Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pilot Script Review - The 17th Precinct

Network: NBC
Written By: Ronald D. Moore
Draft Date: January 14, 2011
Pages: 67

It's a crime show. With magic!

This script was a beast to get through, but I will say this: it is a fully realized world, just on the page.

The only problem was having to slog through paragraphs of description about things that, ideally, will simply BE on the screen. You, gentle readers, will be spared quarter-page descriptions about water streams acting as the Internet does (which, honestly, sticking paper into a flowing water bed and having information pop up or reload or refresh or whatever on said paper sounds so much more complicated than the internet) and reference upon reference to the oddly abundant plant life in an urban environment because they are literal power plants - as in they supply power (GET IT? HAH!)

You will simply get to see it. You will thank your lucky stars.

At least, I hope you get to see it. I hope it turns out on screen. Because... I don't know if it will. This is a project that is going to polarize you. You will either love it, or you with say "WHAT THE FUCK, RON MOORE? WHAT THE HELL WAS THE OPERA HOUSE, NO REALLY."

Wait, sorry. Wrong show. But I think, even with great execution, this isn't a series for everyone. Much more than REM was, THIS project reminds me of Inception. We are in a world different to ours. The rules are different (and, yet, the same). And their world simply is. You will accept it, or you will not. And if you don't, you will not watch.

So, again. This is a crime show. With magic!

Instead of CSIs and crime photographers and blood splatter analysts, we have detectives who can frame pictures with their mind and literally move that image onto a page. Who can magically manipulate spilled blood to show where and how and when it was spilled. Instead of a medical examiner performing autopsies... a necromancer communes with the dead. There are legal jurisdictions that separate what the law is allowed to do if something or someone is "cursed" or just "hexed." The police don't use guns, they have a weapon called a "gladius," a little discus thing that shoot bolts of energy. Cars drive themselves to a destination. Instead of cell phones, communication is done via crystals (that, yes, are essentially cell phones).

And, sometimes, there's an inspector who gets what we would say is a hunch and will declare it to be important and that we should remember that piece of information. As a reader, and for an eventually viewer, I think this will be hilarious. But in the world of the 17th Precinct, it's called being an intuitive savant.

It's not a perfect world, either. Justice is meted out and the legal system can get it wrong (yes, it would appear there are lawyers in their world, too). Justice can be ironic... and cruel. And also magical (a judge threatening someone "out of order" in court with a "gag order" is serious business, and we are left to imagine what precisely that means... I suspect it means making the person mute). It's a world where you can carry on the world's most obvious affair with your partner's wife (seriously, seriously obvious).

It's all different. But it's all the same. And... I think it actually makes a lot of sense. If just depends on whether you buy it. I'm intrigued enough to see more.

As for the cases... there are two, both of which are related - eventually - to a potential long-arc in the series. One is a murder of an important government official of the city of Excelsior (which is San Francisco, even with some overlapping architecture... but different), the other is a cursed building (that becomes something much more).

Since this is a kind of project from a class of writer where spoilers from my review would get all over the place, I'm going to remain incredibly and probably annoyingly vague with regard to actual plot points. The long-arc in this series about a world fundamentally different from ours in that magic and mysticism rule... is the intrusion of something we would recognize and understand, but is unfathomable to them.

Imagine living in this world and discovering that something called a bullet was used to kill someone. Just saying.

This brings me back to my Inception comparison. The biggest difference is that everyone in the world of The 17th Precinct is "in on it." There's no naif-y Ellen Page character to explain building dreams to - or, in this case, magic. Our world and our ways are just as foreign to these characters as theirs will appear to many, many viewers. So, yes, I do worry about the accessibility of this show.

There is a human side to all of this crime show and magic stuff, though the characters didn't truly define themselves outside of their job functions for me in the pilot. Standard detectives with fancy trappings, right down to the old pro annoyed at being assigned a new partner. And I think I was reading correctly when it was implied that one detective, Liam, is what we would call a female-to-male transsexual. "There is no spell to change the human heart" is a particularly effective line that comes late in the script, at a bittersweet moment of reflection, and a character later complains that "our system of justice is subjective and irrational because it’s a slave to the whims of the heart instead of the head."

I have no idea why the title of this show is "The 17th Precinct." It says nothing me about what the show is, besides suggesting that it's more about this place than the pilot, itself, appears to be. I'm not even sure if "the 17th Precinct" is just Excelsior, is beyond Excelsior, or is a small part of Excelsior. As you many have been able to glean from the above... my opinion is that this show is a rather standard crime show in magical drag. But it's one I'm eager to see. I want to love it, but I also hate the script for making it too damn difficult to love with all its bulky descriptions that will either work on screen or won't.

And, so, I'm holding a title pun contest, or at least a title suggestion. There is no prize but your own smug satisfaction with having made a funny. Please comment with your thoughts.

My two ideas are "The Chicago Codex" (which would make no sense, as it's not set in Chicago, but, hey, it screams "magic" and riffs on a crime show more about the place than just about the crimes) and "Law & Order: Spectral Victims Unit." I'm particularly happy with the latter.


Jack said...

Travis, please review the pilot scripts or Prime Suspect and Smash. PLEASE1

TaraGel said...

Great review. I agree that it could really go either way (terribly fascinating or terribly hokey). I'd hoped for more character moments in the script (aside from the very obvious affair bit--which I almost wondered if it would turn out to be something else because it was so very banal/predictable in the dialogue). I know you try not to take the casting into account, but I do think that'll be saving grace possibly. Moore might have assembled one of the best casts of all the new pilots this season.

Oh right and a bad title: "In Excelsior Deo" (knowing Moore's penchant for religion?) :)

Amanda said...

It sounds dreadful to me. Seems like they're just adding in random characters without sufficient motivation and just for the heck of it. A male to female transsexual? Fine but I'll only believe it if they can really understand the difficulties and issues of such people.

The world setting? They're trying TOO hard. It sounds too detail-centric and seems like a giant info-dump. We do NOT need a gazillion details to tell us that "Yes, our f-cking universe uses magic and is different from Planet Earth". *groans* They're not going to start reinventing English, are they?

And again, why are we being tortured with yet another crime show? Doesn't matter how you dress the wolf, it's still a wolf and eats like a wolf.

Poor Travis, the pains you go through to review all these pilots.

Amanda said...

And if it's made into a series, it better have a large budget. Mainstream viewers will demand a high amount of special effects and that will shoot up the costs. If they try to skimp on the effects, people will just ignore it. Isn't Doctor Who heavily rejected because the production values are often considered "cheap"?

Travis Yanan said...

@ Jack

I'll be reviewing them, haven't read them yet, though. Stay tuned!

@ TaraGel

Thanks! I, too, was hoping the affair was going to turn out to be something different and was disappointed. I think you're right re the cast... it's very strong and they will hopefully find ways to elevate this all beyond "crime show in wizard drag"!

@ Amanda

I think the key to it is that things AREN'T explained. The detail was all on the page for the reader... but the viewer won't see that. Things will just play out. But, again, I definitely recognize and caution that this will not be for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Travis What about Hart of Dixie and Alcatraz? Did you read them?

Travis Yanan said...

@ Anonymous

Yes, I'll be reviewing Hart of Dixie, but not Alcatraz (or Person of Interest). Neither Bad Robot script is "out there," unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Ah ok ;). I'm looking forward to reading these reviews! Especcialy because like for the wonder woman script that is quite good i can be surprised by what i will read.

Amanda said...

@Travis: Well right, the details aren't being told to the viewers. Rather, they get to see it(either by insinuation or by "directly" showing it to them). I just wonder if it'll all be too jarring though. Typically, even in books or videogames, you don't get to find out everything about a universe in one shot. It's just all slowly revealed, bit by bit.

But in this case, you got the legal system, possibly police system and many other details that are different from Planet Earth and which will require a lot of attention or it might hurt the viewers. After all, a fair amount of this will be pivotal to the plot and investigative process. And it will also pertain to the characterisation.

So the people behind this TV series will have to find a way then, to put in a combination of devices like narration, music, colors, dialogue, etc. to "highlight" and "link" the essential plot moments together or the viewers could be punished for missing out on 1 to 2 details.

This is what I'm talking about and uhm, oops, I was too tired and cranky yesterday. My bad. And yes, I know what you mean by it not being for everyone.

P.S. Can you review Locke and Key pilot please? =)

Amanda said...

Erm and also, if the script for the Ouija board pilot ever comes up in the distant future, could you review that too? Thanks! :)

And now that I think about it, it's got a very sci-fi feel. As in: the technical details regarding the universe building. =P

Cadence said...

This is the pilot I am by far the most excited about. Ron Moore is a master of world building. He either imagines something visually stunning (a la boring description on the page) or else implies far more than we're shown about the economy, environment, and politics of a world. Both BSG and Caprica did that smashingly. I don't mind the hokey stuff. I don't know about anyone here, but the first time I heard someone say frak on BSG, I laughed out loud. It's now part of my regular vocabulary.

Here's to hoping it makes it :D!

Anonymous said...

Doctor Who heavily rejected? In what alternate universe?