So at the beginning of season 3 of the Michael Weatherly series Bull, a show that has steadily become both more and less believable (hard to pull off), there was a storyline that put an end to the life of an interesting and well-acted character, a computer expert named Cable McCrory, played by Annabelle Attanasio.
Now, when a series dumps a character, they can do it two ways. They can have the character "move on" to a new job, a new relationship, another city -- something that explains why they are no longer in the show. Yet that doesn't preclude their return to the series at a later date, either for guest shots or long term.
That's why, on Suits, Gina Torres is able to return as Jessica Pearson for an episode here and there.
The other way to close out a character on a tv series is to kill them. Tragic tear-jerking slow death from a hideous disease, milking every moment; or tragic shocking sudden death, whose most powerful example was the death of Rosalind Shays (played by Diana Muldaur) on L.A. Law, where in the fifth season her powerful, threatening character died by stepping onto an elevator that wasn't there.
Characters the writers don't want to use again, except perhaps in flashbacks, can be killed within the story. Characters they do want the option of working with are given the move-away, new-job, new-romance storyline.
One cannot help but speculate that when you really hate working with a particular actor, you write them out of the series by killing them so dead that there is no hope of their ever coming back, without completely destroying the credibility and continuity of the series. (See Dallas, "stepping out of the shower," "the past season was all a dream.")
When it was deemed time for Charlie Sheen to leave Two and a Half Men, we were told his character, Charlie Harper, had been hit by a train in Paris, and season 9 opened with his funeral. Charlie Sheen was not going to be invited back for guest appearances. But we already knew that.
However, when the brilliant Patrick J. Adams (playing Mike Ross) and Meghan Markle (playing his wife, Rachel Zane) needed to leave Suits, the writers did not rule out future guest appearances. Instead the couple moved to Seattle, which, contrary to rumor, is not synonymous with death. At least until the big tsunami takes out the whole Puget Sound littoral.
However, we all know that Meghan Markle has such a cool new job in the real world, one that will not tolerate her moonlighting with a different kiss-partner, we will never see her on Suits again.
Patrick J. Adams can come back to work on a case or two, however, any time his unique skills are required. Since Rachel's dad is now a partner in the firm, however, they can't have a storyline in which Rachel died or left Mike Ross for another partner. They have to protect the reputation of the character played by a member of the royal family.
The death of Cable on Bull, however, falls into a weird territory. She is most definitely and permanently dead in the show. She won't be forgotten, though, because the writers seem to be setting up Law & Order and Crossing Jordan veteran Jill Hennessy, as Cable's grieving mother, to be a possible love interest for Bull somewhere down the line.
They definitely did not kill off Cable because the writers hated the actress. We're reasonably sure of this because the show runner, Paul Attanasio, is Annabelle Attanasio's dad.
The fact is that Annabelle A. had the chance to direct a feature film that she's been working on for a long time, and she had to leave Bull long enough to do that job. Film creation is a couple of months, usually, for the actors -- but a year or more for the director. There was no way she could have a tv show looming over her while trying to launch a directing career.
I'm betting there was a conversation like this: "So, how do you want us to handle this? Any chance we can bring you back later?" (Unspoken addendum: "If this directing gig doesn't go anywhere?")
"No, Dad. This has been great, working on Bull, but I've done all I can do with the character, so I'll move on as director or actor. Not coming back."
"So if we kill Cable, you're OK with that?"
Gulp. "Kind of brutal. I still like Cable."
"Oh, so does everybody. So we're going to devote several episodes to crying and mourning and then suing somebody for wrongful death."
"She's not murdered, is she?"
"No, she's just wrongfully dead."
Because there are things you don't want to imagine happening to your own daughter, and then get paid for.
So, we had a character change. We seem to have met Cable's successor now, with the former Homeland Security computer expert Taylor Rentzel (MacKenzie Meehan), and she's interesting and spunky.
Here's what drives me crazy about Bull. Even though the storylines have been getting better -- better mysteries, better characters, developing relationships -- the legal procedures are still offensively laughable. Nobody lets a jury consultant have the kind of standing in court that Bull regularly gets. Neither is any jury consultant as accurate about everything as Bull seems to be.
And the most annoying thing of all is the way Freddy Rodríguez, playing Benny Colón, the actual lawyer who could do all the things in court that Bull does, is constantly relegated to step-nephew status. He is constantly diminished and demeaned and he just takes it. Sad.
I must say that in the first season, Michael Weatherly seemed to have only the acting toolkit he used in many seasons of NCIS: Cocky arrogant "charm."
He's supposed to be believable as a very smart guy, but that was only in the writing; the actor just wasn't believable, mostly because we couldn't see any aspect of the human being who could have learned the kinds of things he supposedly knew. How can someone completely oblivious to the needs and feelings and boundaries of others be even an adequate assessor of jurors?
But this season, there are moments when Weatherly doesn't seem to be a spoiled little rich boy wearing long pants for the first time and quite proud of it.
Maybe he would be more believable in this role if it weren't on air during the same seasons as Elementary, which shows a difficult, insensitive, brilliant character in Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes.
Now, it's not Weatherly's fault that he isn't on the same planet as Miller when it comes to acting skills and range -- almost nobody is, who doesn't already have a "Sir" in front of his name. Weatherly is cute and pretty enough that, as an American actor, he never had to learn more than how to memorize his lines and say them as if he weren't reading them.
But if George Clooney can make the transition from smirking charmer to real actor, surely it's not out of Weatherly's reach to make the same transition. Is it?
I'm still watching Bull, so they must be doing something right.
But I have to say I'm still vaguely disappointed that Bull turned out not to be about the bailiff from Night Court, played by Richard Moll.
Another character departure hit NCIS this season, as Pauley Perrette, after 354 episodes playing lab geek Abby Sciuto, left for greener pastures. Not killed. Her place in the lab is now occupied by the equally quirky but far more believable Kasie Hines, played by the delightful Diona Reasonover.
This transition was handled smoothly, and since I was quite weary of Abby Sciuto, whose "character" seemed to be nothing but a bundle of eccentricities, I welcome the change.
However, Perrette has definitely fueled rumors that she felt physically unsafe on the set, and that a crime was committed against her; though by not naming names, she has put all the men on the show under suspicion, which is a mean thing to do. Accusing a whole group by giving hints about malfeasance is way worse than saying nothing, because the criminal is still not specifically charged -- and all the non-criminals are vaguely charged.
When you hire Roseanne Barr to play the lead in a tv series, someone might want to say, "By the way, you do know that when shooting starts, the real Roseanne will actually show up and interact with people on the set. And she will continue to be Roseanne off the set, including on social media. If we actually launch this series, then if we don't like something she tweets, we will need to be ready to say, 'Nobody is responsible for what Roseanne says except Roseanne herself. We love her even when we don't agree with her. The show goes on.' If we can't do that, we have no business doing this series."
So shame on the suits for firing Roseanne for a tirade of a kind that doesn't rule out your becoming President, and certainly shouldn't rule out your playing Roseanne on a show about Roseanne. If people hate what she tweeted, you'll see your ratings drop. Instead, by firing her, you wrecked the prospects of the show and essentially put the rest of the cast out of work. Great job, boys!
It seems like we live in a society with only one switch, on or off, and if you offend somebody -- well, somebody of a certain political mindset -- then you will be switched off, never to be forgiven.
While if you are of the same political mindset as the people who control the switch, you will always be set in the on position, no matter what crimes you are charged with or idiotic things you say. (See Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Louis Farrakhan, Maxine Waters.)
There needs to be a third switch position: disavowal. That's the policy that keeps Daniel Tosh on the air, while saying and doing far, far more outrageous things than Roseanne Barr has ever been capable of.
If we can't forgive our comedians for behaving like clowns, we truly are a rigid, hateful society.
So far this season, Manifest seems to be the strongest, most interesting new series; however, as with Lost, it remains to be seen whether the writers can deliver on the weird promises offered in these early episodes.
Especially because the cast includes children and teenagers, which nearly wrecked Lost, since between seasons, the youngsters aged a whole year, while in the story it hadn't been a week.
Here's a hint, show runners and writers: There's a limit to how many characters you can make us care about and remember from one episode to the next. So don't branch out to the whole list from the airplane's manifest. Keep us centered on the people we already know and love.
Then give us answers well before the end of season one. If you don't prove that you know the answers to some really significant questions, we aren't going to trust you to get us anywhere over the life of the series.
My second favorite new show of the season is The Rookie. Yes, I'm a Nathan Fillion fan. But that doesn't mean I'm going to like every show he's in. He'll be charming, yes -- but charming doesn't keep me watching for the whole hour.
The premise is that after his contractor career collapsed, along with his marriage, John Nolan (Fillion) had the experience of facing down a bank robber to help protect other hostages and allow the police to enter unobstructed. He realized two things: 1. He was brave. 2. He wanted to be a cop.
So he moves to Los Angeles and attends the police academy. He and two other academy graduates, played by Melissa O'Neil and Titus Makin Jr., are assigned to the same shift in the same precinct in the LAPD, and Sergeant Wade Grey (Richard T. Jones) absolutely hates having Nolan there. He thinks of him as nothing but a midlife crisis hoping that police work will help him "find himself," and he's going to get somebody on that team get killed.
So in the first few episodes, we watch Nolan try to get things right, while his training officer, Talia Bishop (Afton Williamson), is tough but fair with him -- even when his rookie mistakes cost the city money -- and, at least once, put her own life in danger.
The three rookies' stories are all being followed, and we care about them all. Especially troubling is the fact that Nolan is having, not an affair, but a longterm relationship with Lucy Chen (Melissa O'Neil), which is potentially damaging to her career. Talia Bishop warns her repeatedly to break up with Nolan while there's still time, so we're waiting to see what they do about it.
Nathan Fillion really is about 47 years old, but he has worked hard to get himself into shape, since he got pretty out-of-shape during his Castle years. He does a lot of running, and he hasn't yet fallen over with a heart attack; he's believable doing both the athletic and the clumsy things he does.
Nathan Fillion is doing the best work of his career. Yes, he can pull off a wise-cracking character as well as ever, but this series is asking him to do a lot more than the alternating clown/romantic lead that he played on Castle. The writing is careful and subtle, giving him many layers and nuances, and Fillion is right there for all of it.
The rest of the cast is also, let's just admit it, amazing. And if sometimes they seem to have an astonishing number of perilous calls during their working day, what do I know? Maybe that's what life in the LAPD is really like.
Besides, they make it very clear that in this version of the LAPD, officers can choose whether to go after the perilous calls or spend their days ticketing people for traffic and parking offenses. And I've got to say, the cop who gave his rationale for pursuing his own safety throughout his career makes a good case for that choice.
I was hoping that the series FBI, co-created by Law & Order leader Dick Wolf, would be up to the standards of his previous work. And in some ways, it is.
We get FBI agents handling the kinds of things that the FBI would handle. We've got two terrific actors in the leading roles -- Missy Peregrym as Special Agent Maggie Bell, and Zeeko Zaki as Special Agent Omar Adom "O.A." Zidan. Their team is led by Jeremy Sisto as Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jubal Valentine and the beloved Sela Ward in yet another powerful role, as Dana Mosier, Special Agent in Charge.
Look back over those names. Isn't it fascinating that eccentric as the characters' names are, the actors' names are weirder?
That's not a bad thing -- a guy named Orson doesn't criticize other people for having weird names.
But what were Missy Peregrym's parents thinking, if that's the name on her birth certificate? It's about as wrong as naming a boychild "Pal."
Hey, whatcha think yer doin' there, Pal? is identical to Hey, whatcha think yer doin' there, Missy?
But no, her real name is Melissa; Missy seems to be the nickname she goes by. So she has a real name, and remember, she's Canadian, and things sound different up there.
Look, there's nothing wrong with any of the stories. The writing is excellent. The acting is superb. I really, really like Zeeko Zaki -- he keeps his character real in a Clint Eastwood kind of way.
But I don't know if I'm going to keep watching this, because of the P.C. feminism with the character Maggie Bell.
Peregrym is playing her very well. But in every episode so far, there is at least one instance in which Zidan tries to make some kind of human connection with Bell, and she not only shuts him down, she does it with savage male-hating language and judgment.
First episode: He's trying to provide solace by telling her things he knows she already knows, but that she seems to be ignoring as she beats herself up over something.
She shuts him down with the savagely sexist term mansplaining. As I remember it, she says, more or less, "I don't need to have you mansplain the emotional turmoil of fifteen-year-old girls."
Mansplain is a word invented for only one purpose: To make men shut up, even when they actually understand something and someone else seems not to.
The word is so outrageously offensive -- and rarely, if ever, deserved -- that it not only insults the person being spoken to or about, but also insults every other man who ever lived.
Here's a clue, feminist man-haters. When you don't know something, and it's important that it be understood, and a man does know it, then if you shut him down by calling his explanation "man-splaining," not only have you decided to remain ignorant, but also any man would be justified in refusing to speak to or listen to you ever again. Your naked hatred says all.
I manage to listen to women explain things to me all the time -- even when I already understand the matter -- and I never say, "Enough with the womanchatter, I've got things to do." Because I know that such a statement would end my relationship with that woman, and any woman who overheard me. (I also don't think of women that way, and never have.)
However, in the fantasy world of FBI, Agent Zidan takes it and takes it and takes it, never registering any resentment or anger or hurt feelings at her vicious response to all his ordinary human actions.
That's simply bad writing. It is a refusal to recognize that today's nasty feminist cant is every bit as evil and hurtful as the dismissive way men often spoke about women in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Was feminism really supposed to be about stopping men from being mean and superior and contemptuous -- while getting women to take their place in meanness, arrogance, and contempt?
This is a poison in any relationship, and I don't know many men who'd stick around for more of it.
What kills me is that even though Zidan contributes every bit as much, and suffers as much, as Bell in case after case, all the honor and all the sympathy seem to focus on Bell.
So I don't know if the high quality of every other aspect of the show can compensate for the man-hating bias of the leading character. Talking to and about men as Bell does to and about Zidan is not OK. It's not good writing. It's just letting one of the ugliest and stupidest parts of our culture talk to itself without mediation.
Now, if sometime Zidan responded to one of those vile, offensive rebuffs by saying, "I get it. You don't think I deserve to be treated like a human being, and you resent it when I try to treat you like one. So I'm putting in for a transfer, because I don't know how to do my job when my so-called partner slaps me down whenever I say something personal or real."
"I'm not slapping you down!"
"Yes, you are. And furthermore, it's perfectly clear that you really mean it. So I'm done with you. You have created a hostile work environment for me, based entirely on my gender. That's what my application for a transfer will say, complete with examples, including date, time, and circumstances."
"So you're going to wreck my career because I hurt your feelings?"
"That's what 'hostile workplace environment' means. I'd make it clearer, but I know you don't like me to mansplain things, because you already know everything about everything."
I don't think that scene will ever happen. And without it, I don't think I'll be able to keep watching this constant campaign of punishing the male lead for the sin of being a compassionate male.
But if it doesn't bother you, or you already hate males, then FBI has a male character who always puts up with that kind of coproglossia and a female character who resents everything, especially when it's kindly meant.
Back when I was splitting Unisom tablets, I bought three pill splitters: Walgreens Safety Shield, Ezy-Cut Performance Pill Cutter (also with the name Safety Shield on it), and a cutter I bought at Walmart made by Corex Health Brands.
The third one depends on a flexible plastic barrier to keep bits of the split pill from flying off in every direction -- and after about five uses, that shield came loose, jammed up the works, and made the splitter unusable.
The Ezy-Cut version had a complicated set of arm-hinges that broke almost immediately, again rendering the device useless.
The one with the name Walgreens on it is working fine after about thirty uses. It is the simplest in design, but it has the slight drawback that if you don't have steady, dextrous fingers, it's hard to line up the tablet properly on the staging area.
This is the only one of the three worth buying, because it has a reasonable chance of lasting.
However, soon after my original mention of pill-cutters, somebody wrote to me pointing out that Unisom tablets already have a dividing line across the middle. If you lay them on a hard level surface, with the dividing line up, then press with your fingers on both ends, it will split evenly at that line without using a cutter at all.
Live and learn.
on the art and business of science fiction writing.
Over five hours of insight and advice.
Recorded live at Uncle Orson's Writing Class in Greensboro, NC.
Available exclusively at OSCStorycraft.com