The two best treatments for unhappiness, media-wise, might be PG Wodehouse and Community. Assuming you’re well enough to enjoy anything, these two fictional universes seem to offer pleasure within tightly-structured packages, full of dazzling invention. Though Community, as the characters admit, sometimes gets a little dark.
“TV is getting scary-good!” exclaims the Dean in one episode, and he’s right. Impressed as hell by the way Dan Harmon’s show interweaves its plotlines, I wondered if the writer had put down any thoughts on plotting. He has.
But this week David Bordwell linked to a far more inspirational piece, an edition of Archie comics from 1965 which sets out the principles of storytelling in a way that illuminates Community better than its creator. Note the way the collision of plotlines (last page) is always surprising and delightful.
I first became aware of subplots watching the TV show M*A*S*H as a kid. There, the device seemed formulaic and didn’t provide anything other than variety within an episode, something to cut to. Shows like Fawlty Towers and Father Ted would set up several strands of action and entwine them together to produce surprising developments within a tightly wrought farce structure. Father Ted even makes a great joke out of how contrived and implausible this process is, making set-ups (a perfectly square piece of dirt on a window) into obvious, ludicrous, sign-posted things that are obviously going to pay off later — but how?
But Community amuses partly by (most weeks) setting in motion two unrelated stories (most weeks) involving different subsets of its main cast and then having them intersect (most weeks) towards the climax (most weeks). It’s given me an idea for something I’m working on.