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Pilot Script Review of Echo

Can this body-swapping time-travel procedural succeed where others have failed?
  • Janina Gavankar (The Morning Show) plays Mel Goodwin in Echo.
    Editor's Note: Ever wonder how TV executives wade through the dozens of pilot scripts they're pitched each year? They have staff script readers, who provide what's called "Script Coverage," an executive summary and a recommendation for each script. Now, thanks to Primetimer's own resident script reader, you too can preview some of the season's most buzzed about pilots. Note that all opinions are our own, and all plot, casting and other creative details described here are subject to change.

    As I've discussed in my recent pilot script reviews for Debris and La Brea, NBC has four high-concept dramas on its roster this pilot season. Echo comes from Davis Entertainment, which has come to specialize in high-octane procedurals — the company has been behind several NBC shows over the last few years (The Blacklist, Ironside, The Player, Timeless), plus CBS's Magnum P.I. and The Equalizer (read my pilot script review), which is currently in contention for the 2020-21 season. JJ Bailey wrote the script; it's his first-ever sold pilot.

    WRITTEN BY: JJ Bailey
    DRAFT DATE: 12/29/19 (Second Network Draft)
    PAGE COUNT: 61 pages

    SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open on a midcentury home at night. A woman's voice is heard, saying "Something's wrong." In the master bedroom, there are a series of framed photos of a JAPANESE BEARDED MAN (40s). We land on TRENT CAFFEY (30s), gun in hand, watching his reflection in the mirror. We don't see his face, but it's clear he's not the bearded man. Cut to the same master bedroom in the morning as sunlight washes over MEL GOODWIN (30s). She wears a FBI windbreaker and speaks with Trent through her earpiece. It appears they've waited all night for the homeowner, but he never came home. As the camera settles behind Trent, we finally see his reflection, only now he looks like the Japanese Bearded Man. It's at that very moment that the very same Japanese Beared Man arrives in front of the house.

    Cut to the ECHO STATION, a high-tech command center full of digital screens displaying brain activity and other vital signs. In the middle of it are VICTORIA POTTER (50S) and RILEY BURNSIDE (20s) at the helm of the whole operation. A glass partition runs through the middle of the command center. On the other side is a white room with a cryo chamber keeping the body of the Japanese Bearded Man on ice. He's clearly dead. Wires are drilled directly into his skull. Beside him in a reclined gurney is Trent, who has a collection of electrodes attached to his head. He's alive. Meanwhile, back in the midcentury home, Trent stalks down the hallway at night, while Mel does the same thing at day. Turns out they're in the same location but 36 hours apart. The living room is calm in Trent's timeline, but it's a crime scene in Mel's. Suddenly, a cloud of gas seeps out of the air ducts. Trent coughs and chokes, but Mel can't do anything about it from where (or more preciely, when) she is. Mel, Victoria and Riley implore Trent to abort the mission immediately. But he doesn't. Behind the door, the KILLER is waiting, wearing a gas mask and holding a large hunting knife. It's the Japanese Bearded man. He kneels over Trent's body and strikes. In the command center, Trent's vitals are crashing, the alarm is blaring. His body convulses, blood spurts from his mouth, and he flatlines. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

    COMMENTS: Focusing on a team of investigators who solve crimes by going into the past where they assume the victim's identity in order to prevent the crime before it happens, Echo is fast-paced and suspenseful with an interesting premise. The further I got into the pilot script, however, the more I was reminded of other shows that have attempted to pull similar narrative strings, including Tru Calling, Unforgettable, and NBC's Reverie. Whether it's through dreams or psychic abilities, multiple variations on this concept have been tried before, and none of them lasted very long. As a consequence, I'm not sure there's an audience for Echo on NBC (or anywhere else, for that matter)

    The script does a good job of upping the emotional stakes by drawing parallels between the case of the week and the backstory of the series' lead character, DAVID, who is introduced in the pilot as a newcomer to the world of the Echo and serves as a proxy for the viewer. Unfortunately these stakes are temporary, and it's hard to imagine many future cases being able to follow suit.

    In virtually every other respect, the script is focused almost entirely on the mission. The other characters are sympathetic but they lack depth. Mel Goodwin is a police officer who’s driven and eager to prove herself. Carl Gaines is an old-school police officer. Riley Burnside is an FBI agent with an enormous intellect and big heart. I don't doubt that subsequent episodes will flesh them out, but their potential seems limited.

    FINAL RECOMMENDATION: One of four high-concept dramas in contention this year at NBC, Echo is fast-paced, suspenseful, and creates an interesting world, even if it's one where its hard to imagine there being much at stake for its characters moving forward. With past as prologue, I'm not convinced there's an audience for a sci-fi procedural of this sort, but its producers have a solid enough track record, which could make this series a chance worth taking for NBC.

    [   ] PASS
    [   ] RECOMMEND

    BEST FIT: Fridays at 8 or 9.