Monday, December 18, 2006

Molly Marcy: It Puts the Lotion on Its Skin Or Else It Gets the Hose Again

When I was sitting there watching Ryan Sage's new spec pilot, "Molly Marcy," I was repeatedly reminded of the scene in "The Silence of the Lambs" when the shivering naked girl is down at the bottom of the well, and the abductor is asking for the lotion back, her pelt being adequately tenderized for the moment, saying, "it puts the lotion in the basket" -- because what writer/director Sage has done is to skin the sitcom-genre alive, tan its hide, carefully cut it on the bias with leather shears, sew the pieces neatly back together into a form-fitting suede jumpsuit, and then march around his victim's twitching corpse proudly wearing its former epidermis while noisily sucking his thumb, giggling and singing the theme song to Gilligan's Island.

Frickin' HY-larious. I'm not kidding. I was crying in parts. And the only time in recent memory that I can remember doing that was during Borat.

And I wasn't alone, but my reaction was hardly the rule: the pilot breaks so many conventions while at the same time seeming to adhere to them that most of the test audience seemed genuinely mystified.

Not a surprise. It will appeal to about 10% of any audience, but that 10% will absolutely love it. (Actually, a ten-share is considered a hit on TV these days, now that I think of it.)

I've never seen a more perfect manifestation of
John Barth's seminal 1967 essay, "The Literature of Exhaustion,", which was recently republished in a collection of what Barth called, the Friday stuff: essays and musings written on the one day of the week when he wrote only nonfiction. These days that would be called, "blogging." But I digress.

Barth's little essay on that-which-would-become-known-as-postmodernism, examined just what the fark a writer is supposed to do when every conceivable idea, execution, theme, permutation, variation, twist, plot device, character trait, or physical setting has been done, and then done again, and then done again and again and again.

How is one to lapse into anything but cliché if all of the monkeys at all of the typewriters have already had their turn by the time it's your turn at the keyboard?

Barth's answer -- and Ryan Sage's -- is called, metafiction -- fiction about fiction, recursive writing that bends back on itself, distorted and self-reflexive like a hallway of funhouse mirrors reflecting each other -- but with absolutely nothing in between to reflect besides themselves.

For both Barth and Sage, the journey is a fun and absurd exercise in futility.

Sage's first spec pilot,
As Seen On TV won last year's Independent Television Festival for best comedy and best script, and after watching his second spec pilot, one can't help but wonder how much of the intensity with which he skewers sitcom conventions wasn't the natural chemical reaction of a guy with this much talent getting told "No" over and over again by suits with significantly less talent of their own and even less interest in greenlighting anything that could conceivably get them fired. For the person who would greenlight Molly Marcy would have to have the giant balls of steel, and such things are quite well known to be mythical-to-non-existent in Hollywood, the land of big mortgages, expensive private schools, and 4-figure car payments. No one gets fired in Hollywood for saying no. That is their job, as gatekeepers, to say no, and only to say yes when the blame can be clearly assigned to someone other than themselves. I don't blame them, actually. 80% of everything fails, so why risk it? But guess what, gatekeepers?






Molly Marcy is an expertly written and wonderfully acted goof on the sitcom genre itself and how there is just simply nothing left to do with it except to turn it inside out and wear it as a clown-suit (with an "M" on the lapel).

The "M" on the lapel in the photograph above is on the shirt of the eponymous star, Molly Marcy (Anna Bocci, who plays the role with boundless energy and perfect comic obliviousness and enthusiasm -- a role itself a postmodern permutation of her starring role in Sage's first pilot), the do-gooding daughter of an evil Republican father who has made his millions as a weapons manufacturer (Nick Searcy, a somewhat less-than-evil man who is known in some Hollywood circles as, "the greatest American since John Wayne," for reasons which cannot be discussed). Besides her father (and reality), Molly's main antagonist is the sardonic wheelchair-bound Frank (Loy Edge), who got the night's biggest laugh with his reaction to accidentally being shot by Molly.

Frank's wife, Dobby (played by the why-the-hell-isn't-she-much-much-more-famous Helen Greenberg who is best known as the receptionist who says, "I'm sorry," on Dharma & Greg and also had a recurring role on my personal favorite crime-it-only-went-two-years sitcom, Ned and Stacy)is Molly's best friend and unwitting accomplice. Rounding out the talent-laden front line is a great newcomer of a little girl -- Hannah Bubrick -- who deadpans her way past Molly's insanity and right into your heart.

The other great surprise appearance is by the show's headwriter (pipe-smokingly played by Jason Duplissea) who comes on to explain a certain plot-twist -- and defend himself against a certain outraged lead actress, in a moment that I won't spoil for you otherwise.

The pilot itself was followed by a bunch of MM shorts that were more "conventionally" funny, or more accurately, got a bunch more laughs because the where and the why of when you were supposed to laugh was made more clear. Like the pilot, the shorts are delighfully perverse, and apparently, the whole batch should be coming to you soon via or one of the other new media outlets for the outletting of uncategorizeable stuff like MM.

Sad, in a way, that Molly Marcy will most likely "only" end up on youtube (I say "only" because youtube is now getting 30 million viewers a night, whereas all the broadcast networks combined are "only" getting 20 million per night); I think that Molly Marcy could be a case, like Ben Stiller's brilliant Heat Vision and Jack (and famously almost like Seinfeld), where the studios are SO sure the audience won't get it (because, they -- the types who wind up with greenlighting power in development departments across town -- don't themselves get it) that they never even take the chance. Sad.

This pilot has close to ZERO chance of getting on the NBC primetime schedule this fall... and maybe that is one of the reasons NBC lost one billion dollars last year.

The sitcom is officially dead. Long live Molly Marcy.

(Almost forgot: the title-sequence graphics by Milan Erceg are almost worth the price of admission alone. Exquisite.)


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