Pilot Script Review of Emergence

Allison Tolman stars as a small town sheriff in this high-concept plane crash mystery.
  • Allison Tolman stars in Emergence
    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.

    Emergence marks a reunion for writers Michelle Fazekas & Tara Butters and director Paul McGuigan after working together on the 2017 ABC fantasy dramedy Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, which went to pilot and then to series at ABC. Sent to the Tuesday 10pm death slot, it lasted a single 16 episode season. As the old saying goes, you don’t change a winning team, but this time, ABC Studios didn’t keep the project for themselves. Instead, it ended up at NBC with a put pilot commitment. Since it’s not produced in-house, the project faces an uphill battle getting ordered to series at the Peacock, but it does boast one of the most sought-after actors this pilot season in lead actress Allison Tolman (Fargo, Downward Dog, Good Girls).

    WRITTEN BY: Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters
    DRAFT DATE: 2nd Revised Network Draft. 1/8/19
    PAGE COUNT: 64 pages

    SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: One night, JO TORRES (40s), a recently divorced mother and the Chief of Police in the sleepy town of Southold on Long Island is awakened by a boom in the distance that causes the power to go out. Called to the scene of a small aircraft crash, Jo finds a young girl, all alone. The girl seems perfectly fine physically, but has no memory of who she is. While she's being assessed at the hospital, shadowy people claiming to be federal agents show up demanding to see the girl, setting off red flags for Jo and her doctor friend ABBY FRASIER (50s). Fearing for the girl after an abduction scare, Jo decides to keep her close at home with her teenage daughter, BREE (14) and her father ED (60s). Jo even recruits her ex–husband, ALEX (40s), to help keep the girl safe as she tries to figure out who she is and what these mysterious "agents" want with her…

    COMMENTS: It's highly unusual for NBC to order a pilot from an outside studio, and I'm honestly at a bit of a loss to uinderstand why they've done so here. Was it some sort of gift to ABC Studios? Were they forced to do it for some legal reason? Or was it just love at first sight and they couldn't help themselves? I wouldn’t go as far as to say there’s definitely a conspiracy behind Emergence landing a pilot order at NBC, but it sure smells like it. To be fair, it is a decent script.. You definitely want to know what’s going happen next, but it’s also very deceiving in the end. We get no answers, and more importantly: we don’t know what this show is or where it wants to go.

    We've seen this before, with countless other TV series billed as mystery thrillers with a "supposed six-year plan," chock full of narrative red herrings. NBC’s Manifest comes to mind. It started strong, but lost its way (and much of  its audience) as the season went on, ending at a level that would spell cancelation if network television wasn't so complicated these days. Like Revolution and Timeless before it, Manifest will probably get a second season in a more difficult timeslot, and we can say bye to the six-year plan and the promised answers. Emergence gives me the same feeling, but it does have a lot going for it.

    First:, there's the atmosphere. On the page, this isolated, bay town is a place where you want to spend some spooky time. The lighthouse, the ferry, the house by the sea… It’s a postcard waiting to be destroyed by bizarre happenings and strange mysteries. The cold open set during the night is a great way to start, with lights flickering, a small safety pin sliding across a surface on its own and then flying across the room, the alarm’s clock digits cycling through weird hieroglyphs… and then we hear a distant boom causing all of the electrical power in the city to go out. That’s the moment when the crash happened, we learn later. Magnetic field. Plane crash.  From Lost to Manifest, we’re in well-worn territory, but thanks to strong writing, it works. 

    Secondly, there are  the characters. No high-concept show can work without strong protagonists. (Most that have failed in recent years had deficits in that department). And I have to say it’s refreshing to have a central character who’s a woman. Too often, mystery shows are associated with men. She['s also a sheriff, which is another way to shake things up a little bit. As the choice of the great Allison Tolman to play her suggests, she’s not a beauty queen and she’s also not your typical heroine. Her mother abandoned her when she was a baby, she herself is single mother to a teenage daughter and  she takes care of her sick father who’s living with her at home. She’s strong, she's a smart ass, and she’s beloved in her hometown. Adding to the complications in her life, things are not completely settled yet with her ex. It’s her entire family that's at the center of Emergence, and that’s a better and simpler way to go than similar high concept shows with 15 strangers and 15 stories to tell at the same time. Plus, everyone in the family seems to have a good sense of humor, adding some welcome lightness to help release the tension.

    Then there’s the little girl, who they decide to call Piper. She’s intelligent, curious and mysterious. Her relationship withjJo reminds me of similar relationships in shows like NBC’s Believe of FOX’s The Passage, but this time it’s between a child with no mother she can remember and a woman who’s already a mother. Not with a man who doesn’t want to be father and who has no clue how to act like one. We’ll see if the magic happens between the actresses. That’s the key. Finally there's the clichéd character of Benny who presents himself as an investigative reporter but who’s in fact a bad guy. You can smell it from miles away, but Jo doesn’t, because she's apparently under his spell. (He’s charming, of course.)  The  script ends with a cliffhanger that I frankly found confusing. Up until this point, we haven't clearly been in a sci-fi show. But maybe we are. We don’t know, and they don’t want us to know. Will we ever know?

    FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Though not without its charms, ultimately the pilot script for Emergence feels like the basis for yet another rudderless high concept show. After the Timeless wreck and wreck-in-the-making Manifest, NBC would probably be best served steering clear. In any case, they don’t really have a place for Emergence or any other mystery show on their schedule and making it summer fare feels like a one-way ticket to dumpsterland. 

    [X] PASS
    [   ] CONSIDER
    [   ] RECOMMEND

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