Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pilot Script Review - Awakening

Network: CW
Written By: Glenn David & William Laurin
Draft Date: January 2011
Pages: 55*

I don't like the font. Seriously. For some reason, this script wasn't written in a monospaced font, much less industry-standard Courier. It was annoying to read on a practical level for that reason.

*It also means that the page count isn't really 55, because monospaced fonts take up more room, so this is probably somewhere in the 60s.

But, y'know, I can get over that.

What I can't get over is, well, the content of the script. Depending on how you look at it, it's wildly imaginative or completely inane. I'm firmly standing by the latter.

I started my read knowing only the logline: "Two sisters on the verge of adulthood who find themselves on opposite sides of a zombie uprising."

Let's tackle this one piece by piece, as it's almost entirely misleading.

"Two sisters." Yes. Jenna and Jayce (and, note to new screenwriters out there... try to not name main characters with the same first letter, and if you must, at least make the names different lengths, because not only can it be confusing to a skimming reader... you can interchange them and not notice... like Glenn and William did once or twice).

"On the verge of adulthood." Well, Jenna Lestrade is 30, and Jayce is 25 even though she ACTS like she's 16. So, no.

"Who find themselves on opposite sides of a zombie uprising." Easily the most confusing part of the logline. How the hell are two sisters going to be on opposites sides of A ZOMBIE UPRISING!? And have that be part of a continuing series?

Here's what the logline isn't telling you.

Jenna and Jayce are both zombies.

Yes, gentle readers, the zombies in Awakening are walking, talking, sentient beings with an ability to fit into normal life and, on a mere whim, "zomb out" meaning go from a "normal" look to, y'know, decayed flesh. Also they age and can have babies.

It's... a departure, for sure.

There's a point made by a zombie about how human (or "pre-dead") movies present them as lumbering, thoughtless brain-eaters. But... isn't that what fans of zombie movies like? Isn't that what they're looking for? I get that you want your zombies to be different. But you've basically just made them into undead cannibals. The mindless, decayed, ravenous horror is what's so frightening!

And, of course, Jenna, an ADA and a recovering bulimic when we meet her, is the family's "vegetarian" zombie (there's always a vegetarian...) meaning she doesn't eat human flesh. She's trying to fit into human society and even has a human boyfriend, Matt, who doesn't know her secret. Her parents don't know about him, either (there's a lot of "racism" overtones to the whole zombie vs human thing).

Jayce is an "organic" zombie. She likes her meat fresh. She likes to hunt. Which is a problem for her parents, because the whole "zombie" thing isn't out there in human society. They don't know zombies still exist. They did know, once, back in the 60s, when there was an "Awakening" which seems to be the "uprising" the logline refers to. Evan, Jenna and Jayce's father, is a survivor of the war (and a battle at a nearby tourist trap called Dellamore that gave me hope because it was a vague, off-hand reference to a hilarious zombie film with Rupert Everrett called Dellamorte Dellamore), and doesn't want to see that happen again.

So he and his wife, Eunice, get corpses from a restaurant, Macoute's, that has suppliers from morgues, medical labs, pathologists, etc. And the flesh is cooked.

The moment I stopped reading the script as a seriously toned zombie story and said, "wait, I think this is supposed to be campy horror comedy" was when, at the family dinner, Evan asks Eunice to pass him the lady fingers.

Y'know, like, a bowl of real lady's fingers.


So, I adjusted my mind to be critical of what I thought I was reading. Campy horror comedy. If the entire story had been in the Lestrade household, or at least in that tone, it would easily have won me over. Because that's some seriously campy, over the top shit. It could be zombie Dark Shadows.

Unfortunately, that's a minimal part of the pilot and there's the rest of the story, which is so drawn out and mind-numbing I refuse to look back at pages to summarize it.

Yes, some humans do know about the zombies. And there's a zombie hunter closing in on Jayce through a circle of friends (who want to start a new Awakening) she keeps. Naturally, he turns out to be Matt's father, and as he's said that zombie hunting is passed down through families, even though Matt shows no signs of knowing anything about zombies, it implies in the future that he very well could be coming after Jenna.

Here's the problem, as I've said above.

It's a departure. It's too far from the "zombie" lore we're used to, and it simultaneously commits the same mistake I felt Secret Circle did... there isn't enough "normal."

Whereas I looked at Secret Circle through the lens of The Vampire Diaries (same source material author, same two producers adapting it), I think Awakening, more than anything, wants to be the True Blood of zombie television series. So let's look at it like that.

Yeah, there's the gore, the camp, the horror. But it's from the wrong point of view, and you really don't get much in the way of seductive romance between Jenna and Matt.

We're not in the POV of Sookie Stackhouse and the residents of Bon Temps dealing with their first real vampire coming to town in the aftermath of the vampires "coming out of the coffin" (granted, I definitely do not think the pilot of True Blood was its strongest hour). We're in the POV of the zombies. Lots of zombies, who have their whole culture and community and it's all just immediately thrown in our faces without anyone besides Jenna, the vegetarian zombie, to connect to on an emotional level.

Is an audience really going to connect with Jayce, the homicidal, human-hunting, flesh-eating zombie? She's not even a delicious villain in the way you knew Damon Salvatore was going to develop into in TVD, or Eric Northman in True Blood (who... not introduced until, what, episode 10 of the first season?)

There's a reason Twilight was told from Bella's POV. There's a reason Elena is the main character of The Vampire Diaries. There's a reason Sookie is the main character of True Blood. They're the humans (okay, that's not entirely true of Sookie). They're us. And a crazy world is unfolding around them and we get sucked into it with them, as they fall in love with a "vegetarian" representative of the supernatural. Jenna, who in the preceding examples would be the Edward/Stefan/Bill, is the main character, instead of her human love interest.

There's also a reason why most zombie fiction (that I'm aware of) is about the human survivors. That's what we connect to. Survival.

Awakening lacks both those things. It's missing the human side.

UPDATE: Oh, I forget to mention something I tweeted about as I was reading. Let's play a game of "You know it's a CW script when"! You know it's a CW script when even the mid-50s mother character, Eunice, is described as "sexy." I'm not saying people in their mid-50s can't, or aren't, sexy. I just think pointing it out is a very "CW" thing to do in the script.


Enigmatic Anon said...

This is seriously the funniest review I've read so far. I'm not implying in any way that this show sounds good because it doesn't. Let us all hope Dawn Ostroff doesn't want to torture us one last time by picking this up as her parting gift.

Anonymous said...

They live as regular people? It sounds like that one episode of Supernatural where the one zombie was a tax payer.

Aaron said...

sOMG, how totally misleading. I thought that these two sisters were humans fighting AGAINST zombies. Maybe they can do some twist or something but I just think this is odd.

Travis Yanan said...

@ Aaron

That is EXACTLY what I thought. Totally misleading and I was utterly unprepared for the sisters to be zombies rather than fighting against them (even if Jenna is fighting against her nature as a zombie).

The Sonar Chicken said...

Thanks for the review. I'll see what the pilot is like, though.

Hmmm... I dunno. I'm not against extremely unsympathetic main characters as long as the whole thing is fun enough.

I recall Bad Seed, Clockwork Orange and a lot of other shows about such characters. I enjoyed them fully. :D And when Dexter was out there killing people? I truly loved it. :P

In fact, one Chinese TV drama had parts of the story from the viewpoint of a girl who was a sociopath and who was around 12 to 15 years old. She got away with lying, scheming, torture, attempted murder and about every single sick act you could think of. And btw, the story wasn't told from the viewpoint of one character but shifted around all the time.

From what I know, she was part of the heroes soo... she kinda got away. At that time, though, I was much younger and more naiive so I didn't take too well to such a character. Now, I wouldn't mind. :)

But seriously? I'd love to see some struggles and some depth in terms in moral ambiguity in Awakening. It could work, imho. =)

'Cos sorry but I'm tired of the old zombie thing as there's only so many damn times you can have them be mindless, rotting beings. And that also means you can only take the writing in a limited no. of directions.

DuMont said...

For The CW, the question would be where to put 'Awakening'. If 'Secret Circle' is destined for Thursday at 9 pm, that means 'Awakening' has Friday at 8 pm in the old 'Smallville' slot, unless Miss Ostroff wants to pair this up with one of her W18-34 teen dramas.

The comedic aspects could work, if deftly handled ('Reaper' handled this aspect nicely).

I would probably watch it once or twice, but abandon it if it didn't move the story along at a nice clip.

I've never understood why The CW doesn't take some of these produced pilots and run them in behind 'ANTM' on Wednesdays at 9pm in the month before upfront. They could gain valuable insights as to how their viewer base reacts to the pilot, especially seeing the quarter-hourly holds or erosions in the A18-34 numbers. It's much cheaper to deal with a pilot that people hate in April/May than it is in September when you already have a half-dozen episodes in the can awaiting broadcast.

Anonymous said...

Well thank's for description of the plot and the review. I'm in a certain way more interested now, because i think that showing zombies live with humans it's an original way to talk about it. It's different than anything we see before and there are element that could really works, like TVD there is one sister who accept her condition, the other who struggle for freedom and love a normal human. Also the villian, the hunter that will be played by the awesome Welliber, is a villian for the story, not for human beings. It's really strange but interesting. I think that Secret circle Awakening and Heart of dixie should be picked up. SC at thursday and Awakening at tuesday or monday to make these days successful for cw. The cast of the show is great the story quite original, and if there are comedy parts it's even better.

Travis do you read the heart of dixie's script?

Thank's again for these reviews!

Kyle said...

I was looking forward to this series but after reading your review, I am not so sure anymore...I was expecting more from this show unfortunately.

Also, do you by any chance have the script for the musical drama series "SMASH"? And if so, will you be reviewing it?

Daniel said...

Sounds fucking awesome to me, actually. About damn time the zombie myth undergoes some changes. Almost every damn zombie story I see is an exact copy of George Romero's writing. It's such a fucking stale monster trope that almost all zombie stories are really predictable, derivative trash that lack imagination. It's not just 1 or 2 stories but a ton of fucking zombie stories in different languages: all about survivors battling zombies. To make things really bad, the zombies often are forever the same and the scenario rarely changes. The girls are a bit varied, the fighting and tension are the same. Only a few stories are good, the rest are shit.

On a dare, I read 100++ zombie stories in English, Chinese, Japanese, etc. before I gave up on this genre. I did almost want to impale my eyeballs and sear my eye sockets with fire though. And no, I don't want to talk about it again.

And LOL! In Asian mythology(and likely many others), the monsters can often assume human form as well. And some are willing to live with the humans for life and even carry their children. I hear people complaining that myths are being romanticised but let's face it: they have been for thousands of years. We've all heard of the story about some monster falling in love and assimilating into the human race. And FYI even vampires would be boring if they had remained the same and never evolved.

To people complaining about the CW having their own spin, remember that not all females like male-themed shows either. But there are also women who like zombie stories. However, not everyone likes it with large doses of violence. And to those who don't like it, you don't have to watch it. But you also don't need to resort to gender stereotypes just 'cos you don't like the writing. Hell, most of the females I know don't get Sons of Anarchy or Necroscope but they sure as hell don't resort to petty arguments about genders. Yes, I'm aware of such comments and that they're made by a minority who don't dare to tell it to the women.

@Travis: thanks for the pilot review, really. There may be some hope for this genre yet.

Anonymous said...

That sounds godawful! Anyone who thinks this script is great is obviously out of their bloody minds. Damn chicks and their pansy writings. What is it with women and those sissified monsters? They're too scared to take a bit of blood and violence, so they pine for the likes of Edward Cullen.

Just what we need! More feminine monsters roaming the world of fiction.

I vote for CW to die quickly. Supernatural is a lame wreck meant for children and TVD is a traversty beyond rescue. Now they're trying to pen more dumb monster / supernatural series? Ugh, women.

Anonymous said...

One thought: this will really suck. Why? Because it's on the CW network. Girly boy zombies and flashy young women.

And Supernatural is not synonymous with good writing. Great, artistic and experimental writing? The Walking Dead and True Blood where they're brave and deserving of multiple awards because they are daring. The rest pale in contrast as they really lack the foresight to comprehend the artistic merits of marrying cutting-edge nudity and avant-garde sex scenes with a certain supernatural realism of gore and violence, which transcend the writing from marvellous and ingenious into a masterpiece worthy of international acclaim. And of course, the writing is ingenious because of HBO and AMC's ability to turning the writing into epic by including as many characters as possible. That evolves the plot into new levels of mastery.

The Awakening will never amount to much as it belongs to a company, that doesn't dare to push the boundaries of storytelling by infusing sufficient levels of sex and violence. Its understanding of world-building will be poor as there won't be enough characters and too few subplots. Culminate that with lack of budget and you can see why my friends and I think that layers of characterisation, issues of morality, cohesive writing, in-depth thinking, wit and puns, etc. are good examples of "old writing". "New writing" is edgy and full of impact as it includes as many special effects scenes as possible. It is brave and daring for it is willing to abandon the old for the new. The Awakening is a sound reminder why CW's other shows will never bring in much audience. The new generations do not want "phony old writing", they want blood, gore, special effects and other elements that resound of fantastic artistry. That is why shows like The Wire would be booed by the American audience if they even bothered to watch it. "Pop escapism" is in, "thinking" is out. Why think when the media can do it for you? That is why shows like "The King's Speech" are immensely over-rated and could do with less audience.

Anonymous said...

How to turn shows like Awakening or Supernatural into funtastic material? Simple. Switch the boring music for a symphonic soundtrack. Throw as much money at the music as possible. Skill is not of importance, it just needs to have as many instruments as possible. Also, throw in some Coca-Cola placements because they establish a visible connection to the real world. For strong appeal with a teen audience, may I suggest someone like Justin Bieber or Twilight? They also might want people from say... Sex And The City or Desperate Housewives to add a noveau cum modernistic female touch to the casting. Male leads should be played by someone with high ratings in ImdbPro and lots of backing in Hollywood. Maybe Charlie Sheen and some younger male star. They should also bring in someone with lots of acting experience, so the show can boast of having great acting. Having such known faces will definitely increase CW's chances for winning some Emmy awards and being hip with the young generations.

And note: great acting is not of importance, the cast just need to pretend to act. The audience will be too busy being taken in by the sex scenes, the glitz and other production values, to bother with the writing and acting. It also doesn't matter how bad the acting is, the acting veterans will still praise them for being new and possessing wanton talent. To bring excitement to the shows, they also need a reality TV segment and singing a la American Idol. Again, the singing doesn't have to be good, it just has to be praised enough to be well-received. There should also be a lot of fight scenes with gore, copious amounts of blood and multiple explosions. Nothing makes the news faster than a headline that reads "CW spent $3 million on fight-scene alone!"

And Supernatural needs to change its car. That is a really sucky design and it looks like a reject from some poor man's junkyard. They should just drive a tanker or something more cutting-edge that defines the contrast between "society" and "me".