Pilot Script Review of Debris
After the relative success of Manifest, NBC seems particularly interested in the high-concept/sci-fi genre this pilot season, with four scripts in the subgenre currently in play: Debris, La Brea, Echo, and Ordinary Joe. Debris was the network's first drama to be ordered to pilot this cycle and it's a clear departure from anything NBC has on the air right now. The series comes from creator J.H. Wyman, who was behind Fox's Almost Human a few years back, and who executive produced the sci-fi hit Fringe for Fox. Legendary Television is the studio. Their other sci-fi titles include USA's Colony, Netflix's Lost In Space and Amazon's Carnival Row and The Expanse.
WRITTEN BY: J.H. Wyman
DRAFT DATE: Revised Network Draft 01/07/2020
PAGE COUNT: 60 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open in a cab in New York City. The passenger, a man called ALERT (30s), is in the back seat, intently taking in the city. He arrives at his destination: a hotel where he meets with TWO SEEDY BRITS (30s) who are carrying two large suitcases full of cash. In exchange, Alert pulls from his own suitcase a plastic bag and shows them what's inside. They're clearly satisfied, and even more so when he shows them a second plastic bag, containing another mysterious thing. A THIRD SEEDY BRIT is sitting on a bench outside of the hotel. He spots the arrival of a black sedan, then a second one. He knows something's wrong. Especially when a helicopter passes overhead. Now he's panicking, and grabs his walkie-talkie to warn his colleagues. Alert stuffs as much money as he can into his pockets before leaving. Meanwhile, two federal agents BRYAN BENEVENTI (30s) and FINOLA JONES (30s) show a photo of Alert to the front desk clerk, who recognizes him right away.
The Brits no longer in sight, Alert runs down the stairwell, finding his out way through the patio, which is a flight up from the street. He jumps... and falls on a car below, which happens to be parked just next to the glass windows of the hotel lobby, where Bryan and Finola can't miss him -- especially with the car alarm going off. They run toward him as he quickly finds his way down the street and into a subway station. Alert takes out a gun and fires into the ceiling, purposely creating a panic. The doors of the subway close before he can get in, so he continues to the end the platform and enters the dark tunnel. Bryan is following him; he fires, but misses him. Meanwhile, Finola realizes Alert doesn't have what they're looking for. What they're looking for is still in the hotel room, and a maid has just found it. Inside the plastic bag, there's a thin piece of something looking like scorched metal. As she touches it, she's sent directly into a ballroom five stories down, causing no damage to the ceiling at all. And she's dead. In the subway, someone else is dead. Bryan wasn't able to catch Alert in time.There's blood everywhere on the tracks, an arm detached from his body. He's been violently sucked under the subway. Back in the hotel, they find the mysterious metal piece near the maid's corpse.
From here we dissolve into deep space, where an indistinctive mass is approaching the earth. Might be a wreckage, might be something else. Then, letters begin to appear in the night sky seen from Earth, forming the word DEBRIS.
COMMENTS: Per NBC, Debris is meant to be in the vein of The X-Files and Men in Black. That certainly comes through in the pilot script. I'd add a more recent comparison, since it too was perceived as a "new X-Files" when it launched: Fringe. They not only share a writer, but also an atmosphere and a modernity. And hopefully a visual ambition. Based on the script alone, the pilot for Debris promises to be a more expansive undertaking for its director and SFX team than most. It's not so much about building a world, since it's set in the world we live in; instead, the challenge here will be bringing the various other-worldly aspects of the script to life in a convincing way, from the "orbital plane" (a government aircraft with vast arrays of technology that our heroes use as their mobile command), to bodies levitating, to the "debris" itself, which is described in the script as a "metal Dorito," and is so crucial to the show... Hopefully the budget will match the script's ambitions.
The dynamic between the show's two leads doesn't feel particularly groundbreaking, but that may be a good thing. Audiences need something familiar to cling to when the things happening around them feel destabilizing. The series is designed as a semi-procedural/semi-serialized offering, with a big mythology, lots of action scenes and a some fun thrown in for good measure. Our duo work together in much the same way as Olivia Dunham and Peter Bishop, who themselves worked much the same way as Mulder and Scully. There's a spark, a wit, and a "will they or won't they" tension that makes their relationship (and each of them individually) appealing. That being said, this is not about the man of faith and the woman of science, or vice versa. They both have to believe: what they've already seen can't be unseen. Bryan Beneventi is a ballsy, headstrong, smart CIA operative who's not very good at emotions and empathy, but he's one hell of a joker. Meanwhile, his partner Finola Jones is a super-bright agent with MI6. She may be a classic rule follower, don't let her young age deceive you: she's already been through hell in her life.
In the same way that Fringe was not just a sci-fi show, there's some of family drama baked into Debris, especially with Finola who has a complicated family history. Both her parents are dead... or so she thinks (it's suggested that all is not as it seems). There's also family drama in the pilot's case of the week: a young boy who died in a car accident is haunting his family and the whole neighborhood, sucking up their energy in order to live again. The story is not spectacularly original, but the way it develops is. The most exciting part is it's clear from reading the pilot episode that even though this is just the beginning, a lot of thought has gone into building the mythology of the show. In other words, Debris seem to know where it's going (which wasn't the case with Manifest, for example). And like the very best pilot scripts, the end answers some questions and leaves us asking more...
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: The '90s had The X-Files, the '00s had Men In Black, the 2010s had Fringe, and the 2020s might have Debris. Yes, this is a risky project. The road is littered with high-concept sci-fi projects that have failed to live up to their potential, but NBC has something strange, ambitious and exciting here. It feels worth taking that chance.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
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