Genre: TV Pilot – Sci-fi/Thriller/Drama
Premise: In the near future, a robot is accused of murder for the first time ever. A young defense attorney must find out how to defend him, despite there being no precedent for the case.
About: Tin Man was written by Ehren Kruger, one of the biggest screenwriting names in town, as he’s written almost all of the Transformers movies. He also penned horror favorite, The Ring, and busted onto the scene with the awesome thriller, Arlington Road. While the draft I read of Tin Man is listed as a traditional pilot, I’m seeing on IMDB that Tin Man will be more of a TV movie. Not sure what that means, but this seems to be part of a new protective network trend designed to take risks without admitting failure. If the show doesn’t do well, they just say it was a one-off. If it does do well, they turn it into a series. Tin Man will air on NBC this year.
Writer: Ehren Kruger
Details: 54 pages – undated
Man, I had to work a long time and weed through a TON of pilots to find one that wasn’t a procedural. I saw everything from a detective who’s going blind and uses his other senses to solve crimes, to a lawyer who’s secretly an alien. Procedurals are the reason I’ve been uninterested in TV for so long. I never understood why you’d watch a show whose story didn’t evolve in subsequent episodes.
It wasn’t until serialized shows started making a big push after Lost that TV became interesting. But Hollywood loves its procedural television and doesn’t want to move away from it anytime soon. There seems to be two reasons for that. One, procedural television is a lot easier to write for on a long-term basis. Just give a lawyer a case to argue, a doctor a patient to save, or a detective a murder to solve, and you can write episode after episode after episode. The engine (goal) that drives each episode is built right into the format!
Two, it’s much easier for procedural shows to pick up new viewers. Understanding the show doesn’t require you to know what happened five episodes ago, whereas in a serialized show, like Breaking Bad, that’s not the case. We need to know that Walter killed that crazy ass drug dealer to understand why these two drug kingpins are after him this week.
This is, of course, changing. If you start hearing about a good serialized show, you can always “binge watch” it on Netflix and catch up to the series in the process. And you have to remember, we didn’t used to have huge DVD sets of an entire series, or the entire show a click away on Amazon or Itunes. So even when a show is over, it can still make a lot of money from old viewers as well as new ones. In other words, these days, TV is more receptive to the serialized format than ever.
Which is a good thing. Because the sooner we can get away from networks putting procedurals about cops in wheelchairs on television (Remember Ironside???) the better.
With that said, this still doesn’t solve that other issue: how to WRITE these serialized shows. When you write a serialized show, you have to come up with a new story engine EVERY SINGLE EPISODE. Think about how hard that is. With Grey’s Anatomy, all they had to do was say, “We just got a man in the East Wing who’s showing signs of pregnancy,” and that episode is taken care of. Coming up with original plot lines time and time again for shows like Lost and Breaking Bad is a lot more challenging than it looks.
Anyway, that’s a rather long rant that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with today’s pilot, so why don’t we switch gears and get to that.
Tim Man takes place in the near future and follows a robot named Adam Sentry (who looks 30 years old in human years). Adam is the creation of trillionaire (yes, with a “t”) Charles Vale, who owns a huge robotics company. Adam is Vale’s de facto robot Butler, and takes care of every aspect of his life, which is relevant, because Vale is sick and going to die soon.
Turns out it isn’t the cancer that gets him though. Vale is murdered in his home one evening. And who’s the only one in the house with him at the time? That’s right. Adam. So Adam is taken to the police station and read his Miranda Rights. Which sounded like a good idea at the time until the police realize that they can’t read Miranda Rights to a bunch of bolts and wires. That would imply he’s human.
And thus the United States Court System must figure out how to proceed with the first ever robot accused of murder. Do they try him? Do they turn him into scrap metal? There’s all sorts of implications here, since if you try a robot, that implies robots are equal to humans, and then you start giving them rights, and pretty soon they’re running the world and then you have Terminators and then you have the Matrix.
Adam surprisingly asks for a dying breed to defend him, a HUMAN defense lawyer. Katie Piper sees this as an opportunity to bust out of being a glorified secretary and takes the job. But she learns the hard way that the Vale corporation doesn’t want Adam anywhere near a trial. They want him terminated. So when (spoiler) they try to kill him, Adam has no other choice but to resist everything that was programmed into him, and go on the run. He knows that his one shot at not being shut down, is finding out who killed Charles Vale, and why.
All you can really ask for from a show/script/movie is that the writer execute the idea in a way that isn’t obvious. I mean, you still want them to fulfill the promise of the premise. People who bought tickets for The Terminator because they heard it was about a killer cyborg want to see scenes where a cyborg kills people. But on the whole, if an idea is executed exactly as expected, it’s boring.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be surprised. I want the writer to be ahead of me. And Tin Man unravels slightly differently than I expected, which was refreshing. I think I was expecting a straight-forward boring delivery about the increasingly frequent debate (in sci-fi screenwriting) of whether robots should be given equal status to humans.
We get a little of that, but we also get this plucky human defense lawyer, a “dying breed,” who’s using this opportunity less as a noble cause and more as a way to advance her career. When that happened and I realized I wasn’t going to be preached to, I was on board.
And I liked the implication that Adam was holding a bunch of proprietary information, since he was Charles Vale’s personal robot, and what that could mean for the company if he went to trial and was forced to divulge those secrets. And therefore them wanting to kill him before he made it to trial. All of a sudden, there were a few more layers to the story than I expected. The stakes were higher than just “should we try robots?”
And the pilot didn’t end how I expected it to either. I assumed this was the beginning of a drawn out court case that would last half the first season. But at the end (spoiler), Adam escapes and we’re essentially introduced to a future version of The Fugitive. I was surprised at how closely this mimicked that premise, but it’s a recipe that definitely works, and thank god it keeps us away from procedural territory.
I don’t know if I had any problems with the script other than, maybe, it doesn’t feel ground-breaking enough? It feels a little too familiar? Robots seem to be the new craze in TV. We have Almost Human. Extant, coming up on CBS, and I’m sure at least a couple of series on SyFy.
This idea of people mimicking robots… I don’t know how else to put it but it feels like an easy way to squeeze a high concept into a small budget. Which is fine. Budget-wise, it’s a smart move. But I feel that audiences are becoming hip to this approach, which is why shows like Almost Human reek of cheapness. Occasionally showing the metal skeleton other underneath the skin after the robot gets cut—we’re kind of tired of that, seeing as we saw it all the way back in The Terminator.
I suppose it’s all in how its shot, the vision and what the production value is, but I need more than just “robots in human skin” these days to get excited about a series.
With that said, I think Kruger is a good writer. You may not agree when you see those Transformers credits, but the impression I get there is that he’s writing with 50 heads over his shoulder. In this case, with Tin Man, I see something solid. It’s not spectacular, but it’s a good pilot.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: You don’t HAVE to write a strict “serialized” show or a strict “procedural” show. You can heavily serialize something (like Lost) or you can write a procedural with serialized elements, like The X-Files. The X-Files had plenty of standalone procedural shows, but then would have shows that solely dealt with the mythology. So don’t feel like you have to go only one way or only the other when making the procedural/serial choice.