The Tomorrow People, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
Written by Greg Berlanti, Julie Plec, Phil Klemmer
Directed by Danny Cannon
Airs Wednesdays at 9/8C on the CW
After a summer dedicated to hyping up the launch of the CW’s series The Tomorrow People, we can safely say it wasn’t really worth the wait. While not a complete waste of time, the show feels less like an original idea and more a rehashing of Marvel’s X-Men franchise, only this time released for television audiences. The premise of the show, in case you somehow missed the adverts all through the summer months, is centred around a group of genetically advanced people who only want to coexist secretly with humans, while trying to avoid imprisonment by a highly secretive agency hell-bent on their destruction.
The pilot introduces us to Stephen Jameson, played by Robbie Amell, who, despite a great face and a seemingly flawless body, is teased and dejected by his classmates because of his hallucinations and frequent appointments with his shrink. While his personal situation isn’t necessarily unbelievable, it would definitely have been more credible on a teenager half as buff and covered in acne. It’s hard (if not impossible) to envision anyone who looks like Amell being a complete outcast in high school; medication or no. If anything, it would have been expected that the perfectly dressed high schooler be swarmed by equally perfect girls trying to “fix him.”
Also, is no one concerned by the fact that despite Stephen being in high school, he looks like he’s nearing thirty? While Amell is surely a capable actor, there’s something deeply unsettling about a teenage character that looks old enough to have fathered a child or two.
However this marginally acceptable situation quickly becomes unbelievable as we learn that Stephen has super powers that make even his genetically mutated friends gasp with awe. While it’s cleverly introduced to audiences that something is truly amiss about Stephen (we see him harness himself to his bed to prevent his “sleep walking,” which we soon learn is teleportation when he wakes up sandwiched between his neighbours in their bed), this idea of a boy coming into his powers is quickly undercut by the direction the show rapidly takes. Rather than ease audiences into Stephen’s situation, we’re quickly told that Stephen is The Tomorrow People’s equivalent of Neo from The Matrix.
By building Amell’s character into this messiah for the mutants, we’re cheated of any real opportunity for character growth on Stephen’s part. Sure, his character will change and expand on his journey to Tomorrow People freedom but it will likely be in an all too familiar way. Stephen will rise to meet the challenge, come face to face with defeat and death…and then pull through at the last possible second because, come on, he’s the genetically mutated man. Never mind every other Tom, Dick, or Harry with twice the experience and knowledge of what it means to be one of the Tomorrow People; Stephen is brave, inexplicably more powerful than everyone else and an all around nice guy. Obviously he’s going to save the race of Tomorrow People. Duh.
Unfortunately, because we know this, the stakes aren’t raised in this premiere episode. Stephen doesn’t seem to have much on the line, and being a social reject at school sure makes the list of friends in danger awfully short. Of course, there’s always a chance something bad could happen to his brother and debt-ridden mother, but do we really care? His mother, despite trying to come off as loving, seems mostly resentful that her son has a condition and we know next to nothing about his brother.
The pilot also falls into many a cliché pothole.
Stephen, upon being teleported by John (as played by Luke Mitchell) to the top secret Tomorrow People rec room, gives a longwinded “this is a dream, I’m going to wake up” speech. His disbelief feels less than genuine and it’s also the exact same speech we’ve seen every superhero give since the dawn of the comic book era. It was a hardly believable speech when Superman gave it, but at least he wears tights and has laser vision. The only thing this speech accomplishes is killing time between commercial breaks.
Stephen also learns that the voice in his head is the beautiful and mysterious Cara, played by Peyton List. This is predictable and boring. No one wants to see the protagonist magically have a connection with the telepathic bombshell. This auto-connection they have takes away all opportunity that The Tomorrow People had to build an original, uneasy relationship with both these characters. In Stephen’s mind he’s human, so it would have been a great chance to watch him figure out a relationship with this mutated woman, rather than just trust her by default. Also, while Cara may be dating John in this pilot episode, it’s clear there’s sexual tension building and that it’s only a matter of time until we’re all forced down the road of an angst filled Tomorrow People love triangle. Damn.
One of the few joys of the pilot is Mark Pellegrino’s appearance as the baddy of the show, Dr. Jedikiah Price. While Pellegrino playing a television villain isn’t anything unusual (having been Lucifer on Supernatural as well as Bishop on the American version of Being Human), he does an amazing job at being a stone cold killer. It’s also a fun twist discovering that Jedikiah happens to be Stephen’s uncle, a surprise that would have had more of an impact if it hadn’t been shown in all the trailers building up to this pilot episode.
While the premiere of The Tomorrow People is entertaining in a “this has been done already, so we’re not trying too hard” kind of way, one can only hope that the rest of the series won’t be lacking as much originality as this episode. Maybe now that they’ve gotten this paint by numbers origin story out of the way, they’ll find some room for real creativity and entertainment in installments to come.