Sarah Silverman, the comic and comedienne, has posted her 2012 unsold NBC pilot, "Susan: 313," online for the world to see. (Warning: Some expletives are used in a postscript to Silverman's intro to the show.) It's up on the YouTube channel Jash, self-described as "a comedy network made up of the world's top comedians: Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim and Eric, and Reggie Watts."
"Failed pilot" is the phrase typically used to refer to these castoffs, raised with some care only to be made a footnote in a welter of intersecting careers. It's the phrase Silverman herself uses in an introductory video.
And "failed" might at times fairly describe them -- how many times, how would we know? -- but it is a harsh term. It reflexively blames the work for what might well be other failures -- failures of corporate nerve or imagination, failed executive decisions, and in this case certainly a failure to see that a Silverman sitcom might be temperamentally unsuited to network broadcast television. (Her brilliant and impolitic Comedy Central series "The Sarah Silverman Program" should have offered a clue.)
Indeed, the pilot itself seems to be a kind of purposeful meditation on this unlikely relationship. It opens conventionally, with a prodigal's return. Sarah, as Susan Farrow, an erstwhile singer-songwriter who once had a low spot on the bill at Lilith Fair, has come back to an apartment she has kept but not inhabited for a decade, after a split with a rich producer boyfriend (Jeff Goldblum, it will transpire). She will meet some new friends (Tig Notaro, Harris Wittels, Ken Leung) and reconnect with an old one (June Raphael), and it will end, classically, with a lot of people in a kitchen.
At first, Silverman seems to be doing an impersonation of a cutesy, semi-helpless sitcom heroine, and one doesn't quite know what to make of her or the show; things feel a little out of joint. And then, after Susan has reentered her apartment and found that not only is her water off but that she has no idea how to turn it on -- her survival skills have "atrophied" in the course of a coddled life -- we find ourselves in a dank, stony room, where Silverman (as Susan, but also, effectively, as herself) is watching this scene with a focus group. (Possibly we are in her mind, but whatever.)
"Wow, really intense stuff, huh?" she says, in the mock-serious, ironically self-approving voice familiar from her comedy and her previous series, and things begin to make a different kind of sense. "I mean, we're looking at a woman who entered a relationship strong and independent.... And, sure, she still has moxie and sure she still has great skin but she grieves, she grieves for the loss of youth, and perhaps even greater she grieves for the loss of her very sense of self. "
She opens the floor for comments and questions. Possibly they were lifted from experience.
Man: "My question is, what the hell is this? I mean what is this whole thing?"
Woman: "I don't think you're likable."
Clearly, there would have been some kinks to work out -- the tonal variations are a bit of a challenge -- but had this come to me as the first of an actually scheduled series, I would have greeted it happily, with reservations but also with interest. It isn't good TV business, of course, but I'd always rather see a risky mess than a conservative success. Whatever else it has, or lacks, "Susan: 313" has a voice of its own. And it's often funny. Weird, hard to read at times. But not a failure.
Silverman is sanguine about the whole thing: "This isn't, 'Like can you believe they didn't pick this up?' This isn't that kind of posting," she says in her introduction. "It's like, 'They probably did the right thing. But we liked the show.'... This is what it is.... It's this."
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