“I want to offer you a modest salary and full benefits.”
To a lot of Americans these days those words would calm nerves. But when Jack hears the news from Kris (Becca Blackwell), his boss, he vomits his lunch, a literal rainbow of poor eating choices.
Jack started Michael Cyril Creighton’s cult hit series Jack in a Box as a sad employee selling theater tickets, when all he wanted to do was act. This season, the series’ fourth and last, Jack’s career did not reach the heights he’d hoped. Instead he booked an anti-diabetes PSA, which barred him from acting for two years. Kris offered Jack the promotion knowing he would not disappear anytime soon. Jack is wondering whether he would be “stuck” in this job forever.
In the finale (below) Jack meets his future in the form of Jimmy (Peter Bartlett), a spectacled sexagenarian who shares Jack’s fondness for gingham.
When Jack goes to see him, he hits him with the door. Jimmy exclaims: “One day I’ll be bending over to pick up a dropped ticket stub or my broken dreams and that God-damned door will hit me in the head and knock me out forever. And I will welcome it!”
This kind of existential levity has lifted Jack In A Box above your average indie web series. It’s why it was among the earliest independent web shows spotlighted by The New York Times and nominated by the WGA. Jack shares with many sitcoms a tendency to exaggerate the foibles and pathetic adventures of a sad-sack protoganist — think of perpetually unhappy Liz on 30 Rock, Louie on Louie, Hannah on Girls, etc. Losers are an American comedy staple.
But while Liz has found wealth and love, and Louie is auditioning to host The Tonight Show, Jack has had no such luck. Indeed, his fate is quite realistic for a gay actor who lacks the princely looks of Cheyenne Jackson.
“While I was tempted to write a happy ending that was very finite with a million cameos, cupcakes and tears of joy, I felt the need to end the series in a way that felt true to everything that came before,” Creighton told me (full comment at the bottom). “So, I embraced Jack’s unsureness and that feeling of being stuck that is such a huge part of all four season.”
Most of the great gay web series out right now — including the many profiled on this site and in a recent Queerty roundup — stay away from such melancholy. It is, quite simply, not as marketable. (There are always exceptions, including this year’s hit, The Outs).
Jack In A Box‘s strength has always been that hint of sincerity, sometimes obscured by its large, rotating cast of great actors playing delightfully cartoony characters.
It will be missed.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen Creighton on episodes of Louie this year, you can catch him in Blood Play at the The Debate Society all next month. He’s working on developing Jack into a half-hour pilot and has more online work surfacing soon. “I’m looking forward to working on other peoples projects for a bit while I figure out my next move. But rest assured, there will be a next move. I get antsy easily,” he said.
Creighton on writing the finale:
That finale was a hard nut to crack. It took me a real long time to figure out exactly how I wanted to tell the story and how I wanted to end things for Jack. I knew I didn’t want to wrap things up neatly or cut and dry. I also knew that if Jack found success and a little bit of happiness, it would come at a price. While I was tempted to write a happy ending that was very finite with a million cameos, cupcakes and tears of joy, I felt the need to end the series in a way that felt true to everything that came before. So, I embraced Jack’s unsureness and that feeling of being stuck that is such a huge part of all four season. I want the audience to make their own decision about what Jack decides to do. His reality is hitting him in the face more than ever, and I think he has some really hard decisions to make when it comes to his career vs. his job. Which, I hope, is something people will universally understand no matter what they aspire to do with their lives. I’d be lying if I said this is an easy project to end. But I, like Jack, am going to embrace that inevitable unsureness. But perhaps unlike Jack, I plan to use it for good.