Wednesday night is superhero night on the CW, apparently. In addition to the return of "Arrow," there's the premiere of the network's latest show about good-looking young people with special powers, "The Tomorrow People."
The series is a remake of the beloved British children's science fiction series that originally aired from 1973 to 1979 with reboots in England in 1992 and 2001. This is the first American version of the series, about people "breaking out" with newfound superpowers.
"Vampire Diaries" co-creator Julie Plec and "Arrow" executive producer Greg Berlanti teamed with writer Phil Klemmer for the series, which happens to star "Arrow" star Stephen Amell's cousin, Robbie. (It's one big family at the CW, apparently.)
Klemmer took a few minutes to discuss the show and his views on superpowers.
Were you familiar with "The Tomorrow People's" long history when you first got involved?
I was not. I was really raised like an Amish child, so I missed a lot of pop culture until I left the home. So yeah, I just discovered it on YouTube. But Greg Berlanti and Julie Plec had been babysat by television when they were kids and both had fallen in love with the show. I got it secondhand and came to it as an adult.
Did you watch all the existing episodes?
I did sit down and watch it. It's not a normal adaptation where you just translate it because there is so much time – 40 years – has elapsed. And the original was intended for a much younger audience. And their version of sci-fi has an element of kitsch to it that I knew we wouldn't be able to maintain. So for me it was important to try to make a contemporary audience feel the way kids felt in the '70s, but age it up. The world has become a darker and more complicated place. I wanted to imbue the series with contemporary issues. The first toehold I got was, imagine a kid "breaking out." And your kid discovering he has paranormal powers, how that could be confused with mental illness or some sort of emotional or psychiatric trauma. A lot of people in adolescence feel like they might belong on some sort of spectrum. For me, to tell a story for adolescents and people who were once adolescents, that experience of feeling like you don't belong or feel weak, there's some silver lining that you actually belong to this other group. These things that you thought made you a freak, actually make you powerful.
This series has some similarities to the X-Men. How do you handle that similarity?
It was pretty easy for me because I wasn't raised on that. I wasn't weened on comic books. So for me, I was a naïve artist when it came to doing a story about young people with superpowers. For me, "Tomorrow People" has been a coming-of-age story first. When we talk about stories it's never about coming up with the sci-fi set piece and then overlaying the character story. It's always the opposite. The way we use powers is, it's an action show and it's very exciting, but it's all an allegory for adolescence. I think that's something that "X-Men" or another movie has been able to do because we get to spend so much time with our characters. We're like a superhero movie where you get to live in the first act for an entire season. For me, that's the best part. You get the powers, but you haven't mastered the powers. Because once a superhero gets too super, they get boring to me. The thing that television gets to do is slow down someone's journey and make it incremental. There are times when you're moving backward and you feel Stephen's frustration. And we open up this brave new world to him in the pilot, but it's scary and it's dark and it's overwhelming. And we get to live there for a long time. It will be a lot of years before he emerges as a fully formed hero. For me, that's more interesting than someone like Superman. I can't relate to Superman. I can relate to a troubled teenager.
Do you have a philosphy as far as when to use the powers in your story and when not to use the powers?
For me, the one thing I felt hadn't been done was digging deep into the evolutionary biology. I think there's so much freaky legitimate science out there that I think it's a hair's breadth away from being believable that people can communicate telepathically. And so everything that's done on our show, I at least wanted to give it the patina of reality. Anytime someone uses their powers, whether it's telekinesis or teleportation or telepathy, it always has the element of physicality to it. So distance matters, how far you teleport matters, the weight of the object you move matters. When you teleport, you emerge tired, as if you ran there. Also because Stephen's a teenager, he has these new powers, but they come out in weird ways. He's not able to control them. That's what imbues him with humanity.