A new TV show needs to develop two things to become sustainably good. First, it's gotta have a structure, something that will allow it to tell an interesting variety of different stories across a long period of time. For example, driving around the country in a van solving local mysteries, or a consistently-escalating supernatural soap opera. This is especially important for American network shows that need to fill over 20 episodes. The Tomorrow People has done a great job at that so far. The twist at the end of the pilot, with Stephen going to work for the Ultras, sets a structure up quite nicely: The show can do cases of the week from multiple perspectives, and it has an inherent tension of the “inside man” that provides an overarching plot across the whole season.
The second thing a show needs is a hook. A personality. There needs to be a specific reason to say “this is a show that I want to watch.” Ian Somerhalder's eyebrows held The Vampire Diaries together while it figured out how it wanted to work. The British superpower show Misfits is all outrageous personality, especially when Robert Sheehan is around. And recent superhero shows like Arrow and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. have the media tie-ins to DC and Marvel, which grants a reason to watch while they sort themselves out (if they do).
The Tomorrow People has largely been a failure on the personality front. It's not a funny show—most CW shows aren't—and that's usually the easiest way for a show to stand out. None of the characters or actors have stood out as especially able to carry dramatic scenes yet. Really, the only thing I'd say The Tomorrow People does especially well has been its superpowered fight scenes, which seem a cut above most television fare. Of course, a show that doesn't have one or both of these things can develop them. But I feel like personality is the harder of the two to get right; I'd rather start with a hook and develop a structure than vice versa. But it's still possible to do, so The Tomorrow People is by no means hopeless.
One way to get around not having a hook is with guest stars who can provide a temporary jolt. Jason Dohring, who played the always-mesmerizing Logan Echolls on Veronica Mars, has that potential (although we don't talk about Ringer). Dohring himself doesn't get too much opportunity here, though he is good in the climax. His character, on the other hand, does let the show move in a slightly new direction. Dohring plays Killian McClane, a Tomorrow Person terrorist and former Ultra. His goal is to hunt down John for some reason—his motivations are rather unclear, to be honest. He does, however, force the Ultras and the Tomorrow People into a temporary alliance, with John and Jedekiah having a meeting to see how they can make it work.
This creates a slight hitch in the show's formula so far. Every episode so far has gone like this: Stephen wants to do something idealistic. Cara and John reject it, then Cara eventually comes around. Then John. That happens here again, but it mostly occurs in the first half of the episode. Once that's taken care of, the episode becomes more about John than Stephen. It's a good move for The Tomorrow People to establish other characters as subjects beyond just Stephen. The further the show has gone with him as an idealistic puppy dog in the belly of a genocidal organization, the less plausible that situation has seemed.
But this is all just mixing up the show's already-existing formula. That's helpful for preventing a show's structure from collapsing, thus giving time to solve the personality problem. But that personality problem still exists. Unless The Tomorrow People can add a character, a philosophy, a storytelling form that shakes things up, it'll rarely rise above pleasantly watchable.
- T.V. Club is experimenting with the idea of once-per-month reviews of shows that we're not reviewing weekly, but may still interest our audience. If you'd like to see more, either of these reviews or The Tomorrow People specifically, click and link!
- Speaking of philosophy, the idea of the Tomorrow People as emotion and the Ultras as intellect is an interesting concept. If it gets some follow-through, it could open up some very interesting comparative discussions.
- Of the current cast members, if any of them might break through, I feel like it's Astrid… who was missing this episode.
- Nice “badass” moment with Stephen and his mom at the end.