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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Saturday (3/14/09) 10:45am - ... wherein Peter posts thoughts about the "Time Travel" Sketchwar.

Here's my commentary for the latest round of Sketchwar, which had the theme "Time Travel."

This time around we again had seven entries.  (Aiee!)  I think I need to reformat my commentaries a bit for legibility, and shorten them a bit so that I can actually finish them.

Ah, it looks like someone else has succumbed to the allure of 'scenes instead of sketches'.  As far as I can tell, the only real jokes here are that (1) the guy's trying to retrieve a baseball and (2) he gets hit in the head by the baseball.  Apart from that, you're doing a more-or-less straight scene of a scientist clashing with his dim-witted assistant.

So, without any cavalcade of one-liners, I pretty much have to judge "Blastoff" by the rules of scene-writing -- and honestly, I find it a bit wanting.  Granted, it's great that you have two conflicting and distinct characters in this two-hander.  The problem is that their conflict is static:  there's this holding pattern of "Sid asks a question," "Bradley delivers exposition," "Bradley says something exasperated about how stupid Sid is."  It doesn't feel like it's going anywhere, it feels a bit mean-spirited, and eventually it starts to feel like a cheat for info-dumping exposition.

I don't know how to fix this.  The concept might work; maybe the sketch needs to be closer to the action?  Maybe there's a funnier sketch that actually takes place during the time-travel-trip?  I'm not sure.

"I’m rich, bitch!"
Okay, looks like Ken is king of the blackout sketches now.

What I liked best:  this sketch is a perfect example of exactly how long a comedy sketch can be not-funny.  We get this drawn-out transaction between Woodrow and Phil, and by the time we're saying, "Um... something had better happen now," we get the "Hotdamn!" speech.

Then, at the point when we're expecting the scene with a drawn-out beginning to have a drawn-out end, we get a punchline and a blackout.

The prose is a little too detailed, but apart from that, I have no useful advice.  Funny, funny stuff.

"Fight for the Future"
This one, I was less impressed with.  I get the basic idea -- guy pretends to be (essentially) Kyle Reese in order to get laid -- though I didn't understand the "stop fucking with the future!" punchline.  (And again, the prose needs pruning.)

Ah, well.  One can't win them all.

"The Day Before Yesterday!!!"
Definitely good job nailing the tone.  I don't think you needed that "crap special effects" premise, because the prose and dialog gets it across just fine.

With this one, I wanted to see the concept pushed even further.  I assume the conceit here is that Jamie has just been sent two days in the past -- not that big a deal -- but Jamie (and Levar) treat it as a melodramatic tragedy.  When I saw that concept show up, I wanted to see bigger and bigger overreactions from Jamie.  By the end, I really wanted to see him take some life-threatening action to jump himself forward two days.

I could kind of see that kind of an arc already there -- I guess I just wanted it to be clearer and bolder.

"Clusterfuck: An Existential Time Travel Crisis"
Great concept!

It *is* a bit of a shaggy-dog story -- it reads like a brainstorming list of "things we could do with a roomful of time travellers" instead of a scene -- but the bickering Terminators and the random batches of socks are gold.[1]  The lack of a real narrative means it's hard to give it a proper ending, so we get that random, "rocks fall everyone dies" ending. 

So:  kind of shambolic, but there are funny bits in there.  Well-played!

"The Adventures of Professor Grebitus"
This is a pretty solid piece of work!

I admit, there's a bit of a disjoint in there -- in minute one, I feel like I'm watching a sketch about balancing EVIL PLOTS against one's quiet, suburban, family life.  (There are more than a few examples of this out there -- the first one that pops into my head is the "Brainchild" episode of The Tick.)  Then it does that left turn, and it's actually about the dim-witted assistant using time-travel to get the better of the scientist.

I suppose I can kvetch a little about that.  At the end, I got confused:  how old are Hank and Merl?  When they were both arguing about getting in trouble with Mom, I had them pegged as little kids.  When Kate Winslet showed up, I figured that Merl at least was a bit more mature.

But no matter, both halves are really solid.  I especially like the build through the second half.  "Oh, it's just a wedgie.  Heh."  "No wait, there was a dinosaur, too."  "And now -- wha? everything's crazy!"  And shortly after that:  done and blackout.  Well-played, that.

Every week for sketchwar, I write up notes about the current topic, casting about for what I'll write that week.  Sometimes it runs to pages and pages of brainstorming one type of sketch, then another, searching for something that'll at least halfway-work.

Here's the sum total of this week's notes:

* As always, let's do the simpler takes on this:
        * ELVIS 2025!
        * The wrong people go time-travelling
                * Birdwatchers go to Gettysburg to stare at a rare warbler
        * Everyone goes to an inauspicious moment in time.
                * Rickrolling via time-travel.
                        * "Technology:  We just end up using it wrong."
        ^^^ f*** it, let's just do that.
I'm sure next week I'll be back to my usual slogging pace (Saturday Night Live -- what do I know about Saturday Night Live?), but after four months of this, it *is* nice to finally get a freebie.

Do I think the sketch works?  I dunno.  I think so.  People seem to be enjoying it, so that's a win.  I guess it's all down to (1) whether you guess the ending before you get to it, (2) whether you're sick to death of the cultural referent, or (3) whether you've heard of the referent in the first place.[2]  When I was writing it, I figured everybody would guess the ending, so I worked hard at misdirecting the audience with superfluous details, while still nailing down that this was England in the 1980s.

The sketch basically has one joke, then a blackout.  If the joke works, the sketch works.  If the joke fails, the sketch fails.  Either way, I like the sentiment that we take the most breathtaking technology and make it mundane and silly.

[1] Side note:  the sock-dump might be funnier if Reese *didn't* describe the event ahead of time.

[2] I told my sister about this sketch.  Then I had to explain the cultural phenomenon that the sketch was riffing off of.  Then suddenly, my funny joke felt 98% less funny.

[Note:  this is mirrored on the Sketchwar site.]

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