Premise: A family who owns an upscale hotel in the Florida Keys sees their world turned upside-down with the re-emergence of their oldest son, the Black Sheep of the family.
About: We got another Netflix series here, this one from Damages creators Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman, and Glenn Kessler. I never watched Damages cause it wasn’t my type of show. But I repeatedly heard about how well-written it was, which is why I decided to check this out. The show will star Friday Night Lights’ Kyle Chandler, as well as Chloe Sevigny and Steven Pasquale. The creators (Glenn and Todd are brothers) reportedly worked for an entire year on their pitch, which Netflix ate up. The Kessler brothers attended Harvard as well as went to film school at NYU. Not a bad pedigree.
Writers: Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman, and Glenn Kessler
Details: 88 pages – First Writer’s Draft – 11/14/13
Here’s the problem when a business sector starts thriving. Everyone rushes into it. The excitement accompanied by this rush has the unintended effect of loosening quality control. Everyone figures there’s so much good going on, why stop it? Look no further than the boom of Reality TV. Do you remember when all you had to do to get a reality TV show was show up with a half-baked idea? Joe Millionaire! Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance!
Okay, okay. So that’s not that far from where we are now. But you have to remember that back then there was one-tenth the number of outlets for those shows. Finally, someone realized, “Hey wait a minute. We need some quality control!”
I think there’s a little of that going on with the TV boom right now. People are so excited that TV is doing well that they’re getting kinda lazy. Take WGN’s Manhattan. What’s the point of this show??? We’re gonna diddle around with a bunch of science nerds until they blow up Japan? Do we really need 7 seasons of television to tell that story? I don’t think we do. But people are so eager to fill up these original TV slots that they say, hell, why not??
I bring this up because despite the glut of shows hitting the airwaves, we haven’t had a true breakout show in awhile. True Detective maybe? But that was more of a mini-series. The Blacklist? Ehhh… I feel like the only people who watch that are James Spader’s family. I’m wondering if that’s a result of this lack of quality control, or if we’ve just reached a point where there are more TV slots than there are good writers. Granted, I’ve read some good TV scripts this year. But writing a good TV script isn’t the same as making a good TV show. The only thing you have to go on is, have they done it before? And today’s writers have.
The Rayburn family pretty much owns one of the islands in the Florida Keys. They have a thriving upscale hotel business that has made them rich beyond their wildest dreams. Each member of the family has something good going for them. There’s John, who’s the town sheriff. There’s Kevin, who has a thriving business fixing boats. There’s Meg, who helps manage the hotel, and then there’s mom and dad, who own it. Each of them are beyond content with their lives.
And then there’s Danny. The black sheep. He’s the sibling who never follows through on his commitments. Who only shows up when he needs money. Who hangs out with the sketchy crew. And who always screws up even the most minor situations.
So when The Rayburn family has their annual Family/Hotel weekend-long party-thing, guess who’s the last one to show up (if you guess John you are a bad reader). Although I can’t say I blame Danny. The Rayburns idea of fun is holding family swimming contests and taking the canoe out for a morning paddle.
Things start to unravel at the ball-sized dinner when Danny purposefully shows up with a cheap townie in order to cause a scene. It’s revealed that Meg, meanwhile, is cheating on her boyfriend. And John is pulled away from the party where he learns that a second woman this month has been burned and drowned, this right before the big tourist season.
As is the case with all seemingly perfect families, we get the sense that this one isn’t as beautiful underneath as it is above. And this will play out in the worst way, when the family collectively makes the decision to do something unfathomable, something so terrible, that it will change their family…forever.
I’m going to be honest here. One of the reasons I never watched Damages was because it looked like it was written by… hmm, how do I say this? By entitled well-off, got-all-the-breaks in life Ivy League folk who write for like-minded people. It kind of had that “You’re not invited to the adult table” exclusivity feel to it. It just looked so serious and smart.
Now I admit I don’t know if it actually played that way, but the first half of KZK definitely backs this assumption up. You can feel the writers’ pedigree slithering up the page. I felt at times like I was Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, sneaking into a Final Club where I didn’t belong. I mean where in life do people really worry about things like what table they’re assigned to for dinner. It’s dinner. Bring out the food and let’s eat!
For that reason, I couldn’t relate to any of these characters, which made it hard to care about anyone. Ironically, the only character I related to on any level was Danny, because he looked down on this elaborate lifestyle. The problem was, Danny was such an asshole that I still couldn’t root for the guy.
Luckily, as the script went on, it started to feel more like a story, particularly when the dead burned woman showed up. But it was really Danny who kept this pilot afloat. He was our only source of conflict. It was like dropping a piranha into a pool of goldfish. Everywhere he goes, he makes people uncomfortable, he changes the direction of the moment. Which was exciting to read.
A perfect example is the big dinner. Danny shows up at the table with some half-wit waitress from town and just lets her drink as much as possible. The family, who’s supposed to appear perfect to the crowd, now has this townie-bomb slurping up every apple-tini in sight, preparing to do who knows what to embarrass the hell out of them. And that certainly kept me reading.
I will put my foot down and say there’s a device I’m seeing a lot of in pilot writing that I don’t like. And I saw it here too. The writer writes a big flash-forward teaser, one that implies something bad will happen later, and then skates by the next 30 pages on the assumption that this has generated enough suspense that they can use those pages to set up characters in the most boring way possible.
The 30 pages after our teaser amount to people preparing for the party. The sequence was obviously inspired by 70s movies like The Godfather and The Deer Hunter, but (and I know this will drive Grendl crazy to hear) audiences don’t have the patience for that stuff anymore. Not unless you’re packing some plot into those pages, giving us other things to look forward to. If you go ten minutes without something happening, your viewer is checking their e-mail.
Now in an interview with the writers (something I went searching for when nothing happened for ten pages), they said this was going to be a show that no one had ever done before on TV. So I was looking for any elements to back this claim up. I could only find one. Danny keeps encountering some woman that he’s both terrified and intrigued by. She seems to show up and disappear at the oddest moments, and we begin to suspect (or at least I did) that she may have been someone Danny killed in the past. It was weird and definitely peaked my curiosity.
But then something beyond unexpected happened that made this development moot. And I’m going to get into major spoiler territory here so you might want to turn away. Here was this Danny guy – the only interesting thing about this pilot – some might say the key to this pilot working, and then at the end, the family fucking kills him! I read it three times to make sure I read it correctly. But yes, they actually kill off the best character in the script.
Now there are a couple of hints here that this could be one of those flashback-type shows. Where we’re jumping forward and backward in time a lot. Which means Danny may not be entirely gone. But I thought that was a pretty bold move from the writers, and it turned what was a slightly above average pilot into something ballsier. I like when shows show balls. In a world where so many writers stick on 17, it’s the guys that say “hit me” that win the big pot.
I remember the Game of Thrones pilot script doing something similar. After spending its first 60 pages doing nothing but setting up an endless list of characters, it wowed us with the incest/push the kid off the tower ending. So maybe this should be a new trend. The kill or maim a main character at the end of your pilot move?
I don’t know. But with the pedigree of these writers and the reports of how much Netflix loved this pitch, there should be a big push behind it. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Drop a piranha into the pool. Instead of having to pull your pick axe out every time you want to dig for conflict, just create a “piranha” character, someone who IS conflict. Therefore, every scene you drop them into, the conflict writes itself. Danny was that character here.