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Estate Secrets pilot by Jeanie Pyun

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Filmmaker:Jeanie Pyun

Genre : Drama

A unique team takes cases that uncover life-changing family secrets that the recently deceased leave behind, usually in the form of an heirloom or clue. The team members also have secrets of their own.

Synopsis:

The show begins with a signature cold open: A swiftly compelling sequence that sums up the life – and manner of death - of a recently deceased person. In this case, it’s BESSA COLLINS, 20s, a fashion model who has notoriously stumbled on the runway, then killed herself with animal barbiturates in a Mexican hotel.

Her father and only surviving family member, HILTON COLLINS, 50s, sees his life fall apart as he wrestles with his doubts, guilts and mostly the question, Why? All he has is a mysterious charm bracelet, which he does not recognize. On the radio, a news report says that the ailing grandparents of an adopted girl whose parents recently died are continuing to sue to open the girl’s adoption records to allow the biological mother to raise her, as they’re unable.

Hilton brings the charm bracelet to the Estate Cases team, led by EDWARD DENNISTON, 30s, our arts, antiques and heirlooms specialist, i.e., object investigator. We first meet the formal and eccentric Edward as he incongruously chain-saws a priceless sideboard to find a locket related to another case – it’s a child photo of a prominent businessman. The photo is of a girl – said businessman was born intersexual. Our first clue that this is not your usual mom-and-pop mystery-solving shop.

Along with Hilton, we meet the rest of the team. LILAH HARTMAN, 30s, is an energetic former detective, now part-time DA investigator; also a single mom. CECELIA “CC” FARBER, 20s, is the team genealogist, as well as a beautiful socialite, of mixed race, part African American heritage, and adopted – her family connections come in handy with cases involving older families. And yes, there are plenty of those in the North Carolina Triangle, where this takes place. DAN HOLLIS, 20s, strapping, is a healthy farmer’s son with a keen mind for details of all kinds, as the special archivist of the group.

Hilton gives the team the charm bracelet and a packet of photos of relatives who must be on his secretive (deceased) wife’s side.

Edward retires to his odd little room on the office premises and is shocked by the sudden appearance of his baby sister Elizabeth, now known as Tocca (Italian for “touch”). While Dan wouldn’t mind hearing more from her, Tocca gets dragged out of the office by Edward before she can be even more insulting about Edward’s fall from riches, as well as reveal more about the Denniston family business.

Later, at Bessa’s former townhouse, Edward and Lilah interview both ETHAN TRUSK, 20s, Bessa’s former fiancé and Hilton. Hilton takes umbrage at Ethan’s insinuation that Bessa and her mother had serious problems that drove her into therapy. He takes it out on Ethan by scoffing at the fact he didn’t even know that Bessa’s nickname for her sister, who died of as a child, was Beanie. Edward wonders if the silver bean on the charm bracelet might have something to do with the little sister. And Bessa loved horses – Lilah wonders if the horse charm could represent Bessa somehow? As Edward puts it to Lilah while they leave the townhouse, “Follow the charms, find the secret.”

At the DA’s office where Lilah works part-time, she tries to keep her boss in good humor while surreptitiously investigating the Bessa Collins case. Lilah calls Bessa’s doctors and model handlers inside her second office (i.e., an unused women’s restroom) to no avail. Edward has Lilah join him as they take apart Bessa’s former and Ethan’s current townhouse in their unique forensic way, which susses out hidden objects and documents that are too sensitive to keep in safety deposit boxes. While they don’t discover anything hidden, they do find that both Bessa’s and Beanie’s locks of hair are missing in their baby books.

Meanwhile, CC and Dan bicker as they hit the local archival society, where Dan gets a lesson in genealogical investigating and CC gets schooled in common sense. They scour the Collins’ family Bible and discover the identities of the women in the photos Hilton had given them – Bessa’s grandmother LETITIA and great-grandmother MATILDA, who not-so-coincidentally are wearing two of the bracelet’s charms: a Victorian mourning hair charm and an oblong pearl.

The team collects and sorts their findings on an unusually large, Art Deco bulletin board. Dan shares that he saw evidence of goiter on Matilda and scoliosis on Letitia. They’ve accounted for all the charms except for two: a sword cross with a Latin inscription and a small silver orange.

When Edward catches up with his sister Tocca, we learn that the family business, one that Edward would prefer to keep in the past, was being cons. The two scams Tocca currently works on: an algorithm that allows her to “return” online massive quantities of iPhones using fake serial numbers; and residential dihydrogen monoxide clean-up (unlike radon, dihydrogen monoxide is perfectly harmless, as it is another name for water).

Edward leaves his sister a bit depressed and decides to do an appraisal on Bessa’s horse carriage. Using unique techniques particular to the kind of object detecting Edward is the master of, he discovers the missing locks of baby hair and medical documents inside a secret compartment in the carriage wheels.

Lilah verifies the documents and lets the team know that Bessa had both locks of hair tested for human growth hormone (HGH), which came back negative for Beanie and positive for her. Considering the career-boosting effects of HGH on Bessa’s physique, the team theorizes that perhaps Bessa’s mother wanted to create a designer baby, or a Petri-dish supermodel. Lilah gets a call from the lab and learns that Beanie’s hair sample tested positive for fluoride poisoning.

The team goes off and does their thing: Dan does research in the medical archives, Lilah makes calls to her contacts from her detective days, CC pulls information from the family archives, Edward hits the building permit office.

They meet up with Hilton and Ethan at the townhouse (but not before Edward has an awkward run-in with a social busybody, from which CC has to rescue him). Edward shocks Hilton and Ethan by revealing that the matrilineal relatives in the photos all died by the same hand – each other’s.

Using gathered documents, the team piece together a horrible tapestry of abuse, specifically called Induced Illness Syndrome, ranging from the great grandmother on down. Each relative abused a daughter by sickening her with some unhealthful element, including Beanie. The team reveals that the sword cross – actually a stylized hypodermic needle - represented Beanie’s and Bessa’s mother. Hilton still doesn’t understand why Bessa would commit suicide and asks about the orange charm – and the team confesses that they are still stumped.

Edward tracks down the artist of the charm to a tattoo parlor (after scaring off some teenagers with his ninja-like use of a nifty sword cane). When he lets the team and Hilton and Ethan know about his findings, they realize the charm must represent a daughter of Bessa’s.

CC, being an expert on all things adoption-related, manages to filch the closed files. Dan, who has been reviewing videos of Bessa’s infamous runway fall, realizes it reminds him of something he has seen before. Hilton, unable to bear up under the weight of what the investigation has revealed so far, has a public meltdown.

All parties meet at the Estate Cases office, where it is shown that Bessa realized that the HGH her mother injected in her was contaminated. Her catwalk fall was the beginning of an incurable decline into loss of motor ability and dementia symptomatic of the Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease caused by the contaminated HGH. Bessa ended her life before it completely degenerated. Meanwhile, CC reveals that the girl in the news was actually Bessa’s, and Edward suggests that Clementine might need someone like Hilton to raise her.

Later we see a cleaned-up Hilton, invigorated with new purpose, give the Estate Case team a generous commission. At show’s end, Tocca sneaks into the offices late at night with a seemingly generous gift for her brother Edward.

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