Monday, April 30, 2007

EastEnders: 5 eps a week already confirmed?

The Independent newspaper has a report about Channel 4 director of television and content Kevin Lygo saying he's disappointed the BBC is flirting with taking EastEnders from four to five episodes a week. Lygo believes this would have a detrimental effect on commercial channels, stifling their ability to experiment. Be that as it may, I got the impression at last week's TV Forum in London that the fifth episode was a fait accompli. Comments made by soap writers and executive producers suggested a fifth helping of EastEnders was simply a matter of when, not if. Perhaps there's another question worth pondering about all of this: at what point does a good thing become too much?

Sopranos episode guide #24: House Arrest

US Transmission Date: 26 March 2000
UK Transmission Date: 21 December 2000

Writer: Terence Winter • Director: Tim Van Patten
Cast: Will McCormack (Jason La Penna), Patricia Marand (Helen Barone), Jennifer Albano (Connie), Vito Antuofurmo Snr (Bobby Coniglio), Sabine Singh (Tracy), James Biberi (Maitre’D), Ilene Kristen (Woman Smoker), George Xhilone (Man), Gary Perez (Agent Marquez), Ron Lee Jones (Michael McLuhan), Louis Petraglia (Sanitation Worker), Remy K. Selma (Siraj), Janet Busher (Nurse), Robert McKay (Orderly), Amy Hart Redford (ER Doctor), Roy Thinnes (Dr Baumgartner), Frank Adams (Guest #1), Alan Levine (Guest #2), Paul Borghese (Guest #3), Russ Brunelli (Guest #4), Gary Lamadore (Chucky), Mary Louise Wilson (Catherine)

Storyline: Richie is causing problems with the way he runs his routes on the garbage business. His men dump a load of rubbish outside a delicatessen which complained about the service. Tony retrieves his bag of cash from his lawyer’s office. Neil Mink says Tony needs to stay away from criminal activities and spend time at one of his legitimate businesses – otherwise he runs a greater risk of being caught and prosecuted by the FBI. Junior goes into hospital to have a small operation on his heart condition.

Dr Melfi drinks vodka in her office when she realises her next session is with Tony. He complains about being bored and admits to being behind on his medication. He can’t take part in the things which normally give him pleasure. Junior meets an old school friend as he prepares to leave hospital. Catherine Romano was married to a cop and her son is now a detective. She suggests they could have coffee but Junior says he can’t leave his house for medical reasons. Tony takes his lawyer’s advice and spends some time at the offices of Barone Sanitation. He admires the new secretary, Connie Desapio, who is a born-again Christian. The manager complains that Richie’s drivers are selling cocaine on their garbage routes.

In therapy with her own shrink, Dr Melfi admits her drinking is worse. She says she talked Tony out of giving up therapy. Junior is fitted with a breathing mask to help him sleep better and prevent strain on his heart. Catherine visits but Junior politely sends her away. At a party for New Jersey’s garbage bosses Tony corners Richie. He orders him to stop selling cocaine on the routes because it risks getting the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency interested in their business. Tony blacks out after talking to Richie. In hospital preliminary tests show no physical reasons for the black out. Tony has developed a rash on his arm.

Junior is washing up when Bacala brings round some shopping, including more detergent. Something gets stuck in the garbage disposal unit and Junior tries to get it out. Just after Bacala leaves, Junior gets his hand stuck down the kitchen sink. Tony turns down the chance to join his crew at the docks where a big shipment of World War II memorabilia has arrived. Dr Melfi takes her son out for dinner and gets into a fierce argument with a woman smoking at the next table. The Maitre’D asks Melfi to leave. Her son walks out, deeply embarrassed.

Richie and Janice visit Junior, who has been trapped by the garbage disposal for six hours. Richie helps Junior get his hand out of the plughole. Richie gives Junior his money from the garbage routes but the envelope is light, thanks to Tony’s intervention about selling drugs. Tony is back in office at Barone Sanitation, bored and listless. He scratches his rash so hard it starts bleeding. Dr Melfi tells her therapist about what happened in the restaurant. She denies being an alcoholic. Dr Kupferberg prescribes a drug called Luvox, which he uses to treat patients with compulsions.

Tony meets Junior at his doctor’s office. They argue about the drug sales but Tony’s rule is law as boss. When Junior gets home he decides to give Catherine Romano a call. Tony sees a doctor about his rash, who prescribes some cortisone cream. He suggests Tony talk to someone about stress management. Tony manages his stress by banging Connie from behind while she bends over his desk at Barone Sanitation. Junior and Catherine share a coffee and conversation at his house. Carmela and Tony go house hunting with Richie and Janice, who are engaged to be married. Richie nearly brings on another of Tony’s black outs.

Livia phones Junior and badmouths Catherine. Junior hangs up on his sister-in-law then takes a drink down to Catherine in the basement. He admits to being under house arrest and shows her the electronic tag around his ankle. She doesn’t mind and volunteers to bring him food. Dr Melfi tells Tony about a condition where antisocial personalities crave ceaseless action to avoid thinking about the abhorrent things they do. When they are not distracted, they crash – just as Tony has been doing. Tony returns to Satriale’s and his crew. Christopher is out of hospital and on the mend. Otherwise, not much else is happening. A car crash draws them outside. FBI Agent Harris visits and introduces a new agent. Harris and Tony talk about recent sports results, like two long time acquaintances…

Mobspeak: Tony asks Richie if he has any blow (cocaine). Catherine asks if her cop husband was ever on the take (receiving payments from mobsters).

Mamma Mia: Livia phones Junior because she’s heard he is keeping company with Catherine Romano. Livia says her husband Johnny said Catherine has let him feel her up behind the Sons of Italy hall. Junior hangs up on her.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: Catherine brings Junior a plate of manicott’. Bacala eats most of it, to Junior’s irritation. Carmela says the finger food at the garbage manager’s party is better than the previous years. Tony eats peanuts just before he passes out. Bacala goes shopping for Junior. The shop has sold out of lady fingers so he gets Entenmann’s crumbcake instead. Tony eats ham when Silvio calls him about the memorabilia. Melfi takes her son out for dinner at a restaurant. They both have pizza. The doctor examining Tony’s rash asks if he is allergic to shellfish or MSG. Tony says he eats shrimp all the time. Junior offers Catherine a jar of vinegar eggplant but she declines, because she can’t handle the acidity. Paulie is cooking sauce in the office at Satriale’s when Tony arrives.

Mobbed Up: Tony shares a joke with his lawyer about being home alone, like MacCauley Culkin in the film of the same name. Tony talks to Dr Melfi about seeing a film with Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow. She prompts him for the title, hopefully suggesting ‘Sliding Doors’. He says it was the serial killer hit ‘Seven’. Tony thought it was a good film but he lost interest halfway through it. Pussy does a passable imitation of Sergeant Schultz from the 1960s sitcom ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ when the crew play with the World War II memorabilia. Junior snores loudly while Catherine watches ‘Diagnosis Murder’, a whodunnit TV series starring Dick Van Dyke.

How Do You Feel?: Tony tells Dr Melfi the therapy is starting to feel like a waste of time. He is bored and thinks everything is just a series of distractions until you die. He is behind on his medication and doubts its usefulness.

How Do You Feel, Doctor?: Dr Melfi says she is afraid and repulsed by what Tony might tell her, but she can’t help herself from wanting to hear it. At a session after the incident in the restaurant, Melfi is in tears at how she embarrassed her son. She denies being an alcoholic and then tries to make bargains about when she will drink in future. Dr Kupferberg says her continuing treatment of Tony is a compulsion and he prescribes a drug designed to treat obsessive compulsive disorders.

Quote/Unquote: Junior is underwhelmed when Bacala suggests he try using a bedpan: ‘I’m not a cat. I don’t shit in a box.’ Richie just stares at Tony after being forbidden to sell cocaine on any garbage routes. ‘Don’t give me your fucking Manson lamps,' Tony says. 'Just fucking stop.’ Tony has a laugh while Junior is being re-fitted with a breathing mask that makes him look like an ageing fighter pilot: ‘How many Migs you shoot down last week?’ Tony says America is the only country where the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed, but Dr Melfi notes only the pursuit is guaranteed – not the happiness. ‘Always a fucking loophole, right?’ Tony replies.

Soundtrack: ‘Space Invader’ by the Pretenders. ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ by Bob Dylan. ‘Disco Inferno’ by the Trammps. ‘More Than A Feeling’ by Boston. ‘Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’ by Johnny Thunder.

Surveillance Report: Melfi makes a very Livia-like gesture when Tony makes a good and then questions her sense of humour. Tony’s face when he is told the secretary at Barone Sanitation is a born again Christian is a picture - he obviously considers Connie’s religious beliefs an extra challenge to overcome, which he does. Tony hadn’t used his office at Barone Sanitation for eight years. Carmela and her reading group discuss ‘’Tis’ by Frank McCourt. The doctor who treats Tony’s rash is played by Roy Thinnes, best known for playing architect David Vincent in the 1960s sci-fi TV series ‘The Invaders’. Media rumours circulation before Season Two aired suggested the character of Catherine was an old flame of Tony’s – not very accurate.

The Verdict: ‘Where’s my happiness then?’ Tony is having black outs again thanks to agita from Richie and pretending to be a legitimate businessman. Junior is caught in his own home but gets a new flame in his love life. This episode is all about being trapped. Junior gets stuck in the garbage disposal for six hours, the terms of his house arrest are proving very restrictive and even his own body is becoming a prison as he gets older and his health declines. Tony feels trapped by the need to avoid illegal activities, which stops him having fun with his Family. Dr Melfi feels compelled to continue treating Tony, even though his revelations terrify and repulse her. The consequences of this are now bleeding into her relationship with her son. This episode is light on plot but rich in character moments. Like other Terence Winter scripts it’s packed with great lines, which the actors deliver with relish. In terms of story, ‘House Arrest’ is the calm before the storm of the final two episodes. But it’s still a great appetiser for the main event…

Sunday, April 29, 2007

My five goals [not five own-goals of mine]

Mammary-obsessed scribe Lucy has tagged me, so it seems I have to list five goals I'm pursuing. I'm pish at responding to such tags, but this one coincidences with a similar request from my mentor, so I'll give it a go. I'm restricting myself to goals and priorities I believe are achievable within the next 24 months.

1. Complete my screenwriting MA. I've finished six modules and gotten passes with distinction on each. I've got two small modules to complete, and the final project to tackle. All things being equal, this goal should be attained by the end of September.

2. Build a portfolio of scripts showing my voice and range as a screenwriter. I've got a 10-minute script that needs some spit and polish, the much-loved Danny's Toys could do with a little TLC to burnish its appeal, and my TV pilot needs at least two more drafts before I let readers loose on it. My final project's probably going to be a 90-page screenplay, so that would fill that gap in my portfolio. Wouldn't mind having another TV pilot as well, but that'll have to wait until June or July now.

3. Get an agent. Yes, like so many, I'm following the Adrian Mead playbook on how to secure representation. Build portfolio, identify potential agencies, try to get a referral or two from established writers - all key steps on the path of an agent. Time and again it's hammered home to me how important having representation is to even be considered by indie prodcos like Kudos. Spooks frequently uses writers who've never written for TV - film screenwriters, novelists, playwrights, radio drama writers - but they all had an agent to secure that initial meeting.

4. Have another radio play broadcast. All too aware I haven't done enough to pursue this avenue since Island Blue: Ronald was on last June [grud, nearly a year ago]. Am determined to set my exocet mentality on this goal come June, once I'm completed all the tutored modules on my MA.

5. Secure work experience as a TV drama storyliner or script editor. Some of my most enjoyable working experiences have been collaborating with other writers, either in a writing team or as an editor helping a writer get the most out of their script. I got a lot out of the TAPS script editing workshop last December and have booked a place on the Script Factory's Storylining for Soaps workship in London next month. Openings are few and far between in this field, but if I kept knocking on doors, perhaps I can secure some invaluable work experience.

Come back in April 2009 and see how many goals I've attained.

Sopranos episode guide #23: Bust-Out

US Transmission Date: 19 March 2000
UK Transmission Date: 14 December 2000

Writer: Frank Renzulli and Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess • Director: John Patterson
Cast: Susan Campanaro (Mother at Mall), Janis Dardaris (Karen), Mitch Holleman (Boy at Mall), Olga Merediz (Fran), Chuck Montgomery (Larry Arthur), Antone Pagan (Detective Ramos), Holly Regan (Carol Arthur), Vince Viverito (Detective Giardina)

Storyline: Concerned citizen Larry Arthur identifies Tony Soprano from a mugshot as one of two men he saw driving away from the scene of Matt Bevilaqua’s shooting. Arthur picks Tony from a book of mugshots, not knowing the true identity of who he has linked to the murder. Tony meets Richie at a mall to discuss business. Richie complains that Barone Sanitation is overcharging him for tipping garbage. Tony says he will see about getting Richie a better rate. Tony tells Carmela he wants to spend more time with AJ. Tony thinks his son needs toughening up.

Tony, his crew and Richie have lunch at the Ramsey Outdoor sports equipment store. Dave Scatino is ordering large quantities of picnic coolers, mineral water and books of airline tickets on instructions from Tony – all of it charged to the store. FBI Agent Harris and Detective Harold Giardina from the Essex County Task Force come to Tony’s house. They want him to come to the police station to talk about Matt Bevilaqua, but Tony declines the invitation. Pussy meets with Agent Skip Lipari. Skip demands to know if Pussy was with Tony when he murdered Matt. Pussy denies all knowledge. Skip says a witness puts Tony at the scene. He demands that Pussy wear a wire to record Tony talking about the shooting.

Tony talks with his lawyer about the case. Neil Mink advises Tony to stall for time and not to give law enforcement any excuse to arrest him. Carmela meets with other mothers to discuss plans for the graduation party for Meadow’s class. Afterwards Christine Scatino stays behind to talk with Carmela. Christine is picked up by her brother, a decorator called Vic Musto. Carmela gets his business card because she wants the dining room redecorated. There is an immediate attraction between Vic and Carmela. Davie Scatino considers blowing his own head off but is interrupted by Christine arriving home.

Janice and Richie have sex on the couch in Livia’s house. Richie holds a gun to Janice’s head as he takes her from behind. She talks dirty with him but irritates Richie by saying he should be Boss as they fuck. Richie wants to remain loyal but Janice suggests he talk to Junior. They are interrupted by Livia coming down from her bedroom on a stairlift. Carmela has an erotic dream about Vic. She wakes up feeling guilty but Tony isn’t in bed with her. Tony and Pussy wait for Paulie and Furio at Ramsey Outdoor. Paulie says there’s an eyeball witness who saw Tony at the crime scene. Tony decides to make preparations in case he has to go on the run.

Carmela and Christine have lunch at Vesuvio. Christine says Davie has a serious gambling problem, but the store is safe because it’s in her name. She says Vic is a widower – his wife died of breast cancer. Tony invites AJ for a trip to the movies but his son wants to go to the mall with his friends. Tony lets him go but is disappointed. Tony tells Dr Melfi he may be going to prison for a long time. She says he seems scared. Tony doesn’t believe he deserves jail.

Paulie and Tony meet that night at Ramsey Outdoor. Paulie hasn’t been able to find the witness yet. Tony sends Paulie home, then discovers Davie sleeping in a tent in the store. Davie says some of the airline tickets have arrived. He asks why Tony let him into the card game which got him into debt. Tony says it’s his nature to take from others. AJ comes third in his race at a swimming meet, watched by Carmela. AJ is disappointed Tony didn’t attending, breaking a promise. Tony takes $400,000 to his lawyer for safekeeping. If Tony has to lam it, he wants Mink to make the money available to Carmela.

Tony and Carmela argue about his broken promise. Carmela becomes furious with Tony for shutting her out and attacks him. He throws her on to a sofa and she storms off to the bedroom. Meadow gets home and finds her father alone, drinking in the dark. Tony says everything he does is for his children. Vic and his assistant Ramone redecorate the dining room. Carmela takes Vic into a downstairs bathroom to discuss its décor and they kiss passionately. Both excited and embarrassed, they stop and Vic returns to redecorating.

Richie and Janice visit Junior, bringing him goods from Ramsey Outdoor. Richie tries to talk Junior into killing Tony but Junior won’t have it. He warns Richie to be careful of Janice. Meadow gets letters from the colleges she applied to. She visits Livia to share the good news. Meadow was accepted by Berkeley, N.Y.U. and B.U. and is on the wait list for Columbia, Penn and Georgetown. Vic phones Carmela to talk about what happened between them. Vic says he has two jobs booked for the next day and he could go to the other job while Ramone finishes the job for Carmela. She suggests Ramone go to the other job so she and Vic can talk over lunch. He agrees.

Larry Arthur’s wife sees a newspaper article which mentions that Matt was an associate for the Sopranos and the suspect is a high ranking Mafia members. Larry is terrified of any reprisal against him. Vic meets Davie in a bar. Davie says he has gambled away everything – savings, the business, even his son Eric’s college fund. Vic offers to pay for Eric’s education. Davie says he can’t go to the police because he owes money to the Sopranos. Paulie calls Tony to say the witness has withdrawn his statement – Tony is in the clear.

Tony tells Dr Melfi about meeting Annalisa in Italy and how she said he brought his troubles on himself. Dr Melfi agreed that was at the root of things. Tony gives Beansie $50,000 to give to the spinal cord injury foundation. Carmela prepares an elaborate lunch for Vic but it is Ramone who comes to finish the decorating. Liquidators close down Ramsey Outdoor and break up the business. Davie Scatino will be declared bankrupt. Tony take AJ out in his boat and lets him steer.

Mobspeak: Paulie says the FBI has an eyeball witness (someone who says they saw Tony at a crime scene). Tony tells Davie he is not the first guy to get busted out (bankrupted by mobsters ordering goods through a legitimate business but never paying the bills).

Mamma Mia: Livia over-reacts when Janice suggests buying a second television for Livia to have in her bedroom. ‘Listen to her. Like Rose Kennedy with all our money to throw around.’ Livia complains to Meadow that Janice never locks the front door. Livia doesn’t trust that new mailman.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: Tony and his crew order cases of Ramlosa mineral water through the books of Ramsey Outdoor. They charge takeaway to the store, including four pizzas and a chicken and peppers sandwich for Richie. When Carmela and Christine go to Vesuvio for lunch, Artie offers to make them a special tasting menu. He also suggests they try some Ramlosa mineral water, on which he got a great deal. Carmela makes sandwiches for Vic and Ramone. Vic says he is hungry for a home-cooked meal – his late wife was a gourmet cook. Janice takes Junior some salami and eggs. Livia is watching an infomercial for kitchen equipment when Meadow visits. The equipment enables the user to make homemade sausage, pasta and even chocolate pasta for children. Carmela invites Vic for lunch. She offers to cook a du poulet with mesculin salad and a nice bottle of Barollo. Next day Carmela is cooking up a storm, including a whole chicken, when Ramone arrives instead of Vic.

Mobbed Up: Junior is watching a daytime soap opera when Janice and Richie visit. Junior says one character is a whore who fucked an arson investigator in the previous week’s show. Tony watches a show about General Patton on the History Channel.

How Do You Feel?: Tony is sad that his son would rather go to the mall than be with his father. Dr Melfi asks Tony how he feels about the idea he could be sent to prison. Tony says he wants to stay around until his children have grown up and left the house, after that he doesn’t care if they give him the electric chair. He doesn’t know how he feels. Dr Melfi says he seems scared. When the witness recants his testimony, Tony seems he feels relieved. He recalls meeting Annalisa and says she was right – he brings his troubles on himself. But Tony is feeling so good about avoiding the murder charge he waives the rest of the therapy session.

I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano: Tony has a brief flashback to murdering Matt Bevilaqua, triggered by a small boy calling for his mother at a mall. Carmela has an erotic dream about Vic. She mentions the dream to his sister Christine, but says Vic was wallpapering her dining room. (Never heard it called that before!)

Quote/Unquote: Vic says he would never get involved with a married woman like Carmela Soprano because he respects the wedding ring. His sister agrees: ‘Especially that ring. Probably came off a dead person’s finger.’ Tony mentions a mobster who ended up in Elvis country. Furio doesn’t understand, so Paulie explains: ‘Anywhere there are no Jews or Italians.’ Paulie says it is difficult getting information from inside the FBI, especially compared to local law enforcement: ‘Local cops, you buy them a Christmas tree, they’ll give you their grandmother.’ Tony sums himself up quite neatly by alluding to a fable; ‘It’s my nature. The frog and the scorpion, you know?’

Soundtrack: ‘Cast Your Fate To The Wind’ by the Wince Guaraldi Trio. ‘Wheel In The Sky’ by Journey. ‘Con Te Partiro’ by Andrea Bocelli. ‘You’re Still The One’ by Shania Twain. ‘Sugar Coated’ by Bitch Funky Sex Machine.

Surveillance Report:
Tony quotes Junior’s line about Virginia ham from ‘The Happy Wanderer’ but Richie doesn’t understand. Later Janice quotes Sun Tzu to Richie, a writer Dr Melfi previously suggested Tony read if he wanted to be a better gangster. While Carmela is preparing lunch for Vic, she listens to Shania Twain sing ‘Still The One’ – a song about fidelity.

The Verdict:
‘Sometimes… we’re all hypocrites.’ Tony and his crew bankrupt Davie Scatino through his sporting good store, while Carmela gets the hots for Davie’s brother-in-law. Tony contemplates spending the rest of his life in prison. This episode proves how much the viewer empathises with Tony Soprano. He murdered Matt Bevilaqua in the previous instalment and now faces imprisonment for his actions, yet the audience wants him to get off the hook. When it happens, the sense of relief is palpable. This just shows the strength of the writing and James Gandolfini’s acting. ‘Bust Out’ is another fine episode as Season Two builds to its climax. The script concentrates on the impact of Tony’s action, both on his own family and how it affects other people. This is what ‘The Sopranos’ does best.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ballon Rogue: 21st Century Style

Right, I'm back from two days in That Fancy London attenting the Script Factory's TV Forum. It was an interesting event and well worth going to, providing both a snapshot and overview of where British TV fiction is, particularly drama. I'll type up some notes over the next few days and upload them here. There were four first-year students from Screen Academy Scotland's MA screenwriting course there, so we all traded war stories about life in the trenches at Napier. Got chatting to various other writers over the two days, everyone was friendly and happy to have a natter.

Two surprising moments: among those attending was an actor who's appeared a lot in BBC Scotland's soap River City over the past year. Meant to tell him how much I'd enjoyed his work, but didn't get the chance. And I got recognised from my blog photo. Kulvinder Gill is doing the MA in TV writing in Leicester [a course I've fancied doing myself, but couldn't find any easy way of commuting to]. He interviewed me for a research module on his course about how fledgling screenwriters use blogs and the internet as a career tool. That was interesting, if a little unexpected.

While I've been away, the schedule for this year's Cannes Film Festival has been announced. Among the highlights is a new film that at least visually owes a debt to one of my favourites, The Red Ballon. Hou Hsiao Hsien's new movie starring Juliette Binoche will open the Un Certain Regard section of the festival. It's got the working title Looking for the Red Balloon - click the title to see a trailer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Off to the Script Factory's TV Forum

I'm getting up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to travel south for the Script Factory two-day TV Forum. I've heard nothing but praise for the courses, workshops and events run by the Script Factory, so am looking forward to this a lot. No idea whether there'll be dozens of people in attendance or hundreds. Hopefully it's the former, not the latter, as that would be rather impersonal. Discovered this morning that several other people from the MA screenwriting course at Screen Academy Scotland are going, but suspect I'm the only 2nd-year part-timer en route to That Fancy London for the event.

Thursday and Friday morning are devoted to four practical lecture sessions taught by Rob Ritchie: the particular challenges of writing for TV; an examination of TV formats; returning drama series; and writing for sit-coms. The afternoons are devoted to guest sessions. Tomorrow we'll have one with commissioning editors for drama on Channel 4 and Five, accompanied by the Head of the BBC Writers' Room; followed by three soap writers giving us the benefit of their experiences on continuing drama series.

I suspect a lot of people were lured to the TV Forum by what comes on Friday afternoon. First up is Andy Harries, controller of drama and comedy for Granada. Then Jane Featherstone, Claire Parker and Simon Crawford Collins from Kudos are the final session. I'll be amazed if they make it out of the room in less than an hour after the session has finished, such will be the clamour of people looking to make contact and a positive impression.

So, any other bloggers going to the TV Forum?

Sopranos episode guide #22: From Where to Eternity

US Transmission Date: 12 March 2000
UK Transmission Date: 7 December 2000

Writer: Michael Imperioli • Director: Henry J. Bronchtein
Cast: Brian Agular (Jimmy), Seth Barrish (Doctor), Michael Cannis (Detective #2), Tom Cappadona (Daniel King), Nancy Cassaro (Joanne Moltisanti), Scottie Epstein (Quickie G), John Christopher Jones (Kevin Cullen), Peter McRobbie (Father Felix), Judy Reyes (Michelle), James Sioutis (Detective #1), Lisa Valens (Felicia Anne), Gameela Wright (Nurse)

Storyline: Two days after being shot, Christopher is still in intensive care. Tony and his crew plead ignorance when questioned by the police about Matt Bevilaqua. They plan to deal with the surviving assassin themselves. Richie and Janice visit the hospital. Richie says a drug dealer named Quickie G may know something about Matt’s hiding place. Gabriella Dante tells Carmela that the mistress of a mobster called Ralph Rutaldo just gave birth to his illegitimate child. Tony and Carmela go home but Carmela can’t sleep. She says Tony should have a vasectomy to save the family the same shame as the Rutaldos.

Christopher’s heart stops. The doctors manage to revive him and operate again to stop internal bleeding. Carmela prays for Christopher’s recovery and that God should grant him the gift of vision. Christopher survives the operation, but the surgeon says he was clinically dead for about a minute. Christopher asks to see Tony and Paulie. He tells them about a vision he had of hell. It was an Irish bar where every day is St. Patrick’s Day. Christopher’s father was at the bar, along with Mikey Palmice and Brendan Filone. Mikey gave Christopher a message for Tony and Paulie: “3:00”.

At a therapy Tony says he doesn’t believe Christopher will go to hell. He says only the worst people deserve hell, like psychopaths who kill for pleasure, cannibals, child molesters and people like Adolf Hitler. Dr Melfi asks Tony if he is going to hell, but he doesn’t believe so. He likens himself to a soldier in a war, following codes and orders. Dr Melfi challenges Tony’s belief that he is trying to preserve old Italian values of honour, family and loyalty. He gets angry and accuses her of making a moral judgement on his actions.

Paulie is wide awake at three in the morning, fretting about the cryptic message from Mikey. He visits Christopher in hospital and asks questions about the vision. Paulie decides Christopher visited purgatory instead of hell because it wasn’t hot and nobody had horns on their head. At her own therapy session, Dr Melfi admits to taking pills and drinking alone. She is afraid for herself and her son after passing judgement on Tony. Pussy meets with his FBI handler, Agent Skip Lipari. Pussy believes Tony is suspicious of him. Skip suggests Pussy try to get into Tony’s favour again.

Carmela visits Christopher in hospital. She believes he has been blessed with a second chance and says she will pray for him every day. Carmela and Tony argue about the vasectomy. AJ drops a plate of food on the kitchen floor and Tony shouts at his son for being fat. Paulie keeps having nightmares about hell. His goomah suggests he visit a psychic in Nyack. Quickie G approaches Pussy with word on Matt’s hiding place. Paulie goes to the psychic, who sees the ghosts of all Paulie’s killings around the mobster. The psychic talks to Paulie’s first victim and Mikey Palmice, who reveal things only they could know. Paulie is shocked and stunned. He talks to Tony about what happened, but Tony dismisses it as nonsense.

Tony goes home and apologises to AJ for shouting at him. They are overheard by Carmela, who has taken a phone call for Tony from Pussy. Tony and Pussy find Matt and take him to a deserted snack bar. Matt says shooting Christopher was all Sean’s idea and that Richie wasn’t involved. Tony and Pussy murder Matt. Paulie confronts his parish priest, demanding answers about what the psychic had to say. The mobster says he should have immunity from all his past sins because of his many years of making donations to the church. Tony and Pussy share a joke and a meal after the killing. Tony goes home and volunteers to have the vasectomy, but Carmela has changed her mind. She might want another baby when Meadow leaves for college. Carmela wants Tony to be faithful – they make love.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti:
Pussy frets about an incident involving six sandwiches – four with ham, salami and cappicola, one with eggplant, the other with tomato and mozzarella. Tony claimed to have ordered the eggplant when Pussy knew he had ordered it and Tony had ordered tomato and mozzarella. Tony let Pussy eat the eggplant sandwich. But Pussy believes Tony gave him a suspicious glance as he surrendered the sandwich. Christopher’s mother offers to bring her son some peppers and eggs on round bread for breakfast. AJ drops a plate of food on the kitchen floor. Tony rants at his son for eating again just an hour after dinner. Paulie worries about what the psychic told him but Tony is unimpressed. He asks if Paulie eats steak – he does. Tony says Paulie would go to hell for doing that in India, which proves religion is meaningless. Tony brings a pizza to share with AJ when he apologises. Tony doesn’t get a chance to eat but AJ scoffs a slice. After killing Matt, Tony and Pussy eat beef at Duke’s Stockyard Inn.

How Do You Feel?: Tony dismisses Christopher’s vision as bullshit, a dream combined with morphine. Tony sees himself as a soldier and don’t got to hell for killing other people – it’s part of war. He says people like him want to stay Italian and preserve the things that mean something to them – honour, family and loyalty. He is infuriated when Dr Melfi passes judgement on what he does.

How Do You Feel, Doctor?: Dr Melfi is in tears when she relates what happened at her session with Tony. She wonders if she was insensitive, or whether she did it deliberately because she hates Tony. She fears for herself and her son, having told Tony that Jason is a student at Bard. Dr Melfi says she took Tony back as a patient because she felt a professional and ethical responsibility. She didn’t want to judge Tony, she wanted to treat him. But now she has judged, and she is afraid.

Sleeping With The Fishes: Matt Bevilaqua, shot more than a dozen times in the chest by Tony and Pussy for the attempted hit on Christopher. Christopher Moltisanti was clinically dead for about a minute, but he got better.

I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano:
Christopher says he had a vision of hell. He saw a tunnel and a white light. Then he was at an Irish bar called The Emerald Piper, where it was St Patrick’s Day every day. Mikey Palmice and Brendan Filone were there playing dice with two Roman soldiers and a bunch of Irish guys, and the Irish were winning every throw. Mikey was wearing an old fashioned pinstripe gangster’s suit. There was a bouncer at the bar told Christopher he would be coming to the bar when he died. Christopher’s father was at the bar and he was losing every hand of cards he played. Every night at midnight he gets murdered the same way he was murdered in life and it’s painful. Christopher doesn’t think it was hot at the bar and nobody had horns or buds for horns like goats.

Quote/Unquote: Gabriella Dante notices that Adriana has pinned a broach of Pope John Paul II on Christopher’s hospital gown: ‘You got his holiness, that’s good. He got shoot too and survived.’ Paulie is reassured that Christopher’s vision can have been of Hell, because it wasn’t hot: ‘Hell is hot. That’s never been disputed by anybody.’ Dr Melfi ponders her situation with Tony: ‘I’m living in a moral never never land with this patient.’ Tony tells Pussy a joke about a poor man who bought his wife a pair of slippers and a dildo. A rich man asks about the choice of gifts. ‘And the poor man says, “She don’t like the slippers she can go fuck herself.”’

Soundtrack: ‘My Lover’s Prayer’ by Otis Redding. ‘Used Ta Be My Girl’ by the Ojays. ‘King Nothing’ by Metallica. ‘Mona Lisa’ by the Starlite Orchestra.

Surveillance Report: Carmela is reading ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’. Paulie uses the name of British poet Ted Hughes when he visits the psychic in Nyack. Gabriella Dante is played by Maureen Van Zandt, the wife of Steven Van Zandt, who plays her screen husband, Silvio Dante. This episode is written by Michael Imperioli, who plays the role of Christopher Moltisanti.

The Verdict: ‘He was dead. Science said he was dead.’ Christopher has a near death experience which leaves the Family members pondering the eternal consequences of their actions. Tony and Pussy execute Matt Bevilaqua in retribution for the attempted hit, while Dr Melfi passes judgement on her patient. The aftermath of Christopher’s shooting produces one of Season Two’s best episodes. Many of the key characters are brought face to face with the hypocrisy of their beliefs but none are able to change themselves. Dr Melfi is drawn ever closer to the abyss by her sessions with Tony but cannot resolve her dilemma. Unlike so many television series, ‘The Sopranos’ offers no quick solutions or trite morals for its story, and this episode is a great example. As this instalment draws to a close, Carmela contemplates having another baby when Meadow goes away to college. Could there be a new mouth to feed in the Soprano household soon? That will have to wait, as a new crisis threatens Tony because of his actions in this episode…

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Super hero accused of sexual assault

Down The Tubes picked up on a bizarre news story from Allegations of sexual assault are no laughing matter, but the addition of a Captain America superhero costume does add some unintentional comedy to the tale. For me, the kicker comes in the final sentence.
A Central Florida doctor is accused of sexually assaulting a woman during a costume party while he was dressed as the super hero Captain America. Raymond Adamcik was arrested Saturday night at the On Tape Café and Lounge and booked at the Melbourne Police Department while still wearing blue tights and a Captain America head gear.

"It was just a group of doctors that were traveling throughout the city going from bar to bar," Melbourne police representative Jill Fredricksen said. Authorities said Adamcik was in possession of a large burrito and drugs.

The left hand knows what the right hand's doing

David Letterman is a legendary talkshow host across the Atlantic. Most shows he'll unveil a humorous Top 10 list. For the recent White House Correspondent's Dinner, he sent a Top 10 of Geroge W. Bush moments. My favourite has to be #2. Enjoy.

Sopranos episode guide #21 Full Leather Jacket

US Transmission Date: 5 March 2000
UK Transmission Date: 30 November 2000

Writer: Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess • Director: Allen Coulter
Cast: Saundra Santiago (Jean and Joan Cusamano), Vinnie Orofino (Bryan Spatafore), Susan Blackwell (Therapist), Joseph Carino (secretary), Raymond Franza (Donny K), Patty McCormack (Liz La Cerva), Marek Przystup (Stasiu), Stelio Savante (Gaetano Giarizzo)

Hunter Scangarello has been given an early acceptance into Reed College. Meadow wants to go to Berkeley in San Francisco but Tony forbids it. Christopher cracks a safe, assisted by Matt and Sean. Carmela can’t sleep for worrying about where Meadow gets into college. Great grades aren’t enough anymore, you need an extra edge to get into the best universities. Silvio and Paulie visit Richie and ask him to build a ramp to make Beansie Gaeta’s home more wheelchair accessible. Richie refuses. Carmela approaches her neighbour, Jeannie Cusamano, whose twin sister Joan is regional secretary of the Georgetown University alumni association. Carmela asks if Joan could write a letter of recommendation for Meadow and Jeannie reluctantly agrees to ask her sister.

Richie visits Beansie in hospital and threatens to cripple him further. Beansie knows nothing about the ramp request and wants nothing from Richie. Christopher forces his way into Adriana’s mother’s house. He proposes to Adriana with a three carat diamond ring – she accepts. Junior is visiting Tony at home when Richie arrives, still complaining about the ramp. Tony says it was his idea. Richie gives Tony a prized possession, a tan leather jacket Richie took off another mobster many years ago in a fight. A bemused Tony accepts the gift but doesn’t grasp its significance to Richie, who believes it will help him let go of the past. Carmela intercepts a letter to Meadow from Berkeley, seeking more information to process her college application. She puts the letter in the trash.

Christopher, Matt and Sean crack another safe. Christopher tells the two wannabe mobsters that Tony’s cut from this job will come out of their profits. Carmela gets the letter back out of the bin and leaves it out for Meadow. Richie’s men go to the Gaeta house to install the ramp. Matt and Sean are introduced to Richie, who complains that Christopher has an attitude. Richie indicates he is willing to let Matt and Sean work for him. Jeannie Cusamano visits her sister, who is a lawyer. Jeannie tries to get Joan to write the letter of recommendation for Meadow but she refuses.

Janice and Richie join the Sopranos for Sunday family dinner. Carmela gets a phone from Jeannie about Joan’s refusal. Next day Carmela visits Joan at her office and politely bullies her into writing the letter for Meadow. Matt and Sean see Tony at the Bada Bing. They follow him into the toilets and try to engage him in conversation. Tony storms out after Sean mentions work in a room that could be wiretapped. Richie is summoned to Satriale’s, where Paulie and Silvio complain that Richie’s men only did half the job on Beansie’s house. Richie took the men away to make alterations to Livia’s house. Tony arrives and Richie asks him about the jacket. Richie proudly tells the others about it.

Jeannie visits Carmela to say Joan has written a letter for Meadow.
Furio and an associate visit Matt and Sean at their apartment to collect Tony’s cut from the safe job - $7500. Furio demands another $1000 from them, which they meekly surrender. Christopher and Adriana are living together again. Christopher has stopped taking drugs and other distractions to be completely focussed. Richie takes food to Carmela as thanks for the Sunday dinner. The husband of the Soprano’s maid Lilliana arrives to collect a television. Richie is shocked to see him wearing the leather jacket. Matt and Sean realise they are getting nowhere as mobsters. They decide to take drastic action to get ahead.

Carmela and Meadow argue. Carmela almost tells Meadow about her efforts to get her into Georgetown but bites her tongue. Matt and Sean ambush Christopher. Sean shots him repeatedly but is killed by a lucky shot from Christopher. Matt runs away while Christopher passes out, bleeding profusely. Matt goes to Richie for help but is chased away by the furious mobster. Christopher is in intensive care, surrounded by his family and friends. They do not know whether he will survive the night…

Sean wonders how many stockings a company has to sell to pay the nut (the bottom line) on a factory. Matt is surprised that Big Pussy started out chipping safes (cracking a safe by chipping it open with a hammer and chisel. Christopher says Pussy stepped up (went to war) for Johnny Soprano during the unrest of 1983. Matt says it would be an honour to kick upstairs (pay part of profits from crime to the boss) to Tony Soprano.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti:
The Sopranos are eating Chinese takeaway for dinner when it is announced Hutner got into Reed. Junior uses grocery shopping as an excuse to visit Tony. Junior’s assistant Bacala has some green vegetables, arugala rabe. Tony warns him not the drench the leaves in oil this time. Bacala says Junior likes to mop the late with bread afterwards. Matt tells not to eat burritos before doing a job, because his farts are so noxious as a result. The Sopranos have a crown roast of meat for Sunday family dinner. Carmela takes a ricotta pie with pineapples to Joan Cusamano. Silvio and Paulie have a plate of pastries with their coffee outside Satriale’s. Tony joins them and scoffs an almond croissant. Jeannie Cusamano returns the pie plate to Carmela. She says Joan’s family loved the delicious ricotta pie. Richie takes a plate of tripe and tomatoes to Carmela as thanks for the Sunday family dinner. Richie says he and Carmela must be the only two people who still like tripe.

Mobbed Up:
Junior mentions someone having a bootleg copy of ‘The Mummy’ before it was in cinemas. Richie says the tapes are real Hollywood quality broadcast movies, without timecodes or blurry pictures.

How Do You Feel?: Tony is bothered about giving Eric Scatino’s car to Meadow. He knew she would freak out before he gave it to her. Tony says he spent years shielding Meadow from certain truths and now he is rubbing her nose in them. Melfi suggests Tony was preparing his daughter for reality and life outside the family home. He refutes any suggestion what he did was noble.

Sleeping With The Fishes:
Sean Giamonte, killed by a single shot to the head by Christopher during the ambush.

Quote/Unquote: Tony reveals his sensitivity to gay men when Meadow talks about how many Nobel Prize winners live in San Francisco: ‘Nobel Prize for what, packing fudges?’ Tony sees Richie arrive: ‘I was wondering why the squirrels went quiet.’ Richie says Christopher’s nose is like a natural canopy: ‘Did you ever notice he’s the only motherfucker who can smoke a cigarette in the riad with his hands tied behind his back?’ Tony says he wants Richie where he can see him and Carmela agrees: ‘That’s what we mean when we say family.’

Soundtrack: ‘Baker Street’ by Gerry Rafferty. ‘Dancing in the Dark’ by Tony Bennett. ‘Fields of Gold’ by Sting. ‘Up ‘N Da Club’ by 2nd II None. ‘F**k With Your Head’ by DJ Rap. ‘Lap Dance’ by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Surveillance Report: The title of this episode alludes to a Stanley Kubrick film, ‘Full Metal Jacket’, about Vietnam and the dehumanising effect of the war. The roles of twins sisters Jeannie and Joan Cusamano are both played by the same actress, Saundra Santiago. Adriana’s last name is La Cerva. Her mother’s name is Liz. This episode breaks the norm of having a song play out over the closing credits. Instead there is just the sound of Christopher’s life support machine, emphasis the uncertain ending.

The Verdict: ‘You got to shut one door before another one can open.’ Richie tries to reach out to Tony as Christopher puts his life in order – but both suffer major reversals. Carmela uses all her mob wife charms to improve Meadow’s chances of getting into Georgetown University. This episode is a solid, workmanlife instalment made much more memorable by the attempted hit. ‘Full Leather Jacket’ gently develops a range of subplots then creates the show’s first true cliffhanger ending.
The shooting of Christopher is all the more shocking because the audience knows at the back of its mind that almost every character in ‘The Sopranos’ is expendable, unlike most television series. However, the twin irritants of Junior and Livia are conspicuous by their absence in this episode and even the scene with Dr Melfi feels like an afterthought. When Tony questions the value of his session, he seems to be speaking the subconscious words of the screen writer…

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why is TV writing merely a craft for BAFTA?

Here's something I've never understood. Every year the British Academy of Film and Television Arts hands out a bunch of awards for film [the UK's version of the Oscars] and television [effectively Britain's Emmys]. At the film awards ceremony, both the winners and nominees in writing and direction categories are considered worthy of being included in the televised event. But the same status doesn't seem to be accorded the corresponding categories for the TV awards.

The Broadcast website is today reporting the winners of the BAFTA Craft Awards for TV. The ubiquitous Peter Morgan won best writing for his drama Longford, while Edmund Coulthard took the award for best direction on the drama Soundproof. Why are these awards considered a craft on TV, yet so feted when it comes to film? I know the director is considered a more powerful figure in film than in television, but this still seems iniquitous to me.

It's even more baffling to me that the work of writers is recognised as a craft, rather than something more important. Without a script from which to work, there would be no TV drama. I know there's the Dennis Potter award for an outstanding writer at the televised BAFTA TV ceremony, but that's about a body of work, isn't it? Anyway, consider me perplexed. Not much of an achievement, in truth, but there it is.

Nazi robot attacks Pearl Harbour: stunning

Fellow writer Jim Swallow's blog made mention of this online gem and I can only endorse his endorsement of it. If I had to make a complaint about this amazing piece of work, the only thing that lets it down is the dialogue. All too often, less is more. Still, stunning stuff - enjoy.

Sopranos episode guide #20: D-Girl

US Transmission Date: 27 February 2000
UK Transmission Date: 23 November 2000

Writer: Todd A. Kessler • Director: Allen Coulter
Cast: Jon Favreau (himself), Sandra Bernhard (herself), Janeane Garofalo (herself), Alicia Witt (Amy Safir), Arthur Barnes (Security Guard), Stephen Bienskie (Hotel Clerk), John Devlin (Assistant Director), Dominic Fumusa (Gregory Moltisanti), Anderson Gabrych (UTA Receptionist), Bryan Matzkow (Hotel manager), Andrea Maulella (Michele Foreman), Jason Minter (Bellman), Frank Pando (Agent Grasso), Steve Porcelli (Matt Bonpensiero), Elizabeth Reaser (Stace), Asa Somers (Blaine Richardson)

Storyline: AJ steals his mother’s car to give some girls a ride and scrapes it against the side of a parked truck. Adriana and Christopher have drinks with cousin Gregory and his girlfriend, Amy Safir. She is head of development for film star Jon Favreau, who is in New York for a film shoot. Amy asks after Christopher’s screenplay. The crowd at the next table keep bumping Amy so Christopher gets them to move on with a quiet word. Amy is impressed by his presence. Afterwards Adriana suggests Christopher slip Jon his script. Adriana still have a copy even though Christopher junked the rest. Carmela discovers the damage to the car. She and Tony interrogate AJ about his actions. He shocks them by saying there is no god. Meadow points out that AJ has been studying philosophy at school.

Skip Lipari comes to Pussy’s home at eight in the morning, demanding answers about Tony’s relationship with the Philadelphia mob. One of the Philly bosses was blown up by a bomb blast. Tony tells Dr Melfi about AJ’s outbursts. She suggests the teenager has discovered existentialism. Christopher visits the film set with Amy and meets Jon Favreau. He impresses the actor with his use of colourful vernacular. AJ tells his father that he doesn’t want to be confirmed in church. Tony says AJ is getting confirmed, whether he likes it or not. Christopher takes Amy and Jon on a tour of New Jersey. Jon says his next project is a bio-pic of gangster Crazy Joe Gallo. He wants Christopher to help make the film grittier and more true to life. Christopher recognises a badly disfigured person as a transvestite who was covered in acid by a mobster who didn’t realise he’d been getting a blow-job from a man.

Tony takes AJ to see Pussy, who is his confirmation sponsor. Tony wants Pussy to talk some sense into the youth. Adriana is upset when she discovers that Christopher visited the film set and met Jon Favreau without her. AJ discusses philosophy with Pussy’s son, Matt. Christopher visits Amy at the Soho Grand hotel. They discuss his screenplay and end up having sex. At Pussy’s suggestion, AJ visits his grandmother in hospital. But she just makes him feel worse by saying life is a big nothing. Christopher and Jon meet to discuss the mobster’s screenplay. Christopher gives Jon his gun and frightens the actor by punching, slapping and putting him in a headlock. Jon gives him some script suggestions while carefully wiping his own fingerprints off Christopher’s gun.

Christopher arrives late for dinner with Adriana, Tony and Carmela. The talk is about weddings and food but Christopher gets angry and walks out. Adriana lets slip about Christopher’s screenplay. FBI Agents Lipari and Grasso put pressure on Pussy to wear a wire to AJ’s confirmation and the party afterwards at the Soprano’s house. Christopher goes back to the Soho Grand and has sex with Amy again. He glances over Jon’s script and notices that the transvestite incident has been written into the script. Christopher gets enraged and demands that Jon that it out, but Favreau has already flown back to Hollywood. Pussy’s wife interrupts him when he is attaching the wire to his chest. He attacks her and has to be stopped by his son Matt.

Christopher confronts Amy about Jon’s script but she is about to fly back to Hollywood. She brushes him off but gets angry when Christopher calls her a D-Girl. Her cool image is shattered. At AJ’s confirmation party Pussy tries to get info about the Philly mob from Tony but they are interrupted. Tony and Carmela catch AJ and his friends smoking marijuana in the garage. AJ goes to his room. Pussy talks to the teenager, saying Tony would take a bullet for AJ. Christopher finally arrives at the party. Tony gives him one last chance. If Christopher is still there in ten minutes, Tony will assume he is committed to Tony. Otherwise, he never wants to see Christopher again. The would-be movie writer steps outside to contemplate his future. The Sopranos gather for a family photo but Pussy is missing. He is upstairs in a bathroom, sobbing. Christopher makes his final decision. He goes back inside the house…

Mobspeak: At the film set, Christopher suggests replacing the word bitch with buchiach (cunt) in Sandra Bernhard’s dialogue. Christopher calls Jon a mezzofinook (half gay, bisexual). Pussy says Tony is a stand-up guy (someone who refuses to rat out the Family, no matter what the pressure or promise).

Mamma Mia: Tony says Livia showed her true colours when she tried to have him killed. Pussy sends AJ to visit Livia because she has age, wisdom and stuff. She just depresses him even further by saying he shouldn’t expect happiness, people will let him down and he will die alone. Life is a big nothing, says Livia.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: Skip Lipari reminds Pussy that he had lobster fra diavolo with Philly mobster Waldemar Wyczchuk in Atlantic City. Christopher takes Amy and Jon for pizza and soft drinks in New Jersey. Later he takes a New Jersey sandwich to the Soho Grand for Jon but the film star is not to be disturbed. Livia picks at some scrambled eggs in hospital while talking to AJ. Jon has ordered some room service food for his meeting with Christopher but the mobster snorts cocaine instead. When Christopher joins Adriana, Tony and Carmela for dinner, the talk is all about food and weddings. Adriana has ordered some pasta fajioli for Christopher and a plate of antipast to share. The restaurant has some rare imported salami. Christopher finally rebels when the conversation shifts to caterers. ‘I’m so sick and tired of hearing you people talk about food, food, food! That’s all anybody ever talks about is prosciutto, cheese, and fucking Cava beans. I’m drowning here.’ There’s a buffet at AJ’s confirmation party.

Mobbed Up: The level of cross-media mentions goes through the roof in this episode as Hollywood comes to ‘The Sopranos’ in a big way. Eyes down for a very full house of pop cultural references. Amy Safir used to work for film director Quentin Tarantino. She’s now head of development for actor Jon Favreau, who starred in and wrote the film ‘Swingers’. Adriana says Fever’s co-star Vince Vaughn is very cute. Amy says mob theme stories are always hot. Christopher says Amy dressed like she was in ‘The Addams Family.’ When Christopher visits the film set he recognises Sandra Bernhard from Martin Scorcese’s ‘The King of Comedy’ and Janeane Garofalo from ‘The Truth About Cats And Dogs’, which co-starred Ma Thurman. Jon recognises an incident related by Christopher as the basis for a scene from ‘The Godfather Part I’. Christopher says ‘Swingers’ has a pussy-assigns to it. He remembers seeing Jon in ‘Deep Impact’. Jon wants to make a bio-pic about Joe Gallo but Christopher points out this was already done in the film ‘The Gang That Couldn’t Shot Straight’. Amy ascribes Christopher’s anecdote about the acid-covered transvestite to ‘The Crying Game’ but Jon tells him this is a real story. Christopher tells Jon that the acting kind of blew in ‘Swingers’. He preferred Tom Hanks’ acting in ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Christopher reads part of Jon’s screenplay about Joe Gallo, it’s called ‘Crazy Joe’ and is co-written by Ambit Al. Christopher gets angry about the inclusion of his anecdote but Amy refuses to have that sequence removed. She says it has been faxed to director Oliver Stone and he’s agreed to be attached to the project. The anecdote is his favourite thing. Amy reads in film industry trade journal Variety that director Robert Rodriguez is to remake ‘Viva Zapata’ for the Weinsteins at Miramax. She rejects Christopher’s script because studios are adopting a wait and see attitude on Mafia-related projects due to the weakness of the first weekend foreign box office performance of ‘Mickey Blue Eyes’.

How Do You Feel?: Tony tells Dr Melfi that his mother is dead to him. The therapist suggests AJ may be feeling intense dread having realised that death is the only absolute truth. Tony thinks his son may be on to something.

Sleeping With The Fishes: Waldemar Wyczchuk, a Philadelphia mobster blown up in a bomb blast. The FBI are trying to make a connection between the bombing and the Sopranos.

Quote/Unquote: Tony misunderstands when Dr Melfi suggests his son may have stumbled on to existentialism: ‘Fucking internet.’ Amy talks a lot of shit but this line is one of her finest, when she discusses the guns being used to two lesbians: ‘The silencers underscore their voiceless place in society.’ Tony tells his son to do what Carmela wants: ‘She knows that even if God is dead, you’re still gonna kiss his ass.’ Tony shares an important truth with Christopher: ‘When you’re married you’ll understand the importance of fresh produce.’

Soundtrack: ‘Swingtown’ by the Steve Miller Band. ‘Rhiannon’ by Fleetwood Mac. ‘Caught My Mind’ by Pushmonkey. ‘Vedi, Maria’ by Emma Shapplin. ‘Shoalin Satellite’ by Thievery Corporation. ‘Tasty Pudding’ by Chet Baker. ‘Voulez-Vous?’ by Arling & Cameron.

Surveillance Report:
Actors Jon Favreau, Sandra Bernhard and Janeane Garofalo all play themselves. Amy Safir is played by Alicia Witt, who is probably best known for playing Cybill Shepherd’s daughter in the sitcom ‘Cybill’. Christopher calls Amy a D-Girl, which is slang for development girl – one of the lowest rungs on the Hollywood ladder.

The Verdict: ‘Be a good Catholic for fifteen fucking minutes! Is that so much to ask?’ AJ discovers existentialism and has a crisis of faith, while Christopher gets close to his Hollywood dream and has a crisis of loyalty. Pussy is under pressure from the FBI to deliver results. This is one of the funniest episodes in Season Two, shot through with perfect parodies of Hollywood double-talk. The character of Amy is hardly able to speak without spouting trite pleasantries and borrowed phrases. But the funniest material comes from AJ’s brush with various philosophical concepts. For Pussy, events are starting to spiral out of control. He nearly beats his wife and – against all his instincts – wears a wire into Tony’s home. Christopher survives his moment of crisis, choosing to remain with Tony and the Family. That decision could have fatal consequences…

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I heart The TV Writer's Workbook

There's been a meme doing the rounds of UK screenwriting blogs about books on our craft that we rate. Here's another one to add to the list: The TV Writer's Workbook by Ellen Sandler A week or two back Canadian screenwriter and showrunner Alex Epstein wrote in praise of The TV Writer's Workbook by Ellen Sandler. Alex rarely gives poor advice and, since he's authored his own excellent book on the subject [Crafty TV Writing], I ifgured I'd give his recommendation a try. Good call.

There's almost no decent texts about writing for British TV, so wannabes on this side of the Atlantic have to make do with books from North America. These are designed for people trying to break into writing for US or Canadian TV, so there are sections and even whole chapters that aren't applicable for those in the UK. The most notorious difference is the fact it's commonplace for would-be TV scribes in America to write a spec script for an existing show, to demonstrate their abilities to create good stories and dialogue for a pre-created show. Not so in the UK, where speccing an existing show is frowned upon.

In Britain you're expected to demonstrate your voice by creating an original pilot. Chances are, your first jobs will be writing other people's storylines for other people's characters, such as on long-running serials like soaps. Script editors and executive producers will start want you to bring your unique voice, your own take on the world in that script, but the characters must still be true to what's already been established - a trick balancing act to pull off.

Anyway, The TV Writer's Workbook is well worth buying, despite the obvious US-centric elements. As the name implies, it is a workbook designed to arm you with easy to use tools techniques to augment your existing talents. Sandler writes in a friendly, no nonsense style; there's no need to wade through fifty pages of storytelling guru philosophy, nor does she have some dazzling new technique of story structure anaylsis to show down your throat. Sandler's background is sitcoms [she was Emmy-nominated for her work on Everybody Loves Raymond], but her book is about writing TV fiction, not solely comedy. I'll be using this book a lot in the weeks and months to come. Check it out for yourself with this extract.

Sopranos episode guide #19: The Happy Wanderer

US Transmission Date: 20 February 2000
UK Transmission Date: 16 November 2000

Writer: Frank Renzulli • Director: John Patterson
Cast: John C. Hensley (Eric Scatino), Felix Solis (Fishman), Paul Mazursky (Sunshine), Frank Sinatra Jr (himself), Lewis J. Stadlen (Dr Fried), Adam Alexi-Malle (College Rep), R. J. Brown (Cop), Angela Covington (Gudren), Barbara Gulan (Mrs Gaetano), La Tanya Hall (Hooker), David McCann (Priest), Carmine Sirico (Dealer)

Tony and Carmela accompany Meadow to her high school for an evening of presentations from college reps. Tony bumps into two friends from his own high school days, Artie Bucco and David ‘Davie’ Scatino. Davie runs Ramsey Sports and Outdoor Equipment. He also likes to gamble. Davie asks about a very special card game Tony will be staging soon. Tony warns him off, saying the game is too serious for Davie and he could get hurt. Tony tells Dr Melfi that he is full of anger all the time. He wants to beat up happy people he sees in the street, just because they are happy. Tony resents the fact that therapy making him feel like a victim.

Davie has a run of bad luck at a card game hosted by Richie Aprile. He ends up owing Richie $8,000. Meadow and Davie’s son Eric practise a duet from the musical ‘Miss Saigon’ for their high school cabaret. Performing in the show could improve their chances of getting into a good college. Tony meets with Junior to discuss taking over the executive game. Junior established the high stakes poker game with Tony’s father thirty years before. He lets slip that Tony had another uncle called Ercoli, who was retarded. Ercoli spent his life in charity homes and died not long before Tony’s father. Tony agrees to give Junior 15% of the profits from the executive game.

Richie goes to the sports store to collect a weekly payment from Davie, but the gambler can’t make his full payment. Richie bans Davie from any of Richie’s card games until he’s caught up on the payments. Christopher buys some fish for the players at the executive game, accompanied by Matt and Sean. He tells them their role will be cleaning and serving the players, but warns them against talking to Silvio during the game. The executive game gets started at the motel of which Tony owns 25%. Among the players are Frank Sinatra Jr, Paulie, Silvio, Johnny Sack and Dr Fried, who specialises in penile implants. Davie goes to the motel and asks is he can join the game. Tony tries to dissuade him but Davie is adamant. Tony loans him $5,000 as his stake money.

Tony asks Matt to sweep under Silvio, who has spilled food on the floor. Silvio is losing badly and flies into a rage, ranting at Matt. Davie is having a run of good cards and is well ahead. Next morning Eric gives Meadow a lift to school in his four wheel drive. At the executive game Tony asks if everyone is ready to quit. Davie is down and owes Tony $45,000. Richie arrives at the game and gets angry when he finds Davie playing. He tries to hit Davie and the game quickly breaks up. Outside, a furious Tony sends Richie home. Tony goes back inside and lays down the law to Davie. He has just two days to pay back all the money he owes, or else he has to pay $2,250 in interest every week. Afterwards, early estimates put the profits from the executive game at about $80,000 for one night’s work.

Tony tries to catch up on sleep at home but is awoken by Meadow and Eric practising their duet. Meadow tells him Aunt Barbara’s father-in-law died. At the funeral Tony finds himself in the same room as his mother, who is brought along by Janice and Richie. In a side room Richie apologises for intruding on the executive game. As tax, Tony rules that Davie Scatino has to pay all of his debt back to Tony before Richie can have a penny. On the way home Janice chides Richie about following Tony’s orders.

Tony confronts Davie at the sports store – he missed his first payment. Tony punches his former friend twice in the head and demands money within 24 hours. Davie goes to Artie for help but Artie pleads poverty. Davie takes away his son’s four wheel drive vehicle, because Eric didn’t keep it clean. Tony gives the car to Meadow, who recognises it as Eric’s. She refuses the present but Tony says it was a by-product of his work, just like everything else in the house that Meadow uses every day. At the cabaret Eric and Meadow argue about the car. Eric storms off so Meadow sings a solo instead.

Mobspeak: Tony tells Christopher to give Davie five boxes of ziti (gambling chips in piles equivalent to $1,000 each). Tony wants to know whether the players are ready to close the lights (admit you lost and end the game). Richie asks Tony to whom he should give the boost (an envelope of cash, given to families at christenings, marriages and funerals).

Mamma Mia: Livia doesn’t speak, but she sobs heartily at the funeral so everyone knows she’s present. When Dr Melfi asks if Livia makes him feel like a loser, Tony says they have wasted enough oxygen discussing his mother.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: Artie Bucco provided the food for the family evening at Meadow’s high school. Tony says the food is so good it should guarantee Artie’s daughter a place in any college. Christopher buys enough Brazilian snapper for 15 people and ten pounds of shrimp. The fish is an ingredient for pizziola. At the executive game there is a side table covered in food, including cold meats, cheeses, fish and bread. Matt tries to sweep cheese out from under Silvio, who retaliates by ranting, raving and throwing his plate of ham, cheese and bread on the floor. He demands Matt gets him more food and renames the wannabe gangster ‘Cheese-fuck.’ When Richie arrives, Tony tries to distract him by offering some nice, fresh lox.

Mobbed Up: Meadow is going to sing the theme song from ‘Titanic’ as a solo after Eric refuses to do a duet.

How Do You Feel?: Tony describes his feelings to Dr Melfi by saying he’d like to her face into a hamburger with a brick. He doesn’t know why he’s always angry, he just is. Tony says Dr Melfi makes him feel like a victim. ‘I got the world by the balls and I can’t stop feeling like a fucking loser.’

Sleeping With The Fishes:
Tom Giglione Snr, who was blown off his roof by a gust of wind while adjusting a satellite dish. It happened the day after he retired, following a life of hard work and devotion to his family.

Quote/Unquote: Tony protests about Dr Melfi’s methods, comparing it to those of other females in his life: ‘Mother of Christ, is this a woman thing? You asked me how I’m feeling. I tell you how I’m feeling. And now, you’re gonna torture me with it.’ Junior dismisses Livia’s protestations of poverty, saying that Johnny Boy Soprano left her a huge legacy when he died: ‘She’s like a woman with a Virginia ham under her arm, crying the blues ‘cause she has no bread.’ Silvio goes into a lengthy rant about loving to have cheese at his feet, after Matt tries to sweep beneath Silvio’s chair: ‘I stick motherfucking provolone in my socks at night, so they smell like your sister’s crotch in the morning!’ Davie Scatino proves himself a master of hypocrisy when he takes away his son’s four wheel drive to help offset his own gambling debts: ‘Eric, accountability is everything.’

Soundtrack: A muzak version of ‘Spinning Wheel’ plays in the mall. ‘Tequila Sunrise’ by the Eagles. ‘Love Is Strange’ by Ceasar & Cleo (a.k.a. Sonny & Cher). Meadow and Eric practise ‘Sun and Moon’, a song from the musical ‘Miss Saigon’. ‘The Happy Wanderer’ by Frankie Yankovick & His Yanks. ‘Frog Stomp’ by Floyd Newman. ‘Down’ by Stone Temple Pilots.

Surveillance Report: Frank Sinatra Jr makes a creditable cameo appearance as one of the gamblers at the executive game. David Scatino is played by Robert Patrick, who is best known as the T-1000 robot from ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’. Since appeared in ‘The Sopranos’ Patrick has joined the cast of ‘The X Files’ as Scully’s new partner.

The Verdict: ‘I don’t do business with outside friends, you understand.’ Tony takes over the fabled executive poker game, but it leads to more agita from Richie Aprile and problems for an old school friend, Davie Scatino. Tony shows both sides of his nature in ‘The Happy Wanderer’ – the friendly family man who wants his daughter to get a good education, and the cold blooded Family man who wants his own way. Davie makes the terrible transition from being a friend of Tony to someone who owes Tony money. This episode works well in isolation but also sets up crucial plot threads for the rest of Season Two. Wannabe gangsters Matt and Sean are treated like dirt, while Janice starts urging Richie to act against Tony. Yet it’s the gambling debts incurred by Davie Scatino which could yet lead to Tony’s downfall…

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Sopranos episode guide #18: Big Girls Don't Cry

US Transmission Date: 13 February 2000
UK Transmission Date: 9 November 2000

Writer: Terence Winter • Director: Tim Van Patten
Cast: Linda Emond (Dahlia), Stephen Payne (Dominic), Lydia Gaston (Rosie), Sasha Nesterov (Russian Man), Elena Antonenko (Russian Woman), Oni Faida Lampley (Cynthia), Scott Lucy (Acting Student), Ajay Naidu (Omar), Robert Prescott (Mitch), Phyllis Somerville (Brenda)

Storyline: Christopher calls at a local whorehouse to collect protection money, but the owner is short for the third week running. Tony, Paulie and Silvio have a meal at Artie Bucco’s Vesuvio restaurant. Tony asks Artie if he’ll hire Furio as kitchen staff to prevent any problems with immigration. Tony will pay Furio’s salary. Artie reluctantly agrees. Christopher goes to a class called Acting For Writers, which Adriana got him as a birthday present. He gives a false name, Chris MacEveety. Tony asks Paulie to collect Furio from the airport. He also says Paulie is being promoted, from now on Pussy and Furio will report to Paulie and Silvio.

Melfi tells her therapist about the dream where Tony crashes his car. Dr Kupferberg suggests that treating a mobster gave her a vicarious thrill. She swears at her psychiatrist and walks out of the session. Tony gets a phone message for his sister from the bank. Janice is trying to get a loan secured on Livia’s house. Tony becomes enraged, smashing the phone and throwing into a dishwasher. He rushes round to Livia’s house but the door is answered by Richie, wearing just underwear. Richie and Janice are sleeping together again. Tony argues with Janice about the loan before disowning his sister. In acting class Christopher is given a scene from Tennessee Williams’ ‘The Glass Menagerie’ to prepare as homework.

The Sopranos host a welcome party for Furio. Pussy is unhappy about the new arrival. Tony is unhappy with Christopher’s lack of focus. Carmela slams the door on Junior when he arrives to welcome Furio. Christopher isn’t happy with his scene and doesn’t find Tennessee Williams’ characters credible. He decides to get a different scene to act. Tony visits Hesh on a business pretext. He wants advice about his blackouts. Hesh says Tony’s father suffered from the same symptoms. Christopher talks the teacher into giving him a new scene. Tony takes his mistress Irina to his boat. But he gets into an argument with the Russian couple on a boat in the next mooring. Tony rushes over and nearly crushes the man’s testicles before rushing away.

Late at night Tony retells these events to Hesh, who is trying hard to stay away. They end up talking at cross purposes, ignoring what each other says. Christopher wows the acting class with his efforts as James Dean’s character in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. He spontaneously cries while acting the scene. Embarrassed, he rushes out of the room. Paulie and Pussy are having lunch at Vesuvio. They are joined by Furio from the kitchen. Pussy teases the Italian about his name. New York mobster Johnny Sack arrives and Paulie asks Pussy to leave the table while they talk. Afterwards Pussy meets with his FBI contact, Skip Lipari. They commiserate with each other about being passed over for promotion.

Dr Melfi tells her therapist she is thinking about taking Tony back as a patient. She thinks it will be very therapeutic for her. Dr Kupferberg points out that this is her therapy – Tony is her patient. Tony sends Furio into the whorehouse to beat a warning into the late-paying owner. Melfi calls Tony on his car phone and invites him back into therapy. He is not sure he needs her help. At acting class Christopher is paired with Mitch, the student who played his father in the ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ scene. Mitch says one word and Christopher starts punching him before stomping out of the class. Later Adriana speculates that the class raised uncomfortable feelings in Christopher about his father’s early death.

Tony takes up Melfi’s offer of a session. He wants to be in total control but she says this is impossible. Tony tries to goad her but the psychiatrist gives as good as she gets. In the early hours Christopher gets up, unable to sleep. He junks his screenplay, throwing the print-outs and floppy discs into a dumpster.

Mobspeak: Tony tells Paulie that he is getting a bump (promotion).

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: At Vesuvio Artie serves Tony, Paulie and Silvio a new dish, Quail ala’ Bucco – baby quail stuffed with fennel sausage. Tony says that Furio makes the best mozzarella and suggests Artie hire him. Tony eats slices of ham while watching the news on TV. He dips the slices into an open jar of mayonnaise. AJ is carrying his lunch on a plate when Tony rips the telephone off the wall after hearing about Janice’s loan application. Richie is cooking eggs at Livia’s house when Tony arrives. Carmela serves a finger food buffet at Furio’s welcome party. Junior brings a box of pignoli cookies but she slams the door in his face. Irina feeds Cheese Doodles to the ducks at the dock until Tony stops her. Paulie and Pussy are eating pasta at Vesuvio when Johnny Sack arrives. Paulie has a waitress keep Pussy’s food warm so Pussy can leave the table. Pussy eats steak and sweetcorn with Skip Lipari at a diner. Dr Melfi says she is putting on weight. Her therapist warns her to watch intake of sugar and sugar substitutes.

Mobbed Up: Christopher tells the acting class that he wants to write for the movies, citing ‘Goodfellas’ as an example. Tony meets Paulie at the Lou Costello Memorial, which is dedicated to half of the famous comedy duo Abbott and Costello who starred in eleven films between 1945 and 1955. Melfi recalls her dream which had a song from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as its soundtrack. She compares Tony to the character of Oz himself, a powerful and dominating male. She recalls watching the film on TV at her parents’ house, hiding under a blanket with her sister. At the acting class the teacher gives out scenes from films for students to perform, including ‘Barefoot In The Park’ and ‘The Glass Menagerie’. Christopher can’t cope with being the Gentleman Caller in the latter and manages to get it swapped for the James Dean role in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. He fancies the idea of playing a Joe Pesci role and imitates the actor’s performance in ‘Jimmy Hollywood’. Furio is surprised to have seen Oscar-winning Italian film ‘Two Women’ starring Sophia Loren on American TV, because it features a rape story. It would not be shown in Italy. His favourite TV show is ‘NYPD Blue’.

How Do You Feel?: Tony tries to turn Hesh into his therapist, without much success. He tells Hesh about a weird dream and his blackouts. Later he says he feels an aversion to his swimming pool. It depresses him so much he finds himself avoiding the backyard. Tony initially rejects Dr Melfi’s offer of a return to therapy. But he does go back. He tells her about Furio beating the owner of the whorehouse and said he wished he had been there. The therapist whether he wanted to be giving the beating or taking it – Tony doesn’t answer.

How Do You Feel, Doctor?: Dr Melfi interprets her dream about Tony as meaning she abandoned her patient. Dr Kupferberg suggests she treats Tony to get a vicarious thrill. Melfi swears at him and walks out of their session – exactly as Tony did during several sessions with her. When she returns to therapy a week later, she recognises her actions are imitating those of Tony. This brings her close to tears. She is thinking about taking him back as a patient. Melfi says it will be very therapeutic for her. Dr Kupferberg points out the contradiction of this statement. Melfi says she doesn’t have sexual feelings for Tony but she does have personal feelings for him. ‘He can be such a little boy sometimes.’

I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano: Melfi retells her dream about Tony passing out while driving and crashing his car into a truck, as seen in #16. Tony tries to tell Hesh about a dream. In it Tony was at the beach, but he had a suit and shoes on. Hesh interrupts before Tony can say anymore.

Quote/Unquote: Richie says he and Janice have history, but Tony doesn’t think that’s a positive: ‘Yeah, Israel and fucking Palestine.’ Janice tells her brother that she is quite capable of getting a job. ‘With your Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? How you gonna hold a beggar’s cup?’ he says. Christopher shows a lot of sympathy to a character’s physical disability in ‘The Glass Menagerie’: ‘She’s a fucking gimp, for Christ’s sake!’ Pussy complains about new arrival Furio: ‘If ever there was a guy in desperate need of a fucking nickname!’

Soundtrack: ‘Touch It’ by Monifah. ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. ‘You’re Out Of The Woods/Optimistic Voices’ from the Wizard of Oz soundtrack. ‘Rock The Boat’ by the Hues Corporation. ‘White Mustang II’ by Daniel Lanois. 'You're So Fine' by The Falcons.

The Verdict: ‘There’s no cure for life.’ Furio arrives in New Jersey and makes an immediate impact, while Tony promotes Paulie and sidelines Pussy. Meanwhile Dr Melfi is drawn into taking Tony back as a patient. This is a gem of an episode, packed with crackling dialogue and character moments. There are further intriguing revelations about Dr Melfi’s state of mind and Christopher has to confront some demons of his own. The funniest moments come from Tony’s attempts to turn Hesh into a substitute therapist as the two talk at total cross purposes. Great stuff.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mixing up my (O.C.) with my (O.S.)

I'm writing my spec TV pilot in Final Draft and am getting myself confused about whether I should be using (O.C.) or (O.S.) in certain situations - can some helpful person clarify these terms for me?

Obviously, (O.C.) indicates that the dialogue is spoken by someone who is Off Camera, while (O.S.) means the words are said by someone Off Screen. But should I only use Off Camera when the character is in the scene, but isn't visible? If so, does Off Screen indicate dialogue that the audience can hear but the characters on screen can't?

It's all too much for my tiny brain. Somebody, anybody, please, put me out of my misery. Bueller? Bueller?

Don't spoonfeed; try drip-feeding instead

Spent the past few days writing a second draft of my spec TV pilot script. My first draft was guilty of underestimating the audience's intelligence, giving them far more information than they needed. Some sage writer somewhere once said you should only give your readers the least possible amount of information - enough to intrigue and entice, but not enough to save them the bother of thinking.

TV audiences have become increasingly sophisticated, they don't need everything laid out for them on a platter. I mean, don't you prefer shows that make you do some of the work for yourself? So the first half of my second draft was moslty cutting all the explanatory material back to the bone: I'm trying to drip-feed, not spoonfeed.

The second half is taking longer, because I'm having to create a lot of new material as well as editing what's already on the page. There were structural problems that only became apparent when I took my story to script stage. Funny, isn't it, how a detailed synopsis or even a full treatment can read fine. But turn that into script pages and suddenly you realise it doesn't work.

I knew I'd created a repeat beat, essentially having the same plot point happen twice in quick succession, so that needed fixing. But I'd gone one worse, having a secondary character come in to defend the protagonist from bullying police. That made my heroine appear weak and feeble, when she needs to step up and fight her own battles.

Then there was the ultimate crime: having my cast reveal important secrets without pressure or imperative. Conflict = drama. Characters telling each other stuff for the sake of the audience = lazy writing. Yes, they have to reveal things, there's a need for this exposition, but it had to be dramatised far more effectively. I know it's now fashionable to dismiss the theories and teachings of story structure guru Robert McKee, but one thing I remember from him definitely still bears repeating: use exposition as ammunition. Revelations should only be made when characters feel they have no choice, not simply to fulfil the needs of a lazy writer.

I think the second draft's a significant step forward from the first, but there's still plenty of work to be done. Had a nice eureka moment in the bath yesterday - don't know why, but these things always occur to me in the bath. Cleanliness is next to inventiveness, apparently. Anyway, I switched McGuffins while writing yesterday and now a briefcase has become much sought after by the protagonist. Way back on page one, her husband walks into the script looking for something. In my first draft it was his mobile phone, setting up a minor plot point that pays off later. While soaking in the bath I realised how much better it'd be if the husband was looking for his briefcase. It seems like a throwaway moment on page one; by page 50 it's crucial.

Been cutting back and writing forwards for three days now on the second draft. One thing's become apparent: I've no idea how long it takes me to write pages of screenplay. I've written enough novels to have a fair idea how long it'll take me to write a page, a thousand words or a chapter. But I'm still an absolute beginner with screenplays, so I'm clueless on how long it should take me to write a page, a scene or a second draft. I'm sure in time I'll become familiar with what I can do when needs must or inspiration strikes [sadly, these two don't coincide as often as I'd like]. For now, I'm scrabbling in the dark. Speaking of which, time I got back to work. Wish me luck, as I need to finish this rough second draft today.

Sopranos episode guide #17: Commendatori

US Transmission Date: 6 February 2000
UK Transmission Date: 2 November 2000

Writer: David Chase • Director: Tim Van Patten

Cast: Vittorio Duse (Zi Vittorio), Mike Memphis (Jimmy Bones), Jay Lynch (Partner), Emme Shaw (Nurse), Ciro Maggio (Raffaelle), Danton Stone (Mr Sontag), Melissa Weil (Mrs Sontag), Jason Fuchs (Jr Sontag), Jessica Peters (Sis Sontag), Gano Grills (Antonio), Anthony Alessandro (Waiter), Frank Caero (Host), Gina Cutolo (Mother), Raffaele Giulivo (Nino), Guido Palliggiano (Pino), Alida Tarallo (Prostitute), Alex Toma (Kid), Giuseppe Zeno (Tanno), Ricardo Zinna (Hotel Manager)

Tony is going to Italy to visit business contacts in Naples. He visits Junior at the doctor’s office to seek his advice. Junior used to ship stolen cars in containers to Italy but Tony has inherited the business as acting boss. Junior says he used to deal with Don Zi Vittorio, but lately the contact has been called Furio Giunta. Junior regrets never visiting Italy. Carmela is angry with Tony for not taking her on the trip. Pussy meets with FBI Agent Skip Lipari at a party story. He feeds him disinformation, protecting Tony. The pair bump into an Elvis Presley imitator called Jimmy Bones, who asks uncomfortable questions. Pussy panics.

Carmela has lunch with Rosalie Aprile and Pussy’s wife, Angie Bonpensiero. Angie says she is depressed and suicidal since Pussy returned from his disappearance. When he came home her heart sank. She found a lump under her arm and is awaiting the results of a biopsy to find out if the lump is malignant or benign. Either way, she wants a divorce from Pussy. Tony, Paulie and Christopher arrive at the Hotel Excelsior in Naples. They are met by Furio and his associates.

Christopher notices that one of Furio’s men, Tanno, has needles marks on his arm from taking heroin. Carmela and her friends gossip about the Bonpensieros' problems. Tony and Paulie have dinner with Furio and other representatives of the Vittorio Family. Tony is disappointed that Don Vittorio is not attending. He suggests a price of $90,000 for each stolen car – they are top of the range Mercedes ML series vehicles.

Don Vittorio arrives at the dinner in a wheelchair, pushed by his daughter Annalisa. Don Vittorio is senile and can only talk about streetnames in American cities. Christopher misses the dinner because he’s too busy shooting heroin with Furio’s assistant Tanno. Tony learns that the Family is now run by Mauro Zucca, but he’s in prison serving a life sentence. Furio suggests Tony talk to Annalisa – she is Mauro’s wife. Annalisa offers to give Tony a guided tour of Avellino, where his ancestors lived moving to America. Outside the restaurant a teenage boy throws firecrackers. He is beaten by Furio and others. They also punch the boy’s mother. The police just drive away. Tony is impressed by Furio’s ruthlessness. Pussy is having nightmares about Jimmy Bones revealing his secret.

Christopher stays in his hotel room, claiming a bad case of food poisoning from the in-flight meal. That leaves Paulie on his own to check out the docks while Tony meets with Annalisa. Carmela and Janice argue about the role of Mafia wives. Janice says her sister-in-law is content with too little but Carmela says marriage and family are sacred institutions. She also points out that Janice getting back with Richie Aprile is hardly extending the boundaries of feminism. Tony goes to stay with Annalisa at the Vittorio family home. She runs the family because all the men have been murdered or sent to prison. Annalisa says Italian men are in love with their mothers, so taking orders from a woman boss is not a major problem. Paulie wanders around Naples but the locals seem unfriendly.

Tony and Annalisa continue to haggle about the price for the stolen cars. Tony wants to recruit mob soldiers from Naples to join him in America, starting with Furio. Annalisa gets angry and refuses. Angie tells Pussy her biopsy came back negative – she doesn’t have cancer. He is preoccupied and walks out. Pussy drives to Jimmy Bones’ house, where he beats the Elvis imitator to death. Carmela visits Angie, trying to persuade her against divorcing Pussy. Paulie finally gets close to the locals by sleeping with a prostitute from the same town as his ancestors.

Tony and Annalisa visit the sit of the Sibylla of Cumae, a famous oracle centuries ago. Annalisa offers Tony sex but he refuses because it would be bad for business. They agree a price for the cars and the men. Tony, Paulie and Christopher fly back to New Jersey. Christopher finally gets around to buying a present for Adriana – at Newark Airport. Tony gets home. Upstairs, Carmela hears him arrive – but how does she feel about his return?

Mobspeak: Tony tells Junior that he’s going over to the other side (Italy).

Mamma Mia: Annalisa looks after her senile father in her own home. Tony says she takes good care of her father. To Annalisa, this seems only natural. She would never send her parent to a home.

Bright Lights, Baked Ziti: Carmela is cooking a roast dinner when she and Tony argue about his business trip. Meadow salivates at the idea of real Italian cooking. Carmela, Rosalie and Angie eat pasta for lunch when Angie talks about divorce. The conversation is being eavesdropped by lunching ladies at the next table. Rosalie yells at them to eat their monigott’. At the welcome dinner everyone eats an antipasto of cold meats. This is followed by a course of black pasta, which Paulie turns his nose up at. He requests macaroni and gravy, which is interpreted as spaghetti and tomato sauce. The local mobsters are unimpressed by his taste. ‘And you thought the Germans were classless pieces of shit,’ one says in Italian. Tony phones home and interrupts Carmela as she prepares dinner. He says the local food is okay, with lots of fish. She is cooking pasta and roasting meat. Tony suggests she get Chinese takeaway which infuriates Carmela. Pussy talks in his sleep about shoving a turnip in Jimmy Bones’ mouth. Christopher claims he got food poisoning from the shrimp hors d’oeuvres on the plane. Tony eats a pear while he watches Annalisa have her nails trimmed. He and Annalisa eats massive prawns at a seaside café. After they argue, Tony wants to go back to the hotel but Annalisa invites him down to a family dinner. He despairs at how much Italians eat. Paulie tries a plum from his hotel breakfast tray after sex.

Mobbed Up: Tony and crew sit down to watch an advanced DVD bootleg of ‘The Godfather’ with alternative takes. Paulie’s favourite scene is where Michael Corleone says: ‘I know it was you, Fredo.’ Tony doesn’t want to have another conversation about the Coppola trilogy. But he says his favourite scene is when Vito goes back to Sicily. Christopher can’t get the DVD to work. Paulie says Paramount Pictures should get their shit together as the crew will be stealing thousands of copies.

Sleeping With The Fishes: Jimmy Bones, beaten to death with a ball peen hammer by Pussy for seeing him with an FBI Agent.

I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano: Tony has a dream about Annalisa. She is bending over an ancient stone wall, dressed in a toga. Tony is fucking her from behind while wearing the uniform of a Roman centurion. Pussy has nightmares about Jimmy Bones revealing his secret. Pussy talks so loud in his sleep, he wakes up Angie in her adjoining bedroom.

Quote/Unquote: Tony scoffs when Paulie says the DVD has alternative takes of ‘The Godfather’: ‘What, are you gonna call Coppola with ideas on how to fix it?’ Junior says any blood relations between the Sopranos and the Vittorios is well diluted: ‘It’s so far removed, by now Tonto’s a closer cousin to you.’ Tony planned to give Don Vittorio a special golf club but Paulie has other advice when they see the Don is senile: ‘Ton’, you give this guy a golf club, he’ll probably try to fuck it.’ Janice defends renewing her relationship with old school mobster Richie Aprile: ‘Carm, Richie, because of his life experiences in prison, he has a sensitivity to the plight of women.’

Soundtrack: ‘Perdido’ by Notables. ‘Con Te Partiro’ by Andrea Bocelli. ‘Andalucia’ by Pink Martini. ‘Blood Is Thicker Than Water’ by Wyclef Jean & C&B Product. ‘Certamente’ by Madreblu. ‘Cuore Ingrato’ by Beniamino Gigli. ‘Piove’ by Lorenzo Jovanotti. ‘Song of the Black Lizard’ by Pink Martini.

Surveillance Report: Creator David Chase makes a cameo appearance when Paulie is sitting at a café in Naples. Paulie calls out to the men sat at the next table. Chase turns and regards Paulie with contempt before turning away. Paulie is offended and walks off, muttering ‘Cocksuckers’ under his breath. In #02, Paulie said that Americans ate shit before Italians gave them the gift of their cuisine. But when Paulie actually gets to sample real Italian food, he doesn’t enjoy the experience and asks for macaroni and gravy. Tony confirms Carmela’s statement in #01 that his favourite scene from ‘The Godfather’ trilogy is when Vito returns to Sicily.

The Verdict: ‘You are your own worst enemy.’ Tony goes to the old country on business and has problems adjusting to dealing with a woman boss. Carmela ponders her future when Angie Bonpensiero decides to divorce Pussy. In Season One, the ‘College’ episode sent Tony away from home on business while Carmela stayed home and contemplated her situation. ‘Commendatori’ attempts the same trick but less success as the stakes involved are much lower for everyone. Carmela’s greatest danger seems to come from an Andrea Bocelli overload as ‘Con Te Partiro’ is played over and over again. These problems are offset by the comedy cutaways to Paulie’s interaction with Naples and its citizens, and the introduction of Furio. He seems destined to become a significant character in future episodes…