The Tomorrow People series premiere (a re-conceptualized version of the 1970s British cult classic) introduced a brave new world: thanks to genetic mutation, certain individuals now possess superpowers and are hunted by Ultra, a dastardly shadow group devoted to eradicating the overly-evolved from earth.
But in the able hands of executive producers Phil Klemmer and Greg Berlanti, The Tomorrow People isn't a straight-forward black-and-white, good-versus-evil saga. The show thrives in shades of grey and tonight's episode might actually make audiences sympathetic to Ultra's cause, according to Klemmer and Berlanti! That was just one of the tidbits they teased when ETonline sat down with them at The Television Critics Summer Press Tour to talk all things Tomorrow!
ETonline: Robbie Amell's character, Stephen, ends the first episode by agreeing to work with Ultra. How will he take to life as a double agent?
Phil Klemmer: It would have been a much easier decision if he didn't have this connection to the human world. We all want to join The Lost Boys and live underground and steal the cool stuff. That would be a better personal story, but when it comes to serialized drama, you have to give them an impossible decision and by leaving that foothold in his former life, he's unable to choose one species over another. That's why he's the hero of our show! But the grist for the drama is that he has to now balance obligations to The Tomorrow People, his obligations to Ultra and he's doing both of those things so he can remain a human who goes to school and does the dishes. The fact he has these incredible powers, but still wants to do these very human things is what balances the character out.
Greg Berlanti: We talk a lot about the first season of Alias. Stephen encounters a similar challenge and it's important you don't make it feel too much like inside baseball. You need to make sure people can still come into the show at any point. Following Stephen is the key.
ETonline: Stephen seemed to get a pretty decent grip on his powers in the first episode. Will he struggle more moving forward?
Berlanti: A lot. Over the whole first year. And the unpredictability of them is part of the fun because sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. He doesn't have full mastery of his powers yet, nor does he understand the depth of what he's up against. Stephen can't grasp all the secrets his friends and his foes are hiding. There are lots of twists and turns.
ETonline: Will we see his powers manifest at inopportune times; like if he were to be having sex, would he suddenly teleport out of the bedroom?
Klemmer: [laughs] Sure! Everybody understands that paranormal powers are an analogy for becoming an adult, when you are empowered but the powers you have aren't necessarily the ones you want and they come out in ways that are unpredictable. That's why I think doing a show with people this age is so interesting; when you're 18-years-old you can make really bad decisions and the audience will still root for the character. At 22, when you make a mistake, people are like, "Well, you should know better!" I think that's why we spend so much of our adult lives reflecting on our adolescent lives; that's when we defined ourselves and made, for better or worse, the most important decisions.
ETonline: Most CW shows have heavy romantic storylines, but with The Tomorrow People and Ultra constantly pulling Stephen in two directions, I can't imagine he'll have much time for dating.
Berlanti: It becomes a little more critical as we go along, but the triangle we really establish over these first few episodes is Cara and John and Stephen because they all want the same thing but in different ways. They're all in a different place in their life and they all mean something different to one another. It's an interesting dynamic those three share, but it's very tense. Hopefully we start to see that as a real successful element of the show, and hopefully we'll use it more, but romance was one of the things we pulled out of the pilot a little bit because it didn't work with the energy and pulse of that story. We hope to grow more of it moving forward.
Klemmer: For me, the stakes are about the survival of the species, so it's almost like love during wartime. When there's a downbeat, romance can come to the floor, but when you're worried about survival it's tough.
ETonline: How much of the first season is Stephen's hunt for his father?
Klemmer: That's our mythological story throughout. We're determined to keep that alive throughout the first 13 episodes. Stephen's conviction that his father is out there is important and for him to have his questions answered about why this man left him and the truth behind that abandonment is essential.
ETonline: How many tapes did he leave behind?
Berlanti: Not that many, but in the second episode we introduce this idea that there's a lot more to telepathy than hearing thoughts -- you can actually experience people's memories, so that becomes key to accessing that storyline in the show.
ETonline: Smallville had a "No Tights, No Flight" rule -- do you have any rules for The Tomorrow People?
Klemmer: So much of our show is about biology so the unifying theory is that everything is plausible; we want each of the powers to have a physiological underpinning. It's not like I can teleport and suddenly be in the coliseum. Each of these powers have physical limitations so it's not a grab bag of powers. And there are moments when they may have no powers and can be just as helpless as a human. The parameters are what make the tension.
ETonline: Will Ultra have more tools for counteracting their powers?
Klemmer: Fairly early on we introduce the idea that Ultra has a device for turning Tomorrow People back into humans. And for us that's like an allegory for crushing someone's true spirit. From Ultra's point of view, you're doing this person a favor, but for Stephen, we want him to grapple with the powers he's been given. They've extraordinarily complicated his life and if he could give them back, he could go back to being the happy teenager he once was. The fact he not only keeps them, but maintains an obligation to protect humans, that's his heroic choice as opposed to John who will use these powers to care for his own or as opposed to Jedikiah who does not have powers and will care for his own. Stephen is the hero who tries to straddle these two worlds and, hopefully, in five seasons unite them against a common enemy. Like, space aliens [laughs].
ETonline: How far do you have the show mapped out?
Berlanti: Actually, we mapped backwards with this show. We looked at who Cara was, pre-breakout and who John was, pre-breakout, and those backstories become more instrumental to the forward-telling of the story as we go on. Over the first 6 of 7 episodes, they each have a dedicated flashback episode that serves as almost their own mini-pilot.
ETonline: What can you tease about tonight's episode?
Klemmer: In a way, I think of the first two episodes as a two-hour pilot. They're Star Wars and EmpireStrikes Back. The pilot is about getting The Tomorrow People's side of the story and tonight is about getting Ultra's side. We try to remain even-handed as Stephen explores the choice he made at the end of the pilot, and some consequences he didn't expect.
The Tomorrow People airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.