Better, Worse, Different

Original Pilot Series Bible

First, it gets better, then it gets worse, then it gets different. AA

SERIES PREMISE

Better Worse Different is a one-hour drama about life in New York City’s 12-step community and the funny and tragic challenges the members face when they venture out in the “real world.”

My worst day sober is better than my best day drunk. AA

EPISODE PREMISE

When Heather’s new PR campaign could put her new company on the map as well as solve a serious cash flow problem, Heather faces Rafael’s unsupportiveness as well as an ethical dilemma. Jimmy tries to extricate his business from the mob, while Olivia struggles with her obsession after a one-night-stand and Sister Agatha endeavors to regain her estranged daughter’s trust.

HOW – Honest, Open and Willing. AA

FORMAT

Better Worse Different is a drama series intended for premium cable viewers, TV-MA. The typical season is 10 episodes, and each one will include 3 – 5 thematically linked story lines that depict the present-day struggles of our addicts while flashbacks reveal the horrors of their bottoms and how different their lives have become.

FINE – Fucked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional. AA

AUDIENCE

The different age groups of the main characters and variety of story lines will appeal to both men and women, age 18 and up. The subject matter is appropriate for Premium Cable and contains adult language, sex, and violence, earning a rating of TV-MA.

My worst day sober is better than my best day drunk. AA

STORY WORLD

The 12-step community consists of the Charles St. Workshop, a meeting place in Greenwich Village, the likes of which can be found in any major city. There is a lounge/coffee room and 2 or 3 meeting rooms, as well as the sidewalk outside where people gather to smoke and fellowship. Then there’s the meeting after the meeting, at Silver Dollar, a greasy spoon. Also in the West Village is Heather Gardner’s apartment. This part of the arena is usually sunny and warm, a cozy sanctuary of tree-lined streets.

In comparison, the “real world” of commitments and expectations is represented by Midtown Manhattan, where the steel skyscrapers, concrete, and colorless offices are cold and threatening under cloudy skies.

The subway acts as a bridge between worlds.

  • Characters’ living spaces show the vast diversity of New York City as well as the variety of socio-economic backgrounds and lifestyles that recovery brings together.
  • Heather jogs between the Hudson and the West Side Highway, and that’s where she goes to think.
  • Sister Agatha works at St. Theresa’s Home for Battered Women in Hells’ Kitchen
  • She lives in St. Theresa’s Convent
  • Jimmy and Rafael occasionally cross paths on the building sites where they both work
  • Olivia’s Alphabet City, a neighborhood of hitting bottom and despair, is full of junkies and homeless people.

Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth. AA

MAJOR CHARACTERS AND STORY ARCS:

The 12-step world contains an endless revolving door of newcomers, relapse, and people fading in and out, so new characters can easily be introduced or eliminated as needed.

HEATHER GARDNER is five years sober at age twenty-seven. Although her “low bottom” keeps her active in the program, she rebels against her perception of the spiritual nature of the steps, which she views as dogmatic “brainwashing.” Despite her atheism, her sponsor is a Catholic nun. She has the addict’s self-destructive tendency to run from what’s good for her. She fights for what’s right, even when no one asks her to or she’s the only one who sees it that way. In the past, her outspokenness cost her some jobs. Now she is starting her own PR Company. During the first season, we’ll see her struggle to get the business off the ground and the ethical decisions she faces as she builds her business. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Rafael, is threatened by her success and undermines her confidence, disapproving of her program involvement. She also spends a good deal of time helping her ex, Sean, through early recovery, and navigating that friendship while there are still unresolved feelings between them.

RAFAEL VELEZ, two years younger than Heather at 25, is her gorgeous, Chilean boyfriend. An architect on the rise, he disguises his working-class upbringing under an Ivy League exterior, and appreciates Heather most for her stylish beauty, since he places great value on appearances. He has control issues and can trigger Heather’s low self-esteem through caretaking, such as continuing to pay the bills she can’t afford despite her vocal objections. He’s possessive of Heather’s time and jealous of her program friends, so takes every opportunity to undermine the program. He starts the season as a decent, if controlling boyfriend, and gradually unravels as the season unfolds, becoming more and more dangerous.

SISTER AGATHA HAMILTON is Heather’s sponsor, a plainclothes nun in her fifties, who runs a homeless shelter for battered women. She was once a successful stockbroker, married with a daughter, whose husband died of cancer. Her descent into heroin addiction caused her to lose everything. Today, her subservient life is a living act of contrition, devoted to helping others and earning her estranged daughter’s love. Halfway through the season, she experiences a traumatic event which forces her to question her choices and decide whether to take final vows and stay a nun.

FINOLA WEISS is a radical feminist, lesbian leader of the WAPS (Women against Patriarchal Society). Finola is guilty of caring too much and has difficulty separating the message from her emotions as she works tirelessly to improve the plight of women. She’s a powerful leader but has a PR problem due to the vehemence with which she delivers her message. Those who work with her both revere and fear her.

MAURICE VALLOT – Heather’s best friend and roommate is a black, gay man in his late twenties who manages a Soho art gallery and may be earning his own seat in the program. He can be defensive since he’s been hurt a lot. He came to live with Heather and her Nana when they were teenagers and his own parents threw him out for being gay. He has a psychological need to keep his promise to Nana that he’ll look out for Heather, whom he regards as family. He and Heather will have some friction about his promiscuity, drinking and using.

SEAN MURPHY is Heather’s old flame, a handsome, Irish photographer who played a large part in her bottom when he chased her out of a party, drunk, and was hit by a speeding taxi. Today, he’s a heroin addict who has lost a successful career in fashion photography and lives with a permanent hearing impairment since the taxi accident. To Heather, he was the one who got away. Since she has tremendous guilt over her part in Sean’s accident, she helps him through early recovery to get back on his feet and resume his career. There are unresolved feelings on both sides.

OLIVIA GREENE is a twenty-three-year-old painter who is eight months sober. She’s an adorable mess, with an eating disorder, money problems and a strong tendency towards obsessive relationships, such as the one she starts with Jimmy Windows in the pilot. Her difficulty dealing with her emotions leads to frequent changes in the cut and color of her hair. She, Heather and Maurice are close friends. Through the first season, she will be challenged by her addictive nature and experience some unexpected success with her art while she uses relationships with both sexes to distract herself. She’ll eventually participate in several 12-step programs, including Overeaters Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Al-Anon and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

JIMMY “WINDOWS” is a thirty-something ex-convict who runs a successful window-installation company, thanks to long-term ties to the mob. He struggles with prison attitudes and trust issues, and avoids responsibility and commitment, except to his work and his pool playing. He’s hot and successful, a fast-talking, impressive businessman with a solid program. Everyone wants him, but no one can have him. Although he dutifully breaks it off with Olivia after their one-night stand, he develops real feelings for her through the first season, while he works at cutting ties with the mob. He and Heather are initially repulsed by one another, but as the first season progresses, their frenmity changes to mutual respect and eventually admiration for each other.

Other Addicts:

PAULO and WINSTON are best friends and roommates who bonded after joining the program the same day. Paulo is straight and Winston is gay.

DESMOND – the old-timer who presides at the diner, sharing wisdom and humor with all who join his table.

CARLA is a thirty-something, loud, Puerto Rican travel agent, newly engaged, who distracts everyone by knitting at the meetings. She’s a little paranoid and needs constant validation.

Normies include CHRISTOPHER – never Chris – Finola Weiss’s fantastic, funny, sarcastic assistant and “yes man.”

HENRY, a Social Worker the Battered Women’s Shelter with a crush on S. Agatha.

Holding onto resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. AA

PILOT SYNOPSIS – BETTER WORSE DIFFERENT

The pilot opens with Heather addressing an AA meeting as the speaker. She recounts a nightmare in which she relives two events that have been defining moments in her life. The first was the death of her younger brother when she was thirteen. The second event took place the last night of her drinking. She got drunk at a party and quarreled with her boyfriend, Sean, who chased her out of the party and was hit by a speeding taxi. In the dream, she hides in a bar and watches the paramedics take Sean away by ambulance. At the last moment, she gets a look at the patient on the stretcher, and it’s Heather.

Heather’s current boyfriend, Rafael, comforts her after her nightmare. Her bedroom is messy and her money problems are revealed by the bill collection notices on the cluttered surfaces.

At St. Teresa’s Home for Women, S. Agatha catches the social worker Henry Adams snooping in her office. Claiming he needs a band-aid, he quickly hides an old photo he found of S. Agatha with her young daughter and former husband.

Over at Jimmy’s apartment, he and Olivia get to know each other over cuddly pillow talk. Even though he’s a 35-year-old ex-con and she’s a 23-year-old painter, they are comfortably intimate as she tells him about the professor she dated in college, cheating on her girlfriend at the time. Later, he puts her in a taxi home but first breaks the news that they can’t keep seeing each other because she’s a newcomer. Excited and happy about the night they spent together, Olivia doesn’t believe him. She calls Heather to recount her exciting news on Heather’s voicemail.

Heather pitches a PR campaign to Finola Weiss, head of the Women against Patriarchal Society (WAPS). During the presentation, she is nervous and stammering, finally presenting her radical campaign about using the techniques of Madison Avenue to subliminally elevate society’s views of women the same way they’ve been used in the past to malign them. Heather’s ideas and criticism of the “ineffective tactics” used in the past to advance equality insults Weiss and the entire Women’s Movement. Christopher, Weiss’s witty and sarcastic assistant, is outwardly rude but understands what Heather is getting at. She leaves there crushed, convinced she blew it.

At his job site, Jimmy gets a visit from Pete, one of Fast Mickey’s mob minions. Pete is a thug who insults Jimmy and lets him know Fast Mickey wants to see him about a new job. It’s clear that they are rivals in Pete’s mind since the only reason he has Mickey’s ear is that he occupies a spot vacated by Jimmy. Jimmy sends a message to Fast Mickey that he’s not interested, but changes his mind when he realizes Mickey is the cause of a needed shipment having been delayed.

At the Silver Dollar Coffee Shop, Heather recounts her dilemma to her program friends. She can follow her heart and re-pitch the campaign she loves, or she can go for the money and pitch the tired campaign that got WAPS into this mess, to begin with. After unhelpful advice and reliance on slogans, Heather accuses her friends of being brainwashed. The consensus is that she stick to her beliefs. When Jimmy comes in to have a word with Desmond, his sponsor advises him to have an honest talk with Fast Mickey.

Chitchat about Carla’s engagement reminds Heather of Sean, and she remembers an intimate moment with him before asking him to help her stop drinking. Olivia realizes Jimmy is ignoring her and has a meltdown. She drags Heather off to the ladies’ room and admits she’s been considering cutting over her obsession with Jimmy. Heather is upset and vows to stick close and keep an eye on Olivia for a few days.

Heather visits S. Agatha at the Women’s Shelter. Rather than give advice about the PR pitch, Agatha suggests Heather do a mini-fourth-step around her work history and take a look at recurring patterns that haven’t garnered positive results. She reluctantly complies, discovering the behaviors that cost her past jobs. Heather resolves to pitch the campaign the client wants. While she’s there, she thinks some more about Sean and how he tried to help her stop drinking.

Heather and her roommate and best friend, Maurice, give Olivia a makeover and return her hair to its natural soft brown color. Maurice and Olivia bond over art and arrange for him to see her work. By the time they are done, she looks beautiful and has a lot of relationship advice to take away with her.

Jimmy meets with Fast Mickey. To his surprise, Mickey strikes a deal with him. One more job, and he’ll be freed from his mob ties.

Agatha calls her estranged daughter, Jenn, who’s now a pediatrician in New Jersey with a four-year-old son. Jenn reminds her of Agatha’s abandonment of her dad when he was dying and Agatha was using and tells her mother to stop calling. Agatha cries, alone in her office.

Heather argues with Rafael about money. He keeps paying her bills, although she has told him not to and she accuses him of not wanting her to succeed. When he tries to have sex with her, she pushes him away and he rapes her.

Given a second chance at her pitch, Heather uncharacteristically prays, feeling silly as she says The Serenity Prayer. Weiss loves Heather’s revised pitch and is about to offer the job. Heather can’t help herself and refuses them the campaign, telling her she can’t sell them what she doesn’t believe in.

At the AA Dance, Heather and Olivia collect tickets. When a newcomer counts out change to buy entry, Heather takes money out of the cash box and gives it to him with his ticket, ensuring he can afford the train home.

Next in line for tickets are Winston and Paulo, and they’ve brought a newcomer–Sean Murphy, Heather’s ex. In contrast to the handsome and well-groomed young man from her memories, he’s dirty, shaky and thin. He’s been kicking heroin and the boys are keeping him busy.

The last moment in the pilot is the shock of recognition as, for the first time since she’s been sober, Heather and Sean come face to face.

Detach with love when you can. When you can’t, detach with a hatchet. Al-Anon

Why BETTER WORSE DIFFERENT has legs as a drama series:

Although many movies and television series have tackled the issues of hitting bottom and getting sober, there are none that take an in-depth look at the world of ongoing recovery. This is a rich community who speaks their own language and has a working methodology for how to live their lives. It’s also a hotbed of dysfunctional relationships, switching addictions and cluelessness, where each addict is thrust into the world without the tools to survive, and without the user’s substance of choice. There are an infinite number of stories that can be drawn from this world, and the characters who come and go.

In terms of dramatic television, this is a rich and varied world that we all know of, but few have experienced. It’s only a matter of time before someone sets a drama series in this fascinating world, full of flawed characters and strange customs.

Perhaps the most important aspect is the designing principal—when our characters venture forth to face the challenges in the world, they turn to each other and the program for solutions to their struggles. Sometimes things get better, sometimes worse, but it’s always different.

The world of recovery programs has been circled and become part of mainstream society, but only on a surface level. Today, there is a great fascination with addicts and their strange behavior while using, not to mention the lengths they will go to for the next fix. Once they get clean, the addict may pass for normal, but they still carry all the personality traits and baggage that caused them to become addicts in the first place. The audience will delve into the present lives and backgrounds of these characters, see how much they’ve changed since their using days and wonder how they can still be so self-destructive, addictive and generally “messed up.”

Another reason this show is so well-suited to the serial format is the recurring gatherings that are a natural part of belonging to the world—the meeting rooms, coffee shops, anniversary celebrations and the reliance on each other that ensures a close community with no shortage of conflict. The characters will be drawn from many social and ethnic groups, yet at the meeting level, shared addiction is the great equalizer and the basis of strange and interesting relationships and enmities.

 Do the footwork and let go of the results. AA Slogan

THEMES, TONE, AND AESTHETICS

The tone of BWD is darkly funny and shocking at times. Each of the characters has walked through hell and lived to tell about it. The degradation and shame they’ve inflicted on themselves are so extreme that they are willing to accept the program, even though it means they need to change every aspect of their lives, including the way they think. In that struggle is an infinite number of stories that will surprise and entertain audiences.

Visually, the story takes place in New York City, a natural arena of harsh contrasts. The cozy meeting workshop set among the brownstones and tree-lined streets of Greenwich Village are set against the steel skyscrapers and colorless offices that represent the “real world.” The depths of addiction hell are represented by the bars and clubs of the Lower East Side, the meat-packing district, and Spanish Harlem, among others. The characters and story lines will be enhanced with natural settings and segues between the various arenas. For instance, the subway acts as a corridor between worlds, while the rivers signify forward momentum and growth.

Outsiders may think they know this world, and yet, if you haven’t lived it, you never will. Even if you love an addict, there are behaviors you will never understand. People don’t end up in 12-step programs because they are balanced and emotionally healthy. These are deeply flawed human beings, which makes for great drama.