Apple TV+’s Foundation Still Has a (Very) Long Term Plan

Foundation showrunner David S. Goyer sticks to his original forecast for how long the show could run. But can he get there?

Episode 1. Cassian Bilton and Lee Pace in "Foundation," premiering July 14, 2023 on Apple TV+.
Photo: Apple TV+

When season 1 of the Apple TV+ series Foundation premiered in September 2021, showrunner David S. Goyer (the Dark Knight trilogy) famously revealed that he pitched Apple on an eight-season, 80-hour saga, walking execs at the company through an overview of how he saw the entire narrative unfolding.

“Apple knew that this was a big undertaking and they wanted to make sure that I was writing towards something,” Goyer told Decider at the time. “They said, ‘Can you take us through all eight [seasons]?’ and over the course of about two hours I did take them through all eight [seasons], so hopefully we’ll get there.”

Flash forward to now, with the premiere of Foundation season 2 happening this week on the Apple streaming platform, and Goyer says that he’s sticking to his original eight-season framework.

“It is still the case,” he tells Den of Geek at a London press day for the show (before the SAG-AFTRA strike). “We’ll see whether or not I have the resolve to actually get there. It’s already taken five years of my life. So the idea of it being another 10 years, at least, is kind of daunting. But if the audience is there, and I’m still having a good time, and the cast are still having a good time, then absolutely.”

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On one hand, there’s no shortage of material to draw from. Foundation, of course, is based on one of the landmark works in all of science fiction, a far future epic in which a mathematician named Hari Seldon predicts the fall of humanity across the galaxy and devises a plan by which the oncoming “dark age” for human civilization can be shortened from an anticipated 30,000 years to a single millennium.

That plan can only be accomplished by the Foundation, a society which Seldon establishes on a distant planet called Terminus to guide humanity after the fall of the galactic Empire. But Seldon also anticipates a series of crises – which can’t necessarily be accounted for through his theory of “psychohistory” – that will challenge both the Foundation and the survival of humanity itself.

An Epic Spanning Space and Time

The Foundation saga began as a series of short stories and novellas penned by sci-fi titan Isaac Asimov during the 1940s. Those shorter pieces were collected into three books – Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation – in the early ‘50s. Asimov later added four more novels – two sequels and two prequels – to the cycle for a total of seven volumes.

The problem for Goyer from the outset – a challenge that defeated numerous filmmakers throughout the years who tried to bring Foundation to the screen – was taking Asimov’s intensely cerebral story, with its vast leaps in time, major events that happen offscreen, and characters that are often more mouthpieces than three-dimensional beings, and add the emotion, action, and characterization necessary to lure in modern audiences.

“What I promised Apple TV+ is that each season would deal with a crisis,” says Goyer about his overall arc for the series, noting that Season 2 pulls material from “two or three stories” in the Asimov books. “[The season 2] crisis is that Empire is going to wage war on Foundation. And the question is whether or not Foundation will survive.”

Season 2 does in fact leap ahead 138 years in the timeline, and as Seldon (portrayed in the series by Jared Harris) has hoped, the Foundation has spread its influence outward from the planet of Terminus to other worlds that see Seldon – who’s dead but still exists as a hologram – as a prophet.

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“In season 1, Foundation was a scrappy little group of a few thousand people on a frigid planet,” explains Goyer. “By now, they’ve spread out to seven or eight planets, and they started to gain a foothold in some of the worlds that Empire has let gone to seed. Hari Seldon predicted that the second crisis would be about a military conflict between Empire and Foundation. And that’s very much what season 2 is about.”

Making Foundation Work for the Screen

Returning to the show alongside Harris are Lou Llobell as Seldon acolyte Gaal Dornick, Leah Harvey as her daughter Salvor Hardin, Laura Birn as Eto Demerzel, the android right hand to Empire, and Lee Pace, Terrence Mann and Cassian Bilton as Brothers Day, Dusk, and Dawn, the three clones of the original Emperor Cleon who are part of an unbroken, centuries-old dynasty that rules the Empire.

“I was a fan of the books,” says Lee Pace, one of many who were skeptical that Foundation could be adapted. “Before I was cast, Bill Bost over at Skydance, said, ‘Hey, we’re making Foundation into a series. What do you think about that?’ And I was like, ‘There’s no way you can do it. It’s too big. It’s too complicated.’ And he says, “Well, David Goyer is figuring out a way.’”

Pace was convinced that a screen version of Foundation was possible after reading Goyer’s initial scripts for the series. “He takes what is so compelling about Asimov’s books, these kind of riddles about humanity and this speculation about what technology will do to us,” says the actor. “This riddle is an interesting thing to contemplate and work out. That’s what [Asimov] does in the books, and that’s what I think we do on the show.”

Goyer has made extensive changes and additions to Asimov’s storyline; for example, Pace’s Brother Day, a popular breakout of the series, isn’t even in the books. He has also altered the genders and significance of other characters to update some of the creakier aspects of Asimov’s work, such as the fact that there are virtually no major female characters in the early parts of the tale. But his goal was – and continues to be – staying faithful to the ideas and themes behind Asimov’s masterpiece.

To that extent, Goyer says that he and his writing team took feedback from the audience seriously as they began work on season 2, which also introduces characters that fans will know from the books, such as Hober Mallow and the powerful, history-changing mutant known only as The Mule.

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“We’d written about half of season 2 before we even finished filming season 1 because of the pandemic, but then we wrote the second half after season 1 did come out,” he reveals. “We’d be fools if we didn’t look at the criticism and see which constructive elements we could take, and which ones we could abandon.”

Goyer insists that every change made to bring Foundation to life onscreen in all its galaxy-spanning glory reflects his long-range plan – paralleling in a way Hari Seldon’s far-reaching scheme of saving humanity – to lay the groundwork for the show to get to that 80-hour benchmark.

“For the show to succeed and go eight seasons, it’s got to appeal to a broad audience,” he says. “Yes, we want to delve into all those heady ideas, but we want to make sure that the audience actually cares about the characters in our story and whether or not they live or die or who they love.”

The first episode of Foundation season 2 premieres Friday, July 14 on Apple TV+.