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J.J. Abrams’ 'Speed Racer' series revs up at Apple, but big-budget 'Demimonde' ‘on the bubble’ at HBO

"Go Speed Racer, go!"

By Adam Pockross

With Fast X fast approaching, there’s obviously still a giant market for things that awesomely go vrroom, or at least that’s what Apple is hoping with a reported straight to series order for a live-action scripted Speed Racer show with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot in the driver’s seat.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bad Robot is set to produce the series from co-showrunners/writers Ron Fitzgerald (who co-executive produced Westworld alongside Abrams in 2018) and Hiram Martinez (Snowpiercer). Per unnamed sources, the latter has come up with an “exciting take” on Tatsuo Yoshida’s adored manga series and the anime it spawned: Mach GoGoGo to Japanese audiences, but better known in America as Speed Racer, which ran for 52 episodes on Fuji TV from 1967 to 1968.

Per THR’s sources, the project has been in “excruciatingly slow” development for a while now, as part of Abrams and Bad Robot’s overall deal with Warner Bros. TV (more on that later). Apparently it landed at Apple TV+ “some time ago,” and has only in recent months started meeting and hiring its co-writers.

As legend goes, Yoshida’s initial inspiration for the beloved car racing franchise came from watching two of the more popular American movies in Japan at the time: Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas and James Bond’s Goldfinger. With The King’s signature neckerchief and pompadour, and a car to rival Bond’s tricked-out spy mobile, the legend of Go Mifune, aka Speed Racer, was born.

Other iterations of the popular franchise include Nickelodeon’s 2002 English remake, Speed Racer X, which quickly stalled thanks to a licensing argument. And of course there was the Wachowskis’ 2008 live-action feature, which barely made it out of the starting gate before crashing and burning at the box office and eventually losing some of Warner Bros. Pictures’ easily spent money.

Apparently, after much lawyering, the rights reverted back to Tatsunoka Production, who has reportedly “blessed” the Apple series.

Now… to the less blessed part, and back to that overall deal between WB and Abrams. After the recent merger, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has been reviewing all of the studio’s overall deals, and, according to a separate THR report, “is frustrated by the lack of output” from Bad Robot.

Abrams’ sci-fi drama Demimonde, the first show he’s written since 2008’s Fringe, is seeking a budget “north of $200 million.” Before production has even begun, the show is reportedly “on the bubble," even though it was already given a straight to series order by HBO.

We’ll know soon enough whether Demimonde’s a go, as a decision is expected later this week. THR notes that Bad Robot’s overall deal signed for big bucks back in 2019 is “currently not in jeopardy,” and they have a lot in the pipeline, including forays into gaming and podcasting. But there is reportedly frustration from the studio as far as what’s been delivered, particularly with regards to Abrams’ DC properties.

As of now, his production company has an adult animated Batman series and a Justice League Dark franchise in the works, including shows featuring Constantine and Madame X. According to the report, “Sources suggest there is some frustration within the halls of Warner Bros. Discovery that Abrams has laid claim to a number of DC characters but has yet to get anything on the air. Sources note Warners has seen scripts for Constantine and the pilot of Madame X."

So while we don't yet know the fates of some of the shows we've been looking forward to, at least we can happily say, "Go Speed Racer go!"

Fast X is currently scheduled for a wide theatrical release on May 19, 2023. In the meantime, you can catch up on all the high-octane action here!