Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's Funny Liz is Disoriented

Today in For Better or For Worse, it was another one of those strips where, in order to get you to the joke, the writers find it necessary to set up the main character in a series of improbable situations, to which anyone with any kind of common sense would react differently. Not only would anyone with sense react differently, but the character has to be altered so that you ignore the character’s background and pretend that the character is a simpleton.

Situation #1: You have to share the bathroom. Liz had roommates every year of university, and siblings every year she was at home. In order for this part of the joke to work, you would have to imagine that in the 2 years she was in Mtigwaki, she became so accustomed to having a shower for herself alone, that she cannot adjust to finding someone in the shower. When you add in the fact, that Liz came home over the summer and the Christmas holidays each year she was in Mtigwaki, and had to share a shower at home, it becomes even more nonsensical. I snarked as Shannon the possibility of her being special needs, but I know from my boy’s Asperger’s Syndrome, this exact situation happens to him. When he is faced with an unexpected difficulty, he sometimes panics and starts trying to destroy things, or he will stand around and wait for someone else to find his difficulty, try to interpret what his difficulty is, and then solve the problem for him. Liz reminded me a lot of my son in this strip.

Situation #2: You have to share the kitchen. Same verse as Situation #2, except even worse. The only time Liz did not share a kitchen her entire life was in Mtigwaki, and even there she was often in Vivian Crane’s kitchen helping her cook. The alternative suggestion is: You have to eat what everyone else eats, but the situation is not much different, because when Liz lived under the care of Auntie Roo, she had to eat what Auntie Roo cooked; when Liz lived with Elly, she ate what Elly cooked, etc.

Situation #3: You have to share the chesterfield. This one is a little different. My son would be inclined to push the dogs out of the way to get a seat, or he would go to his room to pout about not getting to sit on the chesterfield. Of course, my son has terrible animal allergies, so he does not have to deal with dogs. I grew up with dogs, and I can tell you that no dogs were ever allowed to lounge around on our couches. In Liz’s case, it is at this point, Liz seems to come out of her stupor and realize what an idiot she has been in the prior 2 panels.

So, once again, it is a failure for a strip. The writer has failed to realize the basic ingredients of what makes a funny joke. If you cannot get the reader to buy into the setup of the joke, then it does not matter how funny the punch line is, the reader will not laugh. For example, if I say, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” to set up the punch line, there should be no question as to whether or not chickens can cross roads. The humour is then derived from the reader attempting to understand the motivations of a mind foreign to them, but with similar desires and behaviours, and while you are engaged in pondering that, then the punch line “To get to the other side” is funny because it is not the expected answer for motivating a chicken. It is humour by surprise.

In For Better or For Worse, the joke is not funny, because at the very outset, anyone familiar with the character of Elizabeth Patterson would know that she would not be taken aback at any of things presented to her. So, when the punch line fires off, the knowledgeable reader is left wondering “Is the joke that Elizabeth is becoming mentally ill, or suffering from some kind of disorientation?” For someone completely unaware of Elizabeth’s background, after reading the strip they would respond with, “Oh! I guess the character is a simpleton has moved into a house with other people after living by herself for most of her life.”

What should have happened? Elizabeth should have pushed the dogs off the chesterfield, or gone to sit in another room with a chesterfield, gone to help her mother cook while she waited for April to get out of the shower, or gone to her room. If a punch line were inserted into any of those situations, it would have made more sense. For example:

After seeing the dogs, Liz goes to her room and lies on the bed and thinks, “I’ll guess I’ll wait!”

Next panel shows Liz snoring in her bed and being woken up by Elly. Elly says, “Liz. Wake up! We’ve been waiting for you to come to have dinner with us.”

Then Liz puns, “Good things come to those who wake.”

It’s not very funny, however, it does have the advantage of not making Liz look like an idiot.

Tomorrow's Strip: Holy crap! Get ready to kiss Howard good-bye! Elizabeth is about to get praised for pressing charges. The storyline which seemingly ended without resolution back last August is about to get a resolution. Yes. Elizabeth Patterson, because you pressed charges from your going-after, without having to make any court appearances or doing anything else that would normally be associated with the regular legal system, you have managed to put Howard, the desperate villain, away in prison for a gazillion years. It's all thanks to you. You are going to get a special award and the mayor is going to give you the key to the city.

Liz will say, "But no, officer. The special award to be given by the mayor of Milborough and the key to the city should go to Anthony Caine too, because he was the one who kept my going-after from becoming a went-after, with his terrible ear-tweaking." The officer says, "Well, if you say so Miss Patterson. To show its gratitude to you and Mr. Caine, not only will we give you an award, and the key to the city, but we will pay for your wedding to Mr. Caine." Liz says, "But I have a boyfriend in the OPP." The officer says, "The offer is only good for Anthony Caine. Police officers can't participate in sweepstakes, because technically they are an employee." Liz says, "Well, all right. If those are the rules, I'll marry Anthony then. Think of the money I will save. A new job, a used husband, a slightly used baby. And I won't have to share a shower with April anymore. My life could not be more perfect. It's great to be a Patterson."


Blogger April Patterson said...

"Well, all right. If those are the rules, I'll marry Anthony then. Think of the money I will save. A new job, a used husband, a slightly used baby. And I won't have to share a shower with April anymore. My life could not be more perfect. It's great to be a Patterson."

LOL--absurdly perfect conclusion. And OMG, I hadn't even considered Howard as the resolution to today's cliffhanger. Noooooo, Lynnions, don't take our Howard away from us!!!

4:18 AM  
Blogger howard said...

You know Howard is gone. The going-after plotline was universally despised and criticized. That Wikipedia article on For Better or For Worse said victim's rights groups were royally pissed at the way Lynn handled it, although I never saw that reaction in any kind of news source, I would have expected it. We are getting ready to retcon Liz into a person who reacted exactly the way someone is supposed to react, much in a similar way as cheater Anthony was retconned into cheated-on Anthony.

As for Howard, I have been expecting this for a long time. The only real surprise was how long it took Lynn to get back to him. This follow-up strip will not even make it into the same collection as the original going-after strip.

After taking out Howard, you can expect Lynn to take out Constable Paul Wright sometime around Christmas. Not to worry. I can still snark with Jeremy.

6:24 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home