Archive for December 2010

Christmas Rejections & Reruns

December 24, 2010

Note: This is a rerun from last Christmas, when I just started the Squashed Gecko blog so many of you probably missed it…

As a writer, I’m used to rejection. But some hurt more than others, especially when the piece is based on something personal. Three years ago I entered my “Lost in Venice” essay in the Honolulu Advertiser’s Christmas story contest. It wasn’t one of the finalists, so I shrugged it off and shelved it.

Then in 2008 I resurrected it for my Sunday Star-Bulletin Addicted to Life column. The theme of “wrong turns” and being lost had taken on more meaning in the wake of a tragic car accident that took the life of a beloved local playwright. I revised and reworked it until I felt it was good enough to send to the S-B editorial page editor. She read it and told me she cried because it moved her.

I looked forward to seeing it in the Sunday paper just before Christmas. But when I checked the editorial section, it wasn’t there. Since the next Sunday paper would be too late to run the Christmas piece, I was heartbroken. I asked the editor what happened. She said they didn’t have space for it — however, she was going to run it on Christmas instead, which was even better since the column would be the main attraction on the op-ed page that day. (The editor later confessed she left it out of the Sunday paper by mistake, and her idea to run it on Christmas was a spur of the moment decision!)

My wife, family, friends and thousands of other people read it on the day it was meant for… an essay that had been rejected, then accidentally left out… a story that was about mistakes and wrong turns in life that can lead to special moments, now had its own happy ending. The earlier rejection made me work harder on that piece, and it made the story better. Stronger. Hope you like it…


Lost in Venice

Like many people, my wife and I collect Christmas ornaments as souvenirs from places we’ve traveled to. My favorite is a delicate piece from Venice made of green, white and red glass shaped into candles. It’s missing one candle though. That’s why it holds special meaning for me.

In recovery, we’re taught to live in the present because we can’t undo the past. I try not to dwell on the wrong turns I made. But I can’t minimize the wreckage alcohol and drugs caused in my life either. My flame could have been snuffed out by two drunk driving accidents I had when I was a reporter in New Jersey, fresh out of college. I was lucky. No one was injured by my reckless disregard for others. Instead of giving up drinking, however, I gave up driving and moved to New York.

All of that was a distant memory when Isabel and I took our first trip to Italy in the summer of 1999. This was a reward of sorts for living sober. To make the most of it, we studied guidebooks, listened to Italian language tapes in the car and carefully planned our itinerary months in advance. Nothing was left to chance — or so we thought.

After nearly 24 hours of flying economy class and long layovers in Newark and London, we arrived in Venice. Our luggage did not. Wearing smelly clothes, we checked into our hotel on the Lido, a small island across the lagoon. International movie stars flock here for the annual Venice film festival. But when we opened the door to our room, my wife’s face dropped. It looked dingy and rundown, nothing like the charming photographs on the website. The trip of a lifetime was off to a disappointing start.

Things began to look better the next morning. The hotel’s breakfast room had a a glorious view of San Marco, where the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica are located. We hopped on the vaporetto, an unglamorous water bus, and as we cruised down the Grand Canal, I became oblivious to the stifling heat and the B.O. of tourists crowded around us. I only saw the fading grandeur of this dream of a city.

Venice on foot is a different matter. The guidebooks are useful as long as you stay close to the major tourist sites. Venture into the heart of the city, and you soon discover that streets often go by two names, smaller canals and bridges don’t correspond with maps, and many passageways are dead ends. We got completely lost, which can be fun if you’re in the right frame of mind. But we were like those couples on “The Amazing Race” TV show, who blame each other for every mishap. When we returned to the hotel and saw our luggage had been delivered, I thought we had turned the corner.

Wrong again. The next day was even hotter. Shorts and bare shoulders are forbidden in Italy’s centuries-old churches, so we had to dress appropriately and sweat it out in line with hundreds of others who were waiting to get into St. Mark’s Basilica. You’ve probably seen pictures of it: the Byzantine domes in the background while lovers embrace amid flocks of pigeons. Since we were quarreling, the grubby birds were merely a nuisance to us. We came to see the church treasures — not for romance.

A group of German tourists were ahead of us. They seemed to know where they were going, so I followed them. Awed by the marble geometric designs under our feet and the ornate ceilings above, I missed the entrance sign for the museum where the church relics are displayed. Before we knew it, Isabel and I were back outside the Basilica. Despite my pleas of ignorance, a guard told us we had to stand in line again if we wanted to reenter.

Screw it, I said. We decided to move on to a less famous church. According to our map, Santi Giovanni was a short walk from there. But I made a wrong turn somewhere. What should have been a 10-minute stroll became another frustrating excursion that stretched into an hour of wandering around in a steamy maze.

Finally, we found Santi Giovanni. It is huge. Inside, the soaring vaulted arches resembled the bow of a gigantic wooden ship turned upside down. The stained glass windows and altars were works of art. Yet it felt strangely empty to me. We walked over to another section that was like a small chapel. As we were leaving, a priest walked past us with a beatific smile on his face.

Back in the main area we saw the German tourists again, standing in the center of the church. The men had cameras around their necks and their heads were bowed. They stood in a circle, holding hands, and began to sing a hymn in perfect harmony. Their voices filled the church. It was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.

Tears streamed down my face. Perhaps it was their devotion, or the acoustics … or maybe it was the collective effects of being weary and flustered, but the church that seemed cold and dead to me was brought to life by their singing. I looked at Isabel and she was crying too. Neither of us is religious, but I felt blessed to be there with her. Had we not gotten lost and taken so many wrong turns, we would not have been here to witness this moment. I held my wife’s hand and listened in rapt wonder.

When the men finished, they simply smiled at each other — the same smile I saw on the priest’s face as he walked past us. Then the Germans quietly left and we never saw them again.

That was in 1999. Two years later, after the devastation of 9/11, we went through the ritual of decorating our Christmas tree. It was a somber time. Isabel’s business, which depended on tourists visiting Hawaii, was struggling. I worried about the future, and stopped writing. What was the point? Nothing made sense.

A couple of days later, the tree toppled over. It was a mess. The strands of lights were tangled and twisted. Ornaments were strewn about. A glass candle from the Venice piece had broken off. Isabel was at work, so I asked a neighbor to help me stand the tree back up. I restrung the lights and was able to glue together some of the broken ornaments, but the glass candle wouldn’t hold. I couldn’t fix that one.

While I was washing my hands and thinking to myself that the tree didn’t look quite as nice as it did before, I heard a commercial on TV. It said it was all right to grieve for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, but the best way to respond to terrorism is to live.

I broke down and cried. There I was, fretting and cursing earlier because our tree fell over and some ornaments broke. It was nothing compared to what happened three months before. I thought about the church in Venice, and how lost I felt at different times in my life. I can’t say if it was chance or fate that I survived the car wrecks and alcoholism, to wind up here with Isabel in Hawaii. I can only wonder, and be grateful for what I have.

So each year when I unwrap that ornament, I remember how fragile life is. I think about the missing candle, and it puts everything in perspective.


Merry Christmas from all of us at Career Changers TV on OC16!


My Obama Christmas Story for Kids

December 21, 2010

For my own amusement, over the years I’ve written little hand-made books for my nieces. Sasha and Ana were about the same ages as President Obama’s daughters, Malia Ann and Sasha, when I began the Uncle Monkey series of Christmas stories. It was also a form of therapy to deal with disappointment and frustration that my screenwriting career wasn’t going as planned.

In the books, Uncle Monkey is a grumpy, cynical chimpanzee writer of animal-centered tales that mirror current events in the human world. When President Obama and his family came to stay in Kailua — where I live — after the historic 2008 elections, the prolific primate was inspired to write “Empty Boxes,” which seems even more apropos this holiday season. Here is a shortened version, minus the art work…


“Can you tell us a Christmas story?” little Ana asked.

The chimp scratched his chin and nodded. “Hmm,” he hmmm’d. “Yes, I can, as President Obama would say. Actually, he would say, ‘Well, um, yes’… except it’s a sad tale that will leave you weeping with joy or laughing in sorrow. It’s about a character named Sandy Claws.”

“You mean Santa Claus, don’t you?” interrupted Sasha.

“No, Sandy Claws was a crab who lived in the ocean. But he liked to hang out on the beach too, where he would scavenge for odds and eggs –”

“You mean odds and ENDS,” Ana said.

“No, eggs — fish eggs and bird eggs, which he liked to eat for breakfast. Now stop trying to tell me what I mean and listen, or I will not continue!” Uncle Monkey snapped. In truth, he was cranky because he had a beginning for his fable about human greed, but he was still searching for a satisfying ending. He often told himself, It will all work out in the end. Yet all the troubles in the world never seemed to end! So how could things ever work out? This thought made him sad and depressed.

“Well,” he said, sounding a bit like the President. “I did, um, say it was a sad story… and… look, these are troubled times with enormous challenges facing crabs and sea life due to global warming –”

“AHEM, ” Ana interjected. “We want to hear a Christmas story, not a political speech!”

“Oh, okay,” sighed the grizzled old chimp. “Here is The Fishy Tails of Sandy Claws, The Crabby Crab of Christmas Beach, which was rejected by all the fish book publishers.”

“Did you try to sell it as a movie or TV show?” asked Sasha.

Uncle Monkey nodded yes. “My agent thought it would be perfect for Animal Planet Shell-o-vision, but they felt it was too depressing for kids. They thought Sandy Claws acted greedy and shelfish.”

“You mean selfish?” said Ana.

“No — shellfish! Ever since ‘Finding Nemo’ became a big hit, they only want fish stories. Not crab fables or shrimp tails. They’re prejudiced against shellfish. But I will tell you the story and you can judge for yourself if Sandy Claws was selfish.”

“I thought you said he was a shellfish,” Sasha noted.

“Yes, he is a shellfish. But I meant selfish this time… oh, never mind. Just read the darn story, okay?” he grumbled.

EMPTY BOXES by Uncle Monkey

Once upon a beach in Hawaii, there lived a cranky old crab who constantly complained about the litter and mess people left behind or threw in the ocean. It made him so mad that fish and “honu” (Hawaiian sea turtles) would ask if he had sand in his underpants, which might be irritating him. But since none of them wore underwear, this only made the crab even crabbier.

Christmas was the worst time of all for him. Sea birds and monk seals would mock the crab for the way he walked sideways. When he angrily raised his claws and snapped them at the birds, they laughed at him. “Ha! You couldn’t snip your way out of a wet paper bag with those weak little claws of yours,” taunted the birds.

Turning red with embarrassment, the crab retreated to his hole in the sand. Sandy Claws didn’t have many friends. Like many crabs, he was shy and at parties would not come out of his shell. And his habit of eating dead fish he found on the beach was a turn-off for live fish he wished to befriend.

The reason he disliked Christmas so much was that more humans would flock to his beach for the holidays, and many would toss their flower leis into the water or throw wrapping paper from their gifts on the sand. Sandy Claws had to pick up all the bows and ribbons these careless people threw out. But he was jealous too because no one ever gave him any gifts. All he ever got was the empty boxes people left behind.

Then one Christmas Eve, something remarkable happened. He noticed there were more humans than usual with cameras, all stopping and staring at a particular house near his hole in the sand. There were men in long pants, wearing dark sunglasses, talking into radios while standing around the house. Obviously a Very Important Person was visiting. But who could it be?

“Pssst… wanna know who it is? Do ya?” whispered a little birdie. “It’s the Obama!”

“What’s an Obama?” asked the crab.

“I dunno, but everyone is wearing shirts or carrying signs that say something about Obama,” the birdie replied.

“Well, whoever or whatever this Obama is, I hope he does something to clean up the ocean and beaches,” the cynical crab said.

As more people came and left, Sandy Claws saw that some were leaving gift-wrapped packages next to a palm tree by the Obama house. What could be in those boxes, and who were they for? “Maybe they’re for me!” thought the crab. Oh, he knew they were not meant for him, but he could not resist the temptation to pretend that these presents had his name on them.

And when he sneaked closer to the packages, what did his beady stalk eyes see, but the name Santa Claus on some labels. “Close enough,” said Sandy Claws as he began to drag the boxes back to his hole. Using his claws and smaller pincers, he carefully removed the ribbons and unwrapped each package. Then he took out the gifts and replaced them with wilted, soggy flower leis he found on the beach or other plastic junk he plucked out of the ocean. Some of the boxes he re-wrapped contained nothing at all except a little sand. After he put the bows and ribbons back on, he placed the packages next to the palm tree where they were originally left.

Sandy Claws looked at all the gifts he had taken: candy, cookies, Hawaiian goodies and also things for little girls such as dolls and toys. So it was clear this Obama had children. And Sandy Claws disliked children because they were always chasing after crabs like him or poking sticks into their holes in the sand.

“Ha! I’m glad Obama and his daughters will be getting trash and empty boxes for Christmas,” the crab muttered to himself. “Besides, why are people giving them more useless stuff when they obviously have so much already?” Which made Sandy stop to think about the gifts piled up around his humble hole. To fit in all the pilfered presents, he had to dig out more space. It was exhausting work to make room for things he didn’t really need.

Despite his constant grumbling, the cranky crab realized he didn’t have it so bad after all. He had eight good legs, plenty of garbage to eat, plus a beautiful beach he called home. “I should share my bounty with the honu, fish and dolphins. They’ll see that I may be a shellfish, but I am certainly not selfish!”

That evening, the men in long pants with the dark sunglasses (which they wore at night to make themselves look more mysterious) picked up the “re-gifted” packages and brought them into the big Obama house. Meanwhile, Sandy Claws put all his pilfered presents into a large mesh bag he had swiped from a kayak, and dragged it into the sea to deliver his gifts to less fortunate sea life.

“Ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas to all my ocean friends,” he called out. Soon he was surrounded by curious dolphins, fish and honu. Even a couple of sharks cruised by to investigate what was happening. He opened the mesh bag and began to give presents to the smallest and youngest creatures. Unfortunately, all the candy and cookies had dissolved into a messy mixture.

Nice,” snickered a sarcastic starfish. “Some gift!”

Undeterred, Sandy Claws gave a silver necklace with a silver flower charm on it it to a baby parrotfish…. who ate it by mistake. “That’s just great,” the angry parent parrotfish squawked. “Why don’t you just hand out sharp hooks to all the baby fish, huh?!”

“Sorry about that,” the crab said. “How about a doll then for your other baby fish?” However, as he pulled the cheaply-made doll from the mesh bag, his claw severed the plastic head. The monk seals and dolphins began to play an underwater version of soccer with the doll head. Sandy looked at the label on the doll’s body: MADE IN CHINA. “Tsk-tsk,” sighed an old honu.  “That doll was probably made by underage kids who are forced to work for slave wages!”

Sandy Claws was very sad. He tried to do a good thing by sharing his gifts. But all he got in return was scorn and scoldings. This was his worst Christmas ever. As he turned sideways to crabwalk away, he heard a small soft voice call to him from the ocean floor… “Hey, Sandy,” the tiny starfish said.

“Yes?” he replied hopefully.

“YOU’RE NOT GONNA LEAVE ALL THIS CRAP HERE, ARE YOU?” yelled the angry starfish. The gifts that looked so nice and new when he first unwrapped them were just more useless junk and garbage — because, as the dolphins would say, they had no useful porpoise for these sea creatures.


On Christmas morning, Sandy Claws woke up and decided he would return to being crabby since being generous did not work out very well for him. But as he walked home, over the sound of gentle waves breaking on the shoreline, he heard two young girls giggling with delight. It was coming from the big Obama house. “Oh, no! Those girls will be so disappointed when they open their presents and see they got garbage, or worse — nothing at all!” he blurted out to the little birdie pecking around in the sand next to his hole.

“Whatcha gonna do, Sandy? It’s too late to fix things now that you ruined their gifts… unless — nah, it’s too crazy,” the birdie said, his voice trailing off.

“What? Tell me!” the crab implored.

“You could make up for it by offering yourself as a gift to the Obama,” chirped the bird.

“Huh? You mean…” said Sandy, slowly getting the bird’s drift.

“Yeah. Crab salad. Self-sacrifice is what Christmas is all about, right?” the birdie noted.

“Maybe they don’t like crab meat though. In which case, it would be a wasted sacrifice,” said Sandy. Depressed and dejected, the forlorn crab looked up and saw the entire Obama family was gathered outside in front of the house with their presents. He quickly scooted over the sand and rocks to get a closer look at the famous family. There was the President, his wife and two young daughters, all beaming with anticipation.

The father handed wrapped presents to his wife and girls. “These gifts are from the good people of Hawaii. I wonder what they gave us! Let’s open them, and, um… let’s see, shall we?” While he and Michelle carefully opened their packages, Malia and Sasha gleefully ripped open their gift boxes.

“Hey! There’s nothing in my package,” whined the older daughter.

“Mine is empty too,” frowned the younger sister.

The wife held up a wilted flower lei that was still dripping sea water. “It smells like wet dog,” she sniffed. The father held up his empty box. A few grains of sand and pieces of plastic junk fell out. He smiled though and took the wilted lei from his wife. Then he put it around his neck.

“Dad, are you crazy?” asked the younger daughter.

“I think the people who gave us these empty boxes are the ones who are crazy,” said the older sister. “Not just crazy, but mean too. Why would anyone wrap up boxes of nothing!”

Their father nodded thoughtfully, paused for a second as he looked out at the beautiful blue ocean and white sandy beach. “Well, girls… um… maybe someone less fortunate than us needed what was in those boxes, or wanted those things because they lack, um, something. So they took the things inside the boxes… and, um… they forgot that they could not take what the gift-givers intended to share with you — with our family. And that is the gift of love. What I see in this empty box is Hope and Love.”

Sandy Claws’ eyes welled up with tears. But as he tried to wipe them with his big claw, he nearly cut his eye stalk off. He sniffled and turned to the little birdie. “The Obama understands the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes the best gift is… nothing!”

Then they heard loud laughter — it was the father and mother, who were consoling the crying girls. “Nah! Just kidding. Your mother and I got you real presents that are inside. You think we’d give you nothing for Christmas?” the father chuckled.  The sisters wiped their tears off and smiled. Their father sniffed the soggy lei and made a face. “I bet some crabby old McCain-Palin supporters left us those packages. At least we can be thankful it wasn’t a bomb.”

So Sandy Claws was right after all. Sometimes an empty box is the best gift.



Ana and Sasha looked at each other. “That’s a terrible Christmas story, Uncle Monkey!” said Sasha. Ana agreed: “Nobody would give a bomb for a Christmas present!”

“Ah, but they could. That’s the point of my story. Things can always be worse than they are,” the chimp replied. “So, a box full of nothing can be better than a box that has useless stuff in it… or worse, BAD things in it.”

Mele Kalikimaka! May all your empty boxes be filled with good memories and room for better things to come.

Ghosts of Christmas Past

December 10, 2010

I suppose every recovering alky or addict has mixed feelings about the holidays. During my hardcore partying days in New York City, Christmas was the perfect excuse for excessive celebrations — not that I needed an excuse to binge drink back in the 80s. It seemed every company either had an office party or rented a nice restaurant to host year-end bashes. That’s how I got into an altercation with Ethel Merman.

Yes, that Ethel Merman. I was in my mid-20s and had transitioned from newspaper reporter to marketing, landing a job with a direct marketing firm that brokered mailing lists for big clients such as Newsweek, Dow Jones and American Express. Our parties were legendary in direct mail circles. The guys I worked with were boozers too, but at company functions we were expected to behave professionally. We even wore tuxes at some events.

Anyway, there I was at one such Christmas party, trying to act the part of a young account exec on the rise. Rather than drink beer or wine, I went the cocktail route. Black Russians. Seasoned drinkers will smile at the foolishness of that choice. It’s mostly vodka with a splash or two of Kahlua (coffee flavored liqueur) on the rocks, a drink that goes down deceptively easy. After two or three of those, I was feeling pretty loose. Then I heard a buzz in the room and turned —

Ethel Merman unexpectedly showed up with an entourage in support of her “protege,” a younger male singer who was our entertainment that evening. Coworkers and clients approached the aging star, eager to shake her hand and ask for autographs. Rumors quickly swirled around the room that she was soused and had a nasty temperament. For some reason, I was seized with the notion that I would charm her (the “reason” may have been my fourth or fifth Black Russian). I walked up to her and said this: “Instead of asking for your autograph, would you kiss me so I can say the great Ethel Merman kissed me?”

She gave me a sour look which contorted into a twisted smile in my fuzzy recollection… and then she kissed me on my cheek. In my astonishment, I blurted out, “I can’t believe Ethel Merman kissed me!” In the same moment, I kind of threw out my arms to express my astonishment and the cocktail in my hand splashed on her dress. Her swift reaction caught me off guard. She threw her drink on me and gave me a look that would wither Medusa. People turned and stared at us. It actually made me angry that she would do something like that — and I let her know it on the spot.

“What I did to you was an accident,” I told her. “What you did to me was… malicious!” Then my boss grabbed my arm and gently tried to steer me toward the door while I was threatening to sue her. “Rich, you can’t sue Ethel Merman! You’re lucky she isn’t a client,” he said as he hailed a cab for me outside the restaurant. I’m not sure if the company owners saw what went down between Ethel and me, but I’m sure they heard about it afterward. Probably the only reason I wasn’t fired for that incident was that the owner was an even heavier drinker than me, and because of that, his wife (the co-owner) cut the younger guys some slack.

When Ethel Merman passed away in 1984, I got calls from clients who were at the infamous party to express their condolences. After all, she kissed me once and threw a drink on me in the same evening. Ours was a brief and stormy relationship.


On a more somber note, the other ghost from Christmas past that haunts my memories of Manhattan, is the night John Lennon was killed. I’m not certain if I was returning home from a company party or was just out drinking with the boys after work. It was a Monday, which would be a strange time to host a party. Anyhow, what I recall is I was very intoxicated and it was late as a coworker and I headed toward the subway. I saw a bundle of newspapers on the sidewalk. There was a huge headline on the front page about Lennon being shot dead — I bought a copy in disbelief. It was just hours after the shooting, and the news was already out in print.

On the subway ride home, I began crying. Why would anyone want to kill John Lennon? To New Yorkers, who came there to be a part of this city because it seemed to embrace everyone and anyone, rich or poor, famous or infamous, regardless of ethnicity or religion, John was one of us… it just seemed so wrong and so sad and senseless. My tears caused one of my contact lenses to come out, and I couldn’t find it on the grungy subway train floor. I walked home unable to see out of one eye clearly, and whatever holiday spirit I had been feeling was gone. Thirty years later I still feel a sense of loss around December 8.

Peace out.

Amazon contest, Netflix rec

December 3, 2010

First, thanks to those of you who have downloaded my INUGAMI and LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE script entries in the Amazon Studio contest… which is now offering two $20,000 prizes for best screenplay in their first competition. I’m not gonna rehash the arguments for/against participating in this weird experiment, but would still appreciate more downloads if you have the time. I’m currently on page two of their “most popular” list, which has nothing to do with quality or reviews really. However, if I have to game the system to get noticed by the pro judges who are reading scripts for Amazon, so be it!

Here’s the link for INUGAMI and separate page for LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE. You don’t have to read or review them, although it would be helpful to me if you gave them high ratings after downloading the scripts. I’ll return the favor if you like.

Moving on, one of the nice things about Netflix’s instant movies via streaming (we use our Nintendo Wii system) is you can catch up on TV series you may have missed the first time around. My wife and I have become hooked on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, which is based on a non-fiction book about a small Texas town where life revolves around high school football.

Although the book and subsequent movie adaptation both were praised by critics, I didn’t put the TV series on my “must see” list because I didn’t think my wife would care that much about a show that focuses on teenagers in some redneck Texas town. She actually likes watching college football (University of Washington, where she went, and University of Hawaii, our adopted team) and is pretty knowledgeable about the sport. But we don’t have kids, and neither of us care about the trials and tribulations of gawky adolescents. Boy, was I wrong — FNL is perhaps the best, smartest, most realistic television series I’ve ever seen. It really is about the American Dream, and is a microcosm of what’s good– and bad — about our country.

To begin with, all the main characters are fully fleshed out, which means they keep revealing layers of themselves that challenge your early perceptions of who they are: the All American quaterback and his princess cheerleader girlfriend, the bad boy best friend, the awkward back-up player thrust into the limelight, the brash smooth-talking running back, the coach/his wife/bright, cute as heck daughter… before the first episode ended, my wife had already decided she wanted to watch the second episode… then the third and fourth on the same night! At the end of each hour-long show, she would shake her head and said, “Damn. They always leave off at a place where I want to see what happens next!”

It’s true. The pacing and mix of serious drama with humorous moments is just about perfect. And the reason FNL is so addicting is something we writers can learn from. They (the FNL writers) show us what is most important to each character — then they take it away from them. Without revealing spoilers, the takeaway idea is that for each of us there is something that means the world to us, and when that one big thing is threatened or taken from us, you’re going to have an intense emotional reaction. When we watch characters being confronted with that type of situation, I think we instinctively feel for them. We want to know if they will get back what they’ve lost or how they will deal with the loss.

What’s especially impressive about FNL is that the high school kids seem, well… real. Not precocious or snarky or pretentious. In fact, they sometimes come across as being more mature than the adults. Yet the grown-ups are sympathetic figures as well, who have their reasons for why they behave the way they do — and they seem to know it. The characters are self-aware without seeming contrived for effect or plot purposes. When I downloaded episode one and saw there were over 20 more to go for season one alone, I thought, uh-oh. But there have been so few good new movies for us to watch on Netflix, we now look forward to watching the complete series.

Even if you’re not a big football fan, check it out. Start at the very beginning though, because having seen the last season, I now have an even greater appreciation for what the series creators and writers did in setting up story lines from the get-go. Be warned: it will break your heart… and leave you wanting more after each show ends.