Pilot Script Review of New York Undercover
Created by superstar producer Dick Wolf and Kevin Arkadie, the original New York Undercover aired on FOX for four seasons between 1994-1998. It starred Malik Yoba and Michael DeLorenzo as two undercover detectives in New York City’s Fourth Precinct. It was the first police drama on American television to feature two people of color in starring roles, as part of an all-African-American Thursday Night line-up that also included Living Single and Martin. New York Undercover is part of the Wolf-verse since its storyline takes place in the same fictional universe as the Law & Order franchise, the Chicago series and Homicide: Life on the Street (how long before that one gets rebooted too?). The ABC follow-up is not exactly the first reboot of the show since the original series rebooted itself in its fourth and final season with a largely new cast joining Malik Yoba.
If New York Undercover gets picked up to series by ABC, it would extend Dick Wolf's presence on network television across three different networks. He currently has Law & Order: SVU and the three Chicago dramas on NBC, plus the freshman drama FBI on CBS. He's also developing Law & Order: Hate Crimes to launch next season, as well as an FBI spinoff pilot at CBS called FBI: Most Wanted. This would be his first series on ABC since the 2003 Dragnet reboot, which aired for only one season. Both FOX and ABC were interested in the revival, but the latter offered a pilot production commitment the producers couldn't resist. The Alphabet Network has another 90s classic series revival in the works with NYPD Blue (read my review), and it seems likely they'll order one or the other, but not both. So, how does this new New York Undercover stack up to the NYPD Blue rebooot? Read on...
WRITTEN BY: Ben Watkins
DRAFT DATE: Network Draft 1/23/19
PAGE COUNT: 61 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open in a sunlit bedroom, music up. Two bodies are intertwined, in sync. Seconds later, the woman, LEXY (20s), is getting ready to leave the apartment. She picks up her gun. Before she goes, she watches her man, who's still asleep. She's in awe. A kiss on the cheek and she's gone. Moments later, two Range Rovers pull up in front of a Brooklyn Waterfront warehouse. Lexy gets out of one of them, with YOUNG HEAVY (20s). Other gangsters come out of the other. It's a Domenican crew. Three Brooklyn-based gangsters are waiting for them. Not far away, cops are watching and listening. NAT GILMORE (30s), LISA KIM (30s) and MOSES HERNANDEZ (20s) are tense. When Young Heavy discovers after some chit chat that one of the guys is wearing a wire, the cops make their move. Guns are drawn, and long shoot-out short: Young Heavy gets shot by Moses; Chauncey, the undercover cop with the wire bleeds out and takes his last breath; Lexy tries to escape but Lisa and Moses manage to take her down. Moments later, at Natalie's, an iconic Harlem night club, J.C WILLIAMS receives a phone call. His cops need him. Welcome back to the 4th Precinct, where they're mourning the death of a dear colleague and discovering Lexy's real identity -- she's one of them: an undercover cop on a year-long mission, who's just failed big time...
COMMENTS: Picking up 20 years after the end of the original series, this new New York Undercover follows detectives Melissa Ortiz, a fiery young woman who blends well undercover, and Nat Gilmore, charismatic with an easy smile and a quick fuse, as they investigate the city’s most dangerous criminals from Harlem to Battery Park. They're not exactly rookies, but they are relatively new to the force. Malik Yoba was at the heart of the original series -- he stayed from start to finish -- and his character J.C. Williams is still very much part of the 4th Precinct, where he's now overseeing the unit and its next generation of detectives. He's a strong and reassuring presence that viewers will instantly connect with. Nina Moreno (played by Lauren Velez) is also back, and although she's retired, she still has ties to the unit. She also happens to be Melissa's birth mother. Nina gave her up for adoption as she was a teen mom, but has since tried to become a part of her life, something Melissa has resisted. Now that they're bound to work together, the time has come for a reconciliation. It's an emotional and at times gruelling pilot, and that's due in part to their tortured relationship. They're joined by Lt. April Freeman, a hard-driving boss with a genius IQ, Lisa Kim, an ambitious climber, and Moses Hernandez, an eager beaver with a hero complex.
Each episode will open with a cinematic, music-driven sequence that introduces key elements of the storyline to come. For this first one, the pilot script calls for the extended intro of Rihanna's Needed Me. It's a nice and stylish touch that sets the show apart from other more traditional procedurals. Also, Janelle Monae is supposed to appear to sing two songs on the favorite bar of our cops. Maybe they'd like to have regular musical guests once in a while and that's cool. Pilot director Anthony Hemingway (American Crime Story, Treme, Power) should have a ball with this script between the action scenes, the musical sequences and the more intimate moments. My main concern here is whether the show is a good fit for ABC, as it's quite a bit darker and grittier than most of the network's other dramas. They've really put themselves in a weird position by developing both NYPD Blue and New York Undercover in the same year. The soapier NYPD Blue is probably more on-brand for ABC, and it also has the benefit of being stronger IP, but New York Undercover has the better, more efficient script.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: New York Undercover is a promising pilot that could make for a successful reboot, but I'm not convinced it's a great fit for ABC, which mostly traffics in lighter fare these days. Although it would be a bold series series pickup for the Alphabet, all parties involved would probably be better served if it landed on FX or Hulu (which are all partly or wholly owned by Disney, ABC's corprorate parent).
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] RECOMMEND