The hottest TV spec of the season. Is it any good??
Genre: TV Pilot – Drama
Premise: When the world’s biggest magician’s biggest trick is exposed, he gives up magic. That is until the FBI offers him a job.
About: Deception was THE hot pilot spec of the season. Which is probably why super-producer Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Riverdale) jumped on board. The show comes from the mind of Chris Fedak, co-creator of “Chuck.” ABC is going all-in on this one, making it their number one new show priority going into next season. So expect to see a lot of Deception promos on your local buses.
Writer: Chris Fedak
Details: 62 pages
The nice thing about teleplays is that they’re only half as long as screenplays. And when a reader knows they only have to invest 45 minutes into a read, it allows the writer to do some things he wouldn’t be able to get away with in a feature. He can be… how do I say this? More “surface-level.” Especially if you’re writing a pilot for one of the major networks. And that is how we come across Deception, a pilot so light and fluffy, you might mistake it for a toaster strudel. And yet, I haven’t met too many people who can eat a toaster strudel and not want another one.
Cameron Black is the coolest most cutting edge magician in the world. Even worse? He knows it. And in case you think we’re going to get a lot of cleverly edited magic trick bullshit here, the writer assures us that everything we see on-screen is a REAL magic trick. Which is why the show is co-produced by real-life magician, David Kwong.
We meet Black during one of his shows, a slick multi-coastal endeavor where he starts his show in Vegas but teleports to New York, actually walking out of a TV screen in Times Square. How is that even possible????? I’ll tell you how. MAGIC!
Oh, and also, Cameron has a twin. Spoiler alert! But we’re not there yet. Later that night, Cameron picks up a hot babe, drives her around town, then gets into a huge crash and she dies. This is when it’s revealed that the man in the car is actually Jonathan Black, Cameron’s twin brother, and that they’ve been pretending to be the same person for 30 years.
Jonathan goes to prison for manslaughtering the woman, but Jonathan swears to Cameron he’s been set up. That the dead body was a plant. Someone’s been using magic on them! Whaaaat!!!??? Cameron now makes it his life goal to expose this trickery and free his brother from prison.
Meanwhile, FBI Agent, Kay Alvarez, is escorting cartel leader Felix Ruiz (I swear it’s like these names are coming out of a screenwriting character name generator) in a plane where, once they land, he’ll be put away forever. Except when they pull into the hanger and everybody’s getting off the plane, it blows up!!!
Ruiz is killed. But luckily, Kay and the rest of the FBI survive. It sucks at first until they realize, hey, we just got rid of one of the biggest drug czars on the planet. Hooray! That is until Cameron Black shows up and says, “You guys have been fooled!” He walks over to the wall of the airplane hanger, busts it open, to show that the plane explosion was a ruse!
The plane was swapped out with an exploded one to trick the FBI. And that means… Ruiz is still out there. Kay is pissed. Not so much that her drug lord got away. But that a freaking magician made her look like a fool. So she tells Cameron to get lost. “Not so fast,” Cameron says. “What are you talking about?” “I’m going to help you find Ruiz.” And hence, Deception is born!!!
I don’t know how to react to this pilot.
It’s like it came out of some pilot version of a cotton candy machine. I think I enjoyed myself? But holy banana cream sundae, can I get a little depth please? Somewhere?
The cliches. The number of cliches.
And the leaps of logic one must make to buy into this show. A plane was swapped out for a damaged one during a fake explosion and nobody noticed? In the age of the internet, twins have been able to keep their duality a secret for 30 years. Doesn’t this take one bored TMZ journalist a quick internet search to find that Cameron was born with a twin?
I’ve got a bigger beef with Deception though. Everything in this damn plot was too easy!!! For drama to be good, the journey must be difficult. The characters must run into real obstacles. If the audience isn’t in constant doubt that the characters are gong to solve the crime, the story isn’t working.
For example, there’s a scene in the middle of the script, after the plane explosion, where Cameron and Kay go to a diner near the airport where they’re convinced someone must have seen the swapped plane driven away.
Cameron does some silly magic trick to captivate the diners while Kay watches everyone’s reaction. When a single busboy isn’t captivated by the trick, Kay determines he must know something. What???? Anyway, she approaches him. He runs. She tackles him 2 seconds later and asks, “You saw something didn’t you?” He immediately blurts out: “A truck, with a plane on it.”
That’s every plot point in this pilot. They’re handed over to our heroes like breadsticks at The Olive Garden. They don’t have to work for anything.
So a lot of you are probably asking then… “Why is this getting made while my pilot is collecting dust?”
Well, I’ll say this about Deception. It utilizes the setup that television likes the most. Cocky charming rogueish main character who doesn’t follow the rules teamed up with a straight-arrow female co-lead who doesn’t like him. That formula right there is gangbusters. And all you need to make it work is a new take on the charming rogue character. It just so happened that the writer struck gold with the magic thing because there’s nothing else like it on television.
And sometimes that’s all success is. It’s not writing the best piece of material. It’s finding that fresh “pot of gold” twist on a trusted formula. And the irony of it? Oftentimes, that pot of gold is sitting right there where everybody can see it.
Fifty Shades of Grey. Sex. How much more front and center can a subject be? And yet E.L. James turned it into a money-making machine.
Even so, I wish Fedak would’ve slowed down and let his scenes breathe every once in awhile. This pilot reads like it was written on coke. One of the pilot’s most important sequences, where “Cameron” meets a mysterious girl, goes on a drive with her, and crashes the car, killing her, takes place over half a page. HALF A PAGE!
Keep in mind that this woman is the driving force behind the enteire show. She’s our “secret magician” who’s trying to screw Cameron and his brother over (by the way, I’m 99.99999% sure she’ll be the sister they never knew they had, since that’s the most obvious choice and this pilot is built on obvious choices). Cameron will be going after her for multiple seasons. And she’s introduced and killed all within half a page.
I don’t get it. I feel that a script that’s getting this much heat requires a little more attention to detail. I understand the sale but not the laziness. It’s frustrating and sends the wrong message to aspiring writers that this screenwriting thing is easy. Humph.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I hate writing this. But it’s the truth. If you want to sell a Big 4 network show, it’s a good idea to make your lead character 35 years old, roguish, charming, cocky, and full of one-liners.
What I learned 2: If you’re not good at writing that kind of character? Don’t try. As a screenwriter, one of your jobs is to understand what you’re good at and what you’re bad at and avoid what you’re bad at. I’ll read a lot of writers trying to write shows like Deception who aren’t funny. Who don’t know how to write funny one-liners or quippy back-and-forth dialogue. If you don’t know how to do that, move over to something else that plays to your strengths.