Pre-Pilot Edits in "Euphoria" and "The Bear"
A lot of extrapolating on the writing process. But, like, educated extrapolating.
The subtitle of this newsletter is now Things I Yell At My Loved Ones While Their Eyes Glaze Over.
TWICE this year I have inhaled a TV show and sought to read the screenplay of the pilot. ’Tis my craft! ’Tis my duty! To continue my education in the mediums of art that entice and tickle my fancy!
TWICE I have done this and while much of the brilliance in the final form can be seen in its pre-hatched pages, I find myself soured. I discover that not all of the progressive and cool stuff in the show can be found in the original script. In fact, I’m going so far as to accuse the scripts of being doctored by a well-meaning (and extremely successful) dramaturge who is not our lauded creator.
Well, don’t take it yet. First accept my disclaimer that I found this script through a Google search. Is it real? Could be. Seems real. Anyhow.
An “edgy” show on HBO about teens from different overlapping social circles who do varying amounts of drugs and have varying amounts of sex.
One of the main characters is Jules (Hunter Schafer), a trans girl. We know she’s trans because there’s a scene of her looking in the mirror in a thong.
Cool. Not many shows have a trans character who’s in the core cast, who is treated with the same regard and complexity that the AFAB characters are. Cool cool.
My issues arise with the fact that Hunter Schafer, who is also a trans woman, is extremely pretty.
Watching the pilot, I found myself repeatedly wondering if, in the universe of the show, the other characters know that she’s trans. If not, what kind of plot point is this going to lead to? Are we going to have to watch another character accuse her of subterfuge or something? But if they do know, how progressive! How nice that we’re getting to a point where not only are people’s sexualities being accepted, but more uncommon gender identities (and expressions of it) are, too. How interesting to see a show use shorthand for something that would require endless exposition in any other show.
And thennnnnnn … we have the script.
In this script of the pilot of Euphoria
(which I tried using to cure my lust for the A24 box set, which, like, why do I even want this box set? this is not my favorite show. not of all time, not of this year. so my library doesn’t necessarily need a Euphoria box set. but. but … it’s just … so … pretty)
we find out that not only is hypermasculine, abusive jock Nate (Jacob Elordi) dead at the top of the show, but the whole episode is peppered through with references to Jules’s gender identity:
From Fez (Angus Cloud), telling narrator Rue (Zendaya) about Jules:
There’s some new, like edgy transgirl in town. (Instead of: “Some new girl in town that I think you’re ’gon be friends with.”)
From McKay (Algee Smith), in the scene where Nate and McKay are driving and see Jules riding her bike, with their positions switched from what’s in the pilot. Instead of Nate driving and McKay just protesting, McKay is the one driving and Nate is trying to convince him to run Jules off the street, eventually forcing McKay’s foot down on the pedal. The switch is a nice choice that shows both of their characters better:
What are you retarded? That’s a dude.
I don’t want to accidentally hurt him.
At the party, when Nate, drunk and angry, aggressively corners Jules in the kitchen:
Anyone friends with this f*g**t? (Maybe instead of: “I know what you are. Yeah. Yeah, yeah I see you … Does anybody know who the f*** this b**** is?”)
So. Somebody systematically went through the original script for the pilot and removed all overt references to Jules being trans.
While I found it distracting, not knowing if Nate in particular knows she’s trans (although that “I know what you are” above indicates that he does), it was a very refreshing choice to go for broke. It feels like something all TV shows will be doing this in about eight years, but we got a preview of it back in 2019.
This past summer, I also watched the eight episodes of The Bear from FX on Hulu. It’s about Carmy, a trained chef (Jeremy Allen White, of Shameless fame) from a high end restaurant. His older brother commits suicide so he comes home to Chicago to run his sandwich joint. The other workers in the restaurant do not appreciate Carmy barging in and changing the “system”, nor do they appreciate the new intern/sous chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) coming in and being put in charge of them.
The pilot is not Carmy’s first day (close to it, though), but it is Sydney’s – and as we all know when it comes to ensembles, whoever’s new in town is not only the audience’s stand-in, but also one of our main characters. (Think Peggy in Mad Men, Dan in Gossip Girl. Jules in Euphoria.)
Sydney is Black with waist-length braids and a former small business owner, with a ton of work experience, good ideas and no social capability. She does have social awareness – enough to know when she’s bombing.
The restaurant industry is notoriously male-populated, yet this show passes the Bechdel test in a most satisfying ways thanks to Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas), a middle-aged Latina line cook who does NOT have the time. She and Sydney argue over lots of things, until they eventually earn each other’s respect. She’s mean until she’s heartwarmingly not.
Thanks to Reddit, I was able to read the pilot script.
Now, I know I shouldn’t be annoyed that Sydney isn’t Black in the script. Carmy isn’t described as white (even though his full name – Carmen Berzatto – in addition to the dialogue telegraph ITALIAN). But it is a cool part of the show.
You know what is annoying?
Tina was supposed to be Tito.
The older lady line cook was supposed to be another dude. With broken English. This makes my blood boil because for a minute there I was so excited that a show written by a white dude had a compelling older female character, but no, evidently someone had to tell him to do it.
Should I quit being mad about this?
What am I even mad at?
That the creator of the show proved yet again that people in positions of power have narrow perspectives of the stories that can be told?
Or that whoever – perhaps one of the story editors listed on the IMDb page, Karen Joseph Adcock, a Black woman, and Sofya Levitsky-Weitz, a Jewish woman – rewrote these parts of the episode and did such a good job, and Edebiri- and Colón-Zayas’s performances are so good, that I’m annoyed the whole thing was so convincing?
Forgive My Boiling Blood
My issue is not that someone evidently came in and fixed Euphoria and The Bear to make them better. That’s what film and TV are supposed to do: use collaboration to improve the art, beyond what it could have been from a single person.
My issue is that the buzz surrounding both of these shows largely centers on their creators, Sam Levinson and Christopher Storer, respectively, who are treated like auteurs. When these shows are discussed, they are responsible for the bulk of the writing and directing, for the look and the feel, for the overall atmosphere. They’re mini Wes Andersons and we should gobble up whatever they give us next.
Yet it’s clear from the original scripts that they needed help to get to the level at which their shows eventually performed. It smacks a bit of Waves (2019), when the white director had input from his Black actors but didn’t give them writing credits.
Is it possible that Levinson and Storer decided to make these changes? Sure. Is it possible that they went into production, walked in on day one and said, You know what? I want to tell a wider variety of story. I want to handle this more carefully. Can I get some help please?
I really hope so.