This review contains spoilers.
From the very opening voice-over, The Tomorrow People is determined to embody every possible cliché of the ‘teenager with super powers’ genre. Stephen Jameson (Robbie Amell) is a troubled kid from a broken home. His mother is a hard-working nurse (I think) who has taken on extra work to get Stephen the help he needs dealing with A) his father running out on the family when he was a kid and B) the fact that he might be psychotic. Stephen hears a female voice in his head, wakes up in strange places despite having strapped himself to the bed, and is generally having a bad time with life as a high school student.
As it turns out, there’s something different about this troubled young white male. The voice in his head is Cara (Peyton List), and she’s a member of an organization known as the Tomorrow People. Alongside mentor/future love triangle partner John (Luke Mitchell), Cara is trying to rescue Stephen by… well, kidnapping him in the dead of night, luring him to an abandoned subway station turned high-tech Ninja Turtles lair complete with faux-JARVIS talking artificial intelligence computer system, and teaching him some sub-Matrix martial arts skills.
Jameson will need all the kickfighting he can learn, because there’s a group of people who are out to get him. Well, not just him specifically, just Homo Superior in general. The other end of the spectrum from the Tomorrow People, Ultra (possibly ULTRA) is everything pop culture has taught young people to hate. A sneering white man in a suit named Jedikiah Price (Mark Pellegrino) is bent on rounding up all the “breakouts” of super-powered folks for study, experimentation, and imprisonment in a pretty neat little interrogation room/Faraday cage, which was one of the smarter ideas in the pilot episode.
If that’s not diverse enough for you, the show also manages to cram in a black female best friend named Astrid (Madeleine Mantock), another helpful Tomorrow Person (Person of Tomorrow?) named Russell (Aaron Yoo, in one of the best performances of the night), and a generic Bieber-mopped Flash Thompson bully who steals the crazy pills from Stephen’s pocket and who also happens to be the first person to take a beating at the hands of Stephen’s new power.
The Tomorrow People as a show is an interesting collection of talent. Phil Klemmer, who wrote the pilot episode and who is one of the executive producers, is one of the minds behind NBC’s lamented geek show Chuck. Julie Plec is similarly one of the driving forces behind the CW’s big hit The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off The Originals, as well as Kyle XY. Greg Berlanti is one of the writers behind Green Lantern, as well as the CW’s beloved superhero story Arrow. The show itself is basically taken from the ITV series from the mid-70s, and it uses a lot of the same terms, character names, and the general set-up, though it is clever enough to make jokes about the Tomorrow People name, as well as wink at the pseudo-scientific Homo Superior moniker. There’s a lot of power behind the show, but for whatever reason, it never connects.
The show, like its cast, feels pretty bland. There are fight scenes breaking out left and right, but it feels rote. The teleportation special effects look okay, barring one egregious misuse of bullet time, but the execution reminds me entirely too much of a leather-jacketed Goku throwing around kamehamehas in some random live-action episode of Dragon Ball Z. There’s some cleverness in the way the show constructs its fight scenes and the way it uses teleportation as a violence delivery method, but for the most part the fighting is merely competent, rather than cool.
Competent rather than cool also describes the pilot’s direction, courtesy of Danny Cannon. (I think we can all forgive Cannon for what he did to Judge Dredd back in 1993.) Cannon’s worked on a lot of television shows, CSI and Nikita, and it shows in the way he handles the weight of the director’s chair. It’s solid, not great. There’s nothing really flashy happening with the camera, but it’s not jarringly bad, either. It feels like what it is, a show on the CW about pretty people in their late twenties pretending to be teenagers that occasionally engage in subway brawls or ooze blue warbly CGI from their hands.
I’m hoping that, as the series goes on, the quality of the show will improve. I’d like to see it find its feet, and I’d like to see the show build on its better ideas, but right now The Tomorrow People is just a huge pile of clichés glued together with weepy string music and/or generic action techno.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan isn’t quite willing to give up on The Tomorrow People, but the first episode doesn’t give him much in the way of fond feelings for the US revival of the British classic. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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