“Studio City” (FOX) pilot preview: when “The O.C.” & “Shameless” are making music together

STUDIOCITY

Written & produced by Krista Vernoff (Shameless US, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Charmed). Co-produced by John Wells (Shameless US, ER, The West Wing, Third Watch) & Andrew Stearn (Shameless US, The West Wing, SouthLAnd, Third Watch). Directed by Sanaa Hamri (Shameless US, Empire, Nashville, Elementary). For FOX, Warner Bros. Television & John Wells Prods. 61 pages.

Description: After her alcoholic mother totally lost it, Catalina Evans, 17, is sent to L.A to live with her songwriter father and her stepfamily. What she thought would be an easier life doesn’t turn out exactly the way it should when she discovers her dad is a drug dealer to the stars and haven’t sell a single song for years. With her own dreams of stardom in mind, she starts her new life full of hope and songs to give…

With Florence PughEric McCormack (Will & Grace, Perception, Trust Me), Heather Graham (Austin Powers, Boogie Nights, Scrubs, Californication), Riley Smith (True Blood, 90210), Jeanine Mason (Bunheads), Samantha Logan (666 Park Avenue, The Fosters), Jordan Calloway (ER, Allie Singer), Timothy Granaderos

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The whole time I was reading Studio City‘s pilot script I was thinking about whether or not it would be a good fit with Empire. The musical show’s surprise and incredible success didn’t allow FOX to develop any soap opera of the same kind to pair it with, on time for pilot season. But honestly, I don’t think FOX should even try to do that. Other networks, yes, they will have to. Even if ABC always did and NBC tried many times the past few years but failed to offer one on the schedule except the horrible Deception. Some of you may also remember Cane on CBS. There probably won’t be another Empire anytime soon. FOX better should find shows that are not straight soap-operas but which could work with Empire. Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens is a very strong contender (already picked-up to series). Studio City is another one. I’m always suspicious when a show is officially described as a little bit of this mixed with a little it of that. But this time, they’re not playing with us: Studio City really is The OC meets Shameless. With a bit of Nashville too. But this, they couldn’t say.

The OC (and Nashville) part of Studio City is pretty obvious from the get go : a smalltown girl with a violent and batshit crazy mother comes to L.A. to live with her songwriter father and his family in a nice house with a pool. But a little pool. Studio City is not Orange County. It’s not a poor neighborhood either. And since we’re talking about Los Angeles, know the big city is pretty much a character in the show. I’m just a little disappointed the writer made very cliché and uninspired choices such as Malibu beach or Universal Studios’ Jurassic Park Ride to locate some scenes. The OC comparison also works with the tone that is used: there’s a lot of humor and characters who don’t take themselves too seriously, like Rob, the father -it’s a good thing he’s played by such a funny guy like Eric McCormack- or the mother-in-law, Stevie (Heather Graham), who’s not Cookie but a pretty insane woman we can only love. They’re just the right amount of funny and craziness. More would make them unbelievable. Most of the cast consists of young adults characters because Rob has another daughter from a previous marriage, Emma, who acts like a bitch, and Stevie has a son, Mateo, and a daughter, Zoe. And they are all beautiful, of course. Two of them may even fall in love… Oh, shocking!

And that’s when Shameless US more than comes to mind, which is not so surprising since the creator, as well as the producers -especially the great John Wells who never disappoints- work for the show. You can find the same kind of lightness even when terrible things happen and this very special family liberates the same sort of energy and warmth. There are a few quite daring storylines, like this love story I won’t talk about, or the central conflict of having a drug dealer as a father. Note this is inspired by the real story of Krista Vernoff, the creator. In case you thought it was not credible. That being said, Studio City don’t (and can’t) go as far as Shameless and stays very much in a network comfort zone. Proof: the script starts with the mention “Curse words will be silenced or bleeped“. We hate that.

Even if I liked what I’ve read, I was not totally hooked and I’m not sure why. Maybe because the promise of what’s to come is not clear enough. I don’t know what we will see every week. The different members of the family doing bad things, mostly? How long can it stay relevant, then? The coming of age story of Cat is what interests me the most. At the very beginning of the pilot, we’re exposed to what she will become in 4 years: a superstar. Taylor Swift-like, it is said. I’m curious to see how we get there. You have to wait for 30 pages to hear a song, by the way. For now, the show can’t be labelled as a musical drama. Good: we already have enough of that!

Studio City‘s pilot script is very decent and a pleasure to read but I don’t think there is an unmissable TV show in there. An enjoyable one, that’s for sure. But nothing we haven’t already been told a million times. After Glee, Smash, Nashville, Power, Violetta (!) and Empire, what’s left to say about the musical industry? Probably a ton of things, but I can’t imagine Studio City saying them differently or at all. BUT I also think FOX really should favor this one to the dark drama pilots they ordered so… I’m in!

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