The other day, I watched 20th CENTURY WOMEN – the latest movie by Mike Mills, the guy who directed Beginners (go watch it on Netflix like yesterday). 20th Century Women is a semi-autobiographical story about Mills as a 15 year-old kid living in a boarding house in Santa Barbara, where he’s being raised by three eccentric women – and one very eccentric dude played by Billy Crudup. The year is 1979, and 15 year-old Mike gets life lessons from his chain smoking, uber-opinionated mother played by walking-god, Annette Bening – from the photography-loving weirdo played by the always weird, Greta Gerwig – and from that girl you were in love with in high school but she was already dating college guys, Elle Fanning.
The movie is damn good, but it’s also one of those movies that doesn’t have a plot really. It’s just a lot of great scenes happening to really fascinating characters as they learn more about themselves and life itself. And because of the film’s lack of strict structure, its totally unique characters, and its endless string of quippy one-liners – I left the theater saying, “I think I just watched one of the greatest TV pilots ever made.” The framework was there – right inside those dilapidated, boarding house walls – for one of the greatest HBO shows never made. A prestige dramedy with a killer punk soundtrack and five incredibly memorable characters who would make the 80’s in California fly by.
When the movie ended, I so badly wanted to start watching 20th Century Women (The Television Series) that it got me thinking – what other movies would make for all-time great TV?
Here’s are the best ones I came up with and the reasons why I think they’d work…
ELEVATOR PITCH: It’s Breaking Bad with the scenery of Narcos and the political upheaval of Game of Thrones.
Look at how happy Che Guevara is up there on his motorcycle – ridin’ around, bein’ all young, writin’ in his diaries…
Spoiler Alert: Che Guevara gets super pissed after this and starts killing capitalists. Only, not in The Motorcycle Diaries, and that’s kind of why it’s listed. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is fantastic – but, its also a somewhat nebulous collection of experiences that led to Che’s radicalization, making it pretty light on plot. Ironic, when we’re talking about a dude who probably had more stuff happen to him than 99.9% of people who have ever lived. My point is, what we see here is only the beginning.
The Motorcycle Diaries is an incredible origin story – beautiful and well-told. And like the best kind of origin stories, it carries an epic amount of weight because you’re aware of the epic that comes after. Just ask Steven Soderbergh – he made a 4 1/2 hour movie about it.
So, why not just combine these two into a Breaking Bad-type series that follows the transformation of an ordinary man into something far greater (and far more terrifying) than himself? After all, Che wasn’t all that different from Walter White – he was quiet, an intellectual, a man of science… And that’s the kind of beginning that will make it all the more powerful when he lets the demons out, catches a few bodies, and starts shaking up the fucking world.
Watching his meteoric rise to revolutionary would be incredible. And there’s no way we wouldn’t be hyped when he runs over three dudes from the United Fruit Company with his Jeep and tells his comrades, “Vamanos,” I know I’d be watching. And – no shots fired – but it would be a lot more fun to watch those shots fired across the dazzling landscapes of Latin America than on the dimly-lit streets of an Albuquerque neighborhood.
ELEVATOR PITCH: Broad City if they had penises. Party Down if people watched it.
When Clerks came out, it had quite the impact on my young, impressionable brain-mind. I just stared at it with zero understanding of half the things they were talking about, while also kind of knowing something special was happening. It was ultra modern. And, 23 years later, there’s no reason that a Clerks TV show couldn’t carry the torch while vastly improving upon some glaring weaknesses of the original film.
Because, I would be doing all of us a huge disservice if I didn’t point out that basically everyone in Clerks is the worst actor ever. The movie’s success is in spite of its performers, not because of them, and that’s a huge testament to how well-written the film was. It’s also what makes the idea of recasting it with some truly captivating actors so tantalizing. Bring in two up-and-comers with actual on-screen charisma, and keep the same, hyper-specific, slacker POV – and we could really be talking about something special here. Not only that, but a convenient store is such a rich setting that it’s amazing we’ve never seen a show about it before. Every neighborhood has one, and every kind of person goes inside – making it a show for everyone.
I should also note that I’m not the first guy who saw the movie’s potential, because after it came out, two TV versions were made. The problem was those two TV versions was they were completely oblivious to what made the original film good. The live-action pilot (you can watch here) is so clueless about the film’s appeal that it almost seems like a parody. Like, this would be the pilot you’d see in a movie making fun of how dumb TV executives are. Alas, this actually happened in real life.
The other pilot is less horrible, but it’s also animated – which is kind of horrible in its own way. For a movie so firmly rooted in the banalities of real life, animation was a counter-intuitive choice. And it still suffers from the same crucial flaw of the film – the guys who played Randal and Jeff in the movie are still doing the voice acting. And even as animated characters, they have the charisma of two guys who should actually be working in a convenience store – not great actors who are pretending they do.
So, the third time’s a charm? I think so. Get two great leads, a writer with his/her finger on the pulse of modern culture, and shoot it in the same, ultra-modern, hard-R style as the original – and you can cash in. (Plus, all the fashion is back in style!)
ELEVATOR PITCH: Tom Cruise wants to do TV. The guy who made Miami Vice is going to direct the series. Don’t be an idiot.
First of all, there are really no good shows about assassins. Outside of the shine that guns-for-hire get in certain shows like Fargo and The Sopranos, it’s almost shocking that there’s no regularly scheduled programming about professional killers. La Femme Nikita, maybe? Is that good? I don’t know, I’ve never watched USA.
I guess this might have to do with the fact that there are like a million shows where some dude kills like a million people just ’cause he’s hard like that. (Please see: the comical body count on Justified. [I never realized that you could just murder your way out of every situation]). But, even with all this television killing there are very few shows that deal with the consequences of that killing. I want to see a series about assassins that shows me what it would be like to do that job for real. What it would be like psychologically. Collateral could be that show. And Tom Cruise could be that killer.
Now, before you stop me, let me just say – yes, I know Tom Cruise dies in the movie. But, let me also say – did he though? I didn’t see him get put in the ground, did you? And he’s Tom f’ing Cruise, so I need proof or it didn’t happen.
Either way, I don’t have a problem stepping on the movies toes. I always found the plot that it did have to be one of its biggest weaknesses. I had zero interest in Jamie Foxx’s dumb limo company, I found it implausible when he saved the day, and found myself way more interested in where Tom Cruise’s Vincent character came from in the first place. Was it the same Vincent from Color of Money? How did he get into the killing business? Who hires him to do these jobs? And does Tom Cruise know he should do television, because The Mummy looks terrible? I need answers! And I want them in the form of a gritty-ass assassin series that shows me the real toll it takes to do the job.
The other bonus here is that it would give us another television series by the guy who brought us the world of rolled-up sports coats, slicked back hair, and cocaine yachts – Michael Mann. Do most people even know he created Miami Vice? Or do we just remember the show differently because the character’s looks became so synonymous with 80’s douchedom? No matter. Miami Vice went hard in the paint and maybe you should watch this scene (from the pilot!) to refresh your memory:
This clip is definitive proof that there simply aren’t enough shows where someone is loading a double-barrel shotgun in a convertible while Phil Collins plays. (It should also be noted that one of my goals in life is to call a woman from a pay phone, ask her if our love is real, and then hang up on her mid-conversation.)
This one’s locked and loaded. I’m ready for a show about Vincent the assassin. And Michael Mann is the man to shoot it.
ELEVATOR PITCH: thirtysomething set in modern-day Austin. Freaks and Geeks the adult version.
Andrew Bujawlski was once a critical darling with a brand new voice in film. He’s considered by many to be the godfather of “mumblecore” – a hipster style of movie-making (and specifically dialogue writing and delivery) that has had a huge influence on a lot of mainstream movies and culture.
Since 2002, Bujawlski has stuck to this kind of movie-making – continuing to create small films about lovable weirdos too distinct to be made by anyone else. And, while Bujawlski hasn’t clung to his style in some rigid fashion, the scope of his films still remain extremely niche, eccentric, and ultra-indie. In 2017, that kind of movie is becoming increasingly antiquated in relevance.
These days, I’m just not sure there’s a need for micro-indie movies unless you’re using them as launching pad for something bigger. Audiences certainly aren’t watching them. And when you watch a movie like Results, you might struggle to define exactly why it exists. That’s not to say I didn’t like it – I did – but a lot of critics panned it for that reason. Bujawlski is no longer the exciting, new, upstart – and critics grow tired of consistency (sadly).
That’s why I think a move to television would be beneficial for him. His style would be welcome there and certainly work wonders. No one is better at making weird characters more recognizable and relatable than he is. He’s a master and picking out those “types” you may have noticed throughout your life and identifying what makes them special. And one hit show made with a few characters we all love would certainly remind everyone why they fell in love with his work in the first place.
So, Andrew, if you’re reading this – and I know that you are – I’ve got a great pitch for you… Why not take the setting of Results (Austin, TX), its general theme (people trying to figure out their lives), and a few of the characters (see: below) and create a TV show about Austin hipsters trying to make sense of their place in the world?
And if that’s not good enough for you – I pitch this idea with an additional twist… The general concept of Results is so all-inclusive and vague, that it creates room for characters from every Bujawlski movie to come and play. That’s right, it’s time to combine all of the best characters from the Bujawlski universe into one ultimate show. It’s time for him make his Avengers.
Danny, Paul, and Mandy from Results assemble!
Alan and Ellie from Mutual Appreciation assemble!
Amanda, Merrill, Scott from Beeswax assemble!
Marnie from Funny Ha Ha assemble!
(And I’m leaving out Computer Chess characters because they’re in a different time period than the rest.)
But, you know what, Andrew? Pick whoever the hell you want! Or just make up a bunch of new characters! Just as long as you make a television show right now! Why am I yelling?!
All I know is that the show would need a new title, but the results would be old hat for Mr. Bujawlski – great storytelling.
. . .