Thursday, January 27, 2022

TV Scripts Offer Great Writing

I know the Blood Red Pencil blog is about writing, but TV scripts are written, so give me a little latitude here. Nowadays, some of the best suspense/thriller/mystery writing is coming out of TV scripts. My husband and I never streamed series TV until late last year, but because of the coronavirus, contentious political TV, and movies we’ve seen a dozen times, we decided to settle in for some serious watching. Here are a few of the great shows that hooked us.

After I found out Blacklist (Netflix) wasn’t about the 1950s House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), something that always fascinated me, I didn’t particularly want to watch it, but I like James Spader, so I thought it was worth a try. We loved it. Eight seasons, with 22 shows per season later, we can’t wait for season 9. If you like crime fiction and can overlook the stories’ impossibilities and suspend your disbelief, you’ll love this show. The skinny: Raymond (Red) Reddington, Spader, is #1 on the FBI’s wanted list, but he goes about his life, traveling on his private jet, outwardly getting involved in people’s lives, and turning on all his enemies (the so-called Blacklist), as if no one will ever recognize him. (I guess when I think of Whitey Bulger, living in California for decades, that isn’t so far-fetched.) Spader is amazing, even though sometimes I think his head is going to fall off his neck as he cocks it to the side constantly. Throughout his gallivanting the world, he’s secretly working for the FBI while they're supposed to be hunting him. (I told you there was some overlooking to do.) He knows everyone in the underworld, and the honest world too, some as friends with whom he calls on for help, others as competitors and enemies. Though every week is a different story, the common thread running through the series has to do with the only person in the FBI that he will work with in order to divulge his insider info to catch bad guys the FBI doesn't know about: a woman from his past who might or might not be his daughter. Like most crime series, books, movies, or TV, there’s a steady cast of characters with their own problems that infringe on the lead character. This one is fun and exciting and addictive. As a suspense writer, it’s also a primer on how to write cliffhangers, as is the next series, Ozark

Ozark (Netflix) starts out in Chicago with Marty Byrde (played by light comedy actor Jason Bateman in a serious dramatic role) as an accountant who finds himself laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel. When his partners get bumped off, one by one, Marty is saved because of his brilliance at juggling numbers. Who saves him? One of the leaders of the drug cartel. Marty comes up with a “brilliant” scheme to launder money by moving to an Ozark resort area with his wife and two kids and opening a casino. Besides having to please his Mexican drug lords and his uprooted, unhappy family, he has to deal with a couple of redneck crime families in order to survive. One family grows poppies―you know what they make out of the fields of flowers, right?―and they don’t take kindly to the Mexicans getting in the way of their drug distribution. Every time Marty tries to get out of one situation, he digs deeper into another, each one more dangerous than the one before it. To complicate matters, his wife, Wendy (Laura Linney), is almost as conniving and ambitious as he is. It’s hard to root for anyone in Ozark because they’re all so morally bankrupt, but the stories are so compelling, it’s hard not to tune in to each episode. Did I mention cliffhangers. Ozark has some of the best, which keeps us up another hour and another after that.

We also watched Joe Pickett, a Spectrum Original drawn from the book series by C.J. Box. For those of you who haven’t read the book series―I’ve read a couple and now want to read more―Joe is a Wyoming game warden. The ten-episode first season flew by, and since the second season doesn’t come out until September of 2022, we’ll have to wait until then to see what happens. There’s Joe, played by Australian actor Michael Dorman, his wife, two daughters, the sheriff, a corrupt family and a bunch of bad guys. That’s the basic premise for a lot of shows and books, but the crimes that affect a game warden and the Wyoming setting (really Calgary) takes it out of the ordinary. Maybe producers thought it was a good counterpart to TV’s number one show, Yellowstone, which I love, that sold the idea. What I liked about the character is he’s not a shoot-em-up macho cowboy. He’s a soft-spoken family man whose wife and kids mean more to him than his job, but his job pays the bills. He has an old-timey moral code that’s appealing, but there’s plenty of action to keep the thrill junkies interested.

We started Breaking Bad (Netflix) some time ago but couldn’t get into it. The other night, we picked up where we left off, and now we’re hooked. Breaking Bad has been around for a long time, and Bryan Cranston as Walter White has won numerous awards for his acting. I can see why. It’s the story of a high school chemistry teacher who cooks meth with one of his slacker students and realizes this isn’t what he wants to do with his life when things go sideways, causing the death of a druggie. His cancer diagnosis changes that because of his staggering medical costs. We’re only halfway through season one, but we’re in for the long ride on this one. Of course, it points out the absurdity of people going bankrupt in this country because of the high cost of dying from an extended illness. There are five seasons of BB, so I can’t wait to find out how it ends. Oh, by the way, he’s in with a Mexican drug dealer too. Maybe I should write that storyline into my work in progress. Seems like a winner.

And don't forget Michael Connelly's Bosch (Amazon Prime). I've seen all seven seasons and love it, plus there will be a spinoff called Bosch: Legacy coming out sometime in 2022. Another book to TV series is Craig Johnson's Longmire, which you can watch on Netflix. I know I've missed some, but I don't watch Hallmark or Britbox. Can't help but think that my Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series (All on Amazon, starting with Mind Games: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007QXT6ZO/?) would make good TV, but I digress. And fantasize. 

 

Polly Iyer is the author of ten suspense novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, Indiscretion, and we are but WARRIORS, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. She’s also the author of four erotic romances under the pseudonym, Maryn Sinclair. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can connect with her on Facebook and visit her website for more information and to read the first chapters of her books.

15 comments :

  1. The only one new to me is Joe Pickett. I love all of the others, except I stopped watching Blacklist at some point when it seemed repetitious and stale. Maybe it recovered after that.

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    1. Joe Pickett is on Spectrum TV, so maybe it's not available where you are. It's very good if you can get it.

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  2. Polly, what a timely subject! I've been awed by the scripts for Jennifer Aniston & Reese Witherspoon's "The Morning Show" on Apple TV. (Cynical, though, like so much current TV & film.) Joel Coen's boiling down Macbeth from Shakespeare's 3+ hours to 1.45 shows what a graphic-novel pace we've gotten used to. I just read a PD James mystery & couldn't believe how slow & static it felt.

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    1. Hi, CJ. I do think streaming allows a TV watcher to pace the story. Watch a couple of hours and come back to it later or next week. I love that. Eight seasons of Blacklist, 22 episodes a season, and we never got bored. In fact, we're looking forward to season 9, whenever that comes out.

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  3. There have been times I've binged on some of the shows you mentioned, Polly, and I agree that we can see some outstanding writing there. I also agree that your books would make good television viewing.

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    1. Thank you. What is that old saying, Maryann? From your lips to God's ears. Hear that, TV producers?

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  4. I love Blacklist and Ozark. Megan Boone is the developer of our community's granddaughter. She grew up here (fun trivia). I saw an interview with Shonda Rhimes and love her development of plot and dialogue. I would consider taking her Master Class. I learned just as much from dissecting television shows and movies as books. One great way to learn is to analyze a story. If you find one similar to what you want to achieve, study the best.

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    1. I agree, Diana. Ms. Boone left the show, so it will be interesting to see how they deal with that since her character was a driving force. Lots of things to absorb with good TV scripts.

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  5. Wow! I typically don't watch crime shows very often, but I'm intrigued by the ones you described. Maybe I'm missing something that will inspire me because I have been including mysteries and even crimes in some of my novels, which was not my intent when I started writing books. Thank you for sharing, Polly.

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    1. Since I write mainly crime fiction, these shows have upped the ante. I also forgot to mention Peaky Blinders. Loved that show too.

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    2. OMG, Peaky Blinders--the BEST!

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    3. `There's a sixth season of Peaky, coming in the Spring.

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    4. YAY! It seemed like all the plot points were tied up. But I'll watch it! No series has better music, for one thing. Though there's a ton more I like about it.

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    5. Yes, it did have a great score.

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  6. I've watched all except JOE PICKETT. I'm on Spectrum so will check it out. I gave up, too, on Blacklist. It went on too long. I'd rather be left with the show at its height than to slide downhill with repetition. OZARK is my very favorite. Australia puts out some great crime shows. Thanks for this!

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