Pilot Script Review of Prism
Packed with a little bit of everything, NBC's schedule isn't lacking much these days. As a consequence, they haven't ordered many pilots this year. The one thing they don't have on the air right now is a pure legal drama. Ever since Chicago Justice failed to click with audiences back in 2017, they haven't tried another. Two pilots are vying to be the project that reverses that trend this year: Bluff City Law, which seems pretty straight-forward on paper, and Prism, which looks more complex. It'll be interesting to see which way NBC goes: safe, risky, or another year without.
WRITTEN BY: Daniel Barnz
DRAFT DATE: First network draft 12/9/18
PAGE COUNT: 61 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: RACHEL LEWIS (40s), an Erin Brockovich-esque defense attorney in Phoenix, Arizona, prepares for a high profile murder case. The case in question is the murder of prominent local TV host, JESSICA WREN (40s), who was stabbed and killed in a parking lot. Rachel's client is the suspect, MICHAEL JAMISON (20s), who was seen running from the crime scene just after the murder occurred. Michael is poor and uneducated, and Rachel has devoted her life to helping innocent people in his situation. On the other side is prosecutor EDUARDO GUATY (40s), an old friend of Rachel's from law school. During their first courthouse session with JUDGE HENLEY (50s), both Rachel and Guaty are surprised to see Judge Henley introduce Jessica Wren's bloodied scarf into evidence, sent from an anonymous source straight to the court because (as the accompanying note reads) the cops "always screw it up." In the first hearing with a jury present, Guaty anticipates Rachel’s opening statement, leaving her blindsided with nothing to present. In search of a new angle, she delays her opener until the next morning and enlists the help of her journalist friend ALEXIS, who is covering the trial. Sneaking a peek at Alexis’ phone, she clocks the name WES WILLIAMS, Jessica’s producing partner. Rachel learns Wes himself is under investigation for sexual assault. She has her new angle/suspect…
COMMENTS: The script opens with a quote from essayist Anaïs Nin “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” followed by a series of weird and intense dreamlike images, including a blood-stained glove and a knife falling in slow-mo…. It's a hell of a way to set the mood. Then an eye opens and we’re in bed with… our heroine of the week, who’s just waking up from a vivid nightmare. Each episode will be told from the perspective of someone different: the accused, the defense attorney, the prosecutor, the judge, jury members, witnesses, etc. That’s the concept. Like Showtime’s The Affair, Prism is using the plot device that's become known as "The Rashomon Effect," named after Akira Kurosawa's 1950 Japanese period psychological thriller Rashomon, which involves various characters providing sometimes contradictory interpretations of the same incident. If picked up, we should get 13 episodes from this same case in season one, before moving on to a new case if there’s a second season.
Exploring a murder trial in this way seems particularly timely given the current zeitgeisty anxiety about fake news and what’s true and what’s not. It’s certainly ambitious, and the pilot script succeeds in managing to both entertain and be provocative. The series is set in Phoenix, Arizona and the heat is almost a character in and of itself, adding a little something to the already stifling atmosphere at the courthouse. The title Prism refers to the courthouse which is said to look like a giant prism -- a steel and glass behemoth. Also unsual, the show's writer/creator is slated to direct the pilot. You can tell from the way it’s written that he knows exactly how he wants it to look and how the visuals will fit with the concept.
This same attention to detail is evident in the characters -- especially Rachel, the pilot episode's focus. As written, she’s a force of nature: brilliant, ruthless and empathetic at the same time. I’m not surprised Malin Akerman, one of the most sought-after actresses this pilot season, chose Prism. She's a compelling character who gets even more interesting when we discover her tragic past. Could she be mentally ill? She's definitely quirky, which leads to some weird moments. You know who she makes me think of, just a bit? The Good Wife‘s Elsbeth Tasioni. To be honest, I'm already sad she won't be at the center of every episode, which could well end up being the flaw to the show's structure. The other character that stands out initially is hard-hitting prosecutor Eduarto Guaty. His history with Rachel makes for a great dynamic, as they're forced to set their friendship aside -- at least in the courtroom.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Prism is not your typical legal show, nor is it typical network fare. It has a strong cable-feel and it’s hard to figure a timeslot on NBC where it's likely to grab the large audience needed to survive on broadcast. I wonder if Universal might do better shopping it to a streaming platform, where it could attract a smaller but devoted fanbase and stay on for a few years. That being said, it may be one of those shows that’s worth the risk and if one network can take it these days, it’s NBC.
BEST FIT: Tough One. Midseason?