Pavlovian Entertainment

'Save Me' from classical conditioning

Last week, I recommended the Apple TV+ series, For All Mankind. This week, I want to talk about another show my wife and I recently wrapped up two short seasons of: Save Me (now airing on Peacock).

Save Me is a British drama that stars Lennie James. James, who also created the show, is best known for his role as Morgan on both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. I’ve been a fan of his since he co-starred on the short-lived CBS series, Jericho.

Anyway, I can’t stop thinking about Save Me, and it’s not because I was blown away by the quality of the show, or anything like that. I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong… it was pretty decent, well-acted, and definitely had some strong moments, but it’s not a series I would enthusiastically recommend to people.

The reason I can’t stop thinking about it is because of the ringtone on James’s character’s cellphone:

“You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat!”

Why is that silly thing consuming my thoughts? Let me begin by explaining the premise of the show. Warning: there will be spoilers.

James plays a down-and-out mooch named Nelly who, thirteen years earlier, fathered a daughter he’s estranged from and has never really known. She’s being raised by the mother in a different city.

When the daughter goes missing, it’s discovered that she had been in contact (via an online chatroom) with her father for several months, and that the two, after becoming reacquainted, had hatched a plan to meet.

The problem is that the person she was in contact with wasn’t really her father, but an unknown individual posing as him. After Nelly is quickly cleared by the police as a suspect, he helps with the effort to track down her kidnapper(s).

It’s actually a pretty good story idea.

Anyway, Nelly is a drunk who has a very active social life at his apartment complex and a local pub. He does a lot of partying, and it appears that the ringtone is a recording of himself, carrying on one night, after having a fair amount to drink. In other words, it’s in-character for him… at least in that first episode, before things get too serious.

Well, the story gets very dark, very fast. The trail of the missing girl pulls her desperate parents and the police in the direction of sex-trafficking and video pornography. The search goes on for a year and a half, with failed lead after failed lead. And as you can imagine, her family is in dire straights.

Suffice to say, the show is nothing close to a sitcom.

Yet, at no point during those two seasons (again, spanning 18 months) does Nelly ever change that damned ringtone. Even worse, it almost always takes him an inordinate amount of time to actually answer it.

This is of particular note because other characters in the show (whether its the police, family, friends, or even seedy underground contacts) are calling him all the freakin’ time. This includes right in the middle of very tense and sensitive situations.

At one point, Nelly is standing silently over the dead, mutilated body of the only man who may have known where his daughter was. And then, suddenly blaring from inside his pocket:

“You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat!”

In another scene, Nelly has just been beaten to a pulp by a group of masked men. Lying in a parking-lot with blood trickling out of his mouth and nose, he suddenly receives a phone call.

“You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat!”

In yet another scene, Nelly is keeping a close eye on a traumatized rape victim, because he’s worried she may try to harm herself.

“You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat!”

In this instance, he’s so focused on the victim that he lets his phone continue to ring (never bothering to turn off the ringer).

“You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat! You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat! You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat!”

I cannot emphasize enough just how absurd it was.

Yet, the phrase is now so ingrained in my head that I’ve become conditioned to repeat it, out loud, whenever my wife and I are watching serious scenes from other shows.

When an astronaut on For All Mankind is hit with a lethal dose of radiation from a solar flare:

“You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat!”

When a teenager gets shot in the neck by a drug dealer on Your Honor:

“You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat!”

For a while, my wife responded with courtesy laughter… but I’m pretty sure I’m just annoying her at this point. Still, I don’t feel as though it’s completely fair to assign blame to me for what is effectively a Pavlovian response. Lennie James is the guy who wrote the show, and okayed the ringtone (along with its overuse). So, it’s his fault… right?

I mean… I doubt anyone ever thought that Ivan Pavlov’s dogs were doing something wrong by salivating when they thought they were about to be fed.

But technically, I’m not a dog. Thus, I suppose I should be held to a higher standard. I suppose the most equitable solution at this point is for me to do my best to bite my tongue whenever the urge comes, and secretly replace my wife’s ringtone with the one on the show.

After all, Pavlovian entertainment is still entertainment… and stunts like this help keep the marriage fresh. Right?

“You what… You what… You what, you what, you whaaaaaat!”

Is there some quirky movie or television scene that has altered your behavior for the worse? Let me know about it.


Sean Coleman Word Association

I was joking with my publisher the other day that my least favorite thing about being an author is filling out the very long “Author Competitive Analysis” form that accompanies all new book contracts. The purpose of the form is to best position your book to find the right market and audience. The amount of information required is rather incredible, and it takes quite a while to enter it.

I finished filling out the ACA for Sean Coleman #5 last week, and though — as expected — it wasn’t much fun, I was reminded of one question that I don’t mind answering each time:

“List 20 Key Words that would be used to search for your book.”

I’ve always enjoyed word-association, and I figured ‘Daly Grind’ readers (especially Sean Coleman fans) might find my answers interesting, if only to get an early feel for what’s to come.

So, here you go:

rugged, escape, desert, hide, desperate, longing, thriller, mystery, redemption, alcoholic, murder, conscience, Nevada, Mexico, missing, old flame, gunfight, cartel, drugs, Las Vegas.

Random Thought

Obligatory Dog Shot

Role reversal.

Featured Vinyl

Social Distortion has been among my favorite bands since the early 1990s. Their unique punk sound (that covers multiple sub-genres) and front-man Mike Ness’s twangy but gritty vocals have produced a ton of great music.

They’ve been around since way back in 1978, but their breakout, self-titled album below didn’t come until 1990. It includes what is probably still their two most popular songs: Story of My Life, and a hard-edged, well-received cover of Johnny Cash’s iconic hit, Ring of Fire. The bluesy Ball and Chain also spent some time on the charts.

My copy of this album isn’t a original (I’m not sure if it was originally even released on vinyl). It’s a numbered-edition Record Store Day exclusive from 2015 that I snagged out of a crate just in the nick of time.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.

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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!