If, when you watch your favorite TV series, you wonder ‘where the heck did that come from?’ or ‘why on earth would they do that?’ then you will probably love Sundance Channel’s new series, The Writers’ Room (M0ndays, 10/9C). Hosted by Oscar-winner Jim Rash (The Descendants), the series looks into the workings of the writers’ rooms for many of TV’s best shows (Breaking Bad, Dexter, Parks and Recreation, Game of Thrones, etc.) – beginning with Breaking Bad on tonight’s series premiere.
Breaking Bad is the story of, as creator Vince Gilligan puts it, how Mr. Chips becomes Scarface. In the season premiere of The Writers’ Room, the show’s writers – Gilligan, Moira Walley-Beckett, Peter Gould, Sam Catlin, George Mastras, Gennifer Hutchison and Tom Schnauz – and Walter White himself, Bryan Cranston.
The show follows the kind of roundtable format you might find on any interview show that has several participants – the host/interviewer at one end of the table and the guests ranged out to his left. There are no photography tricks, it’s all a range basic shots and clean cuts (with some cute interstitials involving fluttering pages): close-ups, two and three-shots, wide shots – interspersed with selected scenes for the featured series.
Rash asks a lot of the questions you might expect: where the idea for the series came from (in the case of Breaking Bad, it’s a particularly good story); whether there was a sense of how well the series would be received (Gilligan describes it as being a series with all the ingredients for failure); how meticulously the show was plotted – and how far in advance (very, and not as far as you’d think), and so on.
You hear stories about how cutthroat some writers’ rooms are – some showrunners take the stance that friction sparks creativity – but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the Breaking Bad group. You can’t fake the kind of affection and great chemistry exhibited here unless you’re a great actor – and Rash is the only actor onscreen.
Rash keeps things light in tone but doesn’t just ask softball questions. The result is a half hour that is likely to entertain both fans and non-fans of the show while giving us some insight into the process of the show’s writing.
Each episode closes with The Last Word with Entertainment Weekly editor Jess Cagle – which works equally as well.
Other episodes made available for review included Parks and Recreation and New Girl – and both are just as interesting (even for non-fans like me).
Final Grade: A
Photo courtesy of Sundance Channel