Sunday, February 16, 2014

TV: When Conspiracy Bores

Sometimes, you see a scary movie and bolt upright in your seat, maybe even yelp or scream in the theater. Other times, you see one and you sit there balancing your checkbook in your head, wondering if you turned off the stove before you left the house or did you remember to set up that bill on auto-pay?


In other words, sometimes the scary works and sometimes it doesn't.

That's a lesson The CW is slowly learning this season.

The Originals is a Vampire Diaries spin off and most people grasped that last year when an episode of the hit show was actually a backdoor pilot for The Originals.

Which brings us to Tomorrow People.

It's not just a Ziggy Marley song.

No, it's also an hour long program, The Tomorrow People, from Arrow show runner Greg Berlanti.  Stephen Amell turned that show into a hit with his acting and, yes, body.  So Berlanti figured casting Stephen's cousin  Robbie Amell would yield similar results.

It hasn't.

For a number of reasons including the fact that Robbie is too old to be a "Robbie" and too old to play the role of Stephen Jameson.  In the mid-90s, Robbie might have gotten away with it but these High-Def days can be savage on an actor or actress and, in High-Def, what might be little lines on the young man's forehead become deep crevices that leave him looking as if he's prepping for a guest spot on a Matlock TV movie.

He can take comfort in the fact that no one looks good on this show.

Peyton List is an attractive woman.  She is badly made up for this show.  Make up and hair and lighting are all wrong for her.  She needs at least an inch cut off the hair and she needs to have a color put on it -- either darker or lighter.  Make up needs to pay special attention to her eyes.  If they can't do that, let her do her own eye make up because her eye make up is much better when she's running around town than when she's before the camera.

Years ago, when shows had more of a chance to build an option, The Tomorrow People would kick off season two with crisper looks.  They'd have larger budgets and better people working on hair and make up. These days The Tomorrow People may not be lucky enough to get a second season.

That's partly due to changing times.

It's also partly due to the show itself.

List is Cara and Robbie is Stephen and  they are evolved people who have super powers -- telekinesis, telepathy and teleportation.  Ultra is secret government agency that wants the Tomorrow People to use them. Stephen joins Ultra with the plan to bring them down.

Stupid, stupid plotline.

You don't put the main character in that role.  On the excellent Nikita, Nikita didn't go back into Division in season one, she had Alex do it.

You use a supporting character because that creates more conflict for the main character. It creates a sense of tension and helplessness. In Stephen's case, it would have meant he was trying to rescue the supporting character and trying to help the supporting character without getting found out.  It would have added another level to the storyline.

Instead, it's just on the nose nonsense.

And nonsense is the whole show, honestly.

It's fixable and we'd love to see a second season.

But season one has been nonsense.

And you can start the list of b.s. with the fact that these 'evolved' Tomorrow People don't include any gays or lesbians or people of color.  (Madeleine Mantock is the sole person of color in the cast and she's -- at least not yet -- not a Tomorrow People.  She's just Stephen's non-evolved best friend.)

How do you do that?

How do you pretend you're writing a show about evolution but all of your building blocks are so much less than even the original cast of Mission Impossible back in 1966?

There are these dozens of White actors playing various Tomorrow People but coming off like Peter Pan's Lost Boys.  They may get a line or two in an episode, they may not.  They may just react to Cara fighting with John (Luke Mitchell -- who should have been cast as Stephen).  Some of these supporting characters, extras and walk-ons are good and some are evil.

So Cara, Stephen and John are leaders of one group of Tomorrow People who battle Ultra and also battle a group of bad Tomorrow People.

There should be enough in that to provide tension for an hour.

Too often, there just isn't.

The Originals has far less complications.  Basically, the story is that Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and his sister Rebeckah (Claire Holt) and his brother Elijah (Daniel Gillies) are vampires who were all run out of New Orleans when the city was built -- run out by their father.  This allowed Marcel (Charles Michael Davis) to take over.  Now Klaus wants to be back in control of New Orleans.  That's the basic story.

Other elements are added on: Klaus mating with a werewolf who is now pregnant with their hybrid child, the dead witch Celeste secretly possessing Sabine (Shannon Kane).  Each episode finds the storyline, like a rope, circling tighter and tighter, providing more tension and more excitement.

The Tomorrow People?  On one episode this season, Cara walked into a building and transported Astrid out (as Ultra was going room to room searching for Astrid to kill her).  Cara then went back and got John (who was injured and couldn't transport himself out).  And for those scenes, you're suddenly aware of how strong the show could be.

But to get to those scenes, you had to wade through Stephen camping with his brother, their mother and the mother's new boyfriend that Stephen can't stand.  You've got to wade through that and all the boredom it produces.

On The X-Files, Mulder didn't go off on a camping trip  where he pouted like a 9-year-old over Mommy's new boyfriend.

This is garbage, not material for scenes.

It's even more garbage when you grasp that mother Marla (Sarah Clarke) has powers of her own.  Why are we stuck with boring scenes that wouldn't have cut it on Everwood when you've got people with special powers.  And that's before you get to the fact that Marla can't stand Jedikiah Price (Mark Pellegrino).


The head of Ultra.

Oh, and he's also Marla's brother-in-law.

With all that going on, why the hell are you wasting time with a whole episode where the main character (Stephen) is off on a dull and stupid camping trip?

Arrow suffers from an inability to tell a story straight. (Stan covers each new episode of Arrow at his site, FYI.)

The writers use flashbacks to five years prior over and over because they're unable to create tension any other way.

A lot of viewers are tired of those island flashbacks and wish the show would just move forward.

They may want to rethink that though.  As The Tomorrow People demonstrates, the same team can't come up with riveting scripts.

This shouldn't be happening.

This should be a hit series -- even with the miscast Robbie in the lead.

But for it to be a hit series, it needs paranoia.

Luke's got it, Cara's got, why aren't writers building on it?

And speaking of building, the sets.

On The Originals, the sets add not just to the look of the show but also to the drama and the character.  Why is that too much to expect from The Tomorrow People which has Ultra headquarters (where people are tortured ) and The Tomorrow People's hidden lair.  The sets have all the excitement of the old shoe store set on Married With Children.  How do you make a secret lair boring?

Oh, wait, Greg Berlanti's already done that on Arrow.  People tend not to notice because Berlanti usually has Stephen Amell stripped to the waist for those scenes.

But a hidden lair is supposed to be something magical.

With only words, the juvenile book series Alfred Hitchock and the Three Investigators made Jupe, Pete and Bob's trailer come alive.  With a healthy shooting budget and cameras, Berlanti fails to do the same with the hidden lair of his show.

But he fails repeatedly.  The 'evolved' people -- with lines, names and scenes every episode -- are all White Anglo, only one is a woman and all are straight.  What year does his calendar read because our own is showing 2014?

The CW announced last week that The Originals was getting a second season.  That early announcement was a reward for a new show that's been exciting, thrilling and confident.  The Tomorrow People did not get that announcement and that's because it's never sure what it is from one episode to the next.

Paranoia is the key.

It's why Stephen's father's not around.  It's why his uncle runs Ultra.  Most of all, it's what should be making the Tomorrow People doubt themselves and one another -- creating massive conflict and spell binding drama.

We'd love to see a second season of The Tomorrow People because -- even keeping Robbie in the lead -- this could be an excellent show.  Pretty much everything can be fixed with a shift in tone, better sets, better hair, make up and lighting.  But season one has played out like an extended pilot that needed -- but never received -- a tight edit.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }