It’s a bold choice to write, direct, and act in your own project.
True, sometimes it means a shot at realizing a sparklingly unique cinematic vision, like Woody Allen or Orson Welles at their best. But sometimes – most of the time, if we’re being honest – it just removes people from the equation who could give a valuable heads-up when things start to go off the rails.
Little things, like “We should maybe get that actor to pick an accent and stick with it,” or “This exposition is more confusing than quantum theory,” or “Shouldn’t we have someone say the characters’ names out loud at some point so the viewers know who they are?”
And when you also add “producer” to the many tricorn hats you already have stacked on your head, as auteur James Patrick Riley does for Courage: New Hampshire, you also take away the crucial person who would have said “This is so boring that it will never, ever make its money back because no one will ever buy new copies after the initial sales. The old ones are just going to get passed back and forth, unwatched, by Tea Partiers at Christmastime, like flattened zombie fruitcakes that are unable to decay. Should we maybe think about a rewrite?”
Seriously, you guys: It’s really boring.
And yet, in its own way, it’s an impressive effort. Conservatives are convinced that they don’t have the entertainment infrastructure to spread their political views, so some Tea Partiers decided to create their own, and they seem to have rustled up some real money for it.
Not that liberals could learn anything from that.
Anyway, on to the pilot episode of Courage, New Hampshire: “The Travail of Sarah Pine.”
…Though if you want to get technical about it, the menu screen on the DVD calls it
The Road to Revolution
COURAGE, New Hampshire
Episode 1 • The Travail of Sarah Pine • Winter 1770
I’m stumped as to how many of those things are actually supposed to be parts of the title. But I might hazard a wild guess that Mr. Riley has also quietly added “copyeditor” to his already impressive résumé.
Chapter 1 – Kidnappers
(Stay strong and bear with me through this first part. It’s really supposed to be the backstory for the show, or at least for this episode, but I was completely flummoxed the first time I watched it. There’s a lot of stuff that’s just thrown in all higgledy-piggledy and then maybe 20 minutes later there’s finally enough explanation to make you go “Ohhhh.”
There are also a few plot contortions that seem to happen throughout the show in order to preserve a Tea Partier’s delicately constructed worldview. I’ll do my best to keep your mind from getting blown.)
The show opens at an inn. We immediately know that it’s going to be some sort of psychological thriller because the characters daringly refuse to say each other’s names, heightening the viewer’s tension.
The unidentified men standing and drinking at a table talk about kidnappers who they haven’t been able to find, but there’s a report of them from a reliable source, so there must be some, but, really, kidnappers? It sure does seem strange.
Yes. Yes, it does. No less so to anyone trying to make sense of it.
We cut to the outside and finally get a logline:
COURAGE, NEW HAMPSHIRE
[sic. That lack of a comma is driving me straight up the walls. But you deserve slavish accuracy.]
So at least we can deduce, based on the 1770 in the extended title, that this is some sort of prologue.
Then, whoa! Some Brits burst in. Their leader approaches a nameless man who is dressed like everyone else and not behind the bar. Somehow the British stranger knows that that particular nameless man is the innkeeper. Those are some impressive psychic skills. Anyway, the English leader demands to know who took their prisoners.
Meanwhile, silent young woman watches cannily from a candlelit table, intrigued.
Apparently the British are soldiers from the 29th Regiment and they were out capturing deserters but were instructed to stay in plainclothes while doing so for reasons that are NEVER, EVER explained, so just take some deep breaths and don’t let the lingering question gnaw away at your very soul as I have done.
Another nameless man in the tavern gets all weaselly and tries to escape and the Brits grab him and attempt to do some roughing up but suddenly Nameless Tavern Keeper has a pistol to the leader’s head.
I thought he had been awarded a bad-ass line of extreme etiquette enforcement (“You’re in a restaurant!”), but after repeated checks I’m forced to admit that it’s only “You’re unner arrest, friend.” Or something. He’s an innkeeper, not a dictionkeeper.
The leader of the plainclothes soldiers expresses surprise that the innkeeper has the power to arrest him, but just as the viewer is screaming “Yes! Why is that?!” we cut to:
ONE YEAR LATER
And some B-roll of people doing Vaguely Colonial Things.
Abby (a name!), the apparent tavern wench, is cleaning when another woman (don’t even ask) comes in and hands Abby a Colonial-Looking Bundle. The new woman recognizes one of the British soldiers hanging out and drinking, calls him “Bob Wheedle,” and rushes out.
Another soldier calls him “Sergeant Bob,” and we realize that it’s Plainclothes Soldier Leader Guy from before.
In case you’re wondering whether we’re supposed to like the Brits, they quickly make innuendo about Abby, dis the town, and then laugh about the fact that the innkeeper/justice of the peace does things for himself like trim his own trees and run his own business.
Oh, no… They’re not just Redcoats. They’re liberal elitists!
Soon a crowd is heading for the tavern, including a young woman with a baby, who turns out to be the same young woman we saw in the tavern earlier. She greets Sergeant Bob with a radiant smile, but the tavern keeper/justice of the peace/tree surgeon arrests Wheedle again. Bob has been named the father of the young woman’s illegitimate daughter.
We cut to what may or may not be the next day, outside. Bob, in wrist irons, tells the other soldiers to head to Boston, explain the trouble, and mention that it’s these same colonist jerks who screwed up their bizarre plainclothes deserter mission from last year.
The Innkeeper of Justice says Bob either has to take his wife and baby back to the regiment or face trial in two weeks, but there is some soldierly scoffing at that idea – looks like the power of our British overlords may get Bob sprung.
There is some manly posturing about who is tougher than whom, including a threat to renovate the tavern’s airflow system with cannon balls.
We also learn that Bob had no idea that Colonial New Englanders might want to punish fornication. See? Liberals!
Oh, no! An intercontinental he-said-she-said! Can there possibly be anyone with the wisdom and gravitas to sort this thing out? [Spoiler: Yes]
Next up: Chapter 2 – The Investigation
(You’re on tenterhooks, aren’t you? Of course you are.)