John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 301 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show, we’re looking at The Addams Family, not just the 1991 film and its sequel, but the property itself, to see what lessons we can learn when adapting for the big screen. I think this is the first episode that’s based on a previous One Cool Thing. Because your One Cool Thing a couple weeks ago was The Addams Family pinball game. And look at us now. We’re talking about the entire franchise.
Craig: Yeah. So, you know, here I am, I’m playing the Addams Family pinball game, and it has all these wonderful recorded lines from the movie and then some new ones that they recorded for the game. And it just made me, well, nostalgic for The Addams Family. You know, sometimes you go back and you watch these movies that you loved and you’re a different person now and you just don’t love them anymore. Well, I am a different person than I was when the Addams Family movie, the first one came out, in 1991. I mean, that’s, my god, 26 years ago.
Craig: But I love it even more now. I think as a screenwriter I have so much more appreciation for how good of a job they did at a task that has ruined many, many a filmmaker, namely adapting a television show that a studio is probably saying do because people know the title. And turning it into something of quality. And that’s what happened there. It’s just a terrific film. So, it’s going to be fun to talk about that and the sequel as well today.
John: Absolutely. So, a bit of follow up before we get into that. A couple episodes ago, god, maybe 10 episodes ago we talked about the Scriptnotes Listener’s Guide, or as Craig wanted to call it the ScriptDecks.
John: Which was a catalog of all the back episodes where we asked our listeners to go through and single out the episodes that they thought people should definitely catch. Because we get new listeners every week and they are joining us at episode 301. And they’re like, well, which of the 300 previous episodes should I actually listen to, because it would be an entire life if you wanted to dedicate yourself to all the previous episodes, which some people have done.
So, people have been filing in these reviews of previous episodes and talking about why they were so important to them. And so that is now ready almost for consumption. So, Dustin Box has done a heroic job in putting it together. It’s about a 100-page booklet.
John: Of the episodes that people singled out with their reviews and what’s in there and the summaries. So, we talked about printing it. It’s not going to make sense to print it. But we’re going to release it as a PDF for folks. And so it’s in pretty good shape. The thing is the most recent episodes have no reviews at all because they’re so new. So if you are a person who has listened to the last 20 or so Scriptnotes and you want to single out any of those, I really need some more reviews of those because it just sort of stops at 280 right now.
So, if you can go to johnaugust.com/guide, and if there’s any episodes in that last batch that you want to single out for why people should listen to them, please do. And I think we’re only a couple weeks away from being able to share it with the world.
Craig: And what will it cost, John?
John: The plan is for it to be free.
Craig: Look at you.
John: So the theory is like it’s free, but if you want to listen to all those back episodes they’re of course available at Scriptnotes.net, which is $2 a month, and so you can go through and listen to all those back episodes. And we will be making more of the USB drives. They are actually extra cool USB drives. We think we’re going to be able to make the ones that I want. They will survive any catastrophe that happens in the world, I think. So, they are definitely a time capsule of the first 300 episodes.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, we want to make sure that after the apocalypse those episodes are still available. It’s a bit like the seed bank. Do you know about the seed bank?
John: I know about the seed bank. But you also know that the seed bank flooded because of the permafrost melting?
John: That happened like just today.
Craig: It happened today? We lost our seed bank?
John: We haven’t lost it, but it has been damaged by the flooding permafrost, because they deliberately built it in an arctic location that was safe and cold. It is no longer safe and cold.
Craig: I like that the thing that we were using to hedge against the apocalypse was damaged by the encroaching apocalypse.
Craig: We could do better. I mean, the seed bank should be a little more protected than that.
John: So, I mean, I don’t want to go too deep into the Alanis Morissette discussion, but is that ironic? Is it ironic that–?
John: No, so it’s tragic. But how could that seed bank thing be ironic in the classic definition of irony?
Craig: Um, it would be ironic if – here’s how. The world ends because seeds become incredibly aggressive and literally tear apart buildings and everything. So, the end of the world that the seed bank was preparing for was brought about by an overabundance of seeds.
John: OK. But couldn’t you say that deliberately placing it in – picking the location that was safe and arctic ended up becoming its undoing, that’s ironic. Is it not?
Craig: Just feels like bad planning.
John: Yeah, perhaps.
Craig: Yeah. Like it’s not ironic to say that I put my – you know what happened, I put my documents for my fire insurance in the fireplace. That’s not ironic. That’s just dumb. And then the fire destroyed them. You know, that’s just dumb.
John: I was listening to a podcast today. I was listening to Trumpcast. And the interviewer used Begs the Question completely appropriately.
Craig: Oh yay.
John: It was just such a delight. I got this little tingle of joy.
Craig: It’s like when Haley’s Comet swings around every seven or eight decades. It’s nice to hear it when it happens. You sit up. You applaud. There’s still hope, John. There’s still hope.
John: There is still hope.
Let’s get to some questions. So Doug in LA wrote in with a question. “What does it mean when you say a scene is working? Is a ‘working’ scene the minimum viable shootable version of a scene? Is a script full of ‘working’ scenes in a great script? Or is the working scene like pornography – difficult to define, but easy to identify?”
Craig: Oh, well that’s an interesting question. I mean, the truth of the matter is when we talk about these terms of art, it probably means different things to different people. For me, it’s definitely not – I can at least rule out one of these. It is not the minimum viable shootable version of a scene.
When I say a scene is working, what I mean to say is that whatever the intention of that scene was, it is coming across clearly. It is interesting to me. And the craft of the scene unfolds in such a way that everything feels harmonious and dramatic and interesting or funny. Whatever the ultimate entertainment intent of that scene was, it is happening in a very satisfying way.
John: I completely agree. I would also add to it that there’s a time-based element to this. So, you could say a scene is working when it’s on the page. You could say a scene is working or not working when it is in front of the camera and the actors are trying to do it. You see that it’s just not working. And you have to figure out what’s happening there or not happening there properly.
You also ask is this scene working when you’re in the edit room. And you’re looking at there like this scene is not working. And so sometimes the writing really was the issue. But sometimes something else is the issue. And so you’re going through and trying to figure out how do we get this scene to work because it is simply not doing the job it is supposed to be doing in this moment. It is not living up to the narrative potential or to the tone potential of what that scene is supposed to be doing.
Craig: Absolutely. And it is probably the case that we use this term most frequently when we are in the editing room, because that is the ultimate test of the scene. There is a scene on paper that ideally when you arrive you feel like this is a good basis of a working scene. Now let us go make a scene. But when you are in the editing room, it is very common to look at something and go, “It’s just not working. I’m feeling a little bored. I’m feeling a little confused. Maybe it’s too long. Maybe it’s too short. Maybe there’s one of those intangible things. I know I’m supposed to feel something at this moment, but I don’t.”
So, it’s not working.
John: The moment of panic is when a scene is not working and you’re on the set. So, you may have gone through blocking with the actors and they’re trying to do it and they’re like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. This isn’t working for me. I don’t understand what’s going on.” And that can be a moment where as a writer you’re like the scene works, I know it fundamentally works, and yet you’re not able to make the scene work. And so therefore I’m going to have to have this conversation to try to figure out what it is that is not working for you and the director, of course, and try to find a way to make sure it works for everybody. Because if an actor has no idea what the scene is supposed to be doing, or cannot find his or her way into the scene, it’s unlikely – not impossible – that you’re going to be able to find that later on.
So, those are the moments I dread is when you maybe shot one, or you’re about to start shooting, and like they just don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. And those are the moments where the floor just falls out of your heart.
Craig: Yeah. That happens. Similarly, you will find yourself in situations where everybody seems to understand what they’re doing. And it’s all going according to plan. And you’re watching it and thinking, “It’s not working. There’s just something amiss here.”
And in those moments, I think this is where experience really comes into play. They talk about this in sports all the time. I mean, you have two teams that make it to a championship game. A Super Bowl. The World Series. And so therefore they’re all not only professional athletes, but they’re at the top of their game. They are the best of the athletes in that league. But one team has been to the big show before. They’ve played in the World Series before. They’ve played in a Super Bowl before. And very typically people will say they have an edge because they have a certain experience.
And you think, well, it’s a game. The rules aren’t any different. There is this comfort that you get from having been there before. The longer you do this job, and the more times you arrive at a place where something isn’t working, first of all the impulse to deny that it’s not working, it’s not there. Because you’ve already felt the sting and the consequence of that denial in the past. So, there’s no struggle against that. You immediately accept that it is true. But you also remember that you were able to fix things. And if you take a breath, take a moment, think about what it was that this scene was supposed to do, and look with dispassionate scrutiny upon what the scene is currently doing, a lot of times with just 30 minutes or 40 minutes you can cook up something new.
And production is used to this. You will get to a place where you’re not quite sure – it’s clearly not right. I remember Todd Phillips and I, we were – it was I think the third Hangover movie. There was a scene where the guys were in a car. And Todd was really adamant about not shooting car scenes the way most car scenes are shot today, which is on a soundstage against green screen. He really liked the old school style of processed cars where you’re towing a car and shooting it for real.
And so it’s a very involved bit of production work, because you can only go so far in that car. You have to turn around, go back. So, takes take a long time. And the scene just wasn’t working. So, we sort of hit the red button, stopped. Said, “Let’s just shoot something else today.” And then we took a day to figure out what it was and come up with something else. And we did. And then we did that and it worked great.
That is something that I think experience teaches you about non-working scenes, because I think a lot of people, particularly early directors, first-time directors, and early screenwriters are hearing people say, “We’re here and we spent all this money. We got to make this work.” And so you just go, OK, I’ll do my best. It’s not working though.
John: You and I don’t have experience working on traditional sitcoms where they have a process where over the course of the week they’re writing and then they have a table read and they have blocking. And so they’re working on the script as they go through it. And in that process, at the table read, or while they’re first trying to stage things, they could say like, OK, that’s not working. They can see it in front of their eyes. Like, OK, that’s not working. And it’s built into their process. Like, the things that aren’t working, we’re going to fix them. And by the time we’re doing the real taping, we will get it worked out.
And so it’s a luxury we don’t often have in features, because generally a scene is in front of the cameras, that’s the only time you’re going to shoot that scene unless something crazy happens or unless you are in a movie where you have the luxury of being able to shoot things multiple times. I would just say like if something is not working it’s not a sign that everything is doom and gloom. It may just be part of the process. And it can be a really terrifying part of the process in a feature. And it’s probably less terrifying in the television medium where it’s expected that you’re going to keep working on things.
Craig: There’s no question. This is why movies, to me, are the tight rope act of our business, because you’re asking people to sit in a theater and experience this one time. That’s it. There are no commercial breaks, nor can they hit pause. Television always has more leeway because there’s a certain casualness to the manner in which it is consumed. Not so with movies where you’re asking people to go somewhere and park and sit and watch it with total attention, captive audience, and then go home.
And, also of course, in television, even serialized television single-camera dramatic stuff, there are so many locations and sets that are reused over and over and over. Obviously in sitcoms, well, let’s talk about the traditional three-camera sitcom, the sets are the same literally every week. So, the variables are reduced down to almost nothing. The only real variable is what are these people doing and saying and thinking. But you’re not in a new location. You’re not stuck there all day with a scene that doesn’t work. You know what I man?
So, always much more pressure, I think, in movies. Very scary business. But I will say that when Doug asks is a script full of working scenes a great script, I probably would say no because that’s not how we judge a great script. We judge a great script as a whole. So, yes, all the scenes should be working, but also they should be working together. That’s kind of one of the big factors.
John: Absolutely. In the show notes I want to put a link into an episode of this podcast that goes into the backstory of The Americans. So The Americans is a fantastic show and for the last few seasons Slate has done a podcast series where after every episode they do a spoiler special where they talk about the episode, but they also interview the showrunners and somebody else involved with the production.
And this past week, they talked with the producing director whose job it is to direct the first two episodes of the season and the last episode. And to work with the directors who are doing the course of the season. And he was talking about being the guy, in shooting the last episode, he’s also the guy who shoots all the clean up on previous episodes. Because there will always be some things that don’t work or things that they missed because of weather or an actor changes or something. And so he shoots all those cleanup things. And that’s sort of a unique thing as TV shows, at least how we’re doing them right now, they have that opportunity to go back and like fix things in a way which is just amazing.
Craig: Indeed. Indeed.
John: Indeed. Tim in Ohio writes, “Can a writer take a previously produced show, write a few episodes for it, then submit it as a writing sample? My idea is to take the former number one show Dallas and spin it into a sitcom.”
Craig: Oh, yeah. Generally speaking, what used to be common is now looked down upon, which is to advertise yourself as a writer by writing an episode of an existing show. So, when you and I came into the business and if you wanted to get into television, you would write a spec episode of Seinfeld, or a spec episode of Frasier.
People don’t really do that anymore. Now the folks who are hiring writers for television shows are looking for original pilot material to say, OK, how are you as a writer on your own creating characters and situations that are unique to you. But, in a situation like this, of course, you could certainly take a show like Dallas and turn it into a sitcom. That sounds very inventive. It could be really fun and funny to read.
A couple of warnings. One, obviously that’s never going to get made, because you don’t have the rights. So that really is just a calling card kind of piece of work. Two, it requires that the reader be familiar with the substrate. So, if Dallas was on the air when you and I were children, that’s a show from the ‘80s, it may very well be that some people who are reading this material and judging you as a writer are not that familiar with it. So, it might not work for them. It might not be that funny. But those concerns aside, I don’t see any problem with it.
John: No, I think it’s the right kind of idea. So, I don’t know if Dallas as a sitcom is the right idea, but the right kind of idea to sort of take something that people are familiar with and do a very different twist on it. That’s great. And it kind of busts the clutter a little bit, because these people are reading a zillion samples for things, they’ll remember this one if it’s a clever take on something that was familiar to them.
So, yes, I think it’s absolutely fine and fair. Are you violating somebody’s copyright? Well, not in a way that is meaningful, because you’re not trying to sell this. You are not trying to do anything other than prove your writing talent. So, it is a common practice to do spec episodes. This is essentially the same kind of idea.
John: All right. Let’s get to our big feature topic which is The Addams Family. When you and I first talked about this on email, we were going to focus on one movie and sort of do one of those deep dives like we did on Little Mermaid or Indiana Jones. And then as we started sort of talking through it and you were watching one movie and I was watching another movie, we decided let’s just talk about The Addams Family in general. So, you were going to focus on the first movie. I was going to take the second movie. But then I think it’s also interesting just to look at how would you approach The Addams Family overall. Because it’s the kind of property that if we were doing it right now in 2017, you would probably put together a room. You would put together a room of writers and they’d spend four weeks on it and figure out what the movie was going to be and what the spinoff HBO show was going to be.
It’s that kind of big property that you do things with. And it’s so interesting that we have already a TV show and movies to look at. So, The Addams Family.
Craig: Yeah. This could have gone so, so wrong. And it went so, so right. I mean, let’s remember that The Addams Family started as a cartoon in The New Yorker. Charles Addams did these one-panel cartoons. And I see here in the show notes, thank you for supplying this information, John, began in the ‘30s. So this goes way, way back. And it eventually was adapted into a television show in the ‘60s, which you and I, I mean, I certainly was watching that when I was a kid. They were in black and white. Was that one of the shows that then transitioned to color at some point?
John: I honestly don’t remember. And actually my memory of The Addams Family versus The Munsters is kind of blurry. The general, like there was a house, and there was kooky people living in it, but it wasn’t a clear distinct memory for me. Like I can remember, I can keep my Bewitched and my I Dream of Jeannie separate. But these kind of got conflated to me as TV shows.
Craig: There was a time, because there were only three networks, where you could get away with this. You could have a hit show and then another network can go, “Let’s make a that show. Make that exact show, just change a few names. It will basically be the same show.” And that’s what they did when The Addams Family came on. It was a hit. And then The Munsters came along to be the same show. It was kind of remarkable.
The show was very typical for television in the ’60s. It was a sitcom. It had a laugh track. It was pretty cheesy. And most importantly because it was meant for families, it pulled punches. The cartoons that Charles Addams drew were – they were a bit like Gorey’s cartoons. They were dark, macabre. They didn’t pull punches. And then the show sort of did.
And then you come along to 1991 and in a very typical Hollywood move they say, “We can get the rights to this thing. Everybody knows the name The Addams Family. Most people know the big characters. They love that song. So let’s make a movie out of it.” And what’s so amazing about the film is that it didn’t pull punches. And so the opening shot tells you everything about what this movie is going to be and it is essentially a filmed version of one of Charles Addams’ most famous one-panel cartoons, which shows a group of carolers merrily singing outside of a door. And then you go all the way up to the top of this gothic mansion and there’s this ghoulish family with a vat of bubbling oil and they’re going to pour it on these people. And the key, really the key to everything that makes The Addams Family work as a movie and as a cartoon is that they are so gleeful about it.
They are not – they don’t look vicious. They look happy as a family. It’s this wonderful – in fact, this is to them what caroling is to not them. This happy, warm feeling. And that general tone sets the path for the entire film.
John: Agreed. So the first film is 1991. The second film, Addams Family Values, is 1993. On the previous podcast I said, oh yeah, the second film, Addams Family Vacation, which is not really a film.
John: But totally could be a film.
Craig: It could be.
John: So we’ll get into why that could be film.
Craig: It’s Addams Family Values, right?
John: Values is the second movie. There was a third film written that never shot. Raul Julia, who played Gomez, died. And they never shot the third film. But I think it would be interesting to figure out sort of what that would be.
There have been direct to video sequels since then. In 2010 it was announced that Tim Burton would do a stop motion version for Illumination, but that apparently never happened. But, wow, Tim Burton feels like a perfect match for The Addams Family.
John: In 2013, it was announced that MGM had hired Pamela Pettler, who did Corpse Bride with me, to do the script for the new animated version. I don’t know any more details about that, but it feels like she should be making something. And finally there’s a Broadway musical that our friend Andrew Lippa wrote, which has obviously played on Broadway but it is now in the UK and traveling around the world. So, we can also get into that for a little bit.
So, we can talk about sort of the common elements of all that, but also what is unique to sort of each version of The Addams Family.
Craig: Right. Well, so the 1991 film is written Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson. I don’t know if Paul Rudnick also worked on it. I can only guess. It seems like maybe he did. He is, I think, the only credited screenwriter on the sequel. And there’s a certain Rudnickian humor.
I mean, it’s funny, you can go through particularly the second film and the comedy is very one-liner based. And you can literally go through and divide the jokes into two categories. Jewish or Gay. It’s incredible. There’s like a whole academic study to be on what gay humor is and what Jewish humor is and how The Addams Family just is the king of both of those schools.
But Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson write the script for Addams Family, the first film. It’s directed by Barry Sonnenfeld who I think at this point – had he already done Men in Black? I don’t know.
John: But watching the film, it was so striking, because I recently watched Men in Black, and like his style is his style. It very much feels like Men in Black in sort of how it’s visually presented on the screen.
Craig: Correct. I mean, Barry Sonnenfeld started as a cinematographer. His style is very – is for the camera to be very present, very bold, big moves. But, here’s what kind of emerges from a screenwriting point of view, why I love The Addams Family. You have this enormous challenge ahead of you, and I always put myself in the shoes of Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson. What do you do?
And so they make this brilliant choice right off the bat. I’m going to take this cartoon and in it is all the DNA you need for a movie. Specifically, family bonded together by the opposite of what most families are bonded together by. And in there also is this strand of the celebration of non-conformity. We all get a little squeamish by those perfect families. Think of Ned Flanders on The Simpsons, right? They’re perfect, we just then want to hurt them because of it, right?
So The Addams Family celebrates the perfect opposite of that. And in that they love each other. And so what is the movie? From a plot point of view, I think they actually make this brilliant choice by picking the dumbest plot ever. In comedy film, there is no more hoary plot than – HOARY plot – not WHOREY plot – than the grandma is going to lose her house essentially.
Craig: So they live in this mansion. They have all this money. And the plot of the movie is that their financial manager is scheming with somebody that he owes money to to take all of it away from them. And they’re going to do that by having this man pose as the long lost Uncle Fester, even though he is not, because Uncle Fester is the rightful owner of all of that. And once that happens, he can take it all, and kick the Addams Family out, and they get all the money for themselves. That is a terrible plot and it’s perfect for this because the joy of The Addams Family is not plot-based at all. It is entirely about how this family loves each other in the strangest way. This incredible romance between the parents, between Morticia and Gomez. And then ultimately what it means to actually be loved by a family in any way, shape or form.
And all of that requires comedy and set pieces to the point where you feel like you’re almost watching a standup show. And the choice of plot here is brilliant because really the movie is at its best when it doesn’t give a damn about any of that.
John: Yeah. Going back to your earlier comment about like it’s the intersection of Jewish comedy and gay comedy, there’s something really fundamentally queer about The Addams Family. And actually I searched “Addams Family Queer” to see who had done their Master’s thesis on it, and there really weren’t a lot of them online. But it is a family that is defined by its otherness to the world around it.
John: And in portraying itself as the alternative to everything out there, it is strangely normalizing. It’s all about this family that loves each other so much, even though they’re not like anything else around them. And all their individual, sort of the natural things you see in a family are magnified to these extreme degrees. So, Gomez and Morticia don’t just love each other. They love each other in a passionate way that is really bizarre. Like it’s almost uncomfortable, but also delightful.
Craig: Right. That’s exactly right.
John: And so Gomez is sort of feminine in sort of his fawning over his wife, but that’s kind of great. They seem to have a bondage/S&M kind of relationship. But that’s kind of great, also.
Then you look at the two kids, Wednesday and Pugsley, they have sort of the normal sibling rivalry, but taken to such an extreme degree that she’s always trying to kill him, like literally kill him. And you sense that she never really will because it’s the rules of the movie, yet she’s always trying to kill him.
And then the kooky Uncle Fester. And Grandmama, they are the most extreme versions of the wacky Jewish uncle or the Bubbe.
Craig: The Bubbe.
John: She’s the extreme version of the Bubbe. So, it’s all those things taken to sort of their nth degree, and yet in the nth degree they become very normal. It’s revealing how normal a family they are in relation to all the cold outsiders.
Craig: No question. I think that’s exactly why the movie works. And that is the – the interesting subversion that’s in it, there is something – we’ll talk about, OK, the Jewish side of the humor is this – it’s not a suspicion of the perfect WASPY family. It’s more like, ugh, who wants to be perfect like that? You know, we’re not perfect like that. We’re loud, or we’re weird looking. Those perfect people are kind of boring and stuffy. So this is the sort of Jewish humor that you saw with for instance Harold Ramis when you look at movies like Caddyshack for instance. That’s a very Jewish kind of expression. Rodney Dangerfield’s character in Caddyshack. He could have just as easily been in The Addams Family. You get a sense that if he had walked into the Addams Family mansion, he would have made some comments, but otherwise been perfectly fine.
And definitely when you think about the queerness of it, that there’s this straight world out there that doesn’t understand the true fascination of being yourself completely. Because in the straight world, you’re born straight, and nobody gives you a problem with it, so you’re just yourself. There’s no effort to it. And here they’re making a conscious decision. They do love S&M. They talk about it without ever going too far, but, you know, she says – I mean, Gomez is very upset because he is starting to think that maybe Uncle Fester is an imposter and it’s not really his brother. And she says, “Gomez, why torture yourself? That’s my job.” And it’s all – and when they’re literally torturing her, she loves it.
Craig: She says, “You’ve done this before.” So, it’s very much about a total free acceptance of our non-conforming selves. And all of that is necessary. But I will argue that the reason – they lynchpin to this movie is Wednesday Addams and her portrayal by a very young Christina Ricci who did a sort of impossibly brilliant job. It’s one of the best jobs any child has ever done in any part.
John: I completely agree. So, we’ll skip ahead and give a taste of Addams Family Values, because my daughter watched this with me this week. And my daughter is 12 and has not seen any of it. She had no idea what The Addams Family was. And so she hadn’t seen the first movie and we just started watching Addams Family Values. And within the first five minutes she’s in love with Wednesday Addams. Because Wednesday Addams speaks her mind in an adult way but also in a kind of couldn’t care less way. She completely takes agency in every scene in a way that’s just remarkable.
And she says things that like no one should ever say, and yet she’s much freer for that. And so my daughter just completely fell for Wednesday because it’s just such a revelatory character. And Christina Ricci’s performance is superb.
Craig: It’s not surprising to me that she fell in love with her because the character of Wednesday Addams is almost a super hero. Everybody else is operating in this world where they are concerned about their love for each other, or money, or whether this brother is real or not. Wednesday Addams is operating on this plain above everyone where, A, she’s the first person to figure out that Fester isn’t really Fester. He’s an imposter. Although, spoiler alert, it turns out he really is Fester. She just knows that, inherently. She’s brilliant. She has this remarkable deadpan, which I think great deadpan characters – like I think of Martin Starr on Silicon Valley.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: What they convey in their perfect deadpan is that they’ve seen it all. It’s almost like you get the sense that that character on Silicon Valley or Wednesday Addams has literally already seen the movie, or the show. They know how it ends. It’s a confidence there. It’s a remarkable confidence. Unflappable. And violent but violent because of a passion to be in control of the world. It’s actually a very kind of traditionally masculine trait to want to dominate the world, right?
Wednesday effortlessly seems like she wants to dominate everything. You got the sense that if Wednesday just decided to end this movie early, she could. And that’s a wonderful choice. And Christina Ricci does these things when she reacts to things that are too cloying, too sweet, too nice, whatever they are. Her eyes go big and her eyes are just, I mean, they should – I wish we could copy them and put them in a museum to show people like this is what eyes can do.
How old was she when this movie was made? It’s just unbelievable that she could do those things.
John: Yeah. She was 12.
Craig: 12! My daughter is 12. Your daughter is 12. There’s just this preternatural confidence and ability that she had that was just so brilliant.
All right. So, I want to talk about a scene in Addams Family. To me, it’s the pivotal scene. It’s where the movie turns and you start to see why you fall in love with everyone.
So Christopher Lloyd plays this imposter. He’s pretending to be Fester. There’s all this hullabaloo going on. It’s not going very well. Wednesday doesn’t necessarily think – you know, she’s on to him. And he’s a bad guy. I mean, he’s a murderous thug who is basically being sent in there to be a criminal. And because of that, he’s finding a certain commonality. And the strongest connection he has weirdly is with these two kids because he likes them. He likes the things that they do. And at one point, when even Gomez is saying this man is not my brother. He’s an imposter. Imposter. You know, nice and big.
Fester sees Wednesday Addams and, oh, what’s the brother’s name again?
Craig: Pugsley. Wednesday and Pugsley are pretending to sword fight and it’s nicely grim, you know. Pretending to kill each other. And he watches this. And so it was that old sword under the arm and Wednesday goes, “Oooh,” and pretends to die. And he’s, “No. No, no, no, no, no, no.” And he runs downstairs and teaches them the proper way to kill each other. And it’s in this moment that you understand that there is this connection between freaks that is deeper than the connection we suppose between people who are normal and therefore don’t need that depth of connection. And it pays off in this incredible scene where there’s a school play and it is the perfect example of the outsider behavior you were talking about and the insider behavior, because all of the perfect kids are like, la-la-la, school play.
And then up come Wednesday and Pugsley, who it appears have been well-instructed by Fester, who shows up to watch, proud of them, because now it is a family. And they engage in the sword fight and start lopping off limbs. They’ve rigged fake limbs. And fake blood is spraying everywhere. It’s spraying. And this is where I stand up and applaud. Spraying blood into the faces of audience members, like into their mouths, and this is a family movie and it totally works. It’s awesome. And it’s the best example of how this movie just refused to pull its punches. And you so loved it for that. And at the end of it, you cut to this great shot of this shocked into silence, blood-covered audience, and then the Addams Family standing up and applauding. Ah, brilliant.
John: So, the reason why that kind of sequence can work is because as the audience, our sympathies are with the Addams Family at all moments. And so even though we’ll meet other characters who are like normal, we will never go home with them. We’ll never follow them.
And so our experience of the movie is only through their eyes. And because we relate with them, that scene isn’t gory. That scene is hilarious. And so you can imagine the other version of that. Like the bad version of this where we have fallen in love with or tracked people who are outside looking at the Addams Family, they seem disturbed. And you would have natural concerned about the Addams Family, and then this bloody school play would read very differently. So it has to be the triumphant final act of these characters we’ve fallen in love with over the course of the story in order to see it. And you’re setting it up from the very first shot where we see the family trying to pour hot oil on the carolers.
Craig: Right. And that’s exactly right. So in that concept of DNA. You and I, we never say to people the Three Page Challenge has to be the first three pages. But, the first three pages should pack in an enormous amount of genetic information. That is the tension and the joy of The Addams Family is that they are on a superficial level horrible people who do horrible things and it’s even implied that they’ve murdered people, you know? But they love each other so purely and the movie is kind of a middle finger to the hypocrisy of family values, which was a big buzz word at the time, and obviously then became the title of the second movie. Because it was essentially saying everybody out there pretending to be all nicety nice, they’re great on a superficial level and rotten on an internal level. And we’re going to flip that. We’re going to make these people rotten on a superficial level and beautiful on an internal level, which is also a very gay/Jewish kind of mélange.
Craig: And so to wrap up the discussion of the first movie, you have these moments that continue to reinforce the notion that Uncle Fester is drawn specifically to that authenticity. And in fact starts to sense that it is the very thing that will reward him, even though he is a freak. The fact that it turns out that he really is the long lost Uncle Fester is sort of a cherry on top of the sundae. And, in fact, an interesting fact that I read, initially that wasn’t the case. Initially he was not really Fester, but he becomes adopted as Fester. And apparently the cast had a real problem with that. And this is from the documentary, The Making of The Addams Family, Sonnenfeld stated that he meant it to be unclear ultimately in the end whether Fester was really an imposter or not. But all the other actors rebelled and chose, guess who, Christina Ricci, to speak on their behalf who gave this very impassioned plea that Fester shouldn’t be an imposter.
And so, in fact, they ended up changing that plot point to make the actors happy and says Sonnenfeld, “They were right. It was the better way to go.” And of course it was, because – see the thing is it’s not saying, oh, it only worked because of a genetic connection. It works before the genetic connection is ever discovered. That really is your reward essentially. Like, oh, and you really are a part of this. But only after they’ve accepted you as part of it.
So, it was a lovely thing. And it set up a second movie quite brilliantly.
John: I agree. So, let’s talk through the plot of Addams Family Values. So this is written by Paul Rudnick. Same director. Same producer. In the opening, Morticia gives birth to a new baby. This is Pubert, who is actually part of mythology. I assumed it was made up for this movie, but it’s actually part of mythology.
Wednesday and Pugsley are jealous, so they try to kill the baby. And so there’s a lot of sequences of how they’re trying to kill the baby. The family hires a nanny named Debbie, who is played by Joan Cusack, who is just spectacular.
John: She’s actually the Black Widow Killer, and so she plans to marry and murder Uncle Fester.
Craig: Which, let me just interrupt. Again, the dumbest plot ever. Perfect. Perfect. Thank god.
John: Wonderful. Debbie sends the kids off to summer camp and from there we’re cutting back and forth between the main A Plot storyline which is at the house and it is Gomez and Morticia and Debbie and Fester, and the other plot line is at Camp Chippewa where we’re following Wednesday and Pugsley there.
Ultimately Debbie marries Fester, but finds him impossible to kill. And she’s ultimately electrocuted by the baby at the very end. She’s basically kidnapped the entire family. She’s going to kill them. But the baby ends up killing her. So, that is his real crowning as an Addams is killing their killer.
Craig: So the plot of the baby is set up in I think the very last shot of the first film, where she announces that she’s pregnant and she announces this by showing this little onesie she’s knitting that has too many limbs. And, of course, Gomez immediately recognizes the meaning of it and is thrilled. And then they have this baby in the beginning and, of course, Morticia enjoys labor pains. And, by the way, just another brilliant thing that you got to give Sonnenfeld an enormous amount of credit for. They make a choice in the first film that they carry through the second film. In every scene, no matter what is happening, there is a key light going across Morticia’s eyes. And so Anjelica Huston has this wonderful face.
Now, a key light for those of you who don’t know, it’s a special light and it’s usually very well defined in terms of border. And very typically is hit across someone’s eyes to give a kind of dramatic pop. It’s like the Tabasco sauce of lighting. You use it very carefully in places. And they’re just like, nope. [laughs]
John: It’s not careful here. It’s just a giant spotlight.
Craig: It’s crazy.
John: There are moments, clearly she had very little, like once they did her blocking, she was not allowed to change whatsoever.
John: Because there’s one inch of like that her face can be in.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So that she’s perfectly in the light. And so watching it this past week, there are a few times where she steps into the light, but essentially she’s frozen throughout most of the movie because of that light.
Craig: Which actually weirdly works, because she has this kind of insanely contained character. So even when she’s lying in the stretcher, being wheeled into the delivery room, there’s a key light across her eyes. [laughs] It’s just amazing.
So you have this Black Widow plot. And once again, by the way, Wednesday, she knows. Always knows. And you go back and forth between these things and the truth is that it is kind of a rehash of the plot of the first movie, which I don’t mind. Someone else is trying to steal their money in their house. And it certainly cuts to the family themes. But the movie sings and is at its best, and I think is beloved for all of the scenes at Camp Chippewa because those again cut right to the heart of that let’s just call it the queer Addams Family academic theory of outsiders versus insiders. And it does it in a way that is now even bigger and more obvious.
And it is outstanding. Just once scene after another. Christine Baranski and Peter MacNicol both being like the perfect foils. Every scene there is just gold.
John: Well, it’s also worth noting that the summer camp mythos is also a largely Jewish culture thing, too. So like the East Coast summer camp vibe is a real thing. I was trying to figure out whether this came first or Camp Crusty. And they’re almost the same time. The Camp Crusty, the phenomenal Simpsons episode where Bart and Lisa go off to Crusty’s summer camp.
But both of them are presaged by Meatballs, which is an amazing sort of distillation of what the summer camp experience is. So, all the Camp Chippewa stuff is just delightful. I found that my memory of the movie was that, oh, it’s mostly Camp Chippewa.
John: There’s actually not that much. It’s just the stuff that’s there is like really, really good and funny. And you sort of remember the parts of the movie that Wednesday is in, and that’s the part of the movie that Wednesday is in.
Some things honestly don’t work phenomenally in this movie. And it’s worth noting what doesn’t quite work, because watching it this past week I had this suspicion that some scenes got dropped, or something got changed along the way. Quite early on Wednesday Addams starts to figure out like oh I think Debbie is not who she says she is. Debbie is going through these papers. But for whatever reason, Wednesday doesn’t say anything and Wednesday gets shipped off the camp. But Wednesday comes back from camp for the wedding, Uncle Fester’s wedding, and yet doesn’t say anything there either.
John: And then goes back to camp. There’s a weird stutter step there. And I would love to talk with somebody involved with the movie to figure out what happened there. Because there’s something that got dropped or changed there, because it was really weird to have Wednesday in some scenes where she could have been taking some agency and she wasn’t taking any agency.
Craig: I agree. I agree. There’s an interesting – you could tell that they obviously had made this choice. They want them to go to camp. It’s going to be great. This is how they can have all their fun. But how do you get them there? So, once Debbie, the Black Widow, realizes that Wednesday is on to her, she makes this impassioned plea to Gomez and Morticia to send the kids to camp. And she says, “And they’re going to tell you they don’t want to go, but they really, really do.” And of course Gomez and Morticia are shocked, because that’s just – fresh air and sunshine is so horrible.
But they go along with the plan. They’re fooled, which is fine, but Wednesday doesn’t really protest, which doesn’t make sense. So, that was – it seems like a cheat. It is a cheat.
John: It is a cheat. And here’s the thing. I feel like you could get that cheat if it was because it is setting up the fundamental premise, like they’re off at summer camp. So I bought it that moment. It was the stutter step where they come back to the house and then have to go leave again. That was a bridge too far for me. And while it makes sense that they should be there at their uncle’s wedding, if they had revised it in a way that the wedding had to happen suddenly and they couldn’t be there, that would have made maybe even more sense.
And I do wonder if the choice – if what happened in editing or in some sort of reshoot was like, oh, we want to have Wednesday come to this thing, or they want one more scene with Wednesday and the family, so they stuck her into a sequence that she wasn’t naturally in.
Craig: It’s quite possible.
John: Just a guess.
Craig: Yeah, it’s quite possible.
John: There’s another scene that doesn’t work towards the end or a little sequence that doesn’t work especially well towards the end. It’s that like Gomez and Morticia are phenomenal, but they sort of lose their agency once Fester and Debbie go off. And you sort of lose them as a centerpiece of the movie. So they go to sort of confront Debbie, and then they skulk away. And they go to the police station. There’s a scene with Nathan Lane which doesn’t need to be in the movie at all.
Curiously, Nathan Lane ends up playing Gomez in the Broadway musical, which is a small world kind of thing. But I was watching that scene wondering why that scene was in the movie.
Craig: Well, it’s interesting. It is a mirror of a sequence in the first movie, and I suspect that’s why it’s there. Because they felt that it was successful in the first movie, although I would argue that – so in the first movie, towards the – by the end of the second act, beginning of the third act, there’s about ten minutes, which is by the way a lot for a movie that I think is about a 90-minute running time without credits. There’s ten minutes where the Addams Family has been kicked out of their house and they have to go live in this motel. And it is really a sequence of gags. And they’re fun gags. And they even set up this girl who ends up showing up as the girl in the summer camp who is like the perfect little girl.
But it’s just too much. And you start to feel once the Addams Family is – well, OK, now we’re doing a fish out of water movie with the Addams Family? But that’s really not the movie that we were doing. That sequence goes on a bit long in the first movie, and here in the second one it seemed like they were trying to grab at that again. And I agree with you, it didn’t really need to be there. It was more frustrating than entertaining.
John: Yeah. But it’s worth talking about the dynamics they were trying to establish with Debbie and Fester and Morticia and Gomez, which is that Morticia and Gomez’s perfect love is intimidating. Like it sets an impossibly high standard for love. And so Christopher Lloyd, who we’re not talking enough about because he’s just phenomenal in both movies–
John: He’s great. And like imbues this bizarre character with a lot of heart. And at every moment is making fascinating choices. The sequences with him and Debbie and with him and Debbie and Morticia, they are really terrific, yet there’s a sameness to them. There’s not a progress. And if I could hope for anything it would be a little bit more engine behind them so that we’re not coming back to the same vibe again and again.
Craig: I agree. And it’s worth noting that Christopher Lloyd carries the burden of the protagonist in both movies and does it beautifully well. And it’s a very similar protagonism in each movie. In the first movie he is someone who is struggling with a desire to be loved. He has this unhealthy relationship with this woman who has adopted him who is not his mother, but he has clearly this crazy mamma’s boy thing going on. And bordering on oedipal, because he so desires to be loved and accepted. And then he finds that love an acceptance from his actual family, the Addams Family.
In the second movie, you’re exactly right. They make a brilliant point of setting up a new need in him that is not simply there because. It’s there in response to Gomez and Morticia’s perfect romance. He wants what they have. And they have all these wonderful jokes where he just talks all the time about how he watches them through a keyhole while they have sex and they don’t really seem to care, which is spectacular. I mean, also in the movie you have multiple scenes where Wednesday and Pugsley are not just kind of pretending to kill their infant brother. They are legitimately trying to kill him. And every single time either the baby foils it or the parents foil it and they’re like, “Oh, you kids. I know it’s hard.” Which is brilliant.
But you’re absolutely right. The part of the laboring of the second movie is that Fester’s desire to have a romance and therefore his attraction to Debbie kind of flat lines. When he understands she’s manipulating him, she keeps trying to kill him and it never really works because he’s Fester and it’s really hard to kill an Addams. We know this. It does sort of flat line for a while. And you start to get a little frustrated that Fester isn’t getting it.
In the first movie, Gomez figures out pretty quickly that this guy doesn’t seem like. We aren’t ahead of him. He’s with us. In this movie, we’re so ahead of Fester that it does start to get a little plodding.
John: Yeah. My daughter was rooting for Debbie at times. And–
Craig: [laughs] Oh my god. She’s sick. I love it.
John: You’re not supposed to, and yet, I mean, Debbie is a kind of very Addams character in a way. You know, to a certain degree she is a Wednesday Addams grown up in the sense that she’s completely empowered in what it is and what she does. And so she’s an outsider, too, she’s just homicidal in a not appropriate way.
And one of the strengths of the movie is like Morticia has a sequence where she confronts her and she’s like, “You do these terrible things, and I like that about you.” Basically sort of like you’re horrible and you’ve killed these men and I applaud that. And, yet, trying to explain that she could still have love for her I guess brother-in-law, it’s not really how everyone is related.
Craig: Yeah. That’s her brother-in-law.
John: But in previous Addams incarnations it’s actually her uncle. It’s all crazy. But there’s a specificity to sort of why she’s doing what she’s trying to do, which is really nice. I just wanted more of that.
Craig: I’m with you. I’m with you. There’s this – I mean, you want to talk about like the best jokes in the movie, and it’s so – when I think about Paul Rudnick and his sense of humor, it’s so brilliant. And a great example of like, OK, we’ll put that one in the gay column. When Morticia does confront Debbie she does so at this new mansion that Debbie has purchased with all the money she’s stolen from them. And it’s just the opposite of the Addams Family mansion. It’s all pinks and blues.
And Morticia says to Debbie, “You have gone too far. You have married Fester. You have destroyed his spirit. You have taken him from us. All that I could forgive. But, Debbie, pastels?” It’s just so great. It’s like that’s the thing?
John: That’s the thing.
Craig: Your bad design taste, you know, which is so not Goth. That’s the problem here. That, to me, is the brilliant consistency of the tone that they created in these movies that is just cherishable.
John: Let’s take a step back, because we brought up the idea that Fester is essentially the protagonist in both of these movies. Like he is the character who has to change over the course of these movies, and everybody else is just sort of swirling around, and like the family as a unit. And it strikes me that in most of these kind of stories there’s like two ways you could go. Either classically a story is a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. And both of these movies are essentially a stranger comes to town.
So, everything is perfect in Addams Family life, and then an outsider comes in and because he’s an outsider everything is questioned and there’s tumult. And ultimately order is restored. The normalcy is restored after the outsider is either tossed out or accepted into the family.
But I think the reason why I think you could make an Addams Family Vacation is there is a possibility of potentially a Little Miss Sunshine with the Addams Family, where you could take them out of that house and have them grow over the course of a journey. There’s a version of that you could make. It’s just we haven’t seen it yet.
Craig: Well, right. And that could descend a bit much into fish out of water, which is a certain kind of joke. I find that the Addams Family is so much more interesting when the fish that are out of water are the people visiting them.
Craig: As opposed to them going to visit other people. But, I would pay many, many hundreds of dollars to see a new Addams Family movie where Christina Ricci is the new matriarch, because she’s so incredible. And we have to talk about, again, her acting ability in the Camp Chippewa sequences. But interesting that her storyline goes completely against the notion of a character arc. Wednesday Addams has no character arc. She is always the boss. And the entire Camp Chippewa story is really like – it’s just watching a superior person win.
John: I would say Christina Ricci’s character Wednesday, she has a tiny bit of growth where she gets a little bit closer to the David Krumholtz character.
John: Who is the asthmatic Jewish kid who is at the camp as well. And, again, it’s a tremendous stereotype and he is fantastic in that role. But her best acting is not a line she was given, but an expression she has to play.
Craig: Oh, that’s incredible. Incredible.
John: So you talked about her eyes. So, there’s a moment where she is forced to smile. And so the camera just holds her in a close up and you see her trying to evoke this smile and it’s one of the best sort of ten seconds of film you’re going to see. It’s just delightful. And that she could, I guess she was probably 12 or 13 at this point, pull that off is just remarkable.
Craig: There’s like a bookend. There’s two moments that I think of and that’s definitely one of them. Because in that moment she’s forcing a smile because she has a plan. And she needs to sucker everybody into thinking that she is now one of them. So she forces this horrible smile. And, of course, they’re horrified by it. But it’s incredible acting.
The other moment is a smaller, simpler thing, but it’s brilliant. They catch Wednesday, Pugsley, and the David Krumholtz character trying to escape. And they catch them at like a fence. And they start to sing Kumbaya. And Wednesday’s eyes get enormously big because it’s like she’s looking into the pits of hell. And she slowly backs up against the fence. It’s incredible. I just don’t know how – that’s the kind of thing where you go, listen, we’re writers, we feel great about what we do, but when you can find a human being that can do something like that, you just have to take off your hat and go, “Well done, actor. Thank god you people exist.” Because my goodness, that was incredible.
John: Yep. So, I want to wrap up by talking about a thing that fewer people have seen but is also really worth discussing because it has different challenges and different opportunities. So, there’s a Broadway musical version of The Addams Family. It was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice did the book. Andrew Lippa, our friend, did music and lyrics. And it is fascinating because of what works differently on a stage.
So, the basic plot for people who probably haven’t seen it, so Wednesday is a little bit older in this. She’s late high school, maybe college. She brings her Midwestern boyfriend, Lucas, and his family from the Midwest also to come visit them at their house. And so this is, again, a stranger comes to town and this is that family and sort of what having that family there sort of unleashes within the household. There’s delightful songs. But I wanted to actually play one little thing, because I know it’s a song you like as well. This is – Uncle Fester sings a song in the second act called The Moon and Me.
So, this is part of Addams Family mythology is that Uncle Fester loves the moon. But in the song he literally loves the moon. Like he’s in love with the moon. The moon is a character. So, let’s listen to a clip.
What I love about that song is that it reveals a part of Uncle Fester that would be very, very hard to do in a non-singing movie. It’s hard to get that character’s introspection without a song. And it sort of perfectly illuminates what’s going on inside his soul.
Craig: Yeah. That’s what musicals do best. And what movies tend to do worst. When you’re asking somebody to share this feeling inside of them, and it’s usually a romantic feeling. It’s usually a sentimental feeling. Movies are terrible at that. Just listening to people talk about how much they love somebody is a bit gloppy, you know? But when you sing it, it’s beautiful. And, of course, you have the delicious perversion of the fact that he’s singing it to the moon. And yet then again the answer to that which is, no, no, see, that’s your judgment. It’s actually beautiful and wonderful. And Kevin Chamberlin, who is a fantastic singer and great performer and Broadway legend hits that note at the end. It’s a high C. My god. What a – ugh.
John: Do that eight shows a week. Yeah.
Craig: Exactly. And do that eight shows a week. It’s just nuts.
John: Yeah. But again it’s revealing, we talk about sort of the queerness of it. Like it’s really queer to love the moon. And yet he loves the moon and he loves the moon so honestly that it’s delightful. And so if a character said he loved the moon, well that’s a crazy person. But when you have a song to go with it you’re like, oh, I get it. I get sort of what your deal is and you’re not a bad person. You’re a person who is in love. And that’s – it’s a remarkable little moment that is much easier to illuminate with a song than it would be just a character in a movie.
Craig: Yeah. I think Andrew’s key lyric in here and the really important one to speak to that is “though I’m told it’s wrong,” you know? And everything else is very sweet and it’s very much a straight kind of love song to somebody that you love. But he knows that other people think it’s wrong and he doesn’t care because the moon makes him feel great. And this is a real love. And you’re right. It’s definitely that kind of queer take on romance and acceptance and a kind of “I got to be me.”
John: Yeah. So, let’s wrap this up by talking about what we can learn from the Addams Family in terms of adapting a property. So, somebody comes to you with a preexisting thing. So, be it Scooby Doo. Be it some other Hanna-Barbera thing, be it something else that has characters in it, where do you start and how might you start differently looking at The Addams Family and the success they’ve had?
Craig: Well, the great hope is that there is some kernel of something that is going to light your way. And in The Addams Family, it’s quite clear from that great cartoon that they drew inspiration from, the kernel was this familial love and that inversion between superficial and internal and what looks bad and what is beautiful and good. And then if you can latch onto that, and in doing so you know you have a sentimental, positive payload for an audience that will deliver the joy of relationships to them, then pull no punches on the other side.
And so you’re looking for something that gives you these opportunities. So, when you talk about Scooby Doo, they’ve tried many times. They made some Scooby Doo movies. They were mildly successful. But the problem with something like Scooby Doo is that it doesn’t really have that payload. They’re friends, but they don’t love each other. You would have to start to invent these things. That’s where it starts to feel a little artificial and forced.
So, in a sense you’re looking for a property that maybe gives you a spark that you can then take forward. And the worst situation is when that spark is there and you deny it. And they did not do that here, which is why it’s successful.
John: Absolutely. I’m thinking back to Charlie’s Angels. And when I came to Charlie’s Angels, my first pitches, my first meetings on Charlie’s Angels, they weren’t about the plot or even specific set pieces. They were about the feeling of it and sort of what my feeling was towards Charlie’s Angels and having grown up loving it is that I was weirdly proud of the girls. I loved them and I loved their relationship between them. And they struck me as being like the three princesses who work for their father who is the king. And that it felt like a fairy tale in that way. And that the characters could be incredibly proficient when they were on the job and yet in the sense of this being a comedy they could be giant dorks when they were off the job.
And the tone that we sort of described in those initial meetings became the movie. Became what we ended up working on. It was like what it was going to feel like was much more important than what was going to happen at the start. I think the same would be true with The Addams Family. It’s like what does it feel like? And they found a good answer for that and were able to make that work for these two movies and other properties along the way.
Craig: No question. No question.
John: Cool. All right. Let’s get to our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing this week is the first episode of the second season of Master of None. So we had Alan Yang on the show for our live show quite a while back. But this second season started and the first episode I thought was just remarkable. Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari wrote it. Aziz Ansari is the only one of the recurring characters who is in this first episode. It all take place in Italy. It is all black and white. It is just delightful.
And one of the things I like about it is that if you’ve never watched the show, you could still completely enjoy this episode. It is just a remarkable good half-hour of really great comedy. And just it’s specific and it’s warm. Aziz Ansari directed it. It’s great. So, I strongly recommend you check out this first episode of the new season.
Craig: People are talking. People are talking. My One Cool Thing this week comes to me through Boing Boing. And I feel bad, because I’m not sure how to pronounce Xeni Jardin, but am I doing it right, do you think? Xeni Jardin?
John: That sounds about right. Xeni Jardin. That, too.
Craig: She’s fantastic. And so she put a link up to this and we’ll have the direct link in the show notes. It is – so some folks who are working with neural networks where those are the kind of learning computers, they attempted to see if the neural network could learn how to name colors. So, what they did is they fed it a list of 7,700 Sherwin Williams paint colors, along with their RGB values. Those are the numbers that ultimately define what the pigment will look like.
So, they give it to this and then they just start having it learn. And where it ended up was amazing. So I’m going to read you some names of some paints. Clardic Fug. Snowbonk. Light of Blast. Burble Simp. And my favorite, Turdly.
John: Turdly is good. But Sindis Poop is also quite strong.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. We’re thinking about repainting our living room in Stargoon. [laughs] Here’s the thing, that sounds ridiculous, but actual paint names are absurd. At one point, when it was kind of like in the middle, so like – and it’s fascinating to watch how it’s learning. So like initially it’s coming up with things like Rererte Green or Gorlpateehecd. Then, it starts to kind of get in a little closer with Golder Craam and Burf Pink. Then it’s actually locking into words, like Ice Gray. That’s – I mean, it didn’t match Ice Gray to a color that looks like ice gray. But then Gray Pubic is probably not a color that you’re going to see in a store.
John: There is one color here. It’s 216 200 185. Stummy Beige.
John: And it actually genuinely looks like, oh, that’s what Stummy Beige would look like.
Craig: Yeah. That does look like Stummy Beige. I mean, Grade Bat doesn’t look like Grade Bat to me. And it’s not different enough from Grass Bat. But still, I mean, it’s pretty freaking amazing that it comes up with these like remarkable words that are sort of good, but wrong. It’s the uncanny valley of names. Spectacular stuff. So, I just loved it.
John: Great. We’ve talked in previous episodes about scripts written by AI and they’re not quite there yet, but eventually if they can name paint colors, then eventually they can do more and more of our job. At least the naming of our characters. I’ve seen a couple of like online character name things that are designed for like fantasy stuff. And they are kind of clever in the way they’ll put things together. Even these examples. Like, they’re all basically pronounceable. And like making something pronounceable is not simple.
John: God bless them.
Craig: Listen, we’re laughing now. We won’t laugh when we’re in their labor camps as the neural networks have us creating huge batches of Sturbil Blue or whatever it is. But, still, for now it’s funny.
John: For now it’s funny. It’s funny until we die.
John: Our show this week is produced by Godwin Jabangwe, as always. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We’re on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes Podcast.
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And, Craig, thank you for another fun show with the Addams Family.
Craig: Thanks John.
John: Cool. Bye.
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