Ratan Lines: Table Reads

Editor in Chief Gabrielle told me about a podcast where the hosts read terrible screenplays that were never made into movies. As it happens, I am a sucker for mean people describing terrible things, so I decided to give Table Reads a listen. It was truly the best kind of terrible, so thanks Gabrielle.

One of the screenplays covered by this podcast is a Spider Man script from 1993 written by James Cameron. This could have been a truly incredible cinematic debut for the wall crawler, mainly because of Doctor Octopus’ habit of calling his robotic arms “Waldos” and screaming “Okie! Dokie!”. Spider Man doesn’t stop any crimes until about halfway through the script, and Aunt May thinks Peter Parker’s only priority should be finding a girlfriend and making her some grand…nieces? Was this a passion project, or Cameron’s idea of an intentionally So Bad It’s Good experience? Perhaps we will never know. Or perhaps I just do not want to look into it.

Now that the level of terrible in these scripts has been established, the podcast proper. The hosts, Patrick Duffy and Shaun McBee, use a wide variety of odd voices to bring the awful, awful characters to life. They also interject with sound effects and very consciously change the background music to set the atmosphere. The scripts themselves often have massive amounts of detail, thanks to stage directions and terribly redundant dialogue. As a result of all this, Table Reads actually give the listener a very complete picture of what is going on. It is a bit unlike an actual radio theatre, which only include dialogue, music and sound effects. Of course, radio theatre aims to actually move the audience, while Table Reads exists to poke fun at terrible scripts.

The hosts often add “improved” lines to the script, and then go back to correct themselves, so one must listen with a well-tuned sarcasm-o-meter. The hosts also constantly comment on how absurd the situations are. Like all scholars of terrible things, Patrick and Shaun know that people can only consume so much raw awfulness. A little bit of mockery can go a long way towards making things bearable.

In addition to the actual reading, there is an opening jingle, a voice saying “Fade out” at the end, and occasionally some discussion about the origin of the script being scrutinized. Frankly, hearing yet another Uncle Ben death scene made me a bit sick of hearing origin stories, so I skip the discussion portions.

Ultimately there is one fundamental difference between listening to Table Reads and watching someone rip apart a terrible movie on YouTube: the visual component. There is no acting to criticize, no costumes to mock, and no poorly done stunts to laugh at. After all, the whole point of Table Reads is that these movies never got made, and the whole point of podcasts is the focus on audio. Thus on Table Reads the collective mismanagement of entire studios is not under scrutiny: there are only the dreams of naive screenwriters which are doomed to be crushed.

Each episode lasts about an hour, except for “SPEED READS”. When the hosts decide on a movie to read, episodes are released on a weekly basis. When one movie is complete and a new one must be picked, the gap is a bit longer. The description claims that every single script they read is bad, but there is one exception: the Roger Rabbit prequel (inexplicably called “Roger Rabbit 2”) is apparently legitimately good. The hosts also sometimes read screenplays they wrote themselves, once upon a time.

Leave a Reply