Okay, so I've sent off a number of quick, one or two paragraph ideas to Carnival, and they like INCARNATE! They really really like it. But it's only a couple of lines of setup, and a list of possible characters, so I need to work it up into a proper two-page outline before there's even the vaguest hint of me getting my hands on some actual cash.
So, I now have to have a bit of a think about how a possible series would work, how you lead the viewers into this world, the sort of stories you could tell within it, and the sort of shape a series would have: self-contained stories of the week, one big slowly unfolding novelistic storyline, or maybe a mixture of both? My preference is usually for the slow, novelistic style, but the format here is really more suited to a mixture: lots of stories you can wrap up on a week-by-week basis, but with a background arc that can gradually rise into the foreground as the series goes on - with a nice cliffhanger ending.
But then I also start to think about the main character. I initially saw him as a bit of a nobody, a temp worker who suddenly gets offerered the greatest job in the world: being a superhero. But then I remember a quote from a BBC channel controller a while ago, referring to Lily Allen as 'the voice of her generation'. Obviously he didn't mean her actual voice, which is... a bit thin, frankly (but great production by The Bird And The Bee, go and buy their album 'Rayguns Are Not Just The Future' immediately). He meant everything about her: her background, attitude, accent - the whole ensemble. This man genuinely had Lily Allen up as some kind of Spirit of the Age. And my immediate reaction was, of course, 'jeezy chreezy, what if that were true?' Essentially, we would all be fucked, wouldn't we?
So, what if the hero wasn't an ordinary nobody? What if he was one of those ghastly fucking young people whose mum had to work really hard to pay for them to go to school actually, that seem to spawn fully formed from North London, sipping bottled water, big sunglasses pushed up on their heads, talking loudly about how everything's well random lol. The sort of person who would consider the sudden manifestation of superpowers not as some kind of amazing gift, to be held in awe and treated with the greatest respect, but as, frankly, their birthright? And thus TROY BENEDICT was born.
8x50min Fantasy action comedy/drama
‘What if Britain got its own superhero, and he was basically a complete prick?’
When skinny jean-wearing, Big Brother-watching, North London-living trustafarian TROY BENEDICT wakes up with superpowers, he knows exactly what to do. Hold a press conference, sort out a reality television show, give all your off-loading mates jobs as sidekicks/support team/publicists and wait for the cash to roll in.
Unfortunately, TROY quickly discovers he’s only one of a group of similarly-powered (but covertly-operating) individuals, none of whom are too happy at him blowing the gaffe. When he discovers a cult of Jack the Ripper descendents want him dead, and a skinhead superhero-turned-bad is planning to turn the entire country into a fascist paradise, TROY starts to realise he might just have inherited a whole heap of trouble…
After starting to glow with a brilliant white light at socially inconvenient times, TROY BENDICT discovers he’s become a modern-day manifestation of THE PENDRAGON, an archetypal British hero previously embodied by such characters as Beowulf, George the Dragon Slayer and Uther Pendragon (father of King Arthur himself). This gives TROY the powers of enormous stamina and strength, the ability to leap tremendous distances, and invulnerability to mortal weapons.
Sadly, TROY’s first impulse is not to help the helpless, learn great responsibilities, or strike fear into the hearts of criminals everywhere. He doesn’t even bother with a secret identify, but instead, decides to announce his powers to the world.
Unfortunately for TROY, it soon becomes apparent that other superheroes are out there, it’s just that they’ve been operating secretly, partly out of a sense of duty, and partly because all manner of nasties have been waging war against them for centuries. And TROY is now right in the middle of it…
As the series progresses, TROY becomes dissatisfied with stopping half-arsed bank raids and saving North London from rather piffling natural disasters, only to learn he’s just one of THE INCARNATES: updated versions of classic british heroes (and anti-heroes) given amazing powers to protect their land from the monsters created by the collective unconscious of its own inhabitants.
The good news: TROY is easily the most powerful of their number, and may well be in line to inherit the mantle of leadership. The bad news: the rest of THE INCARNATES clearly think he’s some kind of appalling tool, whilst in the growing darkness lurks an ancient and corrupted hero with his own ideas as to how exactly Britain should regain its former glories.
TROY BENDICT – ‘THE PENDRAGON’:
Nathan Barley in a cape, M*x G*garty* with superstrength – TROY BENEDICT surely isn’t anybody’s idea of a hero. Can TROY learn there’s more to being a hero than wearing a tight-fitting leather suit with cool sunglasses? Will his secret invulnerability turn out to be radiated fragments of his home world (Primrose Hill), his sponging mates, or just his colossal ego? And most staggering of all, is it possible that being given cool powers and being plunged into an aeon-old battle between light and darkness could turn TROY into a slightly nicer person?
ROBIN: Matrix-leather-clad chick with a longbow.
SPRINGHEEL JACK: Bouncing, flame-breathing Victorian weirdo.
BOUDICEA: Charismatic, tattooed, knife-wielding trouble-maker and general stirrer.
WHITTINGTON: The Night Mayor. Political fixer, pulls strings, calls in favours.
THE FINCHLEY ROAD GOLEM: Hulking creature born from clay and Jewish mysticism (won’t fight on the Sabbath).
It isn’t just Britain’s heroes who have become embodied in physical form – many of the nation’s darkest nightmares also walk the streets.
THE RIPPERS: dark rituals learned by the original Jack The Ripper enabled him to incarnate into multiple bodies at once, all of which are dedicated to slaughtering as many heroes as possible, in order to take their powers for themselves.
MISTER PUCK: a sinister and ambiguous Shakespearean crimelord, whose allegiances seem to shift on an hourly basis.
TOOTH FAIRIES: Hunchbacked, four-armed creatures with terrifying rusty iron implements, born from the nightmares of children.
ARTHUR: darkly nationalistic Incarnate of King Arthur himself, and the Big Bad of the series. Has already raised a small army of thuggish, nationalistic supporters, and has every intention of taking TROY’s powers for himself in order to rule Britannia and turn a third of the globe pink once more, even if he has to murder every other hero to do it.
INCARNATE creates a very British take on superheroes, as well as a satirical take on modern celebrity culture. Focusing less on standard superheroic deeds and more on the enormous egos of the people behind the masks (or in TROY’s case, aviator shades), INCARNATE will go boldly where no British fantasy action comedy/drama with superheroes has ever dared go before.
..... which Carnival seemed quite happy with, were about to commission a treatment (i.e. give me some money to develop the two-pager into a proper ten-ish page beast) and then, DISASTER!
ITV suddenly announced the commissioning of NO HEROICS, a sitcom "set in modern-day England, in a world similar to ours but "with one small difference: there are superheroes."
It was the dreaded 'Broadcaster C have just decided to commission a very similar project, I'm afraid' scenario. I pointed out that theirs was a sitcom, rather than a drama (admittedly with comedy elements), and that no-one ever said 'OMG Channel 4 are doing a series with a policeman in! We must cancel Inspector Morse immediately!', but things weren't looking good.
And then, the development person at Carnival said a wondrous, beautiful thing. What was it? TUNE IN TOMORROW OMG THIS IS SO EXCITING and so on.
* Asterisked, because I think he's probably had a tough enough time of already.