Writer’s Potential: 4
A young “urbanista” trying to break into the fashion industry gets her shot when a hairstyler overdoses.
EMMY, the young assistant fashion editor at an “urbanista” magazine in New York, has one big problem: she desires power and respect in her industry but has very little. She has enough power to get into a trendy, upscale club in Lower Manhattan, courtesy of her DJ brother CIELO. She uses this small amount of power for good, helping others get in, including semi-nerdy grad student MARCUS. Although she’s friends with model NERISSA, she has no actual power in the fashion industry. As luck would have it, celebrity hairstylist CLIFF JONES overdoses on Ecstasy the night before a big shoot for Shine, the magazine Emmy works for. This means bad things for her direct superior, fashion editor CHLOE, whose job is on the line for not lining up a second photographer for this type of situation. Of course, Emmy’s job is also on the line because she was at the same club Cliff was the night before.
VERONICA, the editor-in-chief of Shine, is about to toss Chloe in the street when she notices Emmy’s gorgeous hairstyle. Emmy reveals that her mother, DELCIA, is her stylist. Delcia reluctantly agrees to style the models’ hair, but she’s committed to her regulars and refuses to leave the shop. This leads to the models, photographers, and editors taking a ride uptown to Delcia’s beauty shop. Through a misunderstanding, the slovenly regulars at Delcia’s shop believe they’re also going to be photographed for the magazine. Both Veronica and the photographer see the artistic brilliance of a location shoot at a “gritty” uptown beauty shop, with both models and “gritty” uptown women. This saves both Chloe’s and Emmy’s jobs.
Veronica notices a gorgeous photo of Emmy from the shoot at the beauty shop, and it is implied that Emmy will be propelled to stardom (much to Chloe’s dismay). Later, Emmy finally agrees to give Marcus the time of day, implying a future romance may blossom.
First and foremost, probably the biggest problem—being that it’s a sitcom—is that it’s just not very funny. There is some wit to the dialogue, but not enough; if one ignores the dark subject matter (as the author does, playing it mostly for upbeat, network-friendly laughs), the characters and situations created to tell this story are pretty routine. Wacky mishaps abound, dull love interests, all adding up to something that’s not terribly funny or innovative…
…unless you plug in the subject matter itself. The author shows a world that I’ve never seen on television before—a subculture of desperate “urbanistas” trying to club (as in dance, not beat with wooden sticks) their way to a successful modeling career. This is a world loaded with sex, drug use (including an overdose), exclusive dance clubs, jealousy, egotism, even a bit of class warfare when the “downtown” models go to the uptown beauty shop. It’s hard to reconcile the underlying darkness of this material with the attempt at traditional, four-camera sitcom writing. With a great deal of rewriting, this could work as a pitch-black satire of both the fashion industry and the “urbanista” subculture, aimed to a cable network like FX. Lightening the subject matter could make it more appealing to a “Big Four” network, but it would also compromise the story’s only interesting material.
If the subject matter were exploited to its fullest, the author could mine a whole lot of comedy gold from this industry and subculture. Even the class struggle, as the uptown poor girl makes good, has a lot of potential for comedy. Everything that’s already there on the page could be used to create much more original, interesting, and funny situations. However, it settles for a pedestrian storyline about the lowly assistant who saves the day. The title implies that it’s most direct influence is That Girl, a show that left the airwaves 35 years ago—and yet, the bare bones of this plot could be a typical episode of that show. For everything that’s fresh and innovative, there’s an equal amount of derivative dreck. Concentrate on heightening the former, and it’ll eliminate (or at least conceal) the latter.
The other big problem is the characters. Admittedly, it’s a pilot, so in theory we’ll get to know them in time, but all we have here at the moment (with the possible exception of Emmy) are stereotypes. What differentiates these folks from the typical role of the “player” brother, the geeky love interest, the evil boss, or the selfish best friend? How can those stereotypes be turned on their ears, within the pilot, to make these characters necessary to the series instead of existing solely because the conventions of this kind of sitcom require a player, a geeky love interest, an evil boss, and a selfish best friend? Of the characters introduced, how important is each supporting player to the series? What roles will they play in Emmy’s life in the future? Will her parents help keep Emmy grounded in where she came from? Will her brother’s one-night-stands come back to haunt him? Since the characters themselves aren’t fully developed, neither is their importance in the series. This should be at least hinted at in the pilot.
Emmy is an interesting case, because she’s desperate for power in the industry, but she uses what power she gains to help others—which could lead to a very flawed, very interesting character arc. How long will she continue helping others before she’s absorbed in this world of power and turns into Chloe or Veronica? Will she always stay true to herself, and if so, how hard a struggle will it be? This is the kind of interesting throughline that could carry the weight of a series, and it should be used to greater effect in the pilot so that we fully understand the premise of the show
As it stands now, the premise (and to that end, the franchise) remains unclear. Will this be Emmy struggling week after week, under the thumb of jealous Chloe? Will she always save the day? Or is this a show about Emmy’s whirlwind rise to the top of the modeling game? I think ideas for future episodes could be drawn naturally from the life the author has established for Emmy, but it remains to be seen what this show is actually about. Answer that—and the 10,000 other questions I’ve raised—and the pilot could be refined to at least hint at this information, to keep an audience coming back week after week.