INTERIOR: Richard Antrem's Office at GQ
After I wrote this script and as we grew closer to filming, I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, all startled, like Ebenezer Scrooge hearing the rattling of chains, and I'd get this icy feeling down my spine: What I had written? The whole episode was penis-obsessed and full of strange, yet intentional, homo-erotic undercurrents. Had I gone too far? Would the episode be too weird? And I say that the homo-erotic undercurrents are strange because none of the characters are actually gay or homosexual, and yet I have them say things and do things which would seem to imply as much. But why? Well, I think my goal for much of my writing career - subconsciously and consciously - has been to be an advocate for a portrayal of human sexuality as a mosaic of confusion, that definitions are boring and that we're all just stumbling forward, looking to salve our forever loneliness any way we can. Something like that.
If I was writing a novel - and not a blog - I'd give all of this a lot more thought. But this blog is due shortly and I have to be on the Craig Ferguson show in a few hours, but, dammit, this is a big issue: what the hell is sex all about? Sometimes I think it's about the obliteration of self, an erasure of oppressive neurotic consciousness and a chance to just be carnal animals delighting in each other's flesh, which must be why the vampire holds such metaphoric appeal. Sex is a hunger, and I think we crave each other from our roots in the caves, when we all would lie together for warmth and security, like a pack of dogs, which could get me started on a whole other tangent - my desire to be a dog who wrestles with other dogs.
But, furthermore, about sex - of course, there's also the very important element of procreation, and, yet, as overpopulated as the planet may be, the majority of the sexual acts committed around the world - and just think of all the sex happening right NOW in all the different time zones - doesn't result in babies. So what does this mean? I don't know, except to say that we're all screwing like crazy, or if we're not screwing, we feel its absence and it can make us crazy.
Anyway, I'll shut up now, since I haven't really come to any conclusions or made any sense, and just proceed with giving you some of my thinking behind certain moments in "Make it Quick, Fitzgerald!"
My first salvo of double entendre-ness and penis-reference occurs almost immediately when I have Richard Antrem (Oliver Platt) say to Jonathan, "So just how long have you been a private dick on the side?"
Oliver, in season 1, brought a sexual ambiguity to his portrayal of Richard Antrem, and so I thought I should exploit this in season 2. Oliver got it in his head that Antrem desires Jonathan and was using this as his 'motivation' at different times. This was not part of my original conception of the character, but I liked what Oliver was doing in season 1, though as I continued to write the character, I imagined that Antrem was somewhat oblivious to how he's always coming on to Jonathan, and in my mind, it's not so much a sexual longing for Jonathan but a desire to steal away anything that George possesses.
Antrem, you see, is deeply jealous of George, a jealousy rooted in some kind of love for George. I think, really, what Antrem craves from George is his approval, and since George never gives that to him, he wants what George has, perhaps as a way to hurt him or, simply, to have something of George's, since approval is not forthcoming. It's the less-than-zero desperation of the self-destructive shop-lifter, an overwhelming need to overcome this feeling of operating at a deficit, to balance things out.
In the back-story of these two characters that exists in my mind, Antrem was once George's underling at Sports Illustrated in the 70's and he worshipped him, and yet George was always repelled by Antrem - there are certain people we just don't cotton to, that rub us the wrong way, it's often a chemical thing - and this rejection has fueled Antrem's animus for George ever since. It's the old saw about the closeness of love and hate - since George has always rejected Antrem's love, as it were, Antrem's love has turned into something closer to hate, as if to say, "If you reject me, I reject you." But the fact of the matter is that George rejected Antrem first and Antrem's ego can't tolerate this and so he's been railing at George ever since - marrying his ex-wife and trying to steal away his squire, Jonathan. But I maintain that Antrem does none of this consciously, which is what makes him human.
Another thing going on with all this for me is that Antrem and Louis Greene (John Hodgman) are the alternate-universe versions of George and Jonathan, their doubles, almost like villains in the old 'Batman‘ show who always reside in dens that are slanted as a way to show that they're off-kilter and mad, and yet the villains are not so unlike Batman and Robin - they wear costumes and have weird hideouts; it's just that they're on the wrong side of the moral universe, like Antrem and Greene, though this doesn't necessarily mean that they are 'bad' people. Antrem and Greene and the 'Batman‘ villains are just confused and flawed and vulnerable, and they act out their frustrations in ways that are not always socially acceptable.
To convey this doubleness, I do hope people will notice that the portrait of Antrem we see in this scene is just like George's portrait and that it hangs in the same spot, as if their offices were mirrors of each other (and in fact, Antrem's office is George's office, redressed by our scenic department with different furniture). I love all this doubleness and mirroring, how George is lean and white-haired, while Antrem is rotund and dark-haired. And the mirroring continues with the rivalry between their seconds, their two protégés - Jonathan and Louis.
But it's very important to me that Antrem and Greene not be demonized, that they're humanity and vulnerability is also apparent, which is why I have Antrem make this observation about Greene to Jonathan, "Sorry, he's very possessive in his own way. His father was a child-psychologist, made him sleep in a box and it aged him prematurely."
Jonathan then feels for his nemesis, has insight as to why Greene is disturbed, and I love the shot of Greene, banished from the office, spying on Richard and Jonathan, clearly wounded and needy. It made me think of this Thomas Mann short story, 'Tonio Kroger,' and this image of a young man looking through the window at a dance, forever on the outside, forever excluded and alone.
All of this I realize might sound a tad pretentious and serious ('Batman‘ references notwithstanding), but I hope it's clear that I don't think I'm writing an Ibsen play. 'Bored to Death' is a nutty farce, or, rather, I hope it's a nutty farce. I once described to an editor the music I wanted for a scene as "realistic but with a loony zing." That's my take on most of these back-story psychological issues - they should have a "loony zing."