Tuesday 6 October 2015

Who is Geoff?

If you’ve just tuned in, I’m developing a sitcom on this blog, walking through the process, and showing how I go about things (have a look here and here). My way may not be the best way, and shouldn’t necessarily be your way, but it seems that people are finding this process useful. In some way or other.

The show is called Third Time Lucky, about a couple called Lynette and Geoff, who are marrying for the third time – and the second time to each other. This time, they reckon, it’s going to be different. They’re older. And wiser. And both hoping against hope that the other one can change. We know, or at least strongly suspect, that they are doomed.

They’ve probably got kids from their first marriage – and at least one of them from their second marriage. Who are they? How old are they? What stage are they at? I’ve no idea. Right now, the important players are Geoff and Lynette. Who are they?

One thing to bear in mind, even at the start, that you don’t want characters who are ‘sometimes a bit this’ or ‘occasionally a bit that’. No. We want clear simple characters at first. We need to work out what the engine of each characters is. What drives them forward? Maybe we want a bit of back story in our heads at least – and this show, given it’s about being married for the third time could easily be stuffed full of past moments, call-backs, regrets and recriminations. But we need forward momentum. Stories, not histories.

Rough Scenarios
But there are a few questions that need answers and we need a rough age for our lead characters. Or at least paint a couple of scenarios:

Let’s say they first married when they were both 25. Had a child at 27. Kept things together for the sake of their child. When the child went to uni at 18, they divorced. So they divorced at 45. I’ve just read online that if people remarry after a divorce, it tends to be after three years. So, let’s say Geoff remarries at 48. Maybe to someone younger. Or unsuitable in some way. But the marriage is a disaster. They divorce when Geoff is 53. He meets Lynette again 55. And they remarry. So that puts Geoff at mid-to-late fifties.

When does the show start? When is the first ep set? When they meet again? When they remarry? Two years into the remarriage? No idea. Maybe their wedding day would be a good place to start.

So Geoff could be 55 and thinking about early retirement. He could be an ex-copper and already retired (now doing private consultancy/security work). This doesn’t feel like a work-place sitcom, so he should either be retired from work – and active in some other way, eg. Social club, neighbourhood watch, parish council – or all of the above. Or he should be working from home, ideally from his kitchen table. Or he’s still a plumber, and he goes out and does that. And we never see it. But something tells me Geoff is not a plumber. He might be an ex-copper.

The good thing about this scenario is there are lots of brilliant, established, funny actors in their 50s. Especially actors or comedians who would work well in front of a studio audience, which is what I hope this show will be. Casting an exciting Lynette or a Geoff will not be very hard.

What’s more, any children they have will be in their 20s, so there’s scope for a really decent casting there and you might end up with another Kris Marshall on your hands. That'd be good.

The alternative scenario, which on the surface is less attractive, is that Geoff and Lynette married at 18. Maybe Lynette was pregnant and it was a bit of a shotgun wedding. Although is that a thing these days? People don’t care about that stuff any more do they. Either way, they marry at 18. Divorce at 28. Remarry at 32. Divorce again at 40. And then remarry each other at 45. For some reason, I just don’t buy that sequence of events. It actually feels rather sad. There may be a way of making that work, but I’m not sure what it is.

Also, the show is about people set in their ways, and how people are overly optimistic that other people will change – and that they’ll be Third Time Lucky. So I’m going with the first scenario and that rough timeline. Geoff and Lynette are mid-to-late fifties.

So Who Is Geoff?
To be honest, I haven’t really been thinking about him specifically, but after a while I realised that subconsciously I have been.  A few different things have triggered a thought about Geoff being a technophile. An early adopter.
Yes. Minidiscs were very nearly a thing.
Geoff has one of these. Obvs.

Let’s think about what that looks like for a man born in about 1960. No VCRs, no mobile phones, no answering machines – let alone internet. Therefore, we’ve got a guy who was entering the job market in the 1980s, when large top-loading VCRs were available at considerable expense. He bought an early enormous video camera. He probably bought a laserdisc player, and a minidisc player. Now he has a Blueray DVD player gathering dust because he’s all about the set-top boxes and live streaming. He has a massive TV.

Now, a word of caution here. People staring at screens and operating gadgets is not all that funny or televisual. So how does the technology help?

One bonus is that he’ll have grainy video footage of past family events in the 80s, 90s and 00s that might come in handy. And he’ll be constantly wanting to install burglar alarms and security systems that electrocute him and get him arrested. That sort of thing.

It’s also worth asking why has he got all these gadgets – and he’s still got them, and the original boxes and instructions in a loft or a lock-up. Is he a bit of hoarder? There’s been lots of docs about hoarders but no comedies…. Why does he keep buying the latest technology. Is it about status? “I can afford the latest things”?

No, I think the technology is a tangible illustration of his optimism. He thinks that the next gadget, the next device or platform will be the one that really makes his life better – and for those around him. He’s optimistic about the future – and that’s really what the show is about. And we’ve got a central character who’s got tangible objects that embody his optimism (even though they are relics of the past.)

So, get ready for Geoff. He’ll be along soon. Once he’s worked out how to reboot his phone which has his diary on it which tells him when we were meant to be meeting. But when he arrives, you may laugh that his technology has actually made him late, but he had a palm pilot back in the day and he said those things were the future and, in a way, he was right. There’s always just enough evidence that his optimism is not entirely misplaced. Hello, Geoff. I think I'm going to like you.

But what does Geoff see in Lynette? Who is Lynette? We’ll be thinking about her next time.

If this sort of thing is interesting or useful, may I recommend my book, Writing That Sitcom? And you might also enjoy a two-day sitcom-writing workshop with me and Dave Cohen on 5th & 6th Nov 2015. Details on that here.

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