Genre television is thriving on cable, with shows like Walking Dead and Game of Thrones making waves, but it's struggling on the networks. Could 2013 be the year that science fiction and fantasy TV strikes back? We got an early look at seven scripts for pilots that are currently filming, or just filmed. Here's what we found.
Top image: Cover detail from Delirium.
Just like last year, we got hold of some script pages for these show's pilots that were released for casting calls. These pages appear to come from the actual pilot scripts, and include large chunks of them.
As usual, though, some disclaimers are in order. First of all, it's possible (but not likely) these pages aren't from the actual pilot script. They may be from an early draft, and in any case the final pilot may differ dramatically from what's in these pages. We're not making any sweeping judgments about these shows based on these pages, and this is not a "review" or anything. We're also not going to include any huge plot spoilers below. Just give a general impression of the show's format and characters, and vague first impressions. You can judge how close we came last year.
With that out of the way, here we go...
In a nutshell: We've been covering this show because it's ostensibly about superheroes — but really, it's just about a guy who comes into money and decides to help people. Clyde's eccentric Uncle Bill invented Silly Putty and used his fortune to help random people. Clyde is an agoraphobic misfit who works in a fast food restaurant, and even after he comes into a fortune he keeps working there. He finds out about how his Uncle Bill used to help people in secret, sort of like a superhero, and decides to follow suit.
Memorable characters: Clyde (Rupert Grint) is a cute misfit who has a heart of gold. His siblings, Duke and Faith, are both sort of obnoxious in different ways, and they take advantage of all the opportunities to be ridiculous that money accords. But really the standout character is Randolph (Stephen Fry), the family butler who is the Alfred to Clyde's Batman. He's wacky and kindly, and provides counseling Clyde with "the Doctor," a sort of puppet he's drawn on his hand. He's the "farting bedpost"-playing glue that holds the whole thing together.
Why it could be your new crack: It's a silly, occasionally witty take on superhero tropes, in which money is literally a superpower, instead of simply giving you superpowers in the case of Batman and so many others. Plus Stephen Fry as Alfred. Photo via Rupert Grint.us
In a nutshell: Based on the young-adult novel by Lauren Oliver, this series takes place in a future dystopia where love has been classified as a disease. And on your 18th birthday, you receive the cure — an operation that makes you incapable of falling in love. Young Lena (Emma Roberts) is due to receive the cure soon, but she meets a young man named Alex who secretly hasn't had the cure at all. There's a resistance against the oppressive order, and they are plotting to find an antidote to the cure and free people from the evil anti-love establishment. Meanwhile, the ambitious Senator Hargrove (Michael Michele) wants to be president — but to win, she may have to support curtailing civil rights further, with random searches and more government surveillance. Besides Lena, a few other young people struggle with their impending surgeries. Image via DeliriumFandom.
Memorable characters: Thomas Fineman, the head of the DFA, an organization which basically reminds people why love is evil, is sort of a stern patriarch with a difficult relationship with his son Julian. Alex, the young rebel whom Lena meets, could easily be a Colton Haynes-style heartthrob. Lena's friend Hana is a fun party girl.
Why it could be your new crack: It's one of the many, many dystopian book series transplanted to television, with all the teen angst and the clear-cut political issues wrapped up into a weekly dose. Could be a fun soap opera.
In a nutshell: The network that brought you Once Upon a Time (and 666 Park Avenue) brings you another supernatural soap opera. Featuring Dracula, Victor Frankenstein (Tom Ellis), Jekyll & Hyde, Dorian Gray (Chris Ellis), Roderick Usher (Seth Gabel!) and various others, all knocking around in the same city. It's about as goofy as you'd expect. Victor Frankenstein is trying to bring his dead daughter Anna back to life. Dorian Gray is a rich playboy, pretending to be his own son. Dracula is biting people's necks. And so on. Meanwhile, Grace Van Helsing (Janet Montgomery) tries to save her family newspaper, the Sentinel (Or the Guardian, in some drafts), which is known for its muck-raking exposes about all of these people's goings-on. And detective Harker is busy investigating the vampire murders, while flirting with a tough woman named Mina. Oh, and there's a woman named Fiona Hunter who wants to buy the newspaper but also has her own agenda.
Memorable characters: Grace the crusading newspaper owner is sort of cute, with her long-buried romantic past with Victor Frankenstein and her barely-suppressed idealism. Dorian Gray is a fun playboy type character who has two nearly identical beautiful women in sheer nighties carousing around him.
Why it could be your new crack: If you like supernatural soap operas like Once or 666 or Vampire Diaries, this looks like more of the same — and in a time when print newspapers are in deep trouble and possibly facing extinction, there's something extra romantic about the crusading newspaperwoman who writes exposes of Dracula and Dorian Gray and tells people, "Want to know what I'm writing in my column? You'll have to buy a paper tomorrow."
In a nutshell: Based on the books by Kass Morgan, this show takes place 100 years in the future, when the Earth has been abandoned due to radioactivity. The last surviving humans live on an ark orbiting the planet — but the ark won't last forever. So the repressive regime picks 100 expendable juvenile delinquents to send down to Earth to see if the planet is still habitable. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong, including the retro rockets not firing. And the juvenile delinquents are rebellious. There are mutant two-headed deer on the planet's surface. And meanwhile, up on the Ark, the misguided Kaine is trying to seize power and begin culling the human population after the Ark's chancellor, the strict but fair Jaha (Isaiah Washington), is shot. (Jaha's son Wells is one of the delinquents who's been sent to Earth.) Humanity's first words upon returning to Earth: "We're back, bitches!".
Memorable characters: Abby (Paige Turco from Person of Interest) is the chief medical officer of the Ark, and mother to Clarke (Eliza Taylor), one of the delinquents who's been sent down to Earth. She stands up to Kaine and winds up paying for it. Finn, the "spacewalk bandit," is a cool rebel who does unauthorized zero-gravity stunts and teaches other kids to reject their fear.
Why it could be your new crack: It's got the sexy post-apocalyptic and dystopian stuff that everybody loves — but it also looks like it could have some genuinely interesting storytelling. Like, the teenagers trying to figure out how/if they can survive on the post-apocalyptic Earth, and striving to reach an underground base full of supplies from 100 years ago. And the political struggle on board the Ark looks like it could be pretty fascinating as well. Most of all, there's the question of what these delinquents owe to the people who exiled them.
In a nutshell: It's a reimagining of the 1970s British TV show about mutant superpowered teenagers and the secret organization that hunts them. This time around, we're in New York and the Tomorrow People have a secret base in an abandoned subway station. They still have the computer named Tim and the teleportation. Stephen (played by Robbie Amell, the cousin of Arrow's Stephen Amell) is a troubled teenager who's been put on antipsychotic medications because of his delusions and his father's history of mental illness — but then he finds out that he actually has powers like telekinesis, telepathy and teleportation. He meets Cara, John and Russell, who tell him that he's a homo superior, who are going to replace the "saps," or homo sapiens. His father was one of them and he's still out there somewhere. But they're all being hunted by the ULTRA organization, which uses traitorous Tomorrow People as its agents. And ULTRA wants Stephen to come work for them and hunt his own kind. Meanwhile, Stephen keeps getting closer to his friend Astrid — until he hears her telepathically wishing that he would kiss her.
Memorable characters: The indispensible Mark Pellegrino is playing Jedikiah, an evolutionary biologist whom we first see giving a lecture in which he explains that humans triumphed over Neanderthals not because we were smarter or tougher, but because of "love" — we won out because we're hardwired to mate for life. Jedikiah is the head of ULTRA, a "sap" who fears the rise of the Tomorrow People, and he's also Stephen's uncle who tries to sway Stephen to the dark side. You could easily see Pellegrino having fun with this material. Also, Russell is a Tomorrow Person who uses his powers to steal Rolex watches and sleep with supermodels.
Why it could be your new crack: Basically it's the X-Men, except in the style of Vampire Diaries and Arrow. There's a lot of teen angst and smooching, but also some fun escapist stuff about getting to run away and join the special people living underground.
In a nutshell: A reimagining of the classic spooky story, with a pilot written by Philip Iscove plus Star Trek's Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, and directed by Len Wiseman (Total Recall). Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is a soldier in the Revolutionary War, fighting with George Washington, when he faces the Headless Horseman. He wakes up 250 years later, in the 21st century, to find the Headless Horseman is back and killing again — and the Horseman is actually one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, ready to bring about the end of the world. And the Horseman has gotten himself some riot gear and a shotgun to go with his big axe. So Crane teams up with a cop, Abbie Archer (Nicole Beharie) to investigate supernatural crimes, starting with the murder of Abbie's friend and mentor, Sheriff Grey. John Cho plays Andy Dunn, another cop who has a secret connection to all of this. Oh, and Ichabod Crane's dead wife Katrina was a witch, who put Ichabod and the Horseman into suspended animation to prevent the Horseman from destroying everything. Image via Indiewire.
Memorable characters: Ichabod Crane is pretty hilarious with the "man out of time" schtick, doing a similar thing to Johnny Depp (who also played Crane) in the recent Dark Shadows. Except that Ichabod is actually pretty funny and charming, with his bewilderment at the 21st century, and his struggles with everybody wanting to put him in the loony bin. And he gets a nice rapport with Abbie. At one point, she tells him to stay in the cop car, and he says, "As you know, I'm insane and therefore impervious to simple commands." Abbie is your standard "tough cop who saw something she didn't understand when she was young."
Why it could be your new crack: It's a buddy cop show with Ichabod Crane and a tough cop teaming up to solve supernatural cases every week while trying to prevent the end of the world. Basically, Elementary mixed in with Grimm or Angel. I could see this developing into a fun show.
In a nutshell: This is the second year in a row that The CW has made a pilot based on the novel by Kiera Cass — they shot one last year and then scrapped it. In The Selection, it's centuries in the future and the world has reverted to a primitive monarchy after the deadly "cyber wars," and all high technology is banned. King Clarkson (Anthony Head) rules over the kingdom of Ilea, and he holds a contest called The Selection to choose a new bride for his rakish son, Prince Maxon (Michael Malarky). Most of the 25 candidates are from the aristocracy, a few come from the merchant classes — and just one comes from the working class: America Singer (Yael Grobgias). This time around, The CW seems to have revamped the show to make it much less like The Bachelor meets Hunger Games — and focus much less on the competition and much more on the political intrigue. One of the other contestants, Fiona, is secretly in love with Maxon's younger brother Rafe. Another one of them is plotting to assassinate King Clarkson. There are wheels within wheels, and meanwhile America openly hates all of them and thinks the monarchy is stupid and oppressive from day one. It's clear that getting to marry the loutish Prince Maxon would be no prize — but then you get to see another side to Prince Maxon over time, and he starts to seem like he might actually have a conscience. Oh, and there are rebels who want to overthrow the King, and they plot to kidnap the lovable, photogenic America and turn her into their spokesperson. And America is already in love with the young, dashing Apsen, who tries to help her escape from the castle in the middle of the Selection. Photo via Louise Lombard
Memorable characters: The standout character is Celeste, a Selection candidate who is scheming and kind of evil. Her family ruled Ilea once, and she's determined to rule again. At one point, Celeste's maid/lover Ondine gives her the rotation schedule of the palace guards and Celeste says: "Good." Ondine replies, "I had to blow half a dozen soldiers for that. All you can say is 'Good?'" Celeste responds, "What would you like me to say? 'Have a mint?'"
Why it could be your new crack: The Hunger Games influence is still very very strong in this show — but they've given it a heavy injection of Game of Thrones as well. There's a lot of sex and raunchiness, even by The CW's standards, and tons and tons of cynicism. Everybody is plotting against everybody else, everybody is making alliances and cutting deals and nobody trusts anybody. Mostly it's a chance to see Tony Head play a king again, so soon after Merlin.