Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pilot Script Review - Nomads

Network: CW
Written By: Ken Sanzel
Draft Date: February 8, 2010
Pages: 56

Well, at least this is beginning with an adrenaline rush! Two All-American brothers run through a jungle, chased by disembodied shouting and machine gun fire. And one of them TOTALLY BITES IT (or at the very least disappears... since we aren't shown him being shot I am assuming a twist wherein our lead character, John, finds out that his brother, Kirk, is actually alive... but either being held as a hostage or Evil!now). Once again, though, I state my distaste for all CW leads being OMGorgeous. It's like every writer is told the descriptor "All-American" is required in the script otherwise Dawn Ostroff won't buy it.

Six months later, John has a scraggly travelers beard, because otherwise how would we know that he's been through some heavy emotional turmoil? John is now living at a hostel in Bangkok and searching for Kirk who, I gather, John does not believe is dead (not sure if others do) and he gets an e-mail from someone who says they saw Kirk. He Skypes with his dad and the conversation is vague enough that I'm still not sure whether John is the only one who believes this, or whether there's some other thing about Kirk that we need to be caught up on for why Dad wants John to come home. Must be the latter because John meets with the contact who claims to have seen Kirk a month before, only he's getting scammed. But he's smart enough to know it. I'm actually pretty into this script and this character at this point!

John's ass gets saved in a barfight with a bouncer and doorman by some unassuming dude named Ryker. I'm caught between this been Aragorn-as-Strider saving Frodo and Sam at the Inn of the Prancing Pony or whatever happened in JJ Abrams' Star Trek movie when Kirk gets his ass handed to him, but Pike steps in (if I recall correctly)? John is much more of a Kirk-type, so I'll go with the latter. And I'm sure that his brother's name is entirely coincidental... anyway, John's been chasing down clues about Kirk for 6 months and he is now officially out of money. They have an odd conversation that ends enigmatically and takes us out of the 13 page teaser (really, just call it Act One at that point...) on confusion rather than some Big Moment that launches us into what the series is. But I'm cool with it, because I'm already along for John's ride.

John goes back to his other hostel friends and to a party, where a woman named Donna gives him some info about Kirk that is actually in sync with what the supposed scammer lured him to the bar with. She gives enough detail that wasn't in John's description of his brother that John knows this to be the real deal. Time to follow up on this lead, and hostel friends Zack (Australian) and Nadia (German) are along for the ride. A clandestine train station meet up with Ryker later, they're on their way. There's a little background conversation and we find out John was supposed to show up at MIT eight days ago for grad school, he's going to be a computer engineer (read: mad tech skills).

Nadia's bag, carrying some of Zack's stuff, is stolen and there's a chase sequence and confrontation with the thief, who threatens our characters with a knife and keeps menacing when offered money, is shot/killed by a Mysterious Person. Murder is okay, so long as the damsel gets her belongings back! Which gives us yet another "huh?" act out of intrigue. Again, I'm good with the story, but the act outs are head-scratchers. Neither, so far, seems to do much more than give the show an air of mystery... which it already has, in spades. I feel like there are bigger punches to act out on, ways to make John a more active protagonist in them. Shrug. Not my script.

Thankfully, we pick back up on the three characters having an ethical discussion of "he saved our lives" vs "he killed someone." I was already having a "this isn't a typical CW show" feeling (mostly because of the lack of emphasis on scantily-clad urban teenage girls drinking alcohol and being part of a giant love dodecahedron) and this seals the deal on that front.

No sooner do I type this than the love triangle rears it's ugly head as Zack heads off and Nadia invites John in for some fun... and Zack sees. SIGH. Still, this is certainly not the typical CW setting or the typical CW characters. Plus, John is leaving Zack and Nadia's company (for now) because something more than a love triangle is going on in this story. Equals good in my book.

Zack gives John his iPod (which was in Nadia's bag when it was stolen) to make sure they see each other again. John notices people following him and in what is described in a somewhat Psych-ish manner, puts puzzle pieces together through highlighted images and flashbacks. The iPod has no music on it. What's on it? Whatever it is... the police are now after John. And they get him. And there are serious problems for John because there have been pills planted in his backpack. And then he accuses the police of planting it, and then the head of the police of wanting ransom money that his family doesn't have. Yeah, John is not the brightest, is he?

Donna, the one who gave John the clue about Kirk, shows up and bails him out of jail. There is clearly something more going on here. Especially because Zack and Nadia are in the Jeep that Donna leads John to. And then Ryker is in a second Jeep they rendezvous with, and he says "right about now, you're really wondering what the hell is going on." Now THAT is an act out. Yes. Very much.

Suddenly, at page 37, the logline ("an action drama about a group of young backpackers who become part time CIA operatives to earn some quick cash, and prolong their endless summer") makes a lot more sense, as Ryker (actually CIA) explains to John what Zack, Nadia, and Donna are (his accurate term: subcontractors) and why he needs them (because young backpackers are the least suspicious thing ever in certain parts of the world, i.e. here). He does say he only gives them "low risk" jobs... which I have to assume will not really be the case. Because... stakes! Drama! There's an appropriate discussion about this with the other backpackers... "low risk" ≠ "no risk." We get a nice conversation between Donna and John, both of whom have reasons way beyond extending an "endless summer" for agreeing to be a CIA "subcontractor." Donna was offered an analyst job at the CIA, but didn't want to be behind a desk going over someone else's work. She's trying to prove herself. That's pretty good stuff. And now there's a love quadrangle (Donna is pissed that John didn't take advantage of her at a party, or something, but he did sleep with Nadia when she offered), but I'm cool with it because it's so ancillary.

Anyway. I've pretty much given about 3/4 of the pilot's plot and I don't want to give EVERYTHING away. Now that the preamble is done with, we get about 15 pages of twisty intrigue, action, adventure, life and death decisions... y'know, spy stuff.

Anyway. Damn. I'm hoping this gets picked up... though I have a feeling it might get "off brand" and "expensive" demerits (and who knows how the filmed product turns out), but, on the read, this is very much a new evolution of the spy story. Sexy. Young. Not based out of an office (anywhere, let alone in America). It's original in all the ways Human Target is derivative.

Final verdict: Fingers crossed!

Pilot Script Review - HMS

Network: CW
Written By: Amy Holden Jones
Draft Date: January 6, 2010
Pages: 58

HMS (aka Harvard Medical School... not the Her Majesty's Ship Pinafore... oh, if only) begins with its lead-ish character, Nell Larson, arriving at medical school on a city bus and handing her bags to an elderly woman (potentially homeless, just saying) so that she can run into the middle of the academic quad, spin around, and call her boyfriend Zack / send him pictures. And it makes less dramatic sense as it goes on.

Although it's probably a good thing that Nell begins as merely flighty and naive instead of flighty and incredibly unlucky (i.e. had all her belongings been stolen). Not that anyone is watching, but didn't Scrubs try the upbeat med student thing already this year with Lucy?

Ms. Holden-Jones commits a Script Reading Cardinal Sin by naming a character Nate when we already have a Nell. Note to writers: there are 1000s of names and 26 letters in the English language. Start character names (especially regular characters) with different letters. And if you MUST start a character's name with the same letter at least make the names different lengths. It just makes the reader's job easier. Exceptions to the rule: when it's a thing, like how the Scavo kids on Desperate Housewives all have first names starting with the letter P (Parker, Preston, Porter, Penny).

Nate, go figure, is supposed to be drop-dead gorgeous. Just once I want the CW to cast a lead character who isn't from the factory.

We meet Elle Woods, er, I mean Brittany Lace. Thankfully, the super-rich super-hot girl presents herself as Kind and Caring rather than the Snooty Bitch archetype. Also she later proves her self both knowledgeable and entirely capable.

Next is Autumn Lee... an Asian stereotype and then some. Essentially-humorless and over-studious. I wonder what shenanigans these crazy kids will get into trying to get Autumn out of her shell while they're supposed to be cutting open cadavers.

By page 10 we have also been introduced to 3 more charming stereotypes: Indian (as in India) uber-greek Krishna, tall and basketball-playing African-American Ace, and ostensibly-religious-and-gay-Latino-of-nondescript-origin Carlos, while also getting our Grey's Anatomy-ish warning about how OMGZHARD Harvard Med School will be (apparently 1/10th will consider suicide, which prompts Autumn to "humorously" - I suppose - write "consider suicide" in her notebook... yeah...)

Page 10 is really where I ought to put this down and if I weren't doing these damned reviews, I would. I know it's super passe, but... bored now? Oh, wait, now Nate and Ace are playing SHIRTLESS pick-up basketball. That'll hold my interest for another quarter-page.

Now that we've gotten past character introductions, I'm going to stop the play-by-play. Because, y'know, plot... meh. Basically, Lucy, um, I mean Nell fails miserably at her First Attempt To Be A Doctor. But, heart-warmingly, the random people she's met and apparently calls her friends (despite the fact that we really haven't seen much evidence of a connection or even interaction between them besides lockers in a hallway and possibly living somewhere in the same dormitory if not on the same floor and happen to be in the same class as her) totally rally around her immediately. But she's still completely down in the dumps bad-moody about it.

Prescription? Apply ample amounts alcohol. We meet more characters at the party (so many stock characters...) and we find out that EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER HAS A BACKGROUND THAT HAS LED TO THEM KNOWING THE SPECIALTY THEY WANT. Only Nell's chosen specialty is an unimpressive "general practitioner" and thus she is to be shunned according to the assholic character, Alex, er, I mean Leo. And, again, Her True Friends rally around her.

While this is a totally acceptable way to get background out... lame?

You might not be aware of this, certainly the characters don't seem to be, but medicine saves lives and has made several heart-string tugging advances in the last several years. Finally, halfway through the pilot, we get to what seems to be the main medical case of the pilot (only it's not really a case... first week med students...), a comatose 23-year old girl. OMG, you guys... the characters are, like, totally 23-ish, too. Empathy! Also! The cause of soon-to-be-death was Bad Doctoring (by way of staph infection from a not-properly sterilized IV needle). And, of course, our lead character will develop an Inappropriate Personal Connection to this probable corpse (which the girl quickly seems to become, we don't see the face of the cadaver but Nell recognizes enough to assume... and assume incorrectly, of course, because otherwise there wouldn't be a Necessary Twist).

Utterly atrocious sequence where Nate and Nell can't resist each other any longer and Nate is super complimentary about how Nell will one day become Dr. House but not a jerk because She Notices Things... in the room full of cadavers, and Leo gets them in trouble and the Crusty Old Dean tells N&N how disappointed his is in them and goes so far as to tell Nell that they took a chance on her thanks to a glowing recommendation letter. PLEASE CUT MUCH OF THIS REPRIMAND FROM THE FINAL PRODUCT KTHXBAI.

Nell has an anxiety attack and goes home for the weekend so we can meet the boyfriend and he can pick her up literally in his arms and swing her around and figuratively. And no guiltily-blurted-out revelation from Nell about macking on Nate. They must be saving that for sweeps. Nell visits her mentor, who wrote that totally awesome recommendation letter. He gives her another pep talk and she saves a woman's life (someone she knew back home) thanks to her New Doctor Skill Set of Asking Questions and Getting Patient Histories and Using a Stethoscope. Which is great, because, you'll find this crazy, but that's exactly what Nell's teachers were saying was important earlier in the pilot.

Then we get nine characters' reasons for why they want to be doctors (which is a more longwinded version of the "what specialty do you want" from before that, in comparison to this schlock, was both efficient and understated).

Final Verdict: Pass the bucket from the Gross Anatomy classroom. VOMIT.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Travis Yanan Goes to the Movies - Oscars Predictions

First off... highest rated Oscar telecast in years (should the whole ABC thing get worked out in NY). Avatar is nominated for 9 categories. And, well, when Titanic, then champion of the popular / box office ticket vote, was up for its awards, Oscar hit something like 55 million viewers. And, in unadjusted box office, Avatar is bigger than Titanic, not to mention appealing to viewers Oscar doesn't usually reach so well: men. I see no reason Oscar shouldn't sail past 40 million viewers this year (especially with this year's trend of big award show ratings). Not to mention the bigger Best Picture field with other crowd pleasers like Up and The Blind Side.

Now, my "official" predictions... mostly so I have some record, somewhere, of what my ballot is at the viewing party I'm attending. Which I have to head off to, so no time for explanations except that I have not seen any of the short subject films and many of the technical categories are based on guild award winners. As for Best Picture... well... that's the big question of the evening, isn't it? Hurt Locker or Avatar? For the record, I loved The Hurt Locker and HOPE it wins... but I have serious doubts and thus put my money elsewhere.

Best Picture: Avatar

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds

Best Supporting Actor: Mo'nique, Precious

Best Animated Feature Film: Up

Best Foreign Film: The White Ribbon

Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds

Best Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Best Documentary Feature: The Cove

Best Original Score: Up

Best Original Song: "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart

Best Film Editing: The Hurt Locker

Best Cinematography: Avatar

Best Costume Design: The Young Victoria

Best Art Direction: Avatar

Best Makeup: Star Trek

Best Visual Effects: Avatar

Best Documentary Short Subject: China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province

Best Short Film, Animated: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Best Short Film, Live Action: The Door

Best Sound Editing: Avatar

Best Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

American Idol Is Dead! Long Live American Idol!

Ah, American Idol. The last dominant bastion of network TV.

Let's get this out of the way: last week's Top 24 performances SUCKED.

I mean, really, really, really sucked.

Katie Stevens and Andrew Garcia, both bequeathed with the inaugural Pimp Spots, were, at best, mediocre. No stars were born in the first semi-final round.

Until hearing the performances, I had been "best three months of the year!" And then, after the two nights of singing (if, in some cases, it can so be called) was considering just writing the season off. And there are those who probably have.

But that was Season 7 and Season 8 thinking. Hell, in a lot of ways, that was every-season-except-seasons-one-and-six thinking.


Because those season all had major frontrunners who delivered. Constantly. Sure, a hiccup or two along the way... but never so early. Looking specifically at S7 and S8... we had Archuleta and Lambert. Both were anointed, from the first performance, as Top 2.

And they were.

And they were both beaten by someone in the competition we didn't really notice right off the bat.

Guess what? Without that clear frontrunner, this is the most interesting season of Idol in a few years (not the most exciting, not the most talented... the most interesting). Because, like Seasons 1 and 6 (when the overall talent pool, arguably, was at its weakest), we get to DISCOVER someone through the process. Every contestant gets to grow (or leave). There will be no Anointed One this season. No Presumed American Idol.

Which, for the show, means a tad less positive press than last year with Adam Lambert. But for the viewers, if you can stick with it as the contestants improve... it should prove more rewarding.

Which brings me to Crystal Bowersox who may be the only hope this season has for an exciting, Adam Lambert-esque figure (something that is possible WITHOUT being Anointed). She's Adam Lambert's antithesis, of course, with her indie-rock stylings compared to his glam rock. But she needs to stay in the competition. Hence the night change for the Men and the Women this week... so that she can sing. Because while Idol may seem like an odd place for a musician like Crystal... Idol needs her to be this season's lightning rod.

It will be interesting to watch this season to see if the talent pool rises to the occasion. Because it will be fun to discover a new Kelly or a new Jordin (two of the three successful Idol winners at radio). I do want it to be a girl this season, though I wonder with the last two years of Teen Girl Voting Block if it's even possible any more. A female contestant has to relate to the young female viewers... I wonder who it'll be...

Off to watch the Top 10 Men perform... my ears bleeding at the thought...