Category: Script Previews

God Friended Me (CBS) pilot preview: God Whisperer

Written and executive produced by Steven Lilien & Bryan Wynbrandt (Gotham, Hawaii 5-0, Gotham). Also produced by Greg Berlanti (Eli Stone, The Flash, Supergirl, Brothers & Sisters), Sarah Schechter (Blindspot, Riverdale, Black LIghtning) & Marcos Siega. Directed by Marcos Siega (The Following, The Vampire Diaries, Time After Time). For CBS, Warner Bros. Television & Berlanti Productions.

Description: an outspoken atheist’s life is turned upside down when he is “friended” by God on Facebook. Unwittingly, he becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him…

With Brandon Michael Hall (The Mayor, Search Party), Javicia Leslie, Suraj Sharma (Homeland)…

  

Gosh. Does anyone know at CBS that ABC carried a show called Kevin (Probably) Saves The World (also known as The Gospel of Kevin) that flopped hard all season long? Because God Friended Me is pretty similar to it, in a more traditional CBS fashion, and there’s very little chance it works either, unless a miracle happens. Kudos to CBS for having at least one pilot that is not a cop/detective drama, though. The “funny” thing is the lead role has been given to Brandon Michael Hall, who just comes off another ABC flop, the comedy The Mayor (which is not officially canceled by the way, wink wink). It’s weird. I thought Greg Berlanti, who’s producing, knew better. It’s not a bad pilot, and it’s not a bad actor, it’s just a bad omen in every way possible.

God Friended Me sounds like a good concept that shouldn’t have become an actual TV show. Yeah, the very idea that an outspoken atheist gets “friended” by God on Facebook is fun and original, and oh so ironic. But where do you go from there? The writers chose the boring, easy path: they made it a procedural -CBS likes to call it a light one-hour moral procedural- where our hero helps people by becoming some kind of God whisperer. And yeah, sometimes you think of Ghost Whisperer. They kinda work the same way, though police is not involved here. There’s no investigation, per say. “God” instantly sends Miles a friend suggestion for a complete stranger named John Dove (you got it? John Doe/John Dove – so fun!) Miles immediately bumps in to John, who is chasing after his ex-girlfriend who just broke up with him. Devastated by the break up, John tries to kill himself, but Miles saves him. Then Miles gets a new friend suggestion for another stranger named Cara Weiss… Long story short: the purpose was to reunite and reconcile a daughter -Cara- with her long-lost mother, who abandoned her when she was little. And when Cara is hit by a car, it’s John Dove who saves her, he happens to be a doctor. It’s all about coincidences, which are not because you know: God.

I get how they can create new stories every week but I doubt there’s a big enough audience that will eagerly wait for the next episode. The cliffhanger is a bit weak, though it points toward a more serialized storyline involving a successful high school friend of Miles’ that is working on a top secret project called “Faith Initiative”. He may or may not be behind the God account. There are also some romantic comedy vibes with Miles and Cara probably having a love relationship sooner or later. She’s determined to stay by his sides and help him in his adventures. She’s not just the case of the week, she’s also the leading lady of God Friended Me. And there’s the family side of things, since Miles is the son of an accomplished reverend who hates that he’s an atheist and that he has a podcast to talk about it every damn week. So their relationship is dead, despite his sister’s best efforts to patch things up between them. Ali is a bright, compassionate and opinionated young woman who’s working on her PhD in psychology. She’s always in Miles’ corner to provide encouragement and honest insight. Miles also has a best pal, Rakesh, who’s also his co-worker and video game enthusiast, coder and sometimes hacker. Because every CBS shows requires a hacker now!

God Friended Me is quite a funny show, crazy but not too crazy and a bit cheesy; but it’s mostly predictable, which makes it boring sometimes though it always finds a way to become interesting again. It’s uplifting, or at least it wants me, and that’s certainly the reason why CBS ordered it in the first place since that’s the trend these days. Sadly for them, it’s not gonna be their Good Doctor. But their Kevin Probably, for sure!

History Of Them (CBS) pilot preview: How My Parents Met

Written and executive produced by Gloria Calderon Kellett (One Day at a Time, How I Met Your Mother, Devious Maids). Also produced by Marc Provissiero. Directed by Pamela Fryman (One Day at a Time, How I Met Your Mother, Frasier). For Sony Pictures Television, CBS Television Studios, Glo Nation & Odenkirk Provissiero Entertainment.

Description: how two friends, Luna and Adam, fell in love, narrated by their future daughter, using the couple’s social media from present-day (Instagram/Twitter/Facebook) as a guide. Smart and spunky Luna runs a successful Latinx food truck business with her parents. Despite this, she struggles with what she wants and doesn’t feel like a fully-fledged grown up yet. She wants to find love and figure out who she is separate from her very tight-knit family, and her journey will be full of bumps and bruises as she navigates the rest of her twenties…

With Ana Villafañe (South Beach), Brett Dier (Jane The Virgin, The LA Complex), Caitlin McGee, Lisa Vidal (Being Mary Jane, Rosewood, The Event), Felix Solis (Ten Days in the Valley), Amit Shah (Crashing UK, The Smoke), Christopher Powell (Empire)…

 

   

You’ll like it if you already like: How I Met Your Mother, One Day at a Time, Jane The Virgin

Likely timeslot: monday or thursday paired with The Big Bang Theory or Young Sheldon at 8.30.

Just in case you didn’t notice, there’s still no How I Met Your Dad/Father series in sight, on CBS or anywhere else. Last time we heard of the project -August ’17- a new writer was hired by 20th Century FOX Television for a brand-new take after the first two failed stabs and apparently nothing good came out of it since no pilot pick up happened. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing is debatable but Sony & CBS found a solution: they cooked their own unofficial HIMYM spin-off! It wouldn’t be fair to reduce History Of Them to this though, but we’re clearly in the same romcom-with-a-twist territory, and both the writer and the director worked on the show. It’s no coincidence. CBS seems to be very high on it. I’ll be damned if it doesn’t find a sweet spot on next fall schedule!

So yeah, it’s once again a complicated and often thwarted love story except it’s not narrated by one of the protagonists but by their daughter from the future. To whom? Maybe to her own children, who knows? Or maybe it doesn’t even matter. For what? Maybe because the grand parents died and it’s her way to tell them who they were? But then again, maybe it doesn’t even matter. Maybe it’s just about telling the story to us, viewers, for no particular reason but to entertain and move us. Television, you know. I feel like -but it’s too soon to tell- that the plan with History Of Them is to keep it simpler than How I Met Your Mother, with less detours and twists and turns. Unless it’s a huge success and they need to find a way to make it last 9 years. Probably because of the backlash the series finale had to endure. Also because things have changed and people are looking for straightforward tales, so it seems. Also, it’s very diverse which is, on CBS, a revolution!

In this first episode, it’s more about meeting the group than planting seeds for the future storylines. We’re just told it was not easy for those two to make it happen and we get a good picture why: friends and family got in the way; also our damn connected world where everything is always more complicated than it should be (the use of social media is probably less gadgety than it looks). The biggest difference with HIMYM is that the heroine’s family -and maybe the others’ later on- is a big part of the show. By the way, the title “History of Them” refers to the couple, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it referred to latin immigrants too. From the co-creator of the excellent One Day At A Time, it wouldn’t come as a shock. It’s a story of love and integration, and it’s universal. You can find here the same kindness, the same benevolence as in the Netflix sitcom. The parents are incredibly cute and nice. But don’t worry, it’s also very funny, especially thanks to the friends’ characters, like Luna’s nerdy male best friend Vikram or her crazy female best friend Skylar. Also, there’s Isaac, the Barney of the show, described as an “impossibly handsome millionaire with confidente to match”. Not the best part, if you ask me. But you need a character like that, I guess. He makes the others go out of their comfort zone. We all need a friend like that.

History Of Them definitely has a How I Met Your Mother vibe, but it brings something more to the table -authenticity? simplicity?- and hopefully people will go beyond the initial rejection reaction to give it a chance. Plus, it’s exactly the type of comedy CBS needs right now, that will appeal to the millenials. They can’t avoid the fact that The Big Bang Theory is gone soon…

The Rookie (ABC) pilot preview: Richard Castle is dead, give a warm welcome to John Nolan!

Written and executive produced by Alexi Hawley (Castle, Body Of Proof, The Unusuals). Also produced by Mark Gordon (Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Quantico, Designated Survivor), Nathan Fillion, Michelle Chapman & Jon Steinberg. Directed by Liz Friedlander (The Following, Stalker, Conviction). For ABC Studios & The Mark Gordon Company. 61 pages.

Description: John Nolan is the oldest rookie in the LAPD.  At an age where most are at the peak of their career, Nolan cast aside his comfortable, small town life and moved to L.A. to pursue his dream of being a cop. Now, surrounded by rookies twenty years his junior and ruthless training officers , Nolan must navigate the dangerous, humorous and unpredictable world of a “young” cop, determined to make his second shot at life count…

With Nathan Fillion (Castle, Desperate Housewives, Buffy, Firefly), Afton Williamson (The Night Of, Banshee, The Breaks), Melissa O’Neil (Dark Matter, Rogue), Eric Winter (Witches of East End, Brothers & Sisters, The Mentalist), Richard T. Jones (Amy, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Criminal Minds)…

   

You’ll like it if you already like: Castle, Rookie Blue, The Good Doctor, 9-1-1…

Likely timeslot: Monday at 10, Tuesday at 10, Wednesday at 10 – wherever

 

This pilot season, ABC has one big obsession: their next crime drama hit! It’s been almost two years now that Castle is gone and no replacement has been found yet. (#RIPConviction) What better way to do so than hiring back Castle last showrunner Alexi Hawley & ex-Castle star Nathan Fillion? Seems almost too easy, right? They ordered The Rookie straight-to-series in a competitive situation with no script ready yet, just those names and a big producer attached they’re used to work with: Mark Gordon. It happened the same way for Designated Survivor not so long ago, with mixed results. It’s always a risky move but they got lucky this time: it’s a convincing one, totally on brand with the Alphabet network, as a light fare they’re craving for right now. And it’s the kind of show that they could put in any slot, it’d have a real chance to find its audience. From where we are now -far from the may upfronts- it already looks like a winner to me.

The Rookie works a bit like The Good Doctor initially -which can’t be a bad thing- since John Nolan is put in a similar situation than Shaun Murphy: he’s the odd man out in a place he’s not familiar with where a lot of people don’t want him there for various reasons… so they treat him like shit. Nolan is not autistic and doesn’t have any syndrome that makes him brilliant. He’s just “old”. Old means he may be wiser than his new colleagues twenty years younger than him thanks to his “life experience”, as they say politely. But his age doesn’t prevent him from being fearless and having a bit of fun when needed. His secret weapon? He’s more interested in the people he’s helping than the other rookies who are very much focused on themselves and how they perform. They certainly have to teach him a few things though, and not just about what music he should listen to. The personal story of Nolan is a bit emotional since he’s just been through a divorce while his son has gone to college. He needed to reinvent itself, to pursue his dream and he’s basically telling us that it’s never too late. That’s inspiring and it will strike a chord with the viewers I guess. He’s exactly doing what few people dare in real life. How could you not root for him?

Even though Nolan is at the center of the show, it works mostly as an ensemble -very diverse by the way- with scenes without him. His fellow rookies have their own set of stories and challenges. Lucy Benitez is trying to prove that she can do the job despite people looking down on her for being a woman and Latina, while Jackson West is the son of a high ranking officer following in his family’s footsteps who doesn’t seem to be ready for the high-pressure he’s exposed to. They’re all assigned to a training officer and it’s always a pair of a woman and a man, which is interesting since we don’t get to see very often women teaching men on television. It creates different dynamics. Talia Bishop is a newly promoted training officer whose first assignment is Nolan; Tim Bradford is an overbearing and not nice one paired with Lucy; and Angela is a no nonsense korean american who’s hard on Jackson but it’s just what he needs. They all have tough first days: Nolan sees someone getting killed; Jackson unnecessarily tase a homeless person, Lucy is being tested at every turn by Tim like she can’t be trusted. But don’t worry: it’s mostly a lot of fun. They tease each other all the time, there’s always someone to crack a joke here and there. ABC labels it as “comedic” and they’re not lying.

The Rookie shares some DNA with another hit of this season: FOX’s 9-1-1. Forget Ryan Murphy’s extravaganza, they’re trying to be more realistic and true to what’s really happening in the streets of L.A, though some cases are more spectacular or emotional than others. I don’t know about their exact action perimeter but they can be visiting a poor neighborhood in one scene and Hollywood Boulevard in another. But don’t expect any investigation here. They’re not detectives. They’re cops. And not cops who investigate. They get a call, they drive, they run, they catch the bad guys. It’s a lot of action and adrelanine, it’s fast paced and you never have time to get bored (Fillion will need to get in shape or he’ll look ridiculous). You go from one mission to another, from one team to another; and the last mission of the pilot reunites them all in a grand finale. You get to know the characters through their missions, but also with what’s happening before and after, and when they’re not working. That’s how a few soapy elements are introduced. For example, they avoid the traditional and very Castle-like “partners who are falling in love” since we discover late in the episode that Nolan & Lucy are sleeping together, not Nolan & Talia. We can call it a secret relationship, even if it’s mostly about sex for now. There’s just one thing that I don’t like about this: it’s once again about an older man being with a younger woman. That trope is tiring… But I’m confident they’ll play with it more than just using it since they seem to be determined to make something modern.

Why did ABC pick up so many crime drama pilots when they already have straight-to-series The Rookie? Of course, you can never be 100% sure a promising script will turn into a good pilot and then become a hit, they know better than that, but it’s not that hard to see that the Nathan Fillion-starrer has all it takes to become one. It’s fresh, funny and actiony, with characters you instantly care about. So I’ll start my new series of “pilot preview” articles with a bold prediction: The Rookie is ABC’s next international hit!

Higher Ground (CBS) pilot preview: Yet another Olivia Pope wannabe…

Written and produced by Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married). Executive produced by Katie Couric, David Marshall Grant (Brothers & Sisters, Smash, Code Black), Heather Kadin (Scorpion, Limitless, Sleepy Hollow) & Alex Kurtzman (Transformers, Star Trek, Fringe, Alias, Fringe). Directed by Richard Shephard (Girls, Rosewood, Ugly Betty). For CBS Television Studios, Katie Couric Media & Secret Hideout. 67 pages. 04/05/17.

Description: an elite team of investigators for the Northeast Regional U.S. Hate Crimes Unit keeps the peace by solving myriad crimes against humanity while acting locally but thinking of the national repercussions as they confront their own biases… 

With Sharon Leal (Supergirl, Boston Public), Omar Metwally (The Affair, Mr Robot), Grace Rex (The Good Wife, Contagion), Zach Appelman (Sleepy Hollow), Kevin Daniels (Modern Family, Sirens), Brad William Henke (Sneaky Pete, Orange is the new black), Sheaun McKinney (Vice Principals), Kathy Najimy (King of the Hill, Veep, Sister Act)…

 

You’ll like it if you already like: Cold Case, Conviction

Likely timeslot: Sunday at 9

Higher Ground may be one of the least buzzy drama pilot this season, if not THE least buzzy, despite the fact that it was being informally described as The Good Wife meets Homicide at the time it was sold to CBS after a bidding war with another network. The description doesn’t fit with what I read. Plus; there’s definitely something about the cast that isn’t working. I like Sharon Leal, she’s a very capable actress, but chosing her for a leading role must not be the best idea CBS had. I guess they weren’t left with many choices though. It requires a black actress in her late thirties, which is one of the most sought-after profile these days. Of course, she needed to be available AND it’s better if the audience is already familiar with her. Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose & Gabrielle Union, among the most recognizable faces, were already taken. It’s sad. For once, CBS really seemed to be trying to be less white males but they are a little late to the party I guess. But who knows? Maybe it’ll be the surprising pick-up of the year!

Anyway, Higher Ground concerns me for two other main reasons apart from the cast: it’s not that good -they have at least four better options- and it doesn’t really look like something people would want to watch for years. Taking a look at a US Hate Crimes Unit can’t be more timely, the effort is deeply appreciated in those troubled times when hate is thriving all over the world. But does it make an innovative TV show? Short answer: not at all. The investigators have two parallel goals: determine whether the case is really a hate crime or something else -in the pilot it’s about a girl who apparently commited suicide, unless she was pushed…- and of course, solve it! So it starts with a different angle than other procedural shows but the methods of investigation are more or less the same -or they feel the same- and the more you get closer to the resolution the less it feels unique. It’s very comparable to ABC’s failed Conviction. The “reopening old cases to make sure the guilty person is really guilty” angle felt fresh somehow but the execution and the pacing felt old-fashioned.

What doesn’t help is the fact that most of the characters are bland and our heroine, Naomi, is just an Olivia Pope wannabe. Oh, like Conviction‘s leading lady! So many common points… She’s a nice gal, her personal story is original and quite creepy -she litteraly ate her twin sister in her mother’s belly- and she’s sleeping with the wrong person. Fear not, it’s not the President of the United States this time! It’s Manhattan South District Attorney. Their relationship is more irritating than anything else. Naomi has a sister -one she didn’t eat- and there’s clearly something wrong with her but we just don’t know yet why and nothing is done so we can care about it. We’re given next to zero elements to elaborate a theory or something. The investigators around all have their very precise, usual roles: the new one who needs to be explained everything, so the viewer catches up at the same time; the funny one; the awkward one; the asshole one… You get the picture.

Higher Ground is DOA to me. Dead On Arrival. It’s tired, unambitious and unneccessary. CBS had a pilot on the same theme a few years ago, For Justice, starring Anika Noni Rose and directed by Ava DuVernay. It was not perfect but way better. They made a mistake not picking it up at the time. This uninspired version can’t make up for it. 

S.W.A.T. (CBS) pilot preview: The Shemar Moore Show

Written and produced by Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (CSI: New York, SouthLAnd, Sleepy Hollow). Based on the 1975 TV series. Executive produced by Justin Lin (Fast & Furious, Scorpion, Star Trek Beyond), Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit, Timeless, The Get Down), Marney Hochman (Mad Dogs, Terriers, The Shield), Pavun Shetty (New Girl), Danielle Woodrow (Scorpion) Neal H. Moritz (Prison Break, Fast & Furious, I Am Legend, S.W.A.T.) & Shemar Moore. Directed by Justin Lin. For Sony Pictures Television, CBS Television Studios, MiddKid Prods, Original Films & Perfect Storm Entertainment. 53 pages. Final Shooting Draft. 04/17/17.

Description: Daniel ‘Hondo’ Harrelson, a locally born and bred S.W.A.T. lieutenant, is torn between loyalty to the streets and duty to his fellow officers when he’s tasked to run a highly-trained unit that is the last stop for solving crimes in Los Angeles…

With Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds, The Young and the Restless), Jay Harrington (Better Off Ted, Desperate Housewives, The Inside), Lina Esco (Kingdom, Flaked), Kenny Johnson (The Shield, Bates Motel, Secrets & Lies, Sons of Anarchy), Stephanie Sigman (Narcos, American Crime, The Bridge US), Peter Onorati (The Goodfellas, Civil Wars), Alex Russell (Chronicle)…

  

You’ll like it if you already like: Hawaii 5-0, Scorpion, Criminal Minds, Lethal Weapon

Likely timeslot: Wednesday at 9 or 10

 

In comparison to the previous pilot season, reboots didn’t score this many pilot pick-ups. Cheers to that! You can count them on one hand: Behind Enemy Lines at FOX, Dynasty at The CW and S.W.A.T. at CBS. S.W.A.T. is even the reboot of a (failed) reboot since it’s inspired by the 2003 Sony movie of the same name -which starred starred Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez & LL Cool J. and grossed $207 million at the worldwide box office, which isn’t that great- that was based on the short-lived 1975 TV series produced by Aaron Spelling! The theme song of the show was probably more famous than the show itself: it only lasted 2 seasons (37 episodes) on ABC. The project with 100 executive producers received a pilot production commitment from CBS with series penalty behind it. Meaning it would have to really stink not to land on the schedule in less than two weeks now. And it doesn’t stink on paper, though it smells like sweat and male hormones. Oh and if you’re wondering before we start, S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons And Tactics.

CBS may have found a smart strategy to attract their viewers towards shows they may not have been attracted to in the first place: they use one of the stars of one of their long-running drama series to topline a new one. That’s what happened with Bull last year, a legal show tailor-made for Michael Weatherly when he decided to left NCIS. And it worked. Bull is not a huge success but it would have had less of a chance of success without Weatherly in the starring role and the NCIS lead-in. They’re doing it again with S.W.A.T. which is toplined by Shemar Moore, who starred in Criminal Minds for 11 years. It has yet to be seen if CBS will slot it around his previous show though but his Criminal Minds fans will check this out, that’s for sure. He will be perfectly fine in this and CBS is the right home for it.

Harrelson is a character who exudes calmness -and sexiness- but who’s always ready for action and has all the ability to become a leader: he’s just not happy with the political reason he just became one. His mentor has been fired after a burr and he’s chosen to replace him, partly because he’s black and knows better than his colleagues the people who live in the streets where they operate, while the “Black Lives Matter” movement is in full force in Los Angeles and the whole country. S.W.A.T. wants to be timely and seems to have found the best way to be. The writing is not particularly sharp and subtle but at least it’s not just about big guns and action, though in the end it mostly is. It’s not described as an intense, action-packed, procedural for no reason.

It starts with a high-octane chase of about 8 pages; there’s a car chase later of course; and some other chases until the end. It’s exhausting honestly but if you came for it, you’ll definitely be happy. The moments when they’re not running somewhere and catching bad guys are to be cherished. That’s when they talk -not only one-liners to make us laugh a little right in the middle of the action, because you know, they’re cool too- and become more than muscles. Though those talks often happen when they’re training, boxing or… making love. Women and gay men should get their weekly shirtless scenes so they’re not watching the show for nothing. They will even get a bit of soapy storylines thanks to one of the few female characters in there who happens to both Harrelson’s boss and… lover! And it’s against the rules… Drama!

S.W.A.T. is very much about Moore’s character -he’s in every scene- but other members of the team still manage to emerge, especially the new guy, Jim Street. He’s cocky, living on the edge and has earned himself a reputation as a loose cannon in his previous job (think Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon). I think it’s the 56th character who fits that description this season, but he’s still the most interesting one in there. There’s also David “Deacon” Kay, the second in command, who I like only because he’s played by Jay Harrington and I like Jay Harrington a lot. And let’s talk about Chris, who’s the only woman of the team. Well… I’d like to describe her to you in details but we don’t know much about her yet, sadly. I think they should have focused on her a little bit more. It would have lessen this impression that S.W.A.T is all about the men. I forgot to tell you about the case of the week. But… it’s just a case of the week, who really cares?

S.W.A.T. is not as light and fun as Lethal Weapon –of the rare stands out of this past season- and can’t be considered as ballsy but it’s doing the job it’s asked for, which is being very actiony, trying to be timely and most of all being the best vehicle possible for Shemar Moore’s skills. It’s a slam dunk for CBS. 

For The People -Black’s Law- (ABC) pilot preview: Shonda Rhimes by-the-book? Not exactly, your honor…

Written and produced by Paul William Davies (Scandal). Also produced by Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, The Catch) & Betsy Beers. Directed by Tom Verica (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal). For ABC Studios & Shondaland. Network draft 1/13/17. 57 pages.

Description: Brand new lawyers working for both the defense and the prosecution at the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Federal Court, aka “The Mother Court”, have to handle the most high profile and high stakes cases in the country – all as their personal lives inevitably intersect. Sandra, Allison, Seth, Jay, Kate and Leonard may not be friends but starting from now, whether they like it or not, they’ll be together almost 24/7, fighting for justice and fighting each others…

With Britne Oldford (American Horror Story, Skins US, Hunters), Lyndon Smith (Parenthood, 90210, Extant), Ben Rappaport (Mr Robot, The Good Wife, Younger), Susannah Flood (Chicago Fire), Wesam Keesh (Awkward), Regé-Jean Page (Roots, Waterloo Road), Anna Deavere Smith (Nurse Jackie, The West Wing, Blackish), Hope Davis (Wayward Pines, American Crime, In Treatment), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Daredevil, Chicago Hope), Ben Shenkman (Royal Pains, The Night Of, Angels in America)…

   

You’ll like it if you already like: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Law & Order

Likely timeslot: in the TGIT, thursday at 9 after Grey’s Anatomy or at 10 once How To Get Away With Murder ends

 

A lot of you asked me on Twitter those past three months when the Black’s Law preview would come out. Shonda Rhimes’ pilots always get a lot of attention for very good reasons: after all, she’s the queen. The truth is, it’s one of the first scripts I read this year but I was so conflicted about it that I decided to give it time to let it sink in and not to write about it right away. Weeks have passed and I just couldn’t do it as my first impressions faded away. So I re-read it to make sure I was really thinking what I thought I was thinking. I also read Grey’s Anatomy pilot script for the first time. As you may know, Black’s Law is said to be in the vein of the medical drama when it started. It’s undeniable. Thought it was a good idea to compare. I was wrong. It got me even more disturbed. Now that the upfronts are coming in a few days, I have no choice but to do it. So here we are, friends. Black’s Law will certainly be picked-up to series by ABC anyway. The contrary would be quite a shocker. Not only because it’s Shonda Rhimes and ABC can’t afford to say no to her -which is not entirely true, they already did a few times- but because it’s simply one of the best pilot scripts they have in contention this year. No matter what.

Black’s Law doesn’t start with a crazy flashforward or a steamy love scene. It starts with a black screen and a dictionary entry saying “AB Initio: Latin from the first act, or meaning from the start” and then we’re back to black. Suddenly, it bursts into song. An energetic, propulsive one. And it stops when an alarm rings. Our heroine, Sandra, is waking up in the soft light of sunrise at 5.30. She’s wearing modest clothes in a not so modest apartment. Then she goes out: we’re in the vibrant and awesome city of New York and the song kicks in again. She takes the subway, she’s lost, she buys a banana and she finally arrives at her destination at 6.44: “The Mother Court”. It’s her first day. She wanted to be the first to arrive and she is. It’s a standard, modest but efficient start that tells us two things: this show is mostly about Sandra Black, as Grey’s Anatomy focused heavily on Meredith Grey early on -though there’s no voice over here- and also that the writer is not looking to replicate a Shondaland formula that may have been overused by now. Smart move? Only time will tell. That’s where I am conflicted the most: as a huge Shonda Rhimes fan, I was looking for something splashy and it turns out to be a regular legal drama, less soapier than expected but character-driven of course. It’s a good one, it seems. Not at a The Good Wife level, but still. Is it what ABC viewers want? Isn’t it a bit disappointing? Well. Now you know what to expect.

So, we’re exposed to three main cases in this first episode, which is a lot and doesn’t leave much space to the personal stories of our main characters, though we learn a thing or two about them through the way they handle the situations they’re in. It’s a big ensemble. There are 10 regulars. 6 young lawyers in their thirties. 3 of them are prosecutors. The other 3 are public defenders. They have 4 bosses in their fifties. We meet all of them in the first few pages in a classic Shonda Rhimes’ way that always works. You can already feel the competition mounting. That’s where the show is really smart. There’s not only a competition between the prosecutors or between the public defenders to take the best case or to make the best impression, but there’s also the promise of new battles every week between the prosecutors and the public defenders that are facing each others in court. In general, legal dramas are about the lawyers of one firm and they work together. Here, there is no firm and there is no working together. At least for now. Then love and friendships will complicate things. And we can’t wait to get there! There’s frustration when the pilot ends -without any cliffhanger by the way- but a good one. We can feel great things are coming up but we’re not there yet. In the era of Peak TV, let’s just hope people will give it a chance and a bit of patience.

Let me introduce you to the characters now. I’ll try to be quick. So Sandra is a sensible, fiercely intelligent and independent girl, who’s burdened by the decision to leave a Supreme Court clerkship that made her somewhat famous in the legal world. We learn in the pilot what really happened (don’t expect a big OMG moment) and what drove her to the law. She’s a cute, simple, fresh heroine that I’m already fond of. Allison is Sandra’s best friend. They go way back and now they live together. It’s impossible not to think of Meredith and Cristina. Let’s hope their friendship is as strong. Allison is a wealthy and generous woman and she’s in a relationship with Seth, a smart and reasonable but inexperienced recent law school grad. Of course, they become adversaries in their first case at “The Mother Court”, which causes a lot of drama. It’s not very surprising but perfectly handled. Seth works with Leonard, a cocky and case-stealing colleague, with a considerable swagger, and Kate who just wants to stay out of the drama, do her job and get the win. Of course, it won’t be that simple. Finally, Sandra and Allison are teamed up with Jay, a perhaps too big-hearted fellow. They don’t sound like clichés, they form a promising group but we can’t say they feel like characters we haven’t seen before either (is that even possible though?). Interesting point: Sandra doesn’t have any love interest yet. Which is kind of revolutionary in a Shondaland show!

I won’t describe all the bosses characters, they are not very developed yet but let’s just say they add some humor and more conflicts to the show. Tina, the  tough, intimidating, no-nonsense SDNY court clerk, will probably be the audience’s favorite. She’s a crowd-pleaser. She’s funny. And she happens to be played by Anna Deavere Smith, who’s hilarious. Hope Davis is a great actress too. She plays Jill, the boss of all public defenders; she’s smart and savvy. The equivalent of Miranda Bailey in Grey’s in a way. Maybe you’re asking about the cases tackled -fast- in this pilot. The big one, that Sandra is on, is about a young man who’s accused of plotting the bombing of the Statue of Liberty. Yeah, big one I said. It made me think of a storyline from Homeland‘s recent sixth season. Black’s Law wants to be revelant, so of course they chose to deal with terrorism, THE subject matter these days. It’s done perfectly, with nuance and a bit of criticism against the police and against the law overall. It’s a morally commited show that seems to have a lot to say about the system and how much it can be unfair sometimes, especially when you’re up against the State. The other cases are about a fraud and a con man. Nothing very sexy. You know what it misses? Something fun, eccentric. Yeah but… we’re in the Federal Court so…not gonna happen.

Black’s Law is NOT a Shonda Rhimes by-the-book show. It’s less less soapy than Grey’s Anatomy, less sexy than Scandal, less twisty than How To Get Away With Murder, but it’s engaging and promising nonetheless in a more classic, regular way, with characters that you care about and some Shondaland trademarks. It doesn’t want to make viewers jump out of their seats at every corner, it’s more of a slow burn. It doesn’t ambition to be the “sensation of the year” but more like a sensation for years to come, a show that ABC will be able to rely on for the long haul. Let’s just hope the TGIT viewers will welcome Black’s Law as they’re supposed to: with kindness, goodwill and patience. This one’s a keeper.