Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pilot Script Review - REM

Network: NBC
Written By: Kyle Killen
Draft Date: undated
Pages: 60

Oh, Kyle Killen. I fear you've knocked it out of the park again. That's three for three with you (The Beaver script, and Midland/Lone Star). I can only hope the third time's the charm (not that the other two getting produced isn't a form of charmed).

The logline for the script, at least the one that sites like Deadline have posted doesn't really tell you what this show is about. Otherwise known as logline fail. "An Inception-style thriller about a cop who wakes up after an accident to find he is living in two different realities." It makes the show sound like some sort of elaborate fantasy, which couldn't be further from the truth, as it's so much more grounded (in psychology) than that. I mean... that logline could practically be Fringe. The show has more in common with Life on Mars (minus the period setting).

Mark Britten is a detective. He was in a car accident with his wife and teenage son in the car. One of them, either his wife or son, died. His brain has created an "alternate reality" where the one who died survived and the one who survived died. He falls asleep in one and wakes up in the other. He falls asleep in that one, and wakes up in the first. The only problem? He doesn't know which one is real. Each is that seamless, that real.

And, by the end, he comes to the realization that he doesn't want to know.

I'm going to refer to the world where his son, Rex, is alive as World Green and the world where his wife, Hannah, is alive as World Blue. The script (and the character Britten himself) uses a colored rubber band around his wrist to help differentiate worlds.

Herein lies my first / major quibble... I can't imagine that we, as an audience, are constantly going to be looking at Britten's wrist to tell which world we're in. There are going to have to be other ways. And there are, but they're also limiting. Obviously, if Britten is with his son, we're in World Green and if he's with his wife, he's in World Blue. In each world, Britten has a different partner (a younger detective, Vega, in World Blue and an older detective, Bird, in World Green), so whoever he's partnered with will delineate (slightly obfuscated by the fact that Bird is still around in World Blue, and Vega is around, but an officer not a detective in World Green).

Helping us along with this premise-y exposition are two psychologists... one in each world. That, in a funny way, either say the same things or are in conflict with each other (both of them trying to convince Britten the their world is real and the other is fake). It's quite amusing... but I hope they're only in the pilot because I don't know how much explanation of the psychology I'm going to need every week.

But, boy howdy, is that explanation needed in this pilot.

So, basically, my worry is that, in series, there cannot be any scene that doesn't have (a) Mark and his wife or son, (b) Mark and one of his partners, or (c) Mark and one of the psychologist. Otherwise, how will we know where we are? Even in the pilot... it remains to be seen if it'll all make sense.

Interestingly, and smartly, the crime that Britten is solving in World Blue is a reflection of his issues in World Green and vice verse. Because, as the psychologists tell us, that's how dreams work. They help you deal with subconscious issues and Britten, clearly, has those in spades. It kind of does away with the problem of convenience in many procedurals when a case a character is working on reflects on their lives and personal stories. Here, that's the point.

And now, my second / minor quibble... are you confused yet? I worry that it's overly complicated (or "over ambitious" to use industry parlance). Touchstone scenes with the two psychologists every week might just be NECESSARY to explain things to people so that people know what the hell is supposed to be going on on a personal level.

The procedural stuff... audiences have been able to keep track of two different cases over the course of an hour. That won't be an issue. The issue will be if, every week, there's a sneak deus ex machina in the form of "something from World Blue gives Britten a hint that helps solve the case in World Green" and vice verse. It's a major point of discussion in the psychologist scenes.

Funny. Rereading this review before posting it, you wouldn't think I'm giving this script a glowing recommendation. I am. Pretty much all of my worries are "in series." And the wackiest thing of them all... KYLE KILLEN KNOWS THIS. On one of the last pages of the script, the psychologist from World Green says this:

"Detective, turning yourself in circles like this, over and over, it will catch up with you. This fantasy is far from a benign coping mechanism. When your brain should be resting, recharging, you’re using it to hold up a detailed and complicated alternate reality. A reality that only gets more complicated the longer it exists. That is unsustainable, Detective Britten. I’m afraid that the longer you continue, the more you jeopardize your already tenuous grasp on reality. It is, quite simply, a road to madness."

If this becomes an out of control, spectacular mess of maddening proportions? I'll still be watching. I don't generally watch procedurals. The ones I watch are all centered on the "character" (House, which I've stopped watching, The Good Wife). I'm so thoroughly engaged by Mark Britten.

I know some people who, with a cursory look at the concept (and, some, the script), had the kneejerk reaction of "It's Lone Star again." It's one man, two worlds. The audience rejected that. Those people are wrong and took all the wrong lessons from Lone Star's failure. Lone Star failed because the marketing was about an attractive man cheating on his wife and presented that as sexy and desirable, and in the first five minutes of the pilot, this charming man was stealing money not from corporate fat cats in a Robin Hood-esque way, but from ordinary people. In the middle of a recession... yeah, you can see why an audience would tune out.

Mark Britten is likable in a classic network sense. He's a detective, solving murders and kidnappings in the pilot. He's suffered a loss and is trying to cope. The fact that his coping mechanism, as above, is a "detailed and complicated alternate reality" is just the flashy "hook."


Anonymous said...

Sounds like it'd work better as a movie?

DuMont said...

I like it, I'd watch it, and I'd fight the good fight to keep it on the air. Although it had a disappointing ending, 'Life on Mars' was appointment television and is well remembered. I do hope Mr. Kyle Killen can line-up a nice REM song for his pilot/opening credit sequence.

Mr. Killen did such an exceptional job with 'Lone Star', creating a very 'Profit'-like character who was irresistably charming. I'm still hoping FOX will give us the remaining four episodes in a summer play-off in their Saturday latenight timeslot.

Nicely reviewed, travisyanan. I had thought you'd given up on illustrating your views, so time-consuming must be the nightly release of finals which I so appreciate.

Can you give me any hints as to the status of your spec pilot script? Did you get a pick-up as part of this development season?



Geir said...

I loved Lone Star, and hope NBC picks up REM. It sounds really good.

Anonymous said...

I think it sounds really intriguing but then I'm one of the few who loved Lone Star... The casting of Jason Isaacs as Mark Britton would be also a main reason for me to watch it.

Cadence said...

This sounds phenomenal! Based on your explanation/review alone (due to logline fail), I'm in :D!

TaraGel said...

I just read this one last night. Was very excited based on what I heard and it was a very smart script. I'm worried maybe it's too smart. The stuff with the psychologists gets very thinky and expositional...and yeah, even a tiny bit boring. And that's all top-loaded in the pilot script--maybe first 20 minutes of show? I don't know. This one will really depend on some great execution I think.

Anonymous said...

Even if the tagline was misleading, I expected something completely different, this sounds amazing. I don't know if it will be too smart for its own good but I really hope it manages to get picked up.