Sci-fi elements of ‘Debris’ grounded in reality

Rick's Reviews

NBC launches new science fiction series with “Debris.” (Photo courtesy of NBC/Universal)

(KGET) — The new NBC science fiction series “Debris” could have just as easily been called “The X-terrestrial Files.”  A couple of government agents – one male, one female – travel the Western Hemisphere looking into weird and wild events triggered by pieces of an alien spacecraft that disintegrated and fell to Earth.

What makes this series different than “The X-Files” is that both people investigating the occurrences – played by Jonathan Tucker and Riann Steele – believe what is happening is real. How they deal with the physics-changing pieces of alien wreckage can be seen when the series debuts at 10 p.m. March 1 on NBC.

Series creator J.H. Wyman will bring a touch of another very popular science fiction series to the new NBC production as he was the creator of the FOX Network series “Fringe.” The strong support “Fringe” got from fans during its run from 2008-2013 was the reason Wyman was so anxious to create another sci-fi series.

His first stop after he had come up with the concept for “Debris” was to go to NBC. He found they shared his enthusiasm for the genre.

“I have to say that when we went in there, literally they said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for things that break boundaries.  We’re looking for things that are artist‑driven and really sort of allow your vision to come through,’ which is something that was, obviously, great to hear, but I think now is encouraged,” Wyman says. “I think sci‑fi has really come into the more mainstream as far as it’s no longer alternative.  It’s no longer something that’s very strange, for a certain crowd.”

An element both “The X-Files” and “Fringe” shared – along with being very popular – was a mythology that became deeper and more complicated with each episode. Such writing requires a strong commitment from viewers to make sure they are picking up all the clues to what is happening.

Tucker welcomes this way of telling stories. He’s convinced that the audience will be entertained by learning with his character all the mysteries of the space debris. At the same time, viewers will get to learn about the people who are involved in this research and recovery.

“The debris is really fun.  It is very exciting, scene to scene, whether the debris allows people to go through walls or manipulates weather or ESP or doppelgangers,” Tucker says. “We, as actors and as the characters in the show, are constantly on our toes trying to track things, figure it out, calling Joel, saying, ‘Hey, Joel, can the debris do this?  Is this the right use of the technology?  What do you think about the boundaries and the guardrails here?’

“So, if we’re having as much of a challenge in all of the right ways on the day with the scripts, I think audiences will find that there’s constant attention that is not just demanded, but that you’ll want to provide to the story and the show.”

The majority of Tucker’s credits fall outside the science fiction realm with work on the TV shows “City on a Hill” and “Justified” plus films like the most recent “Charlie’s Angels.” But, the Boston native also had roles in “Westworld,” “American Gods” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Steele also brings a background in the genre to the series having worked on “Doctor Who,” “The Magicians” and “Ant Man and the Wasp.” The English actress stresses that while the series is based in science fiction, there is a realism to the way Wyman writes that grounds the show.

“You’re meeting two characters who are very flawed and are very broken when you meet them,” Steele says. “And we get to also see, along the season, them kind of understand each other through the debris.“

The actors are optimistic but Wyman’s a realist when it comes to the audience. He knows that between busy schedules and the mountain of programming available, it is not an easy task to attract and maintain an audience.

The formula Wyman’s using with “Debris” is based on what he learned while making “Fringe.” The key is finding the balance between the show’s mythology and serialization.

Wyman says, “The biggest lesson I learned is you’ll have a week‑to‑week show that people can come back to, but for the real hard‑core fans, they understand getting answers, and they understand that there’s a plan.

“And there’s a feeling like there’s this unseen narrator sort of pushing you silently down this road that’s going to amount to something, and something big.  Like‑minded people, I think, will really like the show.  People that were invested in ‘Fringe,’ hopefully, will too.  But that’s who I’m always building for.  So, I just hope they’ll find that.”

The cast of “Debris” also includes Norbert Leo Butz and Scroobius Pip.

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