Creator's Blog

Oct 11, 2010

INTERIOR: Dr. Kenwood's Exam Room – Day

I wanted to give George a disease in which his masculinity would be threatened. This was intended as a metaphor for something I had gone through in which I felt like my balls had been dosed with radiation and shrunken terribly. And by balls, I mean one's sense of courage and conviction.

I survived this situation with my balls intact, but they did get severely deflated and it took a month of swimming in the ocean for them to heal. I love to swim in the ocean. It gives me great joy. It's in my top three of self-erasing joyful activities, in which wrestling with dogs and licking arm-pits are the other two. Maybe I should make the list have four categories. Nursing also gives me great joy. 

Anyway, I wanted George's balls to be in danger, in much the same way that my metaphorical balls had been in danger. I wanted him to be tested. I wanted to see how we would react, to see what his character was made of. At first, he doesn't take the news well. He laments, "Oh, my God...I can't die. I haven't figured anything out." 

I have him say this because this is a great fear of mine, destined to come true - to die and to never have really grasped what's going on. 

Then Dr. Kenwood, a sympathetic and kind soul, takes George to her breast, where he can indulge in number 4 on my list of joyful activities, and I love the look on Ted Danson's face in this moment, how he goes from utter despair to a sort of beautiful incredulity - "Is this doctor really going to give me what I most need in this moment? Is she really going to hold me to her beautiful breasts?" 

And then showing his true character, in a very good way, I think, he doesn't flinch at this gift which the universe is giving him - he buries his face in those wonderful breasts and holds on! Life isn't over yet!

One other little thing from this scene: I have Dr. Kenwood (the magnificent Jessica Hecht) mention congealed salad dressing because I always have a rotation of ancient salad-dressings in my refrigerator, which I clear out about every three years or so. My refrigerator is more of a morgue for dead food-stuffs as opposed to a larder where I might actually seek out nutrition and sustenance.

Oh, one other thing: when Jessica auditioned for the part, I had her hold the female casting director in much the same way that she would later hold Ted Danson. And it looked so good in this non-descript office at HBO in New York, where we do our casting, that I knew she would be perfect for the role.

INTERIOR: The Slipper Room, Burlesque Club - Night

Throughout this blog, I've been mentioning these images I had in my mind as I prepared for season 2, images, which luckily, came to fruition. Another one of these visuals was burlesque genius Julie Atlas Muz dancing naked in a balloon. Years ago, at the La Mama theater, during a show hosted by the Alien Comic (my old friend, Tom Murrin), I saw Julie do this balloon performance and I never forgot it and I thought it would look beautiful on screen. 

Also, Julie and I have performed together dozens of times. I would often include her in these vaudeville nights that I put together and I wanted to work with her in my new capacity as the creator of a television show. So I got it in my mind that Jonathan would go see this balloon act and in the middle of it, a crazed mad man, in the back of the theater, would throw a knife at the balloon, attempting to hurt Julie. The knife would miss and she would be unscathed, but the balloon would be popped. Jonathan, in private-detective-hero mode, would then chase after the assailant, losing him in a classic noir alleyway scene. Julie, touched by this heroic attempt, would then hire Jonathan to find out who had tried to kill her. 

Well, for a number of reasons, I let go of that storyline, but I still wanted to incorporate Julie in the balloon and then got the idea that this would serve as an excellent visual backdrop for the break-up scene between Stella and Jonathan.

I then recruited another long-time cohort of mine, Murray Hill, to act as the MC for the burlesque show. As with Julie, Murray and I have also performed together numerous times, and I wanted to get him exposure on national TV.

About my own performing: what I do on stage sometimes is tell stories or interview audience members or engage in odd behavior, like arm-wrestling people or allowing myself to be paddled, that sort of thing.

Anyway, one of the great things about my new job running this TV show has been the opportunity to work with a number of my friends who are performers. I've also been able to use the art-work of my friends who are talented painters and photographers, such as Patrick Bucklew, who provided the Gowanus Canal painting in Jonathan's kitchen; Jen Ferguson, who did the sketches of the Brooklyn Bridge that also hang in Jonathan's kitchen; Richard Sandler, whose photographs were used in our very first episode in the gallery scene and whose photos often adorn various sets; and Charlotta Jannsen, whose paintings will be seen in episode 5 of this season. To see all of their work, click here. There's also, of course, Dean Haspiel, who does all the drawings that the Ray character produces, and which you can see here and here.

EXTERIOR: Gowanus Canal – Night

Yet again, this was an early image that came to my mind for season 2: Jonathan being dangled over the Gowanus Canal, though this idea actually came to me during season 1. Dean Haspiel's art-studio is right near the 9th Street bridge, which spans the canal, and one night, after filming (I think we were shooting episode 7 or 8 of season 1), I went to his studio to help him finish drawing the characters for our opening credit sequence. I stood over his shoulder and pestered him with comments about Ted Danson's tie or Jason Schwartzman's nose or the size of the policeman's belly. Dean would patiently absorb my comments and then take out his eraser. We ordered food and I was there for several hours, until the work was done. Dean, as always, did a beautiful job. 

Then I walked home across the bridge over the canal and it was all so spooky and beautiful that I got it in my head that Jonathan should be hung over the water in that very location. I had also read in the NY Post at some point that the canal had managed to get gonorrhea - did it sleep with another canal? - which struck me as ludicrous and I thought this would be a funny thing to add to the scene, hence the title of the episode. I also thought, when I first read about the Gowanus Canal having an STD, that if a married man fell into the canal and caught gonorrhea that his wife would never believe him.

Anyway, Jason Schwartzman showed incredible courage during the filming of this scene. It was too difficult to actually shoot him dangling over the canal, but we found a rigging in the cement yard across the street that was thirty-feet above a small stream and which could pass for the canal. Jason was properly harnessed by our stunt coordinator and then submitted to several hours of being held over this shallow stream, which would have been a lot more dangerous to fall into than the canal. Not only was Jason brave, but his acting and comedic timing - while upside down! - were incredible. It was a freezing night and at the beginning of the shot, I went up to the top of the rigging to wish him well and I have to tell you it was very frightening up there, but Jason was completely undaunted. Not only does he play someone who wants to be a hero, he is a hero. 

Playing the two thugs, ‘Eric' and ‘Jim,' who hold Jonathan over the canal, are Domenick Lombardozzi and Jim Norton. They were both incredibly funny and had terrific chemistry. If we have a third season, I would love to bring them back. Dominic was spectacular and I specifically wrote the part of ‘Jim' for Jim Norton. I had seen his stand-up a number of times over the years and was a secret fan. I'm not a huge Twitter person, but I follow Jim and so when I wrote his dialogue, I hoped to match his particular cadence which I had perceived in his stand-up and in his Twitter comments. About his tweets - they are always so unmistakably in his ‘voice,' which is not an easy thing to pull off in 140 characters. Anyway, I was honored to work with Jim and he was fantastic in this role.

INTERIOR: George's Mercedes - Night

For the last eleven years, my neighbor here in Brooklyn has had a beautiful orange, 1978 Mercedes. I've loved this car for some time and it seemed like the perfect vehicle to cast as George's automobile. My sweet neighbor lent us his car and we also got a double, in case of an accident. 

I have George (Ted Danson) using a hand-held vaporizer in the car, because a company, after season 1, sent me such a device and I thought it would be funny in the show. I guess it's our version of product placement. 

I always like to have George refer to Jonathan as ‘dear boy' or ‘boy,' as in this scene when he says, "You know I'm very fond of that boy," because in my late twenties and early thirties, this older couple sort of looked after me, and the husband, a sophisticated and old-world New Yorker, would always say to me when he first saw me, "Jonathan, dear boy." I loved this man, who has since passed away, he was very kind to me, and so it always thrills me to hear him come alive for a moment when George says, "Jonathan, dear boy."

INTERIOR: Spy Store - Night

It was a lot of fun to bring Patton Oswalt back for season 2, and I have him talk with great vulnerability about his G.I. Joe dolls because as a child I was inappropriately attached to my G.I. Joes. In fact, I played with them secretly up until about the age of 15. My father had forbidden me to play with them any more, he thought I was too old, so I would keep them hidden in my closet and talk to them at night before I went to bed. They had grippy hands and they held on to my hangers and clothing, like jungle vines. When I closed the closet door, I imagined they were having adventures in there. I think I was still attached to them at a late age because I had a delayed puberty and identified with their genital-free bodies.

EXTERIOR: Concrete Factory - Night

I wanted Ted and Zach to run in a serpentine fashion like Alan Arkin and Peter Falk in ‘The In-Laws' and I wanted Zach to do spin moves like John Belushi running up to the Dean's building in ‘Animal House' and the actors executed these moves beautifully. 

That night as we were about to shoot Zach running to the warehouse office, where Jonathan is being held captive, a woman from the neighborhood rushed onto the set, right up to Ted and Zach, demanding that our lights and generators be shut off. She seemed to have no awareness that Ted and Zach were brandishing weapons, albeit fake weapons. Zach tried to calm her down by saying, "M'am, this is Ted Danson," but she was still very upset. One of our producers was able to reassure her that the lights would be aturned off fairly soon, and I did feel bad that our presence was disturbing her.

Later in this scene, when the Flashbang comes rolling back towards George and Ray (I'm sorry that I sometimes use the names of the characters and sometimes the names of the actors), I asked Ted to cover Zach's body with his own, though I wasn't expecting him to drape his leg in quite that fashion, but it was incredibly funny and the resulting image reminded me, though this isn't funny, of bodies frozen for eternity in Pompeii.

INTERIOR: Warehouse, Concrete Factory – Night

This is a little bit out of order but one of my favorite scenes of the whole season is Jim Norton's delivery of his Oscar Wilde speech. I couldn't have been happier with his performance. This speech echoes something I had written in my novel WAKE UP, SIR! in which a character laments that his nose-fetish is a love that doesn't even have a name it dare not speak...

Also, I haven't read it for probably a decade, but I highly recommend Wilde's ‘De Profundis' as a beautiful and enlightening piece of writing.

EXTERIOR: New Jersey - Day

I have the bad guys driving a Zipcar because about a year ago I wanted to rent one to go visit my Great Aunt Doris at her nursing home in New Jersey, but Zipcar refused my business due to some old speeding ticket in which I had exceeded the limit by more than thirty miles per hour. So I thought it would be funny if criminals could rent a Zipcar, but a harmless writer, me, couldn't. And I have Jonathan's parents living in New Jersey, because that's where my parents live...

INTERIOR: Jonathan's Bedroom – Day

I've skipped over many things I'd like to comment on, but I'm trying to keep the length of these blogs down a little, though they are still way too long for the Internet (does anyone actually get all the way through to the end of these things? I have no idea...), and so I'll just make one final observation and that has to do with the Marty Feldman poster which is the last image of the episode. Oh, wait, I have Jonathan mention his collection of Tarzan books because I loved that series as a boy and they are still in my childhood room...

So about Marty Feldman: When I went to Jewish Y summer camp in Pennsylvania at the age of thirteen, I was the only boy in my division, Reuben, who hadn't started puberty. All the divisions were named after one of the ancient Jewish tribes, of which Reuben was a member, it having been a tribe before later becoming a sandwich. 

Anyway, I hid my small penis that whole summer and my self-esteem was rather low. Then, on top of this puberty humiliation, the other children at camp began to call me Marty Feldman, to whom I bore a resemblance, due to my red hair and misshapen nose. You see, a mentally deranged boy of ten had broken my nose when I was six years old and so it had an odd bump and hook, even for a person of Hebraic persuasion, such as myself. 

At the time, 'Young Frankenstein' was a very popular movie and Marty Feldman, who played Igor, Dr. Frankenstein's assistant in the film, was considered the ugliest man in the world, at least at the Jewish Y camp on Cedar Lake in Pennsylvania. So it was a bit upsetting when all the other kids took to calling me "Marty." How could I ever meet a girl or know love if I looked like Marty Feldman? I felt like my life was over before it had begun. What kind of future could I have if I looked like Igor? For weeks they hounded me: "Marty! Marty! Marty!" And they didn't even know that I didn't have a penis, since I took showers at six a.m. before anyone else was awake.

Then I came up with something of a solution. I went to the man who was in charge of all the camp plays and musicals, a high school theater director during the non-summer months, and I asked him if he had contacts in Hollywood. I thought that the only thing I could possibly do with my life now would be to play Marty Feldman's son. I explained all this to the theater director and he looked at me like I was nuts. He was a fussy, self-important man, and he said, "You don't look like Marty Feldman. What's your problem? Don't waste my time with such a thing."

His harshness sort of cured me, but ever since that summer I've always loved Marty Feldman and so wanted to adorn Jonathan's childhood room with a poster of him, hence the closing image of the episode.

Well, that's another blog. I thank you for getting this far if you got this far. I do want to acknowledge that these blogs are just my accounts of things having to do with 'Bored to Death,' and that I wouldn't be able to make this show without the massive input, help and guidance of all the brilliant writers, directors, actors, producers and crew-members who work with me and for whom I'm very grateful.

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