I gotta be honest right up front: I’ve never been a big Mick Garris fan. Garris is perhaps best known for his work adapting a variety of Stephen King books for television, including The Stand, The Shining, Desperation and, most recently, Bag of Bones. I’ve found all of these to be mostly flavorless works failing to capture even a hint of what makes the source material so special. I know that Garris works mostly under the constraints of television network standards, but even when Garris takes his show to cable (as he did with Bag of Bones on A&E) the results, to me, aren’t all that different. Whatever it is that King sees in him, I simply can’t.
So you can imagine my surprise when, early into Tyler’s Third Act, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. Garris writes in a breezy, uncomplicated style no doubt developed through years of screenwriting work, producing lean prose that really moves the story along. Style isn’t the only place where his Hollywood experience impacts the story, either; Tyler’s Third Act is a parable of sorts, told by someone who’s been on the frontlines of the entertainment industry and has learned the hard way how difficult it is to satisfy an audience.
Tyler Sparrow is a television writer – well, he was a television writer until the 2007 Writers Guild strike derailed his career. In the aftermath of the strike, networks (and audiences) have turned largely to the cheap thrills of reality TV to satisfy their needs, and writers like Sparrow are finding it increasingly difficult to land jobs. With his options (and money) quickly running out, Sparrow decides to take the plunge and create an Internet-only program that will meet the demands of the bloodthirsty viewers and bring his own “third act” to a show-stopping conclusion.
I’ll leave it to you to discover what Sparrow’s plans involve, but let me say this – if Sparrow’s view of the audience he’s trying to please is in any way indicative of the way Garris has been made to feel over the years, he’s had a rough time of it. There’s a clear double meaning to the name of Sparrow’s “show” (“You want a piece of me?”), and I have to wonder how much of the character is a reflection of Garris’s own experiences. I know I’m far from being the only one who’s been critical of his work as a writer and director, and it’s easy for all of us to forget sometimes that the work we’re criticizing contains the heart, soul and sweat of a real live human being.
Artists from all walks of life will tell you that the act of creation is often a painful one, and putting that story or painting or poem or movie out there to be examined, vilified, dissected and dismissed is a real act of courage on anyone’s part. Much like Sparrow, many may feel the only way to truly satisfy the insatiable masses is to give until there’s nothing left to give. I haven’t always enjoyed the work that Garris has given us, but this is one instance where I can see how much of himself he’s poured into the work, and for once it’s something I can connect with. Whether you want to look at it as a parable of a professional entertainer’s existence or just a rousingly good horror story, Tyler’s Third Act is worth catching.
Order Tyler’s Third Act from Cemetery Dance here.