Pilot Script Review of The Brides
This is the year of longtime projects finally coming to life and The Brides is one of the most eagerly anticipated. ABC landed this "sexy contemporary reimagining of Bram Stoker's Dracula" written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacas in January. The playwright, screenwriter and comic book writer definitely knows a little something about adapting iconic characters for younger audiences on the small screen, as he's the creator of Riverdale, its recently introduced spin-off Katy Keene and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. He's also behind HBO Max's upcoming The Shelley Society, a mash-up of gothic horror and teen romance featuring young Mary Shelley. Each of these series, including The Brides, are executive produced by the Greg Berlanti, who it seems truly never stops adding series to his roster.
Aguirre-Sacas first sank his teeth into The Brides during the 2015-16 season with a pilot production commitment at NBC that ended up going nowhere. This new version taken out on spec last year was originally envisioned for the premium marketplace, said to be leaning stronger into horror and sexuality. Instead, it drew interest from multiple broadcast networks, ultimately going to ABC as a rare co-production between Warner Bros. Television and ABC Studios.
The Brides of Dracula were first introduced in Bram Stoker’s classic novel published in 1897. Portrayed as beautiful and powerful female vampire “sisters” living with Count Dracula in his castle where they use their charms to seduce and bewitch men before preying on them, they've became pop culture icons over the years, appearing in many Dracula screen adaptations and headlining their own movie in 1960.
PILOT SCRIPT TITLE: Chapter One: "The Vows"
WRITTEN BY: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
DRAFT DATE: 10/31/2019
PAGE COUNT: 66 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open on the Dracula Castle at night. The year is 1897, and it's snowing in the Carpatians mountains as a full orange moon hangs in the sky. A dozen men on horses arrive at the front, among them ABRAHAM VAN HELSING and JONATHAN HARKER, who discuss what they call "the concubines of darkness," aka the three Brides of Dracula. They take out their swords and break the castle's doors, waking up the wolves at the forest's edge, now howling in despair and racing down toward this Triumph of Gothic architecture. Meanwhile, inside, LILY (20s), the youngest of the Brides, has her dress drenched in blood as she's hiding her diary in the middle of a cloth. The middle-bride RENEE (30s) arrives, her own gown also covered in blood. She screams that they have to leave now. Moments later, they join the oldest bride CLEO (50s) — yep, also covered in blood. They race alongside a long, wooden table and pass an oil portrait of their husband, COUNT DRACULA (50s). In the courtyard, the wolves are circling the horses. Inside the catacombs, the brides wade into the river and disappear under the water's surface so that the fast-approaching men can't see them. The men pass, and continue their way down the stairs. In the castle's crypt, RENFIELD is sobbing over his master's body. Blood is everywhere, Dracula is dead.
At the River's edge at dawn, the Brides are naked, drying off around a small fire, the smoking ruins of the Castle visible in the far distance. They made it out alive, but they have nothing left. They don't know where to go. London? France? Cleo asks them to take vows that they'll never separate and that they'll never fall in love ever again. Love is what doomed them, she says. They hold hands. They are now married, as sisters and wives, for eternity. Smash cut to title: THE BRIDES.
A century later, we're in New York City in the Highgate Tower. Our three gorgeous brides surface from their swimming pool. It's their naked daily swim. Moments later, they're in their vast kitchen with LUDOVICO, their italian personal chef, blending blood red breakfast smoothies. Lily is reading, while Renee tells of her most recent sexual exploits with a boy. And she has news: she has decided she's going back to girls, ;exclusively. Cleo realizes both Lily and Renee have clearly forgotten it's the anniversary of the day they left the castle. They both have other plans — Lily with her boyfriend ARTHUR (20s) and Renee has a photoshoot to prep for. Cleo is annoyed, to say the least. And her bad day is just starting...
COMMENTS: The Brides is A LOT. It was the first script I read this pilot season, and lo these many weeks later, I'm still not sure what to think about it. ABC's Entertainment President Karey Burke said she was shopping for "a big, provocative soap" and "bold, loud storytelling" when she took the reigns of the Alphabet network, and The Brides certainly seems to meet that criteria. She's also on the hunt for more female viewers so ABC can reclaim the title of the No.1 network with women. Touted as a "vampire soap about empowered, wealthy, immortal women," this project seems to check that box, too. And yet, based on the pilot script, I'm not convinced The Brides makes sense for ABC (or any other broadcast network, for that matter).
It's supposed to be sexy, but how sexy can it really be on broadcast? They'd have plenty of opportunities to get these characters and their partners fully naked on cable or on a streaming platform. (Not that it would make it better, but it's part of the fun, right?) On ABC, it can only mean deep cleavage and sweaty six-packs. And then there are the "strong horror elements" of the pitch. Here too, how far can ABC go? Not very. Blood stains and queens' screams won't suffice. Imagine if True Blood was made for ABC and not for HBO. It would have been a completely different show, and almost certainly not a superior one. Some stories are just not made for broadcast. We'll see what they can squeeze out of it, and don't get me wrong — I'd be happy if ABC found a way to push the boundaries a little further than they already have with shows like How to Get Away with Murder. I'm just not sure it's possible.
The show itself begins with this premise: what if Van Helsing hadn't killed the three brides of Dracula, and what if they were now living in New York City? It reads a bit like a meatier and bloodier Charmed, combined with the camp and sass of Riverdale, with a sprinkling of thematic and tonal hints from Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and Gossip Girl. It also reminded me of ABC's largely forgotten 666 Park Avenue. Like virtually every other Aguirre-Saca series, The Brides is queerbaiting at its finest: there are supposed-to-be gay characters in the background (who will probably mostly stay there) and one of the brides is pansexual, but it remains to be seen how that will play out in the long run. While Count Dracula is still in the picture through flashbacks, the show's primary focus is on the women, and that's good news for the vampire genre overall.
The pilot script is a mountain of exposition as it dives into each of our heroines' individual origin stories. While the stories themselves are actually quite solid, instead of slowly revealing where they come from, who they really are and how they met Dracula throughout Season 1, they've decided to give it all up in this impossibly tight 42-minute episode. Cleo Phillips, the leader of this vampire trio, is an imperious woman with a queenly manner, which makes sense since she was a queen before she was turned by Dracula after the death of her husband. Now a New York City real estate maven, Cleo is challenged professionally by a mysterious newcomer. The middle-bride, Renee Pelagie, is the head of a top modeling agency, known for having torrid affairs with her beautiful female models. In her former life, she was the wife of the Marquis de Sade when she invited Dracula into her “house of pain” and asked to be “turned” by him. Lily Stevens is the youngest, an aspiring singer whose relationship to news reporter Arthur Seward threatens to tear apart her marriage to her “sisters.” In her former life, she braved the streets of Jack the Ripper’s London, until being “rescued” by Dracula.
Soapy as all get out, the show goes into multiple directions when it comes to the men surrounding our Brides, with a not-so-subtle subtext that they may be strong female vampires, but like every other woman in this world, they still have to fight the patriarchy. Nowhere is this more evident than with Roland Grant, the stylish real estate mogul who challenges Cleo's professional supremacy. With secret ties to Dracula, Roland has a personal stake in the destruction of the Brides. Abraham Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker and his wife Mina all make appearances as well, and are very much part of the mythology of the show for promising future storylines.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Eerie, offbeat and campy, The Brides is a sexy, bloody and lavish vampire show like nothing else on broadcast television right now. In a best case scenario, it's got the potential to fuel conversations on social media and help move ABC back into the spotlight. Worst case is its gets so watered down by broadcast standards that it goes the way of 666 Park Avenue. Yet another scenario might see The Brides follow a Lucifer-like path, where it's a modest performer on broadcast and a phenomenon on Netflix.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] RECOMMEND
BEST FIT: Good question. An 8pm slot seems impossible, and short of a major shakeup, it doesn't seem like a fit for any of ABC's available 9pm or 10pm slots.