Essay:Conservapedia, the sitcom
Preamble: I am taking this dead seriously, as if it really were a pitch to get a few episodes made. That means the main cast has to be kept to a dozen at most, and everything has to make sense as a real sitcom, broadcast to an audience who aren't "in" on our detailed knowledge.
Working title: Church School
Main shooting set: A slightly dingy church basement
Recurring other sets: Exteriors of the church grounds, a public schoolyard down the street, other rooms in the church basement
The show revolved around the daily antics of a small group of homeschooled teenagers, a teacher they go to see for history lessons, and a few of his hangers on, and an antagonistic group of public schoolkids they keep encountering. Much hilarity ensues as we slowly see more and more of the strange world the principals inhabit.
Mr. "Ambly" Schweitzer - a bumbling, slightly deluded part-time lawyer, teacher of the church school history classes. Perfect part for Ben Stein.
- His mother. Only ever exists as the person we don't hear on the other end of Schweitzer's calls to ask for more money for class materials.
- Mr. Crackwitz, a janitor. Obsessed with fighting vandals and "infiltrators", similar to the way Bill Murray's character pursues the groundhog in Caddyshack, with similar results for the grounds.
- Mr. "Swabby" Kangarouche, a janitor. Obsessed with reporting public school students to the police.
- Mr. "Uncle Ted" Pogue, a janitor. Wrecks every math lesson by erasing most of the blackboard mid-class. Shows an undo interest in some of the girls' "education".
52 students, a half dozen or so are "major" roles:
- The "slut", the only girl who wears earrings, sometimes wear jeans instead of a dress.
- "Che boy", always shooting spitballs during prayers.
- Two sisters.
- A computer whiz, the only person who can keep the class's website on-line for any period of time.
- A young man who is dating Schweitzer's daughter, only takes the classes to get more time with her.
Other (visiting) teachers:
- Mr. Raymond, international relations. A fairly reasonable fellow, always gets shouted down by Schweitzer for being a liberal, usually over some irrelevant point.
- Mr. Martingale, art (hands-on and history) and baseball. Slightly out-of-place, a bit foreign, a flamboyant dresser. Tends to steal original masterpieces to show the class rather than bringing in copies.
- Mr. "What's the frequency, Kenneth" Dartler, actually goes to a remedial adult education class down the hall, drops in to teach special sections.
The "rats" - a loose gang of students from a public school down the road.
The rats are always arguing about anything and everything, often including ways to disrupt the church school. While they never seem to actually do anything to the church school, they get blamed for everything that ever goes wrong there. They are all banned from the church grounds. Their presumptive leader is Hanes G, yo, although no one ever actually seems to be in charge.
- Schweitzer starting each class with a prayer for more pageviews for the class website.
- Mr. Dartler illustrating every "special" class he teaches with posters of Hitler, gored bulls, and downed antelope.
- New student in class getting exposed as a liberal and escorted off the grounds by Crackwitz.
Pilot or basis for expository theme song
November, 2006. One of the church school students presents a project and uses the phrases "BCE" and "CE", is interrupted by Schweitzer who asks where that came from, etc. Class decides they can do a better job of writing an on-line encyclopedia. The girls giggle and use it to exchange notes, the boys write articles on video games. Six months later they make "the news", and a group of public school students visit and try to explain science, only to be shouted down by Schweitzer and kicked out by Crackwitz.
These practically write themselves. Most should include two church school sub-plots, and a side plot regarding the rats' attempts to disrupt the class. One of the sub-plots will usually be based on some "insight" or "observation" by Schweitzer, which he will half work out then get bored of.
"Jesus Is Mostly All Right by Me"
Featuring a Bible rewriting project, exposing liberal alterations to certain parables, etc.
Featuring the US History Test.
"Mr. Schweitzer Goes to Washington"
Featuring the loaded buses visiting the Roe v. Wade protest; Mr. Scheitzer forgets to
feed the hamster pay the light bill, and they return to cold, dark basement. The rats get blamed, as usual.
Side plot: Mr. Pogue gets carried away "watching the skirts" in DC, which would be ok except most of them appear to be 13 - 15 or so.
"Beware the Ides"
Mr. Darler decides to get the students involved in a giant scheme to forever remove "Darwinism" from the public discourse, but neglects to tell anyone what the plans are.
Strong rats sub-plot involving an equally opaque counter-scheme; introducing the red telephone from Mr. Darler's workroom in the church to the payphone near the public school parking lot.
"Springboard to Hitler"
Mr. Dartler visits the class to teach a section on evolution. The rats paste Hitler posters all over town.
"Gracious in Defeat"
The kids, Mr. Schweitzer and the janitors have an editing contest on the class website, scores come into dispute. Martingale goes through several large containers of paste. "Swabby" builds a diorama with 1,000 model ships.
"Mankind's Greatest Accomplishments"
Featuring only works by teenagers.
A segment in which Schweitzer has a well-known liberal atheist at Oxford kicked out for lying on his resume, and exposes massive fraud in a science lab.
"Hollywood - or Wouldn't"
Some of the girls turn up to class dressed like many young women do today, prompting a tirade about breast cancer, suicide, and "loose" (which remains undefined) behavior.
Schweitzer's lesson on the founding of Jamestown goes awry when he wishes a foreign exchange student identified as a "liberal" a rather unfriendly "Godspeed!" while commending him to Crackwitz' care at the door.
"Wreck my Election"
While preparing a piece for the class website on a prominent liberal politician, Schweitzer uncovers some interesting deceptions about his birthplace and religious affiliation. His failed bid for Congress might also come into play.
Side plot: Mr. Dartler goes off his meds briefly and posts pictures of Hitler all over the church basement walls. (This is a set-up episode for the rats' antics in "Springboard for Hitler")
The rats hilariously fail at yet another scheme, setting up video and audio real-time surveillance of the teacher and his class's antics. As always, the episode ends with their ringleader, Hanes G., being hauled in front of the local constabulary by "Swabbie".
"Love and the Foreign Exchange Student"
One of the rats and a female CP sysop "fall in love", to much merriment all around. Budget goes over due to requirement for "neutral territory" sidewalk scenes.
Partly a parody/rip off of Romeo and Juliet, perhaps even with musical numbers ala West Side Story", or at least one with Crackwitz playing officer Krupke.
(This is the Bugler/Mexmax/Samwell episode, obviously)
A new student fits into the class so well that they are rapidly rewarded with minor authority (such as being a hall monitor, handling the rest room pass access, taking attendance), and they then proceed to undermine class discipline and decorum. Very small rat presence in this show, until the closer when it revealed that the new student was one of them in a clever disguise.
- Fun:Conservapedia, The Musical - the much-heralded major motion picture and Broadway success loosely based on the show.
Appendix: viewer knowledge
One tough requirement for the show is that the typical viewer will know very little about the core subject matter - they will never have heard of Conservapedia and probably have very little experience with any kind of homeschooling. They will have been exposed to some of the religious and political extremes in the original subject matter, especially if they are American (which is a pity, since this show seems very British to me). For their success, especially when shown "out of order" in syndications (reruns), sitcoms depend on requiring very little explanation to the viewer of the situation - the classic Schwartz shows, for instance, used a song over the opening credits to succinctly set up everything that might seem "unusual" about the show. Many sitcoms take place in the home or in a simple workplace, where no exposition is required at all. The goal here is to achieve a similar level of transparency - a random viewer seeing a random episode should know basically what is going on. The use of stereotypical or archetypical characters is often used in real shows to simplify this task.
Appendix: cast size
One thing about this effort that should be kept in mind is that the cast size on a typical (successful) sitcom is quite small about 4 to 12 regular characters with any depth. Condensing the "source" material to fit this means that many of the "original" characters either have to be merged or simply ignored. If for some reason the show were to be a TV hour long instead of a half hour, there would be time to develop a few more characters properly, but this is very unlikely to happen.
A quick run-down of a handful of sitcoms and their cast size:
- The Honeymooners - four (two couples).
- I Love Lucy - four (two couples) plus extras
- The Dick van Dyke Show - roughly seven, not in all episodes - a couple, their son, two co-workers, a boss, and a neighbor.
- The Brady Bunch - nine.
- Gilligan's Island - seven.
- The Beverly Hillbillies - six regulars, one semi-regular (Drysdale's wife)
- Hogan's Heroes - perhaps ten - a half dozen prisoners, Shultz and Klink, Klink's secretary, plus two semi-regulars (the general and the SS guy)
- M*A*S*H - at the core, seven regulars, with a gradually expanding number of semi-regulars, possible due to the very long run and the situation.
So our show has five "adults" (though I think HSmom should be added), three or four "recognizable" students (plus extras), and two or three rats also need to be "characters". That's a dozen already. I might have to "merge" two of the janitors (probably Crackwitz would take over Kangarouche), and perhaps make Dartler into one of the major students.