Pilot screenings are an exciting part of preview night at Comic-Con. You sit in the Ballroom 20 hoping to see shows that will make you eager for their full seasons in the fall. The CW’s The Tomorrow People kicked off pilot screenings this year, and it basically delivered on that feeling — well, in the last 15 minutes, anyway.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead!]
Based on the U.K. series with the same name, The Tomorrow People is about a young man named Stephen (played by Robbie Amell, Revenge, Alcatraz) who is struggling to deal with the sudden development of special powers such as telepathy and teleportation. The episode opens with Stephen shown as an outcast at school. Apparently he's been dealing with voices in his head and weird outbursts of his powers for a few months, making him and most of the people at school think he's going crazy. Stephen has one true friend, Astrid (played by Madeleine Mantock, Casualty), to whom he tries to explain his powers, but she just asks if he's off his meds.
That's when Stephen decides to listen to the crazy voice in his head for a change and follows its directions to a subway station, where he meets the Tomorrow People. Led by Cara (played by Peyton List, Mad Men, 90210) and John (played by Luke Mitchell, Home and Away), the Tomorrow People are a small group who share Stephen's abilities. Cara, who turns out to be the voice Stephen was hearing when he thought he was going crazy, explains that they're a new species of humans and that Stephen is one of them.
It's this first meeting between Amell’s character and the Tomorrow People where the show starts to lose its way. While the concept of these people as the next evolutionary step for humans is interesting, it's also very reminiscent of Heroes and the X-Men. Even the group’s struggle with humanity is similar to these other series. The group predictably tells Stephen that there is a secret war going on between their species and the humans, who are apparently hunting them out of fear.
Where have I heard that before?
Almost instantly, Amell’s character is labeled as some sort of “chosen one” who can help the Tomorrow People find a safe home, and predictably, he doesn’t want anything to do with them. Enter the group hunting the Tomorrow People: Ultra. With a motive seen from a mile away, Ultra hunts this new species basically because they feel threatened by their existence. Of course, this group is interested in Stephen, and we get some angsty scenes between Amell and actor Mark Pellegrino (Lost, Revolution, Being Human), who actually plays the role of Ultra’s leader, Dr. Jedikiah Price, rather well, despite the character’s anticipated motives.
Still, these scenes left much of the Comic-Con audience laughing. The show tried too hard at moments like this to increase the drama, which turned the serious mood laughable. Whether it was the Tomorrow People or Dr. Price explaining the situation to the young Stephen, the dialogue always seemed to take a cheesy turn. As a result, the show got laughs from the audience in all the wrong places as much as it did in all the right ones.
After Stephen meets with Ultra, he suddenly takes the side of the Tomorrow People, and we get some action scenes between the two groups that are actually pretty cool, due to the superhumans’ teleportation powers. These action scenes keep the show interesting as it struggles to find the right tone.
But it’s in the final 15 minutes that the show does a 180 and gets that tone right. Things come to a head between the Tomorrow People and Ultra as they fight for Stephen’s allegiance, and there’s an interesting twist that I actually didn’t see coming. Amell’s character makes some surprising decisions and explains these decisions in such an earnest way that the audience actually applauded. Amell seemed to come into his own in his character during those scenes as well, and if he can keep growing into the part like that he can probably break the naïve, predictable “chosen one” attitude that the character started out in.
If The Tomorrow People can keep up that tone in future episodes, this sci-fi series might actually turn into a decent show to watch. You can check out the show for yourself when it premieres Wednesday, Oct. 9, on The CW.