Pilot Script Review of Deputy
After several years of bad movies and forgettable TV appearances, Stephen Dorff is back in the game and on a roll folowing a major recurring role on FOX's musical drama Star and overwhelming positive notice for his starring role opposite Mahershala Ali on the third installment of HBO's True Detective. A few weeks ago, he signed on to star in the Deputy pilot and his agents got him a great deal: according to Deadline, he'll be paid north of $200,000 an episode if the pilot goes to series (and a big penalty if it doesn’t). If the show goes to a second season, Dorff will become an executive producer on the show and a nab a piece of the profits. In conjunction with his casting, he also closed a feature script development deal with eOne to develop and star in a movie, which would be produced by David Ayer and Chris Long’s Cedar Park Entertainment. That's A LOT, and suggests all involved have confidence in this project, especially with Dorff attached.
WRITTEN BY: Will Beall
PAGE COUNT: 61 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: Sheriff’s Deputy BILL HOLLISTER (50s) is reckless and doesn’t play by the rules. So much so that the LA County Sheriff's office is working to get him phased out of the service because he’s at the top of the department’s inevitable-lawsuit list. But after the sitting Sheriff has a heart attack and dies, it turns out Bill is next in line and ends up becoming Sheriff himself. Thrust into office, Bill fires the Undersheriff who led the campaign against him and delivers a portion of his introductory speech in Spanish, speaking directly at the camera to LA’s Latino community in an attempt at extending an olive branch. Against the advice of his personal driver/bodyguard BISHOP (30s), Bill refuses to stop doing hands-on investigations, and personally looks into a potential new collaboration between LA's gangs and the Mexican drug cartels. He tries to keep his old partner’s son, JOSEPH (20s), out of harm’s way as Joseph starts at the bottom of the Sheriff’s Department, but fails to stop him from becoming a Deputy or getting injured in a prison riot. He also goes toe-to-toe with his wife, PAULA REYES (50s, Latina) over his new job and her role as the head trauma surgeon at LA General. Also central to the plot is CADE WALKER (40s), a member of the LASD's equivalent of a SWAT team who adopts two kids orphaned in a gunfight in which he killed their father. The pilot concludes with Bill capturing VILLALOBOS (30s), a lower-tier ringleader of the gang/cartel group, following a vicious gunfight at a ranch in Lancaster.
COMMENTS: Deputy wants to be "a fresh spin on the classic Western" per the network, but that's not really how I'd describe the pilot script. To be sure, its main protagonist is a maverick, and Stephen Dorff looks like someone who could be time-travelling from the 50-60s: he has that strong all-american, masculine, cowboy vibe that's perfect for the role. But don't expect deserted landscapes, horses and Wild West "Madams". Instead, Deputy is set on the urban streets of Los Angeles, with gangs and cartels. Unless there's a big work done in the directing to make it feel more like a western (which is doable), FOX should be careful with the way they promote it. Those who will expect a western may be disappointed big time. So it's definitely modern, but fresh? Not so much. Remember FOX's Gang Related? Granted, the characters here are more engaging, but it's not Justified either...
Judging from the pilot, Deputy is not a straight procedural. There's no real "case of the week" (at least not yet). Instead, it seems to more about office politics and power, with a smattering of more personal storylines through the main couple and their family. The sheriff's wife is a doctor, of course -- she's more than just "the wife," and that's a good thing. There are multiple storylines that suggest it will be more of a ensemble piece, albeit with a strong leading man. That's a subtle difference, but one that counts, as it opens the story up from its roots in a genre that doesn't seem to be in sync with what audiences are responding to these days. It's risky (and brave) in that sense. Oh, and there's a lot of action.
About that ensemble: There's Deputy Cade Walker, played by Brian Van Holt, also perfectly cast for a role in a "western". The character is a former Marine who served in Afghanistan and is eight years sober. He’s tough, with a well developed gallows humor. Deputy Breanna Bishop is the smartly dressed, sarcastic, “quietly badass” driver in charge of newly appointed Sheriff Hollister’s security detail. Bex Taylor-Klaus was hired to replace Jasmine Kaur, who was originally cast in the role. The decision was apparently made after the pilot’s first table read, when producers decided to take the character in a different direction. Taylor-Klaus identifies as gender non-binary, and the character stands out in the script. Then there's Deputy Joseph Blair, a bright-eyed and buzz-cut young man who's the son of Hollister’s old partner. Their relationship could be interesting. And finally, our nemesis: Jerry London, an overbearing bureaucrat who's a “political apex predator," openly contemptuous of Hollister and itching to drive him off the force. Mark Moses is playing him and he's good at playing villains. Together, it's a strong set of characters and interpreterers who could sell the show by themselves.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: It's hard to know what New FOX will look like come September, but if the goal is to please a more masculine, middle American viewership in an environment where scripted shows are bookended by sports, Deputy could be a strong contender. But with very few spots available and a lot of competition, it's not the safest bet.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] RECOMMEND