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Bar Karma: Last call for the universe
There’s a place at the edge of the universe, a venue that’s behind time and
before space, a watering hole where the tab you run up may never be paid — in
this lifetime: a place called Bar Karma.
Notoriously lucky billionaire Doug Jones wins a bar on a bet, and learns that
ownership includes an unforeseen headache: keeping reality itself from coming
apart at the seams. Now Doug must help out total strangers on the verge of a
bad decision, sit them down for a drink, and guide them to a better outcome —
without telling them that the fate of the universe is in their hands.
BAR KARMA is a half-hour TV show that answers the age-old question: “What
would happen if you could change your fate?” Set in time a traveling bar owned
and operated by members of the mysterious organization, the series follows a
new bar patron each week as they enter at happy hour and must make life-
changing...and possibly world-saving…decisions.
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Enter Doug Jones, until very recently a renowned software billionaire,
unrepentant ladies’ man, a guy admired as much for his tabloid foibles as his
business acumen — and the self-proclaimed “luckiest man alive.”
The trouble is, he actually is the luckiest man alive. Coupled with his low moral
center of gravity, however, he has become the unwitting source of an infectious
metaphysical virus that threatens the very fabric of time and space.
As it turns out, terrific luck plus bad behavior equals a dangerous imbalance for
everybody. If it continues unchecked, the virus will spread, causing bad people
everywhere to get luckier and luckier, and good people will start crashing and
burning, planet-wide. It’s bad.
Traveling through time and space, Bar Karma and the people who run it are
charged with maintaining a cosmic balance. Unfortunately, Doug’s Black Karma
is tilting the universe into a precarious new orbit. Either Doug starts righting
some wrongs, or the whole notion of karma will change forever. Bad people will
get luckier and luckier and good deeds will bring nothing but trouble.
At Bar Karma, Doug isn’t known as a super-successful entrepreneur, he’s merely
the new owner (and a bartender-in-training). But when he brings up his
impressive real-world accomplishments in conversation, he gets no traction —
nobody here cares. And he can’t help but notice that the strangest mix of people
enter and take a seat at the bar, looking for someone to talk to.
There’s the beauty pageant runner-up, still in her sequined outfit with the sash
that says “Miss Tierra del Fuego.” There’s the haunted-looking boy, no more
than eleven years old, with a sadness in his eyes that pierces your heart.
There’s the one-eyed, one-armed guy, like some kind of modern-day pirate,
bellowing his opinions to no one in particular. There’s the pimp, the nerd, the
jock, the slut, the misguided hero, you name it… and each will eventually get
An older gentleman named James Anon also inhabits the bar. He calls himself
the manager, but he’s clearly more than that. With his vintage three-piece suits
and archaic adding machine, he mixes drinks and works the cosmic numbers —
making the customers happy, keeping the files in order, and offering enigmatic
pearls of wisdom based on his 20,000 years of experience. He also maintains
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something decidedly not bound by the laws of physics: it’s not so much a house
of cards as a small, floating galaxy of cards (a few feet wide, it hovers just above
James’ roll top desk). It serves as a kind of oracle, as James pulls cards that
offer advice, guidance, and bad omens by way of clubs, hearts and face cards.
In reality, James isn’t just managing a dive bar. He’s maintaining a centralized
database of the entire human experience, but he plays those cards awfully close
to the vest. He’s connected to time and space in ways Doug can’t begin to
One downside of James’ enormous power and experience is that his grasp on
reality is loose, and his definition of truth has had to become flexible over the
course of 20,000 years. There are certain times when a critical piece of
information that comes from James cannot be trusted. He likes to describe Bar
Karma, for instance, as a rogue venture, but clearly he still takes direction from a
Dayna Rollins is the waitress, and Doug can’t change overnight: if he’s
conscious, he’s flirting. Dayna is beautiful, with an Australian accent that drives
the guys wild, but she’s learned how to handle unruly male customers without
breaking a sweat. She helps control the process of selecting and drawing
patrons into the bar by using the jukebox, and she carries her own deep secrets
that connect her to Doug.
Over time, as Doug pieces together what has happened to him, the viewers get a
sense of how things work at Bar Karma. The mythology of the place is complex,
and its details are best parsed out over the course of the first season.
- Doug has been pulled out of the conventions of time and space in his life,
and he either will or won’t get his old life back, depending on how this
cosmic sabbatical goes.
- He is headed for a fall that will result in being charged with murder. If he
can’t unlock the mysteries of the bar patrons and help them without
helping himself, he may be forced to return to his predetermined fate in the
- Sometimes when James, Doug or Dayna encourages a customer to share
his or her story, we get to see it play out as a flashback on the big screen
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TV. Patrons at Bar Karma may be fully aware of a choice they are facing,
or they may be completely unaware.
- If any member of the Bar Karma team (but it’s usually Doug) needs to visit
the real world to follow up on a lead regarding a patron’s karma potential,
the bar’s front door connects directly to the place they need to go (the door
of someone’s home, a hospital room, a board room, a gas station, a barn
— wherever the customer’s story takes them).
- Doug is supposed to help discern why Dayna and James have selected
the people she summons to the bar. As a lifelong narcissist, learning how
to draw people out in conversation is difficult, but he gets better at it. The
underlying mystery at the start of each episode is simple: a song plays,
someone new enters and takes a seat at the bar — where is their story
going to take us?
- Consulting James about a customer’s “tab” is a regular occurrence.
James will pull a cryptic object out of a file (a matchbook, a scribbled note,
a business card) and Doug has to find the connection; or James may pull
a card from the galaxy of cards floating near his desk, and the card may
lead to a subsequent clue that unlocks the customer’s mysteries.
- Certain episodes’ storylines should introduce a character with a direct
connection to Doug, and the story should bring his past into sharper focus.
- Doug’s and Dayna’s relationship always maintains a hefty dose of
flirtation, but he learns to tread softly with her: there’s more than meets
the eye here, and he senses strongly that there could be dire
consequences for him if he tries to bring his player lifestyle to this
- For James to leave the bar signals a highest-level emergency, and for
Dayna to leave the bar invites a whole new set of risks, primarily to her
safety, that make her a last-resort choice for real-world interventions.
(That leaves Doug for most of the heavy lifting.)
- The galaxy of cards is some kind of communication device or oracle, but
there are also the fairly earthbound-seeming communications between
James and his bosses, which mostly occur off-screen. There is something
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darkly amusing about the way James will often trivialize their literally life-
altering work, as if they were clock-watching minimum-wage staffers in an
out-of-the-way tavern as opposed to the theoretical saviors of the
- It’s clear that James knows where he gets his orders from and isn’t telling;
it’s unclear whether Dayna knows any more than Doug does about the
larger forces the guide the Bar Karma threesome’s work.
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Season one overview
The episodes in the first season hold opportunities for the Bar Karma team to
observe people at a pivotal point in their lives and attempt to thwart the Black
The concept of Branching Events becomes an essential tool for the trio at the
bar. James maintains an elaborate diagram (the Map of Time) so complex that,
at a distance, customers commonly mistake it for a meticulously detailed drawing
of a wireframe globe. He will direct Doug’s and Dayna’s attention to it with some
frequency, showing how an unknowing person’s path leads to a disastrous
incident (a close-up reveals a red, glowing star) and how their path needs to be
redirected. If their new path contains too many other Branching Events in the
future, however, it could lead them back to the original path — and its original, ill-
Branching Events diagram The Map of Time
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Powers: Dayna, James and Doug
Dayna has a powerful connection to music, which has served as a comfort from
early childhood. Music holds memory, the timeless part of the human
experience, and in Dayna’s hands, songs also hold the power to summon people
to the bar. Dayna connects the music to karma in the world outside the bar. Her
power allows her to find deep karmic energy affecting a situation, and bring the
person involved into Bar Karma.
Dayna loves the jukebox in the bar. She especially likes to touch it, gliding her
palm along the surface of the glass. She has a powerful attachment to it and it to
her. All through her happy childhood, she played songs on her hand-me-down
boombox with one blown speaker.
But some songs are not to be played until the time is right, and this she knows.
The songs Dayna chooses are what bring the new participants into the bar,
always after some kind of consultation with James.
Apart from James’ clairvoyance and his ability to manipulate his own
independence from space and time, he also reveals unusual powers from time to
time. He dabbles in moving objects and people with his mind and, lately, small-
scale pyrokinesis (he likes to make an olive explode in a ball of flame). They are
always visually interesting but have a trivial or quaint quality at the same time (a
little like close-up magic for a magician, something he can only do for a couple of
people at a time), so that it’s clear he can’t just solve every episode’s problem by
himself with a wave of his hand.
In the real world, Doug has always been able to spot weaknesses, both in his
corporate rivals and in his romantic conquests, and he has always taken
advantage of them to the fullest. At Bar Karma, this talent is transformed into the
power of insight — the ability to see more deeply into someone’s story and
motivations, to understand them in order to more accurately gauge what they’ll
What he used to use in his former life to accumulate power and enhance his
feelings of superiority over others, he now uses to discern the critical needs of
bar patrons and to identify important Branching Events.
In short: Dayna is the one who summons, Doug is the one who provides the
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insight that enables them to engineer potential solutions (and he is almost always
the one to implement them in real-world visits), and James is the sage who
guides the process.
Only James knows all that is at stake: the very fiber of the universe.
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The metaphysical, the impossible, the absurd — they are lurking around every
corner at Bar Karma, so even though it is so ordinary a setting that viewers will
feel like they’ve been there once or twice, there are little reminders from time to
time that just beyond its walls is a timeless, placeless void. Daylight is an
illusion, gravity is a construct, the passage of time — these are just the artificial
crutches of convenience and familiarity. Props should inexplicably appear,
levitate, glow, maybe even implode. People should glitch out and reappear just a
few inches to the left. The figment that is Bar Karma is no small
accomplishment, and so we can’t expect it to work perfectly all the time.
The show should provide brief visual reminders, perhaps even once every act,
that it is not taking place in a real bar. It’s certainly possible to re-use the best of
these as recurring special effects that don’t need to be created again and again.
Remember that the next diehard fan could be tuning in for the first time at any
point during any episode (or even watching a TV in a bar with the sound off), and
they need to be able to see that there is absolutely nothing ordinary about Bar
Even though there are references to the fabric of time and space being torn,
about the universe imploding, about everything we know and love being turned
inside out, there is always a sense that our team, the good guys, have enough
cunning and good fortune to keep it from happening. It is both real — as a
source of jeopardy and urgency — and surreal, like a bar with magic doors and a
floating house of cards.
Music is important, but at Bar Karma it’s less about Dayna calling up particularly
iconic real-world songs than it is about her finding songs that are hauntingly
familiar but impossible to identify, like the songs we hear in dreams. Music is a
powerful driving force for the emergence of new characters and the tone of the
It’s important that Dayna maintains an openness and a real warmth toward Doug,
but also shows that there is a clear relationship boundary that may or may not be
broken down over time.
James may reveal unusual powers, but it should be clear that they come and go.
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They should be visually interesting but seem just a little bit trivial or quaint at the
same time (a little like close-up magic for a magician, something he can only do
for a couple of people at a time), so that it’s clear he can’t just solve every
episode’s problem by himself with a wave of his hand.
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The “A” story will adhere to a traditional four-act structure for television (excluding
the in-bar banter and character discovery moments involving the three regular
characters that form the “B” story).
Introduce the new character as a bar patron, usually disoriented and confused
about what the bar is and how they got there. There should be a layered
reveal: how this character looks and acts initially should not reveal much
about who they turn out to be. The first major overturning of one of those
expectations can serve as the Act 1 act-out.
The Bar Karma team tries to discern what they’re meant to make happen or
prevent from happening in this person’s life. Doug may play a counter-top bar
game with the patron to try to learn something. James may have to consult
the floating house of cards. Dayna may or may not have something to offer
connected to the music she used to summon them. The result of any of these
actions sends one of the team out the door of the bar (almost always Doug)
and back into the real world. The clash between what they thought they
would find and what they actually do find is the Act 2 act-out.
In the real world, Doug struggles to find a new understanding of what the task
is, and how the situation he finds himself in relates to the patron he left behind
in the bar (even as he interacts with an alternate-reality version of the same
character in the real world). One more reversal, one that conflicts with his
new understanding of the real-world challenge, constitutes the Act 2B act-out.
The resolution to the real-world scenario occurs midway in Act 3, but with a
couple of questions left unanswered. No matter how many times a patron is
helped, Doug is still surprised how swiftly the next doorknob he reaches for
takes him back into the bar. The patron is (usually) gone from the bar at this
point, and the team gathers to discuss the missing pieces of what occurred on
the outside. Sometimes a clip will play on the bar TV that allows one of them
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to show the others what they missed. In Bar Karma, story conclusions can be
positive, negative or unresolved.