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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
For our final two weeks, we're going to shift gears a little and look at the scripts for 10 high-concept projects in the works for midseason. All of them have just started or recently completed production so it may be some time before we hear when and if they make the cut.
As always a lot can change from what's on the page right now but we couldn't resist taking a peek.
SECTION 8 (ABC)
(written by Zak Penn & Michael Karnow; 66 pages)
The network's description: No official description was released.
What did they leave out: ABC originally picked up the project with a blind six-episode commitment.
The plot in a nutshell: When a witness is inexplicably murdered in a locked room at a federal courthouse, Section 8 (under the auspices of the National Security Agency) is put on the case. Lead by Dr. Leigh Rosen (all roles have yet to be cast), the team has but one mandate - locate and assess the threats posed by "alphas," human beings "with enhanced abilities due to differences in their brain structure." Joining Rosen in his quest are four such alphas - Gary Bell, a highly functioning autistic with an ability to process information that rivals most computers; Bill Harken, a former FBI agent who can amp up his "fight or flight" reflex, giving him extraordinary strength for a brief period of time; Nina Theroux, a beautiful woman who can reprogram other people's minds to do as she bids; and Rachel Myers, an orthodox Jew who can shatter glass with but a whisper. However with said powers comes a price - for Gary, autism which makes him a child for all intents and purposes; for Harken, severe anger issues that cost him his job and family; for Rachel, living life as a near mute and being forced to wear an electronic device against her larynx; and Nina, never really knowing how those close to her actually feel. In any case, they've all come together for the common good with Rosen as their mentor, teaching them to further control their abilities with each passing day. As for the courthouse murder, it's not long before the team uncovers that one of their own kind was responsible - Christian Hicks, a former Marine sharpshooter with supernatural balance and aim (he guided the bullet through a ventilation duct). After bringing him in though, they realize someone even more powerful was pulling the strings... someone with a new technology that can be used to mimic one of the team's gifts.
What works: To its credit, there's a lot of interesting ideas at work here. The script suggests that people like Tiger Woods, Garry Kasparov and Michel Gondry are "alphas" themselves - able to do extraordinary things due to unique traits in their brain structure. All of the alphas we meet then are along the same lines. They don't shoot optic blasts or pop claws from their fists, their gifts are much more grounded to the real world. Harken is what the Hulk would be in the real world, Rachel is what Black Bolt would be in the real world and so on. The show also amusingly attempts (more on this in a second) to contrast the usually slick, secretive world of black ops with having Section 8 be set up in an office building in New Jersey where everyone bickers like regular 9-to-5ers. Likewise, the story is cleverly framed as Rosen writes a book about working for Section 8 (on an old Smith Corona daisy wheel no less)... a book which he knows he can never actually publish.
What doesn't: While the ideas are there, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Penn and Karnow's script never stops telling you what you're reading is the coolest and most amazing thing you've ever laid eyes on. It's the screenplay equivalent of telling and not showing. (Sample: "The line between what is possible and what is real will be razor thin on this show, as evidenced in the following montage.") Great scripts don't need that kind of direction. The words and actions should say it for you. This brings us back to the previous point about contrasting the black ops world with Section 8's "office" backdrop. Kind of fun idea right? But we never actually see or hear the characters behaving as such. Instead we get the notation: "The world of the office should feel improvisational in tone, hyper-real, even mundane at points; a sharp contrast with some of the extraordinary things we will see." The show's real flaw however is that none of the characters are particularly interesting nor are the stories really that compelling. It's just another by-the-numbers, "welcome to the secret organization" show. Some potentially neat ideas for sure...
The bottom line: ...but nothing that can save it from itself.