Syfy’s new Krypton series is far better and bigger in scope than you may have guessed

We knew from early trailers and buzz going back literally years now that Syfy’s new series Krypton was going to cover Superman’s family’s distant past.  Even back here at in 2014 we previewed the first plans for Syfy’s series, wondering how close the DC writers would stick to the known backstory from the comic book pages, asking “Will they keep the character’s original name Seyg-El?”  Answer: Yes, with a slight change in spelling to “Seg”.  And “Will they bring in an Eddie Haskell neighbor as a young Zod?”  Answer:  Not quite, but the Zod family is going to be well represented in the series, which premiered this week with a pilot that should far surpass fan expectations.  In fact Krypton’s production values, writing, and actors are so well put together the show has the potential to equal the DC Comics adaptations on the CW network, and ten minutes into the pilot it already seemed more grounded in the comic books than any of the DC movie adaptations going back to Superman II.

The previews for Krypton failed to convey the actual scope and solid space fantasy framework the series is built on (and the epic scope that goes beyond Superman lore, but more on that below).  It looked like it was going to be like Marvel’s Inhumans–another odd, fringe fantasy show.  So don’t let the trailers mislead you.  The acting ranks are excellently cast–the show’s lead, British actor Cameron Cuffe, plays Seg-El.  The actor is a bright, knowledgeable fan of Superman in his own right, as conveyed as the host of the after-show.  Seg-El’s family grounds the series instantly with genre gravitas: first, Sherlock’s Rupert Graves plays his father, then Paula Malcomson–who portrayed moms in both The Hunger Games and Caprica–plays Seg’s mother, and General Dodonna himself, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Horatio Hornblower, and Game of Thrones actor Ian McElhinney, plays Seg’s own grandfather.  From the beginning the women take on a fierce role in the show, with the house of Zod represented in warrior Lyta Zod, played by show co-star Georgina Campbell (Black Mirror, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Broadchurch).  Ann Ogbomo, who portrayed an Amazon warrior in the big screen’s Wonder Woman and Justice League plays her mother, Jayna Zod.  While fans are still on a fantasy superhero high from this year’s Black Panther movie, the military guild with the fierce Amazon-inspired Zod warrior-in-charge is well-timed.

The surprise from the pilot is how much Krypton seems to have the potential to be the next big Syfy series, like Battlestar Galactica came out of nowhere to reinvigorate science fiction television 15 years ago in 2003.  The show pulls from several science fiction and space fantasy realms, but the space fantasy potential is most interesting, with Stargate, John Carter, Valerian, Riddick and more as possible inspiration.  Pinar Toprak’s musical score, with appropriate John Williams Superman movie theme cues, has a pulsating Daft Punk Tron: Legacy vibe, with brightly neon-lit ships also borrowing some of that film’s more familiar visual elements.  Add in the visuals you can find late artist Michael Turner’s Krypton and great costume styles from designers Varvara Avdyushko (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and Bojana Nikitovic (Underworld: Blood Wars, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance).  Story elements can be found in Logan’s Run, Flash Gordon, THX-1138.  Even parallels to scenes from Batman’s backstory come into play.  The story in the first episode plays like one of the better episodes of Star Trek’s Enterprise series, the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, incorporating the beginnings of political tangles like those in The Dead Zone.  Krypton is also cool and cocky in its sets, style, writing, and acting, much like one of Syfy’s best recent series, Killjoys.  As fulfilling as the CW Network’s worldview of the DC Universe has become with the Arrowverse, Krypton is different, with none of the pop culture reference-heavy chatter, or that soap opera vibe of Smallville.  It’s a promising pilot–this looks like a most welcome Syfy channel space show.

The pilot definitely will spark some nostalgia for anyone who read the 1979 World of Krypton mini-series by Paul Kupperberg and Howard Chaykin and the 1987 follow-0n series The World of Krypton by John Byrne and Mike Mignola.  The big surprises don’t even tie into the El family or the Zods.  The show’s producers plan to take the series beyond Superman lore and into the realm of the DC Universe space-based characters we have yet to meet on the big or small screen.  So after 60 years, Adam Strange fans finally get to see the character come to life.  Sporting a Detroit Tigers hat, at first Shaun Sipos’s (Final Destination 2, Smallville) new take on the space hero (minus the jetpack) may seem jarring, but his placement at this point in the DC Universe has great potential.  And viewers also get a first look at the show’s ultimate villain, the superbly designed Brainiac, also first appearing 60 years ago (an even better look at Blake Ritson’s character and makeup can be found in the aftershow episode).

The series is quite ambitious, and producers suggest expansion will include the villain Doomsday and Thanagar, so we could very well see some distant cousins to Hawkman and Hawkgirl down the road.

Other actors of note in the series include Elliot Cowan (The Frankenstein Chronicles, The Golden Compass) and Wallis Day (The Royals, Jekyll & Hyde), who are part of the antagonistic ruling family of Kandor.

The happenings in Krypton are a good distance from the rest of the DC Universe just as FX’s Legion series is far-removed from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so this could be another refreshing change on TV from the superhero norm.  Look for Krypton Wednesday evenings at 9 p.m. Central on Syfy.

C.J. Bunce

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