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The Republic of Sarah (CBS) pilot preview: Escape To Rural Mountain Town

SERIES TITLE: The Republic Of Sarah
NETWORK: CBS
GENRE: Political Soap Drama

LOGLINE: Morrisville, a small New Hampshire rural mountain town, is thrust onto the world stage when the discovery of a valuable resource within its borders compels the residents to utilize a cartographical loophole to declare themselves an independent nation, thus setting the unlikely young mayor Sarah Chambers and her cabinet of inexperienced locals on the path of running a brand-new country…

Pilot Cast: Sarah Drew (Grey’s Anatomy, Everwood, Mad Men), James Lesure (Good Girls, Las Vegas), Carlos Leal (El Internado), Jonathan Slavin (Better Off Ted, Santa Clarita Diet, Dr Ken), Daniel Ings (The Crown, Lovesick, Instinct), Annie Funke (Criminal Minds Beyond Borders), Kirsten Nelson (Psych), Victoria Gabrielle Platt, Kimberly Guerrero
Series Creator: Jeffrey Paul King (Elementary). 
Pilot Director: Marc Webb (500 Days Of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man, Gifted, Limitless, Instinct, Lone Star).
Producers: Leo Pearlman, Jeff Grosvenor, Jeffrey King, James Corden (Carpool Karaoke, The Late Late Show) & Marc Webb.

Studios: CBS Television Studios, Marc Webb Productions & Fulwell 72.

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: Northern Exposure, Everwood, Men In Trees, Providence…

Likely Timeslot: Sounds like a sunday show; or pushing it after Survivor on Wednesday could make sense thematically.

 

WRITTEN BY: Jeffrey Paul King.

PAGECOUNT: 61 pages

DRAFT:  Revised network draft 1/17/19

 

BACKGROUND: While a Northern Exposure revival is in the works at CBS -which would be centered on Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) returning to Cicely, Alaska, for the funeral of an old friend and staying (again) longer than he expected- the network has decided to move forward with a project in the same vein, already compared to it. The Republic of Sarah would reunite Sarah Drew, who’s the female lead, with CBS & CBS Television Studios after playing one of the title roles in another drama pilot last season, Cagney and Lacey’s remake, that was not picked up to series. Drew was a very popular Grey’s Anatomy cast member and she exited -not by choice- at the end of season 14, after nine seasons on the hit medical drama playing Dr. April Kepner. Before that, she was best known for her portrayal of Hannah in The WB’s Everwood. Now she’s back to a mountain town.

 

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: SARAH CHAMBERS (30s) is a community sweetheart, she gets along with everyone in Morrisville from mayor to barista. Open on her in a Tiananmen style standoff with the governor of New Hampshire OTTIS TAGGERT (50s) and several earthmovers. The first half of the pilot shows the previous two days, beginning when rich mineral deposits are discovered under Morrisville. Sarah, part of the town council, urges her companions to resist the corporation that the governor has chosen to open a mine in their town. That corporation‘s key lobbyist is Sarah’s older brother, DANNY (30s), returning to the town after a tenyear absence, leaving behind an alcoholic politician mother ELLEN (60s) and a fiancée, CORINNE (30s)Sarah’s best friend. Sarah doesn’t like the idea of being a politician, but shows true promise as she supports a crazy strategy to saving their town from the intrusive miningdeclaring independence. The siblings face off to get the townspeople on their side, with the governor breathing down Danny’s neck. A vote is held and the townspeople narrowly declare independence thanks to a 1800s topographical loophole. After all is said in done, the people overwhelmingly want Sarah to be their leader. Coming to terms with her mother’s past and her brother’s reemergence, she resigns to give leadership a go, knowing that the true test of the resilience Morrisville is just beginning…

 

COMMENTS: There’s nothing that makes me happier this pilot season than the return to good ol’ serialized relationship dramas, based on family values and emotional issues, far from always failing high-concept shows with endless mysteries and tired detective TV series piling up corpses. We can probably thank This Is Us & A Million Little Things for that. A few years ago, CBS might have developed such a show, but they wouldn’t have picked it up to pilot. The Republic of Sarah is the perfect illustration of this trend, with the “wow effect” that could help it stand out from the crowd. Because it’s not just about townspeople doing townspeople’s things, it’s also very much political, deeply rooted in today’s America, offering an escape and a beacon of hope to viewers who don’t think there’s any left. It might seem radical but the script refers a few times to the official motto of the U.S. state of New Hampshire: “Live Free or Die“. There’s definitely a wind of freedom blowing on this town and on this script. And I think it’s beautiful.

Apart from the fact that it starts with a flashfoward -which I hate in general but it’s an intense one- The Republic of Sarah takes first the right amount of time to establish the bucolic beauty of its rural mountain town, with our leading lady having her morning routine which consists of a wild run from the valley bathed in sunrise to the forest, and finally up to the hills. It’s supposed to be magnificient and I’m pretty sure the production found the fitting landcapes around Vancouver. But this run is not just about the atmosphere, it’s also about introducing us to some of the secondary (and quirky) characters Sarah meets on her way, like a salt-of-the-earth elderly couple Betty and Ralph, or Russell, a 50 year-old naturist painting completely naked in his garden. The quirkiness is all around in the script, but just like in Northern Exposure it doesn’t feel fake. It’s part of the town’s identity and charm. There’s this restaurant, the Sweetie Pie, with meals and treats named after video games. There’s the Moose Manor, a hotel where everything, really everything, is based on moose, from lamps to wallpapers and pillows. And there’s also the character of Paula Judge, a gruff mountain of a woman who’s… a judge. Judge Judge! See. Those are sweet details that help you fall in love with the place and make it so alive and special.

But more importantly, there’s a family drama within. Or a family within the family, ‘cos the whole town forms a giant family in a way. The Chambers are very much at the center of the story, between our heroine Sarah and her complicated relationships with her mother, her brother and her father, who may or may not be back after decades of disappearance into thin air. Nothing here is completely earth-shattering but it works and it’s not emotionally manipulative, as This Is Us can be sometimes. It goes straight to the point, probably because there’s a ton of other things going on. Like creating from scratch a micro-nation. Just so you know, even though the idea seems far-fetched and unrealistic, it’s something that happens in the real world, more and more. And it’s quite exciting. The script takes the time it needs to make it believable. Sometimes it’s a bit technical, and it could bore people, but at least they’re not taking too many shortcuts. It wants to be a credible political drama. The real political part will have to wait for the subsequent episodes though, once Sarah will officially be the new Mayor. Or the President, I’m not how sure how we’re supposed to call her. It really has a ton of potential, both on the personal soapy stories and the bigger picture. Did I tell you about the secret lesbian love story? There’s that too. And many other secrets.

I didn’t introduce you to the characters properly. It’s a lot of strong women and it’s particularly notable for a CBS drama. Sarah is a quintessential New Englander: sharply intelligent, fiercely loyal, and always willing to lend a hand. Perfect for Sarah Drew, isn’t it? She’s a force nature and natural-born leader, she just doesn’t known it yet. We talk a lot about positive leading roles these days, like The Good Doctor, as opposed to the anti-heros. She could become a part of this group. Corinne is Sarah’s devoted, bubbly best friend. Like Sarah, she’s a teacher and possesses warmth, wit and savvy. Mary is a self-reliant badass whose steady support has made her the strong maternal figure in Sarah’s life. There’s also Francine, Morrisville’s sheriff. Unflappable and resolute, she lives her life according to old-school principles of honor and duty and isn’t afraid to speak her mind when she feels those principles are being ignored. We love them all!

On the men side, there’s Sarah’s brother Danny, who had to endure a difficult childhood at the hands of his mother. When he returns to his hometown, he must confront the faces of his troubled past. He was fragile, he’s stronger now. But he’s still vulnerable and that’s a sensible portrait of a male character. Tim is Sarah’s new antagonist: a banker who has always been considered as the smartest and most powerful guy in Morrisville… until the town chooses -against his advice- to put its faith in Sarah and her plan for independence. So he fights to stop her and her new nation. We hate him of course. He’s here for that. But maybe he’s more complex. We’ll see. Last but not least: Eugene. A brilliant, bizarre librarian with a hummingbird energy and encyclopedic knowledge of sociopolitical minutiae. He’s a invaluable asset to Sarah and her team as the brand-new government of Morrisville gets up and running. He’s her Giles (from Buffy), but quirkier. And believe it or not, there’s no real love interest waiting for Sarah. Or I missed it. That’s good. She has other -and better- things to take care of for now.

 

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Symbolically, CBS would really make a point by ordering The Republic of Sarah to series. It would show their indepedence now Les Moonves is gone and it would be fierce. Yes, they can put a show on the air that is not a crime drama and that is mostly centered around women. More realistically, it’s a riské proposition for them that may not fit with the rest of their line-up. But they desperately need to evolve and that could be a first, smart step to take. I declare The Republic of Sarah one of the best scripts of this pilot season.

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[  ] PASS
[  ] CONSIDER
[ X ] RECOMMEND

Drew (CBS) pilot preview: Nancy is back, older, smarter, sexier and more boring than ever!

Sarah-Shahi-Backgrounds

Gotcha Day“. Created by Joan Rater & Tony Phelan (Grey’s Anatomy, Madam Secretary). Based on Edward Stratemeyer. Directed by Marc Webb (Limitless, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, 500 Days of Summer). Executive produced by Dan Jinks (American Beauty, Harvey Milk, Big Fish), Nick Nantell, Joan Rater & Tony Phelan. For CBS, CBS Television Studios & The Dan Jinks Company. 60 pages.

Description: Now in her 30s, Nancy Grace is a detective for the NYPD where she investigates and solves crimes using her uncanny observational skills, all while navigating the complexities of life in a modern world and grieving the death of her best friend…

With Sarah Shahi (Person Of Interest, Life, Fairly Legal, The L Word), Anthony Edwards (ER, Zodiac, Top Gun), Vanessa Ferlito (24, Graceland, Grindhouse), Steve Kazee (Shameless US), Felix Solis (The Following, The Good Wife), Debra Monk (Grey’s Anatomy, Damages)…

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I’m not very familiar with the iconic Nancy Drew character -never read any book, never seen any movie or series about her- but I’m pretty sure that what CBS is doing with this version is wrong and not respectful to the spirit of the original idea. What made it fresh and different at the time was that the heroine was a 16-year-old teenage girl solving mysteries. Not a big boy. Not an older woman. Not a professional. Veronica Mars before Veronica Mars. That was the whole point! CBS Television Studios could have turned the cult property into a nice little CW show while keeping the character as a child. But instead, they decided to make of her a 30-year-old detective. Like we already had a million over the years. Sad to say Nancy Drew is not fresh and different anymore. She’s just one more smart cop investigating crimes in New York. Does CBS need her? Not really. Do we? Certainly not! Then why bother?

The first scene of the pilot is exactly what we don’t want to see in detective dramas anymore. How to turn off your TV in 30 seconds. Nancy is driving a Uber -it’s her a job since she left the NYPD- and starts analyzing every detail coming from her client’s look and clothing, just to pass the time and because clearly she can’t help it. In a minute, she’s able to tell her whole story, just because of a stain on her shirt (I’m not kidding). This know-it-all attitude, from The Mentalist to Dr House and recently useless addition Rosewood, has had its day. It’s just irritating now. Not funny anymore. Especially when there’s nothing else to get our teeth into. At least, Lucifer is fucking Lucifer, the Devil! The hero of Forever was immortal. That’s something! But Nancy? Just a sad and angry woman who lost her best friend, Bess -same as in the books, at least they kept the characters- six months ago and who can’t stop thinking about her ever since (the same as Unforgettable‘s heroine with her sister). The girl wrote a suicide note but Nancy is convinced its a fake, that she was murdered. Long story short: she investigates about her suspicious death the whole episode, with the help of her other best friend, George, a lesbian who also happens to be a cop. Of course. And in the end, spoiler alert… they crack the case. How surprising! So now, Nancy is not so sad anymore and she’s even ready to go back to the precinct. Meaning: the next episodes will be even more boring than the first one! You’ve been warned.

The first act is really painful to read. The writers use the laziest way to introduce the story and the characters. Writing for dummies. That’s what it is. I can’t even say it’s efficient. Because it’s not. Who likes watching two people saying things they already know to each other so the viewers can be on the same page? Who likes watching a character saying out loud what we all very well understood, just to make sure we’re not lost because maybe we’re stupid? The other acts are not particularly better but at least they’re a little less predictable. Overall, the investigation is full of plot holes and nonsense. I’m not good at solving mysteries but Nancy didn’t impress me much. Even the dialogues are lazy. Okay, from time to time there is a funny line or a good joke. But the parts where George says “like we learned at the academy” (to underline the fact that she’s a by-the-book cop, contrary to Nancy) or Nance asks “Do I sound like a crazy person?” (as if there was any doubt about it, yes she does!) get excruciating at some point. Plus, everybody in Nancy’s entourage is very practical when you look at it: her father is a lawyer; her ex is a journalist and George’s girlfriend is a doctor. Meaning she will ask for their help every time she needs to. That doesn’t make her a good detective. Just a lucky girl. And where did the feminism of the books go? Still looking for it…

You know what could save Drew from the complete disaster it’s meant to be according to the pilot script? Sarah Shahi! People love her since Person Of Interest (and some of us since Life). It’s true, she’s great. She’s beautiful, she’s sexy, she can be funny and badass. She doesn’t really feel like Nancy Drew, at least the idea we have of her, but I’m sure she can do a decent job even with such a poor material. That what she already did with USA’s legal drama Facing Kate a few years ago, actually. But will it be enough? Drew belongs to Lifetime or Hallmark Channel, not to CBS. And the young demo will never watch this. Nancy Drew was a big inspiration for many writers, many shows they created, now she’s obsolete and should stay where she belongs: in our memories. Next year, CBS will probably try to revive “The Famous Five“…

 

“Limitless” (CBS) pilot preview: a high octane thriller for action junkies!

LIMITLESS

Written & produced by Craig Sweeny (Elementary, Medium, The 4400). Co-produced by Bradley Cooper, Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (Fringe, Hawaii 5-0, Scorpion, Stark Trek, Alias), Neil Burger (Limitless, Divergente, The Illusionnist) and many others. Directed by Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man, Lone Star). For CBS, CBS Television Studios, Relativity Television, Yet To Be Named Company & K/O. 63 pages.

Description: Brian Sinclair discovers the power of the mysterious drug NZT and is coerced into using his newfound drug-enhanced abilities to solve weekly cases for the FBI, alongside FBI Agent Rebecca Tate…

With Jake McDorman (American Sniper, Greek), Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter), Hill Harper (CSI New York, Covert Affairs), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantiono (Scarface, Abyss, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)…

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CBS has three high profile pilots this year: Rush Hour (Read the preview here), DC Comics’ top secret Supergirl and Limitless, adapted from the 2011 movie with Bradley Cooper. Probably two of them will go to series. Limitless as a TV series sounds a little… limited but hey, it’s for CBS: it’s a police procedural in the end, but with a greater mythology and a science-fiction twist that helps making it special. Yes, I think it’s special even though it reminded me a little bit of Person of Interest and another pilot in contention this year but at FOX: Minority Report. The three gives you the same high voltage of action scenes and twists and turns. You can’t fall asleep watching that and it’s hard looking the other way. But falling in love is another thing…

I didn’t fall in love with Limitless but I recognize the script has great qualities and there’s an evident potential here. It may even be a better TV show than a movie. That’s probably one of the arguments the producers gave to CBS while trying to convince them to take a look at this adaptation of a movie that didn’t really work and didn’t become the franchise it was meant to be. Another argument is the one I exposed in an article: the presence of the characters of Eddie Mora, played by Bradley Cooper himself, and Carl, played by the great Robert de Niro (Read the article here). It definitely helps and it’s not just cameos, at least for Cooper. As for the lead role, they chose Jake McDorman, just coming out of successful Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, where he shared scenes with Bradley Cooper. This man’s everywhere! Finally, Jennifer Carpenter tries to find her next adventure since the end of Dexter. It takes time. After two pilots (Sea Of Fire for ABC and Stanistan for USA Network) and right in the middle of a pregnancy, she’s back at work in a role that doesn’t seem very different from her Debra Morgan but people will be happy to see her again. So, Limitless has a lot going on for it.

The first scene and even the first act (the whole pilot ?) is action and action, again and again. And special effects everywhere, ‘cos Brian Sinclair is multiplying in his mind and on our screens thanks to the drug he takes. He can imagine what would happen if he does this or that, so he can observe, for example, that he might be hit by a bus if he chooses to turn right instead of left. Everything that happens in his brain is transcribed with images or his inner voice for us to hear. It’s a lot to take in but it works, on the page. Then it’s the director’s job -and Marc Webb is a good one- and his team to make the most of it in budget. Of course, they will have to relax for the next episodes but it’s doable I guess. What I’m less fond of is the characters’ personal stories. Saying it’s easy would be an understatement. Brian’s father is ill, that’s what motivates him to do all these crazy things and taking so many risks, while Agent Rebecca Tate’s father died of addiction so, of course, this drug and the person who dies because of it feels like her problem too. Lazy writing…

Limitless is the perfect show for CBS: not too risky -a procedural- but a little bit different than what they already have -science-fiction- that can attract the young demo they are desperately looking for. Moreover, it’s a potential companion for Scorpion (they share the same producers!), it’s in-house produced and it has a great international appeal. If the race was not that tight at the network, I’d say it’s a no-brainer…