The Two Kirks, etc.Complications Ensue
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

I'm putting together a comedy pitch with a friend, and one of our springboards steals the plot structure of THE HANGOVER. But I was relieved to discover that THE HANGOVER steals its plot structure from an episode of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER.

THE HANGOVER's plot hinges on the idea that the guys wake up after a night out in Vegas. The groom is missing, there's a tiger in the bathtub, and someone's lost a tooth. Wacky hijinks ensue as the gang try to figure out what happened.

I suspect that "the Hangover episode" will join other classic episode types like "The Two Kirks" and "The Rashomon Episode." Practically every spec fiction show has a "Two Kirks" episode, where the hero plays himself and his evil twin. Or everyone has an evil twin -- "Doppelgangland" -- or the heroine and her nemesis switch bodies, etc. It is all but impossible to resist the temptation to do The Two Kirks when you have a spec fiction show. It's just too much fun for the actors and the writers. (The directors, who have to shoot it, may be resistant!) Heck, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is an entire series full of Two Kirks.

The Rashomon Episode is where you see the same story from different points of view, but things happen slightly differently depending on who's remembering. The Rashomon Episode is tempting because you can often reuse some of the footage, saving a day of production.

(On CHARLIE JADE, ep. 13, "Through a Mirror Darkly," was a Rashomon Episode/bottle/clip show; kudos to Denis McGrath for his lovely job writing that. Episode 16, "The Shortening of the Way," was written as a Two Kirks episode, but all the alternative Kirks wound up on the cutting room floor.)

What are some other classic episode types?


Time loops AKA Groundhog Day episodes comes to mind. X period of time repeating for one (occasionally more) characters.

Allan Mackey

By Blogger Allan Mackey, at 4:17 PM  

Homer: I hate foreign films!
Marge: But you loved Rashomon.
Homer: That's not how I remember it.

By Blogger tommy, at 4:22 PM  

From IMDB -- How I Met Your Mother, season one, episode ten:

"After sucking down a quintet of shots at the bar, Ted blacks out. He wakes up the next morning with a sprained ankle, a burned jacket, a phone number written on his arm, a pineapple on his dresser, and an unknown woman face down in his bed. With the help of his friends, Ted attempts to piece together precisely what happened the night before."

I'm now going back over old HIMYM episodes to see what I can steal for a 100 million grossing original comedy spec.

By Blogger tommy, at 4:32 PM  

Remember, talent borrows, genius steals.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 4:37 PM  

A plot that turns up regularly in cop shows is going undercover into a prison.

Introduce long lost sibling or estranged parent/child. Old flame who has gone bad who affects protagonists ability to perform job.

New boss/temporary boss with a new system of doing things that throws everything out of whack.

Mischievous child/naïf with unknown super abilities that wreaks havoc or saves the day.

Indiana Jones type quest with the baddie on the same quest.

Find the mole/spy requiring protagonist to fake betrayal or treason.

Jean Valjean type plot where a self-righteous antagonist stalks the protagonist for a crime in his past or a flaw in his character.

Three Men and a Baby type complication.

Moby Dick obsession plot requiring protagonist to go off the reservation for an insane quest.

Love triangle involving the protagonist and trusted sidekick where both are ultimately betrayed.

Midnight Run episode where the protagonist must protect someone who doesn't want to be protected.

Protagonist who is possessed by supernatural entity or falls off the wagon and descends into self-destructive madness.

No Exit type plot where everyone is trapped and cut off from the outside and reveals something personal while trying to escape.

Loved one/partner held hostage plot where protagonist has to sacrifice a trusted friend or love interest for the greater good.

A Christmas Carol type plot requiring the protagonist to rue his past to fix something in the present.

The Origin Story flashback episode.

Contest episode where the main characters constantly try to one-up each other.

Manchurian Candidate type plot where the mole is one of our regulars who was brainwashed.

Heist episode where everyone has to work together for a common goal. Usually requires someone to do something they really don't want to do.

The Third Act as Teaser episode where we see our heroes in some outrageous jeopardy and then flashback to show how they got there.

The French Farce episode where there's a lot of room swapping late at night and getting into bed with the wrong person.

Everybody Thinks He's Gay episode.

Isaac Ho

By Blogger Isaac Ho, at 4:49 PM  

given how common these plots are (and allowing a structure to tell a new story with different characters), would it be a good or bad idea to use one to craft an episodic spec? i.e. the hangover episode of community or (bad pitch) the two kirks CSI

By Blogger samuel.x.killer, at 5:38 PM  

@samuel: it's good if you can come up with a clever twist, or leverage the structure to bring out something unique about the show. It's bad if it seems like you can't come up with a plot structure of your own, and you're just throwing it at the series.

On Charlie Jade we used the Rashomon gag to upend and reinterpret the entire show; and the Two Kirks episode was going to show Charlie different ways he could be living.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 6:33 PM  

I have to say, I am so sick of "tried and true" plot devices like evil twins. And the next person who does another riff on A Christmas Carol should be banned from ever working in the entertainment industry again. I just figure there are far more less conventional and original plots to do, or at least steal.

As for the plot of the Hangover stealing from How I Met Your Mother, I'm pretty sure they stole it from somewhere.

By Blogger Tim W., at 8:30 PM  

Two versions of reality, one of which is a dream/hallucination/virtual reality and the protaganist spends most of the episode figuring out which is real.

By Blogger Shuggie, at 3:05 AM  

X-Files has a terrific "things remembered differently" episode, JOSE CHUNG IS FROM OUTER SPACE. Friggin' hilarious, including a cameo by Alex Trebec.

By Blogger Harlan, at 9:05 AM  

thanks for the reply, alex! was thinking about this last night when - wham - burn notice hits me with the UNDERCOVER IN PRISON episode. had a great twist to the premise too - it's a lot of fun to see something familiar made fresh again.

By Blogger samuel.x.killer, at 1:17 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger samuel.x.killer, at 1:17 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger D, at 7:44 AM  

The episode "Thanks for the Memories" of Red Dwarf from 1988 was a Hangover episode. Also Dude Where's My Car (one of the good jokes is that they're too dumb to even be concerned with putting the clues together)

At least one good christmas carol variation: the Real Ghostbusters accidentally trap the three christmas ghosts, and so rather than ruin the story, they have to recreate the experience for scrooge themselves, using stage effects and a viewmaster!

By Blogger D, at 7:45 AM  

Is the world of the show real, or is it all in the mind of your protagonist, who is locked up in an insane asylum.

By Blogger tnt, at 11:38 PM  

Thanks, Isaac, a great list there. I can see I have a whole lot of stealing to do.

By Blogger David, at 11:17 PM  

Don't forget the Amnesia Episode. Soap operas do it all the time of course, but so did ST:TNG ("Conundrum"), and even Mama's Family (Naomi gets hit by a swinging door).

It's often a chance for a regular character to play a different facet of themselves as they try to recreate their old personality. You get comedic value if the other characters try to convince the amnesiac that he was "really like this" or that. Sometimes a villain becomes nice for a while, and shows horror at discovering what he's done in the past.

By Blogger David, at 11:58 PM  

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