Premise pilots have less need for a separate POV character, because we can get up to speed as the hero gets up to speed (think of “Buffy”), but in center-cut pilots, the hero already knows what he or she is doing, so a natural way for the audience to figure out what’s going on is to have a separate character who is getting to know the hero’s world for the first time (Holly in “CSI”, Peggy in “Mad Men”)
We looked at one previous show that was center-cut without a POV character, “24”. That show used a variety of tricks: it cut back and forth between two worlds, giving us each one’s perspective on the other, and when that failed they simply gave us information with on-screen titles.
“Weeds” is another center-cut pilot without a POV character, but it pulls this off in a more traditional way: it gradually sprinkles in the establishing information we need to know.
- The gossipy PTA moms whisper to each other about Nancy’s basic situation: young widow with a perfect-looking life but lots of money problems.
- Nancy excuses herself from her dealers, and only reluctant reveals that she has to go take her son to grief counseling. After she leaves, this causes one of the dealers to reveal to the others the circumstances of the dad’s death.
- As Nancy goes to her car, she mentions to Conrad how she made her connection to them. (and she does so in a way that offends him, giving us enough conflict to distract from the fact that this was “as you know” information)
- Both Doug and Josh casually mention details of Nancy’s dealing set-up.
But Kohan writes fantastic free-form dialogue, so she’s able to stick with it and for the most part makes it work. Some of the information is not dropped as casually as it should be, or contains a little more information than the character would actually include in this situation, but we give it some leeway.
After all, what were Kohan’s other options?
- Obviously, Nancy can’t let a POV character into her illicit world.
- It could have been a premise pilot, but that would have established a very different tone. If we had seen Nancy’s sudden grief, despondency, and desperate financial straights, we would have totally identified with her need to sell drugs, but Kohan doesn’t want that. This is a satirical show, and satire is one of the few subgenres in which we do not want to fully identify with the hero. In all good satire, the hero must also embody the hypocrisy that’s being skewered, at least to some extent. By making this a center-cut pilot, we are able to be a little dubious of Nancy’s pot dealing hypocrisy as we need to be.
- Kohan could have included a voiceover to get us up to speed, but this is always a double-edged sword: It can increase our empathy with the hero, but it also decreases the immediacy of her world. We get to know her better, but we’re not in it with her, we’re outside of it with her.