The perfect confluence of state-of-the-art technology and the current cultural push for more diverse representation, “The Other Side of the Story” is an anthology show in which each episode presents the plot of a famous movie from the perspective of one of its supporting characters. Imagine pared-to-the-essentials versions of Casablanca starring Sam the piano player, Pulp Fiction starring Mia Wallace, Gone with the Wind starring Mammy, a Lord of the Rings story starring Galadriel, and even Star Wars starring Chewbacca.
It turns out that supporting characters have dreams, ambitions and activities that we’ve never heard about…until now. The tone of the first few episodes could be somewhat like Ferris Bueller meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, featuring a lot of playful fourth-wall breaking where our new hero walks us through his/her life as part of the movie, with varying ranges of resentment toward the “traditional” lead. Some episodes will have a dynamic resembling that of the last third of Back to the Future Part II, and a lot of other time-travel films, where our new lead wanders in and out of scenes that we already know and love. Call it Rashomon for the new century, if you must. Discerning fans may catch traces of Fred Armisen and Bill Hader’s current show “Documentary Now,” though it will probably be a bit less overtly parodic, shooting for that knowing, existentialist tone of Rosencrantz.
Off-screen, the popular website moviemistakes.com is a key touchstone, allowing the newly centered characters to fix “mistakes” that, it turns out, weren’t mistakes. Imagine a Sallah-centered Raiders of the Lost Ark where Sallah pickpockets a pistol that leaves an Arab defenseless against Indy’s whip, and Sallah later accidentally drops a glass window into a cobra pit. Fanboy audiences who know about these famous little Han-shot-first, Forrest Gumpy moments will be locked in, and wider audiences will be carried along by the feeling of hearing from the unheard.
These days, whether they know it or not, every executive in Hollywood is playing a game called “extend the middle” – finding ways to leverage brand recognition, making prequels and sequels and spin-offs. “The Other Side of the Story” – can you believe that name is unused by anyone else? – extends all of our favorite middles while satisfying the inexplicable desire of audiences to see great supporting characters get a little bit more screen time. Each episode would probably be a half-hour long, though that’s negotiable.
As for actors, it would be fun to play around with that episode by episode, famous film by famous film. There could be a stable, something like American Horror Story. There could be guests, like the people who, based on certain “Saturday Night Live” appearances, have been waiting/hoping to play certain roles all their lives. But would, say, Kathy Bates play Molly Brown in Titanic, or would some brilliant actor play Kathy Bates playing Molly Brown, or would we animatronic-ize footage of Bates playing Molly Brown? The best answer is no definitive answer. Let some unexpected performative elements come to the fore. All this while letting viewers’ jaws drop at what you can do with technology – people will swear they’re seeing Marilyn Monroe in new scenes.
Which network might this groundbreaking, riotously enjoyable show land on? A channel that specializes in movies seems like a natural fit – either Turner Classic Movies or Sundance or the Independent Film Channel or something in that wheelhouse. Or heck, maybe HBO or Showtime or Netflix. The right “Other Side” episode perfectly complements the movie, or franchise, upon which it draws – in fact, it’s hard to imagine what might serve as better supplement. Of course, with episodes so intimately connected to the source material, there may be teensy-weensy issues over copyrights. Your better media companies try to avoid playing favorites – for example, Time Warner Cable and Universal/Comcast feature everyone’s movies (not just Warner’s or Universal’s). However, if this becomes a problem, “The Other Side of the Story” could migrate to a channel with a specific studio’s library. For example, it could wind up on FXX, and use mostly 20th Century Fox’s films.
What, you might ask, would be a given character’s goals in a given episode? Of course, that really varies, but let’s just give one example. Imagine an episode of “The Other Side of the Story” based on the original Jurassic Park, featuring the chief park engineer named Ray Arnold, played by Samuel L. Jackson. In this episode, Arnold tries, over the phone, to save his marriage. Saving the film’s leads is more of a secondary goal. So we see Arnold explaining to his wife on the phone what he loves about science, about being part of something bigger than himself that will be spoken about in 100 years, and all that. Of course, Arnold’s wife isn’t having it. Today is their kid’s championship soccer game and their anniversary too. So Arnold tries to “be there” coaching his kid and having a “romantic dinner” via 1993 car-mobile-phone technology. (Arnold has to be careful to hide this from his co-workers, yet Newman – I mean, Nedry – has his own reasons to look the other way.) Family distraction causes Arnold to shut down the Jurassic Park system, leading to the raptors’ release. Meanwhile, on another line, Arnold’s other kid is hooked up at their house videophone, watching the unfolding island drama. When white people get chased by dinosaurs, she laughs at them at first, but then helps them out with a few well-placed words to her dad, belatedly explaining/justifying nine or ten of the 157 “mistakes” noted here. Sadly she accidentally steers her father toward his fate of becoming a raptor’s dinner.
Who would play Ray Arnold – Samuel L. Jackson in the flesh, a Jackson imitator, or an animatronic Jackson stitched together from this film (and others)? Viewers will just have to watch and guess, I suppose.
You think you know what happened. But you only heard one side. This fall, learn The Other Side of the Story.