Thursday, April 26, 2018

Breaking down the pilot of EVERWOOD

Previous Pilot Breakdowns:
Veronica Mars
The Office
Homicide: Life on the Street

Find the original twitter thread here.

NOTE: So the @CWSeed version of the EVERWOOD pilot is apparently the syndicated version. I'll be doing the Extended DVD version, which is about 5 min longer. I'm doing this one because it's my favorite Greg Berlanti pilot and I wanted to do another ensemble drama pilot.

Like a lot of pilots, EVERWOOD starts with narration, and this is accompanied with sort of a montage info-dump. The storyteller is not the lead, Dr. Andy Brown, played by Treat Williams. It's Irv, who we'll meet later.

Meet Andy Brown, who in the first scene, forgets his son's piano recital. Scene 2 shows that he's one of the best neurosurgeon in the business, and is everything you'd expect of a New York City doctor. He tells a patient, "Don't thank me now. You can thank me when I save your life."

Dr. Brown misses the recital. Police arrive at his office. We don't hear what he's told. Irv fills us in. Car accident killed his wife on her way to the recital. Andy's left alone to raise 15 year old Ephram and 9 year old Delia. We have to cover a LOT of ground, particularly in making the wife someone we care about.

Five minutes in, Andy's doing his second consult. To our surprise, he tells a patient to forget surgery, go live his life in the time he has left. "I can't save your life. At most I can prolong it... so this hospital can brag about its success rate."

Andy's made his own choice. Smash cut to "MOVING WHERE?" from Ephram. Andy's moving them to the small town of Everwood, Colorado. Ephram doesn't want to leave NYC, thinks his dad is crazy. Andy puts it to a vote and buys Delia's vote with the promise of a pony. Act one took 6:45. Ends with them moving out of their New York City home.

Act two kicks off as we arrive in Everwood. Irv drops some local exposition on us. It immediately comes off as a folksy small town in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and Andy's grown a beard.

Delia gets on the bus and we meet Irv in the flesh. A large friendly African American man.

Ephram's off to school. Andy offers to drive. E: "Appreciate the offer but it's about ten years too late." They don't get along.

Another character intro: Andy meets his neighbor Nina. She already knows who he is. See, Time Magazine wrote an article about Andy leaving medicine. He's kind of a big deal.

At school. Ephram mouths off to some would-be bullies. And IMMEDIATELY seems to catch the eye of Amy, every guy's teenage crush. She knows who he is too. They banter easily. Ephram's shown as witty and snarky. Amy invites Ephram to eat lunch sometime. Ephram clearly thinks she's into him.

Next scene: new info is that Andy's planning on opening a new general practice. There's already a doctor in town, he's informed.

Transition to Dr. Harold Abbott. A local asks him to "just check me out" here on the street for an ailment. Dr. Abbot gives a long speech about how he could misdiagnose something and expose himself to a malpractice case. It's a very efficient way of showing that Dr. Abbott has a bit of a rod up his ass. Big thing about this pilot: EVERYONE's voice is instantly clear.

Both Andy and Abbott speechify, but they do so in different ways. Looking for office space, Andy is intrigued by the abandoned and dilapidated train station. he's decided this is the perfect place. END ACT TWO

Top of Act Three: Ephram and Amy. Ephram is gassing on about manga. She's into it, cooing "Who knew comics could be so hot." Makeout music comes on. And if you haven't guessed by this point, Ephram's clearly dreaming. And when he wakes up, it's THAT kind of dream.

(This is probably what's cut on the online version, which is followed by a scene where Ephram tries to wash his sheets as Andy asks what he's doing). Andy ends with another attempt at an olive branch, "I'm making pancakes, you want some?" Ephram: "Go to hell!" Ah, fathers and sons.

Dr. Abbott confronts Andy about parking in his spot. "I'm sorry I didn't see a name on the curb." "It's implied." Abbott doesn't take kindly to another doctor in town. This whole scene is gold.

Abbott boasts his golf club belonged to Tiger Woods. Andy: "I'll have to tell him." Yep, Andy knows Tiger.

Abbott sneers that he's been there for 15 years, "Before me it was my father." Joviley, Andy inquires, "Was it your father's father before him? Because that would be cool!"

The script has to NAIL this relationship and that scene's a good microcosm. Abbot is arrogant and confrontational. Andy is breezy and friendly. Sets the tone that you can instantly build on. From here, we get to the OTHER major relationship the pilot has to nail Amy/Ephram. She asks what it's like having a doctor. Ephram's response is revealing, "He misses your birthday. You want to hate him, but he's in the paper for separating Siamese twins." So yeah, Ephram has issues.

Showing he's not entirely blinded by his crush, Ephram asks, "Why are you hanging out with me?" "You've got kind of a tragic, lonely thing going on," she deflects. As they split up, her brother (Chris Pratt!) tells her dad's not gonna like them hanging out. She blackmails him into silence.

Andy sets up the office and an older woman named Edna Harper shows up. Calls Delia "Private," she has "40 years nursing experience, includes 2 tours in 'nam." She also drops that she worked for Dr. Abbott "Senior and Junior." Again, another intro, another info dump.

Back at the house, we learn Ephram hasn't played the piano since his mother died. Andy's concerned, Ephram says "Like you ever cared if I played or not." We hit this note a lot, but it's a big one.

Andy now imagines/recalls a conversation with his wife. She suggests he grow a beard (Ah! so THAT'S why he grew a beard!) The talk is the "what would you do if I died" talk. Andy deflects. He imagines dancing with his wife, and when we pull back, we see that Delia is watching him dance alone.

ACT OUT: Dr. Brown is not well, and his daughter is concerned.

Act In: Two doctors park side by side, Andy is cheery. "My first day, you gonna wish me luck?" Harold: "If you're done blathering, one of us has patients to attend to." Andy, unfazed: "Have a nice day!" I'm SURE there's fanfic about these two. (See what I mean about what's conveyed just in dialogue? Especially in a pilot, you've got to be efficient in getting to the heart of character's attitude.)

At the office, Andy persuades the town gossip to consent to an exam, comparing her to Elizabeth Taylor (whom he has operated on. Because OF COURSE he has.) Andy's very charming, even with the name drop, but he clearly knows what he's doing. Treat hits the PERFECT genial note.

After an Irv/Delia scene that shows Irv as the wise man of the town, we're back at Andy's office. He says "I'm not charging. My services are free...I was a brain surgeon for 15 years. I have a few pennies tucked away." I liked that way of revealing Andy's not just rich, he's RICH.

Amy's brother Bright - played by CHRIS PRATT -  confronts Ephram. It's hate at first sight. Amy arrives, and Bright says, "Tell him why you're really hanging out with him." Also mentions she's got a boyfriend. This starts another mini-mystery. They fight. Lands them at the principal's office. Andy shows up, as does Bright's father... Dr. Abbott.

So the girl Ephram likes has a bf and her dad hates Ephram's dad's guts. That almost sounds like... conflict!

And now we finally get the big Ephram/Andy confrontation. Ephram calls him out on losing his mind. "I knew her! You were never around! I wish you died instaed of her!" Andy volleys right back, "I wish I did too, you little bastard!" It's a pretty raw ugly moment. Smartly, Berlanti has Ephram refuse to go in the house as ordered while Andy impotently says, "At some point you're going inside." Nina sees all this. Andy, dryly, "I run a tight ship." Look for those moments. You can't just have your characters say they hate each other. You need to have a way out of that scene.

Andy/Nina talk: he says Julia was better at parenting. Nina asks if the reason he came there has to do with Julia. "I need to prove I can be the kind of doctor and father she wanted be when she was alive." - Mission statement for the show.

Top of the next act: Harold and Andy bicker. Andy again tries so hard to be his friend. Andy also shows him up with a correct diagnosis of Nina's son's illness, which he clocked in the last scene. "Not bad for a nutbag. You should see what I can do with my hands." There's some silly banter as people show up for Andy's free services. Dr. Abbott confronts Edna, calling her "Mother." Ah, more family conflict between the Abbott and Brown clans.

We're seeing all parts of the engine that drives the series and the next scenes give us a big one. Amy gets Ephram to see her boyfriend Colin. He's in a coma after a car accident on 4th of July. He was Bright's best friend. Bright was actually in the car with him but doesn't remember anything. "Every night I pray for a miracle.. When I heard your dad was coming to town I figured if anyone could help him, it would be him." Emily VanCamp sells the HELL out of this scene. Has to make us forgive Amy's manipulation and we're totally with her.

It would have been easy to write Amy as a manipulative liar. By the end of that scene, we feel like we'd have done the same thing. What I like about this show. People are more complex than good/bad. The audience always relates to them.

The next scene was another Andy/wife convo. She tells him about passing through Everwood as a child. Says essentially, that if anything happens to her, that's where she'll be. Yes, I know it sounds SCHMALTZY, but it works, dammit.

Delia comforts her father... and piano music wafts in from the other room. Ephram is at last playing again. "I found out I'm in love with a girl who's in love with a guy in a coma." Andy and Ephram make up. Ephram doesn't make eye contact.

And we go out on Andy observing of Ephram's playing, "I forgot how good you are." "Mom used to say I had your hands."

And with Irv's final narration, we end the pilot.

So let's count the relationships that drive the series:
Andy/Ephram - conflict at the core of everything
Andy/Abbott - conflict. Also affects everything with their kids. We can see a potential domino effect for stories to exploit
Edna/Abbot - Conflict

Love triangle: Ephram/Amy/Colin. Ephram likes Amy. But the guy she loves is someone only his father can save. So if he asks his dad to help, he probably loses the girl. But how can he not ask? And hey! it's a triangle with no bad guys, just normal teens, sorta.

(Later on in the series, they make a VERY smart choice in making us like Colin. He's the most beloved guy in town, which makes the triangle even more complicated. We can't hate him.) Then we add the fact that if Andy gets involved, it's another chance for Abbott to feel like an inferior doctor. And what must it feel like to see your daughter pinning her hopes to your rival.

Bottom line: there is a LOT of pipe laid here. Two families, multiple layers of conflict both within and between the families AND the love triangle. And it has heart and characters you want to spend time with. And there's no high concept, sci-fi twist or anything.

I love this show. It's my favorite Greg Berlanti show and Ephram and Amy are some of the best teen characters to appear on TV.

Other Pilot Breakdowns:

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