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The brainchild of visionary writer/director/producer/geek Shannon Young, The Blockheads was arguably the greatest Lego-based sitcom in television history. After the taping of the series finale, we managed to catch up with the reclusive genius behind it all.
"Well, basically I got tired of looking at the same old same old every time I'd surf my favorite Lego sites. Everything started to blend together -- spaceships, mechs, castles -- you know, been there, done that. Everyone was treading familiar, boring ground. I wanted to do something totally new."
Why then immediately betray that vision by posting the same MOC over and over again five or six times in a row?
(Long aggrieved sigh) "It was satire. Which of course no one gets, because you're all idiots who've been dumbed down by too many Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay movies. It was done purposely to point out the absurdity of building nothing but mechs that all look the same, spaceships that all look the same, castles that all look the same... try something new for (BLEEP)'s sake. Bless those few brave souls who began to complain of the repetition during the second season... The sad thing is we could have gone on for twenty seasons and most people would have lapped it up like the slavering dogs they are."
Why insult the loyal fans of The Blockheads, without whom you wouldn't be where you are today?
"You expect me to pander to that crowd? (BLEEP) 'em. Stupid sheep. Work a fart joke into your MOC and you're a god to these people. (BLEEP) that. I'm better than that. I got where I am by going against the grain, by being that lone voice in the wilderness. Now I'm supposed to sell out, go mainstream, sink to the lowest common denominator? (BLEEP) that noise."
Hazel Cottontail, who was discovered performing the title role in Hamlet with a struggling theater troupe in London, became an audience favorite as "that crazy rabbit." But he almost quit the show before an episode ever aired.
"Of course as the series went on it became fairly clear that the rabbit was merely a projection of the Ma character's subconscious, but at the outset, the nature of the character was very much up in the air. I was having a bit of trouble with this, you know -- shall I play him as real, or imaginary? I went to Mr. Young, and... let's just say that at first he was less than helpful."
"Yeah, so Hazel comes whining to me, going on and on about how the character's too amorphous or whatever, I don't know, some prima donna B.S. He isn't sure how I want him to play it, blah blah blah. I go, 'Are you (BLEEP)ing kidding me? You have no lines, you just sit there, you hold whatever prop we put in your hands, and look at Pa. How (BLEEP)ing hard is that?'"
"Oh yes, he cursed most dreadfully at me. I was completely unused to being spoken to in that manner, I can assure you."
"So anyway, to keep him from throwing a hissy fit, I tell him, 'Look -- we'll do multiple takes. Play it as real for one, imaginary for another, however many ways your actor's muse tells you it can be played, and we'll go with whatever works best.' That seemed to shut him up."
"I thought it was quite decent of him... But at the end of that first day of shooting, after I had performed the role five different ways, and felt sure all the subtle nuances I had brought to each could not possibly be lost on anyone, what does he say but --"
"In every single take, he looked the same. Exactly the (BLEEP)ing same."
"I tell you, if I had not already signed the contract, I would have walked out right then and there! As it happens I did not speak to Mr. Young other than what was absolutely necessary, until sometime in the middle of the fourth series, I believe."
Rory Rooster shot to fame as the star of the once-popular MOCtag franchise, but his meteoric rise to stardom was accompanied by a burnout nearly as fiery. When his character began to get killed off multiple times, he visibly lost interest and his performance became erratic. His hard-partying lifestyle, and addiction to alcohol and painkillers during this time also played no small role in his downward spiral. He was never completely without work, but he was reduced to bit parts in various MOCs. When he was offered the recurring role of "the neighbor's rooster," a newly clean and sober Rory jumped at the chance.
"Well, you know, it was steady work. The Betty Ford center ain't cheap, and I had some serious debt to pay off. So I wasn't the star anymore, or even in every episode. But it was a great character, you know, something I could really sink my beak into. The old wacky neighbor with a fresh spin, Ma's nemesis, this sort of lovable troublemaker. It was a lot of fun. And Shannon always believed in me, even when I'd stopped believing in myself. Whatever he needed, all he had to do was ask, as far as I was concerned."
"Oh, I always love working with Rory. You know, even when he'd hit rock bottom and he was as likely to show up on the set four hours late and completely (BLEEP)ed up as not show up at all, he still had more talent and personality in one wing than any ten combined sig-figs on MOCpages. They'll probably all hate me for saying it, but it's the truth. Take that hack SigOcean Figgy for instance. Talk about wooden! He makes a Keanu Reeves performance look Oscar-worthy. How he ever became famous I'll never know... what was the question again?"
The role of Ma Blockhead, played by Jillian Pelham, was the first part cast. Originally conceived as a shrill, shrewish type with no notable redeeming features, Pelham's inspired performance brought a depth of humanity to the character, becoming a sympathetic figure, the long-suffering housewife forced to put up with the churlish and neglectful Pa.
"Oh yes, at first I was just supposed to shout all the time and be generally unpleasant, the stereotypical nagging fishwife. And in the first episodes that was really all I had to do -- the viewer can't help but think it's no wonder that Pa does his best to ignore her. But as the series progressed I was able to turn it around a bit, and make one think that maybe Ma's behavior wasn't necessarily the cause of Pa's, but rather the effect."
"Oh, Jill was great. You know, once an actor really defines a role it's impossible to imagine anyone else playing that part, but I very nearly went with the first actress to audition for Ma instead. In the end I know I made the right choice, but it's interesting to speculate how the series would have been different had we gone the other way."
Early screen test, Meryl Streep reads for the part of Ma:
"Is this all you're going to do today?"
In the same way that Ma's character was softened from its original conception, Pa, played by the late Allen Lancaster, began life as a very unlikable character as well. In one of the last interviews before his untimely death, Lancaster appeared on the popular Australian late night talk show The Commotion with Shannon Ocean, of course with Pa's famous recliner in tow:
"...And we're back. So, Allen, you were telling me during the break that the Pa character was originally supposed to be a real bastard, right?"
"Yeah, the very first lines in the pilot episode, Ma says to Pa, 'Is this all yer gonna do today?' And Pa, in the original script goes, 'Shaddup.' It just seemed overly harsh, ya know, a bad first impression on the audience. I didn't want him to come across right away as this big (BLEEP)hole, even if he has been listening to Ma nag for forty years and that really is what he wants to say... ooh sorry, didn't mean to swear on your show."
"Are you kidding? This is (BLEEP)ing Australia, mate! It's a national law that at least every other sentence contain a (BLEEP)ing curse word."
"God, I hate it when the actors start meddling with the writing. You think it's so easy, go write and direct your own damn project! But in this case he was right. In fact, I'd already decided to change it when he approached me about it. I let everyone in the cast think it was him that had changed my mind, basically just to torque Hazel off."
"It worked, too... I had to hear about it from that whiny (BLEEP) all day, every day, for months."
The sordid details of Lancaster's death by autoerotic asphyxiation have been covered in excruciating detail by every imaginable tabloid, so we mercifully won't be subjected to them here. But his sudden loss did create some unforeseen problems for the show.
"We had just started shooting season six when Allen died. Now as far as I was concerned, that was it. Show's done. The cat dies or leaves the show, the rooster, you know, you can write that into the storyline. You can even write the rabbit out of the show if you have to. But Ma, Pa -- they're irreplaceable. Unfortunately the network weasels, in their infinite wisdom, didn't see it that way."
In other words, the show must go on.
"I guess... The Blockheads had been contracted for six seasons. Allen was barely even cold yet when they started demanding I get a replacement actor to finish the season out and fulfill the terms of the contract. Well, I absolutely balked at that -- the whole 'switching Darrins on Bewitched' thing, you know, it just shouldn't be done as far as I'm concerned."
A brief and nasty tug-of-war ensued between Young and the network executives. Stubborn to a fault where his artistic principles were concerned, it came as a shock when it was quickly announced that previously unknown Robert Foster would be taking over the role of Pa.
"We were all a little suspicious when Shannon caved so quickly on the replacement Pa issue. To this day I think he cast the worst possible guy he could find on short notice just to stick it to the studio bosses."
"Unfortunately, my lawyers have advised me to not respond to those allegations."
"Of course by this time, Allen and I had built a rapport, the timing was second nature. There was no chemistry with the new 'Pa.' None. And it was the strangest thing, but the cat wouldn't go near him, either."
Outtakes from scene 27, take 83 of the unaired episode, "I Fought the Ma:"
"Pa, the neighbor's rooster's tryin to mount the cat agin!"
"Ma, get the... get the... shoot, what's my line again?"
"Jesus (BLEEP)ing Christ! For the last time, it's 'Git the shotgun, Ma!' How is that so difficult?! 'Git the shotgun, Ma!' You (BLEEP)ing moron!"
"We'd only filmed a few scenes with the new Pa when I sent the tapes upstairs to the suits. When they saw how awful he was, they were the ones begging to be let out of the contract. Those tapes have been sealed in the vault, never seen by anyone outside this studio, until now."
Scene from the unaired episode, "Ma's Kettle:"
"You know what, Pa, I cain't honestly 'member if it's a closet 'hind thisyere door, or stairs!"
"There's a door in this room?"
Scene from the unaired episode, "The Block Stops Here:"
"Pa, he ain't foolin, that crazy rabbit says ya better turn that teevee down right now!"
"Ma, if you turn down your volume, I could turn down mine."
"We did one episode, third season, I believe, a day in the life of the Blockheads' cat, where the episode centered entirely on him. It was just too radical a departure from the show's proven formula. It never aired."
Scene from the unaired episode, "The Cat Show:"
(In the background:)
"Pa, I'm tellin ya, that dern cat's up ta somethin!"
"You was the one wanted a cat stead of a dog, Ma."
"This Superbowl promo was actually the last time the entire cast was all together. It was really a bittersweet moment when it did air, since Allen had just died a few weeks before. But this is the way I like to remember them."
"What in tarnation are y'all starin at that teevee fer?"
"I toldja Ma, it's the Superbowl. You jest keep bringin the nachos."
Now, I'm not a fan of Mechs or Space ships, because they do get repetitive, but the reason this is so funny is because its repetitive. I love the interviews, they really sound like something they would say. Consider making a stop motion movie, around 5 minutes, just a short. Ahh, that last picture was a bitter sweet moment, I...I...I...oh its so sad, excuse me for a minute!
Wasn't expecting so much backstage drama, but when you have a talking hare and Young as director, I suppose I should have seen it coming. Honestly, even Phipson in a rabbit costume could have performed better than that prima donna.
Don't you Dik York/Dik Seargant ME! That is total bologna. The writing here is very clever Mr. Young. Thanks for entertaining this insomniac at four in the morning. Good grief I hope my comment will make sense to others besides me. Soooo tired.
What, no mention of my favorite character? The Television's story deserves to be heard!
Solid work Shannon. For your next series, something combining the genius writing of "Two and a Half Men", the pure comedic gold of "Friends" and the hard hitting, balls to the wall action of "High School Musical" would be magical.
How long did it take you to type this thing up, anyway? I'm sorry to see Blockheads come to an end. I loved the part were the guy forgot his lines, and then you came screaming in, swearing for all you're worth. Priceless!