Our job as writers on this sixth-season show was to build another level upon the sixty-episode edifice already erected on which to scratch an original, or at least not totally cliched, sentiment. Save for The Show Runner, I was the oldest writer in the room, which itself made me an example of our diversity, discrimination against older writers being the subject of occasional Writers Guild of America emails urging showrunners to consider scribblers over forty. There was no one type in our room but instead an array of the intelligent and insecure …. Surely, my peers thought to themselves, by their mid-forties they would be show runners themselves. In this frequently alleged era of peak TV, we accredited television writers more pigs in shit. What was my excuse for not having my own drama on one of the premium cables or a subscription service?
I have a feeling there’s some overarching metaphor in this story that writers – people who’ve been through MFA workshops and agent presentations and marketing meetings and, yes, TV writing rooms – would recognize. I’m afraid it escapes me, though, so for the second time in two stories, I’m a bit at a loss. And I don’t even have grief to fall back on. There is a death in the story, but grief feels pretty far away. Then again, as I’ve mentioned in the other grief stories, everyone grieves differently.
I tend to like stories about writers, but I’m not sure what the actual story is. There’s the writing room thread, a bunch of writers trying to come up with Season Six. None of the writers has names (but the girl who types up the notes does), and the Show Runner is referred to by that title, which, as I understand it (which is not very far) is a Big Deal in show business.
We lived like house plants in desperate need of the sunshine of his praise. Otherwise we withered. Beneath the joviality, the witticisms, the laughter, was seething competition and bitter resentment of the smallest successes of one of our peers.
There’s the story of our narrator and his roommate, The Bick, an older physician fallen on hard times since his pain clinic, aka pill mill, got shut down, and his gambling has cleared out his substantial nest egg though not enough to diminish his drug habit. And then there’s our narrator, who becomes this guy’s roommate for reasons that aren’t explained.
If at one point I had imagined I would be a steadying influence on The Bick , it quickly became clear that instead of being rescued by the life preserver thrown by me into his vortex, he would pull me down with him.
And that’s basically it. Those three threads interlace but really don’t go anywhere. The Bick shows up at a work party and The Show Runner recognizes him as a great character, so he becomes a model for the Season Six villain. “We were only as good as our villain,” which is one of those writing truisms that’s so corny it hurts to hear but happens to be true. But the character Bick ends up something else, is turned into a woman, and the writers move on.
The Bick himself isn’t so lucky, as he ends up with cancer, making his pill habit convenient and appropriate. Our narrator starts out with a brilliant idea under the influence of Oxy, then loses it in the final draft and ends up in rehab but relapses before the ink is dry on his discharge papers.
If I sound like I’m just listing plot points, it’s because I am. That’s how the story read. Maybe it was supposed to, a clichéd script from a bad TV show. The irony of the title goes with the absurdity of the writing staff, but that doesn’t feel like that’s where the story is. The moment that makes me think this is all meta comes at the end, when the narrator sums it all up:
So I went nowhere, gained nothing, didn’t change or improve my being or consciousness in any way, and certainly didn’t learn a damn thing from The Bick’s dying.
That’s such a writing trope – the character changes, or, if he doesn’t change, goes into some self-analysis to realize the fatal flaw that keeps him from changing, some kind of epiphany either way – that it made me wonder if the story is about an author – Greenfeld – trying to write a story but his characters keep screwing it up on him. I used to hear writers talk about characters as if they had wills and motivations of their own, independent of the writer. “My character did something totally unexpected and now I have a different story to write.” “My character just won’t do what I need him to do.” “I’m fighting with my character, she’s decided to go a different way so I’m going to follow and see what happens.” I never understood that. Maybe that’s why I was never any good as a fiction writer. Or maybe it doesn’t really happen. The people who said that were in the wannabe stage.
Then again, I checked Greenfeld’s bio: he did some work on tv/movies. Maybe this is just his experience, something he wanted to get out of his head. I’ve read several of his other stories and quite liked them – one in particular I was quite impressed with – so I was a bit disappointed here. Not in him; in me. That I wasn’t able to read what was there.