The CW’s remake of the 1970s series The Tomorrow People follows the tried and true formula of past CW series by mixing pretty people, teen drama, romance and sci-fi/superhuman elements. The formula may be simple, but it’s not always easy to perfect. The Tomorrow People has the potential to be a breakout hit for the network, but there’s a lot of work that has to go into it.
Robbie Amell – cousin of Arrow star Stephen Amell – stars as Stephen Jameson, a teenager with a rough home life and an even tougher life at school. His dad (guest star Jeffrey Pierce) walked out on his family, leaving behind his mother to take care of Stephen and his little brother. Up until a year ago, Stephen was a “normal” teen with “normal” teen issues – that is until he started having strange dreams and waking up in strange places with no recollection of how he got there. To make matters worse, he thinks he’s going crazy now that he’s beginning to hear voices in his head! It’s kind of a lot to deal with.
In a rather humorous scene, Stephen wakes up in the bed of his next door neighbors, much to their horror of the husband and wife. When Stephen’s mother reminds the husband of Stephen’s disorder, he retorts dryly “Yeah? Well how does a kid get through two-dead bolts then lock the door behind him while sleep walking?” Good point. No matter how many doctors they visit, no one can come up with a solution to Stephen’s problems. In the first dose of character development, you learn that Stephen’s mother has taken on extra shifts at the hospital to pay for his expensive treatment. She reassures her son she can handle it and says the entire situation is driving her crazy, but before she can finish her sentence, Stephen cuts her off and says “Crazy? Yeah, it runs in the family.”
Formerly one of the popular kids, Stephen’s strange behavior has led to him being ostracized by his former friends, and the target of the school bully who regularly steals his medication. All of this sets to the tone to show viewers that he’s lonely, desperate for acceptance and answers regarding what’s happening to him.
After trying to ignore the voice in his head, Stephen decides to give in to the voice (again, not normally a smart idea) and follows her instructions. The voice leads him to a subway where he’s grabbed and teleported to a lair. There, Stephen has his first encounter with the Tomorrow People – John (Luke Mitchell), Cara (Peyton List) and Russell (Aaron Yoo). Stephen learns that the Tomorrow People are a result of a genetic mutation that lies dormant through adolescence. They’re an advanced race – homo superior – capable of utilizing special abilities – teleportation, telekinesis and telepathy. Cara tells Stephen he’s on the brink of becoming someone truly extraordinary, foreshadowing a larger purpose for his existence.
The Tomorrow People inform him that they are being hunted down by a paramilitary group of scientists known as Ultra, led by Dr. Jedikiah Price (Mark Pellegrino). Ultra captures Tomorrow People and uses them to hunt others like them.
Stephen thinks his crazy, good-for-nothing father was a deadbeat magician who abandoned his family. It turns out, his father wasn’t crazy, but one of the Tomorrow People. Considered the strongest of them all, they hope that not only will Stephen possess power even greater than his father, but will be able to help rescue him. Obviously overwhelmed by what he’s learned, Stephen rejects his fellow super powered comrades and rejects the life they want for him. Coincidentally, Stephen’s dormant powers begin to finally manifest while he’s conscious (he keeps his tooth brush from falling on the ground). He shares his good news with Astrid, who’s not only skeptical of his story, but thinks he needs to go see another shrink. Later, Stephen is harassed by his bully and uses his powers against him. As he uses his telekinesis to strangle the douche, he passes out (unaware of the little caveat regarding his powers).
Later, Stephen is taken by Jedikiah and Ultra where he learns Ultra’s side of the story. They don’t hunt Tomorrow People down to hurt them, they do it to protect them. Jedikiah basically implies that people would go after the Tomorrow People if they learned they exist out of fear. The tone of the scene reminded me of pilot for the X-Men: The Animated Series, when new mutant Jubilee asks Storm why people hate mutants and Storm replies “People fear what they do not understand.”
There’s a wonderfully directed series of action sequences when Cara, John and Russell break into Ultra HQ to rescue Stephen. Later, it’s Stephen who ends up doing the rescuing when he manifests a power that shocks them all. Stephen is given a lot to think about regarding his future, especially after he finishes watching the video his father left for him. Meanwhile, John, who was skeptical of Stephen’s importance the entire time, begins to come around to the fact that he Stephen may in-fact be their savior.
There’s a surprising twist in the final 10 minutes that will have you questioning what you were told all-throughout the episode. I won’t reveal what it is, but it definitely helps set the tone of the series going forward. Where the show goes from that point could take it in a few different directions, something I’ll address in a later column.
The Tomorrow People is an action-packed rollercoaster of excitement that will definitely please fans of sci-fi and superhero dramas. It’s part X-Men, part Smallville, part The 4400 with an Alias twist. There’s also something for those looking for romance, hot guys and beautiful women as well. Robbie Amell shines as Stephen, even if the writing doesn’t always support his portrayal. He makes you feel for Stephen and root for him. He plays the tortured hero/loving son role to perfection. It’ll be interesting to see how they further develop the character as the season progresses.
There’s definite sparks between Amell and List and I’m sure fans will be shipping their characters before the episode is over. The obligatory CW love-triangle is bound to happen between Stephen, Cara and John, with Stephen coming out the bad guy if it’s not handled properly.
One of the weaknesses throughout the episode was the lack of consistent character development. I understand there’s only one hour (the episode runs 44:01 without commercials) to piece together a pilot and there’s a lot happening throughout, but it still would have been nice to see more of it. For instance, why is Stephen against the Tomorrow People in one scene, but during his capture he’s an ardent defender? Why is John so reluctant to believe Stephen is “the one” who can save them all? The development is strongest however, during the final 10 minutes. It’s a great scene that does enough to start the descent into Stephen’s backstory.
The series needs to avoid the “freak of the weak” trope that seems to befall most action-series on The CW. Yes, episodic television is easier to follow, but if the network wants people to become invested, they have to strike a happy medium. Maybe short-term story arcs leading to a bigger, umbrella stories is what’s needed. No one’s going to care about the enemy of the week, but viewers will care if there’s a season villain making the lives of our heroes a living hell.
Pairing The Tomorrow People with Arrow is smart, and The CW is already capitalizing on it by branding Wednesdays, “Amellsdays”. Hopefully audiences respond to The Tomorrow People as they did last season with Arrow, bringing yet another hit to the network. Sci-fi has its place on television, and if the series is a success, it could lead to the development of more projects like it.
The Tomorrow People stars Robbie Amell (“Revenge”) as Stephen, Luke Mitchell (“H20: Just Add Water”) as John, Peyton List (“As the World Turns,” “Mad Men,” “90210”) as Cara, Aaron Yoo (“Disturbia,” “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) as Russell, Mark Pellegrino (“Lost,” “Supernatural”) as Dr. Jedikiah Price, and Madeleine Mantock (“All You Need is Kill”) as Astrid. Greg Berlanti (“Arrow,” “Green Lantern”), Julie Plec (“The Vampire Diaries,” “Kyle XY”), Phil Klemmer (“Political Animals,” “Chuck”) and Danny Cannon (“Nikita,” “CSI: NY”) are executive producers.