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September 1, 2015

TV 101: Arise, Serpentor, Arise!

by Jay Black, posted May 4th 2009 2:03PM
I've got two for this one: 1) This, I command! Or 2) Cobra LaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaGenerally speaking, if your doctor is wearing purple pants, metal studded suspenders, a blue cape, and no shirt, it's probably best to regard him with a healthy degree of suspicion. Cobra Commander learned this the hard way at the start of the second season of G.I. Joe, when his own shirtless, cape-wearing science officer, Dr. Mindbender, usurped his authority by crafting the ultimate COBRA leader: Serpentor.

Serpentor was grown out of genetic gumbo: by taking the DNA of history's greatest leaders and mixing them all together, Mindbender hoped to create the perfect ruler (or at least one that didn't always call him "Fender-Bender.")

Alas, as is so often the case, Mindbender's plan was thrown off when he was forced to substitute Sun Tzu's DNA with that of professional wrestler Sgt. Slaughter. Because of this, Serpentor was cursed with impatience, a fatal flaw G.I. Joe was able to use against him time and time again.

Even though Mindbender failed with his Serpentor, creating the "Serpentor of [insert profession here]" is still one of my favorite games...

Serpentor's DNA was taken from historical figures like Alexander the Great and Ghengis Khan, each selected to give him a particular skill that Dr. Mindbender thought important for the leader of a Cobra to have. Thus, the way you play the Serpentor game is simple: you build the perfect person by selecting one trait from famous people in that profession.

If you wanted to create the ultimate baseball player, for instance, you'd combine the morality of Jackie Robinson, the athleticism of Willie Mays, the charisma of Babe Ruth, the longevity of Cal Ripken Jr., and the capacity to handle steroids of Barry Bonds. Mix that all up, have Dr. Mindbender do some of his shirtless magic, and boom, you have the ultimate player.

You get the idea.

So, for this week's column, I thought I'd mix up the perfect TV creator. In no particular order, here are the traits that, if they were combined together, would bring forth the Serpentor of TV, capable of producing the best television in history:

1. The dialogue of Aaron Sorkin

Though his shows have met with mixed reception -- praise, but no viewers for Sports Night, universal love for West Wing, pitchforks and torches for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip -- there's one constant in all of them: dialogue.

Even Studio 60, a show that, by the end of its run, was mostly being watched out of the same instinct that makes people rubberneck at accident sites, never disappointed in the dialogue department. Like the naked breasts in a terrible Cinemax movie, Sorkin's dialogue made you stick around long after the point where you cared for the characters or the story any more.

2. The guts of David Chase

Imagine what it must have been like pitching the finale of The Sopranos to the HBO executives. Imagine how fast the smiles ("I love 'Don't Stop Believing!'") turned into still-smiling-because-I'm-a-TV-executive-but-I-secretly-want-you-dead-fake-smiles ("10 seconds of silence. Hmmmm. Okay, I like it, I like it, but what if we...").

Further, think about what he was risking with the fanbase. About eighty million people that night went through three distinct feelings: from hey, my cable's out to well, okay, I guess not, but that's a weird way to end a series to I need to kill David Chase. If he had just shown Tony being shot (or whatever that finale scene is supposed to imply), everyone would have been happy.

I mean, say what you want about the quality of that finale, them's some brass cajones.

Like Roy McAvoy in Tin Cup going for it on 18 at the U.S. Open, Chase's decision might not have been the best one, but it certainly is the most memorable.

And that's something.

3. The social conscience of Norman Lear

All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time -- 'nuff said.

4. The speed of Matt Stone and Trey Parker

The thing that's stunning about South Park's quick take on the week's events is that Stone and Parker usually manage to frame the news in their unique worldview. Compare that to the weak-sauce jokes of most of the late night hosts or the limp political satire of Saturday Night Live, and what you're left with is the TV equivalent of an exceptionally gifted newspaper columnist ... with fart jokes. Can you really ask for more than that?

5. The willingness to comment on TV Squad of Bill Lawrence

So, this one is a little self-serving -- you wanna fight about it?

That said, how cool is it that Bill Lawrence commented on Joel's post about his show? I've never watched Scrubs (even though Zach Braff and I both suffer from the same kind of cripplingly gigantic rosy-red lips), but Lawrence's obvious love of his show and staff makes me want to check it out.

6. The satiric eye of Matt Groening

The Simpsons has been around so long (it recently celebrated its nine millionth episode, "Homer Does Something Stupid, then Rediscovers His Love for Marge"), it's sometimes difficult to remember just how subversive the show was when it premiered. The Simpsons skewered everything that was sacred to Americans, and though an animated sitcom, it was rarely cartoonish in its attacks.

The show was a godsend for anybody who was just entering into their annoying Holden Caulfield, "Gasp! Everyone is a phony!" phase, and it almost single-handedly helped to usher in the ironic detachment that defined the 90s.

Most TV creators confuse "satire" with "a fat guy with a skinny wife and a bunch of sarcastic kids!" It'd be nice to see a little more of the kind of subtle subversiveness The Simpsons is rightly famous for.

7. The love of nudity of Doug Ellin

Maybe the women will disagree, but I don't care, this is my Serpentor.

Many times during the course of Entourage, I noticed that there was only one set of footprints in the sand. When I asked Doug Ellin why this was, he said to me, "My precious, precious child. During times of boredom and bad decision making regarding plot, the nudity would never leave the show. When you see only one set of footprints, it's when the nudity carried the show."

8. The production values of Jerry Bruckheimer

Sometimes his shows are great -- CSI -- sometimes his shows are laughable -- Skin -- but, no matter what, they always look terrific.

9. The restraint of Damon Lindelof

A lot of us were worried that Lost would follow in the footsteps of The X-Files: a great show that went on for three or four seasons too many. TV has a bad habit, you see, of taking a good idea and then running it into the ground. Then taking what's left of the idea and grinding it through a mill to extract just a little more from it. Then taking the remaining grains of the idea, crushing them up, and putting them into a pipe and smoking it.

Lindelof could have kept Lost on the air until people forgot it was still on TV. In that scenario, the finalé would have played out much the same way I lost my virginity: a little too late and disappointing for all involved.

Instead, he showed restraint and decided to put a definite ending on the show, basically guaranteeing that sticking with Lost would eventually pay off in a satisfactory way. He gave up a lot of potential money to make sure the story got told the proper way in front of the widest audience possible.

10. Insert your TV creator here

Or better yet, invalidate my entire list with your own ideas in the comments. The fun of the Serpentor game is hearing all the different ways the perfect person can be put together. Part of the reason I posted this list was to get your picks in the comments. Extra points if you claim that your ideas were presented to you via a dream implanted by one of Cobra-La's psychic motivators.

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who is best known as the voice of Nemesis Enforcer in G.I. Joe: The Movie. For more information about Jay or to catch one of his live shows, please visit his website, www.jayblackcomedy.com.)

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I got nothin' -- these are good choices. And I second the Whedon.

May 04 2009 at 10:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


he's got great characters, awesome dialogue and is full of social commentary. who else can even try to pull off a concept like Dollhouse?

he totally needs to be on the list.

May 04 2009 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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