Friday, October 11, 2013

The Tomorrow People, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Opening with a voice over – brave, that normally means pretty clumsy exposition to me. Yes, my cynical hat is on.

Exposition guy is Stephen Jameson and he’s taking a pill for breakfast. Fad diets, I never trust them. At school apparently all his friends are now ex-friends, at home his mother is asleep or passed out on the sofa. And the worst part of his day is getting into the bondage gear attached to his bed before he goes to bed. Hey, it’s looking up!

Moving on to a hospital where a guy, John steals an ID card. A new voice over (this time a woman on a laptop talking to him from a distance) guides him through his mission to steal a file. He still trips an alarm though, as the woman, Cara, helpfully notes. She tries to get him out to avoid the guard and he ignores her, of course. He finds the file and steals it, seconds ahead of the guard. He runs out onto the roof, closely follows… and then teleports to the ground. Leaving the guard rather stunned and me questioning why he needed to steal a keycard anyway.

Except 3 more people teleport in behind him, following him. 2 of them corner him on the subway and we have a quick, nifty fight scene where they take it in turns being beaten up by him. He gets on the train and guy number three teleports in to beat him up. This guy’s a lot better but then John starts teleporting all around him, constantly attacking from the back and dodging away. He teleports out again to join Cara.

Who promptly lectures him about using his powers in the open, though he says his attackers were “Ultra Agents” (ultra agents? Really? I guess we’re embracing the cheese with this one. Though how I’m going to get through an entire season with the big bad guys being called “ultra agents” I do not know).

The file they stole was on Stephen Jameson and it apparently shocks John.

Stephen wakes up with someone else in his head this time, telling him to wake up and how it’s nice to finally know his name. More pressingly he’s not in his own bed any more. Even more pressingly, the couple who own this bed ARE still in it and are quite shocked to see a strange man squeezed in between them. He’s marched back to his home where his mother has to explain that he sleep walks (sounding like it wasn’t the first time). His brother, Luca, does not help things. His mother’s not happy but what can Stephen do? His assurance that it won’t happen again is empty – but it’s not like he can do more, there’s an extra problem that his doctor’s appointments are expensive and most the specialists won’t take their insurance and they’re not the richest of people. In response, Stephen fiddles with his pills.

He goes to school and confides in his friend Astrid who apparently doesn’t hate him and she smacks him with a few reality checks when he gets too whiney.  On to biology class to hear a lecture on genetics (foreshadowing, hooooo!) and Stephen hears voices again, he tries to shut it out and ends up shouting aloud in class, trying to drown out the voice in his head telling him he’s not crazy and he’s in danger. He runs from the class to head to the nurse.

And in the corridor he runs into someone apparently in the habit of stealing his pills (his messing with them that morning apparently replaced his pills with laxative so he’s in for some fun). Having established that his school life sucks, we fast forward to him at home, putting a meal on the table to reinforce that his mother works long shifts. He also has a memory of his dad showing him magic tricks (or it could be another hallucination. Really writers, if you’ve established a character may be having hallucinations you need to be clearer about your flashbacks). And that night the voice in his head asks him to meet her at a subway station so she can prove she’s actually real.

He goes and she guides him onto a train. It sets off – and John teleports in beside him, grabs his shoulder and teleports them both out to join Cara, the woman talking in his head. They lead him to a nifty looking underground lair with a few people hanging round the edges.

Exposition time! They’re Tomorrow People (at least the acknowledge that the name is kind of silly) and they have three powers – Telekinesis, Teleportation and Telepathy (John and Cara have a moment of surprise that he doesn’t believe them – the teleporting is normally quite convincing but Stephen thinks he’s dreaming). They inform him of the obvious – he’s sleep teleporting and John uses Telekinesis to lift Stephen to be a little extra convincing. Stephen is still voting for a psychotic break but Cara tells him she knows exactly how he feels – all year, all the time he spent talking to his therapist? She was there, in his mind and she has felt all of his emotions.

I’m sorry, is that supposed to be reassuring? Really? Wow, that is so beyond invasive I don’t even have words for it. Why would anyone be reassured by the knowledge they’ve been intimately stalked for a year?

There are 15 Tomorrow People in the base and possibly hundreds out there – insert generic genetic mutation that is latent and sometimes expresses in adolescence back story here – complete with guy dropping in to call them Homo Superior rather than Homo Sapiens (wasn’t this cribbed directly from X-Men?). Superior guy is Russel and he’s also a thief. Onwards to see some combat training and some more exposition on Ultra (no, I’m sorry there’s no way I will ever take that name seriously) who are hunting them.

Apparently the government has always known about them so they set up a containment programme to neutralise them, using captured Tomorrow People as Agents (oh, I remember this from Mutant X. And Alphas).

To Ultra headquarters where boss man Dr. Price has a debrief with the agent who failed to capture John. He’s quite accepting of that – but the homeless man who witnessed the entire conflict? That he isn’t happy about. We get a brief infodump that Tomorrow People powers don’t work in Ultra headquarters and evil doctor bloke puts a gun down on the desk, strong implication is he’s going to kill the failed agent.  The agent grabs the gun and Price tells him to kill him, survival of the fittest, prove you’re the superior species (the doc seems to have an issue with the Tomorrow People being superior to him)

But the agent can’t pull the trigger. As he points the gun at Price he hears a terrible, piercing scream in his head and eventually drops the gun in pain. Apparently the Tomorrow People cannot kill. Dr. Price then kills the agent.

Back to the underground lair and we learn their leader is missing, the strongest of them all, who was looking for a safe space for them. And they need Stephen to help find him – if he has inherited those powers. Yes Freudian slip, big uber powerful leader is Stephen’s absent father who ran out on them when Stephen was 8 and Stephen now has a whole load of daddy issues and resentment. Cara and John  tell him that daddy had to leave to keep him safe but Stephen doesn’t believe it.

To prove it they take him to their computer room to talk to their handy AI computer, TIM (hi Cerebro-replacement. Why would they even have an advanced AI? None of their powers include genius or advanced technical wizardry!). They play a message from his father with a generic “I had hoped that keeping you ignorant of everything would keep you safe” message. Alas, the Daddy Issues are strong with this one, he refuses to listen, declares he’s nothing like his dad and demands to leave.

Back home and everything’s normal – except he’s now moving his toothbrush with telekinesis. To school and Astrid  who promptly thinks she’s off his meds (which he is). he tries to prove it to her and fails dismally to which she very politely and nicely suggests he may want to talk to his psychiatrist. That suggestion is not well received. Astrid refuses to take his lashing out at her and tells him everyone didn’t leave, he pushed everyone away – and he’s doing the same to her. She leaves.

In the corridors he’s attacked by the guy who had an unfortunate laxative experience from taking his pills – and now his powers kick in and he pushes him back with telekinesis then follows up with a Darth Vader neck throttle – until the noise in his head and pain puts him down. No murdering for the Tomorrow People!

Brief Ultra interlude, research of psychiatrists has identified Stephen to Dr. Price

Bully gets taken to the hospital and the school authorities call his mother who tells Stephen he may be in trouble for selling prescription drugs, though he protests. She talks about how hard it is and how she can’t go through with Stephen what she went through with his father; prompting him to apologise again… but what for?

Walking home, Stephen is followed and chased by big menacing not-even-slightly-subtle black cars. He reaches out telepathically to Cara to let her know what’s happening and then runs. She arrives just in time to see Price and goon kidnap Stephen.

Cara beats herself up about losing Stephen and shouts at the computer. John thinks she’s getting a bit too close to Stephen since she wants to get him out and exposing themselves to Ultra is against the rules. Russel sides with Cara as Stephen is their only hope to find his dad and actually have a home (there’s an implication that John may resent Stephen because it may result in a new leader). John walks out, refusing to be caught “again”.

Stephen is all tied up in Ultra where Dr. Price tries to convince him that he’s one of the good guys really and John was totally lying (this would be a much easier sell if Stephen weren’t tied to a chair, in a teleportation proof cell and hadn’t just been kidnapped. I’m just saying). Dr. Price is convinced he needs to control them to save the world and presents a list of Tomorrow People teenagers who have caused some rather large amounts of chaos using their powers.

At the front door of Ultra, Russel and Cara launch their attack while, in the cell, Dr. Price plans to inject Stephen with a magic drug that will “fix” his DNA, though Stephen has now decided there’s nothing wrong with him. Dr. price drops another bombshell – Stephen’s dad is dead. He almost injects Stephen and stops when told there’s a breach. Now, see, if I were Dr. Price I’d inject him THEN go hunting for the intruders. Or just kill him. This is why I would make either a very boring or very effective super villain.

Russel and Cara discover that their powers don’t actually work in Ultra – but they still have their martial arts training and the enemy agent’s powers don’t work either. Doesn’t anyone in this government agency have weapons? In America?

We have a few more close combat scenes (still no weapons. Not even a taser? Security in a top secret government building is completely unarmed? Really?) and to everyone’s resounding shock (truly I am shocked. It was not predictable at all. Oops, let me wipe that sarcasm off the screen) John also joins them despite his previous insistence that there’s no way he’d come with them.

In his cell, super-special Tomorrow Person Stephen, uses his super-special-totally-untrained-can’t-even-lift-a-basketball-consciously-yet powers to teleport out of the teleport proof room. He meets the others and they run as a group chased by a crowd of guards to be finally stopped by Dr. Price, carrying the building’s only firearm.

Aha, your superior abilities are no match for our puny weapons!

In case you missed it earlier, it’s apparent that Dr. Price and John have history (I’m going to lay odds on John being Dr. Price’s son). Price shoots John – and Stephen stops the bullet with his shouldn’t-work-but-he’s-special telekinesis. Everyone gives there best “zomg that’s impossible” shock face especially since he doesn’t just hold the bullet he actually freezes time. The bullet stops in space and all the Ultra guys are frozen. He teleports all 4 of them out and the bullet returns to its former speed and shatters the window behind them. Now the bad guys get to practice their “zomg that’s impossible” shock faces and look around comicly in case the 4 of them are clinging Spider-man like to the ceiling.

Back to the hideout with Russel fawning over Stephen because, in his first couple of days of having powers he knows nothing about and can barely control he’s not only mastered them but discovered ALL NEW SPECIAL POWERS!

Elsewhere John admits to Cara that Stephen is special but wonders if he can find his father (yes, he has just developed a super-special father-finding-GPS power! He just needs to plug it into the futuristic super-GI you managed to steal from a neighbouring sci-fi show to make it work). Oh and Cara and John are a couple which means we have love triangles to look forward to because Stephen and Cara are totally going to happen.

Stephen goes to see Tim the super computer and the AI plays the rest of his father’s message (the AI predicted this because it’s super-duper advanced beyond anything we have today and installed in an abandoned subway because… reasons. I call aliens).  The message tells him to trust his heart. Well THAT was useful.

Stephen goes home with John giving him some more “you’re the Chosen One” lines. And at home he has a visitor – Dr. Jedikiah Price, his father’s brother. Stephen’s uncle. “Uncle Jed” pretends they haven’t met before. Stephen decides to take a moment alone with Uncle Jed rather than using his telekinesis to prove to his mother he’s sane and kicking Jed out.

It turns out that Dr. Price may actually be his uncle and thinks that this will turn into an excellent sales pitch from the man who just kidnapped him and shot at him. Stephen isn’t exactly eager – and I’m bemused that Price would even think it’s possible. Dr. Price threatens his family and then shows footage of his dad (kind of blurry) getting into a car and it exploding (is that supposed to be convincing?) proving him to be both dead and nefarious for stealing Price’s research. He follows it up with a threat against his brother.

Stephen meets with Cara, angry they didn’t tell him Jedikiah was his uncle. Stephen questions whether everyone being Ultra is really a bad thing, to have all their powers stripped and be human – Cara is not a big fan of this plan and it’s not like Jedikiah has shown his best intentions anyway. Stephen asks her to trust him and says there’s only one way for him to find out about his dad. Oh dear gods preserve me.

We end with him pouring out his pills and making up with Astrid. Calling the Tomorrow People his friends. And calling Ultra his work place and Dr. Price his boss.

So… the Tomorrow People.

I’ve watched X-Men. I’ve watched Mutant X. I’ve watched Alphas. I’ve watched Heroes

All very similar shows with a very similar premise – so they all have to bring in something unique to set them apart and not give me déjà vu watching them. Why should I watch Tomorrow People and not just watch one of these others?

And I don’t think Tomorrow People really gave me a reason. The tropes – even some of the terms (homo superior?) are nothing new. In fact, some of the tropes seem transferred across without ANY explanation for them in this show – they’re here because the other shows have them (the secret base, the super computer that makes no sense at all).

The protagonist is bland and clichéd. Lots of angst, lots of daddy issues to drive him, lots of painfully predictable reactions and emotional moments that, in turn, were resolved in a few scenes. Of course he denies his destiny but is then pulled in anyway. He’s one soggy lady chucking Excalibur at him away from a full set of Chosen One clichés and on top of that throw in him completely mastering his abilities overnight and then developing the super special powers of specialness  .

All I can think as an excuse is that maybe the show is staying very close to the original 1970s version when all these tropes weren’t so tried. This show does not step outside the box. In fact it's so comfy in the box that the box has started charging it rent and it's already redecorated. 

He narrative is pretty dull too. The world and enemies are the same tropes as in the other shows I mentioned. The way the plot advanced, the kidnap, the rescue, John joining belatedly late, Stephen’s super-duper powers kicking in – all of it was painfully predictable (except the ridiculous lack of guns because REALLY?)

The only halfway original elements were his mental illness parallels, now banished and handled poorly anyway, and him acting as a double agent. Not that that storyline is original, it’s just odd that it’s happening so soon into the series – and it’s odd because it makes little, to no actual narrative sense. The enforced pacifism thing is interesting – but it’s a quirk and it’s not like most superheroes actually kill people anyway because that destroys their super-hero thing.

Oh and they're going to high school - but I have no idea what this remotely adds to the plot.

I now predict that a) he will keep everything secret from his mother for REASONS and maybe from Astrid. B) Love triangle between him, Cora and John and c) he will spawn random super powers when narratively convenient.

I normally wait to comment on inclusion – but Cara’s a love interest this is pretty clear and both Astrid and Russell feel like add-ons doomed to be random tokens in the background.