Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wherefore Art Thou, Darin Morgan?

There are several criteria necessary to being a successful and sought after television writer, but most importantly you have to be smart, good, and fast.

The Brad Wright's or Rob Cooper's or Hart Hanson's or David Kelley's or Aaron Sorkin's or Tom Fontana's all meet this criteria in spades...and then there are those who are smart and good, but fast...not so much.

Darin Morgan is one of those writers. And though two out of three ain't bad, Morgan's apparently notoriously slow.

Eccentric and reclusive, he's oft been described as the Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) of television due to his knack for turning formulaic TV on its ear.

A self-proclaimed couch potato, Morgan reluctantly joined the staff of The X Files in the third season (via his older brother Glen Morgan) and made a splash over the next two years with four memorable episodes: 'Humbug', 'Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose', 'War of the Coprophages', and 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space' (Final Repose actually won an Emmy).

Then he joined the staff of Millennium for a season, and wrote and directed 'Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense' and 'When Satan Got Behind Me', two of the funniest and cleverest screenplays you'll ever read. These were great TV series scripts, but not necessarily great model scripts for those looking to break into series TV.


Because they were 'stunt' scripts. They took what were givens for the two shows and turned them inside out. Furthermore, Morgan's writing style is severely unique, packed full of literary references, bizarre, memorable characters and quirky humour - yet always a poignant study on the human condition. More often than not, they end on the very depressing yet consistent theme of loneliness. Anything but typical episodes.

They really only worked because they were juxtaposed against what viewers had come to know and expect. And episodes like that can only succeed every now and then, not all the time. If your goal is to land a staff series job, you need to first prove you can 'write the show' before you un-write it.

Nevertheless, Morgan's script stylings were held up on high by me and old pal/colleague Damian Kindler way back when on Psi Factor...and Dam actually wrote a few Morgan 'inspired' eps (same for Stargate:SG 1 as well), but not until later in the series' run. And I'm sure if you asked him, he'd say those were his fav episodes to pen....because they were fun, and they took all the conventions of the show and looked at them sideways.

Since 1998, Morgan pretty much fell off the face of the earth until he resurfaced on the staff of The Night Stalker remake a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, his only script, 'The M Word' remained unproduced as the show was canceled before they were able to lens it.

Via The Light It Hurts, a PDF of 'The M Word'. Thanx Lee.

It's still definitely worth reading...funny, irreverent, cerebral...another sparkling example of taking a tv show and turning it on its ear.

But why art thou a writer Darin Morgan, if you don't like to write? And where do you be these days? Well, he's probably on a couch somewhere...mulling ways to mess with the formula of the next show he decides to toil on. His writing should be admired, but don't expect to see him 'create' a show anytime soon.

He needs something to work with...

ADDENDUM: just to clarify, if you are able to write anything near the quality and uniqueness of any of the above mentioned Morgan scripts, you'll probably be well on your way. But it just shouldn't be for a brand new series. And if it takes you six months to complete it, TV series writing might not be for you.


Lee said...

I too wish Morgan would apply his ass to a seat more often; everything he's produced so far has been blinding.

Normally, I don't bother looking at "transcripts," as they're usually just descriptions of what makes it to screen, but those Millenium pieces read just like Morgan, so I'm thinking someone's copied them directly from his scripts.

I'd like to buy that person a drink. Good find. My hero. You da man, etc.

And, there's a PDF version of the Night Stalker script, ripped right off the DVD, here.

Someone needs to lure him back, and soon. I'd like to nominate Heroes for the Morgan treatment.

DMc said...

Great post, Will. Hope you don't mind the link-slutting.

Piers said...

Ah, the genius that is Darin Morgan.

Underappreciated. And most definitely underworked. Someone needs to chain that man back to a computer.

And I nominate... Desperate Housewives. Because I don't get on with the show as-is, and I'd love to see what he does with it.

wcdixon said...

I'd wager it's too soon for a Morgan treatment of 'Heroes'...but Housewives most definitely.

Since he likes to mess with time, '24' might be tricky...but I think he'd have a ball with 'House' or 'Lost'.

Jen said...

I just watched "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defence" and "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me" yesterday and was searching around for info on what Darin's been up to.

His writing is so damn good.

Barbara said...

I'm so glad I came upon this post - it's so timely for me. Because of Charles Nelson Reilly's recent demise (RIP), I was thinking of watching Jose Chung again (one of the best episodes of TV ever), and I was wondering what in the world is Darin Morgan up to.

He's pure genius. I'm a Desperate Housewives fan, and a fan of Heroes, but I just don't think that even those shows are worthy of Darin. There needs to be something just a little darker...just a little smarter...just a little more grandly mythological...or something.

Phil Slattery said...

I have been a fan of both the X-files and Millenium for years, but only recently started collecting them on DVD (I currently have seasons 2-4 of the X-files and the entire Millenium series). As I have purchased them, I have watched all of the episodes I have over and over with my usual zeal, particularly over the last three weeks while I have been off work recuperating from minor surgery. During this time, I have started noticing Darin Morgan's name crop up again and again on the screen and only tonight started researching him and found out that he wrote, edited, or acted in virtually all of my favorite episodes on both series! If he reads this by some twist of fate, I would really like to encourage him to take up the pen again. If he is not being published or put on either the big or little screens, his talent is being horribly wasted.