‘Debris’ Stars & Creator on the New Sci-Fi Drama’s Message of Hope Among the Aliens (VIDEO)
Not since Chicken Little has the sky falling caused such a stir. But in NBC’s instantly addictive new sci-fi thriller Debris, the search for the remnants of a destroyed spaceship that have begun raining down across the globe doesn’t actually herald a doomsday scenario. In fact, the mysterious wreckage — and its hidden powers — may be the key to mankind’s redemption.
“People today are a little bit lost. They’ve lost faith in things, and it is hard times,” says creator Joel Wyman, who previously explored the outer limits with Fox’s alt-universe drama Fringe. “Now more than ever it’s important to [show] people that there is something larger [than us], to bring back wonder and the concept that maybe there’s something out there we don’t know. I want people to remember that there’s a lot of dark, but there’s also great light to be found.”
So instead of heading down the ominous “aliens are coming!” route, Wyman has crafted an insightful procedural that vibrates at a more hopeful frequency, while still giving viewers “a lot of popcorn and a lot of fun.”
In the Debris premiere — see a sneak peek in the clip above! — which features teleporting black-marketeers and some jaw-dropping visual effects, we learn that the U.S. and the U.K. have formed an international partnership known as Orbital to search for the scattered wreckage. Leading the hunt are guarded CIA agent Bryan Beneventi (Westworld‘s Jonathan Tucker), who believes the “good guys” must get their hands on the alien technology first, and Finola Jones (Riann Steele of The Magicians), an optimistic MI6 operative coping with the recent death of her dad, the astrophysicist who spearheaded Orbital after being the first person NASA told about the spacecraft anomaly.
“It’s very personal to her,” says Steele, describing Finola’s father as a Neil deGrasse Tyson–type who raised a “child that has always looked up to the stars, knowing that there is something more.”
Bryan’s involvement too has a paternal angle. Haunted by not-so-distant traumas from his time in Afghanistan, the Marine Corps special forces vet was recruited for the gig by father figure Craig Maddox (Norbert Leo Butz, Fosse/Verdon), head of Orbital’s CIA component. “Bryan has quite a bit of scar tissue to get through in order to allow himself to connect to Finola,” Tucker says. “That’s one of the fun things we get to play with: Bryan is much more ‘stick to the facts and figures,’ which is a wonderful counterbalance to Finola, who is incredibly emotive and empathetic.”
Both of their styles will come in handy as they head deeper into the investigation, which is loaded with the kind of conspiratorial mythology that fueled Wyman’s Fringe. The opening hour introduces the idea that pieces of debris do different, physics-defying things depending on who comes in contact with them. Each week, the duo face the challenge of figuring out not just how the particle du jour functions but also how they can help those who have encountered it.
The first episode explores how a Kansas mother’s grief over the loss of her young son has the power to both destroy the rest of her family and rebuild it. “Things that seem terrifying and horrifying” — like, say, levitating bodies — “always resolve themselves into something that’s relatable and kind of beautiful,” Wyman promises. “They’re metaphors.”
He looks at the debris as he does science. “What it’s used for is really more of a mirror and reflection on the human race,” Wyman says. Despite his plan to answer questions raised by certain twists along the way, he hints the series may not show us any aliens at all: “I was always captivated by the idea that when something comes, we’d probably learn more about ourselves than the visitors by how we react.”
To that end, you can expect power struggles between the two teamed nations and beyond. “Some people will use [the technology] for good. Some people will use it for bad. It’s like splitting atoms. It could go either way,” Wyman says. Just don’t count on any close encounters of the flirt kind. Even though the always fascinating Tucker and the easy-to-like Steele spark onscreen as the agents enjoy some tension-cutting banter, this won’t be the Sex-Files.
“They continue to find a common ground and trust,” Tucker says of the characters. But “we realized the other day that they have never, really, physically touched. That was a very interesting thing to discover.”
Adds Wyman, “Just because they are partners doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to click in that way. But I did want to make sure that [viewers] understood very clearly that these people can see the value in each other and are on this crazy journey together.”
That is, after all, the theme that grounds Debris. “Ultimately it is about human connections,” says Steele. “With each piece, there’s a moment that is aspirational. Through a person’s harrowing experience with it, we learn something about ourselves and each other.”
Debris, Series Premiere Monday, March 1, 10/9c, NBC