Pilot Script Review of Council of Dads
Council of Dads is inspired by Bruce Feiler’s bestselling memoir The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness and the Men Who Could Be Me. In 2008, Felier was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer. Fearing he would die leaving his young twin daughters without a father figure, he decided to form a "Council of Dads" -- six of his closest friends to help raise his daughters. Each of the six had an area of expertise, such as homework dad, or outdoors dad, so the girls knew who to turn to for what when their mother was not available. The happy twist in Feiler's story (one not shared by this adaptation) is that he made a full recovery. As a consequence, the real-life council was never fully activated.
The book was first adapted for TV eight years ago as a half-hour comedy written by Peter Tolan (Rescue Me, The Larry Sanders Show). FOX bought the project with a big commitment, and it went to pilot starring Kyle Bornheimer, Ken Howard and Diane Farr, but failed to make it on the schedule. So why is NBC revisiting it, nearly a decade later? Like so many of the family dramas being developed across the dial this year, one need look no further than the runaway success of This Is Us.
WRITTEN BY: Joan Rater & Tony Phelan.
DRAFT DATE: Third network draft 1/7/19
PAGE COUNT: 63 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: Father of four SCOTT PERRY (40) seems to be living a charmed life until DR. OLIVER POST (40), Scott’s best friend and also his doctor, diagnoses him with a rare form of cancer, requiring him to spend time in the hospital and in chemo. During Scott’s leave, his friend and AA’s sponsor, LARRY MALVERN (60), drops by to help Scott’s wife, ROBIN (40), with the kids and general errands. Scott returns from the hospital, but a visit from another old friend, ANTHONY LAVELLE (40), leads to a conversation about the childhood CrabShack that Scott bought the previous year. Then, another surprise: Robin is pregnant. Paired with his ongoing chemo, this revelation leaves him more worried than ever about how much time he has left, and who will help Robin with their kids. In search of a solution, he assembles his best friends to serve as a "council of men" to look out for his children, his wife and the CrabShack for one year. Then, on the day of his final lab test, Robin's water breaks.
COMMENTS: This Is Us was such an instant hit for NBC that one might have expected each of the other broadcast networks to try to capitalize on the phenomenon by launching their own copycats, but perhaps wisely, they haven't... until this year. 2019 marks a huge return for the family drama, with everyone apparently looking for the next This Is Us, including NBC itself. Council of Dads is very much in the same vein, promising those now familiar feelings of sweet melancholy and nostalgia. The question is not will you cry, but when will you cry. But are the two shows different enough that there’s a place for both in our lives?
As a fan of the genre, it's tempting to answer that yes, of course there's a place for both. But if Council of Dads has an achilles heel, it's that it shares more than just a similar tone with This is Us -- it shares a similar story and even similar characters. Take the dad character: he’s handsome, so nice, open, and generous, great with the kids, great with his wife, great with his friends. The perfect guy. But he also has a darker side. Just like Jack, he struggled with addiction in the past. He works as a heroic, almost divine figure -- a soon-to-be haunting ghost for his family. Because yes, he dies at the end. Don”t consider this a spoiler: it’s part of the concept. There’s no concept if he survives. What’s great though, is that even though we know it's coming, his death tears your heart out just the same. I think it has to do with the way it’s announced, with a sobriety that’s almost surprising for a show that could have been a lot more manipulative if it wanted to. If you haven’t already cried up up to that point (unlikely), that’s the moment when you’ll let it all out.
Robin, like Rebecca, is a courageous woman who’s a bit overshadowed by her husband in the pilot but remains an appealing character. As an OB/GYN and mother/stepmother to 4 children (with another on the way), you can only admire her. Then you have 21 year-old Luly, the eldest child. The story is told from her point of view and voiceover. Scott had her before he met Robin, but the birth mother was never really in the picture and Luly feels ready to have a little bit more of her in her life. A talented writer, she's focused on her future and waiting to hear if she’ll get an important internship at a prominent New York publication. But her priorities change dramatically after her father gets sick. That’s when she meets Evan, a smart, caring young man with a great sense of humor who has been taking care of his sick mother. Their relationship is reminiscent of Kate and Toby’s. They’re going through the same hell at the moment, and that’s what brings them together. The difference is they’re younger and more reckless. Luly is probably the best character in the show. She has a lot of potential.
Can’t say the same for her 15 year-old brother Theo, who’s a younger version of Kevin Pearson (before the celebrity, alcohol and drugs). He thinks the world is against him and that he can’t do anything. Most of his storyline in the pilot is about his driving test. Although it effectively reveals his difficulties and weaknesses, it’s not as gripping as the other stories. 13 year-old Charlotte’s story is way more exciting, but it's also the show's biggest déjà vu. She’s an adopted child who wants to know more about her origins. Yep, same as Randall. With her best friend Tess, she decides to go meet her birth cousin without her parents knowing. Her story could become very emotional and should ultimately take a very different path from Randall’s. Finally there’s JJ, the youngest of the family -- a sweet 7 year-old boy who has a wonderful relationship with his parents and who reveals himself to be transgender. Finally a story that hasn’t already been told by This Is Us! I love the way it’s handled, with such simplicity and acceptance. There’s a human warmth throughout the pilot script that should fit well with its hot setting (Savannah, Georgia).
In the council, we have three men who make their way into the story quite sweetly. Dr. Oliver Post is an esteemed oncologist and surgeon who is Scott’s doctor. He was Robin’s friend from college, and he’s a married gay man now, with a child. He seems cool. Anthony Lavelle is one of Scott’s oldest friends. He’s a chef, he’s single and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s cool too. And Larry is the oldest and perhaps the wisest of the bunch. He has a strong presence, he’s rough around the edges and he’s a bit mysterious. We don’t know much about him so far. I wouldn’t say he’s cool but I like him, too. There’s really nobody not to like in this show. The council of dads concept is more of a theory in the pilot than an actual thing, since we’ll have to wait for at least the second episode to see how it works.
As you've probably surmised by now, Council of Dads is a very progressive show with a lot of diversity and a ton of good intentions. The writing is solid enough that it doesn't feel too packed, but there are stories here that could have waited. Same goes for the cliffhanger. We know why pilots have them, but in my opinion this is the kind of show that doesn’t really need it -- the family is enough to make us come back, no matter what. Likewise, I worry that the show may be headed in a more soapy direction, but time will tell (if it gets picked up).
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Does NBC need another emotional family drama on their schedule when they already have This Is Us, which set the bar quite high? Not really, but it would be a shame if Council of Dads were passed over for that reason. If the finished product is as moving and beautiful as the script, there’s no good reason for stopping there. The Perrys may or may not be the next Pearsons, but here's hoping they live to see another day.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
BEST FIT: After This Is Us or as its midseason replacement