I had a bit of exciting news yesterday.
The Guardian ran a competition to pitch ideas for a new TV series to a panel of judges from the industry and get their feedback.
Ten ideas were shortlisted and sent to the judges who critiqued them. My idea, The Bible, II made it into the top ten. You can see all the shortlisted entries here.
The competition was judged by four preeminent industry professionals: Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of Gilmore Girls and Bunheads; Stuart Heritage, Guardian television, film and music writer; Larry Andries, producer and writer for Supernatural, Alias and Six Feet Under; and Dee Johnson, executive producer and writer for Nashville, formerly of The Good Wife, ER and Melrose Place.
The Bible, II.
Logline: God comes back to Earth for a bit of weed – only to discover what a mess humans have made of the place. It’s time to put things straight. But sorting out the human race isn’t as easy as it looks.
It’s like: The gritty, down-to-earth comedy of Shameless, meets the surreal world of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Pitch: God is a disheveled, hedonistic, naive, wanderer who returns to Earth, with his sidekick, Archangel Gabriel, for a bit of ganja. Unbeknownst to him, the cheese sandwich he left behind a few millennia previously has evolved into the human race who’ve transformed his garden of paradise into a veritable shithole. And he’s not happy about it one little bit. God decides to take whoever is in charge to task – in this case – the Prime Minister of Britain. But, for every problem he solves, he seems to create another one. On the run from the government, God is ably assisted by the former secretary to the PM, the sophisticated and savvy, Sophie Chalmers. They embark on a whirlwind tour of the world’s problems, discovering just what it means to be human.
Quote: On being told drugs are illegal and highly addictive by a bartender… GOD: “Not half as fucking addictive as oxygen, mate. What if I make that illegal?”
SERIES OUTLINE FOR: THE BIBLE, II.
GOD returns to earth and sees what a mess the place is. God realizes it’s his mistake and starts to sort the place out. GOD takes the PM hostage, sorts out the war in Afghanistan and the oil crisis at the same time.
SUB PLOT: SOPHIE helps GOD discover what it is to be human.
Running earth isn’t as easy as it looks. Millions of people’s livelihoods have been taken away as a result of the world’s oil supply running out. GOD sets about
switching to renewable energy and ending global pollution.
SUB PLOT: SOPHIE teaches GOD to take responsibility.
GOD can’t understand why millions of people are starving so he sorts out starvation and hunger. But some people aren’t too happy about having to share with the less fortunate. He also can’t understand why we eat living creatures so he extols the virtues of vegetarianism, good weed and cheese sandwiches.
SUB PLOT: SOPHIE teaches GOD about mortality.
GOD can’t quite get his head around the fact that some people live in luxury and some people in poverty, so he sorts out world poverty and divvies up the dosh. This causes riots in rich first-world countries.
SUB PLOT: SOPHIE teaches GOD selflessness.
Killing is beyond GOD’S comprehension. GOD gets into a scrap with OBAMA and PUTIN. GOD puts an end to all the world’s conflicts. The knock-on effect is a population boom which the Earth can’t sustain.
SUB PLOT: GOD explains the devil to mankind.
The next level: GOD teaches SOPHIE about life, the universe, immortality and that anything’s possible.
SUB PLOT: ANGEL GABRIEL explains GOD to SOPHIE.
EPISODE 7. GOD rested.
I think some of the criticisms that the judges raised are very valid. Others I have already addressed. (There was a very limited word count on the submission so I had to leave certain bits out.)
I’d like to address some of the other concerns here, (just in case any producers are looking in).
Palladino’s concerns: “Why does God need to find out what it is to be human?” And why is God an idiot? Would an idiot really be able to be God? Why am I looking for any sort of reality in this? Because if there isn’t any, even with the weirdest shows, they don’t work.
I think the first mistake is to compare this god with the God of real The Bible. He isn’t a Christian god, he’s the creator of the universe. He created it for his own pleasure, not ours. He didn’t know we existed so, yes – he’s fallible.
I have already written a pilot episode and in that we see that God isn’t an idiot. Naive maybe, but not stupid. Part of his incomprehension about how violent humans can be is because he doesn’t understand it – ultimately, he’s a very nice guy!
In terms of the ‘reality’, I think that is covered in the various scenarios God has to try and sort out which are outlined in the other episodes. (The judges did not see these. There wasn’t room.)
Heritage’s concerns: I love this idea. It’s bold and inventive and a million miles away from the majority of humdrum workaday sitcoms. I really want to see it get made. But with a couple of tweaks …
A couple of lines in the pitch – “a whirlwind tour of the world’s problems” and the monologue about how to stop the war – make me think that the writer might suffer from a bad case of the Sorkins. Whoever came up with this, I’m worried that they want to treat the show as a manifesto for how they’d like to fix the world. They transparently see themselves as the voice of God, which is sort of icky. But if God was written as more of a dick – more fallible and stupid and confused about the mess he’s made – it’d have so much more potential. Also, I can’t think of anything more depressing than a God who can quote comparethemarket.com adverts, but that’s beside the point.
I’m not sure where the reference to comparethemarket.com adverts is, so I’ll skip that one.
I think a ‘transparent manifesto’ is a very valid point. Rather than push my own agenda, (I’m not a vegetarian!!), I wanted to strip humankind down to its most basic level in order to be fair and just. God’s dilemma here is that for each problem he resolves, he creates another one. (If you stop oil production – millions are out of work and where do we get our energy etc.)
I wanted the viewer to see this ‘fair and just world’ and ask – Actually, do I really want to share my wealth, my luxury so that others in poorer countries can have a better life?
Johnson’s concerns: Love the irreverence of this pitch and the world. Needless to say, it’s a political can of worms, as a lot of believers would truly bristle at this depiction. And it would take a mighty brave studio/network president to get behind this sort of polarizing concept. That said, the pitch itself is quite entertaining. I’d watch this but I’m probably not representative of the largest markets. A Netflix-type situation might be for this as a series. What’s missing, however, is what God wants. Is it something that he ultimately can’t have? A girlfriend? For me the largest problem here as a writer is working through the logic problems in terms of God’s powers versus the government’s.
Ironically, what god wants is to be loved. But we don’t know that from the start because of his selfish hedonistic ways. It is only when he discovers humankind that he realises he is missing out on something much more fulfilling – love.
In terms of his superpowers, again, this isn’t the God of The Bible, this god is fallible in lots of ways.
Andries’ concerns: This pitch is a challenge. There’s no middle ground here. The premise is so out there that’s it’s either a really good idea or a highly problematic one. I lean toward “good idea” with one big proviso: the pitch desperately needs to be on solid footing with its tone. God as a hedonistic ganja-seeking wanderer is a premise with little margin for error. It would help to give a reference point for the type of creative eye the writer envisions. For example: “Imagine if Quentin Tarantino, Monty Python or fill-in-the-blank created a half hour comedy.” If I were a network executive, my strong recommendation would be to re-pitch the idea as an animated comedy. That format allows for more outrageous, over-the-top storytelling than the literalness of filmed comedy.
Can’t really argue with any of that!
I’d just also like to include a couple more quotes that The Guardian sent me that they couldn’t fit on the website:
Amanda Holpuch: Your pitch was Dee Johnson’s favorite and Larry Andries favorite in the Comedy category and they each included special notes about your pitch we couldn’t fit in the interactive. Stuart Heritage said: “Lights Out is my favourite (very closely followed by Bible II)”.
Larry Andries: COMEDY WINNER: THE BIBLE II
It would make me nervous to say yes, but that’s the exciting thing. Sometimes a network has to take a big swing. If it’s developed carefully, it will be a buzzed about, Twitterworthy comedy with cutting social commentary. The next South Park. Or it will be cancelled after the third episode. But these are the risks programmers make every season.
Dee Johnson: In terms of my favorite, I would have to say I found Bible II the most entertaining. But that said, it’s probably one of the most challenging to mount because of its subject matter. In terms of taking it to the next step, I would suggest the writer give serious thought to what episodes look like – does God just handle a different world problem every week? Is there a series long arc that takes him from just showing up to leaving the world again?
So, if there are any producers / directors out there who’d like to discuss it further, just holler.