“The Pilot” by Joshua Ferris is a farce that builds over 5-6 pages in order to reach its punchline of an ending. In the story, the main character Lawrence Himshell (sounds like a name from a Paul Auster novel) is a recovering alcoholic writer in L.A. trying to finish his TV pilot as he struggles through life. A good chunk of the story deals with Lawrence’s inner turmoil as to whether he’s actually been invited to a party at a famous actress/writer’s house or if it’s been a “contacts mishap,” like she sent the invite to all of her email contacts by accident.
The actress/writer in question has a show called “Death in the Family” where each episode features someone on the show dying horribly, but then each new episode starts back like a sitcom with the past events being washed away, like nothing happened.
The joke in this story is Lawrence’s alcoholism, and alcoholics in writing. I was nervous about this story, because all of those types of stories become the same: what happens when the character’s will fails and he takes a drink. There’s nothing interesting about these stories. What makes “The Pilot” work though is that for the TV show, Lawrence wants the main character to be an alcoholic who always finds himself surrounded by social drinking and alcohol. Ironically (we are told) the title of his show is “Life of the Party.” As the story progresses, Lawrence begins to have second thoughts about the show. Starts to think what if instead of being sober the main character fell off the wagon each week.
The story makes fun of that area of fiction and also blends the ideas of the two TV shows into one as life at the party spirals out of control. One of my favorite moments is when Lawrence prepares to go to the party and feels like he’ll make more of an impact if he dresses up as the character from Friday Night Lights, coach Eric Taylor, played by Kyle Chandler.