The Tomorrow People Falls in the Battle of TV Renewal

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While I’m excited for a whole slew of new TV programs coming to us this upcoming fall, I’m pretty bummed that no less than THREE shows that I currently enjoy were canceled recently. There may be some hope for NBC’s Community or Fox’s Almost Human on digital streaming services, but I can pretty much guarantee that the CW’s The Tomorrow People is as dead as my chances of visiting Mars. I’m usually critical, bordering on overly-critical, on shows that get remade in the US market; but I will say, I quite enjoyed this show and am sad to see it go. The CW has really surprised me as of late with their push for science fiction programming. Even though I have quibbles with how some of their shows get produced (people are all supermodels in their shows) I have become a fan.

If you’re new to the game, here is a quick synopsis of the show shamelessly plagiarized from another article I did a while back: “The Tomorrow People tells the story of the next chapter in human evolution – Homo Superior. These are people born of normal humans, but possessing telekinesis, teleportation, and other psychic abilities that make them far apart from normal society. As a trade-off for such abilities, The Tomorrow People can’t willingly kill others, and have to stay safe using non-lethal weaponry – this is a shame because they seem to be targeted by some very bad people. In a sort of X-Men meets Torchwood amalgamation, we come to learn that The Tomorrow People live in a secret base under the Thames and actively look for others like themselves to help and protect. When someone realizes that they are Homo-Superior they go through a process of great mental strain and bodily stress called “breaking out””

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The Tomorrow People was a bit different to the normal US television remake factory, in that it’s pretty different from the somewhat obscure source material and is distanced by nearly forty years. Instead of remaking something from the UK that’s popular now, (I’m amazed someone hasn’t attempted a Downton Abbey remake) I’ll hand it to CW for remaking a children’s show that hasn’t been on for decades. Even the iteration that aired on Nickelodeon was on almost TWENTY years ago.

Many people were confused that TTP was canceled instead of shows doing far worse in ratings and critical reception – take Beauty and the Beast which had a rather lackluster fall showing. A recent Entertainment Weekly article lays out what happened: “Pedowitz explained that Beauty and the Beast performed better in terms of international sales and social engagement. “We’ve always said we’re a very different style of broadcast network,” he said. “We have situations where shows like Beauty have created upside potential … it’s a fan favorite. It has a great international [interest]. Primarily, Tomorrow People was a great show — [it] just didn’t have the same level of social engagement or digital side that Beauty and the Beast gets.””

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So what went wrong? I will admit that the show had a slow start, a fact that seemed to put a lot of reviewers against it immediately. The show wasn’t critically panned by any means, but many saw it as “average” or sought parallels to other properties – like The X-men. That’s the problem with doing a remake of something so old – once cutting edge and hip has grown commonplace forty years later. As the Entertainment Weekly article pointed out, there was little overseas interest for this show, and one only has to look at a UK-based science fiction forum to sense the apathy.

I will hand it to the CW for at least attempting to inject life into the property. Replacing things like a robot named Jedikiah as a principle villain (see image above), with a more-realistic leader of a militarized scientific operation was a good idea. The characters were older, more rounded and had real issues. Here’s hoping CW keeps Arrow and Flash around and takes some more chances like they did with The Tomorrow People in the future.

 

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The Tomorrow People (1973) the Slaves of Jedikiah

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Before we get to our regularly scheduled review, I’d like to drag out my soapbox for a minute. When did the term “family television” turn into something meaning “shows about annoying affluent kids being sassy”? It’s like every show on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon has devolved into that sort of thing. I remember a golden age of “family television” that wasn’t exclusively designed for pre-pubescent teen girls; an age when one could watch those aforementioned channels for hours and not get immediately irritated or feel like you are being talked down to. They had comedy shows, family shows, cartoons, and even skit shows, plus they would take the occasional chance and bring something over from another country. Nickelodeon excelled at this, and I remember really enjoying one show in particular. I recall them doing some sort of action related programming block, and really digging
The Tomorrow People. Usually science fiction for a youth audience is relegated to being full of juvenile humor or written for tiny children here in the States, so I was completely blown away by the way the show was written. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that the 1990’s show I enjoyed was actually a re-boot of a much older show, one that I began watching for the very first time recently.

The Tomorrow People tells the story of the next chapter in human evolution – Homo Superior. These are people born of normal humans, but possessing telekinesis, teleportation, and other psychic abilities that make them far apart from normal society. As a trade-off for such abilities, The Tomorrow People can’t willingly kill others, and have to stay safe using non-lethal weaponry – this is a shame because they seem to be targeted by some very bad people. In a sort of X-Men meets Torchwood amalgamation, we come to learn that The Tomorrow People live in a secret base under the Thames and actively look for others like themselves to help and protect. When someone realizes that they are Homo-Superior they go through a process of great mental strain and bodily stress called “breaking out”.

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This first serial, consisting of five episodes, is an introduction to how The Tomorrow People operate through the eyes of Stephen, the newest recruit. Stephen was an ordinary boy until he suddenly collapsed in a crowded street after school. No sooner than that, all sorts of bizarre things start going down including attempted kidnappings by a duo of bumbling Cockney thugs, talking computers, robots, and even aliens. The other Tomorrow People step in to attempt to help him through this ordeal and keep him safe while he gains control over his powers. At first Stephen is skeptical of the whole situation, and especially that he’d be of any use to these seemingly magical children, but that soon changes. In a manner very similar to how the character Gargamel obsesses over the Smurfs, a man named Jedikiah apparently has been obsessing over the existence of people with telepathic powers on Earth. He sends the thugs out to capture Stephen when he is most vulnerable because he needs psychics for some nefarious reason.

The Tomorrow People themselves were portrayed by Nicholas Young as John, Sammie Winmill as Carol, Stephen Salmon as Kenny, and Peter Vaughan-Clarke as Stephen. As with many child actors of this time, many of the cast members rarely worked past the 1970’s so I can’t say “this guy later went on to be in some huge movie when he was older”, but a few of them did reprise their roles recently in audio drama form through Big Finish. My hat really goes off to Francis De Wolff, who portrayed the diabolical Jedikiah. He’s one of those actors that looks evil by simply existing. His face shape, facial hair, manner of speech, and just about every other thing he does makes him come across cartoonishly villainous. I mean that in the best of ways though, as his role reminded me a lot of the way Roger Delgado played the Master in Doctor Who, another man that was born to play baddies.

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Unlike some other things that I’ve reviewed recently, The Tomorrow People is VERY dated to the 1970’s. The haircuts, clothes, graphics, music and just about everything else just screams the decade it was produced. This is by no means a bad thing for me, but it could hurt the show for someone that is inclined to dislike things from the past. Some films and TV are essentially timeless despite the age, and this is not one of those programs. I’m no political correctness commando, but there is a bit of old-school sexism in the show that was so blatant that it made my wife and I both laugh. Take, for instance, a scene where Carol is not allowed to go on an adventure with the guys because she was a girl and presumably weaker than the guys. Despite that, I will give a nod to the producers for having multiple ethnicities represented in the cast, something that is good for a kid’s show, especially in the seventies.

This show has one of the coolest opening titles that I’ve seen in a while. Like everything else in the seventies, the opening is like a drug induced fever dream in the mind of a new-age thinker. Check it out here:

My only real gripe for this first serial is the manner in which the show attempted to educate the viewer and the introduction of the main villain. After a fairly strong first few episodes, the show suddenly introduces an alien threat to the mix. This is handled in a fairly blasé way, as if the whole idea of aliens coming to Earth is fairly common-place. This is coincidentally the exact same time a blundered educational attempt falls in our laps. I’m all for learning in every show, but suddenly telling the story of Homer’s The Odyssey, and more specifically the part about the Cyclops, to explain away the fact that there was suddenly a green alien with one eye standing there seems amateur at best. Perhaps leaving the mystery of who the actual villain was could have been built up a tad more rather than suddenly blurting out “oh yeah, aliens did it” like that Ancient Aliens guy.

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Despite the dated nature of the material, I enjoyed The Tomorrow People a lot. There were a few snickers with a goofy cheap costume, or an absurd leap of logic, but I have to tell myself that this was intended to be a children’s show. And compared with other children’s shows The Tomorrow People definitely deserves its status as a classic and I can’t wait to watch more.

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The CW to Re-launch the Tomorrow People This Fall

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This weekend, I decided to pop a few episodes of the 1970’s classic The Tomorrow People into our viewing rotation. While looking for an episode guide, with cast names and such, I stumbled upon this bit of news coming out of The San Diego Comic-Con and all the fall TV press packs that have been making the rounds. It seems The American TV network The CW is trying to brand itself a hub for Genre TV geared towards a younger demographic. With the success of Supernatural under their belt, and Arrow having a solid first season, it seems the top brass wanted something to compliment Arrow, with The Tomorrow People somehow getting the nod.

This isn’t the first time the show was re-launched over here, as I clearly remember watching the 1990’s series on Nickelodeon many years ago, but that was more of a continuation than a reboot. this U.S. version seems to be a total re-launch of the plot of the 1970’s show:

“This update of the 1970s British sci-fi series stars Amell — aka the cousin of Arrow himself — as Stephen Jameson, a standard-issue teen save for his tendency to wake up in other people’s beds, no matter how securely you shackle him down. Stephen soon learns he is one of the “Tomorrow People,” a super-secret, supernaturally enabled race fronted by Cara and John (played by List and Mitchell). Their adversary is Ultra, an organization of paramilitary scientists led by Dr. Jedikiah Price (Pellegrino)”

I’ve been toying with reviewing U.K. based things that were either remade in the U.S. or vise-versa, and this seems like a perfect test for that. Stay tuned, as this new show premieres in October, let’s hope it’s actually decent. Bonus: Here’s a trailer –