Tales from the Accidental Asshole: The TV Critic
This story is old enough now that I feel like I can talk about it without incriminating anyone involved, other than me, which is fine, because I’m the only one in this story who comes out looking like an asshole.
We go way back to 1999 for this one, back before there were blogs, before there was Television Without Pity, when there were just online journals and the invention of Mighty Big TV. I was lucky enough and honored to be one of the initial writers for MBTV–>TWOP, and due to network scheduling, my recap ended up being the very first one posted on the brand new, shiny site. It was for a little show called “Get Real.” You probably don’t remember it because you were watching this other little show that premiered in that same time slot: The West Wing. Consequently, I’ve never seen an episode of TWW, although I did get to visit the set one day and Martin Sheen told me I had a “black soul,” adding: “In the good way.” But that’s another story for another day.
This one is about recapping “Get Real.”
Not surprisingly, I’m having a hard time finding clips from this series (though I did find this adorable blast from the past) (Kids, it’s called a “splash page”), but here’s one.
Recap that, bitches. Anyway, you may have noticed the lead girl in this series was Anne Hathaway. And that was her first on-screen role. The series also starred Jesse Eisenberg, Eric Christian Olsen, Jon Tenney, Christina Pickles, Taryn Manning, and even Mila Kunis at one point. (And MC Lyte. And Tom Arnold.) It was about the Green family, a group of good-looking suburban people and the things that happened to them as they went about their day thinking they were the only people who truly mattered in the entire world.
You guys, I was not nice to this series. I recapped it with a special fury. I remember at the time of the earliest recaps I didn’t have a laptop, so I would write my recaps in long hand on a notebook, then take that notebook to work with me and type it all into a word doc to mail over to Tara (who then I only knew as “Wing”). Each recap took something like twelve hours. It was a true labor of love, because I loved Mighty Big TV, and I loved how much we all hated that show. And if you clicked that EW link above for MBTV, you’ll see that all the hatred was well-received, as my recaps got a shout-out in that review.
Well, not everybody loved the recaps. One person in particular wasn’t a fan. I got an email from someone calling himself an “insider” to the show, who started by reminding me that I was just a girl sitting on a futon in Austin, TX, and that I had no idea how hard it was to make an episode of television. That I couldn’t comprehend how difficult the process was, from just getting a show on the air to casting people with chemistry to finding a writing staff to budgeting and marketing to ratings — that I was being unfairly harsh and a little naive. He asked me to give the show another chance and perhaps back off just a bit.
In this “insider’s” defense, at the time I believe we had made a site-wide voting contest to determine which character was the “most annoying” on all of television. The winner, beating out Dawson, was Anne Hathaway’s character Meghan Green, which we also called “The Center of the Universe.” I believe I called Eric Christian Olsen’s face “simian.” I renamed one girl, due to her voice, “Ferret.”
I don’t remember much about the episodes now, but I sort of remember there might have been an entire episode that revolved around Eric Christian Olsen’s character having a huge after-school fight with a character of the week, and in the end the “twist” was that their beef started during a little league game. The point is, I couldn’t go easier on the show because it just kept getting worse. Meanwhile, my “insider” continued emailing me. He said he couldn’t tell me his name, but he wanted me to know that as the show progressed, he was starting to get just as frustrated as I was. That things weren’t going in the direction they’d hoped, and there were pressures from all sides for things to change. Then he told me about the day one of the actors looked up from his script and shouted, “I can’t say this. Pamie will kill us!”
This was one of the earliest times we learned that Mighty Big TV was being read by the people who make the shows we recapped, and it was a very surreal feeling. It also added a strange pressure. Part of the fun of recapping was getting to publicly rag on guilty pleasure shows like you were eating popcorn on the couch with your friends. Knowing that the people behind the show were now reading (ON SET!) made it feel like I was egging their houses and then signing my name on their lawns in pee. (“Love, Peeme.”)
Get Real was cancelled before the final episodes aired, and I just want to say, for all of you who have ever wrote saying I’m responsible for the cancellation of Wonderfalls that I had nothing to do with the demise of either. Remember: I was just a chubby girl on a futon, furiously typing away into a blueberry clamshell iBook, chain smoking Marlboro Lights, trying to make it to improv rehearsal on time. (But, hey, Mr. Sorkin, I didn’t wear a muu-muu, and I intensely dislike Parliaments. Then again, I never got a chance to watch your show, so I choose to believe you weren’t referring to me.)
Just after the cancellation was announced, I got an email from my insider, letting me know that he was going to send me copies of the final two unaired episodes, just so I could have a full set of recaps. I found that to be very nice. He asked me not to say how or where I got them when I posted them, and that he was doing it in appreciation of the relationship we’d formed over the time I’d been recapping the show. He also warned me that they weren’t very good.
The episodes arrived, I recapped them, and I sent a final thank you email to my insider. He wrote back, saying not to worry about all the kids on the show, that they were all set out for rather promising careers. That Jesse Eisenberg had things on the horizon that would make him come out from under the shadow of being known as “The Pepsi Girl‘s brother.” Eric Christian Olsen was set to star in a sequel to Dumb and Dumber. And the young, talented, beautiful Anne Hathaway was off to Vassar, but had several promising offers to mull over while she worked on her studies.
“And off the record,” my insider concluded, “I’m her father.”
My ensuing scream could be heard from so far away there’s no doubt I woke up Heisman-trophy winner Ricky Williams’ mother, who lived in the apartment just below mine. I’m sure my scream was heard all the way in Toronto, where Tara lived, and where I forwarded that email with the subject line: “AND OFF THE RECORD, I’M AN ASSHOLE.” Tara’s scream woke her husband Dave, and there was much agonizing screaming from both of us after that, because never have I ever felt as much like an asshole at that moment, and Tara, who is Canadian and therefore unceasingly polite, felt directly responsible for my assholocity.
I sent, I’m sure, an incredibly apologetic email reply about the job and not the person and nothing was ever supposed to be about how his daughter can’t “act” per se, and when I wrote that she used her hair as her one and only acting tool, I kept in mind that she was young and… um… well, uh… hey, sorry about your kid’s show getting cancelled.
Joke’s on me forever, however, because Anne Hathaway’s dad, who is gracious and apparently forgiving on the level of Buddhist monks, emailed me not long after to ask if I’d written any screenplays. I hadn’t moved to LA yet at this point, and I hadn’t written a feature screenplay, either. I was sitting at my desk at a software company, and had to reply, “No.”
“That’s too bad,” he said. “Because Disney’s looking for something to do with Annie, and I thought of you.” So, I didn’t have anything to submit, she and Disney went on to do The Princess Diaries so I guess that worked out for her. And Disney.
Probably about every three months or so I will get hit with a pang of stomach guilt over reading the words “And off the record, I’m her father.” I’m getting sweaty just typing this story up right now. This is exactly my biggest fear, each and every day, that I’m just cackling and blabbing my fool head off thinking I’m being oh-so-funny and aren’t we all joking on the same page, and it turns out I’m shit-talking Anne Hathaway to her father.
This happens a lot more once you live in LA. I can’t remember who I was talking to about Rufus Wainwright and the two notes his voice sings over and over, but I do remember that person said back, “Yeah, he’s like, my best friend.” Over the years I try to keep my snark more and more to myself. Because, after all, Anne Hathaway’s dad had a point, and one I would eventually learn the hard way. The process of making a television show is really very difficult, and it’s a miracle one even gets on the air, and I’ve actually had to sit at a table while people pulled up recaps or forums of the show we were writing on the very same site where I used to post my originally hand-scribbled bitch-fests. It has made me wince, more than once, to read, “Who wrote that? It’s HORRIBLE,” and know exactly how that line got in the script beyond my control but with my name on it.
As I sit here halfway through pitching season, simultaneously awaiting the fate of my ABC Family pilot script, I can’t help but think: “When will my bad Wonderfalls Karma run out? Is there more coming for Boomtown? Tarzan? I have done this to myself!”
Oh, God. Another wave of guilt over Anne Hathaway’s dad. Be careful, people on the Internet. Learn from my mistakes of the year 2000. You think they don’t know what you’re saying, but they do. They do.