Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pilot Script Review - ABC Pilots

As I tweeted, I've been trying to speed through the reading of the remaining pilot scripts and, while fuller reviews are coming, I'm going to try and go, net by net (as I finish each net's scripts - thankfully I've already done CW!), and say what I liked, what I'm neutral about for any number of reasons, and what I didn't like. I'll give some brief explanation, but, again, a fuller review is forthcoming (likely over the summer when I'm not so pressed for time). I've tried as hard as I can to not let any casting knowledge bleed into my head while reading or forming an opinion, though in ABC's case there was definitely one piece of casting I was unable to block out (and it definitely helped my read because I could hear the actress's voice loud and clear in the dialogue). Groups will be listed in alphabetical order, not by preference.

Also. With one exception (Boston's Finest) the scripts I read were earlier drafts (I read the final shooting draft of Boston's Finest). Things are subject to change even before filming began so nothing said here in my script reviewlets necessarily means anything when it comes to what gets picked up to series. Because, y'know, what really matters is what shows up and what plays on screen.

One overall positive thing: ABC is returning to a 5 act structure after years in the land of 6 act. As a writer, it makes me thrilled because it means one less major twist / act break to deal with and more time to play out character moments instead of burning through story and a breakneck speed to get to the next climactic act break. For the viewer... one less commercial pod (though the commercial pods will likely be longer now). I say it's a win.

- Body of Proof (fka Body of Evidence) - Here's the one I couldn't block out the casting. I heard Dana Delany in my head as Dr. Megan Hunt. And, in my head, SHE NAILED IT. Body of Proof exists somewhere between House, as Delany's character is brilliant and quite the ball buster (and there's a spit-take inducing joke about ball cutters in the script that I pray plays), and Bones, as Delany's character works with dead bodies to identify the how/why of murder victims.
- Cutthroat - Great pilot script. The lead character, Nina, goes through quite an awakening. But it's a pilot that does A LOT. And you know how wary I get about those kinds of pilots when it comes to a series. I suspect this will be a really good pilot that won't make it to series in lieu of something crappier and more mundane and will leave all who see the screener scratching their heads.
- No Ordinary Family - I heart superheroes. I heart genre material. And while this pilot is going to be heavily rewritten from the version I read (which was Greg Berlanti & Jon Feldman) as Marc Guggenheim took over for Feldman and, certainly, did a ton of rewriting when ABC had Feldman focus on True Blue... I enjoyed it. It's a light, 8pm, family show. Is it The Incredibles but live action? Not even close (I REALLY heart The Incredibles). But it's definitely a show that I would tune into every week, regardless of the sillier / campier moments. The pervasive voiceover throughout from both Jim and Stephanie (the recently empowered married couple) has GOT to be cut down, though.

- 187 Detroit - It's a good cop show set in a town I think hasn't seen a cop show in recent TV memory. But the faux documentary thing? So played. Such a gimmick and nothing really interesting is done with it except having a character get pissed at the existence of the documentary camera crew. But... good, gritty cop show. A bit like Southland.
- Edgar Floats - This is the kind of show ABC loves to pick up and critics heap praise on and then audiences ignore. So I'm steeling myself with a neutral opinion of the script because... it fits into the Eli Stone / Pushing Daisies-ish template with its incredibly quirky and silly tone. Honestly, I was surprised that Bryan Fuller hadn't written it. We'll see how it comes out on screen. Could be awesome. Could be a disaster. And even if it's awesome, again, history shows that it's the kind of thing audiences won't stomach for long.
- Generation Y - Another faux documentary, this time along the lines of "Seven Up" following a set of high schoolers in 2000 and then again, seeing what's changed, in 2010. At least it's doing something different with the faux documentary thing (though I'm not sure how I feel about the voice of the filmmaker pushing characters along). This is a multi-character serial show and, as such, I am more lenient on it than on a pure procedural simply because it takes time to build this number of characters into unique individuals and fully flesh people out. Often it takes a number of episodes (both Brothers & Sisters and Parenthood took a few to really sort their characters out). Already I'm worried about a Parenthood-ish plot (woman a guy slept with 10 years ago wants to introduce him to his son that he never knew she gave birth to). But I'm already really on board with the Kenneth character, one of the most instantly pitiable and likable characters I've read this season.
- Matadors - Easily ABC's better legal show, from a script POV. Romeo & Juliet in the world of two big Chicago lawyer families (one the State's Attorney, the other a high profile defense attorney). Which could play REALLY arch and campy on screen. Just saying. Also the title, while explained in the pilot, doesn't reach out and grab you and say "lawyer show," does it?
- True Blue - Very dark and dreary in tone, but it fully delivers on what it promises: a primetime soap opera set around a group of friends in the San Francisco PD (and one who used to be and then became the DA). And, oh my, is there a ton of soap going on. The police / procedural side isn't horrible, but the pilot is saddled with solving the murder of one of the members of this group of friends (and thus bringing them all back together after years of drifting... yeah, can you see how it might get dreary?)

- Boston's Finest - At times misogynistic (how many times does the mysterious man really have to save our imperiled female detective in one pilot), but most of the time awash in a sea of cliché. Pass.
- Off the Map - A medical show from Shonda Rhimes' production company. How shocking. I *loved* the pilot for Inside the Box last year, so it's not like without Shonda actually doing the writing, I'd write it off, but this... oh, wow, it's kind of a mess. It's too similar to early Grey's Anatomy in the archetypal set-ups of the main characters with the selling point / hook / key difference being the location of the doctors and hospital - miles from civilization in a South American jungle. It's just not enough to grab me, as the characters never really got beyond shades of early Meredith (and at times Lexie) Grey, Cristina Yang, Alex Karev, and Derek Shepherd. Also, if I ever read the verb "medicals" (as in "he medicals the patient") or the gerund "medicalling" again it'll be too soon.
- The Whole Truth - The weaker (by far) of ABC's lawyer shows. Teaser: the crime has happened! And our defense attorney is one the case! But so is the DA! Which side will win? Act one follows the DA. Act two the defense team (skipping back a little in time and playing it all out, rather than running both POVs concurrently). Then everything else plays out. I couldn't tell you if there was a single character in this pilot, because none made any impression on me. If I cared for only one of the leads (either the defense or the DA), that would be a problem because I'd be actively rooting for them. But I didn't care for either. They had no personal investment and there were no stakes... except the curiosity of whether the person accused of a murder was guilty. I'd prefer to care for both sides (the attorneys, as well as accused and victim), but I cared for no one and nothing. And for a show called "The Whole Truth," it certainly didn't get at even a half truth. The case may be over, but for whatever reason, neither side of the aisle actually figured out what happened, as we are shown the true culprit in the final moments.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reviews, Travis. Good to hear the one hour five act returning.

Anonymous said...

A very prescient, insightful analysis of the drama pilots at The Alphabet, travisyanan. Will you be evaluating the comedy scripts as well?

Based on your assessment of the ABC pilots, creator-writer-producer track-records, and what I've read elsewhere, here is how I would put together a fall sked for them:

8:00 'Dancing With the Stars' Performance
10:00 'Castle'

8:00 'Dancing With the Stars' Results
10:00 '187 DETROIT'

8:00 'The Middle'
8:30 'The New Adventures of Old Christine'
9:00 'Modern Family'
10:00 'Cougar Town'
10:30 'Romantically Challenged'

9:00 'Grey's Anatomy'
10:00 'Private Practice'

8:00 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'
9:00 'Primetime'
10:00 '20/20'

8:00 'ESPN Saturday College Football'

7:00 'America's Funniest Videos'
9:00 'Desperate Housewives'
10:00 'Brothers & Sisters'

Midseason: 'GENERATION Y', 'MR. SUNSHINE', 'CUTTHROAT', 'v' (13 episodes), 'Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution', 'Ghost Whisperer' (I think ABC will do a 13-episode pick-up of CBS's cancellation and re-tool it a bit; no more Mr. Kennedy, re-cast the kid), 'Better Off Ted' (a wishful little 6-episode order to go with the 2-unaired and give ABC some back-up in case one of the new Tuesday comedies stumbles...I also think the Academy will direct a few Emmy noms towards Ted this year).

Anonymously, DuMont

nick said...