June 12, 2019

This Big Little Lies Clip Demonstrates How TV is Reinventing the Dinner Table Scene

You don't always have to write a dinner scene as a simple sit-down meal.

Sometimes these kinds of scenes can contain the most dramatic or surprising moments of a story, which is something we're seeing a lot of now, especially in episodic television, where writers are given more opportunities to take risks or think creatively.

Let's take a look at a few examples.

Big Little Lies

HBO's drama Big Little Lies returned this week, and the Internet is already buzzing about Meryl Streep's Mary Louise Wright, mother to Monterey's recently deceased Perry Wright (Alexander SkarsgÄrd) and mother-in-law to Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman).

During a dinner scene from the season two premiere, Mary Louise talks about her anger and grief about the loss of her son. "I just wanted to scream," she says. "So you know what I did? I did scream."

This scene could have been just fine with Mary Louise simply expressing how angry and sad she is, but the writers take it a step further, spicing everything up with a primal scream that takes the emotion of every character present to a different level.

Fleabag

Another great example can be seen in Fleabag series two. Phoebe Waller-Bridge's writing is already on another level, so it's truly stunning to see how she crafts drama and comedy in scenes.

The entire series two premiere episode is a family dinner that finds Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) and her family together after a year apart. Fleabag has avoided sister Claire (Sian Clifford) and her scumbag husband Martin (Brett Gelman) since Martin tried to kiss her.

It's hilariously tense on several levels, including the introduction of sexual tension between Fleabag and the Priest (Andrew Scott), but the episode also packs in amazing twists, like that Claire and Martin are trying for a baby, and that she experiences a miscarriage in the middle of the dinner.

It's an extremely bold premiere, a bottle episode that is masterfully written with tight jokes, sharp emotional beats, and genius editing. This is a unique example of a sit-down dinner being used as an extended setting that still has life and excitement.

Barry

Finally, because I can't help myself, I want to include an example from HBO's Barry.

In this dinner scene from the episode "What?!," Barry (Bill Hader) and girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) are with her abusive ex-husband Sam (Joe Massingill). The scene has inherent tension, because Barry has spent the season hearing about what this man did to Sally, so he hates him already. But there's also the question of how much Sam knows about Sally doing a performance based on their real-life relationship and what his reaction will be.

Since this is a dark comedy, the show decides to take the opportunity to do something funny and original with its opening sequence at the same time.

It's such a surprising and simple moment that takes the scene to an entirely new place, injecting humor and creativity in the middle of all these characters' trauma.

These are just a few unique examples of how different TV writers approach dinner scenes in fresh ways. Remember that having your characters sitting around and talking is all well and good, and such sequences will convey the probably information you want them to, but there are always methods you can use to surprise the audience and keep them engaged in your on-screen drama. You can take risks, even when your characters are just sitting down for a meal.

What's next? Check out our other writing resources.

Check out No Film School's screenwriting tag for even more advice on the art of writing strong characters, themes, and dialogue    

Your Comment

1 Comment

How about Eraserhead, When Harry Met Sally, or Goodfellas? What is fresh or remotely original with any of these dinner scenes?

June 14, 2019 at 6:04PM

0
Reply
Jake
465