Friday, June 3, 2011

Gratuitous Nudity, An Ugly Sex Scene, A Lot Of Alcohol, A Drug Reference, Shocking Language, Vomit, And A Dominatrix

No, I'm not talking about the latest episode of Shameless.  I'm talking about the new series Franklin & Bash (TNT, Wednesdays at 9pm ET).  I was originally going to title this blog post "Bash N Franklin & Bash", but, alas, it turns out to be inappropriate.  So, I decided to do the Shameless tie in, instead.  Shameless, in a lot of ways, I think, is an excellent description of Franklin & Bash.  This show gives the feeling that it just doesn't really care, and that's probably just the way it likes it.  It's trying a little too hard to be clever and constantly witty/funny, but generally, it comes across as a very solid and watchable show.  This Pilot definitely falls into the category of fully formed Pilot.  I see no major changes coming for this show, you're either going to like it or you won't.  It's been well developed, and is basically good to go, for its entire run.

Right now, I'll do the main character listings, with the actors who portray them, which is something I can't stand doing.  However, I think it's necessary.  After that, we'll get to the good stuff.

The Franklin & Bash law "firm":

Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer)
Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar)
Carmen Phillips (Dana Davis)
Pindar Singh (Kumail Nanjiani)

The Rival law firm:

Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell)
Damien Karp (Reed Diamond)
Hanna Linden (Garcelle Beauvais)

I'm not going to hit every plot point in the show, as that would ruin the experience of you watching the show, yourself.  However, I will build the basic plot up until the lead characters are in their new jobs. 

At the beginning of the show, we are greeted by a well endowed woman, in lingerie, selling mattresses on a giant video billboard, supposedly on Sunset Boulevard, in Los Angeles (it's not).  The establishing shot makes sure to have a couple of stereotypical California women cross the street, in front of a restaurant, while passing a block of "L.A. Weekly" newspaper dispensers.  One of the women is holding a bag from the California Pizza Kitchen.  If those pieces of Production Design don't make us realize the show is clearly being shot in L.A., nothing will (oh crap, I've been fooled, it's shot in Atlanta).  The location business is handled fairly well, and I almost fell for it being shot in Los Angeles, at first glance.  Framing shots carefully can make the audience believe almost anything.  At the end of the establishing shot, we are greeted with the two protagonists, eating lunch, and discussing Bash's chances of having sex with Marisa Tomei.  In mid sentence, we hear a car crash.  Franklin & Bash rush out the door of the restaurant, and immediately stop the driver of the car, who caused the accident, from getting out of his car, while handing him a business card.  The driver tries to tell them it was his fault (he did rear end the person in front of him, after all), at which point they point at the video billboard, with the suggestively dressed woman, finishing the commercial.  Right after her commercial is one for the Franklin & Bash law "firm", with the slogan "We got your back" (which they mouth along with the commercial).

Thus ends the first scene, letting us know that Franklin & Bash are ambulance chasers, and immature ones at that.  They convince the driver to file a lawsuit, and end up against a much better law firm than theirs.  When it's time for their first day in court, they are greeted derisively by the lead attorney of the opposing team.  Walking past him, they bump into an older man wearing a sweat suit, and Franklin tells him that he really wouldn't suggest he wear sweats to court.

Once inside the court room, Franklin begins the case by examining (I used that word for laughs) the woman who appeared in the TV spot on the video billboard.  He encourages her to take her blouse off (down to her bra), even after numerous objections from the defense's table, and succeeds in having her do many suggestive things before Franklin is ejected from the courtroom and held in contempt of court.  At this point, Bash takes over the case, apologizing for his partner's actions.  He proceeds to make his case by asking the court reporter to do a read back of testimony.  The court reporter says she was distracted, and didn't get the testimony.  Bash proceeds to ask the Judge, and even the opposing attorney, whether they knew what she said.  No one had an answer.  He then tells the jury that if everyone was distracted, just for that outburst, you can only imagine how much of a distraction the same woman would have been on a giant video billboard.  We then realize, in that moment, that maybe Franklin & Bash aren't just clowns, after all.

The next scene opens with the introduction of the other players in Franklin & Bash's law "firm".  We start out with Bash asking Franklin how things went in lock up.  Franklin tells him that he picked up two DUIs and a "Weenie Wagger".  It's officially true, these guys are bottom feeders.  We are then told by Carmen that her and Pindar have not been paid for three weeks.  Franklin tells them that they just got a settlement offer, but if it doesn't come through, he will just sell his body on Sunset Boulevard.  Pindar then says that he will sell his body, too.  That scene plays as comedic irony, as it's pretty unlikely, based on the looks of the actors, that they would have (m)any takers.  The law "firm" is based out of a house that is decorated like a fun frat house.

Fast forward to the next day, and Franklin & Bash head to the opponent's law firm to discuss a settlement.  When they find out who the head of the law firm is, they are in awe of some of his victories.  It doesn't take a genius to realize the leader of the firm would be the man in sweats, from the court room, Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell).  He hands Bash an offer of settlement, and Franklin proceeds to say, "We'll see you in court (pausing while Bash hands him the check), next time."  It is then that Infeld proceeds to offer them jobs at his law firm.  Bash says, "As attorneys?"  Franklin & Bash then proceed to have a discussion, with each other, about the job, in which Bash tells Franklin that they have to take this, while dropping a tiny piece of plot about Franklin "getting back at his father".  Franklin makes several demands, including keeping their original people from their law "firm", and requesting a 1975 Bronco.  Infeld agrees to everything, and Franklin & Bash begin their new jobs, in a big law firm.

That's enough of the basic plot to get you going.  The basic theme is that Franklin is a manchild who left his self-censorship button at home, and he doesn't censor himself there, either.  Almost every good one liner in the show is delivered by him or Infeld, and the show is, by far, at its best when they are in scenes together.  There are many bad one liners, as well, but I found myself chuckling at many of the things Franklin said, because it just makes no sense that someone could get away with being like this in real life.  We're a little unsure of what Bash is all about, up front, but he does appear to have some lawyer skills, while lacking greatly in the maturity department, as well.  We are still left to wonder why a large law firm would want these two jokers.  There must be an ulterior motive, we just don't know it, yet.

Right now, I'll give a little break down of the story lines from the episode.  It's broken into three distinct story lines.

Plot 1: The billboard case, which was mostly used as a MacGuffin, and exposition filler.
Plot 2: The main case is about an airplane crash in farmland in Oxnard, and injuries that were sustained by passengers. This was an airplane crash landing that, in the words of Franklin, "Makes that Sully guy look like a big pussy!"
Plot 3: The secondary case is Bash defending a dominatrix from prostitution charges.

There are only a few issues with the show, as it got off to quite a strong start.  I think the issues are intentional, and hopefully they will fix them, quickly.  It's obvious that Franklin & Bash are at their best, when they're together.  Without each other, they're basically nothing.  However, the vast majority of this episode is spent with them not being in scenes, or court rooms together.  The writing is pretty good, as it has solid writers behind it.  The biggest comedy writing issue is that the writers have a tendency to "stack" jokes.  What I mean by that is that you will often get a very funny one liner, and then another one right on the back end of it.  If you laugh over the first one, you may miss a funnier second one liner.  Due to that, I think I have to recommend multiple viewings of, at least, the first episode.  I think Meyer's comedic timing is pretty good, though I wish he wouldn't throw away so many of his one liners.  I know it's in character for him to do so, but if he would sell each one a little better, and time each one, just a little better, he could go down as an iconic smart ass character in TV history.  That is, if Franklin & Bash lasts that long.

The full casting of the show is extremely solid.  There are no weak players, in the parts they're playing.  You can have quibbles with who was cast in the main parts, but they successfully convey the characters they are playing.  The writing is pretty good.  The plots are entertaining, while being EXTREMELY far fetched.  The production value is ridiculously high for a show of this type, and I'm not particularly bothered by Atlanta standing in for L.A. (this could pose a major problem in future shows, though), at least the way this one was done.  Each character is either given a personality quirk, or a back story quirk, and I look forward to seeing how each character's back story, that was only hinted at, will be revealed.

Make no mistake about it, Franklin & Bash is a solid and watchable effort from TNT.  Bash is the straight man, and Franklin is the clown (in the words of Infeld, "a cross between F. Lee Bailey, and Barnum & Bailey).  But, if you pay attention closely, you will see that Franklin is very likely the brains behind the operation, while Bash is just winging it.  Franklin's line to Bash, "Maybe you should open up a file every once in awhile" is quite telling, while completely thrown away.  This is how back story should be dealt with in pilots, and it will be really interesting to see the little things turn into much larger pieces of the characters, as we watch their arcs develop.  I still think there's something quite sinister about the hiring of Franklin & Bash, by Infeld, but now we just have to wait and see whether he changes his mind about his nefarious plans.  Take the show as if it's a farce, and it will be much more fun for you to watch.  There's nothing really serious about this show, that I can see, and I'm almost positive that's exactly the way it wants it.

So, I can definitely give the premiere episode of Franklin & Bash a hearty recommendation.  I even recommend you watch it more than once, since there is so much business going on.  I only realized how complexly woven the pieces were when I watched it a second time.  My main fear is that the show only goes down from here, but I guess we'll have to wait until next week to find out for sure.

As I said I would do, in previous blog posts, it's time to talk the three keys to success.  The bar is generally lower for cable, so take what I say with a little bit of a grain of salt.

1. Ratings-It remains to be seen how well this show will do, but I think it will have to be higher rated than The Closer, due to its high production value, big team, and cost, to get a second season.
2. This is one of the most expensive looking cable shows I've seen in quite awhile, and the writing team is formerly from award winning network level.  It being shot in Atlanta probably saves it, a little, but I strongly think it will need to do very well in the ratings to get picked up for another season.
3. It's off to a very good start.  It's very solid, for a commercial cable show, and if it keeps up on the same level, it will probably get a little more leeway on 1 and 2.

This is the first time we will be able to track a show from soup to nuts, so it should be interesting to see if anything I said in the three keys ends up being relevant.

I'll now close by spoiling each one of the things I listed in the title of this blog.  If you want to wait to find out what they mean, there's nothing else for you to read after this, so you can just stop here.  Thanks for reading

1. Gratuitous nudity-We see Bash's bare behind as he exits a hot tub.  No one, except his new assistant at the Infeld law firm, finds this even remotely out of the ordinary.
2. Ugly sex scene-There is a comical sex scene (solely because of the attractiveness mismatch between them) between Franklin and Hanna Linden (Garcelle Beauvais), which has several particularly bizarre, yet funny, things happen.
3. A lot of alcohol-One segment of the show deals with a large party, with lots o' booze, that is basically done for the pilot of the airplane crash to protect him from himself, while awaiting the trial.
4. A drug reference-Franklin says, in the first meeting, at the new law firm, that he is representing medical marijuana vs. L.A., and that if you need any you can basically come to him.
5. Shocking language (at least for commercial cable TV)-We hear multiple words that we never hear on broadcast network TV, sometimes giving shock value, but usually just for humor (no matter how crass it may be).
6. Vomit-Pindar, the agoraphobe, when being forced to leave "the cave", pukes inside Carmen's car.  This is very disgusting, and it is so disgusting to Carmen, that she proceeds to vomit in the bushes outside of her car (her vomit is not seen, but the sound effects are very effective).  If you read this before watching the show, and do not want to be grossed out, I strongly suggest averting your eyes in the scene that Pindar goes outside the house.  It is not obvious, in the least, that this is going to happen, and it is very shocking and disgusting.
7. A dominatrix-As stated above, and this is the smallest spoiler, Bash's client in the third story line is a dominatrix, who is accused of prostitution.

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