• Joseph Morganti

Writing for TV: Mr. Robot Pilot

Writing for TV is a challenging task that not every writer has the tools to do. Still, this isn’t to say it’s impossible. The fact that there have been so many great shows over the years is a clear indication that there is always a possibility. Take Mr. Robot, a show that depicts a niche like a cybersecurity engineer who is also a hacker with anxiety and depression.


Though Mr. Robot isn’t a part of the usual spectrum of shows, it’s done masterfully. In this Writing for TV analysis, we’ll discuss Mr. Robot and what you can learn from the show’s pilot writing-wise. We’ll discuss what it’s about, the interest of weird characters, big themes, niches, and much more.

Still from 'Mr. Robot'. Photo credit: IMDb


What is Mr. Robot About?


Mr. Robot is an American thriller TV series made by Sam Esmail for USA Network. It stars Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson, a cybersecurity engineer specialist and hacker with anxiety and depression. Elliot is selected by an insurrectionary revolutionary known as "Mr. Robot," played by Christian Slater, to join a gathering of hacktivists called "fsociety.”


The gathering intends to obliterate all debt records by scrambling the financial information of E Corp, the most giant conglomerate on the planet. The pilot debuted on May 27, 2015, stars Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallström, Christian Slater, Michael Cristofer, Stephanie Corneliussen, Grace Gummer, BD Wong, Bobby Cannavale, Ashlie Atkinson, and Elliot Villar.


The first season appeared on USA Network on June 24, 2015. The second season debuted on July 13, 2016, and the third season debuted on October 11, 2017. The fourth and last season debuted on October 6, 2019, and finished on December 22, 2019.


Mr. Robot has gotten universal appraise, especially Malek and Slater, its story and visual show, and Mac Quayle's score. The show got various honors, including two Golden Globe Awards, three Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Peabody Award. So, as writers, what can we learn about Mr. Robot?


The Interest Of Unconventional Characters


Mr. Robot’s biggest strength has to do with its characters. Every character seemingly appears as an outcast or someone society would typically depict as weird. Take Elliot as an example, someone with anxiety, depression, drug addiction, and delusions, to the point where he can’t contrast between what's occurring and what's working out within his head.


Writers have a challenging time crafting characters, especially regarding what’s out of the ordinary. Truthfully, the more distinctive and non-traditional a character is, the more interest the audience has in that character. Take the pilot’s script’s first few sentences as an example of how we’re introduced to the quirky character in Elliot.


ELLIOT (V.O.)

Hello friend. Hello friend? That’s lame. Maybe I should give you a name? But that’s a slippery slope. You’re only in my head. We have to remember that.

(then)

Shit. It’s actually happened. I’m talking to an imaginary person.


Loud, violent jazz RISES on the soundtrack. Within the black of frame, silhouettes begin forming.


ELLIOT (V.O.)

What I’m about to tell you is top secret. A conspiracy bigger than all of us. There’s a powerful group of people out there that are secretly running the world.

(then)

I’m talking about the guys no one knows about. The guys that are invisible. The top one percent of the top one percent. The guys that play God without permission.


CUT TO BLACK.


ELLIOT (V.O.)

And now I think they’re following me.


Big Themes


One would analyze the character of Eliott as the main focus of the story; someone with depression, anxiety, and drug addiction. However, Mr. Robot chooses to think big theme-wise and have that massive angle like a slight arc. The much larger picture focuses on the elimination of debt.


Many television series attempt to have a deeper meaning in their show when it’s more powerful to depict something grounded. Though this isn’t always the case, Mr. Robot chooses to have its main theme center around the idea of someone like Elliot potentially collapsing the entire banking system. How does that make the ordinary person feel? Good, excited, nervous? It’s up to the audience.


Embrace Niches


The hacker story has been done repeatedly, but Mr. Robot depicts it in a different light. It shows the idea of hacking as a secluded, zeroed-in, mentally demanding experience. It infers a disengagement between the straightforwardness of their goal and the intricacy behind it. Embracing the niche to what it is can have a more significant impact than romanticizing it.


The Plot Isn’t Everything


I admit the notion of declaring the plot isn’t everything is a bit of a headline catcher, but there is some truth to it. If you can craft great characters, have general plot points, and know-how to craft great dialogue, that’s all you need. Mr. Robot does an excellent job at demonstrating circumstances and logical results in the different subplots with them configuring into a giant story.