The superhero genre and remakes (aka reboots and re-imaginings) seem to becoming the soup du jour of modern day cinematic and television experiences these days. While I long for forays into more original material, my primary objective is being entertained. ‘The Tomorrow People’ may not uphold the former, delving into both our modern superhero myths as well as the remake camp, but it delivers in spades on the latter, offering an entertaining and twisty introduction to our newest batch of super powered beings.
Stephen Jameson is pretty much like a lot of teens his age; he’s got a best friend/confidante in Astrid, he’s slave to the routine of school and family (sans a dad) and his mental health isn’t what one would call stable. Not only is he hearing voices, but there’s this little ‘sleepwalking’ issue of his; waking up in places he has no memory of traveling to. Even tying himself up doesn’t prevent Stephen from waking up in the middle of his neighbors’ bed.
Whereas Stephen’s in a place he doesn’t know which end is up, John’s the complete opposite. Handsome like Stephen, John is brash and confident, a young man that knows himself and is comfortable with that knowledge. With his partner’s help—the very same voice playing in Stephen’s head—John breaks into a building, steals a file and gets out. He’s chased by three ULTRA agents and a decent fight, one introducing us to the powers of the Tomorrow People, ensues in the subway station before John escapes and meets up with Cara. They’ve gotten what they needed and are ready to proceed with the next phase.
Said phase involves meeting up with Stephen, who thinks he’s going crazy like his dad. After an embarrassing moment in class, Cara tells Stephen to meet up with him to prove she’s real. He does and, with John’s help, is teleported to the lair of the Tomorrow People. They are the next stage in evolutionary mutation (sound familiar, folks?) where powers of telekinesis, teleportation, and telepathy slowly awaken in adolescence. Did I mention that Stephen’s absentee father is the leader of this merry band of mutants? Sharing his father’s powers, Cara believes Stephen will be able to connect and locate his dad, kind of like a walking GPS. Unfortunately, Stephen’s not ready to accept this new information and decides to leave the group, wanting to live his life without the added pressure of being a savior.Mark Pellegrino makes bad the new good.
As with all things new and improved, not everyone is on board with this change. The primary opposition to this new stage in evolution is Dr. Price. He leads ULTRA, an organization that uses Tomorrow People to hunt and neutralize their brethren. We are given a quick glance of Price’s ruthlessness (and a major weakness of ‘The Tomorrow People’) when he kills one of those who failed to capture John at the subway station.
As mentioned, there’s nothing truly unique during the first half of the show and, in fact, it almost suffers from information overload. In addition to getting a bit of the good guy/bad guy info sandwiched in, we get Tim, a Jarvis-like AI system described by Russell (the designated one-liner machine) as “like our Hal…only not evil”, Stephen’s rejection of his role as possible savior of his species and his best friend Astrid not believing a word of what he’s selling. After getting expelled for doing his best Street Fighter Hadouken! and Vader force choke, Stephen ends up being captured by Dr. Price and his ULTRA goons. He’s taken to the ULTRA HQ where Dr. Price (played brilliantly by Mark Pellegrino) is about to give him a cocktail to remove his powers for good when Cara and Russell storm the gates, ready to rescue their one hope. Up until this point, it was a fun though standard formulaic ride, though nothing special. Then a funny thing happened… ‘The Tomorrow People’ transitioned from fun to downright unpredictable.
John, whose fear of Price initially prevented him from joining Cara and Russell on the rescue mission, saves his friends who, without their powers (the ULTRA HQ is shielded from such things) are outnumbered. Trussed up in an interrogation room, Stephen does the impossible, using his powers to teleport himself out of confinement. His actions stun both his friends and Dr. Price. On the escape, the quartet comes face to face with the gun toting Price and his goons. John faces his nemesis, and the backstory hinted at is nearly snuffed out when Price pulls the trigger to kill John. But Stephen is having none of it. He arrests time, freezing the ULTRA agents and, more importantly, the bullet, in place before teleporting his friends them back to the lair. As Russell and Stephen celebrate, John admits to Cara that she may have been right, that Stephen could be the one to save them all.
Stephen finishes the last message his father left for him before heading home. It’s here where ‘The Tomorrow People’ truly smacks you in the face. Dr. Price is waiting in Stephen’s living room.John and Cara, de facto leaders of the Tomorrow People
But he’s not threatening. After all, as Stephen’s Uncle Jedikiah, he just wants to reconnect with his family. After showing Stephen a video of his father being blown to bits by a car bomb, Uncle Jed offers Stephen a place with him at ULTRA, one the hero will reject without thought, right?
But when he meets up with Cara, Stephen’s internal conflict is stronger than one would think. He pleads for her to trust him and, the next day in a monologue craftily mirroring the show’s introduction, goes to ULTRA and accepts his uncle’s proposal. It’s a new world for Stephen, one he will carefully have to navigate for the future of his species and, just maybe, the world.
Though it starts off like many pilots—slow with more focus on an information dump—the second half of ‘The Tomorrow People’ excels with a twist we rarely seen in these type of shows. Though Stephen has his own motivations for accepting Jedikiah’s offer, there is some emotional indecision going deeper than him trying to play the spy. If done right, this pull between two very different worlds could pay serious dividends for the show’s future. Couple that with a smart cast that has palpable chemistry and some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen on the small screen, ‘The Tomorrow People’ is a step towards the evolution of how a live-action show about super-powered heroes should look.
- The inability to kill is a very unique Achilles heel for ‘The Tomorrow People’. When I’m not advocating homicide, in a world where there are those looking to kill you, it’s quite hard when one hand’s tied behind your back…even when you can move things with your mind.
- So far, we have the four T’s: Time, Teleportation, Telekinesis, and Telepathy. Will we be introduced to more powers as the show goes on? If they’re smart, this will only be the tip of the iceberg re: homo superior’s abilities.
- The best bad guy is one that, while you can’t get in his head, you can understand his agenda. The pilot, along with Pellegrino’s acting, does a tremendous job selling Dr. Price’s motives. His report on kids stealing millions or tweeting out nuclear launch codes creates a much more empathetic connection to his actions than other vehicles of a similar nature (‘X-Men’, ‘Jumper’).
- The hero of the story joining the ‘bad guys’ so early on is a genius move. One caution I would make is they can’t dissociate Stephen from ULTRA too quickly or the decision comes off as too one-dimensional. Give him some real conflict, making him loyalties more ambiguous as he tries to weigh his responsibilities to his species and protecting others from those of his kind that would do harm.
What did you think of ‘The Tomorrow People’ premiere? Will you watch it next week?