The Runway – Your 2017 Pilot Survival Guide: FOX Dramas

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university drama

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Unt. University Drama

(fka Controversy)

Logline: The Junior Counsel of a prestigious Illinois university must deal with an out-of-control scandal when a young co-ed accuses several star football players of sexual assault. The coaches and boosters wield outsize influence, and the university administration is under siege.
Cast: Austin Stowell, Archie Panjabi, Erin Moriarty, Christine Lahti, Anthony Edwards, Saycon Sengbloh, Griffin Freeman, Robbie Jones, Vince Nappo
Creators: Sheldon Turner (W / EP), John Requa (D / EP), Glenn Ficarra (D / EP), Jennifer Klein (EP), Charlie Gogolak (EP), Jude Smith (EP)
Studios: 20th Century Fox Television, Vendetta Productions, Zaftig Films

For ease of reference, I’m just going to call this Controversy.

Matt, the Junior Counsel at the University of Central Illinois (UCI), is about to face the biggest test of his when Cassie, a co-ed, accuses the star footballer and his teammates of gangraping her during a party. As he sets out to be the white knight, he realizes that the world isn’t as black-or-white as he believed it to be. Cue Jourdan, a crisis management consultant set to handhold Matt into the dark side.

This had me hooked from beginning to end. My eyes were practically flying off the page to find out what happens next. Structurally, this takes several cues from The People vs. O.J. Simpson, which carefully builds rising suspense about a crime that rapidly invites public attention. The pilot ends on a propulsive, unresolved note, bolstered by the strong central mystery surrounding what really happened the night Cassie was gang-raped.

This is also one of the few pilots that uses its diversity with subtlety, grace, and ambition, rather than ticking off check boxes on some sort of in-house “Pilot Diversity Survey”. Each character feels real. Even if they are conscious of their identity, they don’t seem boxed into it by a writer’s heavy-handedness.

I do have two concerns, though. One: Jourdan is basically Olivia Pope. Though the way she assumes charge is great, at one point it also makes the pilot veer perilously close to feeling like an episode of Scandal. Two: not enough Cassie. You’d think that a show that takes such care to develop its large, nuanced ensemble would spend some time developing its rape victim.

Overall, there’s plenty to look forward to here. Excellent writing. Solid cast. This is Us’ John Requa and Glen Ficarra working their magic behind the camera. I can’t see this not getting picked up.

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