It has been nearly 4 months since I last presented one of my (semi-)original ideas for a TV show (or, maybe some other serial format). I hope you’re in the mood. This week, I have a story that is somewhat inspired by shows & movies about life in prison (e.g., Shawshank Redemption, “Prison Break”), but with elements of undercover shows like “Legends” and a partially amnesiac protagonist like Jason Bourne. (Well, not too much like Bourne.) As usual, it’s just some foundational ideas with lots of room to expand the concept and work out more details.
Episode 1, Scene 1:
A man suddenly “awakes” to find himself standing in a prison yard and being confronted by a rough-looking character, who is accusing him of something trivial but offensive (to him, anyway). The accused doesn’t know exactly what happened, but when reason & apology don’t help and the other inmate assaults him, he reflexively uses some martial arts to (temporarily) incapacitate the guy. Strangely, he can’t remember learning any martial arts; but, then, he can’t remember going to prison, either. In fact, it turns out that he doesn’t have much memory of the past year or so, the last few months of which he has apparently been an inmate at Lockwood Federal Penitentiary. [Note: When a convict goes missing, does that mean there’s a lock-down at the Lockwood lock-up?]
He remembers his name, Robert Fanelli, but the inmates and prison officials refer to him as Charles “Jazz” Benton, serving 7-10 years for racketeering and assaulting a federal agent. He occasionally has flashes of memory or a dream that might be significant, and he seems to remember most of the rules-n-regs (official & otherwise) of the prison and who among the guards and inmates is particularly hostile or friendly. But, for the most part, the last thing he remembers is talking to his ex-wife on the phone, then being escorted to a meeting at some military base. (Odd, because he was never in the military.)
His cellmate — Don “Deezie” Zabrisky — and a couple others ask him things like why he’s acting “squirrelly” or “what happened to the cocky attitude?” Truth is, it’s like a switch was thrown, and he went from being tough-guy convict “Jazz” Benton to plain-old Bob Fanelli, insurance adjuster. (He eventually explains this to Deezie, who’s in for illegal gambling / running numbers and a decent sort of guy as cons go.) Now, Fanelli/Benton must try to figure out what happened to him and what he’s been up to for the past year, how he has certain skills and knowledge that he doesn’t remember acquiring, and what suddenly made him revert to his original, true(?) personality — all while trying to survive prison.
The real story is that he was recruited by the feds to replace a criminal who had agreed to work with the feds in a sting operation against some “bigger fish”. Unfortunately, the real Benton was accidentally killed before the sting could be set up; but, the mob guys who were the targets of the sting don’t know that. The feds, meanwhile, had recently become aware of Fanelli due to his uncanny resemblance to Benton. (They accidentally arrested Fanelli once, thinking he was Benton.) Since his life seemed to be in a downward spiral anyway, Fanelli agreed to go undercover, posing as Benton. He was put through several weeks of intensive physical and psychological training, assisted by a top-secret, accelerated learning program. A variant of the same technology allowed them to essentially overlay a second personality, such that Fanelli thought that he really was Benton.
That is, until now….
Since Fanelli is just a regular joe, there is no need for “our hero” to be especially handsome or physically fit. Not to say that he should be ugly or unfit, either. He is roughly mid-30s to early-40s and not particularly tall — say, anywhere between 5’8″ and 6′ or so. He’s very bright and has some surprising skills, but beyond that he’s really sort of an average guy with an ex-wife and dull career. So, maybe someone like Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), who is 46 but can pass for several years younger, Sergio DiZio (“Flashpoint”), Scott Foley (“Scandal”), or even Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”)? Not sure. He could be played by a Black guy, too — maybe B.J. Britt (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”).
Various plot threads would include Fanelli eventually finding out who he really is and what he’s doing there; flashbacks to his previous life and training to replace Benton; flashbacks to earlier experiences in the prison; dealing with hostile prisoners, guards, & other aspects of prison life; maybe some “outside” activity by the feds who recruited Fanelli/Benton, one or more attorneys involved with the case, and possibly a scientist from the project used to give Fanelli his new “prison identity”; and, of course, proceeding with the sting operation (the details of which I haven’t yet worked out) — all of which provide for plenty of tense situations, interpersonal drama, suspense, and action sequences.
I think this could be a really fun show to do. Whaddayasay, Hollywood?
* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2015.