Tag: allison tolman

Emergence (NBC) pilot preview: Another day, another plane crash

SERIES TITLE: Emergence
NETWORK: NBC
GENRE: Mystery Thriller Drama

LOGLINE: Jo, the sheriff of a small town, takes in a young child that she finds near the site of a mysterious accident who has no memory of what has happened. The investigation draws her into a conspiracy larger than she ever imagined, and the child’s identity is at the center of it all. Determined to discover the truth and to protect her as well as her family, she takes all the risks…

Pilot Cast: Allison Tolman (Fargo, Downward Dog, Good Girls), Alexa Skye Swinton (Billions), Donald Faison (Scrubs, The Exes), Clancy Brown (Billions, Thor Ragnarok, The Shawshank Redemption), Owain Yeoman (The Mentalist, Generation Kill), Robert Bailey Jr (The Night Shift), Ashley Aufderheide (The Slap US), Zabryna Guevara (New Amsterdam, Gotham)…
Series Creator: Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters (Kevin Probably Saves The World, Agent Carter, Resurrection, Reaper).
Pilot Director: Paul McGuigan (Sherlock, Designated Survivor, Devious Maids)
Producers: Paul McGuigan, Robert Atwood, Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters. 

Studios: ABC Studios and Fazekas & Butters Productions

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: The Passage, Believe, Kevin Probably Saves The World, The Crossing, Fringe…

Likely Timeslot: Monday 10pm (midseason?). There’s honestly no other and better place for it.

 

WRITTEN BY: Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters

PAGECOUNT: 64 pages

DRAFT: 2rd Revised Network Draft. 1/8/19

 

BACKGROUND: Emergence marks a reunion for writers Michelle Fazekas and Tara Butters & director Paul McGuigan after working together on the 2017 ABC fantasy dramedy Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, which went to pilot and then to series at ABC. Sent to the tuesday 10pm death slot, it lasted a full season of 16 episodes without generating any real buzz. You don’t change a winning team, as they say! But this time, ABC Studios didn’t keep the project for themselves. It ended up at NBC with a put pilot commitment (for some reason). Since it’s not produced in-house, the pilot only has a tiny chance to get ordered to series. Meanwhile, Allison Tolman was among the most sough-after actors for pilots this season, fielding multiple offers both in comedy and drama.

 

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: One night, JO TORRES (40s), a recently divorced mother and Chief of Police in the sleepy town of Southold on Long Island is awaken by a boom in the distance that causes all the lights to go out. She is called to the scene of a small aircraft crash. Nearby Jo finds a young girl allalone, who is physically perfectly fine, but has no memory of who she is. At the hospital as they asset the girl, federal agents who are investigating the crash show up demanding to see her and her chart. Red flags go off for Jo and her doctor friend ABBY FRASIER (50s). They are confirmed when one of her officers, CHRIS MINETTO (20s), calls saying those federal agents from earlier weren’t from NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board). Fearing for the girl after an abduction scare, Jo decides to keep her close at home with her teenage daughter, BREE (14) and her ill father ED (60s). Jo even recruits her exhusband, ALEX (40s), to help keep the girl, now called PIPER, safe as she tries to figure out who she is, who these mysterious people are, and what they want with her…

COMMENTS: I don’t want to sound cynical or bitter but I have no clue, only theory, that could explain why NBC decided to order a pilot for such a show, especially since it comes from an outside studio. Is this some sort of gift to ABC Studios? Were they forced to do it for some reason? Was it just love at first sight and it’s something you can never explain? So the biggest mystery here is not within the show itself. I wouldn’t go as far as to say there’s definitely a conspiracy behind Emergence‘s birth but it smells like it, folks! The thing is it’s a decent script. Yeah, surprise! I didn’t hate it in fact. I could even say I quite liked it. It’s a page turner. You want to know what’s gonna happen next. But it’s also very deceiving in the end. You get no answers, you’re just even more confused than you were at the beginning and more importantly: you don’t know what this show is and where it wants to go.

That’s always the same story, over and over again, with those TV series billed as “mystery thriller dramas”. You’re irresistibly attracted to it, you know it’s bad for you, you know you’re gonna have a headache the morning after, but you still need your fix. Am I suddenly comparing them to drugs or alcohol? I think I do. There’s a pretty big difference though: it’s way easier to quit. And as ratings often suggest: many viewers don’t hesitate to stop when they get the feeling they’re being played or lied to. You know the famous “we have a plan, don’t worry! A 6-year plan!” and you’re only at the sixth episode and it makes no sense already? This is not working anymore. NBC’s Manifest is not proving me wrong. It started way stronger than anybody expected but it lost more and more steam as the season went on and it ended at a level that would require a cancellation, if network television was not so complicated these days. It will probably get a second season –Revolution and Timeless style- but moved to another slot, a more difficult one, and you can say bye to the six-year plan and to the promised answers. That’s hours of life you will never get back. Emergence gives me the same feeling, though it doesn’t seem to be as ambitious as previous offers. Which should be a bad thing, but in this case it’s what saves it from a disaster. At least for now.

Let’s see what the strenghths of Emergence are. First: the atmosphere. On the page, this isolated, bay town that feels almost like an island is a place where you want to spend some spooky time. The lighthouse, the ferry, the house by the sea… It’s a postcard waiting to be destroyed by bizarre happenings and strange mysteries. The cold open set during the night is a great way to start with lights flickering, a small safety pin sliding across a surface on its own and then flying across the room, the alarm’s clock digits cycling through weird hieroglyphs… and then you can hear a distant boom when suddenly all the electrical power in the city goes out. That’s the moment when the crash happened, we learn later. Magnetic field. Plane crash. Gosh, it’s hard not to have a déjà vu. From Lost to Manifest, we’re in well-known territory. Somehow it works. And that’s thanks to the writing mostly.

Second: the characters. No high-concept show can work with uninteresting protagonists. Most of those which didn’t make it on the long haul had a deficit in that department. I have to say it’s refreshing to have a central character who’s a woman. Too often mystery shows are associated with men. And she’s a sheriff, which is another way to shake things up a little bit. As the choice of the great Allison Tolman to play her suggests, she’s not a beauty queen, she’s not your typical heroine. She’s a single mother, she takes care of her ill father who’s living with her and her teenage daughter, she doesn’t know her mother who abandoned her when she was a baby, she’s strong, and a smart ass, and she’s beloved in her hometown and we can only love her too. Also she’s a divorcee but with her ex, things are not completely settled yet. It’s her whole family which is at the center of Emergence and that’s a better and simpler way to go than concept shows with 15 strangers and 15 stories to tell at the same time. Plus, they all have a good sense of humor in this family. A few jokes are always welcomed to release the tension a bit.

And of course there’s this strange little girl, that they decide to call Piper. She’s intelligent, curious and mysterious. The relationship that Jo starts to share with her is very reminiscent to similar ones in shows like NBC’s Believe of FOX’s The Passage. It’s déjà vu all over again. But this time it’s between a child with no mother she can remember of and a woman who’s already a mother. Not with a man who doesn’t want to be father and who has no clue how to act like one. So it’s a bit different, maybe easier, and less moving in a way. We’ll see if the magic happens between the actresses. That’s the key. We have the cliché character of Benny who presents himself as an investigative reporter but who’s in fact a bad guy. You can smell it for miles away but Jo doesn’t. She may be under his spell. He’s charming of course. Bad guys in those shows always are at first. The pilot script ends up on some sort of cliffhanger that’s confusing. We’re never clearly in a sci-fi show. But maybe we are. We don’t know. They don’t want us to know. Will we ever know?

 

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: After the Timeless wreck and soon-to-be a wreck Manifest, NBC should better stay out of the high-concept game for a while. They don’t really have a place for Emergence or any other mystery shows on their schedule and making it a summer fare would equal giving it a ticket to dumpsterland. It’s a series that could have made sense 10 or 15 years ago before all the other similar ones crashed, but today it would just be adding another corpse to the pile. 

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[ X ] PASS
[  ] CONSIDER
 ] RECOMMEND

Downward Dog (ABC) pilot preview: Here’s what your dog’s doing when he’s home alone…

ALISON

Stay-at-home Dog“, Written & produced by Samm Hodges and Michael Killen. Also executive produced by Jimmy Miller, Sam Hansen & Kathy Dziubek. For ABC, Legendary Television, Mosaic Media Group, Animal Media Group & ABC Studios. 36 pages.

Description: Suddenly Martin, Nan’s loyal dog has begun acting out -and she’s confused, frazzled and angry. So Nan, an unapologetic woman in her thirties, hauls herself off to a canine academy, initially hoping for a quick fix, but finding out, eventually, that training a dog might be work but the payoff is priceless, proving once again that a dog is a woman’s bestfriend…

With Allison Tolman (Fargo), Lucas Neff (Raising Hope), Barry Rothbart (The Wolf of Wall Street)… and the voice of Samm Hodges as Martin.

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A TV show with a talking dog… in 2015? My initial reaction to Downward Dog‘s pitch was “What the fuck are they thinking?“. And that made me think that sooner or later a network will try to revive the 90s sitcom Baby Talk. But that’s another story I’m not eager to delve into, in case an executive is reading me right now and suddenly thinks it’s a good idea! When the revelation of Fargo Allison Tolman got cast for the lead role -of the woman, not the dog obviously- I decided to give the script a chance. That woman needs to be the star of something. And I don’t regret it a bit. This is a brilliant piece of writing. I totally get why there was a bidding war among multiples networks to acquire the project. It’s not Modern Family brilliant. But this comparison I read in a few articles is not a stretch either. I felt the same kind of vibe. Except it’s way harder to sell to an audience. A talking dog, for christ’s sake!

The fact that Martin talks is not just a tool to try to make something different out of a basic story. It’s not cosmectic. It’s the whole point of the show. And it’s not that basic a story for a single-camera comedy for television. Martin is lonely. Nan is lonely. She works too much, he’s bored. When she’s home, she’s too tired to play with him. In fact, it’s like the love story of an old couple that misses the spark they once had and don’t make love anymore (except they just do hugs here, no worries). They don’t know how to act with each other anymore but they can fix it. They just need a little push to get the groove back. And that push is a canine academy. It’s anthropomorphism in full force. Either you like animals, you have one or more yourself and you totally get what’s happening between those two, either you’re not into cats and dogs and it’s ridiculous science-fiction for you. I guess that’s the limit of its efficiency.

But let’s be clear: the dog that talks in front of the camera -and never at any other given moment so far, it’s important- could get very old very fast. At least for now, his lines are not just funny, -surely they are- but also really smart. The writers -who worked on animals documentaries- know their subject and makes it psychological without being boring. It seems relevant, not just about animals but also about humans. The whole thing is emotional too, and that’s probably the best part. The strong bond between a dog and its owner, the way they can make each other so happy, even just for a minute or two, is perfectly transcribed. What I’m not fond of for now is Nan’s scenes at her job and the secondary characters that fail to spark any interest, except for a dog trainer but just because she’s hilarious.

As much as I enjoyed reading Downward Dog‘s pilot script I’m not convinced that it can become a sustainable weekly series yet. I’m afraid there won’t be much to say after a few episodes. But maybe I’m just too pessimistic. The biggest challenge now is to turn this strong script into a strong half-hour of television, especially the scenes where the dog talks that could easily look ridiculous if not well taken care of. Can it be a home run for ABC? I’m not sure. But here’s something bold!