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Powers, the adaptation of the fan-favorite comic book by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, finishes its freshman season Tuesday, bringing to a close PlayStation Network’s first original drama.
As Walker (Sharlto Copley) and Deena (Susan Heyward) hunt down the escaped Wolfe (Eddie Izzard), showrunner Charlie Huston spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about surviving the experience of running his first television show.
You’re almost at the finish line. Have you been following the feedback been on the season so far?
I get reports from people like Brian Michael Bendis and other producers and the studio, and I hear we’re getting really nice response out there. The most important thing they’re talking about is how the show is different from other superhero shows and how we’re trying to push the boundaries a bit and tell some different kinds of story. Even if you don’t think we’re always doing a great job on every single front, people are talking about that we’re trying to do something different. We’re getting a lot of support hoping that we get to move forward and get an opportunity to get better at telling different kinds of stories.
Do you feel as if you’ve been figuring things out as you’ve been working on the show?
Right out the gate, we knew that we wanted to tell the story of being human in this world and how everyone had a different relationship with power, whether they never had it and want it, used to have it and want it back, whatever. The point of the show wasn’t superheroes fighting. Our learning curve was more, how quickly can we get into that stuff? How much plot do we need to lay out, how much time do we need to get things ramped up before we can get into that?
I think the thing that we really learned along the way — and where I think the episodes start getting better — is the halfway point. Episodes six and seven is where we really started clicking. With a traditional show, where you do a pilot, that’s a luxury you have. It’s awesome to get a 10-episode order up front, but you don’t realize there are real challenges that come with ramping up production from zero without having the experience of the pilot.
There were also moments in the first five episodes where we almost got tangled up in our own stream. There were so many things we wanted to do at the same time, and we got tripped up by ourselves. We were able to streamline a lot of that in the editing process, but by the time we got into the later scripts, we knew we didn’t have to try and do everything at the same time. Also, I think we learned how much room there was to slip some fun into the story.
Can you look back on the season now and think, “OK, this was the learning curve. This is where we started, but look at where we finished?”
I’m starting to get some distance. There are things that I’m never going to be satisfied with. When I dove into production and definitely by the time we got into post, I was convinced that the scripts were completely disassociated. There were times when I was beating my head against the wall, thinking, “What are we doing here? What are we making?” I thought we were losing everything we wanted to do, all the storytelling and everything about celebrity and fame, all of the stuff that was so important to me going in. It all just felt like a huge jungle.
When we got into editing, I remember the day when I saw four episodes back to back to back to back, and it was the first time I’d been able to do that. It was all there. We’d been charging so headlong, working so fast that it felt like it was all slipping away. There was a lot of stuff I’d thought had gotten away from us, and I was so glad to see that it hadn’t. It’s so hard to know what you have when you’re in the middle of it, it’s easy to start feeling like it’s all spun out of control. You try to set it up, and then it’s just rolling down a mountainside.
What do you do when it’s just feeling out of control? Were there moments when you just wanted to give up?
My [co-showrunner] Remi Aubuchon, who’s got 30 years in the business, has seen it all and done it all. The first time we ever met, we were talking about do we want to work together; we had never met together, and we’re getting along and we start talking about how the working relationship would work, and he said, ‘I want to be the guy that when you’re spinning out and freaking out, I’ll be the guy who taps you on the shoulder.’ Virtually in that moment, I knew he was the guy I wanted to work with.
Did you think at the time that there would be moments where you were spinning out and freaking out, or were you just thinking, “Sure, whatever,” when he said that?
I knew there’d be moments like that. I’m tremendously inexperienced. I’d made one pilot at HBO that didn’t go, so going from that pilot to a full 10-episode order … I was completely unprepared. I’m prepared in that I’m not crippled by hubris — I’ve got enough to think I can do the job, but not to believe that I know what to expect, you know? I took it as granted that, based on the vast amount of inexperience I had, that there would be moments where I just felt I was in over my head. And there were.
Now that you’ve finished the 10 episodes, do you think you have a better sense of what you’d want to change moving forward? Are there things that you can already identify as wanting to change for a second season?
As a production, I think we can do so much better with action and VFX. We have stuff that looks great in the show, but also have stuff where the fact that we’re just getting our feet under us still shows. Not in a bad way, but we can do better. A lot of that has to do with planning and making a strong choice in advance and not winging that. In VFX, you can buy yourself out of a situation, but you have to have the money — and then you don’t have that money there for another problem. I think that’s a place where the show can really improve, and the choice of what kind of action, as well.
We always said we’d never be able to compete with the movies and even other TV shows when it comes to super battles. With the features, it’s hundreds of millions of dollars, and with other TV shows, the whole point can be good guys fighting bad guys, and that’s not the show we are. We’re not carving out a huge amount of time or money for those things, so we need to work out that, when we’re going there, we know what it looks like, and more importantly, what role it plays in the story so that it’s completely satisfying for the audience.
Where are things, in terms of a second season?
We’re letting the wheels turn on what happens next, and waiting to hear what happens next.
With one episode left, what should fans expect from the end of Powers season one?
Just the end of the world (laughs). Black Swan rising, for people who’ve been paying attention to the show, they’ll know about the Black Swan. The final episode will be dealing with the Black Swan’s threat. You’ll see that the journey that Walker’s been on comes to a place of … having them, not having them, how he feels about that. You’ll see Deena coming to terms with what kind of cop she is, Calista, does she get power, Zora trying to come to terms with her fame and the choices she’s made. All of that stuff is going to pay off in the final episode in some way. I don’t know if you can say they get their just rewards or otherwise, but I believe that every major storyline that we’ve launched this season will come to some kind of conclusion, or at least a resting place that’ll show where we might be going in the future.
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