Get this: A grumpy “Gregory House + Sheldon Cooper” guy and his spirited, socialite classmate start a detective agency in a quirky, mid-Atlantic beach town.
What is it? A weekly TV drama—set in a fictional Ocean City, Delaware—about Ethan McKean, a cynical but obsessively ethical college kid with Asperger syndrome, and Emma Rodney, a popular daughter of Ocean City aristocracy who partners with him to solve a local cold case. In the wake of their success, Emma sees analytical genius in Ethan and convinces him to open a detective agency.
Working Title: Ocean City.
Including characters, a sketch of the setting, and plot summaries for an 11-episode first season.
LEAD DYNAMIC – The two leads, logical Ethan McKean and charismatic Emma Rodney, already play on the classic Odd Couple dynamic and come from different socioeconomic classes. Ethan is the son of a single father who works as an accountant, while Emma’s parents own several businesses in Ocean City. She initiates and dominates the conversations required by their investigations, and he typically remains quiet nearby, occasionally inserting a comment to correct some factual/scientific inaccuracy or point out a cognitive bias in the witness’s account. This, of course, tends to disrupt Emma’s flow and aggravates her to no end. However, Emma’s do-gooder desire to be polite and make things right and Ethan’s fastidiously ethical need to be accurate and objective form the basis of both their interpersonal tension and their mutual admiration.
CHARACTERS – Other characters would include: Ocean City Sheriff Jim Towson, who thinks E and E are too young to be in such a dangerous business; Mayor Elise Tanner, who is more concerned about the city’s profitability as a tourist destination than protecting its regular citizens or enforcing the law; Ethan’s father Benjamin McKean, an accountant and former financial investigator for the US Navy who helps set up the detective agency for his son; Karen Dickinson. who teaches English literature at Ocean City College and acts as E and E’s unofficial mentor; and Brent and Gina Rodney. Emma’s parents and members of the local social elite.
INSIDE JOKE – The logo for the “E and E Detective Agency” could be a running gag, with a new design suggested by someone each episode, and either Ethan or Emma finding personal reasons to veto it. This provides an opportunity to introduce a menagerie of secondary characters: artists, entrepreneurs, classmates, etc.
SETTING – The setting is itself an important character in the series. The two real-world Ocean Cities, in Maryland and New Jersey, are notably different, and that can provide a fantastic source of contrast and for the fictional Ocean City, Delaware. The Jersey town is a dry, family-oriented destination while the Maryland town is more fringe, with an active (and alcohol-driven) night life.
Ocean City could capitalize on this by having the town split between a squeaky clean, northern ward of upscale developments and a shady, southern ward of rundown apartment complexes, bars, and an arts district. Between the two would be a string of touristy strip malls and beachfront hotels. Despite a quirky, niche-like setting with lots of distinctive character, Ocean City could easily establish relevance to issues from everywhere in America by playing off the moral, political, and class differences inherent in that north-south division. The fictional Henrys Island in the bay would provide more rural settings for narrative exploration.
Ocean City is situated south of Rehoboth Beach and north of Bethany Beach, framed by Delaware Seashore State Park. Backing Ocean City is the fictional Lenape Bay, which connects to real-world Rehoboth Bay and Indian River Bay. See the explanatory concept graphic on the right.
A notional Wikipedia entry could run something like this: “Ocean City is an Atlantic resort city in Sussex County, Delaware, situated in the midst of Delaware Seashore State Park. Originally two distinct towns, Canaan Shore at the north end of Haslet Island and Fishers Point at the south end were joined in 1865 as the town of Haslet, renamed Ocean City in 1867. The area was originally a loose federation of Delaware Indian villages, claimed by the Haslet family in the 1780s. Ocean City had a population 10,560 in the 2010 Census, but the number of people in the city can rise above 200 thousand during the summer. Residents include baseball Hall-of-Famer Dave Ray Winslow, actress Cass Middleton, rock guitarist Ian Beane, and Delaware Representative Clyde Markham. Best-selling mystery novelist Kent Dixon is also rumored to live in Ocean City.”
SEASON OUTLINE – Opportunities abound to draw on East Coast history, ecological and development/economic issues, local and national politics, drugs and social woes, sports, etc. A notional first season:
S1E0 – Pilot: Paired up by their English professor (Karen Dickinson) to write a paper on mystery fiction, college sophomores Ethan and Emma dig into the ten-year-old cold case murder of the local high school’s quarterback. When they uncover evidence of a homosexual relationship between the teen football hero and conservative state Representative Clyde Markham, they find themselves opposed by the Ocean City political establishment, sheriff Towson, the school administration, and their own parents.
S1E1 – Repeat Offenders: A bad batch of drugs leads to several of Ethan and Emma’s former high school classmates showing up dead on the South Boardwalk. Emma urges Ethan to look into it even though there’s no paying client. After Emma’s rich cousin Devon Beringer dies on the North Boardwalk, mayor Tanner get personally involved and presses Sheriff Towson to force E and E to drop their investigation and shutter their fledgling detective agency. Angered by the ethical double-standards on all sides, Ethan sets out on his own, only to discover that the source of the drugs was Devon’s mother, Anna.
S1E2 – Doomed to Repeat It: Several members of a treasure hunting team exploring a pirate shipwreck in Lenape Bay are drowned when someone scuttles their salvage boat, but Ethan and Emma are hired only after Karen Dickinson offers to pay their fee for the salvage company. Ethan protests that Dickinson, as a public school teacher, can’t possibly afford the fee they’ll have to charge just to keep their office open during the case; she tells him to consider it a loan against the agency’s certain future profits. When the sabotage is traced to bay-side business owners afraid that the artifacts might challenge long-standing property claims, Sheriff Towson is so impressed by E and E’s repeated success that he defends them against Mayor Tanner despite the risk to his looming re-election bid.
S1E3 – Good Business: When Ethan and Emma are hired to discover whether a former baseball star’s “green” development projects are being purposefully sabotaged or merely vandalized, progressives from the local arts district pitch in to help E and E pay their bills and stay open during the investigation. Ethan and Emma discover that the projects are being attacked for crass political reasons by a failing competitor who would rather go bankrupt than adopt environmentalist practices. Stressed by Mayor Tanner publicly opposing his re-election, Sheriff Towson flippantly remarks during an on-camera perp walk: “It was idiot move. It’s not even good business, not for his company and not for the City.” This bluntly honest quip buoys him to re-election, boosted by Ocean City’s artsy fringe community. In a side story, Ethan’s father struggles with his decision to leave his son in Ocean City for a much-better-paying job in Washington, finally deciding to move but continue handling E and E’s finances over the internet.
S1E4 – Good Samaritan: After vandals repeatedly damage an 18th century church in the historic Fishers Point neighborhood, it takes an atheist city council chair calling it a hate crime and threatening to get national civil rights organizations involved before Mayor Tanner takes it seriously. Sheriff Towson enlists the E and E agency, but Ethan rules out the hate crime angle since the church hasn’t had an active congregation for decades. Ethan notes that it’s known primarily as the site of the Battle of Haslet Island which “wasn’t a battle, and the island wasn’t called that when it happened.” After a violent confrontation with local ruffians suspected of the vandalism, Emma has surveillance cameras installed across the street from the church. They fail to record any new vandalism, and Ethan begins to suspect the council chair of staging the vandalism to inspire donations for a renovation project on the church. Dickinson convinces Ethan, despite his ethical misgivings, that not all criminals deserve to be brought to justice; instead of giving his evidence to Sheriff Towson Ethan gives it to the council chair and Emma offers to get the local real estate and tourism businesses involved in the renovation. This is E and E’s first “failed” case, and it leads Towson to again doubt the wisdom of the detective agency.
S1E5 – Missing Persona: Ethan and Emma are hired by a superfan of thriller author Kent Dixon to locate the best-selling novelist, who is rumored to live in Ocean City. After E and E interview various local men often suspected of being the reclusive writer, things get personal when they discover that their mentor Karen Dickinson is the woman behind the male pseudonym. When Ethan’s ethical quandary threatens to destroy the detective agency, Ms. Dickinson decides to come clean even though it means she’ll have to leave her beloved teaching gig to keep her fans from disrupting the college. Towson’s faith in E and E is restored, and even Mayor Tanner is impressed, since ensuing media buzz will surely bring more money to Ocean City.
S1E6 – Missing White Girl: When an attractive, blonde tourist goes missing, Sheriff Towson is so overwhelmed with false leads sparked by national media attention that he again enlists Ethan and Emma. When the young woman’s body is discovered in the woods of Henrys Island, Ethan recognizes a twig lodged in her arm as an ornamental shrub not native to the island. He locates the shrub on the grounds of a beach-side hotel, and discovers that the hotel bar’s Ethiopian immigrant bus staff saw the girl partying at the bar with penthouse resident Ian Beane, once famous as the guitarist in the 80s glam rock band Bad Gyrl. Ethan suspects the tourist fell from Beane’s penthouse into the bushes, from where the guitarist and an accomplice moved her to Henrys Island. Since the bussers only missed the “missing white girl” frenzy because they only watch Ethiopian television, Ethan wonders why the bartender didn’t report seeing her, since he’s local. Checking the security card swipe log at the marina where the bartender keeps his boat reveals that he took a twenty minute trip the night the tourist went missing, just long enough to motor to Henrys Island, dump the body, and return. Under Towson’s grilling, the bartender confesses that he saw Beane with the woman and later helped hide her body to protect the rock legend’s reputation.
S1E7 – Crimes, Follies, and Misfortunes: Anna Beringer, Emma’s aunt who was arrested in the “Repeat Offenders” episode for running a drug business that Ethan uncovered, hires E and E to gather evidence against her supplier, Blaise Demarc, who she fears will try to murder her before she goes to trial. Emma wants to turn down the case because it’s too dangerous and Beringer doesn’t deserve sympathy because of what happened to Devon and the other kids who died from the bad drugs she was distributing. Ethan, however, is emphatic that these factors don’t affect the business ethics of the case. Sheriff Towson insists that it’s time that Ethan and Emma take weapons training and get licenses to carry if they’re going to continue taking dangerous cases. Mayor Tanner calls Ethan and Emma to her office to discuss their investigation with the city prosecutor who, based on surprisingly flimsy evidence, orders Blaise Demarc and four of his lieutenants arrested. Then, Tanner orders Ethan and Emma into protective custody.
S1E8 – Most Hateful Human Misfortune: While Blaise Demarc and his four lieutenants await arraignment, Anna Beringer is found hung in her cell. Despite being angry at her aunt, Emma is devastated. When Demarc and associates are released and their charges dropped, Mayor Tanner explains to Ethan that he had been right all along and the evidence against them was too flimsy. Now, because he was in jail at the time, he’s cleared of any foul play in Beringer’s death. Later, Demarc shows up at E and E’s and tells Ethan, “I don’t kill my customers. What’s your Sheriff say? ‘Not good business.’ Beringer wanted drugs for someone to get busted with, not to use, so I gave her shit product. She was stupid to let anybody use it.” With that, he tells Emma and Ethan that he’s leaving Ocean City to go back to Florida. When Ethan asks why he’s giving them this information, Demarc says it’s because he thinks Tanner’s scheme to keep him in custody while Beringer was killed was clumsy and dangerous. “Was she killed?” Ethan asks. “We both know she was,” is Demarc’s reply.
S1E9 – Land is the Best Art: An elderly, lifelong resident of Ocean City hires E and E to help prove the drugs found in her home were planted there, before the city confiscates the house under strict anti-drug laws. Towson tells Emma that there’s nothing he can do: the police received an anonymous tip, and Ocean City ordinance requires the house be confiscated for the amount of drugs found there. Incidental clues point E and E back to the ruffians from the “Good Samaritan” episode, known as the Blue House Boys because they all live in a bright turquoise house in the arts district. A local tattoo artist tells Emma that they’re known as “guys you can hire for whatever, vandalizing churches, planting drugs, murdering prisoners, anything for money so they can keep living their lazy, boozing lifestyle.” Ethan decides that the best way to flush out the Blue House Boys is the same way their client was flushed out of her home, so he calls in an anonymous “tip” to the police, an ethically gray move that impresses both Emma and Dickinson. Once Towson has evidence against several of the Boys, they turn on each other under interrogation. One of them offers to take the rap for vandalizing the church in exchange for immunity in the conspiracy to murder Anna Beringer as state’s witness. But, he refuses to reveal the identity of the murder, or who hired him, without a deal from the city prosecutor.
S1E10 – The Art of the Possible: Studying the clues from several cases, Ethan notices that confiscated properties under Ocean City’s anti-drug law create three clusters at 150 feet, 600 feet, and 6000 feet in a straight line due north of the old church from the “Good Samaritan” episode. Ethan notes that the only system of measure that fits those proportions is the old English surveying system using rods, chains, and furlongs. On a hunch, he contacts the treasure hunters from the “Doomed to Repeat It” episode to ask if there are any archaeological rumors about the old church, and he learns of a Revolutionary War shipment of gold and documents from George Washington, captured by the British and kept at the church before Americans marched north from Maryland to retake the island in the over-hyped “Battle of Haslet Island.” After some digging online, Ethan discovers that Mayor Tanner earned a Master’s in History with a thesis on restoration techniques for 18th century documents, just before moving to Ocean City. Drawn forward by these clues, he rushes to tell Emma his theory, to find her sifting through the things in her aunt Anna’s four-story house. On a recently replaced smart phone, Emma discovered a calendar where Anna kept track of the drug planting scheme, and its data implicates Mayor Tanner. As Emma and Ethan are sharing their finds, they smell smoke: the house has been set on fire, and they barely escape by taking a running leap from the roof into a neighbor’s pool.
The season ends with Emma and Ethan wondering if the evidence on the smart phone survived the dunking.