Nick Jones has written a first-rate TV pilot with his new comedy, “Verite,” which opened Wednesday at Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater in New York. Jones’s send-up of the book-publishing business isn’t what you’d expect from a writer and co-producer of “Orange Is the New Black.” It isn’t something you’d ever see on Netflix or FX or HBO. “Verite” is pure network TV.
Being a play, it’s not a perfect TV pilot as written, but the changes needed are relatively minor. First, Jones should lose the play’s tidy resolution, which I won’t go into here. The randy premise, however, is solid and open to possibilities: A young wife and mother contemplates having an affair so she can write a best-selling memoir. It’s the kind of storyline that TV sitcoms picked up on shortly after the movies retired Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
In “Verite,” two book editors (Matt McGrath and Robert Sella taking over effectively for Tony Randall and Paul Lynde) send their eager writer Jo (Anna Camp doing Doris Day, but without the dismayed conviction or charm) on a crazy adventure. Of course, the advantage of the sitcom over the play is that she can take a new trip every week.
Just a suggestion, but it might be best in the pilot if Jo doesn’t consummate her affair with the mysterious Winston, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who is much edgier than Rock Hudson and, better yet, somehow avoids stage director Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s penchant for overly broad performances. Late in the play, Jones has Winston tell Jo that her memoir “will be an international best-seller … They’ll make it into a movie. You’ll be played by Jennifer Lawrence and I’ll be played by Bradley Cooper.” How writers like to fantasize! For TV, I’m thinking Renee Zellweger and Johnny Depp.
Since Jo’s editors make it clear that many best-selling memoirs are works of fiction, Jo could actually fake everything during every TV episode: getting addicted to crystal meth, taking a tricycle pilgrimage across the Pyrenees.
Instead of “Verite,” Jones can call his sitcom “Faux.”