Monday, January 30, 2012

Pilot Script Review - The Carrie Diaries

Network: CW
Written By: Amy Harris
Draft Date: December 20, 2011
Pages: 60


Remember that one time when Gossip Girl, at the height of its ratings and buzz (aka: season 2) tried to do a backdoor pilot about Lily Rhodes in the 1980s? Well, for some reason / many reasons, that didn't wind up happening. Now, three years later, CW is a changing network with new leadership, Gossip Girl is gasping for its last breath / apparently is getting one last season for some reason... and we have another 1980s-set teen drama that's a prequel to an iconic New York City-set series (that also happens to share two out of three words in its title with CW's lone, um, successful? show, The Vampire Diaries... so that will be fun and confusing if this is picked up... and before you jump down my throat, TVDers, please keep in mind that I think TVD has developed into one of the best network dramas on the air right now).

Where was I. Oh, right! Carrie Bradshaw.

I will say that, having sat through 94 Sex and the City episodes and 2 SATC movies (or, really, one movie and one horror show where depressingly materialistic women try to ignore that they're aging and throw everything that's bad about Western culture into the face of the Middle East), I could very, very clearly hear Carrie saying these lines (write Amy Harris did work on SATC), especially the abundant and theme-explicating voiceovers (which I'd ordinarily complain about... except that TCD is just following the SATC template). In fact, I heard Sarah Jessica Parker in my head while reading those lines. A very large part of me wonders if the show could get SJP to record the voiceovers like Kristen Bell does for/as Gossip Girl and Bob Saget does for How I Met Your Mother.

If you're a stickler for continuity... The Carrie Diaries is just a tad different than what was "established" in SATC (then again, SATC never really talked much about Carrie's backstory). So, try and forget anything you knew about Carrie. And that sound you hear is all of the gentlemen readers who are, somehow, still reading this review after the prior paragraph shrugging.

The year is 1984. Carrie Bradshaw is a sixteen-year old about to start the first day of a new year at high school. But there's a change... because her mother died of cancer three months ago. This year is different. Carrie's fourteen-year old younger sister, Dorrit, has reacted to the trauma by developing a pot habit and biting Carrie when they fight. Their father, Tom, is generally clueless to the fact that Carrie's mother always took her shopping for a new outfit for the first day of school, and so, being Carrie Bradshaw, Carrie Bradshaw is depressed and passive-agressive about this until Tom does the unthinkable, and opens the doors to his late wife's untouched closet for her to peruse.

Hey, it's 1984 and she's 16. I'm okay with her being materialistic in the Age of the Material Girl. The show isn't quite playing to the "isn't this ridiculous" tone of Clueless with it, but whatever.

Carrie lives in generally affluent suburban utopia somewhere in Connecticut. Sucks to be her, right? She has a smart, loyal friend who spent the summer interning in DC, Jill aka "The Mouse." Then there's Maggie, overtly sexy, who is the son of the chief of police / sheriff. Maggie is dating a very obviously in the closet (he says, looking back from 2012) boy, Walt. And so we have our core group of friends that are a close proximation but not exact copies of Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha. Being high school, there's a mean girl (the somewhat hilariously, somewhat laughably named Donna LaDonna) and her minions (The Jens). Maggie lost her virginity, The Mouse lost her virginity... but Carrie is still a virgin. There's a very frank discussion of what happens when a girl loses her virginity.

In walks Sebastian Kydd, the new boy in school. And he knows Carrie from two summers ago. And they kissed. But Donna LaDonna has her sights set on the fresh meat, too.

But then, a shocking twist! As Carrie is about to ask Sebastian out, she sees her dad in the school hallway, reminding her of when/how she found out about her mother, and she passes out. Tom and Carrie's guidance counselor develop a way to help Carrie get a new beginning: intern once a week in Manhattan at a law firm (because Carrie wants, at this point, to be a lawyer).

So, it's not quite Jane by Design, but you can kind of tell that's where it may be going, right?

Anyway, Carrie goes to Manhattan for the first time, and hates doing filing work at the firm. But she ripped her panty hose on the way to work, so took them off and, being the 1980s, receives a very stern talking to about that from what I assume is The Horrific Future Version of Joan Holloway. She's told to go the Century 21 to get a pair of hose during her lunch break, and when she walks in, she finds herself in "what will become her fashion mecca." There, she meets Larissa, a female style editor at Interview magazine, who basically sweeps Carrie along for a crazy, glamorous night in Manhattan that will set a template for Carrie's life 20 years later.

This section reminded me of that episode the The Simpsons where Homer becomes a famous artist for five seconds because he smashes a failed attempt at a backyard BBQ pit. "Carrie, this is everybody. Everybody, this is Carrie. That's Dominick, he's an artist who works with found objects and wax..." (this is a direct quote from TCD).

There is some actual conflict with her home life, because this magical night in Manhattan is happening on the same night as The New Beginnings dance at high school, where Carrie and Sebastian may become an item and/or do the nasty and she has a curfew (of midnight). Instead, Carrie pops her Manhattan cherry (*the script makes this thematic point, it's not me being crude*) and Donna gets Sebastian... for now. But Carrie has been changed forever.

This is a definite, "um, we'll see how it turns out." Combine the soap of teen drama, the overt sexual nature of SATC, and the challenges of a period piece... who knows. It seems to fit in what the CW's old wheelhouse was, under Dawn Ostroff. You don't want to completely alienate that audience by completely changing the nature of every series, but this seems more risque than risky. But maybe risque can pay off.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pilot Script Review - Cult

Network: CW
Written By: Rockne S. O'Bannon
Draft Date: January 6, 2011 (I suspect the title page means 2012, but that's what's on it)
Pages: 63


Scripts like Cult are what I like to read. It's imaginative and ambitious, to say the least. Ambition and a distinct voice are what broadcast shows need if the networks want to stop ceding ground to cable and its supposed hands-off executives and creator/showrunners' creative license and freedom.

Which is not to say that Cult is going to work, mind you, as either a pilot or a series. I just like the fact that someone (Mark Pedowitz) picked something like this up to shoot. This was the third CW script I read and, IIRC, the first pickup made. When I read it (and I held off on reviews until I'd read all five of the dramas picked up so far), my first thought was "If Cult is the vision Mark Pedowitz has for the post-Dawn Ostroff CW, then things are really going to change on the netlet." Now having read and reviewed Mile High Medical and read The Carrie Diaries... well, let's just say that some bets are being hedged.

Cult is about as far away from Gossip Girl as you can imagine. It's a swing-for-the-fences kind of show. The thing about trying to hit a home run is (*note: I have no idea if this is actually true in baseball*) you're going to miss more often than if trying to just get a solid on-base hit.

Or something about a pop fly to left field? I don't know. Sports aren't really my thing.

Anyway, Cult is one of those shows that is either going to be a hit or a spectacular failure. These kinds of big idea shows tend to be one or the other, and for every Lost or Heroes, there's... every show that was spawned by the networks trying to make a compatible lead-out or get their own version of said hit.

But what is Cult? I'm still trying to answer that question. It's a show so darkly meta I don't quite know what to make of it, where obsession with television and television shows and the delusion that fiction might be bleeding into reality is, itself, the point. It kind of winks at you and says "it's just TV!" then asks, "but wait... is it?"

Cult is about a detective, Eric Collins, whose family has been kidnapped, he believes, by this really nefarious cult leader, Billy Grimm. But Billy's smart. He has minions, lots of minions. Brainwashed minions. They do his bidding, so his hands are clean. But our hero is sure that he's responsible. And, naturally he wants his family back.

But wait. That's just the plot of Cult, the television show within the show Cult. This show. Man, people are obsessed with it. It's kind of creepy, and it's got all of these audience-participation add-ons, online components, etc. It's the kind of show you watch with a group or people but no one is allowed to talk, or alone in a dark and you turn your cell phone off because god forbid someone calls you during it. It's the kind of show where even if you work on it, like go-fer Skye Yarrow, you don't know what's coming next. You've never met the boss, Steven Rae. The crew gets annoyed when they're told some small detail, like a graffiti symbol in the background, isn't right because, dammit, the smallest details are just that important because THE FANS WILL NOTICE. The network brass want to make the show more accessible, etc.

But, really, Cult is about Jeff Sefton, a shamed reporter trying to rebuild his reputation whose younger brother, Nate, is obsessed with the show Cult (and we're talking way beyond the obsession of, say, a Lost fan who wrote 4 8 15 16 23 42 on a chalkboard after Numbers aired in 2005... not that I'm admitting to anything...), who is scared for his life, believes that the show Cult is something more than just a show, and goes missing or, perhaps, has been murdered... leaving clues only Jeff can pick up on. Will Jeff jump down the rabbit hole for his brother? Can he believe that something more than a TV show is happening? Jeff's first attempt at finding the truth is to visit the set of the show, where he meets Skye, and eventually an unlikely partnership is forged between a skeptic and a believer.

Oh, and there are a helluva lot of other plots and characters (like meeting the actors who play the characters on the TV, a number of scenes from the show (which is, actually, kinda of arch/big), and more.

So... is your head spinning?

There are elements I don't love. I think that some of the crosses between the show-within-the-show perilously teeter from "thematic" to "redundant." What with the hero-detectives and their missing-maybe-murdered family members and such. But, again, that's the point. Some of the in-show marketing for the show-within-the-show is... well, let's just say that it's probably not how an actual marketing department would market anything.

I don't know if Cult is going to work, if it can find an audience, or if it can keep that audience hooked without confusing the crap out of everyone. But I'm excited to find out, and I want to know more. And that's really all any TV pilot script can ask.

Pilot Script Review - Mile High Medical

Network: CW
Written By: Jennie Snyder Urman
Draft Date: December 22, 2011
Pages: 63


If you ever watched Grey's Anatomy (particularly the pilot) and thought "this is just too subtle for me" and "gosh, I wish Meredith had a lot more voiceover" and "that Meredith is just too put together, I wish she were more neurotic," then Mile High Medical is for you.

Emily Barnes was not a popular girl in high school. She was insecure and lacked confidence. Now she's a surgical intern starting her first year at Denver Memorial Hospital and she is still insecure and lacks confidence. So much so that she yells at a frizzy-haired high school girl who she kind of creepily watches before walking into her first day (because the high school is across the street from the hospital, naturally) because the girl called her a loser.

Honey. You're a mess.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for flawed characters. I prefer them, really. But Emily comes off as so needy and pathetic that it's a major problem for me (also a major problem: her pervasive voiceover where she spells out her thoughts and/or the subtext of everything, i.e. "He's touching you. Do not spaz out. Do not. Spaz. Out" or, when a patient starts to code she yells "I need a doctor!" is told she is a doctor, and then thinks "A real doctor! Get a real doctor!" WE GET IT). Her one saving grace is her super ability to have bedside manner. But it doesn't really help her escape the bottomless pitiable pit she's jumped into. And this is the show's lead?

The show seems to make the point that we don't grow up. We are all the children/teenagers/whatever we always were, just trying to ignore the fact that we're older and still the same. I get it. I just don't want to watch it.

The other interns:

- Cassandra Kopelson. She's the mean girl who made Emily's high school life hell and just happens to also be starting the internship program. Neither Emily nor Cassandra seem to be able to let certain elements of high school go. Tell me if you've heard this one before... hospitals are like high school. Seriously. Seriously! Pretty sure the hospital departments as different high school cliques was in the Grey's pilot (even if the various departments were labelled differently). Seriously. But that phrase is repeated so often and so verbatim that I actually think Denver Memorial is more akin to kindergarten than high school. Now, of course, Cassandra has some hidden damage that Emily wasn't aware of... but she's still that mean girl you wished would get run over by a bus. And wouldn't you know it, she seems to be romantic rivals with Emily for...

- Will Rider. Charming, went to med school with Emily. Emily spends approximately every waking moment lusting after him, and even has a heavy-handed metaphor-patient in the form of a 12-year old girl who talking about Twilight (hmmm, maybe Emily is cut from the same cloth as Bella... that would explain some of my frustration with her) is also dealing with the issue of being too worried about rejection to ask the cute boy out. It goes better for the patient than it does for Emily, who overshares in her startling confession to Will, and then is treated to the most on-the-nose rejection I think I've ever seen: "I'm so sorry. I just don't see you like that. But I'm so touched by what you said, I really am. And I hope that we can still be friends, because I really value your friendship." I have no doubt that passage has been uttered in real life. But, come on. That's the first draft cardboard dialogue block you write when you just need to power through the vomit draft and you're going to come back and write something more specific to the character and not nearly so cut-and-dry.

- Tyra Granger, who has very little to do in the pilot except explicitly tell Emily on the first moment of their meeting that she is the Chief of Surgery's daughter and a lesbian. Which would be fine if Tyra were at all presented as out-and-proud (it turns out she isn't actually out to her dad). She kind of disappears (since she and Emily don't share a medical case in the pilot). The Chief, for his part, has a long-winded speech and also basically disappears

Then there's the interns' resident, Micah, who we're clearly supposed to believe will eventually be Emily's love interest post-Will rejection. His mother is dying of pancreatic cancer. And, of course, the hard-nosed, famous-within-the-world-of-the-story attending surgeon Gina, who has terrible bedside manner and whom Emily must prove herself to if she hopes to survive.

You know what this show is. Interns struggling to survive (although if I read the times indicated on the slug lines correctly, the first shift was a whopping 10 hours from 8AM to 6PM... and I totally buy that a patient who needs her heart reconstructed can be closed up and awake and texting 65 minutes later, so, thanks for the specificity). Being competitors, friends, rivals, and lovers. And patients and surgeries reflecting on the characters' personal journeys.

I'm not saying the Grey's formula can't be done ever again, but... come on. Who are we kidding with this one, folks. At least try and make it a little different.

Pilot Read 2012 Disclaimer


I only review drama scripts. I'm a drama writer and so, when there are already 1000 things I'm behind on reading/writing/doing, I don't have the time to read comedy scripts. Sorry.

All pilot script reviews will, when available, give the draft date of the script. I can't recall a single instance of a final shooting script for pilots being circulated in the industry over the last few years since I've been doing script reviews. Often, scripts are way too long and need significant cuts to get down to a target run time. Plus... studios and networks give notes. So, it's important to keep in mind that THINGS CAN CHANGE, and often do (but not too often for the better).

And things can often turn out much better on screen after casting (I try to read/review without casting in mind and ideally before casting is done) and filming and editing happen that I am simply too shortsighted and ill-visioned to see or appreciate at the script stage.

It's also very important to keep in mind that these are my opinions. I have a... particular taste in what I watch and enjoy. It may not be yours. In fact, it probably isn't. You may disagree with me (whether you've read the script or not). That's okay.

I don't like writing reviews of bad material. I wish every script could be the best script I've ever read, and that's the attitude I try and go into every script with. I want to be wowed, either by concept or character or even a line or a moment that just lands and hits me hard. I want to be jealous that someone else wrote this, and I didn't. There are plenty of reasons I may dislike a script, and they'll probably be enumerated in individual reviews.

If you disagree with me and you haven't actually read the script, let's just accept that it's a waste of mutual time for you to lambaste my opinion.

If you have read the script and disagree, I'm game for a discussion. Especially when I dislike something, I'm always more than happy to be proven wrong by the finished product or by someone else's point of view.

There are spoilers inherent in writing reviews. After all, how can I give an opinion if I can't talk about what I'm opining? When I feel something is a GIANT TWIST however, I will do my best to not spoil it, especially twists that come towards the end of a script.

Finally, if you are the writer of a project that I have, let's say, ripped to shreds, I hope you don't take it as a personal attack (and I'll do my best to not make any personal attacks like "sometimes you have to wonder how X got an agent," etc). Hey, you're the one who got a pilot picked up to be produced by a broadcast network, right?