Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Middletown Season 1, Episode 1: "Pilot"

In Metropolis, at their secret headquarters, a meeting of the newly christened Justice League appears to commence. However, Clark Kent (Tom Welling,) Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley,) Dinah Lance (Alaina Huffman,) Arthur Curry (Alan Ritchson,) and John Jones (Phil Morris) are in a trance state. They speak a continuous oath, first in turns, then in unison, swearing their allegiance to the unseen Despero (Andrew Robinson.) The camera finally pans in for a close-up on a grim, blank-eyed Manhunter from Mars.

Fifteen year old CeCe (Raquel Castro) wakes from the nightmare after spending the night on a park bench. In her shock and disorientation, CeCe shrieks as violent reds, greens and purples swirl over her skin. The brief commotion draws the attention of a police officer patrolling the park, so CeCe makes herself scarce.

Cut to the waiting room outside the human resources department of an office building. CeCe notices one of the drones eying her warily. She approaches a receptionist, and asks how long it usually takes to schedule a job interview. CeCe is gruffly dismissed, and excuses herself to the bathroom. She washes her face with soap from a dispenser, looking rather pitiful, then dries with a paper towel. As she exits, she spots the woman meant to interview her with a police officer at the receptionist’s desk, and realizes someone must have called her in as a runaway. CeCe sneaks out of the building down the emergency stairs.

Raquel Castro as CeCe

CeCe waits at a booth in a Big Belly Burger until the manager returns to sit across from her with a sack lunch and her job application. He offers the meal to the girl, then explains that she’s clearly too young to be on her own, and his attempts to confirm her references went nowhere. The manager asks CeCe about her family, whether she was a runaway, and explains that he intends to call Metropolis Health & Human Services to help her out. CeCe starts making her way toward the door, as the manager pleads with her to at least let someone drive her to a shelter, but she bolts.

CeCe ends up sitting on a stoop, crying her eyes out. A group of well-dressed plastic girls walks by, snickering at her raggedy clothes and laughing that they’d be crying too if they looked like that. The girls continue to prattle on as they walk along the sidewalk, unaware that an unseen force is extracting the wallets from their purses as they wait for a crosswalk signal. As they continued on, CeCe is seen ducking into an alley, examining her spoils.

Exterior shot of a Middletown Police Department station. Interior of the office of Captain Harding (Larry Drake,) as a knock comes on his door. Enter homicide Detective Diane Meade (Victoria Pratt,) complaining about her new partner, John Jones. In the three months they had been working together, Meade had learned virtually nothing about Jones, noted his constant unexplained absences, and felt excluded from their investigations. Harding champions Jones’ record with the Metropolis Police Force, offers his already impressive performance with Middletown P.D., and asks that Meade give the situation a little more time. Meade snarls that Jones still wasn’t back from his weekend trip to Metropolis, and that at least with him gone, she might get to be a cop again.

Victoria Pratt as Detective Diane Meade

CeCe hits the department stores, buying all sort of lavish apparel. She then goes out to dine at a fancy restaurant, but a mean-spirited waiter makes rude comments about how clothes and perfume were no substitute for bathing and grooming. CeCe orders the most expensive dishes on the menu, then disappears before the check comes.

In Middletown, Meade knocks on John Jones’ apartment door. When no one answers, she uses lock-picking tools to let herself in. Meade is unnerved when she finds the apartment covered in newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and specialty journal pieces related to the wealth of phenomena to be found in the bent berg of Middletown. Almost as disconcerting is the fact that Jones has almost no personal effects in the apartment, and his pantry is filled with nothing but Chocos sandwich cookies.

Bart Allen (Kyle Gallner) wakes from the same dream that CeCe experienced. As Impulse, the young hero races with super-speed to the Justice League meeting room. Impulse tries to rouse the members of the team, but most (specifically Aquaman, Black Canary and Green Arrow) turn on the kid. As Bart struggles against their grip, Despero’s voice is heard from off-screen, and a partial view of the villain is allowed. As Despero continues, Impulse’s resistance fades, and he begins to speak in unison with the alien.

CeCe checks into a hotel with the credit cards stolen from the plastic witch she most closely resembled. She takes a shower, and relishes sleeping in a nice bed. In her dreams, CeCe sees visions of green-skinned aliens on another planet, assessing the situation following a coup d'état. The bald one with a pronounced brow is identified as the Manhunter from Mars, last survivor of that world turned intergalactic bounty hunter. The Manhunter meets with Sarana (Alice Greczyn), the daughter of the orchestrator of the rebellion, who escorts him to her father, Jasonar (Ethan Phillips). Both are natives of  Kalanor, and much more human in appearance. The Manhunter has been enlisted to track down the former dictator, the purple-skinned mutant Despero, who had managed to escape the planet for parts unknown. Jones plead out, having already helped to overthrow Despero. Jones was now compelled to finish some business on Earth, where he had promised to look after a friend's son, and deal with some old enemies from his days working with Jor-El of Krypton.

Alice Greczyn as Saranna

There’s a loud knock at CeCe’s hotel room door. The police would like the girl to open up, and when she doesn’t, they let themselves in. The cops find a closet full of clothes and an unmade bed, but no one actually inside. The hotel’s manager speaks with the officers, advising them to visit the building’s security office to review camera footage in order to determine their wanted person’s whereabouts. The manager stays in the room after the police depart, and asks the “little gypsy” to come out.

CeCe recognizes the manager from her dream as Saranna, although she now appeared fully human. Regardless, CeCe remains out of sight. Saranna explains that she knows about the gypsy’s chameleon powers, but that they would not protect her from the elements should she try to escape in her night gown. Saranna asks that the gypsy hear her out, and then she would allow her to leave with her clothes. Saranna explains that the alien despot that CeCe had been dreaming about had come to Earth for conquest and revenge. Despero had already captured the minds of our world’s most powerful heroes, and any who directly opposed him would likely fall victim to his mental control. John Jones was able to partially resist, thanks to his telepathic abilities, and had attempted to psychically contact individuals who could help with their plight. One such soul had rushed in where stealth was needed— the kind of care gypsies are better suited for. Saranna was interrupted by a police officer, who excitedly explained that cameras had picked up bizarre footage of suitcases in the lobby opening up spontaneously, and clothes disappearing.

CeCe was barefoot on the street in a hideous green and white dress she’d grabbed on her way out of the hotel. All of the money she had was back in "her" rooml, so she would have to scrounge up some more. She found herself a decent looking stoop to sleep on for the night.

The next morning, CeCe was back in the department stores, but her gaudy outfit was attracting the wrong kind of attention. Mall cops were no problem, but when real ones started shooting at her inside the store, CeCe didn’t know what to think but “run.” She made it out of the building empty-handed, but while skulking around invisibly, began to notice that there was a much stronger police presence throughout the city.

In Middletown, Detective Meade and company watched news reports of the mayor of Metropolis announcing martial law in the wake of his police department discovering terrorist cells throughout the city. Evidence suggested that there were more such cells in every major city in the country, with the mayor offering assistance to other authorities in the matter. Captain Harding points out to Meade that Detective Jones had a pretty good excuse for running late all of the sudden.

Larry Drake as Captain Harding

CeCe is grabbed from behind and pulled into an alley. As she turned invisible and struggled for release, Victor Stone (Lee Thompson Young) covered her mouth and explained that he was here to help her. CeCe tried to escape when Stone first released her, but his cybernetic eye was able to trace her heat signature and recapture her. CeCe refused to give up her name, referring to herself simply as "Gypsy," but she agreed to go with Victor to an abandoned nightclub. There, Gypsy was reintroduced to Saranna and her father. Jasonar explains that Despero’s influence was already spreading, and that there would soon be no place for Gypsy to run away to. The two Kalanorians were immune to Despero’s mental powers, while Victor’s cyborg brain offered him partial protection, and Despero could not affect the minds of anyone he couldn’t see. Gypsy replied that she could take care of herself, but wasn’t prepared to take on an alien dictator. Jasonar couldn’t risk another super-powered individual falling under Despero’s control, so he told her to hide out at the club for the rest of the day. If his group wasn’t back by nightfall, Gypsy would truly be on her own.

Cyborg takes point, connecting to city computers to control traffic lights, bridges and such to restrict traffic around the Justice League’s headquarters. Stone then leads the rush into the building, while the armed Jasonar and Saranna spilt up to search the building. Saranna trades fire with Green Arrow, the distraction allowing Black Canary to take out the intruder. Jasonar is initially faced with Aquaman, but John Jones comes to his rescue. It seems the strain of controlling so many minds had taken its toll of Despero’s psychic grip, freeing the Manhunter to join the offensive. Cyborg manages to knock out Green Arrow, but the combined power of a sonic Canary Cry and Impulse’s super-speed blows brings Victor low. The Manhunter is seized by Clark Kent, while Impulse rushes Jasonar into a seat before Despero.

Ethan Phillips as Jasonar

The despot is pleased to finally confront the men responsible for deposing him on Kalanor, and begins plotting the tortures in store for them. However, Despero is struck by a ray gun blast from out of nowhere-- literally. The pain proves too great a distraction for Despero to maintain his mental control, and he suddenly finds himself surrounded by a rather perturbed Justice League in full command of their faculties...

Jasonar and Saranna board their spaceship bound for Kalinor, the greatest criminal in that world’s history secured in lock-up. Jasonar expresses his gratitude to the League for finally seeing justice done, and then the aliens depart. The Leaguers thank John Jones and Victor Stone for liberating the rest of the team, while Bart Allen expresses regret over rushing into the situation foolishly. Clark takes John aside and asks him about his move to Middletown. Jones explains that like Smallville and Metropolis, Middletown has proven to be a magnet for unexplained phenomena that has not been properly studied, or as needed confronted, in the absence of its own Superman. Clark wishes John the best, and once everyone else appears to leave, John calls out to Victor to confirm where in the room Gypsy is hiding.

The girl reveals herself, and is applauded as the unsung hero of the day. Cindy isn’t feeling it, as her first inclination was to flee, until curiosity simply got the better of her, so she tailed Jasonar’s team. John explains that what was important was that she had stepped up to the challenge, then asks about her past and future plans. CeCe continues to offer “Gypsy” as her only name, refusing to discuss her history, and figuring jail was her fate if she stayed in Metropolis. John offers Gypsy a safe place to stay in Middletown until she can come up with a better course, and she agrees. John asks Victor to keep Gypsy’s participation in the affair a secret for the time being, and the trio exit the headquarters to face a new day.

I didn’t much care for this premature "pilot." The show’s called “Middletown,” but the whole damned episode seems to take place in Metropolis. John Jones has had more face time in Smallville guest spots than here, and what was with Diane Meade’s disappearing act? It seems like the episode spent so much time making Gypsy sympathetic and excusing her later actions, there wasn’t enough of her trademark sarcasm. Most of all, I was really looking forward to Despero and some Justice League action, but they took up comparatively little of this cheap ass show. Probably best, as the make-up job on Andrew Robinson was pretty lousy. Of course they had to radically redesign Despero's fins, but all they accomplished was obstructing Robinson's swell performance. I really hope things pick up next episode, or I may not keep watching.


mathematicscore said...

Hahahah. Love the criticism. Throw in some reasonable action sequences and I would be all about this.

LissBirds said...

I absolutely loved "cheap ass" show. Considering it's just a pilot, I think the production value was pretty high. Kicking back in front of the TV to watch a two-hour pilot about my favorite characters literally MADE my day. And I had a REALLY crappy day, so that's saying a lot.

Kudos to the casting director for inspired choices. Especially Larry Drake as Capt. Harding. Drake straddles the line quite well between self-aware parody (a lá Shatner's Denny Crane) and full-on cop show gravitas. Victoria Pratt has the right "edge" to her style, yet does not come off as overly-sarcastic.

My only point of contention is that John Jones did NOT wear a hat throughout the entire pilot. I really think the costume department needs to get on that. While they're at it, they could stop dressing Phil Morris in leather jackets and opt for a nice blue suit rather than go for the "edgy" look.

I hope this pillot gets picked up by the CW. Diane Meade better be back, too. I'd like a little more classic buddy cop banter between Jones and Meade. You can't go wrong with the buddy cop formula.

Tom Hartley said...

This would work as the pilot of The Gypsy Show.

Maybe this should be a two-episode story, or a two-hour episode, so that we can spend more time with J'Onn. Of course, that wouldn't work if he's a dupe of Despero the whole time. Maybe he doesn't make it to the first Justice League meeting for some reason. Maybe the story begins with him in Middletown as Det. Jones. He and Diane Meade are at a crime scene when the Justice League attacks him.

The scenes with Gypsy are the best parts. Whatever you do in the rewrite, don't take out any of the Gypsy stuff.

Good job with the casting.

Diabolu Frank said...

M.C., it's a "Smallville" spin-off, so we're both bound to be disappointed by this thing. Kids are posting more CGI laden home videos on YouTube, and the show's idea of "action" is to have the actors/unambitious cosplayers pretend they're swinging a golf club.

Liss, they were shooting for an hour's length, but 2,100 words seems to indicate otherwise. It just took that long to incorporate the usual "Smallville" narrative noodling and get everybody introduced. I agree that the casting was the funnest part. It seems awfully late in the game for Booster Gold to get introduced in "Smallville," so I wonder if he might show up on "Middletown" later in the season? I wonder who'd write that, though?

Tom, the price we pay for the solid older actors on a CW show is a teenybopper in the lead. "CeCe?" Really? Jeez!

Tom Hartley said...

If you burden yourself with imagining this as another CW teenage soap-opera, you take all the fun out of it. It's certainly not the kind of thing I would want to write.

Since it's your fantasy, why not create the kind of show you'd want to watch? What if CW wants to experiment with a show for a slightly older audience? Maybe CW rejects it and it's picked up by a different broadcast network or cable channel. Remember, Time-Warner also owns HBO.

Diabolu Frank said...

Tom, I actually enjoy writing bad television. I've seen enough episodes of "Smallville" to know the basic formula and limitations, plus any false moves on my own part can get chalked up to the lowered expectations. I don't have the time to write something that's intentionally good, and given the less than overwhelming response efforts like the Manhunter from Mars pseudo-series got, I'm not even especially inclined to. I wrote most of this up over a lunch hour, and that's a schedule I can work with.

On the bright side, I will not be writing this as a soap opera, although Gypsy will provide some melodrama and a teen hook. I'm treating this as a lightweight genre show along the lines Bones, Fringe, and on the occasional darker episode, Supernatural. Very much in the "other" broadcast television wheelhouse, or maybe USA Network.

Tom Hartley said...

Fine, but the pilot episode should introduce us to the main character. It should be more about John Jones and less about... everybody else in the CW-DC Universe.

Diabolu Frank said...

Gypsy's the main character. Truth to tell, I considered running this series on my Justice League Detroit blog, but I need the material on the daily blog more than the twice/thrice weekly one. There will certainly be a lot more John Jones in the future, but Gypsy's the driving POV character. I expect she'll be Lucy to John's Ricky Ricardo, but with monsters of the week. Actually, John will be Ethel, and Diane Meade is Ricky with a Beretta.