Review: The Tomorrow People 1×1 (US: The CW; UK: E4)

A marginal improvement on the original

In the US: Wednesdays, 9pm/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4

As we all know, US TV is prone to remaking other countries’ TV shows, but if you’d asked me a year what the most likely remake of a UK TV show would be this season, never in my wildest dreams would I have suggested 1970s sci-fi gay metaphor and excuse for borderline S&M paedophilia The Tomorrow People. Yet here it is. Do they have no shame?

Amazingly, although I tend to prefer remakes that are faithful to the original, in this case, the lack of fidelity is an improvement. The original show was dreadful. Just dreadful. Although possessed of one of the best and most disturbing title sequences in TV history, it had numerous faults, most of which I’ve spelt out over here. Or you could watch this brief clip, which should show you what you’ve been missing all these years.

Yet here, although we don’t have something that’s much above “not bad”, we don’t have something outrageously terrible. What we do have is, however, is also a bit more mundane. Following on from the original, the story posits that all over the world, a new race of human beings called Homo Superior or The Tomorrow People is ‘comingbreaking out’. Able to teleport, read minds and move objects with their thoughts, unlike the nasty new humans of Prey, these genetic mutations can’t kill and just want to be left alone to lead normal lives like anyone else.

Unlike the 1970s Tomorrow People, there are some complete TP spanners ruining for it everyone by breaking into bank vaults and the like, so a government scientist called Jedekiah who definitely isn’t a fierce, shapechanging, alien robot is out to stop these new Tomorrow People and give them genetic therapy to make them normal ‘saps’ (Home Sapiens) – assuming he can’t get them to join his team of black-suited TPs.

With new and super-powerful mutation Stephen (Robbie Amell – cousin of Arrow‘s Stephen Amell) just breaking out and teleporting into people’s bedrooms while he’s asleep, both sides in the war are looking to recruit. Which side will he join? Well, that would be telling, so maybe you’ll just have to read my mind to find out. Or watch it.

Here’s a trailer. Spoilers after the jump.

They are the next evolutionary leap of mankind, a generation of humans born with paranormal abilities — the Tomorrow People. Stephen Jameson stands at the crossroads between the world we know and the shifting world of the future. Up until a year ago, Stephen was a “normal” teenager — until he began hearing voices and teleporting in his sleep, never knowing where he might wake up. Now, Stephen’s issues have gone far beyond the usual teenage angst, and he is beginning to question his sanity.

In desperation, Stephen decides to listen to one of the voices in his head, and it leads him to his first encounter with the Tomorrow People — John, Cara and Russell — a genetically advanced race with the abilities of telekinesis, teleportation and telepathic communication. The Tomorrow People are being hunted down by a paramilitary group of scientists known as Ultra. Led by Dr. Jedikiah Price, Ultra sees the Tomorrow People as a very real existential threat from a rival species, and the outcast group has been forced to hide out in an abandoned subway station just beneath the surface of the human world.

Trading in secrets, Jedikiah offers Stephen the chance for a normal life with his family and best friend, Astrid, if he will help in the struggle to isolate and eradicate the Tomorrow People. On the other hand, Cara, John and Russell offer Stephen a different type of family and a home where he truly belongs. Unwilling to turn his back on humanity or the world of the Tomorrow People, Stephen sets out on his own path — a journey that could take him into the shadowy past to uncover the truth about his father’s mysterious disappearance, or into an unknown future with THE TOMORROW PEOPLE.

The series stars Robbie Amell (“Revenge”) as Stephen, Luke Mitchell (“H20: Just Add Water”) as John, Peyton List (“Mad Men”) as Cara, Aaron Yoo (“Disturbia,” “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) as Russell, Mark Pellegrino (“Lost,” “Supernatural”) as Dr. Jedikiah Price, and Madeleine Mantock (upcoming “All You Need is Kill”) as Astrid.

THE TOMORROW PEOPLE is from Bonanza Production Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions, FremantleMedia, Warner Bros. Television and CBS Television Studios, with executive producers Greg Berlanti (“Arrow,” “Green Lantern”), Julie Plec (“The Vampire Diaries,” “Kyle XY”) and Phil Klemmer (“Political Animals,” “Chuck”), and co-executive producer Melissa Kellner Berman (“Arrow”). Danny Cannon (“Nikita,” the “CSI” series) directed and served as executive producer on the pilot, which was written by Klemmer.

Is it any good?
It’s a pretty standard teen sci-fi action show that loves special effects and pretty people almost equally. But it’s better than most.

Essentially, this is the Robbie Amell show, since everything focuses on him, rather than the leader of the TP in the original, John. We get to see everything from his point of view, discover the TP’s world, including its artificial intelligence computer (voiced by Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens’ but not named as TIM yet on-screen), and follow him as he learns about his powers. There’s a Vampire Diaries-like love triangle with sole important female TP Kara in Stephen’s head but in John’s bed – which will she choose – but virtually everything to do with Kara is in response to Stephen, rather than she having any real character in her own right. He’s also got a special female sap friend to talk to about his problems.

But try as the producers might, making Stephen interesting is a difficult task. Although we should give them all a little latitude because of their ages, no one here has anything by way of presence and Stephen, even with his dad issues and medication, is still pretty bland. The sole charismatic exception among the main cast is Mark Pellegrino (Lost, Supernatural, Being Human), who’s not going for subtle here. There’s an interesting twist in his relationship with the other characters, one that gets even more interesting at the end, but I won’t spoil it for you.

Beyond these pretty people and the concept (which is fascinatingly scientific for an American show, willing and able to discuss evolutionary pressures and gene changes), the show mainly relies on lots of running around, special effects and hand-to-hand combat to really lift the story, all of which it does with equally scientific efficiency, but little soul. It does also take advantage of the fact – casting aside – that these are still supposed to be teenagers attending High School and living with their parents, with Sarah Clarke (24, The Booth At The End) doing a good ‘worried my son is schizophrenic’ turn as Stephen’s mother. But so far, she’s the only parent, while all the other TP kids live underground in the least convince ‘street’ hideaway since the original Beauty and the Beast. Let’s see if everyone’s family-less or not, since this is a far more family-obsessed show than the original.

As I said, there are a couple of twists that make this better than the standard goodies v baddies, kids v adults thing you might have expected. It’s also a pretty well oiled, smooth bit of work, with no downright bad bits to it. But it still lacks any real fire in its belly, innovation or true depth.

Maybe it’ll work for you, maybe it won’t. Either way, it’ll be better than this:



  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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