Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
I've been writing the opening extract of a TV pilot for my university course and this is the first eight minutes of it. All kinds of feedback are welcome, but I'm particularly interested in finding out whether:
a) it's easy to follow, and if any plot elements are (intolerably) difficult to understand
b) if any of the dialogue seems false
c) it's engaging as an introduction
INT. Bathroom – DAY
KENDALL LANCHESTER (22) stands before the bathroom mirror, her face grey and sunken. The table next to the sink is heaped in bottles, rags and sponges. She picks up an open bottle, puts a cloth to it and wets the fabric, then wipes her face with it. She wipes her lips, her eyelids, the insides of her nose - everywhere.
She angles her head, scooping her limp hair up so she can reach her neck. She stops.
On the back of her neck is a small blotch of brown. She puts her fingers to it.
Someone knocks on the bathroom door and Kendall starts.
Love? Are you okay in there? It’s half past.
Yeah. Yeah, just a sec.
Kendall lets her hair fall back over her neck, covering the blotch. She stares at herself in the mirror, then screws the bottle shut and bangs it on the table.
INT. Church Hall – DAY
A wobbly ring of people sits on plastic chairs at the centre of the hall. Apart from a middle-aged woman in bohemian clothes (MRS LOWSDALE), all members of the group are shrunken and haggard, some in wheelchairs, others gripping crutches. Kendall sits angled away from the group, chewing on her hoodie drawstring. Her eyes are on a woman two seats away, whose left cheek is mottled in brown.
Opposite her, TIMOTY SIMMONS stands hunched over a walking frame.
…one has to keep positive, I suppose. The doctor gave me an injection to, uh, to loosen my hand up, and I’ve been doing some exercises she said might help, but it’s a stubborn beast. My other hand’s started getting a bit stiff, as well, so that’s rather…it’s difficult.
Kendall rolls her head back, staring at the ceiling. Timothy clears his throat, but his voice stays hoarse.
I’ve no rot yet, though. Small blessings. There’s just this– I was trying to water the plants yesterday – usual morning routine – and my grip just went. Dropped the can, water everywhere. It’s a silly thing, really, but it- it makes it real. Reminds you.
Timothy looks down, screwing his eyes shut. He shakes his head.
Sorry. Sorry. I- that’s all, I think.
That’s absolutely fine, Timothy. Thank you for sharing.
She claps as he sinks back into his seat. Weak applause ripples around the rest of the circle, but Kendall doesn’t join in.
Would anyone like to contribute next?
Mrs Lowsdale glances around the circle. Her eyes stop on Kendall, her expression kindly.
How about you, Kendall? You’ve been silent as a statue ever since you joined us.
Kendall spits the hoodie drawstring from her mouth.
What d’you want me to say?
Anything you like. Just talk a little about yourself, if that’s all you feel like doing.
Kendall glances around the circle, eyebrows raised. She gets to her feet.
My name’s Kendall. I’m twenty-two. I’m dead just like the rest of you fucks.
Mrs Lowsdale’s smile flickers, her gaze scooting to the twelve-year-old girl sitting two seats away.
We do try and keep the circle friendly, Kendall.
I thought you said I could say anything.
Mrs Lowsdale’s smile returns, but drawn tighter than before.
Absolutely. This is a completely open space.
Good. Good. So: about me. I got first degree CMS, because I’m lucky lucky lucky just like Kylie Minogue sings it. Some kids found me in a river two weeks ago, about a mile thataway.
She points ahead of her.
Decked it and fell in, the police reckon, but fuck if I can remember. Don’t think I want to.
The group looks uncomfortable. Kendall taps her lips, which are chapped and colourless.
Anything else? Well, there’s not a piece of clothing I own that doesn’t stink of embalming fluid now. My hair’s falling out. Mum keeps forgetting I don’t eat, then crying about it. So it’s all hunky-dory, really.
She looks at Mrs Lowsdale.
That enough contribution for you?
Before the woman can answer, Kendall turns away from the group and crosses the hall to the exit, pulling her hood up over her head.
INT. Alice’s Car – DAY.
Kendall climbs into the passenger seat of the car, which is parked on the street outside the church. ALICE LANCHESTER sits at the wheel. She looks at her daughter, nibbling her lip.
Was it okay?
Kendall pulls a string of earphones out of her pocket, pressing them into her phone.
Was it really? Is she getting better, that woman? Because the lady at the hospital said there were a few groups you might-
It was fine, Mum. Drive. Let’s get this over with.
Alice turns to face the road, fumbling with her keys. She side-eyes Kendall.
Kendall snickers, without humour.
What, so I don’t die?
Alice looks away, blinking, her grip tight on the steering wheel. Kendall looks down at her phone.
She reaches over and pulls her seatbelt on. A moment later, the car purrs to life, and they peel away from the curb in silence.
EXT. Hodgson front drive – DAY.
The car pulls up the drive to a detached house with a tended garden. Light honeys the windows, the stretched shadow of a naked tree sprawling across the lawn. When the car hums to a stop, the only sound is that of birds.
Alice and Kendall climb out of the car, pausing to look up at the house.
They’re going to be bad about it.
Give them a chance, lovie.
Ten to one says she pulls a face when she hugs me.
If she hugs me.
Of course she’s going to-
The front door opens, revealing BARBARA HODGSON, a middle-aged lady with bleached hair and rings on every finger. She offers a forced grin when she sees them.
I thought I heard that old banger of yours!
She walks down the steps, Alice moving up to meet her, and the two embrace. The hug lasts a little longer than it should, Barbara cupping the back of her sister’s head.
When they step away, Barbara turns to Kendall. She swallows, but keeps that same broad smile pinned to her face.
Come here, little K.
She wraps Kendall up in a hug. Kendall’s arms loosely encircle her in return. Out of sight of Kendall and Alice, Barbara wrinkles her nose.
INT. Hodgson living room - DAY
Alice and Kendall sit on a small sofa in a plush, floral-patterned living room. On the bigger sofa, BENJAMIN HODGSON (10) sits with his knees drawn up. Barbara fiddles with the TV remote, trying to unmute the flickering telly, but gives up and places it back on the table – neatly, so it lies parallel to the magazines.
Not worth bothering with. Who wants to be subject to Paul O’Grady’s voice, anyway?
She laughs, too loud, and Alice titters politely. Barbara claps her hands together.
Drinks order, then? I’ve got peppermint tea for you, Al. And you’re a black coffee lady, aren’t you, Kendall?
You know, I’ve gone right off it lately.
A hesitation. Alice looks agonised.
Oh god, sorry, I didn’t— me and my big mouth-
No, don’t worry. It was supposed to be a joke.
Barbara, flushed, beckons to Benjamin.
Darling, just come- you come help me carry everything in.
Benjamin slinks off the sofa, following his mother out of the room and down the corridor.
Can she not have coffee because she’s a zombie?
Shh! Don’t use that word.
Alice, sitting upright on the sofa, tenses. Kendall picks listlessly at the fringing on the arm, her rheumy eyes staring into nothing.
INT. Hodgson living room – EVENING
Alice and Barbara sit on the bigger sofa, nursing steaming mugs of tea, while Kendall curls up on the smaller one, hood pulled up, her phone close to her face. The TV, now unmuted and too loud, shows an episode of The Simpsons.
…and I just don’t know where I am with this woman. She’s strolling round the shop like she’s bloody royalty, and she picks up one of the dresses-
And she starts taking her clothes off there and then, like the shop floor’s her personal bloody changing room. And I’m like, I’ve seen some things in my time, but-
Kendall’s phone buzzes, the screen blackening as a call comes up. She climbs off the sofa. Alice leans forward as if to follow her, but Kendall dismisses her with a wave of her hand and moves out of the room.
INT. Hodgson hallway – EVENING
Kendall swipes the call and puts the phone to her ear.
Yeah, that’s me.
Kendall pauses, listening to the indistinct buzz at the other end of the phone. Her brow furrows, and she glances in the direction of the living room and the blaring television, then opens the front door and steps outside.
EXT. Hodgson front drive – EVENING
Kendall shuts the door behind her and stands on the front step. She holds the phone to her ear with one hand, propping her wrist up with the other.
Can you just say that again? My ears are shot.
The voice buzzes. Kendall’s expression shifts, her frown sliding away in place of shock. Her grip on the phone turns ironclad.
INT. Hodgson hallway – EVENING
Kendall eases the door shut behind her gently, her expression troubled, and stops in her tracks. The television is silent. The snuffle of sobs fills the quiet in its place.
I just- I don’t know what I’m going to do. She’s up and about now, but how long before—
You’ve just got to take each day as it comes, love.
How? Half the time it’s like- like she won’t even accept it’s happening, so I can't even talk about anything. I don’t know what’s even going on in her head.
Have you talked to George?
She doesn’t want him knowing. I keep hoping she’ll change her mind, but—
Kendall stiffens. She reaches behind her, pulls the door open, and slams it. She waits a second, listening to the scuffling sounds of Alice wiping her face, until the TV turns on again. Then she moves to the doorway, holding her phone up.
Mum. Police just called.