There’s a central mystery at the heart of Debris, NBC’s newest sci-fi drama that’s just arriving at the midpoint of its breakout first season. Like genre predecessors Lost and NBC’s own Manifest, it’s the alluring question mark that ropes in new viewers with each passing week. But the strange, physics-bending powers of the crashed alien spacecraft at the center of Debris’ action actually serve as an intriguing metaphor, one that supports a far more substantial human story.
Along with fun behind-the-scenes tidbits — like actor Riann Steele’s real-life aversion to those marshmallow Peeps she gleefully gobbles up onscreen — that was the big takeaway that fans got from Friday’s WonderCon chat with Debris creator and showrunner J.H. Wyman (Fringe, Almost Human). Oh, and about that spacecraft: Yes, a full reveal is probably happening at some point... but more on that in a moment.
Check out the full panel footage below, including a quick sneak peek at an upcoming scene from episode 5.
Wyman joins Steele (Finola Jones) and co-stars Jonathan Tucker (Bryan Beneventi), Norbert Leo Butz (Craig Maddox), and Scroobius Pip (Anson Ash) to talk about what makes Debris tick — and to tease how things are just getting weird as the series' first season rounds the corner toward an even weirder second half. The science fiction setting is fun, said Wyman, but it’s the human capacity for curiosity, and the connections that curiosity drives that make Debris stand out from the serial sci-fi crowd.
Confessing a sci-fi fandom that goes back to childhood, Wyman said people harbor an underlying hope that there really might be aliens and mind-bending tech lurking just on the other side of the reality we know. “When I watched Close Encounters [as a kid], I used to just look for something, because I just wanted to believe there was something out there,” he said. But, he quickly added, “I don’t do little green men…my brand of science fiction is a little bit different.”
Finding ways to come together amid world-changing revelations (like aliens being a real thing) is a big part of what Wyman stresses sets Debris apart as a different breed of sci-fi series. Stacked with characters (and even a villain) who carry plenty of reasons to stay cynical and sad, there’s a thread of optimism that runs through their high-stakes lives — and that’s no coincidence, explained hip-hop artist-turned actor Pip, who plays shadowy villain Anson Ash.
In a year of pandemic lockdowns, “I’m concerned that people are out there really cynical and alone, and connection is the most important thing,” said Pip. But even his bad guy has a semi-relatable backstory: “He’s someone who’s radicalized…[but] he’s not coming from a place of evil,” he said. “He’s coming from a belief that there’s all this new power in the world” — the kind of alien tech that can’t be presumed to be in safe hands just because the government comes to the rescue.
Tucker and Steele shared how they’ve bonded in real life as their complex characters bond over on-screen eating (Peeps, for the record, “are gross,” joked Steele — “I just want you to know that I was acting!”) But does the slow-burning series plan to actually let fans get a complete glimpse at the in-pieces alien ship that forged the unlikely trans-Atlantic bond between these two special agents in the first place?
Yep, said Wyman — but it probably won’t be anytime soon. “It’s just gonna take time,” he teased, explaining how reverse-engineering the advanced spacecraft parallels Bryan and Finola’s gradually-building trust. “Expect the unexpected. This is just the beginning, and things are going to change in ways that you won’t understand until you see them.”
Catch new episodes of Debris each Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC, with next-day streaming for all available episodes at Peacock.