Critique my sitcom!

I asked Marley23 if this was all right a while back, and I got the greenlight, so here it is.

These are the first 3 episodes of a sitcom I’ve written (in pdf form) that I’d like to get some objective feedback on. They’re registered and copyrighted, so I’m not worried about any legal issues. I don’t want to give too much away, but the premise is set by the end of the first episode.

I’ve got a friend who’s an agent who agreed to take a look, but other than that, I have no idea what I can do with this. I’ve got a 13-episode story arc plotted out, and there will be (hopefully) more converging storylines in future episodes now that the main characters have been established.

I realize this won’t be for everyone - one acquaintance said “It’s kind of immature”, which I loved - but I’d ask that if you’re going to bother to read it, you offer constructive criticism, not merely “wasn’t funny” or “I thought it sucked”. I have a thick skin and can take pretty much anything, as long as it’s offered in good faith.

I really appreciate anyone who will be willing to take time out of their day to check this out and let me know their feelings. I’ve been working on later episodes kind of piecemeal, but would be willing to share them if there’s any interest. And, obviously, if anybody knows how/where I can pitch this (and I realize breaking into TV with an original series is next to impossible), I’d be grateful as well.

For some perspective, the first episode has gone through one rewrite, while the other two are basically first drafts. Thanks in advance!

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Couldn’t get past the first page. Literally. Why not have the characters wear big signs around their necks? That would make more sense than that dialog.

OK, I’m lying. The next couple of pages were far worse. But then I gave up. If it weren’t for your earnest post I’d assume this was parody.

And that is in fact not what civil disobedience is.

Seems like webcomic would be a better medium for material like this.

I read a page and a half and not only is it terrible, it looks like you’ve tried to make the characters obviously speak to each other in the way that the characters in movies such as Superbad/Knocked Up/ Zack and Miri etc speak to each other… only it doesnt work.

(I just thought I should at least read the whole episode but i got to page 6 of episode 1 and it actually got worse)

I’m trying to find a way to give my thoughts in a constructive way… the jokes aren’t funny, it seems like you’re trying to have two people talk to each other in a super-witty way without either of them realising it, except it doesnt even come off as witty for the audience.

It seems like you’re over using the concept of the type of joke that goes “Man, im making fun of you for THIS!” “But dude you do THAT, which is exactly the same!” “but THAT is awesome!” “yeah it is dude!” (i.e

I know it’s quite common in sitcoms to have people talk to each other the way no real people do, but your characters don’t even talk to each other the way sitcom characters do. It’s like they are just trying to make a joke every 5 seconds for the audience, while explaining a whole lot of backstory along the way in a completely unnatural way.

The bit about the gun and the mafia was extremely predictable and like the rest of it, read like bad acting.

Why did Matt question Bob about the Sting CD as though it was irrational if he was only going to agree with it a line later? That stinks of bad writing and bad humour.

As soon as i read the line where Bob has a bong and the table and is “squiting” i stopped reading for good.

I don’t think it was funny, but i also didn’t think Friends was funny, but I did see a market for Friends and I could see Friends being appealing to the masses. This, not so much.

The best part was Bob working in the record store.

That would be a great show by itself. HBO are you listening?

Bob could be played by Creed Bratton (The Office and former member of The Grass Roots)

Flashbacks of his life at concerts, drug abuse, guest appearances by old rock groups.

A whole show with Pete Best as guest star, browsing the store, looking at records by everyone but the Beatles.

Some of your dialogue was clever , but the old “crazy” friend and “normal” friend technique is…old.

How long did it take you to write an episode?

While I appreciate the effort and have no problem understanding why it wouldn’t appeal to some people at all, I’m not sure any of this qualifies as constructive criticism. You’re right in that it is a parody (of sorts), but your last sentence has me wondering if you’re taking the piss: of course that’s not civil disobedience - it’s a clueless asshole sitcom character’s idea of what civil disobedience is. But thanks for at least trying to get through it.

HorseloverFat, I’d actually thought of that, but I can’t draw worth a damn, and don’t know anybody who can that would be willing to put in the effort required (as I said, I’ve basically got 13 episodes plotted out).

Jump, thanks for trying to be constructive. You make some fair points, and I agree about the lack of mass appeal - I definitely didn’t envision it as a network sitcom when I was writing it (which was why I gave up the pretense of not cursing later on). As I said, I have no problem with people hating it and can understand not wanting to read further - the tone pretty much stays the same throughout, so there’s really no payoff if it’s not your thing. But I think you’re right about the Sting line. And the gun/mafia thing I’d meant to be a cliche, but perhaps my parodic tone isn’t coming across. I thank you for the effort.

Honestly, I’m not seeing much in the way of plot here. I understand the premise of the series “Two hip slackers become zombies” or something like that, but the episodes aren’t particularly episodic…there’s a lot of talking, but no story is happening.

Pretend your show’s on TV, and the TV guide people need to write a synopsis of each episode. What would they write for each of these episodes? Here’s an example. I’ve just looked at the TV guide synopsis of two upcoming sitcom repeats.

In just two or three sentences, I know what those episodes are about. I don’t know if I could easily write a two or three sentence synopsis about the scripts you have there.

Now this is a valid criticism, and a trope I’ve tried to diminish in future episodes. Thanks for reading!

Tarwater, it depends. Obviously, I only have time after my real job and on weekends to do this, but I’d say generally about 5 days an episode, after plotting it out.

Wait, he ate the dog? :confused:

Captain Amazing, another completely valid criticism and one that I’m aware of and working on. The ones I’m writing now I’m trying to give more forward motion, with much quicker scenes and more action/less talk. Not sure if it’ll work out, but hopefully it’ll be a bit more “Zombieland” and a bit less “Slacker”. Problem is, I had to introduce a lot of characters in these first three that will now interact with each other in new ways not hinted at yet. Still, it’s more of a single story than episodic pieces, so the episodes might still lack strong plots as stand-alones.

I think how you react to that will let you know if you should continue reading.

Too talky. Way too talky. A sitcom about hipster zombies should have more zing per line or something. As it is, *both *guys just come across as annoying asshole wannabes - there’s no place to hook my sympathy onto. I was glad when the bus hit them, and it went downhill into episode 2.

That, plus Episode 3? Jack Black’s character from* High Fidelity* wants a word with “Bob”, possibly with a baseball bat. Rip-off City.

I got to about page ten before I gave up. These two guys are assholes and Jump is right. It’s not that they don’t talk like real people, it’s that they don’t even talk like TV characters. Just horribly, horribly annoying to read. Possibly it would be better to listen to, but I doubt it.

As I was reading it I was really hoping it ended with Bob getting the ever-loving shit beat out of him. Apparently it ends with them getting hit by a bus. Good start, but then you brought them back.

Also, was the working title by any chance “It’s Always Sunny In Phiadelphia… With Zombies”?

is there a synopsis of each episode? I kinda got tired reading the dialogue that was too awkward. What I’m getting is it’s about zombies from other posters. Are they living in the real world as zombies and comedic hilarity ensues? or is the rest of the world zombified. I’m more of a watcher than reader. My eyes get heavy when things don’t interest me too much when I read.

If it’s something like Sunny in Philadelphia, I may be into it, but the zombie part is something that might not appeal to a large audience. It’s like the Cavemen sitcom they tried. You might a get a few laughs early on, but sustaining the funny might be harder to do.

Hi woodstockbirdybird. I think you have some good instincts and some bad ones; at the moment, the bad ones are overwhelming the final product, but that’s par for the course for most inexperienced writers. (Now, this may be presumptuous of me – maybe you’ve been writing scripts for dozens of years – but that’s not the vibe I get.) My point is that I don’t find these scripts as devoid of potential as some of the above folks are implying. There’s a comic voice in there. It’s just being quashed by some self-indulgence and over-reliance on wackiness.

I can’t help but notice the overt similarities to the UK sitcom Peep Show – it feels like a spec script for that show, particularly in the first episode. Two slackers too old to be slackers who spend a lot of time in a bar; one main character is an aggressively anti-establishment, obnoxious, financially hapless, drug-using, lazy, music poseur who treats women like crap; his friend is seemingly more normal and responsible, yet actually neurotic, pedantic mess who has an abiding crush on a female friend. Even the random gun possession and dog-eating scenes seem right outta Peep Show. If this were picked up, you’d have to give Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain some royalties!

The zombie squirrel aspect is where you depart from the expected, but the trouble with that twist is that there’s no inkling whatsoever that the series takes place in a fantasy/supernatural universe. Throughout the majority of the premiere episode, we’ve been dealing with a slice-of-(fucked-up)-life sitcom set in everyday USA. Changing this to a supernatural or cartoonesque world where zombies exist isn’t “fair” to the viewers. It’s a zany, random turn that isn’t set up from the start; this makes it feel like a sketch comedy skit where the writer couldn’t come up with a final punchline.

As I said, you have some good comic instincts here. Some of the dialogue works well, and I did smile at the “are you menstruating?” line. (It helps that I was so struck by the Peep Show similarity that i was hearing the lines as said by Robert Webb and David Mitchell, who can make almost anything hilarious.) But as others have mentioned, most of the time you seem to be trying too hard. People don’t talk in constant self-aware gag lines outside of Family Guy. Maybe that’s what you’re after, but I just don’t know if that gimmick works with real humans. The script is working so hard it’s like a sweaty, nervous stand-up act desperate to wring some laughs from an unsympathetic crowd. You’re not letting your characters exert any humanity; they’re just vessels for your jokes. Not all sitcoms have to be incisive examinations of characters, of course, but if there’s one thing that unites most successful comedies, it’s that the audiences connect with the characters. Even Peep Show manages to find quiet moments to show who these two pathetic idiots really are, giving us some vulnerability and motivation for their behavior.

Basically these are almost prototypical first efforts at a series from a new writer. The scripts definitely need rewrites and some harsh, honest self-editing, focusing on a) reining in your one-gag-a-second impulse, b) developing the characterization, and c) either creating more believable plots or setting up the fantastic universe earlier on.

As far as where you can go with this, well, once you have a more solid set of scripts, you can perhaps try to create a cartoon or webseries out of this, if you have any contacts with actors / directors. You can try shopping it around, but as you know, an untried writer is extremely unlikely to get any bites with an original series. Have you written any spec scripts? 'Cause that’s the usual route to TV writing.

Anyway, I hope this helps a bit. I applaud your bravery in showing this to us, and your good nature in listening to some harsh but, I think, well-intentioned critiques. Good luck to you!

Quick and superficial commentary - this is not without merit, and I hope you are not discouraged. I commend your bravery in allowing us to criticize your work; it’s one of the hardest aspects of writing, and yet, it is a necessary stage. People who improve solely on their own advice are rare to the point of being unique.

First caveat - I know absolutely nothing about the TV/Film scene.

That being said, it strikes me that there are more opportunities for the fledgling playwright to hone his craft than opportunities for fledgling screenwriters. Between theatre companies that workshop and dramaturge new works, script writing courses and script writing groups (I particularly remember a course in ‘Scriptwriting through Improv’ that was offered at Second City in Toronto that was fantastic!) and above, things like the Fringe Festival, you can sit in on how performers deal with what you’ve written down. I can’t tell your location, but I highly recommend investigating what courses, classes and groups might exist in your area.

The first script (the only one I’ve read so far) struck me as being something that could be worked into a 3 or 4 hander in a Fringe show, and you would learn tons from the experience - especially with an open mind, a good cast and interesting director.

Dialogue is incredibly difficult, and it takes years to be able to write in such a way that the story flows through the characters and their reactions to what is said. In my opinion, you are putting too much emphasis on the ‘style’ and not enough emphasis on making Bob and Mike distinct people with a different point of view.

The good news is - the answer to all of this is to keep writing and seek advice.

You’re quite right that it’s not fair to critique something you haven’t finished. That’s why it’s an unwritten rule (even a written rule in some places) that reviewers have to read every last word of what they’re reviewing. Things that seem odd or stupid may make perfect sense in later context.

The fact that so many people are telling you that they couldn’t finish reading something that would only take up a few minutes of their time is a great big waving red flag, though.

Have you even tried a table read? Get a few friends to sit and read the script aloud. Or try to. A good script will flow even if amateurs are reading it. Your dialog doesn’t flow and I think it would be even more apparent if you listened to people trying to mouth it. You could also see if you could find a writer’s group that does screenplays to get more immediate feedback. Although your skin would need to be a lot thicker if you think any of this is criticism.

You also said that “They’re registered and copyrighted, so I’m not worried about any legal issues.” When you say registered, do you mean you paid money to the Library of Congress or to the Writer’s Guild? If not, what do you mean?

I’m in and out today (weekend was a bad time to do this, I guess), but I want to try to respond to everybody, since you all put forth effort just to give me feedback.

This will be hard to believe - I find it hard to believe - but, despite the fact that I was a big fan of the book (not the movie as much, though it was decent), it never entered my mind while writing it that it was a “High Fidelity” rip-off. I was working from my own music geek experience (I even took a couple lines from my music blog), but of course, it does come across as a blatant rip-off. Don’t know what to do about that; the record store job is somewhat important to the overall plot.

Justin - Heh. Well, it does work when read in Charlie and Dennis’s voices, I admit.