Monday, November 4, 2013

TV Review: The Tomorrow People (Season 1 Episodes 1-4)

I never had much faith or interest in The CW. Beyond it's pretty young people, the network never really had much going for it. So imagine my surprise when a few friends of mine started drawing my attention to The Vampire Dairies as an actually good and worthwhile show. While I can say that TVD is hardly revolutionarily great television, it is crazy entertaining and well worth watching. And then The CW comes out with Arrow and I find a second show I'm willing to watch on the network. My opinion has honestly started to change. Their shows tend to move quickly and burn through plot at a level that most shows with 22 episode sets don't. They tend to have very consistent characterization and motivation that often makes sense. So while their shows aren't quite on the level of Breaking Bad, they tend to be very fun on a basic, visceral level.

So enter The Tomorrow People. Besides it's blatantly horrible title, I'm still not completely sure how I feel about the show. It's certainly got it's CW quota of pretty people who take as much of their clothing off as network cable will allow as often as possible, it's certainly got an interesting story foundation to work with, but I'm still not sold on it fully for a number of reasons.

The Story: The show starts with Robbie Amell's character (Stephen Jameson) discovering that the sleepwalking and schizophrenia he's been being medicated for are actually symptoms of the powers he's been genetically blessed with. He's got a case of Telekinesis, Telepathy, and Teleportation (the three T's they're called). In fitting with the typical genre requirement that your protagonist be special, he also seems to be able to control time which is something none of the others can do. What follows is an introduction to an underground group of people with the same powers (The Tomorrow People) and a shadowy organization run by an uncle he didn't even know he had and dedicated to finding and stopping them (Ultra).

The Pros: Clearly there's the sheer attractiveness factor of the cast. Amell, Peyton List, Luke Mitchell, and Aaron Yoo are all easy on the eyes. The show has a mythology it's clearly thought a lot about before jumping into action. And I think the show does a good job of asking the question what will set them apart from some of the series' that came before with the same premiss (X-Men, Heroes). By the end of the first episode, Stephen has chosen to work with Ultra instead of throwing in with the Tomorrow People. It's a surprising development that occurs partially because the plot requires it to in order to be unique but mostly because Stephen acknowledges that the resources at Ultra can better help him to find his estranged father. Granted the father who abandoned them in order to try and protect them from his own Tomorrow Person status is the least interesting of the show's stories, but as a motivation for its main character, it can be compelling. And the biggest thing the show has going for it is that the graphics are actually a lot better than you'd assume for a network TV show. The supernatural fight and action sequences (of which there are many) all look significantly impressive.

The Cons: I'm not a huge fan of some of the elements of the show's burgeoning mythology. Another way the show is trying to distinguish itself from previous stories of a similar nature is with the twist that the tomorrow people have developed a gene that prohibits them from killing. This serves the purpose of balancing the scales between the homo superior tomorrow people and their homosapien enemies. While the tomorrow people can read minds, move things with their minds, and teleport around like crazy, the humans can still pull the trigger and do so with increasing regularity. I'll admit I'm not expert in evolutionary biology, but as an intelligent and active audience member, it makes no sense that a species would evolve in a capacity that could lead them to being extinct in a few years. I tend to think of evolution as something that increases a species' survival chances not decreases it (from the wiki article on Evolution: "Thus, when members of a population die they are replaced by the progeny of parents that were better adapted to survive and reproduce in the environment in which natural selection took place"). I think the show could have accomplished the same moralistic standing in a different fashion. Namely by making the tomorrow people so extremely human that they have even more of a conscious than regular people do, and using their powers to kill fills them with even more guilt and perhaps even changes them in some drastic fundamental way that they just chose not to do it. Perhaps the guilt over taking lives (and I certainly think there could be some contrived number of times it could happen before reaping consequences) drives them insane to the point where they lose themselves and become completely different people. This might seem like a small issue to some, and to be fair the show seems to be attempting to do something interesting with this story element as of this most recent episode, but it's a pretty big deal to me in the sense that it tends to pull me out of the narrative every time it's brought up.

While this is the biggest issue with the show, it isn't the only one. The episodes tend to be a bit rote and too formulaic for my liking (in his recent review of the episodes to this point, the TV Club's Rowan Kaiser points to this as a good thing while I find it to be a bit boring and predictable), the show lacks a strong central personality that I can latch onto as someone I want to tune in to every week or a character that I can have an abundance of sympathy for, and the show lacks a believably menacing antagonist. Mark Pellegrino's Jedikiah Price (Stephen's uncle and leader of Ultra) simply doesn't work for me. I find him to be irrationally angry and his only motivation seems to be jealousy that he wasn't born as one of the tomorrow people. He does all of the things a bad guy is supposed to do; he makes pointless speeches that are meant to be menacing while indiscriminately killing and taking the powers away from young and innocent tomorrow people, and he possesses the zeal of a fanatic for his "protecting humanity" cause, but something about the character feels empty to me. Every scene he's in (a lot of which feature him scowling and antagonizing his nephew) leave me wondering why no one has ever punched him in the face and put him in his place. This is a question I've never felt the need to ask about Magneto or the Joker. I think the best antagonists generally either have an abundance of charisma to pull people over to their cause, or just a status as scary mother fucker that you don't want to cross (the best cases have some combination of the two, see Tom Riddle for such and example). Jedikiah has neither and I'm not sure if this is due to Pellegrino's performance or to the character's writing, but I generally just roll my eyes when he's on screen and wait for a more viable threat to present itself.

These flaws stop The Tomorrow People from being all around great or highly recommendable television, and yet to be honest I haven't felt a desire to stop watching yet. Granted I'm never in a rush to watch the episodes immediately after they air, but I tend to be up to date with them prior to the new installment. There's a good foundation under this show and it's very easy to see how it could grow into something great if not exceptional. The problems with it aren't totally unfixable and the show itself isn't made unwatchable by their presence. And if nothing else, there's always the good looking and often shirtless people. 

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