Pilot Script Review of The Cleaning Lady
The first drama pilot greenlit this cycle at FOX, The Cleaning Lady is based on the Argentinian series La Chica Que Limpia, which aired in 2017. The rights were acquired by Warner Bros. Television for Pretty Little Liars actress Shay Mitchell and her production company Amore & Vita Productions as part of her exclusive pod deal with the studio. In-house writer Miranda Kwok penned the script; she's currently a supervising producer on the seventh and final season of The 100. Before that, she wrote on Starz’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
The casting for the series lead didn't go smoothly. Shannyn Sossamon was originally cast in the title role, but left after the first table read. Daredevil and The Defenders alumna Élodie Yung was tapped to replace her, and the ethnicity of the central character, originally a Filipina, has been changed to match Yung’s background: she has a Cambodian father and a French mother. Philippine culture will reportedly still play a part in the show through other characters.
WRITTEN BY: Miranda Kwok
DRAFT DATE: 1/2/2020 (Second Draft Revised)
PAGE COUNT: 59 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open on The Neon Boneyard hotel in Las Vegas, where we find REYNA DE LA CRUZ (34) cleaning the remains of a wedding reception late a night. By her side is FIONA RIVERA, Reyna's closest friend. Both wear maid oufits, although Fiona's is too short. They're having fun, taking selfies for a short while, before they're interrupted by their boss STEVIE (40s) who's furious they're having a break. Reyna is furious too, as she reminds him he hasn't paid them for three weeks. Later, Reyna and Fiona are still cleaning up when Stevie rerturns, surprised that they're still not done. He spots Fiona stealing a small wedding favor and directly goes into her pocket to get it back. He reminds them they are illegal immigrants and shouldn't play with fire like that. He starts touching Fiona's thigh. She tries to get free of him and her blouse rips open, revealing a pink leopard print bra. He angrily lashes out her, calling her "a whore." Fiona screams and Reyna comes to her rescue, punching Stevie in the throat. He stumbles back, unable to breathe and finally collapses, crashing on a table on the way down.
Reyna sees a steak knife lying not far, she grabs it, leaps on top of him... Is she about to finish him off? Other cleaners have now rushed over, they're surrounded by them, horrified. Reyna slits his throat, grabs a metal straw and rams it into his trachea. She's performing an emergency tracheotomy just like a pro, to everyone's surprise. She blows into the straw and Stevie finally breathes again. She's a doctor. Focus on the straw tag in the middle of Stevie's throat with the iconic sign: "Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas"! After their long, terrible night, Reyna and Fiona, in their minivan, head towards the suburbs of Spring Valley where they live together. It's Fiona's house. She has two kids: JAZ (10) is playing basketball when they arrive, while CHRIS (15) is locked in his room, listening to hip hop music. He was supposed to be watching his sister and Reyna's ill son, LUCA (5), who literally lives in a bubble in the other room, a room wrapped in plastic to prevent the spread of germs.. After a long shower, Reyna hugs Luca and kisses him goodnight. Luca is worried. He wants to know when he'll be able live life like any other kid. Reyna tries to reassure him the best she can, although we can see it breaks her heart. Despite her best efforts, she knows the chances of him getting the bone marrow transplant he needs are very low...
COMMENTS: FOX describes The Cleaning Lady as a "darkly aspirational character drama," conjuring up visions of shows like The Good Doctor and New Amsterdam, but I don't see it with this project. Dark yes, but aspirational? The premise is solid enough -- a strong, intelligent woman does everything in her power to save her son, even if it means being in the wrong side of the law -- but the execution is scattershot and often downright ridiculous.
I'm not familiar with the original Argentinian series upon which The Cleaning Lady is based, nor do I know how much of it has found its way into this project, but in what I can only assume is a misguided attempt to appeal to the largest audience, the script goes in every possible direction. There are action scenes where our heroine is a bad ass, melodramatic scenes where she's the picture-perfect mom, comedic scenes where she and her BFF transform into Sex & The City characters, scary scenes where the bad guys are very bad, and so on. It's like reading a choose your own adventure book from start to finish, seeing all the possible directions the show could take, without anyone ever choosing one. If their secret ambition is to become the feminine version of Breaking Bad, with Reyna descending into a darker and darker place, that would be interesting, but the network's "aspirational" pitch makes me think it won't go that way and, frankly, the writing quality just isn't there.
The Cleaning Lady might have been an entertaining two-hour movie with a big star as the lead (think Taraji P. Henson or Zoe Saldana). If successful, I could see it spawning a franchise in that form, but I'm not convinced there's a solid TV show in it, especially on a network. It's hard to imagine a path that would be satisfying over the long haul. It reminds me of another FOX series, 2012's The Mob Doctor, which was about a surgical resident who juggles her hospital duties with protecting her brother from the mob, which requires doing anything the mob asks of her -- including (but not limited to) committing murder. Audiences failed to respond to the hook and it was cancelled after a few episodes.
Although The Cleaning Lady is written and produced by women, and boasts a strong woman at its center, I'd be hard-pressed to describe it as feminist or empowering. There's an awful lot of focus in the script on how beautiful and sexy Reyna and Fiona are and what they're wearing. At one point, Reyna has to leave a party to help her new boss, so of course she's doing her thing in stilettos. And to go where, you ask? To clean up a lesbian sex party gone wrong. That's right: a lesbian sex party. And why exactly is Reyna taking three showers in the pilot? The short answer is that FOX's football-watching, wrestling-loving audience skews male, but its far from subtle and pretty outrageous.
To be fair, The Cleaning Lady does have some more redeeming qualities. The friendship between Reyna and Fiona is compelling and has a lot of promise. Likewise. the pilot ends with an effective cliffhanger that leaves you wanting to see what happens next. And for those who like Good Girls, The Cleaning Lady has a similar way of juggling the pretty dark and miserable situation the heroines are in with the funnier side of things.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: The pilot script for The Cleaning Lady stumbles in its execution, with tonal inconsistencies from scene to scene, pandering to its audience in a way that undermines its characters (and often all credulity). FOX has at least two better scripts this pilot season. They'd be foolish to choose this one.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] CONSIDER
[ ] RECOMMEND