By Dan Burns
I’m writing a TV sitcom series, “Saving Zero,” based on my experience as a co-founder and fundraiser for a group home in Austin, Texas. In my sitcom, Josh -- father of Benjy, a 25-year-old son with autism -- intends to establish an archipelago of group homes, ranches, and villages where teens and young adults with autism can find or create jobs. But Zero, a new arrival at Hope Ranch, has no intention of working. He intends to sabotage the ranch and pursue his destiny.
Maybe you’ve seen “Speechless,” comedy series about a mom on a mission who will do anything for JJ, her eldest son with cerebral palsy. Like Speechless, my series focuses on the struggles facing staff and ASD residents at the Ranch. I’m writing the episodes with some friends on spec, which means I’m looking for a producer.
Here’s an excerpt. Enjoy!
RUSH FOR THE BUS
INTERIOR RANCH KITCHEN – MORNING. The table is set with food, vitamins on a napkin. BENJY's Cookie Monster lunch box is open on the counter. This is the weekday morning dance for partners JOSH and SLOOPY. As we open, they take turns plopping items in the lunch box.
SLOOPY: Spring water.
JOSH: Shiitake mushrooms.
SLOOPY: Rice noodles.
JOSH: Pork slices.
SLOOPY: Raisins, dates.
JOSH slams the lid. SLOOPY Fastens it and puts the box on the table. JOSH starts stuffing BENJY's backpack.
Off screen we hear Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster: “Me want Cookie.” BENJY (age 29), his short sleeve T-shirt inside out and backwards over his long-sleeve shirt, walks into the kitchen holding his iPad, eyes glued on the Cookie Monster video. JOSH pulls him to the table and guides him to the chair. BENJY picks up a min-pancake with is fingers. He never takes his eyes off the iPad. The sound of Sesame Street runs under the scene throughout.
SLOOPY: Hurry Benjy. Take your pills. Use your fork.
JOSH (checks his phone): Bus is on our street. Benjy is not eating.
Josh holds up a mini-pancake.
JOSH: Look, Benjy. It’s a big cookie.
The bus HONKS.
JOSH: She’s here. Let’s go.
BENJY: Up. Go.
SLOOPY: How many times have we waited for her. She’s early. He’s got to eat.
Josh turns off the iPad, holds up the bottle of Mexican hot sauce, and shakes it.
JOSH (to Benjy): Want that?
Benjy nods vigorously. Josh pours hot sauce on the pancakes. Benjy grabs a pancake and takes a bite.
BENJY: Esss. Hot.
JOSH turns his back to set the iPad on the counter and get a bottle of water from the fridge. Benjy takes a gulp of hot sauce straight out of the bottle and spews it out on his shirt.
Josh’s phone rings.
JOSH: (looking at the phone) It's the dispatcher. (listening, then into phone) Thanks. We know. He had a rough night. He’s finishing breakfast. He’ll be out in ... one minute.
Benjy stands up. Sloopy brushes his teeth while Josh strips off the hot-sauce-stained shirt, revealing the short-sleeve short underneath.
More HONKING. Benjy slips on his shoes. Josh hands Benjy his vitamin pills and a cup of water.
BENJY swallows on his way to the door. SLOOPY follows with a pancake and the backpack. JOSH is right behind them, digging his wallet out of his pocket for the bus ticket. At the door stop are BENJY's shoes and a pair of barbells. Josh hangs the ID tag on him and hands him the bus ticket. SLOOPY hands him a pancake. Benjy slips on his shoes while Josh opens the locked door. SLOOPY tucks in BENJY's shirt and zips his pants. JOSH loads the backpack on BENJY's shoulders.
BENJY (urging toward going out the door): Bus!
SLOOPY picks up barbells. The bus HONKS. Sloopy raises the barbells, demonstrating a lift.
SLOOPY: Do this! One, two, three, four. Your turn, Benjy.
She tries to hand the barbells to Benjy. He shoves them away and slips out the door.
JOSH: Have a great day at Workshop!
SOUND: Sesame Street closing theme.
Dan Burns is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.