Pilot Pirate: “Hallelujah” and “The Doctor”


Welcome back to the Pilot Pirate, where we preview the latest scripts looking for a home on the 2011-12 primetime TV schedule. Each week, we read and preview some of the projects interest to the AfterEllen.com community, breaking down scripts to help you, the optimistic TV fan anxiously awaiting the next Modern Family or Glee, keep up with the onslaught of pilots in contention.

A reminder: These are early stage scripts that are likely to be revised and, in some cases, drastically change before filming, and only some of which will make it to the airwaves.

This week:

Pilot: Hallelujah (drama)
Writer: Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives)
Network: ABC
Logline: A stranger arrives in the small Tennessee town of Hallelujah to restore the faith of its residents.
Cast: Jesse L. Martin, Donal Logue, Terry O’Quinn, Arielle Kebbel, Della Reese, Robbie Amell, Zoey Deutch, Frances O’Connor.
Director: Michael Apted (Stardust, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) 

Della Reese and Arielle Kebbel

The characters:
Caleb Turner, a boozing self-professed “sinner,” skirt-chaser and younger brother to Rye (Jonathan Scarfe)
Rye Turner, the town’s most upright citizen (Logue)
Ruth Turner, Rye’s wife and the organ player at the local church (O’Connor)
Matthew Turner, 8, the special needs son of Ruth and Rye (Griffin Cleveland)
Willow Turner, 18, Ruth and Rye’s loyal daughter
Del Roman, the polar opposite of Rye and the wealthiest guy in Hallelujah (O’Quinn)
Veda Roman, Del’s 26-year-old bride (Kebbel)
Gideon Roman, Del and Veda’s upstanding son who is nothing like his father (Amell)
Dulcie Prejean, the free-speaking townie who, while blind, sees everything that goes on in town and isn’t afraid to stir things up (Reese)
Jared O’Neal, a mysterious stranger who rolls into town (Martin)

Hallelujah takes the age-old and clichéd Hatfields vs. McCoys family drama story here and kicks it up two notches, adding a mysterious stranger with healing powers and a gospel choir to the story of a town whose residents could use a lot of help.

On one hand, there are the Turners, a family led by Rye (Donal Logue, Terriers), who is an upstanding family man who does his best to take care of his family and the town in general. With wife Ruth (Frances O’Connor, Cashmere Mafia), he has two kids: Willow, who works at the family’s diner, and son Matthew who, at age 8, has yet to speak. Doctors have told Ruth and Rye that their son will likely never lead a normal life and will need constant care.

On the other hand are the Romans, with Del (Terry O’Quinn, Lost) at the forefront. He’s powerful, wealthy and has everyone — including the town’s sheriff — in his back pocket. He’s got a fancy May-December marriage to Veda (Arielle Kebbel, Life Unexpected), a beautiful woman who is fooling around behind his back. Married because he liked the way she looked, Del is completely consumed by jealousy and will do anything, including murder, to make sure Veda remains by his side, despite how miserable they both are. Veda, meanwhile, has her own reasons for staying and has more character in her pinky finger than Del has in his entire body.

Enter Jared O’Neal (Jesse L. Martin, Rent), a mysterious drifter who arrives in town and immediately sees the best in just about everyone, especially the Turners. At the same time, Jared also has no problem seeing the worst in the Romans and encourages Rye to keep the faith and do what’s best for himself and the community at large.

With church the regular meeting place for both families, the gospel choir touch is interesting, if not effectively conveyed through the script. How it translates to the screen will be interesting as it is peppered throughout the script.

Reading the script before casting, I could only picture Logue as Jared; his casting as the upstanding Rye seems more suited to Martin and Logue was beyond terrific as the scrappy private investigator in FX’s critical favorite Terriers. O’Quinn as the primary villain is a somewhat curious role for the Lost alum to take here as the part seems pretty straight villain while the actor is capable of so much more.

Among the subplots are a (predictable) budding romance between the feuding families’ offspring and a murder mystery that will match Del against Jared. Should Hallelujah move beyond the pilot stage, what it could stand is a gay story line examining the way homosexuality is viewed when it comes to organized religion.

Overall, the script from Desperate Housewives mastermind Marc Cherry seems to replace the lunacy of the long-running ABC drama and replace it with religion, delivering the ultimate message of you reap what you sow.

Pilot Pirate outlook: Interesting premise but the religious component could turn viewers off should it go to series.

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