The idea of exploring the legacy of Krypton in a television series is a fascinating one. Not least of all because every Superman origin film to date has featured thrilling prologues set in a fantastic sci-fi society—utopian in Superman: The Movie and feudal and flawed in Man of Steel. However, there is always the challenge of how do you make viewers invest in characters, even if it’s about Kal-El’s great-grandfather named Seyg-El, when the planet all goes boom in a few centuries?
Well what if it didn’t? Or more precisely, what if there is a chance Superman was never born? That appears to be the time traveling hook at the heart of Krypton, which the producers and stars told Den of Geek a little bit about before the Krypton panel at San Diego Comic-Con.
“I will say that the story begins with a conspiracy on Earth in 2017 where—I can’t tell you who, but they’re familiar—launches a plot to prevent Earth’s greatest hero, Superman, from ever being born,” Krypton star Cameron Cuffe tells me. Clearly excited about being at SDCC and finally getting to reveal the basics of his new show, the vaguely Clark Kent-esque actor sees this tale as a sci-fi epic unlike anything audiences might be expecting.
He continues, “So while there are political intrigues and stakes on Krypton that exist 200 years ago, the ramifications of every choice Seyg makes will affect the legacy of Superman directly here in the present day. So there’s a lot going on here in the show. So it’s an epic high-concept sci-fi story that branches time and space.”
While speaking with Krypton showrunner and executive producer, Damian Kindler, he likened the choice to how time travel was used to reinvent the Star Trek timeline with J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot.
“In the pilot episode, we will immediately change everything you think you know about the end of the story,” Kindler says. “It’s very important to us to make the stakes of Krypton speak directly to the present, otherwise why are we telling it? I think, by the way, a good corollary is what J.J. did with Trek. In the first 10 minutes, this just wipes it all clean. We’re in it for a similar, high impact thing from the get-go. This is not just sort of a weak ass prequel. It is about here and now, it is about rewriting the fate of Krypton, rewriting the fate of Superman.”
Part of that is changing up the traditionally expected tone. While the 10-episode season will draw heavily from the Superman comic book story “The Battle of Kandor City,” the aesthetic of the production is carving its own path, one in which Krypton is a dystopia suffering under a theocracy. And it is in this setting the House of El will take a fall, likely due to time traveling shenanigans.
Says Kindler, “It’s definitely less of that blue sky look, the Berlanti Verse. It has its own voice and tone. We are seeking our own tone, which is a bit more cable, skews a bit more adult.”
When I ask executive producer Cameron Welsh about the tone of the show, and whether Krypton will be more like Richard Donner’s vision of a crystalized utopia in 1978, or a darker dystopic setting worthy of George Orwell, he replies, “It’s a little bit of both. Part of the story we’re telling is our hero Seyg-El, who is Superman’s grandfather, he’s tasked with the job of ushering in that golden age of Krypton that everyone is more familiar with, sort of the Jor-El generation.”
In this context, the El family will be one of revolution.
Says Welsh, “So there’s a sense of that utopia in the kind of gilded area, but down below it’s not. And I think Seyg’s job is to almost lead a revolution that will usher in that golden age. Because it’s from that golden age that the kind of bloodline that eventually becomes Superman, is born out of. So when we start the show, the political landscape of Krypton is more like a totalitarianism, it’s a fundamentalist theocracy. If Kal-El’s rocket ship left from that world, we would have a very different Superman to the one we have.”
Indeed, things appear to be imminently in decline due to time travel for the House of El since Cuffe confirmed for us that his character will be forced to fight his way up from the bottom.
“Very early on in the story, his family is shamed and goes from the very top of its own society right down to the bottom,” Cuffe says. “So he’s living rough and just trying to make ends meet, and these lofty things like truth and justice just seem very, very far away. So he’s a very, very different person. And the story is about how he grows into that role.”
Families will rise and fall, and one man may just soar in the political sense, when Krypton premieres on Syfy this fall.
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