moments when you go, “Oh, right, he’s killed twentysomething people.”

Phillips is solid as a rock. He is even-keeled who knows he has to go by the book, but also realizes “by the book” doesn’t apply to Malcolm. This is an “eccentric detective with cops” show after all. He really cares for Malcolm and does his best to keep the young man out of as much trouble as he can, not always successfully.

The Stories

Like most shows nowadays, there is the crime-of-the-week ones and the season-long story arc. Both are satisfying but there are bumps along the road. Highlights include one in which Malcolm wakes to find himself chained inside a cellar (episode 11), the pilot (for setting everything in motion and hooking me), the one with a former cop who worked The Surgeon’s case (episode 10), and the last trio of episodes. I can’t think of a single episode that was sub-par, and many were quite entertaining.

The Twists

If given the premise and the central questions I listed above, I’m guessing you’d form your own opinions on what might happen during the season. Trust me: I had them, too. But creators Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver know what you’re thinking and deliver something different. It’s nice to say that some of the questions are resolved while others just make you anticipate season 2 that much more.

The Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed season 1 of PRODIGAL SON and would certainly recommend. I know I’m eagerly waiting for season 2.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Palm Springs: A Time-Loop Rom-Com Full of Emotion and an Intriguing Ending

Friday night is movie night at the Parker house. Last Friday, the wife selected the film: a brand-new movie released on Hulu called Palm Springs. It's a film starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti that is part rom-com and part Groundhog Day. I knew nothing about the film, but it only took me seeing half the trailer to jump on board.

Boy, I’m sure glad my wife found this utterly delightful film.

Samberg spends much of his time on camera in the same yellow swim trunks and red Hawaiian shirt, but he also wears this to a wedding. Who the heck wears a swimsuit to a wedding? A guy who’s stuck in a time loop.

But we don’t know that at the movie starts. All we see is Samberg’s Nyles bored with life and love. Lazy time in a pool, snatching a microphone during the wedding toast, speaking directly to Milioti’s Sarah. Samberg is never without a beer (which made me wonder just how many he opened on set). But Sarah finally meets him as Nyles does a funny dance with all the guests at the party.

They talk, they go out in the desert to make out, only to be stopped by a shadowed man who shoots Nyles with a bow and arrow. The hunter (J.K. Simmons) flees into a cave with a bright orange glow. Nyles follows, but he implores Sarah not to follow him.

She does.

And wakes up on the same day (9 November) in her same bed. She freaks out (who wouldn’t?) and finds Nyles. It is he who tells her they (and Simmons’s Roy) are stuck in a time loop on the day of the wedding. She does what anyone else would do to try and stop it. When she discovers she can’t, she accepts it and she and Nyles begin their courtship.

The Journey in a Rom Com


In just about every romantic comedy, the question isn’t if the pair will end up together, it’s how. Still, it’s fun to see these two enjoying life. Nyles now wakes with a smile on his face and slowly but surely, so does Sarah. But they’re just spending time together and not sleeping together.

Until one night, natch. There’s a short sequence here that is magical that I won’t spoil here, but it left me grinning ear to ear. Even my wife loved it.

But in every rom-com, you have the breakup. Yes, it happens here. Nyles goes back to moping, finally realizing that his life-in-the-time-loop philosophy of carpe diem is wrong and that he’s actually fallen in love with Sarah. He even seeks out Roy to see where his day always starts. Sarah, on the other hand, goes to school. She starts to spend every day on the internet learning about quantum physics, determined to find a way to escape.

Now, at this point, I’m going to say that Palm Springs is a wonderful film. Writer Andy Siara has taken a pair of fun tropes and mixed them together in a nice, twisty film that is pretty darn funny and emotional. Director Max Barbakow unfolds the story in such a way as to reveal new facts the deeper into the movie you go.

For me, having never watched Andy Samberg in anything other than Saturday Night Live, it was fun to watch him morph from his usual type personality on SNL to show some genuine emotion. I only know Milioti from the opening story on last year’s Modern Love TV series (highly recommended), but she shines here. I really appreciated how she changed over the course of the film, and she shows that change with her voice.

Really enjoyed this film, and it felt good to watch something new. I’m going to talk about the science fictional elements in the section below, but make no mistake: it barely factors into this delightful show. Unlike, say, Back to the Future or Star Trek, this is a movie focused on characters. The SF stuff is just there to make the characters interact. So if you don’t like SF, don’t worry. It’s barely there.

But be sure to stay through the first half of the credits....

SPOILER WARNING:


From here on out, I talk the ending. Go watch the film and then come back. And this is all my own conjecture. I’ve not read any other articles, assuming they’re there (I’ll be checking after I write this). And all of this is just a fun thought experiment. The movie stands on its own.




Ready?



So, Sarah figures out how to get out of the time loop. She’s conducted the experiment with the goat. She knows it works because the goat no longer shows up in their time loop.

Okay, I got that. Then she and Nyles shuffle into the cave and as they kiss, she ignites the C4. Boom. Next thing we see, Nyles and Sarah are in the neighbor’s pool…and the neighbors show up. Nyles remarks that he guesses they return on 10 November, which is proof her experiment worked.

Cut to long shots of the desert…and I’ll tell you right now, I was starting to be not 100% satisfied with the ending. What about Roy? (As a dad, after Roy’s little speech, I felt sorry for him.)

The mid-credits sequence proves he also gets out.

But how?

So Sarah and Nyles are now in Regular Time, presumably 10 November and beyond. In the mid-credits scene, Roy comes up to Nyles (now dressed in a suit) and says “You’re girlfriend told me about the way to get out of this loop.” Nyles turns…and doesn’t appear to know Roy. Roy then breaks into a huge grin, knowing the escape is possible.

Again, how? How does Sarah and Nyles essentially go back in time to get Roy out of the time loop?

My first idea is that Nyles was lying to Roy, pretending not to know him but really being Nyles of Time Line A (the one of which we see only one day). That is, the Nyles we’ve seen for 90 minutes. But that still doesn’t explain how Sarah communicated to Roy. Nor how they basically went back in time to 9 November to relay the information. The only explanation I could come up with is a parallel universe.

Side question: assuming Time Line A is what we see—and Nyles and Sarah are caught in an infinite loop—can we assume everyone else in Time Line A just goes about their lives on 10 November and beyond, wondering where Nyles and Sarah are? Ditto for Roy’s family. To everyone else, the trio will have simply disappeared. Erased from existence, to quote Doc Brown.

The other idea is that Nyles and Sarah lived 9 November in as many parallel universes as they did, with every other person living out their days wondering whatever happened to Nyles and Sarah.

But somehow, Sarah communicated to Roy. The only explanation I can come up with is that Sarah figured out a way to go back in time. Heck, she figured out how to break out of the time loop. What’s to say she couldn’t figure out how to go back in. Or at least communicate through time. Perhaps the only thing she can do is communicate back in time, giving Roy instructions on what to do and how to do it.

That’s the only explanation I can come up with.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Joy of Making Edits

I'm working on the manuscript of my latest novel. It's a 94,000-word book that I'm pretty jazzed about. I spent June reading and revising the paper copy. It was long and slow, and I took my time with it. I kept a yellow legal pad next to my table and made additional notes along the way. Some of those notes were global ones like "Search for all instances of 'RDX' and determine which character explains it." Bonus points if you know what RDX actually is. I enjoyed re-reading this book and look forward to sharing it with everyone.

But the next step is the making of the changes. Page by page, edit by edit. I make all my changes with green ink as I read the manuscript. When I go back through and implement the changes, I use a pencil. Easy to visualize if I've implemented a change or not.

So, none of this is new for any writer. What I'm really getting at is this: I actually enjoy this last process. What some writers think of as tedious, I truly dig it.

Why?

Well, it's in the nuts and bolts of constructing a story. Sure, lots of craftsmen--let's use a carpenter as an example--might not truly fret about which nails to use and which varnish to apply to a completed piece. But many do. As a non-carpenter, I tend to think of a nail is a nail is a nail. That one's silver, this other one is brass. That one has a head, this one doesn't. Whatever. But to a carpenter, every type of nail means something and does something particular. The final result is where all the little choices made along the way add up to something greater than the whole.

So, too, with words and punctuation. I love the re-evaluation of my own edits. So there's my original draft and then there's the changes I made back in June. Now that I'm going back and implementing said edits, I get another chance to ask myself if my changes are good, if the original text is still better, or, perhaps, there's a third option. Or a fourth.

It's like a carpenter choosing nails or a type of saw blade. The magic happens in the nitty gritty details.

And I love it.

Am I alone in relishing this stage of the writing process?

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Online Author Interviews at Murder by the Book

Sometimes, washing the dishes can lead to a book purchase. Oh, is that just me? Shrug. It still happened.

My wife's a great cook so she prepares most of our meals. Being the team player I am, if she cooks, I clean the dishes. It's never a problem because I'll always plug in the earbuds and listen to a podcast or a few minutes of whatever audiobook that's atop my To Be Listened To list. (Right now: the science fiction/spycraft novel The Bayern Agenda by Dan Moren).

But a little less than two weeks ago, as I moseyed over to the sink to wash up, I checked Facebook. I don't have notifications turned on, so to see what's going on over there, I have to literally tap the app and start swiping.

Right up at the top of my feed was an indication that Houston's Murder by the Book bookstore was live. Like many things online during this Covid-19 pandemic, it was an interview (Zoom meeting) between John McDougall and author J. Todd Scott.

Scott is one of those authors that has circled my radar for a few years. As a DEA agent, many of his assignments have been in west Texas and the American Southwest. More specifically, his books are set in the Big Bend region of Texas, a place I love for its stark beauty.

Seeing the interview was live, I ended up listening while washing the dishes. Scott is in many ways an author like myself. He's got a day job and writes a little bit each morning. But it was something very specific that made sit up and take notice. He mentioned a book he wrote that he liked and submitted to his agent. The agent liked it, but paused. You see, it wasn't really "on brand" for a J. Todd Scott novel. Scott said he marveled at the concept that he actually had a brand. He does.

That got me to thinking about my own brand. But that's a topic for a different post.

I enjoyed the interview so much that I called the store the next day and ordered a copy of Scott's first novel, THE FAR EMPTY. My son picked it up for me a few days later when he visited my dad. I started reading that very night. In only a few pages, I was hooked, making me wonder why it took me so long to get around to reading a J. Todd Scott novel. Dunno. Maybe the timing wasn't perfect.

But if there's a takeaway from today's post, it's this: if you are not following Murder by the Book's Facebook page, change it today. Follow their page and when you do, you'll have access not only to future live author interviews, but all the past ones you might've missed. That incluces the one from J. Todd Scott. (It's a little odd to have an author's last name be the same as my first name.) I couldn't figure out how to snag the actual link, but you can find it on 23 June 2020.

Then be sure to check Murder by the Book's webpage which has the events calendar with almost daily interviews. It's a great resource for all the time we're all spending at home, staying safe, and reading books.