Council Of Dads (NBC) pilot preview: This Is Us (Again)

SERIES TITLE: Council Of Dads
NETWORK: NBC
GENRE: Family Drama

LOGLINE: The story of Scott Perry and his family, whose lives are thrown into upheaval when he gets a potentially terminal diagnosis. Facing his mortality, he and his wife, Robin, assemble a unique group of carefully chosen male friends to support his family and guide them through the ups and downs of life’s many challenges…

Pilot Cast: Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead, Prison Break, Colony), Clive Standen (Vikings, Taken, Camelot), J. August Richards (Agents of SHIELD, Angel, Raising The Bar), Michael O’Neill (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Rectify), Tom Everett Scott (13 Reasons Why, SouthLAnd), Michele Weaver (Love Is…), Emjay Anthony (Bad Mom 2, Rake), Blue Chapman, Steven Silver (13 Reasons Why), Thalia Tran…

Series Creators: Joan Rater & Tony Phelan (Grey’s Anatomy, Doubt, Madam Secretary).
Pilot Director: James Strong (Liar, Broadchurch, Doctor Who).
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer (Lucifer, CSI, Cold Case, Without a Trace), Jonathan Littman, KristieAnne Reed, James Oh, Joan Rater & Tony Phelan.

Studios: Universal Television, Jerry Bruckheimer Television & Midwest Livestock 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: This Is Us, Parenthood, A Million Little Things

Likely Timeslot: Behind This Is Us is such the most obvious option that NBC will never choose this one… It’ll be This Us‘ replacement come midseason, probably.

 

WRITTEN BY: Joan Rater & Tony Phelan.

PAGECOUNT: 63 pages.

DRAFT: Third network draft 1/7/19

 

BACKGROUND: Council of Dads is based upon a true story that inspired Bruce Feiler’s bestselling memoir The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness and the Men Who Could Be Me published in 2010 by William Morrow & Company. In 2008, Felier was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer. Fearing what the absence of a father figure would do to the lives of his young twin daughters, he had the genius idea to form a Council of Dads, which consisted of six of his closest friends who agreed to help him raise his daughters. Each had his area of expertise such as homework dad or outdoors dad so the girls knew who to turn to for a specific issue when their mother was not available. The happy twist is that he made a full recovery after all. As a consequence, the Council was never fully activated. In the show, it will need to be!

The book was first adapted for TV eight years ago as a half-hour comedy written by Peter Tolan (Rescue Me, The Larry Sanders Show), and was sold to FOX network with a big commitment. Then it went to pilot starring Kyle Bornheimer, Ken Howard and Diane Farr, directed by Joe & Anthony Russo, but it didn’t make in on the schedule. The big comeback of family dramas following the success of This Is Us is probably the reason why the concept is revisited now as a one-hour drama.

 

SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: SCOTT PERRY (40), a father of four, lives a seemingly healthy life until DR. OLIVER POST (40), Scott’s best friend and also his doctor, diagnoses him with a rare form of cancer, requiring him to spend time in the hospital and in chemo. During Scott’s leave, his friend and AA’s sponsee, LARRY MALVERN (60), drops by to help Scott’s wife, ROBIN (40), with the kids and general errands. Scott returns from the hospital, but another unexpected visit from old friend ANTHONY LAVELLE (40) consequently leads into a conversation about the childhood CrabShack that Scott bought the previous year. Another surprise hits Scott: Robin is pregnant. This profound revelation leads him to doubt the remaining time he has left with his four children -JJ (7), CHARLOTTE (13), THEO (15), LULY (21)- who are all growing up too fast. His chemo and upcoming lab test have sparked some doubts regarding his time left and it pushes him to assemble a council of men (evidently being his best friends) to look out for his children, his wife and the CrabShack for one year. During the day of Scott’s final test, Robin’s water breaks…

 

COMMENTS: When it comes to family dramas, NBC’s critically-acclaimed This Is Us became such a phenomenon on broadcast television that it must have been hard for any other network to launch a new one since then. In fact, none have risked it the past two years. Even ABC’s A Million Little Things, which is not technically a family drama, probably suffered a bit from the comparison, at least initially. Even so, this pilot season marks a big return of the genre. They’re all looking for the next This Is Us, and NBC itself wants another one apparently. Council Of Dads is very much in the same vein and will give you the same exact feeling of sweet melancholy and nostalgia. They come from the same place -the heart- and they march to the beat of the same drum. The question is not “will you cry?” but “when will you cry?”.  But are they different enough so there’s a place for both in our lives?

As a fan of the genre, I’d be tempted to answer that there is a place for both, of course. But as a TV observer, I’m not so sure. The similarities are not only about the tone, it’s also about the stories that are being told and the characters we’re introduced to. Which is worse. Viewers might feel like they have already watched this show. Not only 10 or 15 years ago. Also yesterday. And probably tomorrow. Let’s take the dad character as an example. His story is different from Jack Pearson’s but he’s cut from the same cloth. He’s handsome, and so nice, and open, and generous, great with the kids, great with the wife, great with the friends. The perfect guy. And he has a darker side. Just like Jack, he struggled with addiction in the past. He works as a heroic, almost divine figure, soon to become a haunting ghost for his family. Because yeah, he dies at the end. Don”t consider it as a spoiler. It’s part of the concept. There’s no concept if he survives. What’s great though is even if you see it coming from miles away, it tears your heart out the same when it happens. It must have to do with the way it’s announced, with a sobriety that’s almost surprising for a show that could have been more manipulative if they wanted to. If you haven’t cried before -it’s unlikely- that’s the moment when you’ll let it all out.

Robin, like Rebecca, is a courageous woman who’s a bit overshadowed by her husband in the pilot but still, she’s an appealing character from the get-go and as a OB/GYN and mother/stepmother to four children -soon five- you can only admire her. Then you have Luly, the eldest child. The story is told from her point of view and voiceover. Scott had her before he met Robin but the birth mother was never really in the picture and Luly feels ready to have a little bit more of her in her life. Also, she’s a talented writer, she is focused on her future and waiting to hear if she’ll get an important internship at a prominent New York publication. But her priorities change dramatically when her father gets sick. That’s when she meets Evan, a smart, caring young man with a great sense of humor who has been taking care of his sick mother. Their relationship is reminiscent of Kate and Toby’s. They’re going through the same hell at the moment and that’s what brings them together. The difference is they’re younger and more reckless. Luly is probably the best character in there. She has a lot of potential.

Can’t say the same about Theo, who’s some younger version of Kevin Pearson, before the alcholol, the drugs and celebrity. He thinks the world is against him and that he can’t do anything. Most of his storyline in the pilot is about his driving test. Even though it’s quite revealing about his difficulties and weaknesses, it’s not as gripping as the other stories. Charlotte’s is way more exciting, but it’s the biggest déjà vu at the same time. She’s an adopted child who wants to know more about her origins. Yep, same as Randall. With her best friend Tess, she decides to go meet her cousin without her parents knowing. Her story could become very emotional and will probably take a different path from Randall’s since she doesn’t have the same age. But still… And finally there’s JJ, the youngest of the family, a sweet child who has a wonderful relationship with his parents and who reveals to be transgender. That story hasn’t been told by This Is Us! Finally one that’s new! I love the way it’s handled, with such simplicity and acceptance. There’s a human warmth throughout the pilot script that should fit with the hot setting (Savannah, Georgia).

In the council, we have three men who make their way into the story sweetly. Dr. Oliver Post is an esteemed oncologist and surgeon who is Scott’s doctor. He was Robin’s friend from college, and he’s a married gay man now, with a child. He seems cool. Anthony Lavelle is one of Scott’s oldest friends. He’s a chef, he’s single and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s cool too. And Larry is the oldest, maybe the wisest of the bunch. He has a strong presence, he’s rough around the edges and he’s a bit mysterious. We don’t know much about him so far. I wouldn’t say he’s cool but I like him too. There’s nobody not to like in this show anyway! Which leads to a certain lack of conflicts, but they surely will come! The council of dads concept is more of a theory right now than an actual thing since we’ll have to wait for the second episode at least to see how it works exactly. That’s a good reason to stay.

As you probably have understood now, Council of Dads is a very progressive show with a lot of diversity and a ton of good intentions. You think that’s a lot? I do too. The writing is good enough so you don’t feel like they’re adding some more big topics to an already-packed pile but maybe they could or should have kept some stories for later. Same goes with the cliffhanger. It’s better to have one in general but it’s the kind of show that doesn’t really need it, the family is enough to make you come back no matter what. The upcoming story that is implied by it sounds familiar and a little too soapy for the show’s sake but we’ll see. If they handle it like A Million Little Things handled his, I’m all in for the ride.

 

FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Does NBC need another emotional family drama in their schedule when they already have This Is Us, which set the bar quite high? Nope, not really. An argument could be made that they they didn’t need another medical drama with Chicago Med in their line-up last year but they ordered New Amsterdam anyway and both are cohabiting nicely so far…  It would be a shame if Council of Dads were to be passed on for that reason. It shouldn’t have been ordered to pilot in the first place then. So, if the finished product is as great, moving and beautiful as the script is, there’s no good reason for stopping there. The Perrys may or may not be the next Pearsons but they are worth living.

 

OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:

[  ] PASS
[  ] CONSIDER
[ X ] RECOMMEND

 

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