Alessio Franko is a New York-based screenwriter and actor. In addition to writing the web series Under InspeKtion, he has studied TV writing at Columbia University and the University of Chicago and has written several original pilots. His work often experiments with the narrative portrayal of systems and thinks through how the systems we navigate affect our identities. Trained in acting at HB Studios, he has performed on a variety of New York stages including La Mama and the Ontological Theater and extensively with University Theater at the University of Chicago. I spoke with him via email to find out more about his webseries adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.
Allegra Rosenbaum: What is Under InspeKtion for those of us who don’t know?
Alessio Franko: Under InspeKtion is a serialized suspense-comedy webseries currently comprised of 14 roughly 10-minute episodes. You can see it on YouTube and on our website. Though inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Trial, it is an original story and no exposure to Kafka is needed to enjoy it.
AR: How did you come up with the idea for the series?
AF: There’s a certain consensus among Kafka fans and scholars: Kafka is funny. He is broadly known for creating dismal, nightmarish, and headachy worlds—and he certainly does this—but when Kafka, in his time, would read aloud to his friends, they were rolling in the aisles. Kafka has been very influential on my sense of humor over the years, and I find myself most interested in the kind of laughs that come from something breaking: from that moment when certain conceptual givens are pulled out from under you, and you have to spend (hopefully only) a few seconds not knowing which way is up. So in some ways, Under InspeKtion is my attempt to distill a version of Kafka’s sense of humor and put it to work. The serial format seemed like the right framework here, as it not only allowed for a “misunderstanding of the week,” but also invited us to put our characters in a world that eventually spirals out of control, as Kafka’s often do.
AR: Do you think Kafka would have liked it?
AF: I’d like to think he would get a few chuckles out of it, but there is a sense in which I don’t think he would even recognize it as inspired by his work. Despite the theme of bureaucracy being as relevant today (if not more so) as it was in Kafka’s time, the ways in which bureaucracy co-opts our lives as well as the way we think about the status of the bureaucrat has certainly changed. It is very different to parody bureaucracy in modern day America, where we are used to thinking of bureaucracy as dysfunctional than it is to do so in the German-speaking world in the early 20th century, where institutions such as the German Post Office were considered paragons of efficiency.
Kafka might also brush against how “real” the trial was in our version. A common reading of The Trial is that Josef K, in fact, is not on trial, but attracts all of these functionaries and lawyers because he is behaving like he is. Our version is more interested, given an undeniably real bureaucracy, in the ways in which we end up conflating bureaucracy’s values with our own personal values, and the consequences of such conflations.
AR: You play the protagonist Josef K in the series. How does your interpretation of the character differ or compare to him in the novel?
AF: Both versions of the character deny their guilt, and in so doing end up volunteering to be put on trial, but their reasons for doing so are quite different. The Josef K in the novel is someone wracked with guilt about interpersonal offenses he has committed elsewhere in his life, so as much as he claims to resent the charges (not?) leveled against him, he is perversely predisposed to play along with them. My version of K is someone who has spent years toiling away with nothing to show for it, and the only thing still keeping him going is the idea that he at least deserves to be rewarded. Being guilty—of anything—jeopardizes that idea, and he will stop at nothing to prove that he is a bona fide good person.
So while Kafka’s protagonist is a good example of Lyotard’s idea of “interpellation” (the person who self-identifies when an authority figure yells “Hey, you!”), I was working here more with the too oft-vindicated TV “nice guy,” whose sense that he has been deprived or oppressed develops into a misplaced moral defensiveness and a destructive need for validation.
AR: What would you like viewers to take away from the series?
AF: The series follows the journeys of multiple characters, and what people take away from it depends on who they are and which threads speak to them. But I think a core question that everyone can appreciate, track, and ponder through the series is that of what it means to be a “good person.” Trying to be a good person inevitably leads to a paradox: one is only as good as they are willing to acknowledge their failing at goodness. Ideally, I hope people step away from the series thinking about how they define (or don’t define) themselves as “good people,” and what lies underneath the desire to have a clear conscience in the first place.
AR: Classics are constantly being interpreted and reinterpreted. What do you think makes a good interpretation or modernization?
AF: In most cases, I hope, we reinterpret and update classic texts because we love them and because they’ve had such a profound influence on us that it would almost be foolish to run away from that influence. And I think the best results here come when try to get to the bottom of our love for these texts, when we deconstruct them, figure out how they work, and put them back together in a whole new order with a bunch of spare parts. The goal is to learn something new about it each time.
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