I posted here about how difficult it is for artists and directors to approach a script when the writers don’t think visually. In the examples linked to above, people who came up with ideas gave no thot as to how they would be physically executed. This works fine if you’re conjuring up a surrealist manifesto, but not if somebody has to actually execute the script.
But there’s another, deeper problem: Bad enough when the characters violate visual common sense, but what about when they violate emotional common sense.
Stick around; that’s what I’m blogging on.
So ABC Sat-AM had a good thing: A hit show in the form of Richie Rich.
There’s a lot to recommend Richie Rich, both in his original comic book incarnation (6-8 years of age) and in his TV cartoon incarnation (10-11 years of age).
In both incarnations the primary joke was dealing with the sheer volume of surplus ready cash the Rich family had laying about,
Seriously. They’re constantly tripping over piles of the stuff, it clogs the swimming pool filter, and it doesn’t even make that good a substitute for toilet paper.
And both versions work because the meta-gag is that this is how young kids view money. They have no idea how capital is created, passed along, codified in credit & cash. No, to young kids money simply grows on trees & once you find your magic money tree the only problem is how to get rid of it.
Okay, fine: We can deal with that. All the stories have to reflect that child-like view of cash. Keep that mindset, and the resulting scripts will be fun, charming, and whimsical.
But it changes once the kid hits adolescence.
And that’s the problem with trying to update the concept simply by making the kid/s older.
Because once they hit puberty, a whoooooooooole ‘nuther set of issues arises.
And even if the kids who make up the audience are still pre-teens, they aren’t blind, they aren’t stupid: They know teens think/act/feel differently about things than they do.
Compare Little Archie with Archie. Both are aimed at the same demographic, but one is about pre-teen adventures in the Archieverse while the other is about teen shenanigans.
To put it bluntly, there’s a sexual tension in the (Clean! Wholesome!) teenage Archie stories that’s lacking in the Little Archie tales.
Even when Little Betty and Little Veronica are fighting over Little Archie’s attention, it has nothing to do with any actual (non-existent) romantic feelings they have.
Rather, they are little kids playing at having feelings like big kids. Little boys want to play at having grown-up adventures, little girls want to play at having grown up relationships.
‘Twas ever thus.
So when the suits at ABC decide that if Richie Rich is a good thing, then two shows about rich kids would twice as good, they contacted the studio I was working for & told ‘em to craft a series about a wealthy teenage girl.
(To protect the innocent & confound the guilty, I will be changing names & obscuring details)
So The Suit comes in & tells us what s/he/it wants:
"Sylvia Silver is the richest teenage girl in the world -- "
And I sez:
"How does she get her money?"
"Her money. How does she get it?”
“What difference does that make?”
“Well, if she’s a fabulously wealthy rock star, that’s one type of story. Or if she invented something, that’s another type.”
“Well, she just has it. It’s her family’s money.”
“Where are her parents?”
“Her parents. The people who presumably built this financial empire and/or brought her into the world. Where are they?”
“They’re not important to this story.”
“They’re not? Is she an orphan? ‘Cuz is she is, that’s yet another type of story -- “
“Look, she’s just a rich kid. Period. It’s her family money. Maybe her parents are alive, I don’t know. We just never see them.”
“Have they abandoned her?”
“What? No! Of course not!”
“Then why aren’t they around to offer sage advice and counsel as she goes through her teen years?”
“Okay, look, she doesn’t have any parents, okay? We don’t know what happened to ‘em, okay? She’s just all alone with this vast fortune.”
“And no abandonment issues.”
“Skip it. Continue. Please.”
“Okay, so she goes all around the world solving mysteries and having adventures.”
“What?!?!? Whaddy mean, ‘Why?' She’s a billionairess!”
“And Donald Trump is a billionaire, but I don’t see him trotting the globe solving crimes.”
“She solves mysteries because she likes to! It’s her hobby.”
“Does she make any significant charitable contributions? Does she fund hospitals and orphanages and stuff like that? ‘Cuz that could be a good excuse to trot the globe -- “
“Yeah, maybe. Who knows? Who cares? She isn’t into that; she’s into solving mysteries.”
“How old is she?”
“With no parents in view.”
“And she hasn’t discovered sex or drugs yet.”
“What are you saying?!?!? Of course she hasn’t discovered sex or drugs! [Invocation of favorite deity], this is a f[riendly] Saturday morning cartoon show we’re talking about!!!”
“With a teenage girl who has all the money in the world and no adult supervision.”
“Okay, okay. She’s got adult supervision. There’s this guy who travels around with her and they have adventures together.”
“Ahhh, okay. How is he related to her?”
“He isn’t, they’re just friends.”
“How old is he? Sixty? Seventy?”
“No, early twenties.”
“And he’s having adventures all alone with a teenage girl.”
“You make it sound so…dirty.”
“That’s why I would recommend either making him a relative like a cousin so he could be viewed as a protector or else making him much older so he would be a mentor. Or even making him both, say a wise old uncle who’s always there for her.”
“No, we want a young guy so we can hint at them having a romance.”
“But no sex.” *
“I see. Go on.”
“Anyway, they travel around the world and they have adventures. And since she’s so rich, she can buy all these fantastic gadgets to use.”
“Okay. The boy friend -- “
“He’s not a boy friend, he’s just a friend.”
“Ahh, I see. You’re only ‘hinting’ at romance.”
“Okay, her friend, how does he make his living?”
“He doesn’t have a job.”
“He doesn’t? Is he rich, too?”
“Then how can he afford to go on adventures with her?”
“She pays all his bills.”
“So he’s like a gigolo. Only with no sex.”
“Will you get your mind out of the gutter?!?!? There is no sex on this show!!! It’s a Saturday morning kid’s show about a rich teenage girl!”
“With no parents in sight and a handsome young guy who follows her everywhere. But, please, go on…”
“Thank you! Anyway, they travel around the world and they have adventures together.”
“Is he kind of a travel expert? Does he know his way around the backwaters of the world? ‘Cuz if he did, then that would make sense why he was traveling with her; he’s like her guide.”
“No, Sylvia doesn’t need a guide. Sylvia is already an experienced world traveler. In fact, we want one of the running gags in the stories to be that no matter where they go, they’ll always bump into somebody who knows Sylvia.”
“Okay, I see how that could be funny. Yeah, sure.”
“And these people can help Sylvia in her adventures.”
“For example, she might be chased down an alley -- “
“What about her bodyguards?”
“Well, if she’s got all this money available for diamond encrusted helicopters and stuff, surely she’ll have enough to have a battalion of ninjas traveling with her just to make sure she never gets into too much trouble.”
“Hmm, well, her friend can be her bodyguard.”
“Yeah. Anyway, like I was saying, she’s being chased down this alley and she stumbles over this homeless person sleeping in a cardboard box, and it turns out he knows her and they’re old friends so he lets her hide in the box with him and -- “
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! WHOA! [dramatic pause]............ She’s friends with a homeless guy living in a cardboard box?”
“What kind of friend is she if she’s got billions and he’s sleeping in an alley in a f[riendly] cardboard box?!?!?”
“Ah! See, that’s it: He wants to be homeless!”
“He. Wants. To. Be. Homeless.”
“So why doesn’t Sylvia just buy a nice warm alley for him somewhere where he can set up camp and scrounge out of 5-star restaurant garbage bins? Why doesn’t she have pallets of nice, clean empty refrigerator boxes dropped off every day so this guy at least as a dry, dirt-free place to sleep each night?”
“Because she’s too much of a friend to take away his independence.”
“He’s living in a f[riendly] cardboard box and eating other people’s garbage! How f[riendly] independent is that?!?!?”
“Why are you trying to undermine this show?”
“I’m not; I’m trying to shore it up. You have a teenage girl with unlimited cash but no supervising adults in her life. She can spend it on anything she wants except the obvious things: Self-indulgent items, food, drugs, lotsa pretty-pretty friends to hang around with, those she doesn’t spend it on. Nor does she spend any significant amount on charity, nor does she help out any of her real friends who might be in a jam. There’s nobody to tell her no, nobody to refrain her from buying whatever she wants, nobody to stay up late wondering if she’s okay, and yet this typical teenage girl acts instead like a six year old boy.”
“Finally you’re grasping the concept!”
* NOTE: Sylvia’s age was later raised to 18 so as to avoid any possible implication of a minor female having unchaperoned adventures with an unrelated adult male.