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Published March 01, 2009

As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.  If Franks and Beans is the broken clock in this allegory, then the unabashedly sensational episode 24, “Studio Audience” is 5:33 on that hunk of glass and gears.  It’s not a perfect metaphor.

Even so, it’s hard to deny that what we have here before us is something special, an occurrence of lightning in a bottle that we hope to perform more often than the image might conjure up (again with the metaphors!).  Simply put, both Larry and I are extremely proud of what we accomplished with this little episode that could.

This episode is in many ways a culmination of our entire body of work, but at the same time, it represents the randomness that is the calling card of this series in a way that people who watch this show have hopefully come to expect.  While much of “Studio Audience” is a callback to several of our previous episodes, its origins are much less referential – very simply, I thought it would be fun to film a “mockumentary” where Larry and I would be speaking directly to the audience, but in a way that would be different from other episodes like “Commentary” and “Mail Bag/Bloopers”.  The result is an episode that is actually pretty similar in format to a number of reality shows that are on the air today.

After watching this episode, you might have been tempted to fold your arms and say “hmm!  Looks like Jeff and Larry did some research for this one.”  And you would be right, anonymous viewer – we each watched roughly twelve seconds of clips from “The Office” And “Little People, Big World” just to figure out if we should be looking directly at the camera in our ‘confessional’ shots.  As it turns out – and as a result of our tireless research – no, looking right at the camera is a major faux pas.  Instead, as is evidenced in the finished product, when filming a reality show you must look just SLIGHTLY to one side of the camera.  Thank you, Internets!

“Studio Audience” welcomes back friend to the program ‘Hardcore Mark’ as he reprises his role as ‘whatever we ask him to do’.  This is an invaluable role, as it turns out that Larry and I cannot play every single character in the show, although we do a bang-up job at trying.  While dozens (and dozens!) of people actually watch Franks and Beans, Mark is probably the show’s biggest fan outside of its creators, and thus gets all the good character roles that might otherwise go to waste.  He’s quick to critique a new episode with gusto and commitment that is, quite frankly, a little disturbing given the show’s nearly invisible status on the pop culture radar.

The plot of this episode is fairly simple, though the execution was lengthy and detailed: Franks and Beans takes on a studio audience (Mark), which quickly divides the two main characters in their levels of appreciation for it.  Conflict is a hallmark of quite a few episodes, but it’s usually less focused and more a result of one particular insult or perceived slight.  In this episode (longer than the standard fare at nearly five minutes) we do our best to draw the tension out and show a relatively long progression to the ultimate rift that takes place at the end.

Interlaced with confessionals are clips from mostly fake episodes of Franks and Beans, the exception being a revisiting of “The Sweater”.   I had to make this call back, I felt, for a few reasons.  First, nudity is most always funny, and Mark’s chase scene really sells it here.  Second, “The Sweater” is probably one of the episodes that I have the most problems with (it’s better as a concept than in reality, I think), and reopening this wound whenever possible adds to the humor.  No one gets “Commentary” and I’m not the biggest fan of “The Sweater”, so let’s talk about them as much as we can!  This is how I think.

The other fake episode clips, the “20-car pileup” scene, the “Can we still be friends?” scene and the “Mixing Bowl” scene were just based on props or one liners and I have no idea what the rest of these snippets would produce…but I have to admit, I did become quite fond of that bowl and wire whisk.

The scene in this episode that stole the show, though, was undoubtedly the confrontation scene, where all that buildup finally leads to something.  The walk-and-talk took a few times to perfect, and the whole scene is one entire shot, so this took some doing – one mistake and the whole thing had to be shot again.  We practiced slapping Mark’s fake script a few different ways, and once I swiped them straight into Mark’s face, hitting the poor guy right in his eyeball.  I feel bad for him now (sorry, Patch), but at the time I was thinking, “that was perfect!  Don’t lose character!!”

The ending of this episode was left a bit ambiguous for a few reasons.  Most importantly, there didn’t need to be some methodical resolution scene…or at least I wouldn’t know how to make one that was also funny.  Secondly, Larry and I decided to make this the official end of Franks and Beans, season one.  I know, I know…I said the same thing after episode 13, but still!  This time it’s for real.  What does that mean in the big scheme of things?  Well, it depends on how big you’re thinking.  If we’re talking about life or death struggles, surviving against all odds, then it probably doesn’t mean much.  But if you’re right at the level of “I’d be somewhat interested in collecting all of these episodes in a handy playback format”, then you’re in luck!  Because a DVD is in the works.  I know this because I bought like 25 empty DVD cases and we have to fill them with something.

So, if you want one…it’ll probably be free.  Because selling it would just go against our moral codes…and no one would buy it.  Maybe Mark.

Before filming the “No!” ending for this episode, Larry and I had some decisions to make.  Trying to come up with a different way to enter a room and shout one word after two dozen episodes is something of a creative strain, and there was real discussion on moving on to another theme with this next ‘season’.  Ultimately, though, I thought that the challenge was worth it, and I could at least go another 24 episodes of unique endings.  So if we completely run out of ideas after, oh, episodes 30 or so, it’s on me.

As it was, we had the idea for me to switch roles with Larry for quite some time, but it seemed like this was the perfect opportunity to go with it.  It’s very simplistic but it represented something of a benchmark for the show and for Larry and me personally.  Franks and Beans has become a great source of pride and enjoyment for me, and I’d wager that Larry feels the same way; so reaching this point in the show brings with it a certain sense of accomplishment.  I’d say that we couldn’t have done it without fans and viewers alike, but in reality, this is something I’d like to do even if no one were watching, if we hadn’t gotten a steady stream of encouragement from the get go.  I think that this is the measure of any show – commitment in the face of little to no recognition from the outside world – and dammit, we’ve got that in spades with Franks and Beans.

We’re two episodes into our vaunted season two right now, and we’ve been there for a month or so.  But the old Franks and Beans machine is getting ready to roll again, and there will be new episodes out before you know it.  So keep an ear to the ground!  We’ll be back soon.  See you then!


- Jeff M.

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