Month: April 2017

Behind Enemy Lines (FOX) Vs Navy SEALs Drama (CBS) pilot previews: Big Guns

Written and executive produced by Nikki Toscano (Revenge, 24: Legacy, Bates Motel, Shades of Blue). Based on Jim & John Thomas‘ movie script. Executive produced by John Davis (The Blacklist, Timeless, Predator, I, Robot), John Fox (The Blacklist, The Player, Dr Ken, Joy), Wyck Godfrey (Twilight, Maze Runner, Revenge, Rosewood) & Marty Bowen. Directed by McG (Lethal Weapon, Supernatural, Chuck, The OC). For 20th Century FOX Television, Temple Hill Entertainment & Davis Entertainment. 60 pages. Revised Network Draft. 01/21/2017.

Description:  A group of U.S. soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines in Ukraine. The multi-perspective narrative closely follows our soldiers on the ground, and the officers and service men and women on a nearby aircraft carrier, along with intelligence officers in DC as they attempt to bring our heroes home safely and under the radar…

With Marg Helgenberger (CSI, Intelligence, Under The Dome, China Beach), BJ Britt (UnREAL, Being Mary Jane, Pitch, Agents of SHIELD), Benito Martinez (American Crime, The Shield, Sons of Anarchy), Colm Feore (24, House of Cards, Revolution), Gabriel Chavarria, Willa Fitzgerald (Scream, Royal Pains), Melia Kreiling (Tyrant), Dylan Bruno (Numb3rs)…

   

Written and produced by Benjamin Cavell (Justified, Homeland, Sneaky Pete). Executive produced by Ed Redlich (Unforgettable, Without a Trace), Sarah Timberman & Carl Beverly (Elementary, Unforgettable, Justified, The Odd Couple). Directed by Christopher Chulack (ER, Third Watch, Shameless US, Animal Kingdom). For CBS Television Studios & Timberman/Beverly Productions. 70 pages. Revised Studio Draft. 01/23/17.

Description: The lives of the elite Navy SEALs as they train, plan and execute the most dangerous, high stakes missions our country can ask…

With David Boreanaz (Bones, Angel, Buffy), Max Thieriot (Bates Motel, Texas Rising), Neil Brown Jr. (Insecure, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), A.J. Buckley (CSI: New York, Justified, Pure), Jessica Paré (Mad Men, Jack & Bobby), Toni Trucks (Franklin & Bash)…

  

You may wonder why this pilot season virtually every network has a pilot about military in the running. To understand, you have to go back to 2015 when Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper crushed expectations at the box -office with more than $340 000 000. It took time to reflect on TV as always -development is what it is- and it’s USA Network which was the first to go last winter with Shooter starring Ryan Phillippe doing solid business for them, then Six on History. If you add Trump’s presidency to the mix and an urgent need to reflect blue-collar, everyday Americans better, here’s why networks are all about America’s heroes in the military. With For God and Country at NBC already on the verge of getting picked-up to series according to Deadline -and it’s arguably the best of the crowd- there’s little chance every one of them gets a greenlight in two weeks. While Valor at The CW looks like a dark horse to me, ABC wisely chose to make a military comedy, not a drama (Charlie Foxtrot) to stand out from the crowd. But this one’s not very good. There are two choices left: Behind Enemy Lines at FOX & the Untitled Navy SEALS drama at CBS. Both are serious options but only one looks like a winner on paper.

Of course, Behind Enemy Lines had an advantage from the get go: it’s based on a 2001 movie, loosely based on a true story. But one which received generally negative reviews from critics when it was released. I haven’t seen it but it seems like the team behind the TV show did a good job at keeping what was working on the movie and leaving what didn’t. And it took time apparently. FOX has been high on mounting the project for awhile. They first commissioned a script from a different writer last season with a put pilot commitment. While that one didn’t go to pilot, they kept the concept for redevelopment and they were happy with the second script. I’m happy too and I’m not interested AT ALL with military dramas in general. You know what I like the most about it? It’s a soap. An action-packed one, yes. But it’s the characters and their complicated, troubled relationships, all the conflicts within the three groups we’re introduced to, that keep you interested. There are thrilling moments, for sure, but they wouldn’t work without the rest. It’s heavily serialized. At the end of the pilot, you just realize the mission has just begun and you want to watch more.

While For God and Country is a bit edgy sometimes and really political, Behind Enemy Lines plays it safer, very network-y and clearly doesn’t want to hurt anyone. But my intelligence felt offended from time to time. It lacks subtlety, especially when it comes to the subject of race. Our appealing hero, Ziggy, is latino. By his side during the mission in Ukraine are Jacob, an islamophobic african-american, Reggie, a blue-collar ass with a tender heart and Shia, the first woman accepted into the SEAL Training program who’s muslim, of course. They are all clichés. Their group seems forced, unnatural. Coincidentally, For God and Country has more or less the same set of characters but it works better. The one character I’m in love with is the one played by Marg Helgenberger named Admiral Bobbie Decker. She’s the most powerful woman in the military but she doesn’t act as she owns the place. She’s fierce but fair. She’s a mentor to Ziggy. And she has her own set of personal problems since her boyfriend is the undersecretary of State…

If Behind Enemy Lines feels too easy and on the nose sometimes but could be quite fun to watch, CBS’s Navy SEALs project on the contrary feels a bit foggy and murky, even irritating. David Boreanaz, who replaced Jim Caviezel who left the project over creative differences -not a good omen unless it just means Caviezel is hard to work with- plays Jason, the respected, committed leader of his assault team who’s been through over a dozen deployments, with scars inside and out. I’m sorry but I don’t like him and I think I will never be able to. He’s just very unfriendly and he’s not even funny. It starts -and ends- with him “talking” to a psychologist, or more precisely refusing to talk to a psychologist. This therapy thing feels outdated. We got a lot of those in the 2000s, starting with The Sopranos. Been there, done that. And the other characters are not very attractive either. And in this one, women are mostly comprehensive wives. It’s so CBS of them… But there’s Mandy, a whip-smart CIA analyst driven to rid the world of evil and get the bad guys. No Carrie Mathison vibes, sadly.

There are a lot of flashback scenes that refer to a difficult mission in the Iranian coast that left Jason and his team traumatized. It broke longtime friendships, tore families apart. It’s quite overwhelming. We don’t get much of what is happening quite frankly. But little by little, as we get more informations and as we meet more characters, the picture’s getting clearer and you can see a potential in the show. It’s like a mix between The Unit and Army Wives. A lot of action, a bit of family stuff, a dark tone, not many moments to breathe and smile a little though, and an attempt to offer something more profound than the usual CBS series. It’s not strong enough to be a cable show but maybe a little too heavy for a network. It should have worked with the NCIS franchise but I fear it doesn’t.

Behind Enemy Lines is a well-crafted, probably expensive project, that may not be an easy fit with FOX line-up but could please the audience, both male and female, and offer a distinctive option… But what could doom it is the existence of For God and Country at NBC. Would they take the risk to launch a similar but not as good show in the same period of time? It doesn’t seem to be a real problem for CBS and their Navy SEALs project. This one could have been a no-brainer if it were more crowd-pleasing. And the network may want to choose between this and S.W.A.T., also about a team of super strong men. What if none of them go further? That’s my bet.

Salamander (ABC) pilot preview: Your conspiracy thriller from the 2000s

Written and produced by Andre Nemec (Zoo, Ninja Turtles, October Road, Alias), Jeff Pinkner (Zoo, Fringe, Lost, Alias), Josh Appelbaum (Zoo, Alias) & Scott Rosenberg (Zoo, High Fidelity, Gone in Sixty Seconds). Based on 2012 Belgian series. Directed by Gary Fleder (Kingdom, Beauty and the Beast, October Road, Kiss the Girls). For ABC Studios, Midnight Radio, Beta Films & Keshet Studios. 58 pages. Network Draft. 01/20/2017.

Description: Ethan Anders, a brilliant but misanthropic engineer, recruits Nora Schaller, a skeptical Homeland Security agent, to help him track a mysterious bank robber whose theft of 66 specific safety deposit boxes, belonging to the elite and powerful, sets in motion a series of blackmails that are linked to a greater conspiracy that is killing people one by one…

With Larenz Tate (Rescue Me, Power, House of Lies, Game of Silence), Allison Miller (Go On, Terra Nova, Incorporated), John Leguizamo (Bloodline, Moulin Rouge, Romeo+Juliet), Elaine Tan (Hand of God), Neil Sandilands (The 100, Hap and Leonard)…

  

You’ll like if you already like: Prison Break, 24, Designated Survivor, Scandal

Likely timeslot: midseason (as a bridge between Designated Survivor season 2A & 2B?)

Welcome back to the early 2000s folks. Salamander, adapted from a belgian series, looks like a script that was lost during this period of time when every network wanted their conspiracy thrillers after 24 & Prison Break broke out. Remember Kidnapped, Vanished or The Nine? Salamander is one of these. They all tended to be appealing on paper based on the concept with their strong hooks and big twists. But at some point, they all had to face reality: it’s hard to pull off conspiracy-themed series on a weekly basis. They became silly and sometimes even unwatchable. And they got cancelled pretty quickly. Salamander is not totally dumb and silly. At least, not yet. But everything that’s happening is unbelievable and overall not that surprising if you watched the shows I pointed out a few lines ago. I would be very surprised if ABC gives it a chance. It looks like one of those pilots that got ordered “just in case”, just to see. And they could’t assemble an attractive cast, like The Crossing, to compensate. Not a good omen either.

As in Prison Break, the relationship between two brothers is at the center of the story and gives an emotional feel to a pilot that’s mostly about plots and twists. But one of them dies in the pilot, paving the way for another, more conventional relationship between our hero, a “normal nerd” and a psychiatrist who works at Homeland Security. They’re supposed to have a strong chemistry -we’ll see if that translates on screen- and the writer insists on it a lot. Way too much. We get it man. In fact, the pilot starts with them having a date. It goes horribly wrong of course. They agree not to see each other again. But you know fate. It’s twisty. 10 pages later they’re in for a big deadly adventure where everyone in New York seem to be dangerous and hiding a terrible secret. We meet so many secondary characters… it’s overwhelming! Between the senator who causes an explosion on a ferry, the man who commits suicide by jumping out of his office’s window, those you just meet in one scene but the writers warn you they will be more important later on… You can feel they have a plan. And they’d better! It’s based on an existing show after all. The way is already paved.

Despite this waterfall of characters, the story is more plot-driven than character-driven, especially when the leads are not on screen, which happens every other scene. For example, you can sense from the get go that the cops who interrogate Ethan Anders after the death of his brother are corrupt and you think they’ll play a bigger role later. Wrong: they end up killing each other. It’s one of those plot twists that give you an instant hard on because it’s exciting and surprising at the exact moment it arrives. And then you think about it and it just don’t make sense. Salamander asks you not to use your brain too much. Some people are good at it. Others just can’t. Your apprecIation of the show may very well depend on it. But above all, it’s a show where you’re clearly told not to get too attached to the characters because most of them are not there for long and that’s a problem for me. It’s hard to care about anything when you’re sent this message. Last thing that troubles me with Salamander is the fact that Ethan is an engineer. It’s way too convenient for the writers. Too easy. He can crack everything. It’s not the first show to do this but it doesn’t make it okay. And about Nora, she’s “just” a psychiatrist at Homeland Security but she has access to everyting. It just doesn’t make sense.

Salamander is not the type of show ABC should bet on though Designated Survivor proved there’s an audience for thrilling conspiracy series on the network when it’s well done. But this show doesn’t have Kiefer Sutherland, nor legs to work for a long time even if the pilot is efficient and action-packed. ABC has way better options to waste a slot on it. Go back where you belong Salamander: to the early 2000s!

Shelter (NBC) pilot preview: A great disaster TV movie…

Written and produced by Warren Leight (Law & Order SVU, Law & Order CI, In Treatment). Executive produced by Paul Haggis (Collision, Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale, Walker Texas Ranger) & Charles McDougall. Directed by Charles McDougall (Sex & The City, Desperate Housewives, The Office, The Good Wife). For Sony Pictures Television. 01/27/17.

Description:  The nurses and doctors of Our Lady of Salvation, an understaffed Brooklyn hospital, becomes the borough’s last viable trauma center after a catastrophic hurricane wreaks havoc on the city. On a holiday weekend with few doctors on call, the medical staff is pushed to make the most difficult life-and-death choices as they work to save their patients and themselves…

With Rachel Griffiths (Brothers & Sisters, Six Feet Under, When We Rise, Muriel’s Wedding), Nikki M. James (The Good Wife, Braindead), JJ Feild (Turn), Jamie McShane (Scorpion, Bloodline, SouthLAnd), Latarsha Rose (Being Mary Jane), Paola Lazaro, Matthew James Thomas (Britannia High), Nadia Gan (Mr Robot)…

  

You’ll like it if you already like: ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Code Black, disaster TV movies…

Likely timeslot: midseason slot (sunday?)

 

Shelter was the first big drama buy for the broadcast network this pilot season, receiving a pilot production commitment by NBC with Paul Haggis potentially directing. But the movie director had apparently better things to do when it actually got ordered. It doesn’t matter that much though, Charles McDougall is a very good one and many pilots he directed got picked-up to series in the past. In the medical field, the network already has Chicago Med -which is fine despite unsatisfying numbers in its second year- and summer filler The Night Shift. Do they need a third one? I’m very doubtful. I don’t think there’s a slot for it in the fall. Later, maybe…

The hook here is that it’s a real time “extreme event” medical drama. But they don’t mean real time like 24 was originally set up. A one-hour episode is not equal to one-hour in fiction time in Shelter. We don’t really know how much time has passed when the pilot ends. A few hours probably. So it doesn’t feel that different from the other medical shows. The concept of 24 sounds a little too early 2000s anyway. And then there’s the “extreme event” part. This one is accurate – a catastrophic hurricane wreaks havoc on the city- but ultimately it doesn’t feel like the beginning of a TV show but more like the first-part of a 4-hour mini series… from the 90s! Which doesn’t mean it’s boring or anything. I was actually hooked from the first page to the last. It works. It’s very fast-paced and action-packed to the point it’s even exhausting. So many things are happening… A little too many? You can feel the storm coming. And when it arrives, it’s definitely not a little one. Code Grey, Code Red and Code Black have been activated at the hospital. And then the Disaster Code. I get that the writer wants to show how huge the event is but he may be forgetthing he could have 12 other episodes to write after that. What will happen then? And what about the hurricane? It will have to end at some point.

It’s a very character-driven medical drama with our heroine, Kim, the nurse in chief, being at the center of this huge mess and trying to be the best at everything: treating patients (one of them, of course, is her wreckless teenage son), organizing the unorganizable, kick ass at shutting her boss’ big mouth, dealing with her ex-husband who’s a pain in the ass and finding the time to sleep wiht a doctor, her fuck-buddy who wants more. And she’s very good at all of this. Rachel Griffiths will probably thrive on this. Welcome back to american network TV, dear. One other nurse is very pregnant. Classic. She’ll probably deliver her baby in atrocious circumstances later. It’s a diverse cast, with mostly appealing characters, though most of them have yet to be introduced properly with more details about their personal lives. That’s where the show can find more stories to tell in subsequent episodes, though having family members coming to the hospital could get old very fast.

The most intruiging character is Meghan Sparks, the hospital administrator, that everybody will hate initially, that’s for sure. It’s funny because she’s described as a blonde “FOX News hostess” type in the script and she’s played by Nikki M. James, who’s the contrary of this. What’s even more funny is that the same thing happened with Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy. She was supposed to be a tiny blonde -and Kristin Chenoweth was approached to play the role- but they went for Chandra Wilson. Meghan brings the most interesting thing about this show: it is set in an understaffed hospital of Brooklyn, in a poor neighborhood, and she represents what’s wrong with the american health system. It’s an old theme, but few medical shows tackled it properly and it seems to be timeless, sadly.

Shelter is not the next great medical drama, but it would be a fine TV movie or miniseries and it would fit well with the Chicago shows while doing a better job at keeping you on the edge of your seats. Maybe NBC can turn it into a two or three nights event but a weekly show for years? It seems unlikely. With those characters and this perfect sense of urgency, it’s a bummer.

Mission Control (CBS) pilot preview: Too big a challenge

Written and executive produced by Andy Weir (The Martian, The Egg). Executive produced by Simon Kinberg (X-Men, Legion, Designated Survivor, Mr & Mrs Smith), Charles H. Eglee (Hemlock Grove, Dexter, The Shield, The Walking Dead), Aditya Sood (Deadpool, The Martian, Designated Survivor), Brian Buckner (True Blood), Courtney Conte & Quan Phung (Whitney). Directed by Jeremy Podeswa (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, The Tudors). For CBS Television Studios, Genre Films & Slingshot Global Media. 63 pages. 10/18/16.

Description: The next generation of NASA astronauts and scientists juggle both their personal and professional lives during a critical mission with no margin for error…

With Poppy Montgomery (Unforgettable, Without a Trace, Glory Days), David Giuntoli (Grimm, Privileged), Peyton List (Frequency, The Tomorrow People, FlashForward, Mad Men), Levi Fiehler (The Fosters), Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives, Santa Clarita Diet, Scandal), Wunmi Mosaku (Guerilla, Fearless, Jo, In The Flesh), Vinny Chhibber (No Tomorrow)…

 

You’ll like it if you already like: Quantico, Grey’s Anatomy, Extant The Martian

Likely timeslot: Summer-bound?

Last year, CBS was heavily criticized on their lack of diversity in almost every every new series they picked up, all prominently featuring white males (Bull, MacGyver, Pure Genius, The Great Indoors, Kevin Can Wait, Man With a Plan) with only Doubt and to some extent Training Day going on another direction but considered as second thoughts on the schedule. They promised to do better next year. And here we are. We’ll have to wait for the orders to see if they improved but by the look of things right now, apart from SWAT starring Shemar Moore, Higher Ground which is a long shot and sitcom pilot Brothered Up, it’s once again very male and very white. Mission Control is the perfect example of what’s going wrong at the Eye: the two leads were supposed to be a bilingual Latina and an African-American man, they chose Poppy Montgomery and David Giuntoli. Mindfuck.

You think it’s a detail? It’s not. This pilot tries hard to be in the vein of the Shonda Rhimes bona fide hits -after they already failed with Doubt– and they’re not even capable of having a diverse cast for starters. Oh, there are Ricardo Chavira and Nigerian-born actress Wunmi Mosaku in secondary roles though. In October, CBS launched a Drama Diversity Casting Initiative to find African-American, Asian-American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ actors and performers with disabilities to join current series and pilots. None were cast in any pilot. Just one of the participants, Alexa Adderly, has been cast in an episode of Bull… Seems like it’s just their way of saying “we care” but when decisions time come, they don’t anymore. Anyway, the characters in Mission Control are not properly fleshed out so the loss is not on the actors but on the network. The writer Andy Weir doesn’t seem like someone who watched a lot of Grey’s Anatomy or Scandal and it shows when he’s asked to mimic them. I’m even thinking he may not like them at all. The characters ARE the key in this type of projects. They can’t be one-dimensional. Especially when the world they live in is quite complicated to connect with for the audience. Sometimes, the show goes very technical and I was totally lost. The same way as a medical show can throw a lot of specific terms we don’t understand and we’re still fine because we care. Here, the problem is we don’t really care.

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out what this show is about ultimately, what’s the story, what’s the purpose of it all. One thing I know, there’s a sex scandal -as in 2 or 3 other pilots this year- with public affairs officer Rayna trying to clean up a nude pics leak from one of their astronauts, Deke, a rich heiress. She’s not too bummed out about it by the way. It’s a little bit overwhelming to offer this particular story in a pilot. It sounds more like a plot B in episode 4. And it’s used to introduce two of the most important female characters of the show, which doesn’t sound very flattering to reduce them to this. Did I say sexist? I guess it’s their way to insist on “we’re light, we’re cool, we’re timely”. Anyway the case is resolved by the end of the episode so everyone at CBS is happy. As long as the women are sexy and the men are funny nerds… It’s a bummer because those people are supposed to be brilliant, amazing, but we’re stuck with a sex scandal instead of them doing incredible things.

There are two factions of people in Mission Control: the folks down in NASA’s control unit, lead by whip-smart Julie Towne as the flight director, and the people up on a next-generation space station called Durga, lead by Stevenson, a cocky astronaut. Those two have indeniable chemistry but right now it’s impossible for them to act on it for obvious reasons. Though cam sex should be on the table if you want my opinion. And so the critical mission is to move Durga from low-orbit to high-orbit, where it will eventually fly to Mars. And 14 months in the future, there is a giant explosion above earth. Is it Durga? Is it the Russians’ shuttle (‘cos of course the Russians are involved and they are not supposed to be the enemies this time)? That’s the only hook Andy Weir has found to give us a reason to stay a little bit longer since it’s not the characters obviously. Unless they reworked the damn thing extensively, there are too many problems here to warrant a series order and it’s a shame. It was a great pitch idea.

Mission Control is the waste of a good idea. CBS turned the once promising project into of one those half-baked summer fares they’re now renowned for like Extant, Under The Dome or Zoo. It’s a creative mess that wants to be both Grey’s Anatomy or Quantico but doesn’t know how to, and The Martian, banking on the author’s name. But those two genres -soap and science- just don’t mesh well, especially with an unexperienced writer who never worked for television before. It was too big a challenge.

The Doomsday Project (ABC) pilot preview: Think Scorpion, but bigger and smarter

Created and produced by Mark Bianculli & VJ Boyd. Executive produced by Carol Mendelsohn (CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Melrose Place, Providence) & Julie Weitz (Game of Silence). Directed by Joachim Roaning (Marco Polo, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales). For Sony Pictures Television, Carol Mendelsohn Productions, Pernomium Pictures & Signal Hill Productions. 61 pages. Draft 01/20/17.

Description: In the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. government institutes a secret think tank featuring the most creative minds in science and entertainment that is tasked with dreaming up man-made disaster scenarios and their possible solutions. Because the hypothetical ideas are deemed extremely dangerous, the list is sealed and the program shut down. But when a catastrophe occurs that’s ripped from the pages of the missing doomsday book, the team is brought back years later to prevent the disasters of their own making…

With Claire Holt (The Vampire Diaries, Aquarius, H2O), Rachelle Lefevre (Under The Dome, What About Brian, Twilight), Taye Diggs (Private Practice, Murder in the First, Empire), Jack Davenport (Smash, FlashForward, Pirates of the Caribbean), Dan Byrd (Cougar Town, Aliens in America, Easy A), Rochelle Aytes (Mistresses, Criminal Minds, The Forgotten), Justin Chatwin (Shameless US, American Gothic, Dragonball Evolution)…

   

You’ll like it if you already like: Quantico, The Blacklist, Scorpion, Designated Survivor

Likely timeslot: Monday at 10, Tuesday at 10.

Remember last year when I entitled my review of MacGyver “And you thought Scorpion was stupid?“. This time it’s the opposite. The Doomsday Project shares a bit of DNA with both the CBS shows -it’s about preventing disasters from happening- but the stakes are higher than ever and all is done with an incredible sense of build-up and efficiency, with characters that you can only care about. Doomsday falls in the big-idea original drama concepts category that the broadcast networks were heavily pursuing this season but have been in short supply. ABC got the project in a three-network bidding by giving it a pilot production commitment that has a series penalty behind it. Meaning: there’s a big chance it gets ordered in may. It was compared to Designated Survivor in some articles, which is the only new ABC drama that looks like a hit this year, but they don’t have so many things in common. For starters, The Doomsday Project is a heavily-serialized procedural.

I’m in awe of the writers’ capacity to deliver so many informations and establishing so many characters in only a few pages. It reminded me of Quantico‘s pilot script in that way. It’s not an easy story to tell and easy concept to sell -the pitch is a bit of a headscratcher- and somehow they did it smoothly. It starts in the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that some of you may remember from the season 1 of The Walking Dead. The first disaster is about a deadly disease called Marburg that is stolen by four men in tailor made hazmat suits. We’ll discover later that they are planning to unleash it at the MET through the ventilating system during a private opera played for the biggest American Pharma companies. There’s a lot of action going on through the pilot, it’s always fast-paced, but the best part is happening in the last act with our characters being on the spot. It’s a great reward after watching them talking and arguing on and on in The Hub, a high-tech three level room with giant plasma screens everywhere, described as “a war-room from the future”. At some point, it makes you a little bit claustrophobic being there all the time, even when you’re not (claustrophobic).

I know what you may think right now: it sounds heavy and not funny at all. Well yes, it’s heavy -I mean, the whole world could collapse because of the disease- BUT it’s funny! You won’t laugh out loud like a crazy person, but you’ll appreciate the humor, skillfully exuded through the characters’ conversations. They all know each other very well, they have a common past, so they never hesitate to poke fun at each other and most of the time that’s how we learn more about every one of them. That’s a smart way to promise backstories, kept for later. Of course, they all have secrets. Some of them are already exposed. Others will have to wait. And as you can guess with this type of story, there’s a huge conspiracy behind. I’m always very cautious about that: it rarely works for the long haul. At least, this one sounds it could, if the writers are as brilliant as the characters and gave it a lot of thinking before jumping into the project.

What big concept shows lack of in general is strong characters. The Doomsday Project doesn’t have this problem. They’re all intriguing. Some are likable, others are not, but it’s okay. They don’t have to be as long as they’re interesting. And they are. And they really work as a group. ABC managed to assemble a solid cast with familiar faces. Kayla (Claire Holt) is the newest member of the Doomsday project. Considered the best cyber security analyst in the country, she’s efficient, irreverent, and not particularly interested in making friends. I love her already. And you’ll see, she even more important than expected. Faye (Rachelle Lefevre) is the whip-smart and shrewd Deputy Director of Homeland Security who is at the helm when the Doomsday team reassembled. Coldly pragmatic, she initially has little reverence for her assemblage of geniuses but during the course of the first mission, she develops a growing respect for the team. She’s an enigma. We have three very strong women at the center if you add Dr. Elle (Rochelle Aytes), a renowned physicist, MD and author, notable for her ability to popularize science, “making complex ideas disgestible for the masses”. It will help when things will get too complicated for us.

She was married once with the handsome and confident Dr. Davis (Taye Diggs), an engineer and architect, formerly the youngest-ever head of disaster prevention for FEMA. Fastidious, with expensive taste in clothes, he’s not fond of forays into the field. Warren (Jack Davenport) is a well-known intellectual playwright turned middle-brow action screenwriter. He is imaginative and creative and sees the world like a story which helps him think like (and even empathize with) the enemy. You remember his character in Smash? Same kind of asshole. Then there’s Nate Hensley (Dan Byrd), the younger one. He became rich as a professional analyst and is the founder of The New Oracle, a website that is devoted to predicting politics, sports and stock trading. He can hedge any bet and predict any outcome. Also, he’s gay. Finally, there’s Chris Wyatt, a Navy SEAL instructor. He’s the muscles of the team but also a brilliant mind: he’s specialized in military strategy. And yes, women and men are all very sexy in this show and there’s no reason to complain about it.

The Doomsday Project is one of the most ambitious project of this pilot season, but we all know high-concept shows are always those that burst into flames first. ABC needs to be careful here, especially since Quantico proved that their viewers may not be interested in this type of stories. How could they resist though? If the finished pilot is as solid as the script is, it has to be tried… 

Redliners (NBC) pilot preview: Spy Teachers

Written and produced by Shaun Cassidy (Blue Bloods, Cover Me, Invasion) & Kelly Sue DeConnick (Emerald City). Executive produced by David Janollari (Midnight Texas, Six Feet Under). Based on “Small Kingdoms” by Charlaine Harris (True BloodMidnight Texas). For Universal Television & David Janollari Entertainment. Directed by Jason Ensler (Red Band Society, Hart of Dixie, Franklin & Bash, Cult). 61 pages. Network Draft. 01/14/17.

Description: Anne DeWitt &  Holt Halsey, a pair of former operatives, get reactivated and drawn into a larger conspiracy while attempting to maintain their undercover lives as teachers in a high-school…

With Hannah Ware (Betrayal, Boss, Hitman: Agent 47, Shame), Jerod Haynes (First Date, Empire), Greg Germann (Ally McBeal, Once Upon a Time), Alan Powell, Jenny Wade (Hand of God, Reaper), Tommy Flanagan (Sons of Anarchy), Rodney To (Rosewood, Wilfred, Parks And Recreation), Quinn Shephard (Hostages)…

You’ll like if you already like: The Americans, Undercovers, Allegiance…

Likely timeslot: Monday at 10


While reading Redliners, I couldn’t help wondering how the producers managed to sell to NBC the concept of this show, which is an improbable mashup between a high-school drama and an espionage series. I mean… I’m totally open to fresh takes, new approaches on old genre, but those two just don’t work together. Imagine The Americans  & Glee were the same series… It sounds wrong, right? Well then imagine Undercovers, an NBC espionage show produced by J.J. Abrams a few years ago, mixed with Chicago School, the 5th Dick Wolf series of the Chicago Franchise that doesn’t exist yet. It’s just terrible. That’s what’s Redliners is. I did some digging to understand what was behind this and here’s what I found:
David Janollari, who produces the project, is NBC President Bob Greenblatt ex-partner (professionally!). Say no more…

If I’m being totally honest, this pilot script is not that bad overall and the mashup may have worked well with a better writing. It feels like it was rushed. The official description sent to the medias billed it as “in the tone of Mr & Mrs Smith, Redliners mixes humor, romance and espionage”. It’s not a lie. That’s the intention. But it’s never really funny, the romance part is very light and the espionage story, which is the main genre the show belongs to, is wobbly, foggy and ultimately boring once you don’t care anymore (which happens pretty quickly). It’s adapted from a short story written by Charlaine Harris and that’s how it feels: short. Of course, they did their best to expand the original material so it could become a series but it’s hard to imagine a future for the show. By the way, what is it with Charlaine Harris’ work? True Blood was a strange and addictive series I give you that; Texas, Midnight, which is coming this summer to NBC, is a lighter True Blood that leaves you puzzled at best; and now they’re digging into her short stories… Not everything should be adapted!

But let’s go back to those Redliners who spend half their time running from or against bad guys and the time they’re left by educating teenagers. Our heroine is Anne DeWitt, a fiercely intelligent, formidably lethal, charmingly mysterious force of nature. One of Anne’s many secrets is that she is an ex-teacher/trainer in the fine art of assassination for a security firm known as The Service. Holt Halsey is an FBI agent posing as a basketball coach at Anne’s college. Holt initially was sent in to monitor and “protect” Anne, with the Bureau hoping she might be a lure to draw out a shared enemy. But over time, he has come to care deeply for the players on his team. And as you can guess, he cares deeply about her too. These descriptions make them sound like more interesting than they really are on paper. Maybe the actors can give them more depth but let’s just say they weren’t top choices. And they don’t look like teachers, or spies. There’s a larger conspiracy behind all of this of course, the kind that will probably get way too complicated after a few episodes.

Redliners tries its best to turn a weird idea into a good one, but they should have tried harder or just forget it. NBC doesn’t need this, we don’t need this, can we just act like it never happened? If somehow it’s on the air next year, expect a flop. They won’t be able to market such a concept effectively. It just doesn’t work.