where the writers are
Gilligan Must Die

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

Gilligan should have died.

Hold that thought, I’ll get back to it.

When I was young I couldn’t understand why girls were attracted to bad boys. Then I finally figured out that this phenomenon isn’t limited to me not being able to get a date: It’s a part of the very fabric of our society:

            We like bad stuff.

            By that I mean, we like good things that are bad, and we like bad things that are fun. An example: Put a can of Mountain Dew and a glass of water in front of me. Now, do I know which is better? Sure I do – unless it’s from Love Canal, water’s much better for me than any soft drink. So which do I pick?

            Yep.

            Because Dew’s not good for me, but it’s good. Drugs, alcohol, scary movies, driving fast, voting for morons – you name it. We almost always choose to do the wrong thing, take in the wrong thing, or watch the wrong thing.

            We also like bad things that are fun. Racing? We want crashes. Football? Big hits. Political debates, or live shows, or anything featuring Charlie Sheen? We’re wishing for a train wreck. And what kind of movie has been hugely popular for decades? Disaster films.

            Which brings me to television.

            I was happy to learn that The Walking Dead was coming back to TV for another season. The show, based on a popular graphic novel, is about a zombie apocalypse.

            Zombies! Apocalypse! Two fun things! Together!

            In my home we enjoyed the first two seasons (except for the lame second season finale), which were filled with great characters, gripping plotlines, mind-blowing effects, and icky stuff. About half the cast got killed off, and the rest spent most of the time on the run from the flesh eating undead. Good times.

            I got to thinking about that, and reflected on the other TV shows I’ve enjoyed over the years. It’s a fact of story writing that you have to put your characters through the ringer – otherwise you have no story. Of course, “the ringer” is relative.

            When I was a kid, I loved to see Godzilla stomp on Tokyo, and big Irwin Allen disaster movies. I graduated to the same thing on TV: on Buffy the Vampire Slayer I learned the plural of apocalypse. More recently, half the shows I watched seemed to have regular characters getting killed or almost killed, as on Bones and Castle, while the other half involved fighting off the end of the world, as in the dueling apocalypses on Fringe and Supernatural. Anything else is just a Walking Dead in the park.

            So, what does this have to do with Gilligan?

            Well, I wondered if this pattern might hold, so I took it all the way back to my childhood TV watching. At first I thought it didn’t hold on some shows: In what way is The Brady Bunch a disaster, except when the dog ran through some kid’s science project?

            But what’s the setup of this show? A widow meets a widower and they get married. What horrible thing happened to their former spouses? Murder most foul? Aren’t the kids traumatized? How do they deal with eight people (and Alice) sharing one bathroom? I guarantee you, ten years after that series ended half the kids were in therapy or jail, and the other half had already suffered some horrible doom.

            Which brings us to Gilligan’s Island.

            A comedy, right? Light laughs, fun for the whole family.

            Oh yeah?

            These people were caught in a horrible storm, then slammed onto an uncharted island with nothing but the clothes on their back, a hold full of luggage, and apparently the Professor’s entire lab. Every week they’re attacked by cannibals, giant spiders, or mobsters, or the island sinks, or a volcano blows, or Gilligan accidentally hands an atomic bomb to a gorilla. (Come to think of it, this show was the original Lost.)

Willy Gilligan, the so-called naïve, innocent first mate. (Yeah, he had a first name.)

            Think about it. Was there ever a more calamitous disaster than Gilligan? Every time the castaways came up with a way to escape that cursed island, Gilligan screwed it up. I mean, he destroyed the boat with what he claimed to be waterproof glue. The whole boat! After that, it was a series of disasters as he drove away would-be rescuers and broke every item that might have gotten them off.

            Was he a screw-up? Or a saboteur?

            I maintain that Gilligan wasn’t happy with his life in the real world. Here, on that island named after him, he was put down and unappreciated … but he was also the only real worker (unless you count Mary Ann), and the one who would save everyone’s lives even as he kept them from getting away. They depended on him. They needed him.

            The man was a criminal mastermind. The others? Merely his playthings.

            And not smart playthings, either. Let’s face it: They should have killed him by the end of the first month. Smothered Gilligan with his own pillow, late at night as he slept. One trip to a shallow grave, and within days they’d have jury-rigged some piece of equipment that would have summoned help.

            Yes, Gilligan should have died.

            Since he didn’t, he provided my very first experience with a true disaster story, the kind of thing you watched every week to see what new hardship would slam down on the poor characters. Ever since then – thanks to Gilligan – I’ve been one of those enthralled by bad things happening to good people.

            Still another case of me picking bad things. And now, I’m thinking remake. Check this out:

            The Walking Dead – on Gilligan’s Island.

            Just wait and see.