Genre: TV Pilot – Drama/Thriller
Premise: When the LA police force tries to cover up a killing by one of their officers, they’re underhanded by a clean cop who won’t go with the program.
About: We got an interesting one this week. The DNA for today’s show is pure cable. It’s being put together by the same company that did True Detective. It’s a 10 episode anthology. Yet it’s going to be on NBC. Clearly, NBC wants to be cool again, so they’re trying something different (they were said to have gone after the project hard). But can a big network act like Netflix? Like HBO? Another cool aspect about this pilot is that it was written by a couple of unknowns. One of them drives an Uber. The other is a valet (shouldn’t this have been called “Carhunt?”). Unknown writers. Conservative networks trying to play cool. True Detective producers. This is definitely a project to keep your eye on.
Writers: Whit Brayton & Zack Rice
Details: 62 pages (undated draft)
We got another show from the True Detective folks. We all know how I felt about that script (I was the lone dissenting voice). So today’s review comes with some baggage. I mean, if I hate it, that’s probably a good thing for the show, right?
But before we get lost in that argument, I can tell you that this is nothing like True Detective. Well, it is an anthology. So the whole thing will be wrapped up in one season. But this is way more mainstream. In fact, it’s ripped straight out of the headlines – the whole cop-on-the-run Christopher Dorner thing that happened in 2013 (strangely, this story takes place in 2013 as well).
The leniency with which cops can kill civilians and get away with it is a hot-button topic these days and Manhunt wants to bring that controversy to the screen in as exciting a way as possible. Let’s see how they do.
David Cofield may be the cleanest cop LA’s got. On this day, he’s part of a SWAT team led by brash commander, Warren Sutton. They’re going to invade some drug dealer’s home and, judging by the size of the team, it’s not some small fry.
The raid doesn’t go as planned and the dealers immediately start fighting back. One of them gets loose and Sutton chases him along a series of roofs. He finally catches him, but instead of cuffing him and letting justice decide his fate, Sutton kicks him off the roof, killing him. Several cops spot this, including Cofield.
Here’s where things get interesting. The other cops go on the record saying the dealer fell due to a struggle. But Cofield says uh-uh. Sutton clearly killed him. Cofield is visited by Internal Affairs, his lieutenant, his Captain, all who try to convince him to change his story. But Cofield is a good cop. He’s not letting anyone get away with murder.
A day after the murder, Sutton calls Cofield to meet and “talk.” The two convene at a late night diner, and the next day, Sutton ends up shot between the eyes. Meanwhile, Cofield’s on the run, going to the internet with his story. He explains what happened that fateful day, and insists that Sutton met with him to kill him. Sutton’s killing was merely an act of self-defense.
A third major character, Harry Drapkin, a once-great but now-fallen author, finds himself pulled into the case as Cofield’s only ally. In a world where the LAPD will be putting millions of dollars into discrediting and destroying Cofield’s story, Drapkin will be the only one who can expose the truth. But is his own legacy so tainted that no one will believe him? We’ll see!
I think Brayton and Rice are on to something here. I always found the Christopher Dorner story intriguing and was hoping he was going to expose this deep-set corruption inside of the Los Angeles Police Department. It was the kind of story made for the movies. Unfortunately, in real life, there are no happy endings. And whether that was because Dorner really was nuts or the corporation trying to take him down was too big, we’ll probably never know.
Either way, I do agree with Brayton and Rice’s decision to keep this story contained to 10 episodes. One of the big failings with television is that they push a story way beyond its lasting point (ahem – Prison Break?). Manhunt won’t have that problem. But what about the script? Is it any good?
It’s not bad. But man does it start off clunky. There are so many characters introduced in the first 10 pages that I almost thought someone was playing a joke on me. How do writers possibly expect us to remember six characters in two paragraphs? Ten in three?
A lot of these character intros come through the SWAT team, and I see this a lot when writers include SWAT teams or army platoons or any group of people. They name everyone. You don’t have to name every character if every character isn’t going to play a pivotal role in the story. Just name the key guys. Because besides the frustration of having to remember a bunch of people, over-introducing leads to confusion. With so many people introduced, I wasn’t sure who the main people were, forcing me to go back and re-read character introductions once I knew that Cofield and Sutton were the only two who mattered.
Once the pilot hits the midway point and we see where it’s going, though, we buy in. I’ve found that these “underdog fights against the corrupt establishment” stories almost always play well. They give us one of the most sympathetic characters on the screenwriting market – the underdog. And who doesn’t want to see a big corrupt establishment get exposed? That’s a great goal.
The writers add a couple of nice nuggets to the equation as well. It turns out that Cofield is being treated for schizophrenia. Also, we don’t see the exchange between Cofield and Sutton on the night Sutton is killed. This leaves some uncertainty into if everything went down the way Cofield said it did. And I think that’s important because if we know all the details from the get-go, the show is devoid of mystery. The big reason the Christopher Dorner case captured the public’s imagination was that we weren’t sure if he was telling the truth or not. We wanted him to be. But in the back of our minds we were thinking, “Errr… he kinda looks crazy.”
I have to say I’m excited by the recent explosion of the “Mid-Form” story (short form is movies, long form is traditional TV shows). One of the biggest weaknesses with movies is the inability to explore character. There’s only so much you can do in 110 minutes. With TV shows, by the second season, you’re often rehashing the characters in ways we’re already familiar with. An 8-10 episode arc seems like the perfect amount of time to tell a character-driven story.
And I like what the writers do with Cofield’s character. He’s got a restraining order against his wife and child – so something happened there. And he was recently suspended from the force for a week – another mystery that needs to be explained.
This is a good setup for a show. The only complaint I have is that it feels formulaic. I hated True Detective but the one thing I’ll give that show is that it was different. It took chances. And if NBC is going to go wrong somewhere in this search to be relevant again, it may be in that capacity. If they try to promote this as some big glossy companion piece to The Blacklist, it could get irrelevant fast. The whole advantage of an anthology series is that you only have a limited amount of episodes so you can take more chances. We’ll see if that’s in the cards, and where Manhunt goes from here.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Because TV production moves a lot faster, you can rip stories straight out of the headlines. If you see something that captures the imagination of the country, consider writing a show about it. Remember, though, to optimize it for your storytelling needs. That’s the great thing about being a writer – you can do anything. So if the real-life story doesn’t end the way you wanted it to, or include the characters you think would best suit it, simply change it.