August 17, 2019

Farewell to KRYPTON — And Thank You For A Better Tomorrow

Hello, and welcome to the Emerald City Video Podcast. This is Russ Burlingame, and tonight is going to be a little different than usual.

Today saw the cancellation of KRYPTON, a TV series that ran for two seasons on SYFY and which was not just one of my personal favorite shows on TV but one of the series that has kind of shown me the most love in return. Along with Deadly Class, also cancelled this season on SYFY, these are two of the only shows that have ever quoted me in TV spots.

The series was a huge critical hit, especially in its second season, and its cancellation is 100% one of those situations where the ratings did not keep up with the reputation of the show. I’m not going to go after SYFY for this choice; the show was averaging almost 2 million viewers in its first season and was the third-highest-rated show on the network. A year and change later, it’s barely pulling 400,000.

Krypton centers on the character of Seg-El — played by Cameron Cuffe. Seg is the grandfather of Superman, and there is a time-travel element that created something of a ticking clock in the first season. If they didn’t stop the bad guys, it would mean that Superman never existed, and Earth’s future is doomed. By the end of the first season, though, the characters had made things infinite worse, and not only was Set exiled to the Phantom Zone, but Zod was in control of Krypton, and years in the future, that would spell disaster for Earth.

Krypton was originally billed as “Game of Thrones in Space,” an easy characterization since they actually filmed in Belfast, where Game of Thrones had, and the series featured Ian McIlhenny of Game of Thrones as See’s grandfather, Val-El. The show actually turned out to be something else entirely, and that led to a few growing pains. Ironically, the most GAME OF THRONES-y scene in the whole first season was probably an argument between Elliot Cowan’s Daron Vex and Ann Ogbomo’s Jayna Zod. I saw that scene being filmed during a set visit to Belfast back in 2017. That same week, they were filming the episode — “House of Zod” — which would fundamentally alter what the show was.

It has been a hard few months at SYFY. Happy — a series based on the comics from artist Darick Robertson and writer Grant Morrison — was cancelled after two seasons, and after just a single season and a crazy cliffhanger, the network declined to pick up a second season of Deadly Class, based on the comics from Rick Remender and Wes Craig. Krypton had a sequel planned, based on the character of LOBO, who appeared in the show’s second season, but unless either that pilot, or Krypton, or both, can find a new home, it ain’t going to happen. All of these cancellations happened while the network was waiting on new episodes of WYNONNA EARP, which it actually DID pick up but which failed to go into production on time due to a financial shortfall from IDW Entertainment, the current publishers of Wynonna Earp comics and the series’ producers. Suddenly, WYNONNA is the only comic book show still on the air at SYFY, and it’s currently on a weird, unplanned hiatus.

While I am not going to lay into SYFY — working in the entertainment industry I know that almost no network ever roots for a show to fail — I will say that it is a strange choice for them to leave fans hanging on both this and Deadly Class. Genre TV has some of the most passionate fans, and every if there aren’t a lot of them, they will punish you for supposed bad behavior. The easiest thing you can do — and something that almost every other network has already figured out to do — is to renew shows for a “final season” to give the producers time to make a good ending and the fans time to adjust to the fact that their show is going away. While something like Deadly Class, which didn’t make it past the first season, might not have supported such a move, certainly Krypton could have.

Whatever the case, Krypton was a gorgeously designed, beautifully-shot, wonderfully-acted show that had real heart and real consequences. That might be a surprise to anybody who hasn’t watched it, since the premise — that a time-traveler from the present was going back in time to keep history intact so that Superman could exist — is just begging for a forgettable series that had no real stakes. But Cameron Welsh, the show runner, along with David Goyer, the writers’ room, and series stars Cameron Cuffe, Shaun Sipos, Georgina Campbell, Wallis Day, and others, would not have anything of the sort.  The show’s Kryptonite was arguably that it was so predictable, and its power was in how completely the producers resisted that.

Another strength was in the way the characters were treated. While Seg-El has basically no presence in the comics, and most of the other characters had around the same amount of pages in their history, the series treated each of them like a valuable piece of intellectual property. As far as the show was concerned, the El family was Superman, and Seg was treated with as much seriousness and respect as if he had been his grandson. Colin Salmon played General Dru-Zod, best known as one of Superman’s greatest enemies, and he managed to do what many would have though impossible: he surpassed the standard-setting performance of Terrence Stamp in Superman II. Krypton, more generally, managed to be just as exciting and “alien” on a TV budget as it had in MAN OF STEEL, of which Goyer was a writer. Part of that was the show’s ability to do something movies have not so far: embracing the history of the comics. The Justice League, the Green Lanterns, and more exist in the world of Krypton, and even though we don’t see them, there are clear references to them. That status quo set the stage for the introduction of Doomsday, an ancient, biological weapon created by two of Krypton’s greatest scientists and hidden away underground because it was too dangerous to ever use.

In the pilot, Val-El, facing execution for “heresy” because he dared to tell the Science Guild that doom was coming in the form of an alien called Brainiac, reached out to his grandson in his final moments. “Keep believing in a better tomorrow,” he told young Seg, and that message reverberated and echoed through Krypton for two seasons. It was, in a lot of ways, the clearest mission statement that the House of El had since Christopher Reeve declared himself “a friend” back in 1978. As far as narrative themes go, you could do a lot worse for a show about heroes, and the writers even managed to turn it back on itself a few times, with a season 2 episode called “A Better Yesterday.”

Krypton, though, was a marvel. It was a technical and creative achievement, filled with talented people who all bounced off one another in a way that made each part better, and elevated the whole. Some iconic characters — notably Zod and Doomsday — had their best versions appear on Krypton, and Seg-El will now be a character who people care about for decades to come, in spite of having had something like a total of 30 pages of comic book story before the show began.

The show raised the bar for quality on a comic book show. Certainly it is not alone: series like Deadly Class, The Walking Dead, Doom Patrol, and Gotham all contributed to this movement, but Krypton’s second season earned a 100% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and, in all likelihood, will have launched the career of some fan-favorite actors before all is said and done.

In my day job, of course, I come to know a lot of actors, producers, and the like. Most of them I get along with fine, although it’s rare that I can say with a straight face that I have more than one — MAYBE — friend on any given show. Krypton was different. Krypton was a show full of people who were excited to talk to the press, who were passionate about their stories, and who never failed to know my name when we met up at  crowded events. They followed me on Twitter, they replied to my reviews and theories, and they thanked me for the kind words I had for the show — even though there was no thanks necessary because the only reason I praised it is that they had earned the praise.

I will close out, then, with a message for the writers, producers, cast, and crew of KRYPTON. I told Cameron Cuffe something similar in a message I sent him shortly after I heard about the cancellation, but he is not alone. As a viewer of the show and as a reporter who covered it, thank all of you for this gem of a series, which brought me a lot of joy and raised the bar for comic book adaptations on TV. I look forward to what comes next from this stellar cast and crew, and will be more than happy to cover whatever that is. For me, I'm bummed by the loss of a great show, but I'm far more sad for those who are losing jobs and opportunities due to the cancellation. Krypton was a great, talented, and friendly cast and crew that it was a pleasure to get to know and cover over the last year and a half.  And the doors they opened, and the bar they raised, will reverberate into the future, spawning a better class of comic book show and making stars out of some of these young, talented, unknown actors and writers. This particular show, and these particular people, may not be around to enjoy the better tomorrow they have helped to build for the audience, but their contribution will not be forgotten.

That’s all I’ve got for tonight, folks, so thanks for listening. Be back by noon on the 5th day for more form Emerald City Video, and keep believing in a better tomorrow.

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