by Jake Vander Ark
AMERICAN LOBOTOMY is a limited series that pushes the “brain swap” genre to its most provocative and fascinating extremes, fully exploring the dramatic, hilarious, and mind-bending ramifications of “walking in someone else’s shoes.”
EPISODE ONE introduces us to Rugrat Harrington, the willing subject of an experiment to transfer consciousness between bodies. His sister Sharon is the ringleader, rushing the tests so she can save their dying father by swapping his mind into a healthy body. But this isn’t Rugrat’s first experiment. His brain is fried... and he wants revenge.
During the final experiment, Sharon plans to temporarily swap Rugrat with a conman named Ezra. But Sharon doesn’t know her brother re-calibrated the machine... and Ezra is swapped—seemingly at random—with a Texas teenager named Ryan. Confused, Sharon attempts to reverse the transfer, but instead of finding Ezra back in his own body, the machine swaps Ryan’s mind with a young woman from Saskatchewan named Becca.
EPISODES TWO, THREE, AND FOUR explore every facet of these new dynamics:
Ezra lands in the middle of a high school dance with Ryan’s girlfriend, Maisey, at his side. He quickly realizes that, if he plays the part of the typical mid-American teen, he might just get to keep his cushy new life...
Ryan doesn’t realize it when he wakes up in a female body, but the young woman he swapped with was outed—the night before the mixup—as a trans-man. After a hilarious exchange with Becca’s thoroughly-confused brothers and a heartbreaking confrontation with Becca’s intolerant mother, Ryan decides to drive from Saskatchewan to Dallas to convince his girlfriend he’s the real Ryan and to save her from Ezra’s twisted plans.
Becca may be stuck in an unfamiliar city, but he’s finally in a body that matches his mind. Just as exciting: he can finally embrace the name he’s always wanted, Nick. When Sharon lets Nick stay at Ezra’s apartment, he finds himself in the middle of the man’s most recent con, then dives head-first into an affair with a married woman and a surreal adventure at a Brooklyn drag show.
EPISODES FIVE, SIX, AND SEVEN dial up the intensity as Rugrat continues his plot, reworking the machine to transfer dozens of minds every second from every corner of the globe. Side characters, real-life celebrities, even presidential candidates... no one is safe from the threat of a new life on another continent.
EPISODE EIGHT takes place on Election Day, culminating in an epic confrontation between Ezra, Ryan, and Nick in a Dallas hotel ballroom.
Back in the lab, Sharon finally convinces Rugrat to stop the random transfers. As soon as he concedes, the machine goes haywire.
Just as Ryan finds Maisey... just as Ezra admits defeat... just as Nick comes face-to-face with his old body... all of humanity is transferred simultaneously into new bodies.
EPISODES NINE AND TEN reach the pinnacle of the “brain swap” concept when the world is plunged into chaos and every character finds themselves wandering a post-apocalyptic world in another person’s body. But from the chaos, love will prevail, as humanity is forced to either connect with one another... or perish.
(Additional story highlights can be found under “Setting” below.)
Whether it's a modern-day fairytale or hard-core science fiction, novelist Jake Vander Ark attacks every story with brutal realism and down-to-earth characters. No subject is taboo. Truth is paramount.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago influenced his experimental quirks, while his pursuits in Hollywood hammered the importance of traditional storytelling. This unique fusion of structure and innovation brings to life the most beautiful girl in the world in The Accidental Siren, the gritty morality tales of Lighthouse Nights and Fallout Dreams, the cryptic prologue of The Brandywine Prophet, and the mind-melting climax of The Day I Wore Purple.
AMERICAN LOBOTOMY is Vander Ark’s bold seventh novel and will be ready for release by summer, 2019. (Work-in-progress available upon request.)
American Lobotomy is about perspective, and the narrative is structured to showcase this concept. Beginning with a single point-of-view, each episode blossoms exponentially with new, eclectic characters until the stunning finale when all of humanity is on display.
Rugrat is the most eccentric character in American Lobotomy. He is the willing subject of multiple experiments which have left traces of sixteen homeless people inside his brain. He is bound to a chair, one step away from catatonic, and barely moves a muscle... until the sixteen fight for control.
Rugrat’s voiceover is the only time we get a glimpse inside a character’s mind. As his gaze breaks the fourth wall, we get the sense that he knows us better than we know ourselves.
Conman, gigolo, master manipulator... Ezra is the anti-hero of American Lobotomy. We meet him on his way out of an East Jersey prison, ready to escape Newark and become a better man. But when an opportunity arises to blackmail a shady organization, Ezra makes the first of many cruel decisions. In episode three, Ezra's brain is taken over by Becca Larue, a Canadian teen who longs for a male body... and finally gets their wish.
Ryan Beckett is the everyman, a sixteen-year-old Texan boy looking to move out of the friend zone with his best friend Maisey. When the story begins, his biggest obstacle is his overbearing, Seventh-Day Adventist mother. But his problems get so much worse when his brain is accidentally swapped with Ezra's, turning the nerdy suburban kid into a hardened criminal hellbent on keeping his cushy new life.
Episode two introduces us to the exuberant Becca Larue as she takes a bold step to prove she can pass as a man. The same night her plan goes awry, her mind leaves her home in Saskatchewan... and Ryan Beckett takes its place. In episodes four and five, Ryan (as Becca) must navigate his new anatomy, preserve Becca's reputation, face her cruel and intolerant mother, and make a cross-country trek to convince his girlfriend it's really him trapped in this body.
With straight-black hair and stoic demeanor, Sharon Harrington spearheads the brain-swap experiments in a desperate attempt to save her father's life. Rugrat is her little brother; his escalating madness is her fault. When Sharon accidentally transfers the wrong brain twice, she's forced from her familiar lab to track down the missing minds.
To outsiders, sixteen-year-old Maisey Rhodes looks like an awkward and spastic Gen Z-er. What they don't see is the obsession with symmetry which dominates her life. Her unique perspective carries episode two, and it's through her eyes that we view Ryan's seemingly random change in personality. When shit hits the fan in episode eight, Maisey's compulsions push her to the edge, and only her newfound independence can save her.
EPISODEs 3, 4, and 5
The core premise of American Lobotomy creates a unique opportunity for talent. Since nearly every character will have two distinct personas (like the mom and daughter in Freaky Friday), even the smaller parts could attract exceptional talent looking for exciting roles. More importantly, diversity is a genuine product of the story, allowing the series to showcase actors from across the globe.
AMERICAN LOBOTOMY opens in a handful of simple locations: Ryan’s suburban home, Ezra’s Newark apartment, and Nick’s house in a small Canadian town. Later episodes introduce a number of exotic locations which can be fully exploited, or minimized for a more budget-conscious production.
ETN Basement Lab
The basement lab anchors every episode of American Lobotomy from the first scene to the last. Not only do we meet Rugrat, Sharon, and Nō in the lab, this is where they have their final showdown where Sharon must convince her brother to stop swapping the world.
Ezra grew up in the Ironbound and wants nothing more than to escape. When Nick is stuck in Ezra’s body, he must go to Ezra’s apartment to convince Ezra’s criminal boss that he really is Ezra. To increase the tension, the man Ezra had been conning shows up first, throwing Nick for a loop with a barrage of double entendres.
When Ryan—a Texas native—swaps into the body of Becca Larue, he’s forced to navigate the snow, slang, and small-town politeness of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Ryan’s final confrontation with Darlene takes place at a little league hockey game on a neighborhood rink.
Once the home of Ryan Beckett, the conservative Texan suburb is now Ezra’s sanctuary. When Sharon sends Pete to track him down and return him to the lab, Ezra fights back, stabs Pete, and sends a shockwave through Christian suburbia.
After Nick (in Ezra’s body) meets and seduces 60-year-old Karen DuValay, they stumble into to a politically-themed drag show in a Brooklyn nightclub and descend into a drug-fueled evening of gender disagreements and bathroom affairs.
Airport Family Restroom
When Ezra sees that someone purchased a plane ticket with his old credit card, he assumes Ryan is on his way to take back his life. But Ezra doesn’t know about the second swap... he doesn’t know it’s actually Nick on his way to find Ryan. This leads to a dramatic fight in an airport bathroom where Ezra beats up his old body while Nick fights back with newfound knowledge about Ezra’s past.
Mark DuValay is the first person we see affected by Rugrat’s random swaps. At the height of his argument with Karen over her nightclub affair, Mark finds himself surrounded by a fleet of Russian warships. This means that Karen is left to deal with the Russian naval officer panicking in her living room.
Pete, Sharon’s “muscle,” gets stabbed in the leg while trying to kidnap Ezra in Texas. When he stops for gas on his way back to the lab, he’s randomly swapped with Stephano, an Italian man having a lovely picnic with his wife and daughters. Back in the American gas station, Stephano panics in his new surroundings and finds himself face-to-face with a confused and trigger-happy cop.
Sharon and accidental counterpart, Halil, visit a prestigious New York hospital to bring Sharon’s father back to the lab. Unfortunately, the hospital is overflowing with mysterious injuries related to the random, worldwide swaps. When they can’t get the help they need, Sharon and Halil kidnap the dying father as the hospital slips deeper into madness.
Just as Ryan’s best friend Levi learns that Ryan is actually Ezra, he becomes the next victim of the random swap and finds himself in the body of a celebrity. (This scene can go in multiple directions, depending on the cameo. Tyler Perry has always been my first choice, as his Medea transformations embody the themes of this series.)
Chinese Doll Factory
Just as the election is called for Donald Trump, Maisey’s mother falls off the couch, curls into a fetal position, and sobs uncontrollably.
At the exact same moment, a pregnant woman in a Chinese factory feels her baby trashing suddenly inside her... as if it’s trying desperately to get out.
The climax of episode eight brings us briefly to an Ethiopian village where the Hamar live. A young girl begins speaking wildly in another language, and the elders assume she’s been possessed by a demon.
At the same moment, Donald Trump walks across the stage to give his victory speech. Before he reaches the podium, he starts acting like a little kid who doesn’t speak English...
On the night of the election, Maisey brings “Ryan” (actually Ezra) to a Democrat Watch Party in a hotel ballroom. Nick shows up soon after in search of Ryan, and Ryan shows up to save Maisey. The scene culminates in an epic showdown between the three main characters... just as the transfer machine breaks and the entire world swaps minds.
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
At the moment of the final, world-wide swap, Ryan’s mother finds herself surrounded by a horde of Turks who are just as terrified as her.
The world swaps just as Halil is about to be sacrificed as the new body for Sharon’s dying father. Instead of being trapped in a dying body, Halil finds himself trapped in a South American prison, surrounded by the wailing of prisoners and guards too confused by their new surroundings to let them out.
Australian Island Resort
Karen DuValay leaves her abusive husband, only to start her life over on a remote island resort.
After the worldwide swap, Ryan desperately presses the new “Maisey” for answers about where she lived. The woman, unable to speak English, finally communicates to Ryan that her home is in Brazil. Ryan, still determined to reconnect with his girlfriend, sets off on another adventure through a post-apocalyptic world.
In addition to being a gripping piece of entertainment, AMERICAN LOBOTOMY serves as a biting satire of a post-Trump world. Themes of culture, identity, and point-of-view become the lifeblood of the series, pushing boundaries and prodding viewers to examine their own limited perspectives. The first eight episodes unfold in the week before the 2016 election... when the entire world seemed to lose its mind.
Although American Lobotomy isn’t strictly about politics, the cultural climate of 2016 does permeate nearly every aspect of the story. Campaign yard signs, arguments over the living wage, Facebook wars, voter lines, and 24-hour news coverage saturate every setting and plunge the characters into maddening culture wars culminating in the most divisive presidential election of our time.
Not only does the series work as American satire, the premise provides a slew of opportunities for clever metaphors where swapped characters find themselves in extreme versions of our most relevant issues.
The earliest example is the Larue family’s view of Becca’s accidental outing. They were already confused about his desire to be treated as a man, but their confusion is exasperated when his body is literally taken over by Ryan Beckett.
When Karen finally leaves her abusive husband, she’s swaps to an Australian island and finds herself in the literal position of how many fifty-something divorcees feel: she’s lonely, anxious, twenty-years older. She lost her friends and financial stability... and nobody around her cares about her plight.
Stephano’s death in Pete’s body seems like a bizarre scenario, but ultimately reflects many of the same horrific aspects of police brutality we see regularly on the news: Stephano is innocent, he panics, the officer responds with violence, and people on both sides of the issue act as if they know exactly what happened.
Like these examples, dozens of concepts are fully exploited by the premise of swapping minds: The fear of Russia’s influence on American voters, the media’s short attention span, the liberal response to Trump’s win, cultural appropriation, people acting two-faced, and so many more.
The Overarching Theme
Although AMERICAN LOBOTOMY never takes sides in the debates it explores, the series ultimately urges the audience to view humanity in one of two ways: as eight billion individual tribes, or as a single worldwide tribe.
Nothing in between.