Pilot Script Review of The Republic of Sarah (2020)
If The Republic Of Sarah sounds familiar, there's a good reason why: a different version of this project went to pilot at CBS starring Grey's Anatomy fan favorite Sarah Drew last season (read my pilot script review). It didn't make it, but CBS Television Studios remained high on the idea and asked writer-producer Jeffrey Paul King (Elementary) and producer-director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) to rework it for The CW. The network has a history of picking up projects originally developed at other networks, a move that has resulted in several of its signature shows, including Riverdale, Supergirl, Black Lightning and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
The CW is also known for discovering and casting great young actresses in starring roles, including Jane The Virgin's Gina Rodriguez and Nancy Drew's Kennedy McMann. For Sarah, they're betting on Stella Baker, who's no other than Simon Baker's daughter (The Mentalist). Almost immediately following her 2018 graduation from the Yale School of Drama, she was cast on TNT’s drama Tell Me Your Secrets, which hasn't aired yet and has released its cast from their contracts for a potential second season. Baker now has The Republic of Sarah in first position in case of any conflict.
WRITTEN BY: Jeffrey Paul King
DRAFT DATE: Third Revised Network Draft 1/15/2020
PAGE COUNT: 60 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: We open on a close-up of SARAH COOPER (24) as she sleeps open-mouthed, drooling on her pillow. She's fully dressed, surrounded by stacks of books, maps and journals. She's awakened by her roommate AJ (24) and her dog, who jumps on the bed. She's supposed to be in class in 20 minutes, but doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry; once she's washed and wearing a new outfit, she sets out for the local diner where her best friend CORINNE (26) waits for her. In the back of the restaurant she finds GROVER (25) and they talk a bit and smile at each other. There's a spark there. She accidentally sits on maple syrup, and he's charged to... yep, clean her butt. (Spark, I said!) The diner's owner, LUIS JIMENEZ (33) greets Sarah with a new special — an Italian coffee stabbed with toothpick daggers — but she and Corinne have to go. The two walk side by side down Main Steet, where they're almost hit by a bulldozer. Mining companies are all over town these days, they lament. Corinne thinks it might be a good thing for the economy, but Sarah disagrees. She knows that sooner or later, their charming town will pay for it. We follow them to their destination, a high school, where we discover they're not students: they're teachers. Young ones, but still.
After tending to one of her classes, we're introduced to one of her students: MAYA (16), who's new to town and is having a hard time fitting in. Sarah tries to reassure her, and it seems to help. That evening, there's a meeting at the town hall. Sarah's there and she spots her brother DANNY COOPER (28). She hasn't seen him in years. He tells her he works for Lyndon industries as a lawyer and he's not here to make amends. The town's Mayor WILLIAM WHITMORE (50s) welcomes Danny on to the stage. He has big news: a sizable deposit of coltan has been discovered within the town's limits. Coltan is a precious metal used in tech. Using maps and video simulation, he shows them how they plan to extract it and how much the town will earn in the process.They say it'll improve the city. Sarah is not having it. She speaks up, and a fight ensues.
COMMENTS: Last year I declared The Republic of Sarah one of the 2019 pilot season's best scripts. I knew it was risky bet for CBS and that it might not fit with the rest of their lineup. Instead, they chose All Rise and Tommy. Alas, this new version of the script — which has been adapted for The CW's younger skewing audience — has lost a lot of what made it special and unique. That's not to say that the changes don't make sense. The CBS version was more of a quirky dramedy in the vein of Northern Exposure, which is clearly not a great fit for The CW.
What they've done is turn it into a teen drama, using Sarah Cooper's job as a high-school teacher to introduce a number of her students who are very much part of the story, and yet not all that interesting... at least in the pilot script. Still, what drives the show is Sarah, who remains a very likable character. A quintessential New Hampshirite, she's friendly, fiercely loyal and always willing to lend a hand. At first hesitant to be in the spotlight, Sarah finds the courage to step up and fight back. Stella Baker's portrayal will be crucial.
Another thing the show has lost is a more nuanced portrayal of its story. In this version it's really just Sarah & friends against the big baddies who are only interested in profits. Sarah's brother Danny, the brilliant young lawyer returning to his hometown, was one of the more compelling characters in the CBS version of the script, with a vulnerability that made him complex. Sadly, most shades of grey seem to have been excised for The CW.
On the bright side, the move from CBS to The CW has infused The Republic of Sarah with some much-needed diversity. Amy "AJ" Johnson, Sarah’s roommate and longtime friend, is described as a cynical black lesbian in her twenties, while Sarah's student Maya is a 16-year-old latinx. After her mother’s imprisonment in Los Angeles, Maya arrives in town to live with her estranged father, Luis, another longtime friend of Sarah's, who recently discovered he was gay. The character of Corinne, Sarah’s devoted best friend, remains a bubbly girl next door type. After a whirlwind teenage romance with Danny, Corinne has settled into domestic life as a mother and a teacher, but with him back in town, she can’t help but wonder what could have been.
The time spent focused on love stories like this (and a new one involving Sarah herself) is time spent away from the show's central premise of Sarah forming a new country in order to save her town, a concept that doesn't really emerge in this version of the pilot until the last act. Does it make sense given the target audience? Yes, but it robs the show of much of its reason for being. And that's a shame.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: It's hard to judge The CW's The Republic Of Sarah without comparing it to last year's much better CBS version. Although many of the elements that made it unique are gone, the character of Sarah remains compelling, and the refashioned script has several hallmarks of what makes a successful CW series.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] RECOMMEND
BEST FIT: Fridays