Pilot Script Review of The Republic Of Sarah
When it rains it pours. Though it's been decades since anything like Northern Exposure aired on network television, not only does CBS now have a revival in the works (with Rob Murrow returning as Dr. Joel Fleischman), but also this project, which has already drawn comparisons. The Republic of Sarah would reunite Sarah Drew with CBS & CBS Television Studios after playing one of the title roles in last season's Cagney and Lacey pilot, which was not picked up to series. Drew was a very popular Grey’s Anatomy cast member who exited -- not by choice -- at the end of Season 14, after nine seasons on the hit medical drama. Before that, she was best known for her portrayal of Hannah in The WB’s Everwood. This project would bring her back to another mountain town.
WRITTEN BY: Jeffrey Paul King
DRAFT DATE: Revised network draft 1/17/19
PAGE COUNT: 61 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: SARAH CHAMBERS (30s) is a community sweetheart, who gets along with everyone in her hometown of Morrisville, New Hampshire -- from the mayor to the barista. We open on her in a Tiananmen Square-style standoff with the state's governor OTTIS TAGGERT (50s) and several earthmovers. The first half of the pilot shows the two days leading to this point, beginning when rich mineral deposits are discovered under Morrisville. Sarah, a member of the town council, urges her colleagues to resist the corporation that the governor has chosen to open a mine in their town. That corporation‘s key lobbyist is Sarah’s older brother, DANNY (30s), returning to town after a ten–year absence, where he left behind an alcoholic politician mother ELLEN (60s) and a fiancée, CORINNE (30s) – who's also Sarah’s best friend. Sarah doesn’t like the idea of being a politician, but she shows true promise when she proposes a crazy strategy for preventing the intrusive mining: declaring independence. The siblings face off to get the townspeople on their respective sides, with the Governor breathing down Danny’s neck. A vote is held and the townspeople narrowly declare independence, and after all is said and done, the people overwhelmingly want Sarah to be their leader. Coming to terms with her mother’s past and her brother’s reemergence, she decides to give leadership a go, knowing that the true test of Morrisville's resillience lies ahead...
COMMENTS: There’s nothing that makes me happier this pilot season than to see the return of good ol’ serialized relationship dramas based on family values and emotional issues, a welcome break from the more recent trend of high-concept shows with endless mysteries, and tired old detective series piling up corpses. We can probably thank This Is Us & A Million Little Things for that. CBS might have still developed a show like this a few years ago, but they wouldn’t have picked it up to pilot. The Republic of Sarah is the perfect illustration of this relationship drama rennaisance, with a “wow effect” that could help it stand out from the crowd: this show isn't just about relationships, it’s also political, and deeply rooted in today’s America. The script refers several times to the official motto of the state of New Hampshire: “Live Free or Die,“ which seems particularly apt these days, regardless of which side of the political aisle one sits.
Apart from the fact that it starts with a flashfoward (which I dislike in general, but it’s an intense one) The Republic of Sarah takes the right amount of time to establish the bucolic beauty of its rural mountain town, following our leading lady for her morning run from the valley bathed in sunrise, to the forest, and finally up to the hills. It’s supposed to be magnificient and I’m sure the production found fitting landcapes in Vancouver. But this run is not just about the atmosphere, it also introduces us to some of the secondary (and quirky) characters Sarah greets along the way, including salt-of-the-earth elderly couple Betty and Ralph, and Russell, a 50 year-old naturist, painting while completely naked in his garden. This quirkiness is abound throughout the script, and it feels authentic. It’s part of the town’s identity and charm. There’s the Sweetie Pie restaurant, with meals and treats named after video games. There’s the Moose Manor, a hotel where everything -- really everything -- is moose themed, from pillowcases to lamps to wallpaper. And there’s the character of Paula Judge, a gruff mountain of a woman who happens to be a judge. As in Northern Exposure, each of these sweet details endear us to the town and make it feel alive and special.
Of course there's also a family drama within. The Chambers family is very much at the center of the story, thanks to our heroine Sarah, and her complicated relationships with her mother, her brother and her father, who may or may not be back after disappearing into thin air decades earlier. Nothing here is entirely unique, but it works and it’s not emotionally manipulative, as This Is Us can be at times. It gets straight to the point, probably because there’s a ton of other stuff going on -- such as creating a micro-nation from scratch. The idea may seem far-fetched, but it has been attempted in the real world, and the script takes the time it needs to make it a credible political drama. The real political part will come in subsequent episodes, once Sarah is officially the town's leader. There's a ton of potential here, both big picture and in the more personal soapy stories.
The show has a lot of strong women, which is particularly notable for a CBS drama. Sarah is a quintessential New Englander: sharply intelligent, fiercely loyal, and always willing to lend a hand. She’s a force of nature and natural-born leader -- she just doesn’t known it yet. We talk a lot about the recent resurgence of aspirational lead characters in TV, perhaps best exemplified by The Good Doctor; Sarah Chambers could become a part of this group. Corinne is Sarah’s devoted and bubbly best friend. Both she and Sarah are teachers and possess warmth, wit and savvy. Mary is a self-reliant badass whose steady support has made her the strong maternal figure in Sarah’s life. There’s also Francine, Morrisville’s sheriff. Unflappable and resolute, she lives her life according to old-school principles of honor and duty, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind when she feels those principles are being ignored.
Among the men, there’s Sarah’s brother Danny, who endured a difficult childhood at the hands of his mother. Returning to his hometown, he's forced to confront the faces of his troubled past. He was fragile then, and although he’s stronger now, he’s still vulnerable. There's some dimension to this character. Tim is Sarah’s new antagonist: a banker who has always been considered the smartest and most powerful guy in Morrisville… until the townfolk choose to put their faith in Sarah and her plan for independence, against his advice. So he fights to stop her and her new nation. We hate him, of course -- he’s here for that. Time will tell if he's more complex. Last but not least, there's Eugene. A brilliant, bizarre librarian with a hummingbird energy and encyclopedic knowledge of sociopolitical minutiae, he’s a great asset to Sarah and her team as the brand-new government of Morrisville gets up and running. He’s her Giles (from Buffy), but quirkier. And believe it or not, there’s no real love interest waiting for Sarah. She has other more important things to take care of for now.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: CBS could really make a point by ordering The Republic of Sarah to series. Yes, it's risky and it may not fit with the rest of their line-up, but picking up this smart, female-focused relationship drama would signal a clear break from the Les Moonves era of male-dominated crime dramas. And it could end up paying big dividends. I declare The Republic of Sarah one of the best scripts of this pilot season.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
BEST FIT: Feels like a Sunday show, but after Survivor on Wednesdays could also make sense thematically.