Thursday, January 9, 2014
Frasier, Humor and Conflict
I'm tempted to try and make a tossed salad and scrambled eggs pun here, but I'll spare you.
Here's the thing. I decided several months ago to watch every episode on Netflix. The decision had nothing to do with writing, this was for pure entertainment.
The show grew better every season. Almost every episode. I didn't think to ask why, after all I hadn't started writing in earnest again yet. But, when the time came to craft stories again, I wondered two things.
1) Why are the shows so good?
2) Why are they so funny?
Several answers exist to these questions. The excellent cast is one obvious answer. But, from a writing standpoint, what were they doing so well?
I decided conflict, and specifically escalating conflict, answered both questions. Stories with no struggles or obstacles are not stories.
Every Frasier episode has at least one problem. The problem gets worse. Triumphs turn into setbacks in the blink of an eye. There may be resolution by the end of the show, but you can bet that things will get worse before they get better.
No matter what genre, style or medium you want to write, you could do far worse than turning to this old sitcom as a case study in rising conflict.
The same goes for humor. There are several types of comedy, so don't think this is intended to cover all of it. It's a good rule of thumb though: to create humor, have your characters act as if they are in a drama. It is trivial when Frasier has to walk the dog for his father, rather than see the entirety of the throat singing concert. However, he makes it seem like the end of the world, because to him it is. Hilarity follows.
This really hit home during the the Season 6 Episode, Three Valentines. It opens with Niles setting up for a date in Frasier's apartment. Everything is perfect. But wait! His pants are not perfectly pressed. No matter, he has time. He has time to iron them. In doing so, he finds a loose thread. While fixing that he cuts himself. The blood makes him pass out. The situation continues to escalate, setting up the climax perfectly. By the time Niles sets the couch on fire, it's the only possible outcome to the series of events.
And even then, the conflict hasn't finished growing. It gets even worse.
Oh, by the way. Spoiler alert.
Conflict. You can learn it from this show. And don't tell me how it ends please. I'm only on Season 9.