Monday, July 9, 2012

Rebuilding Elmer Studios - The B-Team

The B-Team were born from the initial casting call for the Elmer Studios MSTers. At the time, the pair of us had a reasonably sized crop of characters who we could use for our ‘main’ cast. From that pool, we slimmed it down somewhat to four characters who we decided would be out main cast, but that left us with a not inconsiderable shortlist of ‘also rans’. And while initially we were happy with the main cast, the idea came up to alternate between guest characters on occasion.

Starting from our third (!) episode, we began substituting in characters for others as guest stars. These small-scale substitutions continued for a while, with one of the regulars (Read: Rick) being replaced by whoever we chose to pull out from the character pool that day. Eventually, we developed a small cast of regulars, who became the so-called “B-Team”. For the record, I have no idea when we began using the term, but it clearly fit.

Who Were They?
The B-Team, in order of first appearance were:

*Natasha Isavia (5 episodes)
*Celena Harte (4 episodes)
*Janice Ryale (5 episodes)
*Karen McMillain (4 episodes)
*Maya Gold (10 episodes)
*Elana (4 episodes)

With two In-house guest stars:

*Sandra Blackmore (2 episodes)
*Gem (2 episodes)

(Where “B-Team” is here defined as “character created by us who is not a part of the main cast and not a guest character created by someone else, nor is a 'special event' character where we replace the whole cast")

Save for Maya, the appearances are very “front loaded”; most of them are in episodes 1 to 50, with a few sporadic ones during the Crisis of Infinite Temps (More on that to come). Conversely, episodes 50 to 126 are basically B-Team free, but that was for a reason.

Also, they’re all female. I’m sure this means something. (Well, save for the “B-Team member who wasn’t", that’s another matter)

Where did they go?
The main problem with the B-Team was simple. Save for Maya, they tended to have little in the way of personality and individuality. While they had distinctive appearances and would throw in the odd moment (Karen’s love of flamethrower umbrellas or Elana’s open mockery of AD&D Tropes) for the most part they really weren’t doing much that was distinctive or unique to them in terms of riffing. Mostly they were contributing “floater” riffs in place of Rick’s “floater” riffs. A good example of this came from Janice’s guest spot during Crisis when the rest of the cast didn’t remember her.

Other events, such as a growing number of Guest MSTers and crossover events also served to make the B-Team redundant. Rather then have a guest character, we had frequent guest MSTers who were bringing in their own characters. The result was that the B-Team were largely left without a reason to exist, which marginalized them.

Maya was the real exception here, simply because of her surprisingly strong personality. In many ways, she was the most different and unique of them, and really was a B-Team member only by dint of her not being one of the main cast. In some respects, she was doing better then the oft-absent Rick. That she was often used for Bubblegum Crisis fics, a favourite of the MSTers, helped a lot. Throw in her flirty nature and her oft-changing appearance, and she worked out rather well for the team.

The Crisis of Infinite Temps
First thing’s first. Crisis of Infinite Temps began as a joke. For those who didn’t get it, the host segments of episode 126, Mitchell the GI Joe, were a replay of the MST3K episode Mitchell. We had an idea and ran with it, resulting in Rick (temporarily) being written out of the cast. The point of this was to both let the B-Team members get more airtime as well as letting us experiment with new cast members.

A big part of it was that, by that point, our writing skills, senses of humour and the like had changed a lot by that stage, as well as our ability to make characters more recongnisably unique and individual. The Entire B-Team (Save for Maya) got to appear, many of which hadn’t been seen for over seventy episodes. During Crisis, they were far more ‘people’ then they’d ever been before, even if some of them had changed a bit.

And then it was all over. There was no Post-Crisis, no new world, no nothing. Elmer Studios closed down, and the B-Team went with it.

Rebuilding the B-Team
When Elmer Studios had its continuity reset, the B-Team were reset with them. On the surface, this meant that all of them were set for a clean start, with a chance to be re-imagined in new ways that would make them more distinctive and unique then their original versions. However, before they could be used, they needed to be re-worked to fit with the new Unified continuity and setting, as well as simply deciding who would work and who wouldn’t.

Sandra Blackmore and Gem were the first to go. In truth, they were more like ‘in-house guest stars’ then B-Team members with their own strong continuity and backstories in the Kazei5 PBEM. Re-tooling them seemed somewhat redundant, and the decision was made to leave them be rather then re-working them for the new continuity. Who knows, maybe there will be more K5 stuff to come. (Also, Sandra is now totally a published character. Buy the book and see!)

Elana was the next to go. Her “fantasy” background had always been unique amongst the cast (and not just the B-Team), as had her being non-human (Even if “D&D Elf” is pretty damned close). Retooling her to fit the new continuity would have involved completely rebuilding her from the ground-up, in essence transforming her into an entirely new character, in essence “Elana in name only”. Likewise, looking back at her track record, she had never been that distinctive in spite of her background and race (or that popular), so losing her was not seen to be that much of a problem.

Karen and Janice were also seen as somewhat redundant. Janice had never really developed that much of her own personality and presence, and had been all but forgotten before her reappearance during Crisis (A  fact that was ruthlessly lampshaded in her last appearance). Karen, conversely, had a distinctive personality, but her slapstick and flamethrowing umbrellas got old fast and hadn’t really helped much. In the end, both of them were considered to be not worth re-tooling and also abandoned.

This left three standing members of eight, Natasha, Celena and Maya. In truth, these three were definitely the most popular, had the strongest personalities and were the least dependant on a single idea or element. They also passed muster of being retooled to fit the new continuity with minimal loss of concept and personality (even if in one case, that re-tool was not their first…). These three would be the core of the new B-Team; the issue was now how to use them.

However, rebuilding existing characters was not the only plan we had for the B-Team. In the years since Episode 151, we’d built up quite a large pool of characters through one way or another. Dipping into that pool would offer us a lot of possibilities for new characters, ones who had the advantage of being “blank slates” in many ways, ones who were free to be used as we saw fit without the weight of prior continuity.

How to use them
One of the biggest weaknesses of the B-Team is that their use was oft random. Many times, the idea came up of “hey, we could use X character here” and we’d run with it. While this did create a few good moments, in many ways it hurt the characters as they were little more then substitutes or fillers with little reason to be there otherwise.

The new approach is somewhat different. When either of us (Rick R or Zogster) is handling a fic on their own, we will use our two “main” characters (Rebecca and Rick for myself, Dan and Tsuneo for Zogster) and two B-Team members of their own creation. The point here is to speed up the writing process and make a solo MSTing more “unique”. It also gives the B-Team members a chance to shine on their own, rather then being merely replacing a single member.

And what do you know; we used the term ‘B-Team’ in-world.

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