Pilot Script Review of Blood Relative
After the failure of their fall drama Almost Family (read my pilot script review), you'd think that Fox network brass might balk at ordering another genealogy-based show, but Blood Relative is a very different kind of show. Originally picked-up as a cast-contingent pilot, it got a formal pick-up when Oscar-winner Melissa Leo signed on to headline the show.
Blood Relative is based on James Renner’s 2018 article “Beyond the Jungle of Bad: The True Story of Two Women from California Who Are Solving All the Mysteries,” about Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick and Dr. Margaret Press who combined their genealogy expertise to push the boundaries of forensic science and help law enforcement identify Joe and Jane Does as well as track down serial killers. Renner co-wrote the script alongside writer-producer Chris Levinson (Tyrant). The project marks a return to broadcast for Paramount Television, which announced its arrival in 2013 with the CBS drama pilot Beverly Hills Cop. That series didn't make the cut, and the company has since focused exclusively on cable and streaming fare. Anonymous Content (Mr Robot, True Detective, 13 Reasons Why) and Fox Entertainment are co-producers.
WRITTEN BY: Chris Levinson & James Renner
DRAFT DATE: 1/24/2020
PAGE COUNT: 58 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: Florida. Gator Park. Day. The camera focuses on the imposing jaws of a giant American Alligator. An Alligator Wrangler spouts their knowledge of all things alligator from an air boat packed with tourists. Minutes later, at the park entrance, an old man (70s) arrives and greets folks as they enter. He has a gray mustache, coke bottle glasses and a cane. He seems a like a good guy, and people seem to like him. Once in the breakroom, we discover his name: DAN RESSLER. He exchanges cynical words with the Alligator Wrangler. Later that evening, he comes back to his cottage. He goes to put his key in the lock when he freezes... There's a sheet of children's stickers stuck between the screen door and the jam. They represent a cartoon character named GEEDIS. Dan panics and looks over his shoulder before pushing inside. Breathing fast, he goes straight to his bedroom closet. He suddenly drops his old man routine. He peels off his mustache, drops his cane, and punches a hole in the wall. There's a safe behind, and inside it a 9mm semi-automatic gun and a clip. He slides the clip into the gun and chambers a bullet. He studies himself in the mirror and places the Geedis sticker over his reflection. He puts the barrel under his chin. Cut to black and the sound of a single gunshot.
In the morning, Dan's cottage is now a crime scene. DETECTIVE JOHN KELLY (50s) arrives, followed by his partner BRICK DOUGHTY (30s). They're not happy to be there. It's a Sunday and they both had other plans -- Joe was to attend his daughter's anniversary party, and Brick was planning a long bike ride. Instead they're here, investigating on a suicide. Their interest perks up when they learn that Dan was not who he said he was. Dan Ressler died on a car accident in 1972. So who is this man? He's a JOHN DOE and Brick has an idea John doesn't like at all: what if they ask John's sister LOU KELLY (50s) for her help, since she's a DNA genius, or more precisely a genealogist. John reluctantly agrees. Cut to Lou at John's daughter's party. She's having a ball as a magician makes a dove appear from a scarf. She sits in a chair behind, a dripping ice-cream cone in hand. We quickly get a better idea of the reason why John didn't want to work with her: she's a little odd.
COMMENTS: When we think "forensic genealogy-themed crime drama," the first thing that comes to mind is the CSI franchise, which first debuted on CBS 20 years ago. Blood Relative probably won't have quite as impressive a run, but I can definitely see it working for Fox, alongside shows like 9-1-1, The Resident and Prodigal Son. Like those shows, this one is a character-driven procedural with enough serialized elements to keep viewers engaged beyond the crime of the week. It's also reminiscent of Bones, the FOX hit show based on forensic anthropology and forensic archaeology. Like CSI, which was famously rejected by ABC before landing on CBS, Bones didn"t sound sexy at the get-go either, but it lasted 12 years.
Blood Relative has a lot going on for it: it's efficient (even when dealing with the specifics of forensics), it's fast-paced, clever, and it's fueled by family, thanks to its odd sister/brother pair with a complicated history. In the same way that Hugh Laurie and Freddie Highmore played a big part in the success of House and The Good Doctor, Melissa Leo, who's an incredible actress, will surely almost imbue her principal character with a depth that belies her quirks. Like Gregory House and Shaun Murphy, one of the things that make her character fun is that she says everything she wants to say, at anytime and any cost. Tate Donovan, who's been cast as her brother John should be great, too.. My only worry is that both actors skew on the older side for Fox (although Kudos to casting them anyway).
So, Lou Kelly is... difficult. With an IQ in the 190s, she wrote the book on genetic genealogy and can trace anyone if she has a viable tissue sample to play with. But Lou has a habit of burning bridges as she goes. Irritable and confrontational, she’s the smartest person in the room with no time to explain her methods to average folks. Except to her little brother, John. Everybody likes John. He’s always done everything right. Married his high school sweetheart and had two kids. Followed in his father’s footsteps and is now a detective on the force where his old man was lieutenant. The siblings' unlikely working partnership will bring to the surface demons from long ago. John will do a deep dive into their shared past, asking questions about their childhood and their father. Questions he won’t be able to un-ask. Maybe that’s exactly what will set Lou free, but the idyllic life John has built for himself threatens to crumble around him. There's a big personal serialized element here, but there's another more conspiratorial one too, as the first case they're working on is linked to their father, and it's not totally solved at the end of the pilot.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Efficient and well-written, Blood Relative won't revolutionize broadcast television, but it looks like a great fit for Fox's current lineup. It boasts characters and performers that viewers will connect with, and serialized elements to keep us tuned in.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
BEST FIT: Paired with 9-1-1: Lone Star, whenever it's scheduled next season.