Pilot Script Review of The Big Leap
Liz Heldens, who cut her teeth as a writer on Boston Public and Friday Night Lights before creating Deception and Camp for NBC and The Passage for Fox is back at it with The Big Leap.
Inspired by the 2014 UK reality series Big Ballet, about 18 plus-size amateur dancers recruited to put together a production of Swan Lake, The Big Leap first landed at ABC for the 2015-16 developement season in a competitive situation. FOX pursued the pitch heavily at the time, and after nothing came out of it at ABC, they picked it up for 20th Century FOX Television where Heldens signed an overall deal two years ago. The pilot is a co-production between 20th Century FOX Television, now part of Disney TV Studios, and FOX Entertainment.
WRITTEN BY: Liz Heldens
DRAFT DATE: 1/14/19 Revised Studio Draft
PAGE COUNT: 58 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: Once a promising dancer, an unplanned pregnancy forced GABBY TAYLOR (26) to give up on her dreams and a college dance scholarship. She now lives at home with her mother GINA (50s) and her seven year-old son SAM. Separately, MIKE DEVRIES (late 30s) is on the verge of a breakdown; his marriage is failing and he just lost his job. Meanwhile, JULIA TORRANCE (50s) is consumed with keeping up appearances on social media but is distanced from her husband and kids.
As we meet each of these characters, we see several ads for THE BIG LEAP – “A Reality Show for Amateur Dancers”. Against the advice of Gabby’s mother, Mike’s friends, and Julia’s family, they all audition. Gabby convinces her former high school dance partner JUSTIN REYES (20s) to join her. At the auditions, Julia and Mike advance with ease. Gabby falls, and Justin advances without her.
At the behest of her mother, Gabby agrees to coach another dancer still in contention for the show — star football player REGGIE SADLER (20s), who just suffered a career-ending concussion. They become close during their practice sessions until Reggie lands in jail after a confrontation with some dudes who insult his career and Gabbys' weight. Meanwhile, a run-in with Mike’s ex leads him to binge drink, and Julia discovers her husband’s trove of internet porn and wallows in self-pity.
With a little help from their friends, Mike and Julia both manage to bounce back, while Reggie shows up just in time to lift Gabby (for the first time in her life), and for her to fall for him completely. Everyone makes it onto the show.
Backstage, though, a devilish producer, NICK SMART (40s), reveals how the whole show is going to be about digging up each of its dancers biggest secrets and revealing them on television...
COMMENTS: There's a fine line in television between a bold programming move and a cheesy mess. (Sometimes they're one and the same, as evidenced by FOX's runaway train-wreck of a hit The Masked Singer.) Often its hard to tell on paper where a given project will land, but in a broadcast world where so many shows look the same and where risk-taking is rare, this show is a breath of fresh air. That doesn't guarantee that it'll be good, but at least FOX is trying.
The show's potential is evident from the start. The opening is reminiscent of the early Glee era, with awkward teenagers being passionate and talented and sassy and cringy. That's the moment when our heroine, Gabby, realizes the young man she's been in love with for years is actually gay under the worst possible circumstances: he makes out with a friend in her closet during a party she's throwing. When we move to present day after the opening credits, it becomes more adult-oriented: an uplifting, cheery, cheesy, inspirational dramedy in the spirit of movies like The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, with a hint of UnREAL for the cruel reality show behind-the-scenes aspect of it all. You know where it's going all along but it's so witty and rhythmical with an ensemble that reveals its strengths little scene by scene, that you don't really care about the endgame. So yes, it's all about them winning their auditions and reuniting in spite of their differences and very own challenges.
Fans of musicals will be happy to learn that there's a joyous musical number midway through the pilot in a Home Depot set to the Rihanna' and TI song "Live Your Life". The only thing I'm not sure about is the whole Swan Lake production in the show within the show. Yes it's timeless, but for a prime-time show on a network, I'm afraid it could turn viewers away. Apart from this, it makes total sense for FOX to have it on their air: between The Masked Singer , So You Think You Can Dance, and of course American Idol, they have a long history with the genre.
There are a lot of characters, each of whom have a lot going on. Here's who they are in a nutshell: Gabby Taylor is a single mom and a talented dancer who never had the traditional “dancer’s body”; Justin Reyes is Gabby’s former high school boyfriend and dance partner, who now works at a big-box store to support himself; Julia Torrence, a beautiful former ballerina, is now a social-media-obsessed mom who focuses more on her Instagram than her moody teenage girls or her distant husband; Mike Devries is a fit blue collar worker laid off from his job and finds himself trying to survive in the gig economy as his marriage falls apart; and Reggie Sadler is a gorgeous, famous football player who has demonstrated some erratic behavior and needs to take a break from the sport. They are all interesting and moving characters you can't help but care about once you meet them.
Meanwhile, there are the "villains", starting with the handsome, intelligent, and a little slick Nick Smart, the executive producer of The Big Leap. He delights in the inevitable drama of putting strangers together on a reality show. He isn’t totally devoid of a conscience, but he lives to make entertaining television. Think Simon Cowell. Monica Sullivan is a judge in the show, a professional ballerina who is mean and intimidating. As you might expect, she has the show's best lines. Wayne Sleep is the joyful British fellow who hosts The Big Leap. He is a former dancer and is entertaining, enthusiastic and encouraging. He's not a villian per se, although I can't help but wonder if, like Ted Danson's Michael in The Good Place, there's more going on with Wayne than we see at the get-go. For now, that's just a personal theory.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: The Big Leap is a bold, fun, emotional, feel good TV show that could make some noise for FOX. On paper it feels like a nice tonal match for the network that got millions of viewers hooked on the inane concept that is The Masked Singer. Whether that translates to the screen remains to be seen, but it feels like a risk worth taking.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
BEST FIT: Paired with The Masked Singer on Wednesdays or its spin-off The Masked Dancer midseason.