By Dan Burns
Here’s a teaser the TV sitcom series I’m writing, “Saving Zero.” My writing partners are Sandra Williams, theater director and Artist in Residence with the Oklahoma Arts Council, and Robert Reynolds from the Actors Studio, NYC. We’ve outlined a full-season series of 22-minute episodes and are scripting three episodes on spec. We’re looking for a producer.
I’m writing this 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.
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. In this scene Josh takes on a charismatic and possibly pathological teen.
SAVING ZERO: DEAD PRESIDENTS’ CASH BOX
EXT. GRAVEL PARKING AREA BEHIND STAGE – DAY
A Pontiac GTO hardtop gas-guzzling muscle car ROARS into the gravel parking lot and pulls up beside JOSH. HOLD ON the driver, DR. BUCK SANDERS -- bolo, goatee, straw cowboy hat. Beside him is LULU, a bored teen, LIPSTICK in one hand, CELL PHONE in the other. The DEAD PRESIDENT’S CASH BOX is between her knees. Sander’s hand is on her leg.
BUCK (to Josh): Are you in charge here?
JOSH: About as in charge as I’m gonna get. (extending his hand) I’m Josh Jackson. Chief Fundraiser.
BUCK: A good man.
JOSH: You are . . .?
BUCK: Dr. Buck Sanders, Professor of Agronomy, Small Grains.
ZERO (from the back seat, unseen): He makes wice have sex.
BUCK: Will you shut up? I’m trying to have an adult conversation.
JOSH: What’s the problem?
Buck tilts his head toward the back seat.
BUCK AND ZERO (together) Him!
JOSH: I’m getting a sense of some kind of generational conflict here.
ANGLE ON ZERO, an Artful Dodger: twenty-one, tall and skinny; torso perched on long stork legs, black hair duck-tailed over his forehead and held in place by a yin/yang headband. Oversize eyes, brows like flying Valkyrie. Beside him, his Beagle-sized dog, DASHER.
JOSH: Hey, what’s on your mind, buddy?
BUCK: Zero was just kicked out of the toughest Boy’s Home in James County, Missouri.
JOSH: For what?
ZERO: Savin’ a kid fwom a bully.
BUCK: His mom, the dear departed, passed the pearly gates last week.
BUCK: Don’t be. None too soon.
ZERO: Shoulda been you.
JOSH (to Zero): Hi. How old are you?
ZERO: Age of consent, if you’re intewested.
JOSH: (to Buck): So why is he here?
BUCK: To get a job, like your ad said.
JOSH: Did you bring an application? A medical history?
BUCK: It’s in the mail.
JOSH: I’d like to help, but we don’t take campers without papers.
BUCK: What’s that loada kids I saw driving away from the camp?
JOSH: Our cash flow.
BUCK: Well I brought a little extra something from the missus.
Buck reaches between LULU’s legs and grabs a STRAP OF BILLS from the DEAD PRESIDENTS CASH BOX.
LULU yanks the box away, putting it beside her, out of his reach. Buck extends the bills to Josh.
BUCK: Just to help with expenses. In case of broken doors and whatnot.
ZERO: My inhewitance.
BUCK: There’s more where that came from. Ever’ month.
ZERO: He’s stealin’ my disability check.
JOSH: What’s his disability?
BUCK: Doesn’t have one.
ZERO: Karate black belt.
BUCK (with a Jack Nicholson smile): And a cell phone wizard.
JOSH thinks about it, then looks at the shoulder mount camera.
JOSH: Can you shoot video?
ZERO (impish grin): I can shoot anything.
Zero makes a gun hand pointed at Buck.
BUCK: See what I mean?
JOSH: Good dog. Sit.
DASHER leaps out through the open car window and yaps at JOSH with the ferocity of a Mexican fight dog. ZERO springs out of the car and grabs him.
JOSH: We don’t take dogs.
Buck reaches across LULU’s lap to the DEAD PRESIDENTS CASH BOX, grabs another STRAP OF BILLS and holds it out to JOSH.
BUCK: Maybe you, as Chief Fundraiser, could make an executive decision.
JOSH: weighs the alternatives –- left, right -- then takes both bill bundles and stuffs one in each pants pocket.
JOSH: I’ll see what I can do.
Buck rolls Zero’s SUITCASE out of the window to land at JOSH’s feet.
BUCK: That’s what I like. A practical man!
JOSH picks up the suitcase.
BUCK: If he can’t make it here, just take him to the homeless shelter and drop him off.
Buck floors the big old Pontiac GTO. It ROARS off, spewing gravel.
ZERO (to Lulu): Goodbye Sis!
LULU turns around and sticks out her tongue at Zero.
BUCK: I’ll pray for you!
JOSH: No, I’LL pray for YOU.
JOSH watches the old Pontiac GTO disappear down the driveway.
JOSH: Well, that’ll be that.
ZERO: Look on the bwight side.
ZERO: Your life just got more intewesting.
JOSH: How’s that?
ZERO: Now you’ve got something to wowwy about.
Dan Burns is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.