Creator's Blog

Oct 18, 2010

INTERIOR: George's Suite at the Maritime Hotel – Early Evening

I'm feeling rather sluggish and frightened today, so I don't know how this blog will go. It's a beautiful fall day out and I have every reason to be in fine spirits - Abraham Lincoln famously said that people are as happy as they want to be and I agree - but I'm low today and maybe there's no fighting it.

Anyway, about this episode: I'm quite proud, I have to say, of this opening scene. I wanted George to really confront his mortality, in response to his diagnosis of prostate cancer, and Ted Danson's performance is really something. It felt risky to have George go so 'dark,' especially in a comedy, but Ted and Jason pull off this scene with both pathos and comedy, though, naturally, my take on such things is biased. 

I have George say that he's been 'living like a demented god,' because sometimes my behavior can be out of control, and I wrote that line in my journal and then gave it to the George character. I also have him reference Joan Didion's book 'The Year of Magical Thinking,' because I was very moved by it, and all that George says in this exchange with Jonathan reflects part of my thinking on death. I can't have him espouse all my ideas on the subject - this is a comedy, not a George Bernard Shaw play - but I was glad to get across a few of these ideas. 

I did have George bring up the dandelion which turns into a tiger's paw to try to lighten things up, and also because that's a vision I had one time when I overdid it in the steam room of the Russian Baths in the East Village. At the time, after I left the steam room, I recorded that image in my little notebook and I thought it showed the connection between all living things - that we all share some essential design and connection, which is not a new theory of course, but I appreciated the visual poetry of linking something so delicate as a dandelion to its distant genetic cousin the tiger's paw, and I was also pleased by the word-play of a dandelion and tiger.

EXTERIOR/INTERIOR: Midwood College – Night

All these school scenes are shot at Brooklyn College, which we renamed Midwood College, since that's the part of Brooklyn where the campus is located. I wanted to shoot at Brooklyn College because it's where both my parents went to school - my mom for all four years and my dad for two years, before transferring to Lowell Tech, which was in Jack Kerouac's hometown of Lowell, MA. This is a small coincidence I hadn't considered, given that Jonathan's case this episode revolves around retrieving a first edition copy of Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road.'

F. Murray Abraham plays Professor Hawkins and I was so honored that an Oscar®-winning actor wanted to be in our show, and he was amazing, I think, in this role. In the scene in Professor Hawkins' office, I wanted to echo, somewhat, the famous passages in the Chandler novel (and the Bogart film) 'The Big Sleep,' in which Philip Marlowe's client, General Sternwood, is an old man in a wheel chair, surrounded by plants in a wet, humid room. And with 'The Big Sleep' in mind, I gave Professor Hawkins' lines something of a hardboiled twang, such as:

"You're not what I had in mind for a dick. I was expecting a piece of beef with shoulders."


"You come in a queer package, but you got guts. I had guts once." 

The book that Hawkins supposedly wrote, 'The Music that Kills,' is a title I stole from my own graphic novel, 'The Alcoholic.' The protagonist of 'The Alcoholic,' "Jonathan A.," is a mystery writer and one of his books is 'The Music that Kills.' I don't think anyone will pick up on this, but I'm pointing it out.

Clearly, I like to steal things from myself, maybe because I can't sue myself for plagiarism, though I have so many personalities, I probably could. Also, have I already written something just like this in an earlier blog, about stealing from myself? Or maybe I said it in an interview. I can't keep up with my own stealing and recycling. 

Anyway, I have Professor Hawkins hiring Jonathan to retrieve a copy of 'On the Road,' because Kerouac was one of my first literary heroes after I read him in high school. First there was Kurt Vonnegut, then Hunter Thompson, and then Kerouac. After I read Kerouac, I really wanted to be a writer, because I thought being a writer meant hitch-hiking around the country and having adventures. He made it all seem so romantic.

Both Professor Hawkins and Jonathan struggle with writing a second novel since that was something that really tormented me for many years. My first book, 'I Pass Like Night,' came out in 1989 and my second book, 'The Extra Man' (now a film, starring Kevin Kline and Paul Dano), came out in 1998. Those nine years, at the time, felt like an eternity, especially after 'The Extra Man' had been rejected by twenty publishers. . But then, luckily, Scribner of Simon and Schuster wanted the book, and the burden of writing and publishing a second novel, which many writers experience, was lifted from me.

EXTERIOR: Bergen Street Comics – Day

I've always been intrigued by the mixed-CDs (and mixed-tapes in my day) that people make after break-ups. I once wrote about it in an essay entitled, "Our Selves Between Us," which is in my book 'I Love You More Than You Know.' It was about a mixed-tape that an ex-girlfriend gave to me, which was this mournful and beautiful collage of songs. For a long time when I listened to it, I couldn't help but cry - she was speaking to me through the songs she had selected...

Later, my friend Dean Haspiel made such a CD after his heart was broken, but he never heard from his ex what she thought of the CD, so he gave it to me and it broke my heart. And since Ray is loosely based on Dean, I have him make such a CD, replete with personalized cover, in episode 2, and when he runs into Leah here, outside of Bergen Street Comics, he asks her if she has listened to it, but she claims she hasn't. But I believe (especially since I'm the one writing the invisible subtext) that Leah has listened to the CD and read Ray's comic, which is all about his love for her, but it's too painful to go into it, so she tells him she hasn't.

After Leah leaves, Jonathan arrives and discusses his failed insomnia cure, which I may have tried in my more resilient youth.

INTERIOR: Bergen Street Comics – Day

The girl with the elf ears, played wonderfully by Kate Micucci, is an homage to my dear friend Rev Jen, who has worn elf ears for nearly two decades. This is a shameless plug, but I was Rev Jen's literary agent, having sold her first book Live Nude Elf, which I highly recommend. She was the best client I've ever had and also the only client I've ever had, and I've since retired from being a literary agent.

INTERIOR: George's Office – Day

For a number of years, I tried to come up with winning and witty responses for the 'New Yorker' caption contest. I didn't think I could ever get a short story published in the NY'er, but I thought maybe one way to get into the magazine would be as a winner of the contest. I submitted captions maybe half-a-dozen times, but, alas, never won. So I gave this challenging pursuit to George, and it was fun to come up with a cartoon that is like a NY'er cartoon, and sure enough a few months after this script was done, I saw a cartoon in the NY'er which had the exact similar theme - someone standing on a ledge, having to be talked down...

INTERIOR: Professor Hawkins' Office – Day

Professor Hawkins' nose-swipe signal is a direct allusion to 'The Sting,' a movie I loved as a kid. We also used the nose-swipe in the skateboard episode from season 1.

EXTERIOR: Midwood College – Day

For some reason, I got obsessed with Louis Greene (John Hodgman) using his theory that Jonathan is a forceps baby as his ultimate put-down of Jonathan. I don't know why I came up with this, but I've always been disturbed by the notion of forceps babies, the idea that your whole destiny (and skull shape and possible brain function) could be determined by the improper use of skull-denting forceps. It just seems so unfair to get messed with the moment you are born.

Anyway, Greene, throughout the season, will continue to rail on, in various ways, about the shape of Jonathan's skull. 

I just want to say that it's a lot of fun for me to get to work with John Hodgman on 'Bored To Death.' He and I used to perform together years ago, and he's absolutely wonderful as Louis Greene. 

INTERIOR: Ray's Apartment – Day

I love the chemistry between Ray (Zach Galifianakis) and Jennifer Gladwell (Kristen Wiig). Kristen was so funny and unusual last season that I really wanted to bring her back and I'm very pleased that she was available. She's a fearless actress and had no qualms about going down on Zach's beard, and I think she genuinely did a get a hair stuck in her throat.

It was important to me at some point this season for Ray to mention that he has a child on the way, and this bedroom scene was a good spot for it. I didn't want viewers to think that I had forgotten this crucial plot point from season 1.

EXTERIOR: Prospect Park Woods – Day

I really love the wild section of Prospect Park, which is not manicured and has the feeling of a real forest, and I very much wanted Jonathan to have a fight scene there. As a kid, I used to love to play 'war' in the woods near my house and while shooting this scene, I realized I was getting to recreate my childhood fantasies. Unfortunately, we weren't able to actually shoot in Prospect Park, but we found a magnificent and enormous park on the edge of Queens, whose name escapes me, and it served our purposes beautifully, standing in for Prospect Park.

I haven't seen the film of 'Lord of the Flies' in probably twenty-five years, but I've never forgotten the moment when Piggy has his eyeglasses crushed. I remember being emotionally devastated, so I wanted to echo, somewhat, this scene when I have Louis Greene's spectacles stepped on by the drug-dealers. I have to say watching John Hodgman be terrorized by the thugs, while he crawls about pathetically, was rather disturbing. I was standing in the woods above him, not watching through the monitor, and it was rather chilling. So I was very happy to send in Jonathan to the rescue.

INTERIOR: George's Apartment – Night

I had initially thought that the episode could begin with the camera outside of George's window. Then we would slowly come in and see George and Jonathan talking, kind of a re-creation of the opening shot of Hitchcock's 'Psycho,' and then at the end of the episode we would reverse that shot - start inside and then have the camera go outside. 

Well, we didn't have time to do the opening shot this way, though I'm very pleased with how we do begin - with George in the circular window - but we did have time to pull off the ending shot, and I'm biased, but I think it's a beauty. I love the feeling it conveys - that after being so intimate with George and Jonathan, we now pull back and are reminded that they are just two people in an enormous, polyglot city, and so it makes you wonder what's going on behind all the other countless windows. What other mad stories are we missing out on?

This is the second time in this blog that I'm going to reference the old 'Batman' TV show, but one of the things I loved about that program when I was a kid, were the moments when Batman and Robin would scale an apartment building. As they climbed up the side of the building, invariably people would stick their heads out and talk to Batman and Robin, and I always loved this feeling of wondering who these people were and what was their story? It's also, on a more sophisticated level, part of the appeal of Hitchcock's 'Rear Window,' one of my favorite films of all time, and so all of this adds to the pleasure I take in our final shot, when George and Jonathan become just two more people in a city of infinite pairings and friendships.

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