Ella Fishman |
GREAT INCONSISTENCIES IN TV PREMISE: A STUDY IN FIVE ACTS
1.) Gilligan’s Island
The Millionaire and His Wife. Swell couple, really. Here’s the issue: Thurston III and Lovey Howell were just that, millionaires. So what in god’s name were they doing on the S.S. Minnow? Wouldn’t they have their own yacht? Or if they didn’t, wouldn’t they have chartered a private ship at least? Even for a group tour, wouldn’t they have chosen a boat that didn’t look one asthmatic wheeze away from upheaval?
On the island, the Howells had suitcases full of money. Who brings suitcases full of cold, hard cash on a three-hour tour? Unless they were on the run from the mob, or perhaps orchestrators of the whole “storm” that caused them to be conveniently hidden on a tropical paradise until the JFK assassination blew over (Note: half-mast flag in opening shot. I know foreshadowing when I see it).
Another matter is the back-story between Gilligan and the Skipper (Real name: Jonas Grumby. No joke). They met when Gilligan saved Grumby’s life, while they were both serving in World War II. Take a moment to picture that. Gilligan, the guy who can’t walk two feet without destroying a coconut radio, gunning down Nazis in war. Oh little buddy, it’s always the goofy-looking ones, just waiting for that moment when everything goes snap.
This is how it starts:
When Marla opens the door, it isn’t like in the movies. There is no slow motion, no freeze-frame on guilty faces, no minutes slipping by where we didn’t hear her enter. There’s just me and Brian in the bed.
“Now, don’t be irrational,” Brian says holding up his hands. Marla’s fingers, curled around the door frame, go from white to red.
“I’m being irrational? You think I’m being irrational?” She doesn’t move.
“That’s what it looks like,” I say, safely tucked away under cotton thread counts.
“That’s funny,” Marla says, “Because to me, what it looks like is you fucking my fiancé.”
2.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy is supposed to be this ultimate kick-ass, destroyer of dark creatures. She can take out the big bad in all shapes and sizes from demons to vampires to teenage angst. Buffy has super-strength, yet every time she’s up against a human opponent, one punch sends her flying. She can beat the shit out of an ancient demon god, but put her up against a male college student and at the first kick she is going down. What does that say about girl power?
Buffy’s number one squeeze, Angel, has an issue of his own. He bears a gypsy curse on his brooding shoulders. One moment of true happiness, and his soul gets sucked out of his body, he goes dark side, and starts speaking with a horrifying Irish brogue. It happens when he has penetrative sex with his one true love, the Buffster. But is it true love that makes the ultimate happiness, or is it stealing home plate? Because the issue tears them apart (Read: sends Angel packing to LA for a spinoff). Would hookers have counted? Could blow jobs have been acceptable? Relationships have been built on less Buff.
We met senior year at Dartmouth in the class Cult TV and Its Effects on Our Culture. Brian was a pre-med student with great orthodonture and strong hands. When I showed him pictures of my cat on my cell phone, he didn’t laugh.
It went like this:
“Can I borrow your notes?”
“I’m not clear about this point. We should have a study group tonight.”
“Your housemates aren’t home? Cool.”
We fucked for the better part of four months and it was magical. One night under half of Brian’s ratty, homemade flannel comforter, with his hand tangled in my unbrushed brown hair, he told me he was graduating early.
He never said not to call, but he never called either.
3.) The Partridge Family
Were all those kids supposed to share the same father? Because there is no way Danny Bonaduce and David Cassidy came from the same womb. Otherwise, Shirley Partridge brought a whole lotta lovin to a whole lotta men. It’s all foreshadowed in the ever vacillating insecurity of “I Think I Love You.” Read between the lines.
The brunch will be lovely. Neither Marla nor I will plan it, though we both will have offered. Our mother will have decided to hire out her 30th anniversary party as a pro job. I won’t know many people there outside of the family, too far distanced from my parents’ daily lives to know their friends, reconnected since days gone by.
Marla and I will keep our distance without appearing to. At the buffet, we will intersect grabbing shrimp cocktails. Our fingers will brush and we will be forced to look up. I will have gained weight and she will look haggard.
“How are you?” she’ll ask.
“Fine,” I’ll answer.
I will soon excuse myself with a stomach ache from the shrimp. I will not be sorry for anything. I will not. I got there first.
4.) Doogie Howser, M.D.
The pilot starts with Doogie’s 16th birthday. He has been a resident surgeon for two years and must interrupt his driver’s test to help a traffic accident victim.
He graduated med school at 14, meaning he graduated undergrad at 10 (Princeton, obviously). That puts him graduating high school at age 6. When did he learn his times tables, in utero? Supposedly, because of his genius IQ and eidetic memory, Doogie was able to complete high school in nine weeks when he was 9, which is, well, within the realm of possibility, I concede. But he also completed four years of undergrad from age 9 to 10. I don’t care how smart you are, getting enough credits to graduate still takes time and unless Doogie was clocking in around 20 classes each and every week, even he couldn’t pull this one off.
Going back to the pilot, since Doogie’s driver’s test is interrupted and he still lives at home, that means his parents had to shuttle him to and from the hospital every day. Doctors work really long hours. That must have been incredibly inconvenient for his parents.
When the engagement crumbles it will end up being fortuitous timing really. The flowers will not yet have been ordered, the food not yet decided upon, and the down payment for the venue easily refundable.
Our parents will not understand. Mother will screech at Marla and demand answers. Marla will mutter, “I don’t want to talk about it,” until she is able to compose a more eloquent evasion later down the line. Mother will beg me to confide in her what went wrong, and I will reply, “I don’t know how these things happen, why people fall apart.”
And if one night, passing through the house I happen to stumble across a sliver of open door and see Marla sitting shiva in her wedding dress in the dark, I will never tell a soul.
Marla will not ask for her bridesmaid dress back.
Why? Just, why? I could talk about the fact that even before gems such as tubs of ranch dressing and hair product were found down the hatch in Season Two, Hurley never lost any weight, Kate’s hair was always delicately tousled, and the leading men all mysteriously maintained steady five-o-clock shadows. But that wouldn’t bring those five years of my life back. Nothing on TV ever could. That’s the problem with fantasies, no matter how emotionally invested in them you are or how many years of your life you devote to believing in them, it doesn’t stop the world around you from moving on. And when things don’t work out the way they should, you can’t storm into the writers’ room and demand an explanation.
TV lies. It promises happy endings, or at least closure that often never comes, mostly because of cancellations. For example, in Doogie Howser’s final, never-filmed season, he was to get disillusioned with medicine and become a writer. Strange, the lives that never get to play out.
I wonder if Doogie would have written a TV show about his experiences, and maybe somewhere some woman would have seen it and asked him about the inconsistencies, and they would have fallen in love and written a show more logically consistent, where things happened as they should and every question received an answer. I wonder if anyone would have watched.
I had only seen Marla briefly around Christmas, maybe twice out of the past five years. Our jobs kept us busy and away from home, hers at the University Medical Center at Princeton and mine at ABC.
When we first discovered we’d be back home at the same time we spoke on the phone for hours about everything, from new favorite restaurants and best tropical island getaways to our shared imaginary friend Cecil from childhood (who must have been a real person, because who shares an imaginary friend?). She asked about my cat. I asked about her ficus. She said she was bringing someone home. Someone special.
I’d “oooohhh-ed” and tried to wheedle more out of her, but she stood fast. They had been together for a while. They were serious. He was very handsome. That was all I could pry out of her. She said I would like him very much.
This is how it ends:
Marla looked good when she got in from the airport. She looked like travel, slightly frumped over, but something shined through.
I noticed the ring first. Tasteful. Large, but not garish. Mother shrieked and berated Marla for holding out. Marla’s smile was bursting at the seams.
The front door shoved open and luggage poked cautiously through. A hand held the bags. A face hung above the arm attached to the hand holding Marla’s Louis Vuitton case. A face with perfect teeth.
“Everyone,” Marla gathered us. “This is Brian. My fiancé.”
He said, “Hello,” and I said, “Hello,” and Marla weaved her hand in his, fingers clinking together softly.
“You two went to Dartmouth at the same time,” Marla said. “It was the first thing we talked about with each other. Isn’t that funny?”
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