Category Archives: Film and Television

Can a Good TV Drama Exist Sans Guns/Killing/Cops? (Beau Knows Shows)

Many TV showrunners, like chefs, or basketball coaches, delineate from a “tree” (please excuse the mixed metaphor, but I think you know what I’m getting at.)

That tree, in some ways, describes the writer’s journey and informs their process. I often wonder, especially concerning some of my favorite writers’ and showrunners’ work, what/who informed their work the most. I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about this, or trying to get the answers, because, honestly, I’ve probably already dived in to their influences (as long as it’s not pre-TWILIGHT ZONE, or unless it’s ultra-obscure foreign stuff.)

A few days back, Beau Willimon (creator/showrunner of Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS, one of the most outstanding shows out there) asked via Twitter:

“How many good TV dramas DON’T have:

  1. Guns and/or
  2. Killing and/or
  3. Cops/Criminals

Very few. We need to expand (our) storytelling.”

Beau’s question stuck with me. If I remember correctly, I can remember Beau saying in an interview, I think, how he, in a roundabout way, delineated from the Tom Fontana (ST. ELSEWHERE, HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, OZ) tree? Or at least stated him as an influence? Indeed, I could be 100% wrong about this, I might be thinking about Vince Gilligan. I can’t remember.

In any event, I started thinking about Beau’s question. I wanted to contextualize his question too.

If one were to look on imdb, there’s not a whole lot there in the way of credits pre-HOUSE OF CARDS for Beau Willimon, which reminds me very much of myself (: and this tells me that Beau, much like the brilliant Mickey Fisher (EXTANT) is one of those guys that “emerged from nowhere and became a show creator.”

Yes, I know how ludicrous that is. NO ONE comes out of thin air to be a show creator. You’ve got to know your shit in a way that borders on RAINMAN-esque to get there. Especially if you’re not part of the Ivy League or USC or NYU mafia, like myself. It can take years and years and years of bad scripts, mediocre scripts, good scripts, then great scripts, to even get a couple of connections that will in turn, get your work noticed.

Connections are huge because you can’t make it alone in this business. You need someone to lead the charge. This is the hardest part, finding someone who believes, who will get you to your destination without ripping you off. The great writers, they’re usually somewhat socially awkward, but the conveyors see something in you, a spark. And then you have that one awesome project, pitched at exactly the right time, and a ton of people love it, and then, maybe, it happens, all while you’re hopefully already working on the next thing or two…

Whoa…that was something of a digression…the point is, to earn the credit of “show creator” there is a lot that must go right, at a lot of stages, for that man or woman.

Ten years ago my path, after writing many features, changed dramatically. I realized, via OZ and THE SOPRANOS, that serial TV drama was the future (which is now here) and so I wrote my first spec pilot in 2006. The show I wrote, and subsequently pitched, THE CLUB, I described as: “CHEERS, except it’s an R-rated 1 hour ensemble drama that takes place in LA.”

This was not a bad place for me to start. I actually still think, even 10 years later, the idea has some merit. Sure, ensembles are still, for the most part, despised by networks and EP’s alike. The logic is, without a central hero / anti-hero to root for, who is the audience going to latch on to or want to tune in to see? I don’t completely disagree, though I would ask, who was the hero of THE WIRE? Or, SKINS? Or, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? Or, TWIN PEAKS?

Anyway…

The development guy and the TV director’s assistant who both read my very first draft of my very first TV pilot script each had another crushing critique. They said, “Nothing happens! I mean, the characters are cool, and their dialogue’s great, but there’s no cops, no lawyers, no violence, barely any drugs and a lot of sex. There’s no danger so there’s no drama. No one will watch this until there’s more violence and less sex.”

I’d counter that there was tons of conflict between the characters, and that the conflicts and the dilemmas the characters faced, THIS was what drove the drama, not fucking guns or the possibility of death. How many people face life-or-death circumstances on a daily basis, anyway?

Unfortunately for me, my readers were rooted in the default idea of what a TV drama needed to be, or needed to have. This default still exists to some extent in the US.

It was at this point that I knew I needed to “go back to film school” in a way. At San Francisco State, we’d done a good amount of film history, theory and got great technical training (thanks to Danny Glover and Annette Benning and other alums, we had the first non-linear editing bay of ANY film school… yes, I’m THAT old.) But TV storytelling was somewhat overlooked, by me anyway, as it was seen as a reject pile, the writers who weren’t good enough to be movie writers so they ended up in TV…

(Ah, the conceit of a know-it-all film school student…)

I was a novice and I knew it. So I dove in to anything and everything I could, anything that was at least considered above average. Stuff that had commentary I’d watch once all the way through for the enjoyment, then one more time to outline how they’d broken their story while listening to any/all DVD commentary. Thank God for those commentaries. I sort of went to the Tarantino school of TV in a way, using the Q method of checking out as much quality stuff possible (and some of the bad too, to know what NOT to do.)

I think my tree is pretty broad, because of this. Going way back to Rod Serling, to Bruce Paltrow, to Tom Fontana, to Shawn Ryan, to Dave Simon or to Ron Moore or… I could literally go on and on and on…

Anyway, I re-worked that pilot script so much that, while it did morph into something decent enough to get me meetings, it ultimately wasn’t a script I liked or a show that I believed in. One creative exec finally told me that this was a project I should try to pitch again in the future, because it’ll sell once I have some credits. Who knows?

Maybe she was right. Maybe someday I’ll follow her advice, but I don’t like dusting off my old stuff.

Too painful!

Okay, back to Beau’s question because I’ve been obsessing about shows and even reevaluating my approach. He reminded me that it has been a personal quest of mine to one day write a great drama that has hardly any guns, killing or cops. (I immediately thought of the original British version of HOUSE OF CARDS, as well as the outstanding STATE OF PLAY, when he posed the question.)

Some of my favorite shows ever, surprisingly to me, were not so hugely dependent on the gun, or on killing, or on cops, and perhaps, PERHAPS, using such tools may some day fall into the dreaded “lazy writing” box.

Without further ado, here are my favorites, a TOP 13 LIST of non-gun, non-killing, non-cop 1 hour dramas, including a few faves from the “old school.” Most of these shows are off the air now. Think of this list as one “season” of shows, lol.

  1. THE KNICK
  2. MR. ROBOT (guns & killing used, but definitely not relied on)
  3. THE WIRE (yes, there were cops, guns, killing, but this show had so much more going on driving the narrative)
  4. SKINS (the Brit version)
  5. DEADWOOD (some killing, but again, not relied on)
  6. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (the reboot)
  7. THE WHITE SHADOW (I’m the son of a basketball coach, after all)
  8. HOUSE OF CARDS (US version)
  9. THE TWILIGHT ZONE
  10. THE PRISONER
  11. HALT & CATCH FIRE
  12. ST. ELSEWHERE
  13. QUANTUM LEAP

I think all of these shows are so great for wildly different reasons. All are NECESSARY viewing if you want to write TV in my opinion. A common thread of these shows’ success was their DEPENDENCE on the strength and depth of the characters, their relationships, and how well crafted the conflicts and dilemmas were. In fact, these shows are so dependent on character development THAT DOES NOT DEPEND ON guns or killing or being/evading cops, that, when those violent elements pop up in these shows, they’re that much more jarring and/or effective.

Beau Willimon is 100% correct, we DO need to expand our storytelling. We need some VU DEJA, so to speak. We must look at what we’ve seen before as if we are seeing it for the very first time.

Because, while there are certainly other shows that don’t make my list due to the fact that they have so much in the way of guns / cops / killing (and they may even be shows that I like more) I must now look at those shows with a more critical eye, as they may be more reliant on a default approach than I initially realized.

THE WHITE SHADOW highlighted great character conflicts/dilemmas, and tied them into a bigger social commentary. There was little need for guns/killing/cops to drive this very compelling dramatic story.

THE WHITE SHADOW highlighted great character conflicts/dilemmas, and wove them into a bigger social commentary. There was so little need for guns/killing/cops to heighten the stakes, and somehow this was still a very compelling dramatic story.

Order: 1 Hokey, 1 Cringe Inducing, Mistake of a Movie. And 1 Cooking Mafia Echo Chamber Ass Kiss Fest On the Fly! Yes, CHEF.

WARNING: This is just one man’s opinion. That is all that this is.

A few nights ago, Hope and I watched the movie, CHEF, on demand. Both of us are cooks. We’ve worked decades in pro kitchens and restaurants, and been FOH and BOH. We’ve worked every single job, from dishwasher, busser, waiter, host, prep cook, line cook, expediter, caterer, sandwich maker, manager, owner, menu maker, recipe creator, even accountant, etc and so on and so forth. We’d been looking forward to seeing a movie that all the talking heads of the cooking entertainment world said got the details right.

Finally. The movie that gets it right. We’d been stoked to see this for awhile.

Hope and I, five minutes in, were like, holy shit, this is fucking terrible.

I will say this: I give Jon Favreau credit for wanting to get some things right – like how he held his knife, or how to execute a grilled cheese or a Cubano properly, or how some restaurant owners are obtuse dickheads who make no sense, or how Food PR people / Managers / Agents can be just so totally lame.

And pretty much everything else in the movie? Wrong, wronger, WRONGEST. Like the writing. The story. The characters. The dialogue. The acting. And the plethora of cooking details that were so incorrect that literally every single scene in the movie was a train wreck.

I feel like Pete Wells must have felt when he went into Guy Fieri’s restaurant in Times Square.

This movie does not deserve to call itself CHEF. Instead, I’d propose, “Jon Favreau’s Chef Fantasy Fulfillment” Written by, Directed by and Starring, you guessed it, Jon Favreau.

The movie did provide a great deal of laughter. Unintentional laughter. On Bill Simmons’ Unintentional Comedy Ratings Scale, I’d rate this movie a 96 out of 100.

http://proxy.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/021107

96: The scene from MTV’s “25 Lamest Videos of All-Time” when Vanilla Ice destroyed the set (as Janeane Garofalo and Jon Stewart cowered and Chris Kattan shrieked “No, Vanilla!”) … Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in “Pumping Iron” … Andrew Shue’s performance on “Melrose Place” … Mike Tyson saying, “I guess I’ll fade into Bolivian” after the Lewis fight … Michael Irvin defending himself at the “Shaq Roast 2” with, “They can talk about me like they want to, but, um, I got my money… so matter what you all say, Mike black, but Mike rich!”

CHEF is at that level of a disaster. From the opening minute.

Let us begin with something that figures prominently in this catastrophe… a tweet:

“‏@Bourdain Apr 30 Trying to think of another Western film that got the pro-cooking details as right as @ChefTheMovie . Can’t. Filled with Inside Baseball.”

BULLSHIT!

Notice that he does not make any mention of whether the movie is actually any good or not. Be attentive to the detail that he says “Western” film. I guess this implies there was an “Eastern” film that gets the pro-cooking details right. Which reminds us that he is worldly. He is. We all know this. And yet this is irrelevant. What IS relevant is that this is a clear example of how the cooking mafia sticks together, even when something is totally dogshit and horrendously unbelievable.

See, his buddy, business partner, and heir apparent Roy Choi put his name on the movie. So, let the ass kissing commence! Would Bourdain say anything different? Would Roy Choi ever be critical of anything Bourdain might say? Who cares if people get the wrong idea? The dopes will still buy the product, right? Because Anthony Bourdain’s opinion has cred. Roy Choi’s opinion has cred. Among lay people. Among cooks. Among cultures far and wide.

But I ain’t buyin it any more guys.

I’ve met Roy Choi a few times. One time was at the LA premiere of the movie SUPERMENSCH, the story of Shep Gordon, who is one of the guys responsible for driving this taste making / celebrity chef creating train that’s steaming it’s way through American culture. I want anyone reading this to know that Roy Choi struck me as a genuinely nice and humble dude, maybe a little bit shy (though maybe everyone seems a little shy next to Shep Gordon.)

Anyway, the SUPERMENSCH movie took a back seat to Shep constantly talking about how Roy’s empire is growing, how Roy’s brand is exploding, how Roy’s the biggest thing in cooking these days, how Roy’s bringing food to the people, how Roy’s got a new book coming out and blah blah blah. Roy, to his credit, was trying to stay humble throughout Shep’s gushing.

So I asked Shep, what about HIS food? What does the culinary luminary Shep Gordon like to cook? What’s his best dish, or signature? Shep seemed a little taken aback. Because, um, who cares? Which led me to remember something…

Everyone in the US, we’re all brands now. Not just entertainers. ALL OF US.

We’re stocks. Some days we’re sold short. Other days we’re bought up like there’s no tomorrow. And brutally, this is how most people in business management see the rest of us. Are we on the rise? Are we marketable? Do we have value?

Shep is as shrewd of a business manager as they make.

Shep’s SUPERMENSCH balance sheet includes training with an uberfamous chef in France. Which I thought was cool. But then, when I ask Shep what he really enjoys cooking, what he’s passionate about creating, he can’t give me an answer? I guarantee that everyone in that theater wanted to know. But, since it wasn’t part of his agenda, because it didn’t fit in the echo chamber of kiss assery that’s going on, no answer would be given.

And that’s when I called bullshit on him in my own mind, and now I call it out on the page. Funny enough, somewhere in the midst of the Q and A, Roy blurted out that Shep makes a mean BBQ Shrimp. I think he knew the question needed to be answered. But it needed to be answered by Shep.

I mean, you’re not passionate enough about cooking that you can’t think on it and say, I really like making a fucking badass roast chicken? Or a badass SOMETHING?

And you’re the guy who’s managing this whole American Food Culture craze?

Anyway, the SUPERMENSCH movie, the ass kiss fest that it is, and the subsequent Q&A love fest that Roy moderated, it all left me thinking, Jesus, has this cooking entertainment industry gotten to the point that everyone is out there just kissing everyone else’s ass, and that’s like, a lot of what they do? Either kissing someone’s ass or getting their ass kissed? Is this part of a chef’s purpose?

Listen, these guys put in hours and hours and hours on the line. They had to. And that alone gets my respect. But what the hell? After that do we just sell out because I guess we all gotta sell out all the way, right?

My friends Rick and Jack knew Shep back in the day. Their nickname for him was Shemp, as in the 3 stooges character. They said he was a sneaky sleeze just like all the music managers back then, and that when the drug shit got too hectic, Shemp was the first guy to run for the hills.

That Shemp couldn’t even tell me what he liked cooking bugged me. That no one else was bothered by this drives me nuts and still burns me up.

I mean, when will the emperor wears no clothes moment come for these guys?

So, Roy Choi approved so much that was so wrong in this movie CHEF. And he not only gets a pass but he gets congratulated? Now that totally pisses me off.

I think something's burning...

Something’s burning guys… It’s your cred.

“Roy said ‘I’ll do it but you have to get the kitchen right. Movies always get it wrong. I’ll do everything you need. I’ll train you, do the menus, look over your scripts, help you in the editing room. Whatever you want. But you have to promise you’ll get the details right.’ I said that’s all I ever want to do. That’s the way I work. That’s exactly what I had in mind as well.” – Jon Favreau

Either Jon Favreau is embellishing, or Roy Choi phoned it in. Either way, I don’t trust anything that any of these people say anymore after this movie. And you shouldn’t either. And this ain’t about begrudging some other guy for his success.

It’s about calling out these “luminaries” as the cash grabber stashers they are. And they’re all in league. And they’re trying to get you to buy their brand. Period.

First scene in the movie: “Chef” Carl Caspar, the executive chef of Hatfield’s, or, whatever they called the restaurant (it was shot in Hatfield’s.) He’s doin a little something I like to call, meezing off a shit ton of shit. And did I mention he’s holding the knife correctly and his knife skills look legit? Great. So far so good?

Two problems here in the first minute! First, how many times have I seen the Executive Chef of a place doing all the prep, by himself, in the early off hours? Never. Not once. As in NEVER. Second problem, he goes outside, to leave for the farmer’s market (which is like an um… okayyyyy… kind of decision on the day of your place’s most important service. Still, I was willing to give it a pass if he was going to his truffle guy or his boar guy or his rabbit guy or his shark fin guy or something like that… but no, it’s for ramps or radishes or some shit that he could easily order!)  then he knocks on his sous’ car window to wake him.

See, his sous crashed in the restaurant’s lot and passed out there after he drank too much the night before. How responsible. Sort of believable even. Then I thought, how many restaurants in LA have their own parking lots? Not many. Hm. Okay. Let that go Jefferson. It’s a detail that doesn’t matter. But then, I’m thinking of my Big Nights, the pressure packed day and night that came along with some critic coming in, or some VIPs who might be coming in, or a camera crew might be shooting a segment or whatever as it were, and, in this movie, it’s the morning of the most important service his restaurant has ever done, and his sous is so hungover that he looks like he might barf in the food?

Maybe my cooking family tree was uptight. I’ll admit that. But I know if I’d done this kind of shit, it might get my ass fired, or, at the very least, I’d piss off the chef. How’s his sous going to taste anything for the next few hours? Dunno. But none of this bothers “Chef” Carl even a little. Doesn’t make him anxious. Nothing. I pause the movie.

I ask Hope a bunch of questions. I decide it’s okay it’s just a movie. BUT WAIT! They said they were gonna get it right. So, no, it’s not okay.

Do they think this part of the script works because he and his sous have gone to war before? Alright. I guess.

I take the movie off of pause.

“Chef” Carl then goes to the farmer’s market with his son. The kid who plays his son was the best actor in the movie, and with that terrible script, the kid still managed to be sort of believable, even if the relationship he has with his father is not. The kid wants kettle corn. The “chef” dad wants him to have fruit. Awkward and weird moments ensue from there. The kid says something about wanting to go to New Orleans. This reminds me of my first trip there, when I was 13. I tell Hope that this movie is definitely going to take these guys to New Orleans, and the kid will definitely eat a beignet (which happened of course.) Then, “Chef” Carl ends up getting a sausage hoagie and walking around with the kid for awhile like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Good thing he did all that prep in the morning. By himself. Anyway.

Back to the restaurant we go. Sous chef dude Bobby Cannavale is now totally fine. Maybe someone “brought him water.” Jon Leguizamo looks and acts the part of a line cook, reminds me a lot of my buddy Adriano, who I worked on the line with a few years back. The movie should’ve had Adriano starring. Or Leguizamo. It might have given the movie a chance.

Uh oh. Wait a minute. Where are the Mexicans? There’s not one Mexican person in the back of the house? Seriously, you wanted to get the details of a kitchen (in LA!) right, and there are no Mexicans in the kitchen?

What was that stuff about getting the details right?

Oh yeah, I forgot, you were bullshitting us.

Where are the nicknames?! COME ON! Someone calls him Jefe? Jefecito?

Are you fucking kidding me? My name is Jeff and NO ONE in any kitchen I’ve worked in would EVER call me, or any white guy, Jefe.

Joto? Absolutely. Pelon? That was my nickname in 2 kitchens. Way? Way. Puta? Limpio? Culo? Ano? Uno?

I mean, the list goes on and on and on and on.

Si Mon!

Oh man. Where are you Roy? It’s getting worse: supposedly, this chef made his name in Miami, but it’s made abundantly clear he doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish. RIGHT! Try speaking no Spanish in a kitchen in Miami or LA and see what happens. Imposible! Pinche toro! Mierda de caballo! Hijo de puuuuuta!

Scarlett Johansson is the hot hostess. This character is like that decorative garnish that you can’t eat. Totally unnecessary. And the moment when he cooks her pasta. Embarrassing for everyone involved. By everyone, I mean, all of humanity. She seriously seems like she’s going to orgasm as she watches him make PASTA. As she eats PASTA. It’s laugh out loud funny that it’s sooo forced and bad! 100 out of 100 on the Unintentional Comedy Rating scale.

If only we could all cook pasta like "Chef" Carl Caspar...

If only we all cooked pasta like “Chef” Carl Caspar…

Sofia Vergara’s character does what exactly? She’s his ex, she’s a socialite? Their relationship makes no sense whatsoever.

Apparently the “chef” and the restaurant owner haven’t really talked over the menu for the night. Huh? Hold on a second. It’s the most important service in the restaurant’s history and the menu has not been discussed? Until the day of service? Dude! Where are you Roy? How could this be missed?

A famous food blogger, like Oliver Pratt, has as much power as this guy supposedly does? Really? I can’t even give you the name of more than 3 food bloggers who matter.

Oh my God. “Chef” Carl has never even heard of Twitter? Twitter is the whole reason that the Kogi Truck blew up. I guess this guy is the anti-Roy Choi?

Now it’s just getting looney. “Chef” Carl decides the day after the bad review that he’s going to make the menu he really wanted to make the day the famous food blogger came to town. Restaurant owner be damned. And wouldn’t you know it, after a wholly unbelievable twitter flame war misunderstanding, the famous food blogger agrees to re-review the restaurant. Nice of him. BUT of course the mean restaurant owner won’t budge because the clientele expects the menu to be exactly the same. Every day. Ad infinitum. So, the bad review, by the most famous food blogger in food, who says the restaurant’s food was boring, this means nothing to the restaurant owner. And I’ve seen this kind of argument a thousand times. Never have I seen it happen in front of an entire crew.

“Chef” Carl couldn’t make new menu items that sound like the old stuff?

“Chef” Carl couldn’t negotiate even one new menu item with this owner?

All of this leads “Chef” Carl to do something that I have never seen an Executive Chef do. He quits minutes before a service. He quits. Yes, line cooks do it all the time. I think I’ve even seen a Sous do it. Have I seen Chef’s quit during a service? Totally. But an Executive Chef quitting minutes BEFORE? I guess it could happen, but I’ve never seen it, just like I have never seen a car explode, though I suppose one could.

So “Chef” Carl goes home and he makes the menu he really wanted to make anyway, in a mad fit. I’m actually back on board. I’m thinking, cool, this guy’s going to go out on the floor and bring this reviewer guy the food he really wanted to make him. Or he’ll send the reviewer guy pictures of it. This movie has hope.

But no! He makes the food, and then? Who knows what happened to the actual food! Did he throw it away? Who knows? What we do know is “Chef” Carl goes back to the restaurant, he doesn’t bring the food, he goes on a rant about how to make a molten cake, how the bad review hurts, and blah blah blah.

I could go on about more things the movie got wrong. Like the fact that this guy’s food truck is making Cubanos from town to town. Yeah? So how is he sourcing his bread? I mean, if you’ve ever done sandwiches, you know that the bread is the biggest key. This movie doesn’t even bother with the question of the bread. People follow the truck everywhere, they’re totally slammed, the 10 year old kid has people waving money at him, his dad throws him on the line and he’s in the hopper but yet, the kid’s totally fine and they all have a dandy time! No sweat!

Such a load of bullshit. I’m over it. I’m over this whole make believe thing. The details weren’t right.

Roy didn’t give two shits about the details. Maybe he gave one shit. Maybe. Or maybe those guys just hung out and had a good time and made food together and he let Favreau play line cook for a day. But the details, that inside baseball that was better than any Western movie? They suffered so greatly that the superfamous food blogger guy is going to bankroll “Chef” Carl’s next restaurant at the end of the movie, cynically deciding that the derisiveness of their relationship will generate hundreds and hundreds of covers a night. Apparently foodblogging makes people millionaires these days.

“Throughout the cooks language and camaraderie is exactly right and should make anyone want to be a cook, because cooks are almost unfailingly the best people to hang with. Period. As Jon Leguizamo makes ebulliently clear in his great performance. Other great details the movie gets right. Cornstarch. Guy cooks know and it works. See the movie if you want more.” – Michael Ruhlman

So Ruhlman takes the piss out of all of it a little bit. Good for him. Who knows what he really thinks about the movie. He could be sarcastic the whole way or just for part of it. I have no idea. I do know Ruhlman’s cookbooks are awesome and helpful. I’m surprised that Favreau didn’t give him credit for The Elements of Cooking, which Favreau probably referenced. If he didn’t, he should’ve.

But anyway who gives a shit about cred? Who slaves over details? A chef does. A writer does. A filmmaker does.

But mostly, a chef does.

So I’m disappointed, I’m pissed off, and I’m still waiting for the movie that gets it right.

Robin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014)

“O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

 

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.

 

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.”
Walt Whitman
This guy made me want to sit on rooftops and let out barbaric YAWPS!

This guy made me want to let out barbaric YAWPS!

So it’s been about 24 hours since the news surfaced that Robin Williams indeed has died by suicide. I have never seen a comedian who was so quick, so fearless, so damn funny. A whirling tornado of crowd work, act outs and witty prepared bits, there’s not a comedian I know who didn’t consider him one of the all-time greats at this art form.

As an actor, his range is unmatched: Mrs. Doubtfire to World’s Greatest Dad, from Good Will Hunting to Mork. The Fisher King. Dead Poet’s Society. 24 Hour Photo. Awakenings. The World According to Garp. The masks of tragedy and comedy seamlessly adhered to his essence, a virtuoso performer that always left me saying, man, no other actor could have pulled off that role but him…

I’m not the only person to have been touched by the man’s performances, and as so many of us mourn this loss, it’s exceptionally difficult to find solace or a silver lining this time. It’s as if the compelling drive of stand up comedy has screeched to a halt, and silence reigns.

Where’s the light at the end of this tunnel? As I stop to think about Robin Williams’ work, I feel as if I just want to scream: approach your life with fearlessness, for it’s only life…approach your work with passion, for it’s your work, so make it the kind of work that matters to you…and approach others with warmth, because warmth is just so much better than cold.

In the end, what I hope to take from this senseless death is to continue striving to discover the answer to one question: How good can I be?

And maybe that’s what is so sad about this – because when a guy like Robin Williams – with money and talent and family and adoration and seemingly endless possibilities decides that he doesn’t care about the answer to that one question, it’s like a sting that ripples through all of us who hope to create great works that might possibly enrich people’s lives.

Rest in peace Mr. Williams. For you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills.