The Tomorrow People: Best Left in the Past? | Fanboys Anonymous

The Tomorrow People: Best Left in the Past?

Posted by DAJB Saturday, January 18, 2014
Hollywood just loves taking old films and trying to remake them. Increasingly frequently, it also seems to like taking old TV shows and making films out of those too. Recently it's even begun to take old TV shows and make them into new TV shows. As far I'm aware, however, it has never taken a 40-year old TV show from the UK made for children and tried to remake it for adults. Well, there's a first time for everything and the new US show The Tomorrow People is exactly that. The first episode just aired in the UK this week, so is it stuck in the past or can it look forward to a bright future?

Stephen Jameson (Robbie Amell) with Russell Kwon (Aaron Yoo) Cara Coburn (Peyton List) and John Young (Luke Mitchell)
Homo superior. 40 years on and still driving their mamas and papas insane.
Tomorrow Is Yesterday

SciFi and fantasy fans have been treated to a veritable avalanche of TV shows in recent years. It's easy to forget, therefore, that back in the early 1970s when "futuristic" still meant psychedelic decor, suits made of tinfoil, and minimalist furniture borrowed from the 1960s, TV in the UK was pretty much a SciFi-free zone. We had Doctor Who, of course, but that was already beginning to show its age, and we had repeats of Star Trek. The prevailing view in UK media land was that SciFi was very much a genre for kids.

Original cast photo for British TV series The Tomorrow People
The future is leatherette jackets and floral frocks.
And glowy plastic domes. Obviously.
When the first series of The Tomorrow People was launched in 1973, therefore, that's exactly what it was designed to be: a kids' show. The premise was that the next stage of human evolution had begun and that a new species dubbed homo superior was emerging. These self-styled "tomorrow people" had three super human abilities: telekinesis, telepathy, and teleportation (the three Ts). They were biologically unable to kill but, in spite of this, a shady organisation known as Ultra perceived them as a threat and was determined to contain the problem.

The show was screened late afternoon, just in time to catch kids as they got home from school and—despite its cardboard sets and acting that wouldn't have been out of place in a high school nativity play (neither of which are uncommon in UK children's shows, even today)—it ran for six years. Well, there were no video games or social media sites to compete with back in 1973!

Of course, longevity in an undemanding daytime slot in a market with only three TV channels is hardly a reliable indicator of appeal to today's more sophisticated audiences, spoiled as we are by multi-channel TV and a glut of SciFi shows with the kind of budgets and production values that UK producers in the 1970s couldn't even dream about. So just how well has the remake of The Tomorrow People survived the leap into the Twenty-First Century?

Oh! You Pretty Things

Sexy Peyton List best known as Jane Sterling in Mad Men
Cara Coburn possesses the "three Ts." I think the other one's "teeth."
The first thing to note is that the new producers have resisted the temptation to tinker with the basic set-up. Our super-powered heroes are still called homo superior, they still refer to their powers as the "three Ts," and they still have a talking super-computer called TIM. Oh, and they're still hunted by the nefarious Ultra. There's a definite X-Men vibe to the show, or more accurately, Marvel's attempt to re-imagine the X-Men for TV: Mutant X.

The special effects are adequate, but will not be enough on their own to sell the show to a modern audience. After all, there are no visual effects involved in telepathy, and telekinesis doesn't really require much more than pulling objects around on a string. The teleportation effect is obviously far more impressive than its 1970s counterpart, but we've been seeing variations on that particular theme ever since Star Trek first hit our screens. Ultimately in a world in which mutants, bionic enhancements, superheroes, sentient computers, witches, and vampires are now staples of our TV viewing, we demand more than a paranormal or supernatural idea to keep us tuning in to a new SciFi show. We demand good writing, believable characters, solid acting, and clever plot lines.

Judged on those criteria, the first episode of The Tomorrow People was... not bad. Not a surefire hit by any means, but ... not bad! Being a mainstream US show, the lead characters are, predictably, all attractive and conform to certain stereotypes: the earnest "nice guy" lead character (Stephen), the best friend/rival who comes across as a bit of a jerk but is probably just a troubled good guy (John), and the sexy female interest (Cara) who spends much of her time directing operations from a secret lair. There's not much in the way of originality to be found here, but the lead actors—already veterans of numerous teen-friendly comedies and dramas—are competent, even if they don't exactly bring much in the way of individual personality to their roles. Similarly, the writing may not sparkle with Whedonesque wit but, together with the acting, it's good enough to make the characters credible.

Mark Pellegrino of Lost (Jacob) and Revolution (Jeremy Baker)
You can tell Jedikiah's a bad guy, 'cos his name sounds all Old
Testament. That and the fact he's played by Mark Pellegrino.
It's already clear that each episode's storyline is probably going to revolve around our heroes' attempts to save others of their kind and thwart the schemes of the evil Ultra. In common with most series these days, however, there's also a strong indication in this first episode that a longer, overarching plot line is going to be woven around the characters' personal lives. Stephen's runaway, schizophrenic father has predictably been revealed as the founder of the Tomorrow People, and no doubt his current whereabouts will be revealed at some point, leading to a confrontation/reunion with his son. Similarly, Stephen's uncle Jedikiah (played by the ubiquitous Mark Pellegrino) is top man at Ultra.

All in all, my overall impression of this first episode is that the show has potential. Taking a concept for a kids' show which is already 40 years old, transporting it to the other side of the Pond, and remaking it for adults (well, young adults!) was always going to be a difficult proposition. The fact that it doesn't fail completely is a testament to its typically high US production values and the care that's been taken with the source material. The fact that it doesn't completely succeed either, is testament to the fact that there's too little that's new.

Tomorrow Never Knows

With a sharper script and a few reasons to care about the characters, The Tomorrow People could still become the next Heroes. If it continues in the same formulaic, run-of-the-mill manner that it's begun, however, then it will be lucky to avoid cancellation before the end of Season 1. So what did you think? Is this show the shape of things to come, or should it have been left back with its embroidered denim flares?

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