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La Brea

Pilot Script Review of La Brea

A giant sinkhole is a portal to the past in this high-concept sci-fi adventure.
  • Natalie Zea (The Detour, Justified) stars as a harried mother of two in La Brea.
    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.

    One of NBC's two most buzzed-about early drama scripts, La Brea was the network's second drama to the be ordered to pilot this cycle, following Debris (read my pilot review). Both shows are high-concept/sci-fi fare, seemingly designed to complement Manifest over the rest of NBC's current procedural-packed dramatic slate. This one's definitely a big bet, with in-house studio Universal producing, and hopefully investing the resources needed to bring a show of this scope to life.

    David Appelbaum is the writer. He was most recently a co-executive producer on The Enemy Within, a Blacklist copycat which aired for one season on NBC. Prior to that, he worked on the first six seasons of The Mentalist, eventually rising to co-producer. His other credits include CBS’ Wisdom of the Crowd and NCIS: New Orleans.

    WRITTEN BY: David Appelbaum
    DRAFT DATE: Third Network Draft 01.10.2020
    PAGE COUNT: 60 pages

    SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open on an aerial view of Los Angeles above the La Brea Tar Pits. It's morning rush hour. CLAIRE WOLCOTT (43) is a hard-working mom, fighting traffic to drop her children IZZY (16) and JOSH (17) off at school. In the backseat, the two kids fight about Lizzy's disability. She has a prosthetic leg, and Josh is writing an essay about it, claiming it's their disability as a family, as they all suffer the consequences. Lizzy's not having it. She's also not okay with her mom texting while driving. But the chaos in their car is nothing compared to the chaos that is about to tear the city apart. Suddenly a sinkhole erupts in the middle of the road. It starts as a tiny hole forming in the pavement, but it grows so quickly that people can't escape, and fall into its darkness. Our family of three scramble out of their car, but the road keeps falling apart and the sink hole ends up taking both Claire and Josh. Izzy is still attempting to save herself when all of a sudden the ground stabilizes and everything stops. The camera pulls back and lands where it started: the same aerial view, except now there's a sinkhole the size of two city blocks in the heart of Los Angeles.

    In the wake of their family tragedy, Izzy turns to her father GAVIN WOLCOTT (43), who has beeen struggling with what appear to be alcohol-induced hallucinations for quite a while, and who recently separated from Claire. Gavin soon realizes that the hallucinations he's been having were actually premonitions having to do with the appearance of the sinkhole. Meanwhile, Claire and Josh appear to have survived the fall and reunite in the sinkhole.They meet another group of survivors. As they search for food and water, the team encounters a wolf. Before they're able to kill him, the animal bites Josh. Claire, panicked that her son will die, searches for an ambulance that fell with them. As she finds it, she realizes that they are in a parallel world of pre-historic Los Angeles.

    COMMENTS: Cheesy as it may sound, there's something undeniably compelling about the notion of a giant sinkhole being the catalyst for entry into the world of the supernatural. A cross between a disaster movie like the Dwayne Johnson-starrer San Andreas. for example, and Land of the Lost, the 1970s series where a family is trapped in an alternate universe through a dimensional portal materialized as a huge waterfall, it's certainly a novel idea, at least at the getgo.

    There's no denying that Lost remains front-of-mind whenever a high-concept show like this is proposed, something the script itself acknowledges when one of its characters says "Maybe we're just in an episode of Lost."

    To its great credit, La Brea feels like it knows where it's headed overall, which is key. They're not piling up mysteries for the sake of it. And having the family at the center of the show torn apart helps propel the story forward. There are two parallel adventures: the one of those lost in this new weird world and the one of those who are looking for them back in our world. The question is when and how they'll come together. This raises the stakes and provides some emotional depth that's often lacking from high concept projects. In the pilot, both worlds work, even if we can't help being more drawn into the mysterious world..

    Lost became Lost because it put its characters first, and then its mystery. With that in mind, do the characters in La Brea have what it takes for us to invest in them? That's harder to answer with this project than it was with Manifest, whose characters initially felt bland and clichéd. Kudos for having a disabled character at the center and making her interesting. Izzy is vulnerable and determined, hard but not too hard, and a little too clever for her own good. Less compelling are her mother Claire and brother Josh, both of whom feel more like archtypes than fleshed out characters in the pilot. Gavin is more interesting as the once-perfect blue-collar family man caught in a spiral. Among the survivors of the sinkhole, most are just outlined so far but Marybeth Hill, a woman in her forties with a strong Lousiana accent and big opinions should provide some good laughs while Ty Coleman is the troubled one of the group. He's unpredictable and a bit scary at times. Others stay in the background. They're not Jack, Kate, Locke and so on, but they're relatable and that's a start.

    FINAL RECOMMENDATION: An exciting mix of survival and adventure with science fiction, La Brea could turn into the next Lost... but it could just as well be the next Terra Nova. There's a reasonable chance it generates buzz at launch for NBC, but only time will tell if it can work in the long run, with much resting on the strength of its mythology and viewer attachment to its characters. As high concept pilot scripts go, La Brea has promise. We'll see if it's enough.

    [   ] PASS
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