Old SitComs that inspired me to study ScreenWriting

The SitComs that made me want to be a TV writer and how my American dreams were builded as those stories represented America for me at that time.

I’m absolutely a sucker for American Situation Comedies, the Sitcoms. Back in 2002, when we first got cable on TV, I used to spend hours and hours, just enjoying my time with the shows and trying to understand the jokes.

I loved my TV so much, I got to retake my second year of High School, because instead of studying, I watched tv endlessly.  The “Canned Goods” type of Sitcom, as my mom used to say. What she meant was the comedy shows that had all the same format, and the laughs at the end of each joke.

At that time, I had just started English Classes. Years later, when I applied for Creative Writing School, that’s what I intended to learn, how to write scripts and develop a show was always on my mind. 

On Creative Writing For the Entertainment Bussiness, at Full Sail University, we had two classes on Writing for TV, and on the first one, the teacher asked us, what we would like to write. We had two choices: Drama, which is about 60 minutes, or Comedy, which is about 30 minutes.

The first thing we learned was 1 minute on screen is equivalent to 1 page of the script. So I had no doubts I would choose Comedy for an array of different reasons. 

First, I watched plenty of Multi-Camera shows my entire life, and I still do. Second, all the shows are based on the same premises. It’s either a family, a group of friends, a workplace environment, a school/college. It’s easier to develop something you are familiar with.

The teacher gave us a few options to write a spec script, based on a show that was on the air, and my choice was Brooklyn 99. Even though it’s not multi-camera, it falls in all the comedy categories.

TV writing or Web series writing is what I enjoy doing, besides the writing for tv classes being very demanding; when I visited New York Film Academy Film School, I understood why. It’s all business. They will crush your ideas and dreams to make it profitable for them.  

Years and years of watching the same type of show gave me some type of comfort and authority when I talk about it. When I decided to write this post, I knew, on the top of my head, the shows that I wanted to write about. One thing I realize after quickly coming up with the list, is all the shows have almost the same premises. The broken American Dream, lived by Americans itself. I never understood because all I could see was how good those characters had. 

These shows are also older, your chances to remember them are greater if you are over 30. 

According to Jim (2001-2009) 

Jim Belushi as a nonchalant dad was really on point. Jim is a suburban dad and raises a family in a Chicago suburb. “According to Jim”, is also based on family structure and it was on air for 8 seasons from 2001 to 2007. Married to Cheryl, Jim, and has to deal also with her two chaotic siblings Dana and Andy. Who are always there to plot something against him. As the show developed its season, we see the older girl, Ruby becoming a teen, the dialogues between her and Jim are sharp. As in the scenes between Gracie and her uncle Andy. 

That was one of the first sitcoms I’ve ever watched, until that point it was all Friends and Full House reruns.

Gilmore Girls (2001- 2007) 

I’m not crying, you crying.

Definitely not a SitCom, but a show that wroth sharing. Rory’s passions for books, Lorelai references for all the pop culture, and the idea that love conquers all, as long as you have each other. I’ve been watching Gilmore Girls since 2002, and yes, I’m team, Jess. This is the kind of show that even nothing happens on the episode, I’d still watch it. The characters are so compelling that you could just watch the dialogue unfolds without thinking about what’s next. I learned at writing school, that you don’t need to show much information on the characters, more is less. You just have to show a good and dynamic dialogue. Make the audience participate like a friend, who is watching but can’t be heard. 

Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005)

My mother in law said she didn’t want glasses like mine, because she didn’t want to look like a Witch. 🧐 I wish I was kidding.

The show is really funny, but then you realize you are living it, it kinds messes you up. Ray’s overprotective mom, Marie, who lives across the street, the dad who seems to be living on a planet of his own, a dumb brother, and Ray’s wife, Debra, in the middle of all that. The show is hilarious and shows these family problems that we try get over it, but most of the time, we just have to deal with them.  

8 simple rules (for dating my teenage daughter) (2002-2005)

A dad and his teenage daughters, navigating the nuances of having to deal with all the discoveries and all the drama that goes inside of the house, during those years. Kayle Cuoco’s Bridget, give me the idea of the spoiled American teenager, full of privileges. While her sister was the Ugly Duckling.

The actor who played the dad, John Ritter, died at the beginning of the second season, of a heart attack and after that, they couldn’t go much further with the story. The show ended at the end of the third season, after recasting David Spade as the cousin and Cate’s dad, played by James Garner. I don’t think I finished watching the last season, because in Brazil, sometimes the tv cable didn’t buy it to be exhibit there.  

Grounded for Life (2001-2005)

Again, a show about an American family, who had kids at a young age, and struggle to raise them. Watching it in Brazil, I saw them having a great life. I rather am poor in America than in my own country. The show had a typical American family, that balance it off each other, has a sneaky and hilarious older daughter, creating all the storyline for the show.

How young parents, raise kids with the help of other family members. The uncle, the grandpa, and the neighbors. I will never forget the episode where Lily, the daughter, found some herbs and thought it was weed. She smokes it while her parents worry, watching her thinking she is getting high when she is smoking basil.  

Jane The Virgin (2014-2019)

The most inspiring Latinxs tv show from the past years. They broke barriers, and Gina Rodrigues gave Jane the most authentic Latina character I’ve ever seen. We usually see the Latino community represented in a specific way, always with certain mannerisms and cliche acting. Jane the Virgin just shows us that it’s possible to write those characters without being derogatory.

The undocumented immigrant grandma, Jane’s mom Xiomara and Jane, who through all the chapters showed how to find love, keep the love, lose the love, while trying to find ways to make it on a writing career. The show episodes are told in Chapter, like a Novella, adding absurdity, dramatic flashbacks, and montages. Rogerio, Jane’s father as the eccentric telenovela superstar.

When Abuelita told her story and why she remained undocumented after all those years, I cried. It hits too close to home. 

American family structured and how it was portrayed

I guess what I was missing while watching all those shows was family structure. That’s probably why I got obsessed with it. Not until much later, TV started showing different families, and what they are consisted of. In my teenage years, my mom and my dad were broken up and my dad lived in a different State. My aunt lived with me and my mom, so she could help to raise me, and with the bills. My family structure was different. 

Do you have an old show that you keep coming back to? Let me know in the comments what influenced your writing style!

Stay cool! Stay healthy!

J.G.Snelly

Pen15 and the year 2000

AOL, Babyspice666, a Backstreet Boys poster pinned on the wall. Gel pens and bucket hats. Pen15 is a trip down the memory lane and the year 2000 bring back those moments that we wish we had erased from our memories.

Hey Fool! Looking great with matching bucket hats, fool!

The year 2000 and the poor fashion choices

Hey Fool! How old were you in the year 2000? I was 14/15 so I remember those days like it was yesterday. Being a huge fan of tv shows that leads the audience to a different era and shows like That’s 70 Show, The Goldbergs, and Fresh of the Boat are some good examples of what we can binge on Hulu now.

Last year my best friend suggested me Pen15, and I got immediately hooked on. I watched the entire season in 3 days and hoped for more. Wishing the show never got canceled, because it was a masterpiece, but as I said before, sometimes being an awesome tv show it’s not enough.

Especially when it’s based on the year 2000 and the main characters are playing themselves as 13 years old which means, the kissing scenes between the teens never happen on the regular angle, because the other characters are younger than Maya and Anna.

Pen15 brings back the uncomfortableness of being in middle school. All the cringe moments that make you want to hide your head on the ground like an Emu, are all the moments we lived through and had to face it. In the first season, when they showed Maya being bullied and being call UGIS (ugliest girl in school) all around, I cried.

UGIS

I cried because I was also voted the ugliest in my class in 7th grade. The popular girls made a voting list and passed around the classroom, as they got the results, they ran to the bathroom, giggling. When they read the results and laughed, I was right there, because I thought they were my friends, so I followed them to the bathroom. At that moment, I convinced myself I was ugly, and that dictated how I behaved in the following years.

The show’s second season takes a deeper look at growing up. Anna is dealing with her parents’ separation, while still sharing the same house, and Maya is desperately trying to have her first kiss. The second season has only 7 episodes and its amazingly well written.

Most os the episodes were written by Anna,Maya and Sam Zvibleman , I believe that’s all they got ready before the pandemic. While I was hoping for more episodes, it was a perfect way to end it with a cliff hanger. Will Maya ever realize that Sam likes her?

Another very delicate moment of the show is Gabe. Gabe is gay, and it’s all new to him, as he still very unsure of how to deal with this new feeling, or how to open up to anyone about it. So he plays along and he unwilling hurts Maya, while giving in to the idea of being her boyfriend, so they could kiss on the play. Spoiler alert- They don’t kiss.

The scenes are very emotional and I think it was very well written and portrayed, if you didn’t cry watching his struggle, you are not human. I just wanted to give a hug and protect him. Hey Awesomeness TV and Lonely Island: We need a Gabe spin-off!

While watching the show, it felt like I had relieved all the moments, like I was back in 7th grade again, after moving to a new city, where the girls were far too advanced for 13 years old, feeling like I didn’t belong there. Most of my time was spent at home, helping my mom with food prep o listening to my boombox and reading my magazines.

My love interest was Leonardo Dicaprio and I was totally into the idea of becoming his bride child, I knew he always liked the girls way younger than him anyway, and this boy who I and my friends called “strawberry”.

That was because he used to flush when he played soccer with the other guys, and yes, Strawberry guy and I end up going on a date or two a few years later, only for me to realize he was trash. Completely utterly trash. Just like Brandt on the show, he was weird and full of himself.

The final straw was when strawberry took me to the mall, just to make his ex-girlfriend jealous and got back to me after I saw him with the girl. Still, he had the audacity of saying “Can we talk?”. No. You go back to your girl, I’m leaving. I left and kept the 5 bucks for the Ice-cream he gave me before he disappears with the girl. You not going to waste my time and leave me without my ice-cream, do better.

The year 2000 led me to my Spec Script about the show

Carefully represented on the show with gel pens, music, and clothes. I used to have the same long skirt Anna wear in some of the scenes and the bucket. at the Vendy Wicanny episode it felt like when I watched The Craft and insisted to my mom I was a witch. In July, I submitted a script to the Nickelodeon writing program, and after 1 season of Pen15, in which I had to write a spec script about it.

A spec script works the same way as the test skills on the Indeed website, where you check your qualifications while applying for a job. A-Spec is a stand-off script of a tv show, where you show your knowledge about the show’s dynamic, character’s voice, and how consistent you can be with the storyline while writing for someone else tv show.

It is like a cover letter, only with about 28 pages, if you decided to write a comedy spec. Pen15 was the easiest of all shows, because I lived in that era, had the same age as the characters. So writing while listening to N’Sync “Thinking of you”, was like being back in my old room, while writing fanfics about my favorite boybands.

It took me 3 weeks to come up with a story, which was based on something that happened to me, luckily , Maya’s character is as absurd and intense as I was, so it was easy to fill in the gaps and create my own episode.

I had to dig deep, as in July there was only one season to study all the characters mannerisms and vocabulary. I ended up watching hours of interviews and got into the Youtube hole to make sure I didn’t mess up.

If I messed up something on that script, it was probably my grammar, as I didn’t have much time at all to go over again, before submitting, as this would cause me a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Besides that, what are the odds of me winning the contest to work at Nickelodeon?

Yeah Fool!

There are plenty of funny moments on the show, on episode 2, when they decided to join the wrestling team, had to gain about 12 lbs in a week and they do it while eating boiled eggs with peanut butter. The coach is amazed by their ability and in awe by their commitment.

The show is not cliche, but it has a fine line between the chaos and the absurd we find in those situations, like when a new friend comes around and add words to your vocabulary and misdemeanor behavior towards your parents. You have to get spanked by your mom in the middle of the store for calling her a bitch.

If you never watch the show, it’s a great nostalgic way to relieve those days. And cringe. Or if you were born after, it’s a good way to learn how fun weird the beginning of the 2000s was.

Thats is for now, I will find more movies and tv shows to talk about on the next week’s post. Let me know in the comments if you watched Pen15 and how was the year 2000 for you!

J.G.Snelly