Creator's Blog

Oct 4, 2010

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."

Interior: Jonathan's Apartment/Kitchen

It's actually a few days later. This blog was not written in one sitting, but HBO kindly extended my deadline. Between writing the first part of this blog and now, I appeared on Craig Ferguson, which was a fascinating experience, though I did spend my whole time on his show talking about the meagerness of my penis. This was not my intention for a national TV appearance, but my default mode, when nervous, is to humiliate myself. Anyway, after I wrote the first part of this blog, I had more thoughts about the need for sex (beyond procreation) and while sitting in my dressing-room at the Ferguson show, I wrote the following in my little Moleskine notebook, thinking that I might add it to this piece, and so I'll just type it up verbatim:

Trapped as we are in our little individualized flesh prisons, sex is a chance for union, a chance to return to that place that goes farther back than caves, when we were all just organic matter in the primordial sea, when we were as Dr. Bronner, who makes that wonderful peppermint soap, says: "All one!"

Another similar explanation, at least for the carnality of sex, is that French phrase: "Nostalgie de la boue." A nostalgia for mud, for earth, it's why we lick and smell each other, we're seeking a return to the beginning, to the source of life.

So that's what I wrote in my little notebook, which I always carry, just as the character "Jonathan" carries one. I like to have it with me for jotting down thoughts for the show, my ephemeral and frivolous little thoughts...Okay, now I will go back to analyzing the script and the episode for odd little observations and behind-the-writing inspirations. 

In this scene in the kitchen, please note that to the left is a beautiful painting by my dear friend, Patrick Bucklew. It's a painting of the Gowanus Canal, replete with sunflowers. When we were shooting the pilot in 2008, there were these beautiful sunflowers in a little garden right by the canal and I wanted to film a transitional shot there of Jonathan walking, but we ran out of time. I loved the sunflowers in the middle of this very bleak and industrial spot, which I nevertheless find beautiful in a beautiful-ugly sort of way, but now those sunflowers are no longer there. The little garden was paved over to make for a wider sidewalk. So in 2009, I asked Patrick to paint a picture of this area and to include the missing sunflowers, sunflowers which now float beautifully in the left-hand corner of your screen when you watch this episode. Later, in episode six, we filmed in the exact spot that this painting depicts.

INTERIOR: Urologist's Office, Examination Room

The first two images that entered my brain as I prepared for season two were Jonathan running across Manhattan in a leather S&M suit (as depicted in episode 1 of this season) and George on a sort of gynecological table, his feet in stirrups. I have no idea why these two pictures formed in my mind. What do they mean? As in a dream, where supposedly all the people one dreams about are representations of one's self, are the things in my imagination metaphors for something going on in my life? I just thought that these two images would be very funny, but they probably do have subconscious implications. I have Jonathan running through Manhattan, trapped in a mask, frightened and desperate, and I have George on a table, being fingered and probed. 

So, clearly, these images are expressions of suppressed emotions. Like most people, I often feel hidden behind a mask and then other times I feel exposed and penetrated. Luckily, these feelings get juiced in my brain in such a way that they come out comedic as opposed to tortured, or at least I hope so.

Oh, God, I'm going on and on again. I'm sitting here in my underwear in Los Angeles in a hotel, drinking lukewarm coffee, my armpits leaking like I'm crying, and I just type away. 

Anyway, this scene with George and Dr. Kenwood (Jessica Hecht) is probably one of my favorites of the whole season. I love how sexy and tender the actors made it. Dr. Kenwood's exhalation at the end of the scene, this beautiful sigh, is, to me, just glorious.

INTERIOR: Antrem's Closet

In the closet, I have Jonathan work on a book of NY Times crosswords, because last year I became obsessed with crosswords, just as in the past I had once been obsessed with Internet backgammon. So crossword puzzles recur a few times this season, but I have subsequently lost my interest in them. I think it's because I can't get past Wednesday when doing the Times puzzles, and I usually can't even do Wednesday - for the uninitiated the Times crossword puzzles get harder as the week progresses. I was hoping to show improvement and forestall Alzheimer's (I had heard, probably erroneously, that crossword-puzzling could forestall dementia), but after about a year of doing puzzles, I wasn't really improving and I was frustrated that my I.Q. would hit a wall every Wednesday. So, like a baby, I've stopped doing crosswords.

INTERIOR: Ray's Hovel

I wanted to come up with Super Ray's (the character that Ray is always drawing) origin story and I got this image in my mind of Ray walking down the street and falling through a subway grating, which is a fear of mine - I was once told that a number of people die every year in New York City by falling through subway grates and the little metal escape-hatches that lead to the basements of shops. I don't know if this is true, but I'm always waiting for this to happen to me. So I gave this anxiety to Ray, and Dean Haspiel, the artist behind all of Ray's drawings and the inspiration for the Ray character, said that his fly could be open when he falls through the subway grate, since in season 1, I had Dean depict Super Ray with an enormous c**k. Dean thought this open fly could account for the enormity of the penis, that the electric current would get in through the open fly and enlarge his organ, and I then imagined that Super Ray's c**k would actually hit the third rail. 

I then wrote for Dean a description of the drawing, which is how we work together, and, as always, he took my written words and just went nuts, creating the wonderfully crazy drawing we see in this scene.

Also, in this scene, are some of the goofy homo-erotic undercurrents that make no sense - like Ray asking Jonathan if George has a nice ass. I love the way Zach Galifianakis asks that question, like it's the most normal thing in the world. We're so lucky on this show to have such brilliant actors, and I subsequently love how Jonathan says, "It's very white," and how Ray replies, seemingly with disapproval, "Figures." It's just all very deadpan and loony.

Later in the scene, I have Ray talk about his body being like a chest of drawers because this is something I experienced:

In 1988, my parents were in a terrible car accident in California; they were both in critical condition and my mother was the more severely injured. The doctor told me on the phone that she might not make it, that her liver had been crushed and lacerated. I flew out to California - the airline gave me some kind of emergency ticket - and I had this sensation all during the flight that my liver had been taken out, like a drawer in a chest that has been removed, and it was like I was caving in on that side. I got to the emergency room and my mother woke up as I approached her bed. She was hooked up to many machines. I kissed her and she was lucid and she told me she loved me. She survived her catastrophic injuries. The doctor said it was a miracle. 

So that feeling of my body like a chest of drawers has never left me and so I have Ray say: "It's like I'm a chest of drawers and this drawer has been removed..." I then wrote that Ray should make a motion to remove his heart and Zach did this beautifully.

On a lighter note, I have Ray smoke pot out of a corn-cob pipe because a friend of mine does that.

INTERIOR: George's Suite at the Maritime Hotel

I gave George bedbugs because the whole city is infested, and, too, I thought it would be fun to build a new home for him for season 2, the bedbugs causing him to flee (not flea) his old apartment.

And I have Jonathan speak highly of avocados, because they're something I absolutely love to eat. I cut them in half and scoop them out with a spoon like a hard-boiled egg.

INTERIOR: Jonathan's Bedroom

A line that got cut, which I sort of like: I have Stella, at the top of the cuddling scene, say: "...I just saw the wheel of the universe on the inside of my eyelid. It was beautiful." This was meant to be an allusion to their just having smoked some pot, but, in editing, I wanted to make the scene tighter, so I cut that, but I do like the notion of seeing, "the wheel of the universe" on the inside of your eyelid, like a hidden map.

Later in this scene, it was important to me that Warren's urination be thunderous and the sound-effects team did a great job with this. 

INTERIOR: Leah's Bedroom

Okay, this blog is way too long and I'm getting burnt-out. So I'm just going to skip to the end here. I play Irwin. Irwin is my father's name. I've never heard of an "Irwin" on television. But I'm probably wrong. Nevertheless, Ray chasing a yarmulke-wearing "Irwin" around a bed was an early image that came to my mind while conceiving this season, but an important moment in this scene got cut:

We run around the bed once and then Ray face-plants on the bed; I grab my clothes from a chair to flee and as I pass the bed, Ray blindly reaches out to stop me and grabs my penis; I scream, he screams; he lets go and I dash out. 

Unfortunately, this penis-grabbing moment got cut, but will be on the DVD. Still, the scene, I hope, works.

Why did I choose to get naked? I'm not entirely sure, but there are several possible explanations:

1) I like to humiliate myself. I can't help it. It comes naturally to me.

2) I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to take a risk. I like risks.

3) No other creator of a television show has ever done this. Not even Matthew Weiner, creator of the brilliant 'Mad Men,' who has the perfect name for such a stunt, has attempted full-frontal nudity on his show. Nor has Alan Ball, creator of two brilliant shows, 'Six Feet Under' and 'True Blood,' attempted this, even though he's also blessed with a good name, like Weiner, for giving it a shot. So I wanted to be the first.

4) I thought that in an episode, which is partially about insecurity about the size of one's genitals, that I should show a set of genitals worthy of insecurity. But, God, I didn't realize just how tiny I would look! You can't even see my penis. It's invisible. The air-conditioning was way up in our studio and I was nearly 100% retracted. I've since dubbed my appearance as an example of 'faux-frontal nudity' and on the Craig Ferguson show I likened my penis to a vampire - unable to be photographed.

Well, that's about it. I have to stop now. This is way too long for a blog, but I thank you for reading my nutty musings.

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