Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Two more seasons

Gotta attribute this to Amanda, but FNL is gonna get seasons 4 AND 5.

Clear eyes, full hearts, CAN'T LOSE!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sci-Friday - Take 7

We're nearing the end, people. Battlestar is gone, Sarah Connor is likely on the way out, and Dollhouse... well, that's still up in the air. Fingers crossed.

Mini-reviews for last week's episodes:

Sarah Connor Chronicles -- And the recorded episodes just keep piling up. I know, I know, I suck...

Dollhouse -- There was a lot to like about this episode, but it wasn't the slam dunk for me that it seems like it was for many other people. I thought the interviews were hit-or-miss, and the episode itself was a pretty slow build... though when it started clicking, it really started clicking. The biggest thing I'm actually worried about for the future of this show as it pertains to the Whedon-ness we all love: one thing all past Joss shows have had in common is actors that can handle his dialogue and shifts in tone. After last week, I'm not at all confident that some of the actors here are up to that task, and I'm not talking about Eliza...

Battlestar -- .... The moment where Baltar and Caprica Six realize they both see "head" versions of each other was inspired. And Tigh's drunken "YEEEEEAAAAHHH!"s made my night -- and a fun drinking game. Yup. And... uh... well... um....

Let's look at previews for tonight!

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Creating a television pilot is one of the most interesting -- and deceptively daunting -- writing tasks I can imagine. Or maybe that should be "deceptively easy." Basically, I'm trying to say that it's harder than it looks.

At first glance, a pilot simply seems like a feature screenplay that's half as long. You're doing the same thing, right? Set up the characters and the world - check. Tell an engaging story and plot (they're different, damnit) - check.

But in a pilot there's more. Your ending must also be a clear beginning. You have to show (or at least hint at) The Franchise. The week-to-week. Episode 6.

Wait, what?

As I've previously mentioned, right now Jul and I are smack dab in the middle of our own little pilot season. We just more or less finished the first draft of our comedic action pilot last week/last night (we keep having "oh, yeah, we forgot that" moments that require us to add, subtract, and rethink things) and are about to transition into writing our historic drama pilot over the next few weeks (already we're doing crazy things like "research" and "reading" and "learning").

Writing both of these back-to-back has given me an interesting perspective on pilot structure and the different types of pilots out there, as described by the instructor in the pilot course we're currently taking. He lists three kinds of pilots:

1. Premise pilots -- which take up most if not all of the entire first episode setting up the world and the characters, and basically getting things into the places where they will be for the remainder of the series. Kings -- or any number of sci-fi/fantasy shows -- are a great example of this.

2. Prototypical pilots -- which drop you into the middle of a story without any real set up and follow the basic structure of a typical episode of your series. Also known as "Episode 6." My favorite example of this is West Wing, but that's an interesting study because it's also very much in the style of the show -- any episode of the show -- to drop you into a situation with no idea what's going on and slowly dole out answers while you watch. That's just the way they do things in Sorkin-land.

3. Hybrid pilots -- 1+2 = 3. Spend about a quarter of your script setting things up and then use the rest of the pages to tell a typical story in the world you've created. Good recent examples of this model are Pushing Daisies and Castle. (Although Daisies is interesting because every episode was kind of like a hybrid pilot -- the flashbacks at the beginning of each episode restate the premise of the show.) I was going to include Chuck on this list until I realized that the first episode largely deals with Casey and Sarah fighting each other -- over him -- and then coming together at the end to form the team that will then work together for the rest of the series. Which makes me think it falls more under the premise category.

I bring all this up because we've been struggling to make our current pilot as much of a hybrid as possible, and it's made me start to wonder if certain kinds of shows are predisposed to having premise pilots. Our idea, though largely rooted in fairly immediately gettable stories and surroundings, has one big sci-fi/fantasy conceit, which seems to necessitate some set up. In contrast, I think our upcoming historic drama pilot might very easily fit into the hybrid -- or even prototypical -- mold. But does that really mean that certain types of shows have to have premise pilots?

Thinking about sci-fi/fantasy shows in general, I'm hard-pressed to think of many whose pilots don't work this way. The pilots for Fringe, Kings, Firefly, Buffy, Lost, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Battlestar -- all premise pilots, right? Unless I'm not understanding something...

And one of the few non-premise pilots in recent memory -- Dollhouse -- felt baffling and lifeless as what I would term a hybrid because it just dropped you into the middle of the action without taking much time to set up the rather complicated premise. Even Pushing Daisies, which I mentioned above as a hybrid example, could arguably be considered a premise pilot because, like Chuck, the component parts are not in place until the end. The whole first act or so sets up how Ned brings Chuck back and she joins in the investigation into her own death.

According to what we've been hearing, the Pushing Daisies or Chuck-style structure isn't enough of a hybrid. A true hybrid would have things in place by the end of the teaser. Or, since Daisies didn't have a teaser, maybe halfway through the first act? Or not, I don't know. Maybe they get a pass because of the lack of teaser, despite the fact that their first act is quite long...

At this point, I think we're hoping for somewhere halfway between premise and hybrid pilot -- a Prembrid, if you will (Hymise just sounds dirty).

Because as important as I think it is to make your pilot a true example of what the show's structure will look like on a week-to-week basis, it seems far more important to tell a good story that orients your audience properly into the world you've created.

Then again, what do I know?

How have you guys approached writing your pilots?

Monday, March 23, 2009

How Joss pitched Dollhouse

"Alias meets Quantum Leap."

I've pitched it to people as the inverse of Quantum Leap. Instead of having Sam Beckett as himself every episode, trying to figure out whose body he's leapt into and what he needs to do, you have Echo know which new personality she is each week and what that personality is there for, but not who she herself is.

Wow, that was a complicated sentence.

I should work on my pitching skills.

Break It Down - Harper's Island pilot

It's been awhile since we've had a successful horror series on the air, and I can't think of the last time -- if ever -- there was a successful horror series that wasn't an anthology show. Nevertheless, that's just what Ari Schlossberg's Harper's Island attempts to be, and today I'm going to break down the pilot script into its component parts. Wee!!!

Thus far (that I can remember) I've done breakdowns on Kings, Castle, Grey's, Gossip Girl, Chuck, Dexter and very possibly a few more that are here... somewhere. Wanna read them? Look for "Break It Down" WAAAAY down on the right side under LABELS and then click it. It's like Staples' EASY button, only real and not as easy.

Now for Harper's Island.

Episode 101 - Harper's Island (there's no episode title, not even "Pilot" so I'm assuming it's just "Harper's Island")

Short Description

First, the usual spiel: This is premiering in a few weeks -- April 9 -- so I'm going to try not to give too much away.

In a nutshell, some really bad things happened on Harper's Island years ago, and that has kept our main protagonist, Abby, away for a long time. As the script opens, she's returning to the island for the wedding of Trish Wellington and Henry Dunn... and it seems like those bad things are starting to happen again.

Story Threads

This is one of those "every character has story thread" pilots, so bear with me...

A-story - Abby's return
B-story - The Wedding
C-story - Where's Cousin Ben?
D-story - Hunter Jennings
E-story - Uncle Marty
F-story - Madison is creepy
G-story - Cal and Chloe
H-story - J.D.

(I-story - Killer?)

No, the I-story in parentheses isn't a typo, I'm just not sure exactly how to fit it in. Several of the above stories have "killer" moments in them where something bad happens or you watch part of a scene from the "somebody's stalking them" POV you so often get in horror movies, but it's not exactly it's own story, so... I just wanted to mention it, but nothing is actually going to be marked as part of the I-story, so... hopefully I just confused you. :)

Other than that... lots of overlap and long scenes servicing multiple stories by moving around, say, a party, to check in with different groups of people. I tried to call everything a single scene unless the script had a slugline or cut away.

Length and Breakdown

Teaser - 11 pages, 7 scenes
Act I - 11 pages, 9 scenes
Act II - 11 pages, 12 scenes
Act III - 11 pages, 5 scenes
Act IV - 8 pages, 6 scenes
Act V - 7 pages, 9 scenes

48 scenes in 59 pages. It's hard to tell from the numbers, but this actually has quite a few long scenes; they're just evened out by lots of really short scenes that drive up the scene count. Acts II and V in particular have several little "check-in" scenes, which largely serve just to show us where characters are (in terms of location, mostly) so that we as an audience see their alibis -- or lack thereof -- when the metaphorical shit hits the fan. Because yes, this looks like it will be a mystery as much as it is a horror show.

The scenes are organized as follows:

A-story - Abby's return (16 beats/scenes)
B-story - The Wedding (10 beats/scenes)
C-story - Where's Cousin Ben? (6 beats/scenes)
D-story - Hunter Jennings (10 beats/scenes)
E-story - Uncle Marty (8 beats/scenes)
F-story - Madison is creepy (5 beats/scenes)
G-story - Cal and Chloe (6 beats/scenes)
H-story - J.D. (5 beats/scenes)

Teaser - A, B/C/D/H, A, D/E/A, B/C, C, C
Act I - E, F, A, G, F/A/B, D, B, B/A, A
Act II - B, F, H, E, G, D, A, G/E/B/C, C, B, A/F, B/D
Act III - G, A/H, A, H, A
Act IV - A, D, E/A/D, G, E, D
Act V - A, D, G, H, F, A, D/B, E, E

(Note: where beats include a / mark, this means that the scene has elements of both stories. When this happens, I'm listing the beats in the order that they occur in the scene. In the scene/beat count above, every appearance of A, B, C and so on is counted as one full beat rather than a half, even if there is a slash mark.)

Wow, right? 66 beats in 48 scenes. And that's not counting the ever-present "killer" I-story, which plays a modest to large role in the C, G, and the the end of the E-stories. And, arguably, the A-story as well, although that's almost more like a J-story since it's the history of the killer/island.

Surprisingly, for how complicated it sounds, the script doesn't feel complex or confusing. Everything flows quite nicely. It's only when you try to pull apart the disparate strands that it starts to feel unwieldy. Overall, it's a fun read and I'll be interested to see how it comes out. Definitely highly serialized, though -- for a while they weren't even calling it a show, but something like a 13-episode event. Check back in a few weeks and I'll put up my actual review of the pilot script.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sci-Friday - Take 6

Mini-reviews for last week's episodes:

Sarah Connor - I'm not sure how, but we missed it again. So now there are two episodes to catch up on. My DVR is not happy with me right now.

Dollhouse - Another "not bad, not great" episode. My third favorite, I guess? I do enjoy the conversation it's engendered over in The A.V. Club comments about whether or not the "move your ass" line was kind of silly writing or Echo's personality (Caroline's personality?) asserting itself. Tonight is where things supposedly start to get good. In Joss I trust... "for a little while."

Battlestar - Flashbacks. Caprica. A call-to-action scene reminiscent of Adama's "let's find Earth" speech at the end of the miniseries. I liked the Baltar-Six stuff, but most of the rest of it didn't really move me. Ah, well. I've come to accept that it's all about the 18-hour finale tonight.

And speaking of tonight:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Two years of my life

Hope you enjoy them.

For better video quality, check it out on Yahoo! or, you know, anywhere not YouTube. Unfortunately the higher quality videos took forever to load, so YouTube it is.

The parts that best convey the tone: Joe Towne (yes, his name is actually Joe Towne) removing his beard in the gasp shot and Flint showing off his failed inventions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Boozy Writer Types -- Tonight at 8

Tonight's the monthly TV Writers Meetup. I don't think Jul and I will make it, but if you're interested in commiserating with like-minded folks, here's the info:

Title: TV Writers Meet-Up
Date: Wednesday March 18, 2009
Time: 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Repeats: This event repeats every month on the third Wednesday.
Location: The Falcon, 7213 W Sunset Blvd
Notes: A chance to hang out with other people who are as passionate about TV as you are. Come alone, bring friends, whatever, just come.

Script to Screen: Kings pilot

Last week I reviewed the Kings pilot script and did a breakdown of the structure.

On Sunday I watched the premiere... and I kind of think I love it. I'm not sure what show those critics were watching that brought the Metacritic score below 60, but the episode I watched deserved at least an extra 20 points.

But that's not the point of this post. Today I'm going to talk about the differences from the written script and the aired pilot.

This shouldn't take long.

What few changes I noticed seemed mostly to deal with cleaning the script up for network TV. The version I read had more than a few of the late George Carlin's favorite words, not to mention public sex between David and Michelle. Not that we see that sex, but it's blatantly referenced.

Let's see, what else? The opening scenes with Silas making his speech and David meeting the reverend are entirely new. And because David meets the reverend here, it also alters their scene at the banquet later, but only slightly.

Also, in the script, Princess Michelle tells David about her sickly childhood to explain why the press treats her with kid gloves (no one wanted to be the one to "break her"). Naturally, this occurs right before their public lovemaking session caught on camera.

And, as written, Dylan Thomas' character (the king's slimy brother-in-law) offers Michelle money from the pharmaceutical company to help pay for her health reform act... only to later take it back when Silas pisses him off with his actions on the war. Because of this, we learn, the 6-year-old for whom Michelle was trying to get a heart transplant dies at the end of the episode. I don't think I saw either of those things in the aired pilot.

Besides that, the script is largely verbatim.

Wait, let me say that again:

The 63-page pilot that I read and the two hour premiere that I watched are almost exactly the same script. Even the action.

How is that possible?!

Sure, the premiere "breathed," as they say, but that much? I didn't think so. In fact -- while I know others felt differently -- I thought it moved at a nice pace for a sweeping story such as this, especially considering the fact that we're being shown an entirely new and often complicated world.

Did anyone else notice more changes that I didn't catch? Were there just a metric ton of commercials I fast forwarded past? I'm curious to watch the premiere again and see just what's taking up all that extra time.

And the reverse: how do other 60-ish page TV shows stuff everything into an hour?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

(Auto) Pilot: A Review of the Kings Pilot Script

*Simulposted on Pink Raygun.

Again and again you hear people complaining: “There’s nothing smart on TV. Shows talk down to their audiences. They don’t think we can handle nuance and complexity.” Okay, probably not those words exactly, but you know what I’m talking about. Well, people of the world, I present to you Michael Green’s ambitious Kings pilot script. And wish you good luck. Part West Wing, part Dirty Sexy Money, part Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, part Biblical/Arthurian/Carnivale-style grand mythology, Kings is a lot to digest on the page, so I can only imagine what it will be like to watch. But if you can absorb the complexity, wow, what a rich world you’re rewarded with.

Kings has the feel of a grand legend made gritty, realistic and modern. We begin with David Sheperd, a young soldier on the frontlines of the stalled war between Gilboa and Gath. His platoon occupies one hill; the armies of Gath, with their monstrous Goliath tanks, occupy the hill facing them. And so it has been for apparently quite a while. The Gilboans don’t attack the Gathans for fear of the tanks, and the Gathans seem content to hold their ground. Until a separate Gilboan platoon is overrun and soldiers are taken hostage.

Acting on feelings he doesn’t really understand, David disobeys orders and crosses enemy lines to rescue them. He succeeds, and the hostages make it back safely, but one of the Goliaths spots David and pins him down in the valley between the hills. What follows is not really an epic battle–call it luck, fate, whatever–but suffice it to say that David manages to take down the Goliath (get it?!) and return to his comrades a hero. Then fate really deals David the high card, as we learn that one of the soldiers he rescued is none other than Prince Jack, the only son of Silas, the Gilboan king.

From there David is whisked off to the capitol city of Shiloh, and the formal banquet in his honor is only the beginning of his meteoric rise. He treats with the king, wins the attention of the princess, generally annoys Prince Jack, and becomes the C.J. Cregg of Silas’ administration. Yes, crafty King Silas decides to make David the Military Liaison to the Press Corps and use his popularity and cute “aw, shucks” yokelism to deflect their scrutiny.

What follows involves a missing Blackberry, health care reform, an all-powerful pharmaceutical company, an all-knowing Reverend, hidden sexuality, war, sacrifice, and butterflies. Can’t forget the butterflies. You see, they serve as more than just the symbol of Gilboa–the same symbol you’ve been seeing on all the promos for the show–butterflies here are like The Sword in the Stone. The Lady in the Lake. They gave Silas the God-granted right to be king by alighting on his head in the shape of a crown many years ago… at least, that’s the story he likes to tell at parties. The exploration of this story’s validity–and whether Silas is still the chosen-by-God ruler–appears to be one of the central questions of the show.

So how is it to read? Fascinating. Page-turning. Amazing. And, by the end, a little overwritten and novel-like in the description. But those are problems that won’t show up on the screen unless they translate the action into dialogue. Instead, you’ll see an incredibly dense and beautifully crafted world being laid open to you, bit by bit. No one doles out the rules, you figure things out scene by scene, line by line. You want smart, complex, nuanced television? Look no further. But be careful what you wish for; this is one show that seems like it’s going to ask as much from its audience as that audience will ask from it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sci-Friday - Take 5

Mini-reviews for last week:

Sarah Connor Chronicles - Didn't watch. Will have to double up tonight.

Dollhouse - Liked it, didn't love it. Second best episode by far, but that's out of four, so... you know.

Battlestar - Dragged. Maybe I just want a momentum from these last few episodes that I'm not going to get, but did we really need a whole episode to get Hera from the Galactica to the Cylon colony?

Here's what's happening tonight:

Eat it, biotches

Cuz I've got words in a movie. And probably a lot of words in the video games. And come to think of it, potentially more words in another movie...

Benefits of being a writer's assistant, my friends. Especially when your bosses are really, really busy with stuff like, you know, directing the movie.

I've pitched dialogue that's made it in before, but dialogue has a way of... what's the phrase again? Changing a billion times. And then changing again. (Okay, so that's not really a phrase except in the sense that I just wrote it which kind of makes it a phrase. You know what I mean.) These words are different, because they're going in as actual text to be read in the movie, so once it's all digitalized (as opposed to digitized), it can't be taken out and rerecorded and mangled like dialogue. Once it's in, it's in.

Unless they, you know, just cut those shots completely. But that'll never happen. Right? Hmm...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Break It Down - Kings pilot

Today for your reading pleasure, I'm going to break down the structure of Michael Green's Kings, the ambitious new show debuting this Sunday on NBC.

Thus far (that I can remember) I've done breakdowns on Castle, Grey's, Gossip Girl, Chuck, Dexter and very possibly a few more that are here... somewhere. Wanna read them? Look for "Break It Down" WAAAAY down on the right side under LABELS and then click it. It's like Staples' EASY button, only real and not as easy.

Anyway... Kings.

Episode 101 - Goliath

Short Description

Again, with the pilot airing this Sunday, I'm going to try not to give too much away. In general, this pilot has the extremely daunting task of setting up the fictional monarchy of Galboa (which seems to exist in an alternative version of our present day real world), their war with the also-fictional country of Gath, a seemingly diabolical pharmaceutical company and its relationship to the monarchy, and roughly a dozen characters fairly central to the plot.

Story Threads

Wow, there's a lot going on here, and I'm having difficulty pulling out the disparate threads that make up each story, but here's what I think we have:

A-story - David's rise to glory.
B-story - The Gath-Gilboan War
C-story - What's going on with Jack?
D-story - Health care
E-story - The lost Blackberry

Overlap and scenes servicing multiple stories at once abound, as you'll see when I break down the organization.

Length and Breakdown

Teaser (the script calls it a "Prologue") - 10 pages, 8 scenes
Act I - 15 pages, 10 scenes
Act II - 12 pages, 7 scenes
Act III - 9 pages, 7 scenes
Act IV - 10 pages, 7 scenes
Act V - 7 pages, 11 scenes

42 scenes in 63 pages. But trust me, that does not begin to describe how full this script really is. As I said above, many, many scenes pull double and even triple duty in terms of advancing multiple storylines. The teaser is mostly one big action sequence, the resolution of which sets up the story of the rest of the episode. And the series, really. The interesting thing about this teaser is that it sets up a world that we don't see again for much of the episode. Instead, we are transported to a completely new place in Act I and have to set up that world. I think that's the reason for the long scenes in the first two Acts -- long, at least, when compared to Acts III-V.

The scenes are organized as follows:

A-story - David's rise to glory. (29 beats/scenes)
B-story - The Gath-Gilboan War (20 beats/scenes)
C-story - What's going on with Jack? (7 beats/scenes)
D-story - Health care (5 beats/scenes)
E-story - The lost Blackberry (4 beats/scenes)

Teaser - B, B, A, A, A, A, A, A
Act I - A, A, C, A, B/D, E, A/C, A, B/A, A/D
Act II - A, E/A/C, E/C, A, D, A, B
Act III - B/A, D/B/A, B/A, A, B, B, B
Act IV - B, B/A, B, B/A, B/A, C, B/A,
Act V - B, A, B, B, A, E/C, C, A, B/D, A

(Note: where beats include a / mark, this means that the scene has elements of both stories. When this happens, I'm listing the beats in the order that they occur in the scene. In the scene/beat count above, every appearance of A, B, C and so on is counted as one full beat rather than a half, even if there is a slash mark.)

65 beats. In 42 scenes! Yes, there's a lot going on here. In trying to figure out what a "typical" episode might look like, I think you can remove the teaser or "prologue." I could be wrong. Perhaps every episode will have such an event that the rest of the episode then revolves around. That makes a kind of sense, right? Except that here the larger duty it's serving is to place the protagonist where he will ostensibly be for the remainder of the series. Can't see that happening again. In general: lots of overlapping storylines that not only share scenes, but effect each other and probably often come into conflict. An overarching narrative backed by at least a semblance of an Of-the-Week story. From this script, I'd have to say the A-story is the overarching narrative, and will likely be featured less prominently in future episodes. Kind of like the season-long mysteries of Veronica Mars. The B-story here is the big weekly plot, as it's introduced and (in theory) resolved by episode's end.

Storywise, I'm extremely interested in this show, but in terms of spec prospects... well, I'd wait till it gets a few episodes under its belt before even trying to think up ideas. There's a sense here that this show could kind of go anywhere, which is both thrilling and incredibly daunting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Script to Screen: Castle Pilot

Last week I reviewed the script of the Castle pilot and did a breakdown of the structure. You know, for fun.

Today, for even more fun, I'd like to do a quick comparison of script vs. the aired episode and talk about what changed -- for better or worse. To make things even more exciting, I'm going to do it completely from memory (read: kind of half-ass).

First off, as I've already mentioned, Nathan Fillion's character in the script inexplicably changed names. Nick Castle became Richard Castle. Is this important? No. But I'm weird and liked Nick better than Richard for some reason, so now I've wasted portions of two posts discussing it. You're welcome.

The first big change I noticed to the pages happens quickly. While Act I as written was 13 pages of mostly smarmy Nick Castle hilarity, the episode took a machete to these character-developing scenes and chopped Act I down to a svelte 7 minutes. Actually, just under that, but I don't remember the exact time. I'm not sure the episode was better for it, exactly, but there certainly wasn't anything there that hurt the understanding of the characters or story. Mostly, we just lost some fun character interplay, which hurts, but is completely understandable.

Next cut I remember is a half page scene where Beckett tries to convince her boss not to let Castle help on the case. Nothing wrong with the scene as written, and it's followed up by a cute little moment of Castle making fun of Beckett for getting chewed out by her boss. The version that aired worked just fine, though, and was far more economical. Here's my possibly-not-exact recreation of the aired scene:

CAPTAIN: Castle's gonna work with you on this case.
BECKETT: (nodding toward Castle) Sir, can I talk to you about this?
CAPTAIN: (beat) No.

Works fine, right? And it's funny, too, because you know what the scene would have been.

A couple of changes that I really liked came later in the episode. After hearing a character's airtight alibi, Castle is defeated, unsure where to go next. Beckett, however, knows from her cop experience that the suspect is lying... and she's happy to poke fun at Castle for not catching on. Now, this scene is in the pages, but as written it seems like both Beckett and Castle know the suspect is lying. Having her realize something he doesn't is a much better decision.

Similarly, Castle has a line near the end of the aired pilot ("Tell me you saw that!") that makes him feel less superhero-like and more believable. Not so in the script. In fact, I wish that they'd cut another of his lines about a gun having its safety on to further his believability here. Or even better, given that line to Beckett, since it makes far more sense that the cop would notice this.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that the vast majority of changes either improve the episode or at least don't diminish it in any significant way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bumps in the Night

You probably didn't even notice, but very quietly over the past month or so, Strike TV has finally begun posting all those professionally created web videos made during the strike.

One such video is Bumps in the Night. Personally I think it's great, but I'll understand any doubt you might have since, admittedly, I'm good friends with everyone involved.

Luckily, you don't have to believe me. Just ask Liz over at NewTeeVee. Or Jake at TilzyTV.

But enough convincing. See it for yourself, and let them know what you think. Here's part 1 to whet your appetite:

The rest of the four-part first episode can be found on Strike TV and YouTube.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

(Auto) Pilot: A Review of the Castle Pilot Script

*Simul-posted on Pink Raygun.*

If it’s true that everything old eventually becomes new again, Castle might very well have a long life ahead of it. Like Diagnosis Murder and the Father Dowling Mysteries, Castle uses the tried and true TV formula of taking someone from a sort-of related profession — or not — and having them solve crimes. Because, you know, anybody can do that. And of course I’d be remiss not to mention Castle’s most obvious sibling, Murder She Wrote. I say most obvious because Castle starts from the exact same basic premise, that of a mystery novelist drawn into murder cases to help solve them. But the point isn’t how similar it is to shows that have come before, but how well Castle works on its own merits. And for the most part I’d have to say… pretty darn well.

First and foremost, this show wants to be a fun piece of pulp entertainment, not unlike the tawdry mystery novels of its protagonist Nick Castle. With that in mind, I think writer Andrew W. Marlowe has made some good choices with his characters. Nick is all roguish charm, a literary rockstar whose fans send him him death threats and let him sign their breasts in equal measure. Except that he just killed off his popular main character and hasn’t been able to write for several months. His daughter Alexis comes from the Hollywood School of Precocious Kids, a smart girl who can go quip-for-quip with her dad and isn’t fooled in the slightest by his emotional deflections. Nick’s mom Martha is the rascally grandma out to get laid and stay intoxicated for as much of the day as she can. And Kate Beckett, the police detective who more or less acts as Castle’s partner in this pilot, is the tough cop who took the job after something bad happened in her past. Types, you see, not real people. What makes all of this fun to read is how well Marlowe handles writing that aforementioned “roguish charm.” Admittedly, it helps that I can imagine Nathan Fillion reading Nick’s lines, but even without them the character stuff is just good, fun writing.

The plot of the pilot follows Nick getting pulled into the police station for questioning when someone starts murdering people in the exact way he described in his books. Immediately, Nick is very interested — in getting copies of the murder photos. You see, he has a weekly poker game with other bigshot writers like Stephen King, and the fact that someone is killing people based on his stories will really impress them. Lovely guy, right? But eventually — as we knew he would — Nick gets intrigued by the murders and starts investigating. He tags along with the reluctant Beckett and is given numerous moments to show how smart and awesome he is. Becket has a few cool moments of her own, but definitely doesn’t fare as well in this regard. We’ll come back to that later.

Once we’re into the meat of the investigation, this mostly feels like a tonal cousin to something like Bones, which is not a bad thing at all. Nothing particularly surprised me, but just about everything along the way felt more or less believable and fun. It even had one moment I thought I was going to love, where a cop mentions finding a fingerprint at the murder scene. Nick is ecstatic and asks who the print belongs to, only to have the cop smack him down by telling him that this is the real world, not one of his stories, and it’s going to take at least a week to get lab results. Very interesting. This god of the literary world who thinks he knows everything about everything is getting schooled a bit and will have to reconcile the fictional stories he writes with the reality of actual police work. It felt organic to the concept. And it’s especially smart and relevant considering the many stories coming out now about “The CSI Effect,” where the legal system is having problems with juries because they expect things to work like they do on CSI. Shock of all shocks, reality is never that black and white. Unfortunately, Castle does not get schooled; instead, he turns this moment on its head and uses it as yet another opportunity to show what a rockstar he is.

And that, in a nutshell, is my biggest problem with Castle. And Castle. Nick’s just too damn… awesome. I get that he’s the main character and the hero, but it would be nice to see him wrong some of the time. It would be nice to see him screw up. And it would be especially nice, considering the end of the pilot and what will ostensibly be the franchise of the show, if it was Beckett proving him wrong and having to pick up the pieces after his screw-ups. It would not only make both of their characters more interesting (not to mention more evenly matched), but create a more compelling show overall.

Still, this is the pilot. Not only that, it’s a good, fun, well-written pilot. And one of the most wonderful things about TV shows is that they are always works in progress, so there’s always the potential to make fixes and changes along the way. If, you know, it stays on the air for long enough to do so. Here’s hoping Castle finds enough of an audience to give them that time.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sci-Friday - Take 4

Last week's Sci-Friday was a mixed bag.

I didn't hate Sarah Connor like it seems many people did. Yes, the "which-one-is-a-dream" plotline has been done before, but I thought they hid reality fairly well, if for no other reason than -- Um, hey, how is the dude that she killed now holding her hostage? Also, it was fun to witness Sarah's various fears about Cameron shown through the haze of a dream. She makes pancakes better than Sarah? Come on.

Dollhouse was... well, it was kind of awful. What killed me was that the premise of the episode wasn't half bad, it was just poorly executed. I'll give Jed and Maurissa credit and assume network notes are to blame... After all, Eliza practically gave us permission not to watch until episode six, because that's when the bad supposedly stops. Sigh.

And Battlestar? Well, I'm slowing warming back up to my former love. This episode was a bit of a slow build for me, and the Chief-Boomer fantasy house/child/life together was cheesy with a captial EESY, but the Starbuck reveal was nicely done, and Boomer's betrayal... man, that was great. I'm still not sure exactly where it leaves us, but I do know that I'm excited again.

On that note:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Aww, what the heck, let's make it Castle week

I haven't even watched this yet, but Whedonesque just posted a link to the first 13 minutes of next week's Castle pilot. You know, the script of which I broke down yesterday, back when it was still Nick Castle and not Rick Castle. (Incidentally, I think Nick is much cooler sounding for some reason.)

I'll be posting a review of the pilot script Sunday or Monday. Anyway, enjoy!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Break It Down - Castle pilot

Jul and I are deep into pilot fun right now, so I thought I'd revive an old staple: Break It Down is back! Yes, I can see three of you are excited about this. Awesome. The rest of you clearly just don't remember Break It Down. Right? Right?

Anyway, if you'd like to catch up on other breakdowns I've done, look here, here, here, here, and here. I think that's all of them...

Over the coming months, I'm going to do my best to post breakdowns of any pilot scripts I can get my greedy little hands on, starting with today's gem: Castle.

Episode 101 - Chapter One

Short Description

Without giving too much away, since this pilot airs next week, the first episode deals with literary rockstar Nick Castle becoming embroiled in a police investigation after learning that there's someone murdering people in the exact way he described in several mystery novels.

Story Threads

A-story - The murder mystery.
B-story - Nick is suffering from writer's block!

And ... that's about it, as far as I can tell.

(Note: The above designations of A-story, B-story and so on are based entirely on when that story thread first appears in the script. This will become quite apparent later when you realize how few beats the B, C and D "stories" get.)

Length and Breakdown

Act I - 13 pages, 5 scenes
Act II - 14 pages, 10 scenes
Act III - 11 pages, 7 scenes
Act IV - 8 pages, 7 scenes
Act V - 10 pages, 8 scenes
Act VI - 9 pages, 11 scenes

50 scenes in 65 pages. And it's very obvious that the first act is all about introducing us to the characters and setting things up by the relatively low scene-to-page ratio. More than 2 pages per scene is really long. After that, we're launched into the Murder of the Week and the pace picks up considerably.

The scenes are organized as follows:

A-story - Murder Mystery (39 beats/scenes)
B-story - Writer's Block (9 beats/scenes)

Act I - A, B, B, A, B/A
Act II - A, A, B, A, B, B, A, B, A, A, A, A
Act III - A, A, A, A, A, A, A
Act IV - A, A, A, A, A, A, A
Act V - B/A, A, A, A, A, A, A, A
Act VI - A, A, A, A, A, A, B, B, A

(Note: where beats include a / mark, this means that the scene has elements of both stories. When this happens, I'm putting the story that the beat gives preference to as the first story. In the scene/beat count above, every appearance of A, B, C and so on is counted as one full beat rather than a half, even if there is a slash mark.)

Again, the longer, slower scenes are mostly in the first act, so it's no surprise that it also contains a significant amount of the B-story. It's also not shocking that by the time the murder mystery really kicks in (around the end of Act II), the B-story all but disappears until the very end of the script. A very basic description of a typical episode might be: A personal problem of Nick's is introduced. The case of the week ever-so-slightly relates to that problem. By going through the case, Nick is able to overcome his personal problem. Now, will this actually be the way a typical episode is structured? We shall see.

Castle is definitely one to keep an eye on if it attracts a large enough audience. It's fun and seems quite easily speccable.