Genre: TV Pilot – Medical
Premise: A freewheeling drug addict physician runs a discreet medical call service to Los Angeles’s rich and powerful.
About: Even if you’re sitting pretty in the feature world as one of the big up-and-coming directors like Jonathan Levine, you STILL gotta be writing pilots. TV is where it’s at. This show is being made on USA, which, while it hasn’t quite found its way into the same class as the prestige networks (HBO, AMC, NETFLIX), it’s definitely in the second tier, with shows like Burn Notice, Royal Pains and Psych. Psych was pretty good. But I never watched Burn Notice cause whenever I saw the poster, I couldn’t see anyone who was burned, which confused the hell out of me (I’d later learn that “burn notice” was some kind of CIA code that had nothing to do with burning, leaving me to wonder how many other people never gave the show a chance for the same reason). Rush was one of the hotter pilots in town and was recommended highly to me. You may know writer Jonathan Levine as the director of 50/50 and the writer/director of Warm Bodies.
Writer: Jonathan Levine
Details: 58 pages (June 2013 draft)
Hey. It’s fun reading scripts again! I’ve been on a reading sushi roll lately. We had Cake, which was like a Caterpillar Roll, Hot Air, which was like a Spicy Tuna Roll, and Tyrant, which was like a Dragon Roll!
To keep this analogy going, every writer starts out with a bowl of seaweed and rice. It’s what they do with the rest of the roll that sets them apart. Your signature dish is your “voice.” Do you want to keep things conservative and make a solid California roll? Or do you want to deep fry that center and give your diner a crunchy surprise in the middle? Are you a big wasabi guy? Or do you think that extra bit of spice overrides the other flavors?
All I know about sushi is don’t go to a place called “He Said Su-Shi Said” on Sawtelle and Olympic. I can promise you right now, your experience will not be good. And with that winning bit of advice, on to Rush!
Our show title is derived from our main character’s name – William Rush. Our introduction to Rush (the character, not the show) attempts to do something all writers should be doing when they introduce their main characters. Give us a reason to like them and give us the flaw that haunts them. Rush is making a move on an attractive club hopper while doing coke (ah, his flaw!) who then overdoses. He calmly walks over to his suitcase, takes out a syringe of adrenaline, and jams it into her neck (he saves her. We like him!). Rush, it turns out, is an on-call doctor.
But not the kind who takes Obamacare. Oh no, Rush runs a different kind of operation. He performs medical jobs for high-class clients who prefer to keep their personal fuck-ups… discreet. For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers clean up hitter, Red Cummings, beats his girlfriend up regularly. Can’t have that making the papers, so he calls Rush in to treat her injuries privately.
Obviously, the temperature of Rush’s moral compass rarely rises above freezing. This is a man with no feelings, no judgments. He just wants to do his job, get paid in cold hard cash, then go home and do drugs. Anything to keep him numb. From his actions? From his thoughts? We don’t know yet. But there’s no question this dude has some skeletons in his closet.
Rush is surprised when his one true love, Sarah, comes back in town, and since she’s the only thing that’s ever been good to him, he decides he wants to be a part of her life again. The problem is, Sarah doesn’t fall for his bullshit like all these dumb aspiring actresses and club-hopping cocaine addicts do. She knows that when you date Rush, you date his addictions, and howdee-doody time, that always ends badly.
It’s probably for the best, since Rush’s job is getting more dangerous by the day. Turns out Red has some gangster friends, one of whom gets shot and needs attention pronto. As if trying to save a gun-shot victim with spurting blood and no tools isn’t hard enough, Rush has to do it with a gun to his face.
But that’s the crazy thing about Rush. These surprises don’t phase him. Maybe, just maybe, they might even excite him. But if Rush ever plans on getting someone like Sarah, someone he respects and loves, he’s going to have to give this life up. And we get the feeling that no matter how much he wants to, that ain’t going to happen. This is who he is.
I’ll give Rush this. It lives up to its title. This pilot flew by, one of those rare reading experiences where you look up at the page number and it’s actually BIGGER than you expected.
Here’s my thing with the show, though. And it’s funny I wrote earlier that USA hadn’t cracked the top tier of programming yet, because that’s exactly what this feels like. An “almost edgy” show. And heck, that may have been what Levine was going for. Maybe that’s what USA wanted and so that’s what he gave them. But Rush isn’t edgy enough to hang with shows like Breaking Bad and House of Cards. It was definitely edgier than shows you find on network TV, but that doesn’t get you a seat at the cool kids table.
The biggest chance it took was Red and the girlfriend-beating. Walking in after Red had teed up on his woman and Rush not doing anything about it was hard to watch. But that’s what you have to do as a writer if you’re writing this kind of material. You have to create uncomfortable situations. It’s what helps you stand out from the competition.
With that said, it still felt too safe. There was never a moment where I felt something truly shocking was going to happen. Like at the end of the “Shield” pilot where our hero cop just shoots a man in cold blood. Once that shit happens, the relationship changes between the writer and the audience. The audience no longer feels comfortable. They feel like the floor can slide out from under them at any second. And that’s a great place to have an audience because it keeps them excited. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have become famous for this. Here, everything felt like one of those USA posters with their Kardashian lighting and that big safe blue sky in the background to let you know everything was going to be okay in the end. I wasn’t scared.
That’s not to say this was a bad pilot by any means. It had a handful of really good scenes, including a star-maker in the middle where Rush is performing surgery on this gangster using clueless fellow gangsters as nurses and working with practically no equipment. The highlight is when they blow a fuse and the lights go out, leaving the room dark, and Rush tells everyone to get their phones out and hold them over the body to light it as he continued to save the man. It was a cool image and something I’d never seen before.
Levine also shows how to hide exposition well. Remember, when you’re trying to give the audience information, you can’t have your character stand up on a podium and call out all the facts. The audience will groan. You need to be clever. So let’s say you have to tell the audience that Sarah and Rush have been together for four years. How would you go about conveying that without drawing attention to it? Go ahead, write the dialogue now then compare it to below. Notice how Levine hides the info inside a comeback line from Sarah.
That’s good writing!
But in the end, while I’d probably recommend reading it, Rush had too many traces of ‘formula’ for me to really get behind it. I like my TV serialized, so it takes a good procedural to win me over. And this felt like House mixed with Royal paints (or how Royal Pains looks, since I’ve never seen it). My hope is that they’re going to push the boundaries with this show and take things up a notch. No more big, bright, and pretty. Give us rusted and broken. We’ll see what Levine has in store for us soon.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: (The Uncertainty Factor) Remember, one of the best types of TV characters are the ones with a shitty moral compass. Give us a protag who lives right on that line between good and bad, so that every situation they’re in, we’re not sure what they’re going to do. So when Rush walks into a room, is he going to help the client (Red), even though it means someone else gets fucked (the battered girlfriend), or is he going to do the right thing and save the person in need? That’s what makes shows like this exciting, is the uncertainty-factor whenever our character walks into a situation.