Category: Script Previews

NYPD Blue (ABC) pilot preview: more than a reboot, a family affair

SERIES TITLE: NYPD Blue
NETWORK: ABC
GENRE: Cop Drama

LOGLINE: Andy Sipowicz’s son, Theo, tries to earn his detective shield and work in the 15th squad while investigating his father’s cold case when new information arises. Theo seems to have taken after his father as he too is a hard-drinking, hard-headed and quick-witted cop…

Pilot Cast: Fabien FrankelAlona Tal (Seal TEAM, Supernatural, Veronica Mars), Kim Delaney (NYPD Blue, Army Wives), Bill Brochtrup (NYPD Blue, Major Crimes), Rick Gomez (Band of Brothers, What About Brian), Ashley Thomas (The Night Of, 24: Legacy)…
Series Creators: Matt Olmstead (NYPD Blue, Prison Break, Breakout Kings, Chicago PD) & Nick Wootton (NYPD Blue, Chuck, Scorpion).
Pilot Director: Jesse Bochco (NYPD Blue, Agents of SHIELD, Raising The Bar).
Producers: Dayna Bochco, Jesse Bochco, Matt Olmstead & Nick Wootton.

Studios: 20th Century Fox Television & ABC Studios

Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they’re pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what’s called “Script Coverage,” an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

 

  

You’ll Like It If You Already Like: NYPD Blue (duh!), SouthLAnd, Law & Order: SVU, Chicago PD

Likely Timeslot: Tuesday at 10, of course! The iconic timeslot on ABC where the original series stayed from the first episode to the last. And nothing really worked there since then…

 

WRITTEN BY: Matt Olmstead & Nick Wootton.

PAGECOUNT: 56 pages

DRAFT: Revised network draft 9/18/18

BACKGROUND: For those unfamililiar with it, the original NYPD Blue first aired in 1993 and is considered by many to be one of best television shows of all time. It was never a ratings juggernaut for ABC but it was a stable player and a critical darling. It won 20 Emmy Awards and 84 nominations over its 12-year run, including best drama series, and was lauded for its realistic portrayal of cops’ lives. It also generated controversy for its use of foul language, partial nudity, and its raw depiction of alcoholism, among other things.

Until Grey’s Anatomy broke the record recently, it had been the longest-running ABC prime-time drama. Longevity isn’t the only thing the two series have in common: they’re both soap-like, revolving around the characters’ professional lives intertwined with their personal ones, although Grey’s is lighter in tone where NYPD Blue was grittier and darker — especially compared to other TV series at the time. Both series also survived multiple cast changes with actors leaving and characters dying, although like Meredith Grey, Andy Sipowicz (played by Dennis Franz) stayed central from start to finish, proving to be the glue that held the show together.

NYPD Blue was co-created by Steven Bochco, one of the most important and prolific series creators ever, whose credits include Hill Street BluesL.A. LawDoogie Howser MDMurder One and the short-lived but infamous Cop Rock, a musical cop show. In 1987, he struck a $15M deal with ABC to create 10 series pilots over 10 years, which was unheard of at the time. Before he died last April at the age of 74, Bochco met with the co-writer of this new iteration and gave it his blessing. It stays in the family since Bochco’s son, Jesse (who directed 10 episodes of the original series) is executive producing and directing the pilot. Matt Olmstead and Nick Wootton, the co-creators of the new show, also worked on the original NYPD Blue at the start of their careers, reteaming with Bochco on two of his later series, Brooklyn South and Blind Justice.

Fun fact: this is not the first reboot ordered for NYPD Blue: In 2004, ABC picked-up to pilot NYPD 2069, a futuristic spin-off about an NYPD detective named Alex Franco who is declared brain-dead after an “accident”. Taken off life support, his heart continues beating, and he is cryogenically frozen for 66 years. Awakened in the year 2069 to find his wife dead, his son an aging vegetable, and his grandson a cop, Franco pleads for the right to do what he does best: police work. The pilot starred Josh Hopkins, Anna Gunn, Danny Pino, Kevin Dunn and Giancarlo Esposito, but it failed to win a series order. Go figure.

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: After 26-year-old police officer THEO SIPOWICZ mishandles an undercover case, he’s kicked off the 30th District’s Narcotics squad. Theo is one of the best detectives on the force, but he drinks a bit too much and can be reckless on the job. He’s also mourning the death of his father ANDY SIPOWICZ of the 15th Precinct, who was murdered in a brothel 2 years ago under mysterious circumstances. After new details surface about Andy’s murder, Theo talks his way into helping the detectives of the 15th: NICOLE LAZARUS, CHRIS GAMBLE and CRAIG PETTIBONE. Ultimately, Theo’s work on his father’s case leads CHIEF ARTHUR FANCY to transfer Theo to the 15th Precinct as a squad detective, where he’s under the supervision of LIEUTENANT DIANE RUSSELL, who made a promise to her dear friend Andy to help Theo get his gold shield when he’s ready. And now he is.

COMMENTS: This new series’ link to the original NYPD Blue is both a blessing and a curse. For those who watched the original series, there’s an instant familiarity (and the opportunity for characters from the original series to return). For new viewers, it’s more challenging, as the writers have to bring them up to speed on who Andy Sipowicz was and what he represented for his colleagues, without being too obvious and boring for those of us who already know. I’m sorry to report that this pilot script struggles to find the right balance. With so much time spent on backstory, there’s simply not enough left to properly introduce most of the new characters. Theo is everywhere, but his co-lead Lazarus stays in his shadow. And the others are in the shadow of his shadow. What this means is Theo had better win the viewer’s hearts from the get-go if ABC wants them to stick around. On the bright side, the producers of the new series seem to understand this, having performed an exhaustive three month casting process before selecting Fabien Frankel for the role.

Here’s the thing with Theo Sipowicz: the creators of this reboot want him to be so much like his father — the same temper, the same struggles — that it can feel at bit insincere. I didn’t feel like he was his own character, but rather a character playing the part of another one. Perhaps that’s his actual psychological state, but it feels risky. The two would have been compared to one another anyway, so why force it? To be fair, the pilot is all about Andy’s murder, so it makes sense that he would be at the center of it. And to the producers credit, his death will not be the core mystery of the series or even the season — it’s solved by the end of the 42-minute episode. Along the way, we’re introduced to Theo and his soon-to-be colleagues in the 15th precinct, who will presumably be more at the heart of subsequent episodes. A little advice to ABC: launch the show with a two-hour premiere so people can have a better taste of what’s to come.

The highlight of the pilot for me is Kim Delaney’s character, Lieutenant Diane Russell. She had a complicated history with the original show: she joined NYPD Blue as a recurring in Season 2 and was a series regular from seasons 3 to 8 before leaving to topline another series for Steven Bochco, Philly, which didn’t last. She then returned as a recurring in the final two seasons. In any case, as one of the original series’ most beloved characters, it’s great to have her here as a mother/mentor figure for Theo. She has the power in the precinct, and having a woman in this position in the reboot makes total sense. Same goes with Bill Brochtrup’s PPA John Irvin. The actor recurred on- and off- during Seasons 2 to 4 before becoming a series regular in Season 5 for the rest of the show’s run. He’s one of those characters who became essential over time. He’s gay, which was quite something in the original show, especially since Andy was initially homophobic but they became friends to the point where he babysat Theo. John can definitely add something to the reboot, although it’s not clear exactly what that will be just yet.

 

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: The original NYPD Blue owes its success to its writers ability to portray the show’s characters as humans who happen to be cops, and the whole gamut of emotions that come with that. That’s a tall order, and the pilot script for this reboot doesn’t quite get us there. The question is: can it/will it ever? Unlike some of the more cynical projects to crop up in recent years, this project is more than just a reboot, it’s a family affair. That should help.

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[  ] PASS
X ] CONSIDER
 ] RECOMMEND

Surveillance (CBS) pilot preview: The Sophia Bush Show

SERIES TITLE: Surveillance
NETWORK: CBS
GENRE: Thriller Spy Drama

LOGLINE: Madeline Yardley, the head of communications for the NSA for 13 years, finds her loyalties torn between protecting the government’s secrets and her own when an investigative journalist she met dies unexpectedly in mysterious circumstances…

Pilot Cast: Sophia Bush (Chicago PD, One Tree Hill), Dennis Haysbert (24, The Unit), Matthew Modine (Stranger Things, Weeds, Full Metal Jacket), Catalina Sandino-Moreno (The Affair, The Bridge), Allan Leech (Bohemian RhapsodyDownton Abbey), Raphael Acloque (Tyrant, 24: Legacy), Nick Blood (Agents of SHIELD)…
Series Creators: David C. White (The Bridge, Sons of Liberty).
Pilot Director: Patricia Riggen.
Producers: Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, The Passage, Planet of the Apes), Sophia Bush, Patricia Riggen & David C. White.
Studios: 20th Century Fox Television, CBS Television Studios & 6th & Idaho.

Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they’re pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what’s called “Script Coverage,” an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

 

   

You’ll Like It If You Already Like: Person of Interest, Scandal, Homeland, 24…

Likely Timeslot: Monday at 9? Thursday at 10?

WRITTEN BY: David C. White

PAGECOUNT: 63 pages

DRAFT: Revised Network Draft, 1/12/19

BACKGROUND: Surveillance was picked up to pilot by CBS back in September 2018, long before the start of traditional pilot season. It was one of the biggest sales of pitch season, and marked a breakthrough in the relationship between CBS and 20th Century FOX Television as the network’s first buy from the outside studio in three years. A different incarnation of the project was originally set up at FOX for development last year, but didn’t make it to pilot stage. Instead, the script was reworked and the studio brought Sophia Bush and Patricia Riggen on board before taking the package out.

The project is a return to television for Sophia Bush, who most recently played Detective Erin Lindsay for four seasons on NBC’s Chicago PD, before exiting in 2017. The set of the cop drama has been described as a tough environment for Bush, who is said to have exited when it was clear that nothing would be done to make things right. In Surveillance, she’s not only the star of the show but also an executive producer. And she may have found a way to send a message or two to her old team through this show and this character.

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: The pilot opens in a convenience store parking lot, with a man named JACK HERBERT leaving a payphone and returning to his mess of a car. There are laptops, cell phones, legal pads and takeout containers everywhere. We next see him cruising down empty downtown city streets, before approaching a large brick wall… and crashing right into it. The car explodes instantly. Is Jack dead? A surveillance camera filmed the whole scene.

Cut to: a hotel room. Separated from her husband and far away from her two children, this is where our heroine MADDY lives. She’s the director of Strategic Communications for the NSA. She was sleeping but is awakened her phone. She grabs it and our question is answered: Jack Herbert is indeed dead. But Maddy has no idea who’s giving her this information. Her next call is from BARRY, telling her to get to work ASAP. Barry is the NSA Deputy Director, basically her boss, but also her mentor/father figure.

At NSA headquarters, Maddy is welcomed by her close colleague and longtime friend NATALIE. Natalie oversees all active operations at the NSA, and is the first woman to do so. Maddy has a favor to ask of her: trace the call she received a few hours before, off book. Natalie accepts, but not without some hesitation. Maddy goes to the conference room, where Barry and a group of other NSA higher-ups are waiting for her. She knows all of them, except one. THE MAN IN THE RED TIE. His identity and true mission are shrouded in secrecy. They have questions for her about Jack Herbert. Turns out she met him, perhaps more than once, and she’s asked to explain what she knows about him, what he was looking for when he came to her the first time… We’re transported to that moment through a flashback and it’s clear that Maddy is lying to the committee. But why?? What is she hiding?

COMMENTS: As discussed earlier, Surveillance was not originally developed as a vehicle for Sophia Bush, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s the right fit. Part of that may be because I know her from One Tree Hill, where she signed brighter than most of her co-stars, and from the short-lived sitcom Partners, where she proved she could be very funny. And although I’m less familiar with her work on Chicago PD (for which she was also lauded), her character in Surveillance feels very different. For one, she’s described in the script as a woman in her forties. (Bush herself is in her mid-thirties.) In addition, this isn’t just a leading role, the entire show is built her character, with Maddy appearing in nearly every scene of the pilot. That’s a lot to put on Bush in her first go as series lead, but clearly 20th Century FOX & CBS think she’s ready. Let’s hope they’re right.

The first season of the series has a title — “Operation Blackwash” — suggesting there will be one central storyline each year, with most of the cast and characters returning for subsequent seasons, except those who will die. Because this is the kind of show where people die, a lot. And, um, un-die sometimes. This is a big conspiracy thriller, with no holds barred. But as different as that may seem from the typical CBS formula show, it’s not revolutionary, either. At this point, you really can’t make a TV show about the inner workings of a federal institution, whether it be the FBI, the CIA or the NSA, without being compared to what’s been done (and done well) before. Which brings us to Homeland. The Showtime drama is definitely an influence on Surveillance, and there’s a lot of Carrie Mathison in Madeline Yardley, not only because she’s a woman in a world of powerful men — which is resonant with Bush’s own story — but also because she’s basically the same character: brilliant, determined, complex, and married to her job. She also has a messy private life — is an affair going on there? — and the requisite stress that comes with a job where a single mistake can lead to death and destruction.

The pilot plays the suspense card very well, revealing plenty of tantalizing details along the way. This isn’t Scandal — it’s not an over-the-top spectacle with characters over-reacting to everything — but Maddy’s job is pretty similar to Olivia Pope’s: she fixes problems, she sometimes hides the truth for the greater good, she manipulates, she bargains, and she threatens. This is serious stuff, but it’s also quite exciting. That it manages this may be the script’s greatest achievement. The NSA is about people working behind desks, making phone calls, watching, listening, and taking meetings, but the script’s fast pace compensates for that, and then some.

The show’s secondary characters stay mostly in Maddy’s shadow in the pilot script, but that’s not a problem at this point. If the show gets picked up to a full network-sized season, they’ll definitely need to be developed in later episodes to be more than just pawns in this wicked game but also actual human beings with their own stories.

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Surveillance is a little risky, but it’s too good a script not to try. It’s timely and captivating, and has the potential to do for CBS what The Good Wifeand Person Of Interest have done in seasons past. Poor execution or an unconvincing performance from Sophia Bush could quickly turn it into something less compelling but let’s be optimistic!

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[  ] PASS
  ] CONSIDER
X ] RECOMMEND

 

Snowpiercer (TNT/Netflix) pilot preview: Welcome aboard, voyagers!

SERIES TITLE: Snowpiercer, “All That Remains
NETWORK: TNT/Netflix
GENRE: Futuristic Thriller Drama

LOGLINE: Seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland, the remnants of humanity inhabit a gigantic, perpetually moving train that circles the globe. The show questions class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival…

Pilot Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Susan Park, Mickey Sumner, Iddo Goldberg, Timothy V. Murphy, Sasha Frolova, Katie McGuinness, Alison Wright, Annalise Basso, Sam Otto, Sheila Vand…
Series Creators: Josh Friedman (The Sarah Connor Chronicles, War of the Worlds, Emerald City, Avatar 2).
Pilot Director: Scott Derrickson (Doctor StrangeThe Day The Earth Stood Still), reshoots by James Hawes (The Alienist, Black Mirror).
Producers: Josh Friedman, Marty Adelstein, Becky Clements, Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun & Dooho Choi.
Studios: Tomorrow Studios, ITV Studios, Studio T. &  CJ Entertainment

Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they’re pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what’s called “Script Coverage,” an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

 

   

 

WRITTEN BY: Josh Friedman

PAGECOUNT: 72 pages

DRAFT: 7/7/16

BACKGROUND: Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette (which was previously adapted by Bong Joon-ho for his acclaimed 2013 movie starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton & Octavia Spencer), Snowpiercer the TV series has a bit of a tortured history. Having been in development for almost four years, the show has faced a number of delays arising from creative differences between the series’ creative teams and the network. Not a good sign if you see the glass half-empty, but you could also see it half-full: it may just mean they’re taking great care with the property.

About that tortured history: Original writer and showrunner Josh Friedman was fired in January 2018, and replaced a month later by Graeme Manson (Orphan Black). Reshoots of the pilot were ordered, but the original director Scott Derrickson refused to proceed, saying: “The 72-page Snowpiercer TV pilot script by [Josh Friedman] is the best I’ve ever read. The feature-length pilot I made from that script may be my best work. The new showrunner has a radically different vision for the show. I am forgoing my option to direct the extreme reshoots.” James Hawes joined the series in July 2018 as an executive producer and a director to oversee the reshoots. A few days later, Netflix picked up the rights to stream the series outside of the United States and China. The show is currently slated to start airing on TNT in the summer 2019.

Please note that this review is based on the original version of the pilot script, before the rewriting and the reshoots. I don’t know what’s been changed, although I do have my ideas.

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open on the image of a snowstorm and text on the screen explaining what happened on planet earth before it became frozen. We quickly see the massive snowpiercer train, which is leaving a frozen city in the midst of the storm. Then we look into the eye of a cow, which has the number 18 written on its forehead. She’s with a dozen of other cows. Welcome now to the tail section of the train, a place of starvation and hopelessness. We follow a little boy named Fergus, who’s playing with rats, and a man named Layton, who may or may not be his father. A woman’s voice is heard over the loudspeaker, wishing the passengers good morning on behalf of Wilford Industries and Transport.

We’re introduced to five workers who are stripping off their filthy work clothes under the supervision of security guards known as “The Brakemen.” Their skin is covered with industrial waste. They enter the tail section, where they’re reunited with their families. Fergus hugs one of them: it’s his father, Ian. We then meet the Anderson family: Jack, Lilah and their teenage daughter LJ. They’re eating breakfast peacefully, in a pod that looks nicer than the tail section. Once he’s done eating, Jack joins the agricultural supply car, through a railed transportation tunnel. Turns out he’s a farm worker, soon to feed our cow number 18. Meanwhile, Lilah goes to her job at a high-end nail salon. A client is waiting for her, and it’s Melanie Cavill, the voice of the train announcements. She’s a member of the train’s First Class and she’s fascinated with the other half.

It’s naptime in the Brakemen’s car, but two of them, Bess Till and John Osweiler, are awake. They’re partners and they seem close. They move toward the prison car where Pixi Aariak has lived for 3 years. She’s screaming, agitated. Till and Osweiler help her on her way out. After a much-needed shower, Pixi is sent to the Nightcar where’s she welcomed by Miss Audrey with warmth and kindness. A few minutes later, the passengers are warned to brace for impact. A large iceslide is blocking the track, and the train will have to smash its way through.

COMMENTS: So does Snowpiercer live up to the hype? Is it in fact the best pilot script I’ve ever read? While I wouldn’t go that far, one can’t help but marvel at this new world and each section of the train as its revealed. The wide shots of the ice-covered landscape should be magnificient, and I can’t wait to see what the Aquarium Car looks like (complete with a sushi bar!). It’s a rich universe, and writer Josh Friedman makes the best of it at a good pace. You get enough time to enjoy the different atmospheres you’re brought into — to really feel them — but it’s never boring. There’s a good balance between the every day life of the train and the extraordinary events that occur. Spoiler alert: at one point, someone is murdered and one of the first ongoing stories will be about the investigation that ensues. That may not sound particularly original, but in this context, with these characters, it’s interesting.

The characters themselves are also introduced in a compelling way, with enough time given that we learn in a nutshell who they are, and what their role is in this giant puzzle. Some of them are instantly appealing, while others will need a little a more time, but they all have something going for them, whether they’re coming from the tail section or first class. A few of them are mysterious and others are not who you think they are. Like the movie, Snowpiercer the TV series is about conflicting human impulses, social organization, disparities and power. It’s not a highly political show at the outset, but it’s poised to become one.

You can tell a lot of effort has been made to honor the source material. The series format gives more time to explore areas that were only hinted at in the movie, and it’s pretty captivating. It also answers a few questions, like: how do they make love in the tail section? Can they? (Answer: they do it quietly in a dark corner.) The show clearly wants to be smart entertainment, but it’s also dark, and at times very adult. I suspect that’s the part TNT tried to soften, to ensure it can reach a wider audience. At one point we’re introduced to a group called “the hand”, which is a “family” of adults engaged in one big polyamourous relationship. We meet them in a scene that’s described as “pastoral, like Monet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe“. How great does that sound? But unless those characters are supposed to stay in the background, I wouldn’t get too attached to them. I can’t find their names in the list of the regular characters, so they may not have made the cut.

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Ambitious, smart and at times dark, Snowpiercer is the type of show that runs the risk of being lost in the endless shuffle of Peak TV. And if it were only TNT airing it, I’d be genuinely worried, but with Netflix in the loop, there’s a good chance it will reach the wide audience it deserves. The pilot script is everything you want from a futuristic, post-apocalyptic thriller. Is it in the right hands? Will this train go in the right direction? Only time will tell, but here’s hoping it’s not just the pilot… and that the budget is as ambitious as the storytelling!

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[  ] PASS
  ] CONSIDER
X ] RECOMMEND

The Society (Netflix) pilot preview: Lord of the whys???

SERIES TITLE: The Society (aka Hamelins)
NETWORK: Netflix
GENRE: Teen Adventure Drama

LOGLINE: A group of teenagers are mysteriously transported to a facsimile of their wealthy New England town, left without any trace of their parents. As they struggle to figure out what has happened to them and how to get home, they must establish order and form alliances if they want to survive.

Pilot Cast: Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies, Lady Bird, Ben is Back), Rachel Keller (Legion, Fargo), Gideon Adlon (Blockers, Mustang), Kristine Froseth (Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, The Truth About Harry Quebert), Jose Julian (A Better Life, Shameless), Olivia DeJonge (The Visit), Jacques Colimon (Duat), Grace Victoria Cox (Heathers, Under The Dome), Sean Berdy (Switched at Birth), Alex MacNicoll (Transparent), Alex Fitzalan (Slenderman), Toby Wallace
Series Creators: Chris Keyser (The Last Tycoon, Tyrant, Party of Five
Pilot Director: Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man, Limitless
Producers: Chris Keyser & Marc Webb.
Studios: Unknown

Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they’re pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what’s called “Script Coverage,” an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

 

 

 

WRITTEN BY: Chris Keyser

PAGECOUNT: 62 pages.

BACKGROUND: The Society is one of many originals aimed at teenagers/young-adults that Netflix will release in 2019/2020, alongside The Umbrella Academy, Sex EducationI Am Not Okay With This, Jinn… and returning series Stranger Things13 Reasons WhyElite, and The Rain. These are some of the streamer’s biggest and most talked about series, and you can add to them Riverdale, a Netflix original in countries outside of the US, and their latest hit, the saved-from-Lifetime-obscurity You. While the younger demo is barely watching network television anymore, there seems to be plenty of demand online; so much so that streaming rival Amazon is also making a big push for programming in this space under new exec Jennifer Salke. So, does The Society have the stuff to be Netflix’s next big hit? Read on…

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We’re in a cornfield in rural Connecticut. It’s 1966. Young men and women are working under the sun. There’s a river over there, and an ancient burial ground here. A female narrator tells us about the town, the houses, the suburban streets, the school, the gas station, and the mountains all around… Now we’re in 1684. Same place. One day, the hills begin to move. We’re told one hundred and nine children were buried while they sat at their school desks, by 200,000 cubic yards of waste.

But let’s go back to nowadays, and the privileged West Ham high school. In the auditorium, parents, family and friends are hugging their children at the end of a performance of the school’s play. Meet Cassandra, the lead actress, a crowd around her. She’s popular, a natural born leader. Nearby, Harry, her longtime rival, also has a crowd around him. He’s handsome, wealthy and ambitious. Allie, Cassandra’s sister, a little less confident, is there too, watching. She’s lived her entire life in the shadow of her sister, but they love each other deeply. Backstage, we’re introduced to most of the other principal characters.

The next morning, it’s the great departure for our high schoolers. Luke, the quarterback, is passing along the side of the town’s church when something catches his eye. It’s a bible quote, spray-painted on the wall: “You’ve been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” Not far from here, six buses are lined up. It’s time for goodbyes between the children and their parents, at least those who came. Soon, they’re out of town. An hour later or so, a bibilical storm is in full force. There’s a blinding crack of lightning and a boom of thunder. On the inside of the buses, the kids are groggy and disoriented. The bus driver, whose face is hidden from camera, tells them there’s been a change of plan: they’re back home. It’s night, the town is dark and empty. The children return to their respective homes, to find them empty as well. Where are the adults?

COMMENTS: Described as a modern take on Lord of the FliesThe Society definitely has a compelling hook, but the pilot script is all over the place. There must be 15 principal characters, each a cliché, and virtually all unlikable. As a consequence, we want them to die. Quickly. Atrociously. But they won’t, and we’re as stuck with them as they are to each other.

I can’t say I’m not interesed in the mystery that surrounds this town but I’m not convinced the show’s answers will be satisfying. There aren’t a lot options: the origin of the event is either mystical or natural. Or both. Religious references are thrown at us without any kind of subtlety, and the premise that the kids being sent out of town without their parents is confounding.

The rest of the script is no better. Once they’re back in town, all the kids want to do is party, drink, and cruise in cars. They don’t seem scared or taken aback that their parents are missing, which is hard to swallow. Okay, they’re teenagers, and we know they can be frivolous and reckless, but could they be just a little less stupid? The pilot’s most important goal seems to be surfacing potential couples, and as much as I understand that’s inevitable in a teen drama, as written, the mystery takes backseat. Most of the end of the pilot is about rivalries and leadership with Cassandra, who’s inspired by her sister Allie to take charge of the group. There are a lot of similarities with The 100 in this area and that doesn’t help the show feel any fresher.

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: A good pitch doesn’t always make a good show, and from the looks of it, The Society is not as ambitious or as good as it should be. It’s one of those shows that would likely never survive on broadcast or cable, but may just find an audience online, especially if Netflix decides to push it hard. And I have a feeling they will.

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[ X ] PASS
  ] CONSIDER
  ] RECOMMEND

 

Euphoria (HBO) pilot preview: A provocative and addictive new teen drama like no other

SERIES TITLE: Euphoria.
NETWORK: HBO
GENRE: Teen Drama

LOGLINE: A group of high school students attempt to cope through drugs, sex and violence in an effort to make sense of an uncertain future, one year after one of their own was found dead in a cornfield off a road. Lost and hurt, vulnerable and thrill-seeking, they become a community in a town of lonely individuals. Their story is told by a lying, drug-addicted, fucked-up 17-year-old girl named Rue…

Pilot Cast: Zendaya, Eric Dane, Storm Reid, Maude Apatow, Nina King, Barbie Feirrera, Hunter Schafer, Austin Abrams, Alexa Demie, Jacob Elordi, Algee Smith……
Series Creators: Sam Levinson (Wizard of Lie, Another Happy Day, Assassination Nation).
Pilot Director: Augustine Frizzel (Sweetbitter, Never Goin’ Back). 
Producers: Drake, Future the Prince, Sam Levinson, Ron Leshem, Daphna Levin, Tmira Yardeni, Hadas Mozes Lichtenstein, Mirit Toovi, Yoram Mokadi & Gary Lennon.
Studios: A24.

Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they’re pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what’s called “Script Coverage,” an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

 

   

 

WRITTEN BY: Sam Levinson

PAGECOUNT: 64 pages.

DRAFT: April 27th, 2017

BACKGROUND: Euphoria is the very first HBO teen drama, based on an Israeli format of the same name. When the Israeli version premiered in 2012, it was compared to movies like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant and Larry Clark’s Kids. Those are big shoes to fill, and as I’ve not seen the Israeli show, I can’t say whether or not it met those expectations. Still, from a PR perspective alone, the show seems like a smart bet on HBO’s part. As the network vies for attention in this era of Peak TV, it makes sense that it would pick up a show with the potential to generate the kind of attention that 13 Reasons Why did for Netflix.

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We’re in the maternity ward of a New York hospital three days after 9/11. There’s a bright, fluorescent light. The camera goes down between the legs of a woman about to give birth, right into her vagina, and then inside her womb. It’s here that we meet Rue, our heroine and narrator, a baby not yet ready to be torn from the comfort of her home. She puts up a fight, but loses. There she is, bloody and in the arms of her mother, Leslie. On a TV set, there are images of George W. Bush standing atop Ground Zero, facing the world saying “I can hear you! The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” People are chanting “USA! USA! USA!.” A nipple is shoved into Rue’s mouth.

Through a series of shots, we’re introduced to Rue’s childhood in a white suburban middle-class neighborhood. At 4 years old, a therapist diagnoses her with Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and possible Bipolar Disorder. As a 10 year-old, Rue is chubby and so heavily medicated as to appear catatonic. We see a montage of famous people including Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Fiona Apple and Britney Spears, reminding us that those with mental disorders can still achieve great things. Cut to Rue at 17, as she snorts fine powder. She tells us about her teenage years: the first dick pic she received at the age of 9, her first kiss at 12, the hand jobs and blow jobs, some of which she was emotionally coerced into…

Now she’s laying naked on the tile of the laundry room of a rando fuckboi’s parents. He’s asking her if she came. She says yes, but she’s clearly lying… and she’s clearly high. Then, finally a moment of sweetness: an old home video of her trying to hula hoop in the backyard with her father. He’s encouraging her, telling her not to give up. Back to today, where she’s clearly given up. She introduces us to Nate Jacobs, the star quaterback of the football team, only to confess that he was found dead in a cornfield off Route 38… and that she’s the one who killed him.

COMMENTS: The definition of Euphoria is “a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness,” but there’s nothing about Rue, her “friends” or the show itself that seems to come from a happy place. Instead, this is a really, really sad and lonely place, perhaps the darkest version of a teen drama we’ve ever seen. In comparison, Skins and 13 Reasons Why seem like walks in the park. And it’s exactly what you’d expect from the network that brought you True DetectiveThe Night Of and Sharp Objects. But its representation of troubled and highly intoxicated teenagers won’t be for everyone. This is clearly an adult show, and that’s where it’s likely to be controversial — teenagers and young adults will find it, whether it’s on HBO or somewhere else. And the more it will be talked about, the more they’ll want to watch it.

In the context of the pilot episode, drug use may be seen as glorified or glamourized (the directing will play an important role). Or at least as an inevitable rite of passage for a “normal” teenager. I imagine the show will be smarter than that, and will want to send a message of prevention and awareness. But in a country where there’s an rampant opioid epidemic, where drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death of Americans under 50, one can’t afford to be too ambiguous on this subject and/or be seen as taking your time getting to its point. To be sure, Rue is never shown as someone who’s living her best life because of what she’s taking. It’s clear that she can’t be trusted: you never know if she’s telling lies or telling the raw, disturbing truth. She’s also very smart, and — depending on how she’s played by the likable young star Zendaya — may be seen as an attractive example for those already in a vulnerable state. And that’s worrying. At the same time, done right, the show has the potential to be a game-changer… one that actually helps people.

Going back to the storytelling itself, this is a very well-crafted pilot script that’s as addictive as a designer drug. It effectively jumps back and forth in time, thanks to a voice-over that even those who are allergic to the practice will appreciate. Rue’s voice creates further intimacy in an already intimate tale and a certain comfort in the discomfort, until we realize that perhaps we shouldn’t believe everyting that we’re told. (Our narrator is bipolar, after all.) The mess in her head becomes more and more clear to us, as we ourselves are thrown from euphoria to paranoia. That’s quite an feat. Writer Sam Levinson clearly knows how to maintain suspense through his protagonist’s voice. By the pilot’s end, there are multiple mysteries to be solved. And probably more to come in future episodes.

The characters are numerous, and most of them are properly introduced, but the pilot is mostly about Rue and her friendship with Jules, a 17 year-old trans who’s new in town after her parents’ divorce and who’s starting hormone replacement therapy, making her daily life even more difficult than it already is. There are quite a few disturbing and horrifying scenes involving her and her quest for affection. (Transgender activist and runway model Hunter Schafer has been cast in the role.) And there’s Nate. Think 13 Reasons Why‘s Bryce, but even darker. You can’t escape the classic party sequence that seems to appear in every teen drama, but here too, it’s ambitious — striving to be “the druggy equivalent of the Fred Astaire dance sequence in Royal Wedding in a single take.”

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Suspenseful and provocative, Euphoria portrays a troubled group of rageful teens who traffic in internet fantasies, narcissistic dreams, drug-induced hallucinations and traumatic disorders. Done right, it promises to be more than just a TV show. In any case, it will almost certainly make headlines for HBO when it premieres.

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[   ] PASS
  ] CONSIDER
[ X ] RECOMMEND

 

The Politician (Netflix) pilot preview: Do you miss Glee? Ryan Murphy does apparently…

SERIES TITLE: The Politician
NETWORK: Netflix
GENRE: Political One-Hour Dramedy

LOGLINE:  The political aspirations of Payton, a wealthy Santa Barbarian who’s ultimate goal is to become the President of the United States, one step at a time. And for now, he needs to a/ become the student body president of his college b/ be accepted to Harvard. To achieve that, he’s ready for anything. Literally.

Pilot Cast: Ben Platt, Zoey Deutch, Lucy Boynton, Jessica Lange, Gwyneth Paltrow, January Jones, Dylan McDermott, Laura Dreyfuss, Rhane Jones…
Series Creators: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuck & Ian Brennan (American Horror Story, Pose, 9-1-1, Glee).
Pilot Director: Ryan Murphy.
Producers: Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Platt, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuck & Ian Brennan.
Studios: Fox 21 Television Studios

Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they’re pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what’s called “Script Coverage,” an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now you too can preview some of the season’s most buzzed about pilots and find out whether we’d recommend them for pickup. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

 

  

 

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuck & Ian Brennan.

PAGECOUNT: 68 pages

BACKGROUND: A few months before mega TV producer Ryan Murphy left 20th Century FOX Television for Netflix in what is believed to be the biggest TV pact ever, the streaming giant granted him a rare two-season straight-to-series order for The Politician, one of the biggest TV package sales of 2018. Everything’s BIG when it comes to Murphy, it seems. At the time, Barbra Streisand was set to play one of the female leads but Murphy stalwart Jessica Lange has since stepped into her role for unknown reasons. Described as “a one-hour long comedy with social commentary”, The Politicanwill focus on a different political race each season. Word has it that straight-from-Broadway series star Ben Platt will have musical numbers in several episodes of the show, but other details have been kept tightly under wraps. With a copy of the pilot script in hand, let’s see if we can’t unwrap them a little…

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: Two great looking 17-year-olds are making out in an upscale house in Santa Barbara, California. Meet River and his girlfriend Astrid. While on the surface, things may seem hot between them, something doesn’t seem quite right. Turns out Astrid is faking it. When River asks her why, she explains that she’s madly in love with him and doesn’t expect him to be perfect in bed because of his young age and lack of experience. After she leaves, a clearly upset River goes to his father’s office and opens a safe where there’s cash, jewelry and a gun. Then he goes back to his bedroom, looks around, and puts the gun in his mouth.

At that very moment he hears a car screech, followed by someone banging on his front door. In comes Payton, our leading man, filled with rage, tears streaking down his face. After calling River a traitor, he reveals the reason he’s there: he’s just learned that River is competing against him to become the student body president of their college. He warns him that this is HIS dream, that he is A WINNER and that he will win this at all costs. River is mortified, and so are we.

COMMENTS: So this is the project that Netfix won in a high stakes bidding war against Amazon and Hulu. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised — they all wanted a Ryan Murphy show. The problem is, while this is indeed a Ryan Murphy show, it isn’t American Horror StoryAmerican Crime Story, or Feud. Instead, alongside frequent collaborators Brad Falchuck & Ian Brennan, Murphy has returned to the mileu of one of his earlier series: Glee. To be fair, The Politician is bit more adult-oriented than Glee — after all, the characters are not in high-school. But what happens in their Santa Barbara college could just as well have happened at McKinley High. In fact, many of it did. Payton, the central character, is our new Rachel Berry: ambitious and opinionated, his goal isn’t to become the best singer in the world, but instead the President of the United States.

The Glee feeling doesn’t end there. It becomes even more pronounced when Payton starts looking for the perfect Vice-President from a shortlist of disabled and the minority classmates. Oh, and did I mention he sings, too? He performs a musical number at a funeral and it’s apparently the best thing ever. (In the script, he sings Joni Mitchell’s River. We’ll see if that one sticks.) Most of the other characters are caricatures: the witty best friend, the bitchy one, etc. Astrid, who’s Payton’s nemesis, is a bit more fleshed out, and should become even more important in later episodes since she’s not just River’s girlfriend (no spoilers here). Finally, there’s Infinity Rose — yep, that’s her name — a colorfurl girl who has cancer…. all different kinds of cancer, to be precise. Payton wants her as his VP, but she’s not interested, at least not for now. But she clearly has some tricks up her sleeve.

The Politician does have some things to say about politics, ambition and young people, but it doesn’t say them in a way that’s innovative or smart, and it’s hard to take it very seriously when so much of what happens is ripped from earlier Murphy shows. (There are some parallels with Murphy’s Scream Queens here, too.) What’s the point of going to Netflix if it’s to do exactly the same thing he did on FOX? I mean.. The Politician is occasionally irreverent and raunchy (there’s a threesome, you guys!) but there’s nothing here that Murphy and team couldn’t have achieved on network television.

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: It’s not the most imaginative or well-crafted of pilot scripts, and if it aired on FOX or FX I’m guessing The Politician would be dead on arrival. But with a two-season commitment from Netflix, with all of its algorithms and a binge-ready audience, it might just work. In fact, despite all of my own misgivings with the project, I can still see myself tuning in to see how it all plays out.

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[   ] PASS
] CONSIDER
[   ] RECOMMEND