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For The CW, Tomorrow arrives tonight.
That’s because following the return of the breakout drama Arrow, the network will premiere The Tomorrow People, a remake of the cult British sci-fi series about teens who evolve specialized powers.
This new take stars Robbie Amell (cousin of Arrow star Stephen Amell) as lead runaway Stephen Jameson, and Mark Pellegrino (Supernatural, Lost) as the shadowy figure who tries to track him down. Although this is the second time the concept has been reinvigorated for American television, executive producer and series creator Phil Klemmer promises the version he’s cooked up alongside Arrow producer Greg Berlanti and The Vampire Diaries producer Julie Plec will present a forward-looking take on the concept.
Spinoff Online spoke with Veronica Mars and Chuck veteran Klemmer about his goals for the series, with the writer explaining The Tomorrow People will present a coming-of-age tale set amid underground ruins in a future New York City, a deepening mythology as to the birth of the super-powered teens, and a character drama built for general audiences and sci-fi fans alike.
Spinoff Online: Phil, The Tomorrow People is technically a remake, though it’s a remake of a show most people have never heard of let alone seen. It’s truly a cult show in an era when “cult show” is probably used too much.
Phil Klemmer: Right. Doctor Who was probably the Star Wars to Tomorrow People’s, I don’t know, Spaceballs. [Laughter] No, not really. I think if you were in the U.K., you got hit pretty hard in the way that America got hit with Land of the Lost. But there was a second wave of fans from when Nickelodeon ran the syndicated version of this, and that’s the version that hit [our executive producers] Greg Berlanti and Julie Plec really hard in the early ’90s.
So when you sat down with the task of making this new show, you had the high concept of these super-evolved teenagers in hand. But what really drove how this version developed? What made it a show for the modern age?
For me it was just that I really enjoy coming of age stories. The first show I ever worked on, Veronica Mars, was about a teenage girl who also lived a bit of a dual life and also came out of a lot of familial and school drama. I really like characters where you get to build them up and rip them back down. Giving someone superpowers or paranormal powers is the ultimate way of building them up, and in order to make that person identifiable or compelling, you really need to tear them down in a commensurate way.
So this kid Stephen Jameson has been dealing with mental illness and has been abandoned by his father, and those tragedies and misfortunes sort of counterbalance the fact that he’s found himself as part of this cool new group of paranormals. For me, that’s the experience of adolescence. The best things of your whole life and the worst things are happening all at the same time. Sometimes they’re the same thing, and sometimes you can’t tell which is which. For a lot of years, almost anybody growing up is just spinning. To me, there’s a powerful metaphor in that for regular kids or people who still reflect on their adolescence. There’s a message that says, “It’s OK to feel like you’re going crazy or to feel like you’re a freak. The parts of you that feel like mutations are nature’s way. You’re the way you’re meant to be.”
To me, also harkening back to Veronica Mars, it’s always a mix of mythology and week-to-week storytelling. If it’s purely episodic, there’s no reward for being true to a show and letting yourself go deep as a writer. But if it’s all serialization, it’s very hard not to get lost in the convoluted plotlines. The thing I really enjoy about this show is that you can have the mythology come to the fore and become the A story for a while and take up all the space, or you can have a character story be out front. It can be about Stephen’s personal life or a standalone paranormal rogue terrorizing New York this week. The show is very protean in that it can assume all kinds of shapes, but it doesn’t feel like it’s being stretched. A lot of that is thanks to our incredible cast and the fact that it has this great look from our director, Danny Cannon. It can just be so many things rather effortlessly, and as a storyteller, that’s exciting since every episode can feel like a chapter of something new. It’s a piece of the whole, but in the same way there’s something novel about each episode.
Tell me about your cast. Robbie Amell, who plays Stephen, has gotten a lot of attention of late because of the synchronicity of this show playing after his cousin’s hit Arrow. The villain is played by Mark Pellegrino, who is one of the great “I know that guy from somewhere” actors. And you even get to invite some of your Veronica Mars friends back when Jason Dohring comes in later this year. How do those guys and the ensemble overall help you build this story?
At a certain point, it’s out of our control. We turn the show over to the cast, and we’re relying not just on their talent but also their underlying personalities and their synergy as a cast. Luckily, we were blessed with a cast who love to work together, and everybody comes so prepared. They’ve thought about the scenes and the stories and the characters, and when they say the lines, they can do it in their sleep. As a result, we can pull off an incredible feet of storytelling in eight days of productions. It’s like you could shoot our rehearsals for TV if you wanted. You could just throw a camera on Mark Pellegrino and let him talk, and you’re going to be riveted. He can take good words and make them absolutely brilliant. I can’t thank those guys enough.
Overall, there is a definite CW style in a lot of the network’s shows in terms of this genre-driven teen drama, but there also seems to be a little bit more effects and action in this series as the promos have slow-mo bullet work and all sorts of other powers. In what ways do you think it fits in with other dramas on the network, and how does it break from that mold?
I think it’s surprising the blend of gender appeal our show has. In a really graceful way, it’s able to combine being an action show like Arrow with the emotion of a character show that’s sort of raw and messy – like adolescence itself. So I think people who are fans of character drama but not necessarily sci-fi people will be able to get into our show because when it’s stripped of its sci-fi artifice, it’s a universal coming of age story. And down at its core, it’s very unique and has this weird blend of steampunk and future-primitive science and decayed underground New York, which I find totally delicious.
As the show debuts tonight, what’s the one piece of the pilot people should keep an eye out for that will pull them into the rest of the season?
Our mythological story and Stephen’s search for his father works on two levels. Like I said, the coming-of-age story is about him trying to figure out his roots – who his father really was and whether he’s destined to repeat his father’s mistakes. At the same time, his father – as we learn more about him and his story – will become integral to the history of the Tomorrow People. So Stephen’s search for his father is the piece that becomes one with these people’s search for a leader. There are some really interesting discoveries awaiting about who he was as a man and what the possibility of finding him could mean for their entire species. There’s a very cool aspect to that. It’s as if Neo had a father, and the coming-of-age story centers on whether he can break out from that shadow and become his own hero.
The Tomorrow People premieres tonight at 9 ET/PT on The CW.