Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #863: Science Fiction Pilot Preview

Yesterday I wrote a post about how to make a science fiction show that can last more than one season, and today i09 just put out a story about 6 science-fiction and fantasy TV pilots that are in production.  Let's take a look at what i09 has written about them and see how they fit the criteria I put in yesterday...

Untitled Roland Emmerich Project (ABC)

In a nutshell: Carter (Max Thierot) is an astrophysicist whose estranged father dies while trying to assassinate a U.S. senator who's probably our next President. And then Carter finds out that he's the only person on Earth who can stop the rise of the Antichrist. He meets a secret Council, led by Mr. Arnim (Space: 1999's Martin Landau), who have a copy of the Devil's Bible (or Codex Gigas.) And Carter discovers that his father led a double life, including a secret apartment that's full of religious artifacts and conspiracy crap, and his dad may have lied about what happened to his mom. But sinister federal agents are harassing Carter, because of his dad's attempted assassination. Meanwhile, Carter's rugby coach is mad that he's giving up rugby, in a subplot that will probably dropped pretty fast. -from
Strike 1: It's a Roland Emmerich project.  We're talking about a man whose entire cinematic oeuvre consists of destroying famous landmarks.  It's not a career famous for creating coherent narratives.

Strike 2: The whole series seems built around one plot and one villain, a Satanic Senator.  That is not the recipe for a healthy show.

Strike 3: The show is built around the topics of politics and religion, and we all know how great Hollywood is at handling those topics with taste and class.

My verdict: Big steaming pile of overpriced fail.
Last Resort (ABC)

In a nutshell: A nuclear submarine is equipped with a brand new prototype that allows it to move undetected, without any kind of magnetic signature — a kind of "cloaking device," if you will. But when the sub receives orders to fire its missiles at Pakistan through non-standard channels, its captain decides to disobey. Soon, the sub's crew is divided and its captain's authority in question, while World War III is breaking out back on land. The submarine hides out at a small island called Sainte Maria, whose local dicator, "Mayor" Julian Serrat, doesn't appreciate these new arrivals trying to take over his island. It stars Terminator 2's Robert Patrick, plus Scott Speedman, Dichen Lachman, Andre Braugher and Autumn Reeser. -from
Okay, the people behind it have done some good shows in the past, including the Chicago Code, a cops and crooks drama that was egregiously cancelled by Fox.

My problem is that the whole things sounds like a great idea for a movie or mini-series.  The question that comes to my mind is what happens after they find out whether or not their orders to fire were legitimate or not.  It sounds interesting, and has potential for drama, but whether or not it has legs, I don't think so.
Midnight Sun (NBC)

In a nutshell: Is this show science fiction or fantasy? Really hard to say, even after reading a lot of the pilot. It's about a cult of environmentalist hippies living in Alaska — and then the entire cult disappears, all 37 members including a lot of local residents. FBI cult specialist Leah Kafka (Julia Stiles) comes to town to investigate, and winds up butting heads with the local authorities, who have their own way of doing things. There's much debate over whether the group, Midnight Sun, is really a cult or just a commune. But there are loads of hints that Midnight Sun leader Bennett Maxwell was experimenting with strange stuff, to unlock the hidden power of the human mind. It's based on an Israeli series, Pillars of Smoke. -from
Sounds like Northern Exposure meets the X-Files, or Northern X-posure.  Like the other shows it seems to be built around a single mystery.  That means they either have to wrap it up in a satisfactory way before the audience gets sick of it, or follow the Lost pattern, and just keep piling on incoherent mysteries, lose most of their audience, and then get some of them back for a finale that promises answers, but really doesn't deliver, because they had no solutions in the first place, and then brand anyone who calls "bullshit" on it as "too stupid to get it."  The audience is not going to fall for those kinds of shenanigans again.

If it goes to series, I'll probably skip it.
Zero Hour (ABC)

In a nutshell: ER's Anthony Edwards plays Hank, the editor of a paranormal magazine called Modern Skeptic — for the past 20 years, he's been debunking reports of werewolves, ghosts and "skunk apes." But then his wife gets kidnapped, and he finds himself stuck in the middle of the greatest conspiracy in human history — without giving too much away, his wife refurbishes old clocks, and she gets hold of one particular clock which holds the secrets of ending the world. And there's a secret society of Christian mystics who created twelve new apostles, who hid from the Nazis in 1938 — and the Nazis were on the verge of discovering the secret of eternal youth. In other words, it's entertainingly bonkers. -from
Now this has two strikes against it because it appears to be built around a single plot, and once again involves religion, but there is a sliver of possibility.  That sliver is the fact that its central mystery has the potential to be solved relatively quickly, and then the show can move into a more procedural "paranormal mystery of the week" sort of format, with the potential for the solution to be either a hoax or the real thing, while introducing story arcs involving a "big bad" to wrap up at the end of the season.

Whether they do that or not, remains to be seen.
The Munsters (NBC)

In a nutshell: This one is just a curiosity, since NBC basically put the show on hold already. Bryan Fuller's reboot of the 1960s comedy was all set to start filming, and then NBC decided to change the name to Mockingbird Lane and make major changes to the concept. Among other things, the characters will no longer wear makeup, so they'll look more like everyday folks. And honestly, reading the script pages, it's easy to see why — the tone of the scrapped pilot is such a weird blend of camp and nuttiness, it's almost too much. It seems like the sort of thing that would have gotten a fiercely loyal but tiny cult following. The Munsters move into a house recently vacated by a serial killer who killed homeless people — the "Hobo Murder House" — and they quickly start racking up dead bodies, which they try to cover up in increasingly ridiculous ways. -from
Everything about this looks and sounds stupid, stupid, stupid.

So knowing NBC it'll get 6 seasons and a movie.
Beauty and the Beast (ABC)

In a nutshell: The first of two dueling Beauty and the Beast TV shows, this one is based purely on the fairytale. And it's pretty clearly meant to appeal to everyone who likes ABC's latest hit, Once Upon a Time. It takes place in a fairytale kingdom, with a giant palace that looks like the Vatican on steroids. And the Beauty is an honest-to-god Princess named Grace (Ruth Bradley) who's next in line to succeed her father, the Emperor Dorian. She has to prove that she has what it takes to be the next Empress, in the face of lots of sexist dickwads. And then she meets Shiro (Scottish singer Darius Campbell), the former bodyguard of the previous Emperor, out in the swamp — and he gives her cause to doubt her own father's honor. The two of them form an unlikely bond, and he winds up being her protector. -from
HBO is having success with the fantasy-world set Game of Thrones, and the premise has the possibility of soap opera antics going on in the castle.  However, I doubt the network will have the stones to go all out with the intrigue and the fantasy.
Beauty and the Beast (The CW)

In a nutshell: The other Beauty and the Beast show is officially a remake of the 1990s TV series that starred Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. And this time around, it's a cop show! Smallville's Kristin Kreuk plays Catherine, a tough cop who's unlucky in love. She's still traumatized by the death of her mother nine years ago, in an incident where a mysterious "beast" saved her. And then while investigating a murder of a fashion magazine editor, she encounters the Beast (Jay Ryan) once again — and he helps her solve the case using his beastly super-senses. And it looks like every week, Catherine will solve another murder with the Beast's help. We discover that the Beast became superhuman and beastly as a result of a military experiment when he was a soldier in Afghanistan. -from
I'm not wild about remakes.  The show looks like it has all the trappings of a "murder of the week" procedural, so it's avoiding the whole "one plot to rule them all" trap that so many others fall into.  

However, I'm a little wary about exposing the Beast's origins so soon. Plus making the Beast an ex-military experiment means there will be appearances by the men in black suits, led by the gruff military man who wants to hunt the beast because he's "property of the government of the USA!" which has been done before so many times. 

So as you can see, I'm mostly pretty cynical of this crop of science fiction and fantasy pilots.  Better luck next season.


  1. You give encapsulations of six potential TV shows, and all I can come away with is "Wow, Kristin Kreuk's got a nice pair o' gams!" Nary a winner in that sad batch of shows, I'm afraid, although the sheer bizarro-take on The Munsters/Mockingbird Lane may draw me in for at least a single viewing.

    At least Community comes back next week...

  2. Is the "Satanic Senator" a MILF type with a "down home" way of talking and a big following of yahoos?

    If so, I think HBO would pick that one up for sure.