in Television

‘The Tomorrow People’ Pilot Review

The CW network is hedging their bets that viewers of the solid superhero drama Moody White Man Shoots Arrows will stick around an extra hour this fall for their new show Moody White Man Teleports. The two series are a natural pair-up, and should do well together in the long run. Although The Tomorrow People‘s protagonist has psychic superpowers while Arrow‘s just has a ton of money and a gym membership, they fit nicely into the genre category that the CW is making itself known for.

Right off the bat The Tomorrow People is tech-y and sleek, full of bright lights, omnious city locales, cold guns and slick CGI effects. This is science fiction, not magic. Based of a decades-old British series, it aims for Marvel but lands somewhere between an L. J. Smith novel and the film Jumper.

The first episode introduces Stephen (Robbie Amell), who seems to sit in college classrooms yet walks down corridors with high school-style lockers—all the while appearing too old to genuinely attend either. I sincerely have no idea how old this kid is supposed to be or where he is in life, which doesn’t speak well to his story introduction. Given that The Tomorrow People is from the same network as The Vampire Diaries, I expect he won’t actually be attending for much longer anyhow.

Stephen lives with his mom and younger brother, long ago abandoned by his dead-beat father. As a lead, Robbie Amell is a likable actor, albeit cursed with the same TV Every!Face that similarly makes it hard for me to keep track of Agent Ward in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Vincent on Beauty and the Beast. Stephen takes medication and has a troubling habit of waking up in mysterious places. His mom tells everyone that he sleepwalks, but it’s no surprise when we learn he’s subconsciously teleporting himself at night.

Teleportation is the tip of the iceberg for Stephen. When he’s sought out by other young people with abilities he discovers that the three most common are teleportation, telekinesis, and telepathy. In Stephen’s case, that list grows by the end of the episode and will continue to expand over the course of the show.

This band of attractive street-rat psychics are called the Tomorrow People, part of the race of homo superior (they didn’t choose the names), and they’d like to recruit Stephen because his absent father was a legendary force in their secret war. They convince our hero that his powers are real, he can stop taking those pesky antipsychotic drugs, and if he wants to be useful he must start training up those magical abilities, pronto.

The next day, Stephen uses his abilities in school, but when he tries to strangle a bully with his telekinetic power, he experiences a crippling headache. On the way home, he’s accosted by SUVs full of scary Men In Black, led by Dr. Price’s Mark Pellegrino (a.k.a. Lucifer a.k.a. Bishop a.k.a. the guy you call when you want a villain.) Oddly, at no point for the rest of the episode does Stephen display remorse for attempting to kill a classmate, nor does anyone suggest that he might have anger management issues or be dangerously uncontrollable.

The MIBs are a group called Ultra, and it’s unclear whether they’re a government agency or a private corporation. Either way they have no qualms about executing disobedient employees or assassinating Tomorrow People without due process. Stephen eventually escapes with the help of John, Cara, and Russell, in the process discovering he has the ability to slow down time for long enough to escape a bullet. Displaying a shocking lack of common sense, John escorts Stephen back to his mom’s apartment—instead of telling the guy to escape off-the-grid like you’d expect after mysterious goons kidnap you on the way home from school.

To the viewers complete lack of surprise, the villainous Dr. Jedikiah Price is waiting in Stephen’s living room, all smiles. It turns out he’s an uncle, brother of Stephen’s late (and troubled) father. Price offers Stephen a job: help research the extent of his powers and help police the world from the dangers posed by rogue homo superior. He subtly threatens Stephen’s friends and family, but mostly tries to bribe him with knowledge of his dad and a duty to protect society.

What was frustrating about this conversation is that both characters behave as if this is a matter of ethical balance: the needs of the many vs. the freedom of the few. Stephen doesn’t want to work for Ulta because they kidnap Tomorrow People. Price tries to sell Stephen on the good that they can achieve together. Yet at no point does Stephen bring up the fact that hours beforehand Price had him illegally imprisoned, bound, almost injected with an unknown poison, and shot at… as well as trying to murder John pointblank in front of him. Working under the secret magical law-enforcement is one thing, but working directly for a cold-blooded murderer with no apparent company oversight would be a little bit of an issue for the average self-preserving individual.

Nevertheless, Stephen agrees to take the job, warning Cara and the Tomorrow People to trust him to work the system from the inside. It never occurs to anyone over the course of the episode to call the police, report Dr. Price for harassment (or, ya know, MURDER), or otherwise attempt to bring outside help into the equation. On a vampire-monster show that reluctance might be understandable, but as he doesn’t need to suck blood to stay alive, Stephen has nothing to lose from contacting the police, and everything to gain in terms of making Price’s life a little more uncomfortable.

Overall, the show is a combination of tropes you’ve seen often enough, from The Animorphs to Heroes. It moves at a decent pace and the cast is amiable if implausibly old and good-looking for the Young Adult genre. The pilot plays it too safe for my taste, and like Nikita it dumps a pre-existing narrative on the audience that weighs down the premise. Hopefully as the season goes along it’ll choose instead to embrace the loopy, everything-goes style of soap writing that’s made The Vampire Diaries such a hit.