Pilot Script Review of Almost Family
Adapted from an Endemol Shine Australia series, FOX nabbed Almost Family (previously known as Sisters and then Not Just Me) in a competitive situation with a put pilot commitment. It then emerged as one of the hottest drama scripts at the network, becoming an early frontrunner for series order. It hails from The Path duo of writer Annie Weisman and executive producer Jason Katims, who created Roswell, Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. The Australian series premiered its seven-episode first season on Network Ten in October 2017 and launched as a Netflix Original Series in September 2018. No second season was ordered.
The show is loosely based on the story of a retired Indiana fertility doctor who made headlines in 2016 when he was sued for using his own sperm around 50 times on unwitting female patients he was treating. He avoided jail time but surrendered his medical license.
WRITTEN BY: Annie Weisman
DRAFT DATE: 4th Revised Network Draft 2/01/19
PAGE COUNT: 61 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: JULIA BECHLEY (30s) is looking to release some tension after a hard day at the office, where she's the communications director for her brilliant and famous fertility doctor of a father, LEON BECHLEY (60s). She meets her Tinder date SAM (30s) in a bar and promptly asks him to join her in the bathroom. Meanwhile, EDIE (30s), a lawyer, is having couples therapy with her husband TIM (30s), hoping they can reignite the flame and have sex again. But Edie feels uncomfortable and leaves. At the same time, ROXY (30s), a troubled and always in trouble ex-Olympic athlete, is trying to put her smiley face on at an evening gala organized around "Sports Legends of yesteryear," which her parents and agents DIANE and RON (60s) booked for her. When a creepy guy tries to touch her rear while taking a selfie, she becomes furious and takes him to the ground with surprising strength. The whole outburst is filmed, and now they have another scandal on their hands. Back to Julia, who's the center of the attention at another gala. She's a mess, but she has to make a speech introducing her father to the audience. A few minutes later, a reporter approaches her backstage and asks her to comment on a report that her father used his own sperm to impregnate patients at his clinic. Both Julia and her father are taken aback and assure the reporter that it's untrue. On the way out, Leon has what appears to be a heart attack and is sent to the hospital. The morning after, with Julia is at his bedside, Leon watches as the accusations against him are all over the news. To make it stop and since she thinks it's all a lie, Julia decides to offer anyone questioning their origins a free paternity test at the clinic. Soon afer, her childhood best friend Edie and Roxy both arrive at the clinic to be tested, each exhibiting a stress-induced tic that Julia recognizes as her own. Could it be true? Could they in fact be sisters? In walks Sam, the guy she had sex with at the bar, who may also be her brother...
COMMENTS: Almost Family feels a bit like a Shonda Rhimes-produced drama, and that's high praise. It has the same modern vibe, the same twists and turns, and a wide range of complicated female characters supported through their respective challenges by the power of sorority. Although in this case, it seems they're more than just spiritual sisters: they're real sisters, but they're just finding that part out. And you don't go from "only child" to "big sister" in just one day. It takes some adjusting, and the pilot only starts exploring it, which is promising for subsequent episodes if the series gets picked up. The scene where they realize that they won't ever be alone anymore is quite powerful. It's also the moment when the far-fetched idea of the show leaves space for authenticity and sweetness between three women who until this point haven't been the most likable. That's a roller-coaster both for the characters and for us, and there aren't many shows can do that effectively, especially over the course of a single episode.
Julia bears some similarities to Meredith Grey. Complicated childhood, a parent who's a doctor and who clearly has a God complex... She's not a groundbreaking heroine, but watching her realize much of her life was based on a lie is moving. Brittany Snow has finally found a character with depth and a show where she can shine again, in much the same way she did in American Dreams a decade ago. Edie is a successful criminal defense attorney who is partners in both life and work with her husband. Despite her desire for stability, she’s dissatisfied with her marriage and can’t seem to scratch the itch until she meets Amanda, a young, self-assured, gender-fluid District Attorney, who’s politically savvy and knows how to play the media. She provokes her. Edie doesn't know how to react but she's attracted to her. A woman in her thirties who realizes she might be gay or bisexual is still pretty rare on TV, especially for a network pilot. It's something I'd like see explored, especially since there's a twist: Edie becomes her father's attorney while Amanda will be her opponent in court. OK, it's not the most realistic of scenarios, but the drama is in full force. Roxy may be the character I like the least, but it may just be just that her feisty, unfiltered personality will take some time to appreciate. The story of this former Olympic gymnast who feels used by her parents/managers is certainly compelling.
As is often the case with female-fueled dramas, most of the male characters are a bit more one note. That could change if the series moves forward. The one exception is Leon Bechley, who will be played by Timothy Hutton. He appears to be a real piece of work, but he too has limited screen-time, confined to a hospital bed most of the pilot. He's a charming and brilliant doctor -- distinguished & highly respected, and it's implied that whatever he did exactly was done out of misguided generosity. Like the three central characters, he's complex and potentially fascinating.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Almost Family is a well-written serialized family drama that would be a great fit for ABC or NBC. While the post-Disney acquisition "New FOX" is still taking shape, executives there have said they plan to focus on sports, multicamera comedy, reality and procedurals, making this an odd choice to bring to pilot, let alone series. Can it survive sandwiched between The Masked Singer, Thursday Night Football and Last Man Standing? Not likely. But if somehow the network does choose to give it a try, they'd better give it the best timeslot possible and the promotional push it deserves. Almost Family is too good to be treated as filler.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] RECOMMEND