Friday, March 18, 2011

Pilot Script Review - Untitled Susannah Grant Project

Network: CBS
Written By: Susannah Grant
Draft Date: January 7, 2011
Pages: 66

This feels, very, very much the prototypical CBS procedural pilot with one minor (and, in my opinion, completely superfluous, but it's the only thing that makes it anything other than completely normal) twist.

This is a medical procedural about Michael Halstead, wealthy neurosurgeon to the rich and the famous. He's got his own surgical center. Yeah, he's that guy. All work, no family to go home to. The closest thing is his sister, Didi, and her troublemaking teenage son, Milo (who Michael does not want to play father figure to... so, guess what, at the end of the episode, Michael allows himself time to start bonding with Milo). Michael doesn't need family. Again... he has work. And he's the best.

But all isn't good in Michael's life. He's been having a recurring dream about a bouncing red ball with a smiley-face and car bumpers. Quelle horreur! He also bumps into Anna, his ex-wife, when he's picking up some take-out — the usual — from a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant. She's apparently been in Los Angeles at a free clinic for 8 years and hasn't told him. He's insulted, but she follows him home, they talk... and he wakes up to find her gone. When he looks into her free clinic... he finds out she's dead. Killed in a hit-and-run (while chasing a ball some kids were playing with).

Being a neurosurgeon, Michael researches what this hallucination might be and even goes so far as to get an MRI done and evaluate himself. No tumor. Perhaps it's the side effects of the Percocet he's been taking for pain in his shoulder following a surgery (if that were the case, it'd be way too similar to a development on House a couple seasons ago, where the acerbic doctor was seeing the ghost of Cutthroat Bitch because of his vicodin addiction... not that the script points this out because why would it). He doesn't know, but it definitely seems like Michael is seeing a ghost or a spirit (Didi's boyfriend Anton, a Native American faith healer, "confirms" this).

Anna keeps popping up asking him to do things. She asks him to go to her clinic and give them the password to her computer so the clinic can keep operating (because she didn't train a replacement). Nevermind the fact that the clinic has called the Geek Squad and her password is six symbols and all letters. The Geek Squad just hasn't gotten there yet. Anyway, while Michael is there, he overhears a social worker trying to help a poor, scared mother of five and he eventually / begrudgingly tells them to come to his medical center and they'll get help for free (cue my eyes rolling at the plot about rich white man finding his soul and helping some poor minorities free of charge).

My problem is that the paranormal is utterly unnecessary to this. And, so, it comes across really forced and really, really bald (industry-speak for "not subtle"). Michael already knows what the password is, Anna tells him it's the same one it's always been. The only thing she ever does it shove him somewhere he's unwilling to go... and even then it takes a couple pushes. And when she's not pushing him to go somewhere or do something, she's playing conscience, at one point literally asking "Doing the right thing for the wrong reason — is it still virtuous? What matters more? The intention or the act?")

After a couple moments of Michael being told by Didi to see Anton about this ghost problem, Michael eventually goes and Anton begins to excise Anna... and then Michael stops him. He can't give up the ghost. So, y'know, she'll be sticking around. Hooray...?

Also really "bald" is the opening exposition about Michael and one of the cases of the week... a billionaire in a car crash, news footage of the exterior of the surgical center, reporters we never see explaining said billionaire is "presumably in the care of renowned neurosurgeon Michael Halstead..." In fact, that's not just "bald." That's what we call "pilot-ese."

Beyond Anna there are three cases of the week. The introduction is the rich billionaire who got into a car crash and almost severed his optic never. Then there's a 19-year old female tennis star on the verge of winning an in-season Grand Slam (she's won all but the US Open, which starts soon) but who, after a car crash, may have a brain aneurysm — treatment for which would mean she'd miss the tournament and her pushy father won't have that despite her meek mother's objections. And, finally, there's the case of Ines's family.

Again, it's all very standard. I imagine there's an audience for this. I'm just not among that audience.


Tim said...

Thanks for the review of the pilot script. I have been following the news waiting for some info on this project, if for no other reason than Jonathan Demme is supposed to direct (He is a favorite of mine). That probably means he will be doing the pilot and then stepping aside for other directors in the way that Scorsese did with 'Boardwalk Empire'. In the past Demme has never done more than one episode of a TV series.
I see on IMDB that Patrick Wilson is set to play Halstead. The part certainly will need someone of his caliber because it looks like the plots revolve around Michael Halstead. The question is: will he be able to do what Hugh Laurie has done with 'House'?
Is the dialogue and character interaction interesting? Is the main character going to grab my interest enough to get me to come back after the pilot.
I see you weren't impressed. Although I am not one for medical procedurals, I might check it out because of who is directing and who is playing the lead,

Travis Yanan said...

@ Tim

I didn't find Michael Halstead nearly as unique or compelling as Gregory House... but back in 2004, I wasn't reading scripts before seeing the pilots.

So, as with any less-than-stellar script review, I would perfectly happy to be pleasantly surprised if the filmed version with cast, direction, music, etc, turn the show into something better that I lacked the vision to see.

DuMont said...

As good as CBS is at fashioning their crime procedurals, they have a real track record at missing the mark on their medico series, even though I liked their last three ('3 Lbs', 'Miami Medical' and 'Three Rivers'). I think their problem has been that they make their medical series into little investigative yarns, and miss/gloss over all the rich character development that the ABC medical dramas relish upon in such detail.

So, given that I tend to like CBS medico efforts, and that this one looks to be more relationshippy than is their norm, and also that it has Academy Awardster Mr. Jonathan Demme on board directing (one can hope for a Talking Heads song in the open credits), I would greenlight.

This needs to be picked up if for no other reason than CBS is so overloaded with crime procedurals, and I suspect they may never be able to break out another big hit as the genre has been so terribly over-saturated by them.

Anonymous said...

Any new thoughts, as this series has just been green lit?