Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Agony of the Long Distance Couch Potato

Tom Selleck and Robert B. Parker
Sometimes a writer gets a chance to watch a professional at work supported by a wonderful body of creativity. On Sunday last, Tom Selleck reprised the role of the late Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone. Stone is just one of Parker’s incredible cast of characters including Spencer (no first name), Hawk, Chollo, Rose, Jesse, Suitcase, Sunny Randall (great name), and a host of bad guys, mobsters (even a gay mob boss). What I love about Parker’s work is the dialog, page after page of short, almost guttural, conversations; it’s like you are watching a tennis match with hand grenades. I got shivers watching Selleck serve and return the lines of a master or at least under the ghostly hand of the master. Selleck was the co-writer and producer.

Often the idea of story structure tied to language is lost, often due to the massive use today of technology and computer graphics – it’s cool but like a rock concert where it’s so loud you only get the visceral – not the cerebral. Radio dramas made you use your imagination; TV is worse for the loss. Yet Selleck’s “Benefit of the Doubt,” is that quiet storm that approaches in the early morning that darkens the sky, not lightening it. And when it hits, time almost reverses. The hard gruff and broken character of Jesse Stone survives, the dialog flows, the rain hits the windows, the dog finally puts his head on Stones lap, the viewer gets choked-up.

This is not a review of the show. It was enjoyable, had a good beat, easy to dance to. What’s on next? No, it is more of an example of great writing and character development that started with Parker’s pen and made real by Tom Selleck. While I bounced around Parker’s books over the years I never really dug into them until Jesse Stone put on a Paradise Police Department cap and stood looking over the rocky Atlantic coastline holding a scotch. Then I dove in. The elegance of his text is more like a script – maybe why Parker’s books went into TV long before other successful authors.

A writer is always concerned with story and plot, they are very important. But the most important part of a story is its characters, are they people you want to spend hours and days with? Do you want to let them into your head and allow them to walk around? Could they be your friend? Could they be living next door and do you think about having your kids stay inside? Would you want to have a drink with them?

Parker and Selleck achieve greatness by melding story, dialog and character. There is the melancholy foreboding in Parker’s books and in Selleck’s production. This is art, not programming. Every writer should LISTEN to this movie, they will learn, learn a lot

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