Tower Prep: High School Hell
This will be another brief post. However, it is an exciting one.
At Dragon*Con 2010, I was just an attendee; I did not have guest status, did not get in free, did not run Pre-Sweetened Playhouse or any other panels. However, I did help out with the existing animation panels, and there's a chance I might be back to run panels next year. And I did attend a last-minute panel scheduled by animation great Paul Dini...about a non-animated show.
Tower Prep is a one-hour series, thirteen episodes in the first season, which will be airing on Cartoon Network. It's still discomforting to see more non-animated programming on CN. However, from the footage shown, and the details given by Dini, Tower Prep justifies live-action programming - at least as far as Tower Prep.
Spoiler Alert: This is advance information about the series. It is incomplete. Mr. Dini understandably didn't want to spoil surprises, but had to reveal something about the show to get us interested. If you are really, really afraid of spoilers, skip down to the bold-type line saying "End of Spoiler Alert."
The place in question is an exclusive preparatory school. Exclusive...and exclusionary. Once a student enters, the outside world is cut off. No internet, no news, no visits to the outside world. Guards with scary green-light goggles, laser beam detectors and high-tech traps keep the students inside. In the style of 1984, there are cameras, monitors and screens everywhere, and proctors among the students spy on the larger student body and report to the faculty.
The head of the school is named Headmaster. The history teacher is named History. None of the faculty has human names, only the name of their specialties; a future episode will have a substitute teacher named Substitute.
The students are all brilliant, but they also have...well, not exactly "superpowers," but exceptional abilities that could exist in the real world. For example, the show's focus character, Gabe Forrest (Ryan Pinkston), the "new kid in school," has a kind of danger sense. He can tell when someone or something is about to threaten him a few seconds before it happens. One of the girls can mimic the motions, posture and gait of another person; she doesn't physically change into the person, but she can "fool" people with sufficient preparation.
These students are forced by the teachers to control and improve their abilities. For what? The students aren't sure, and the teachers are deliberately not telling. Could they be used to help humanity, hurt humanity, or control humanity?
Gabe discovers the traps and tricks of Tower Prep...but not all. For example, in a regular kind of physical education game, students are formed into three teams. Each team is supposed to defeat the other two teams...but individual team members are encouraged to sabotage or betray their team so they come out on top. And in the larger game of Tower Prep, students who seem friendly may betray others, and enemies may provide assistance to each other.
In the first season, Gabe will gradually become the leader of a secret group of students, who seek to discover the secrets of Tower Prep, and seek to escape.
End of Spoiler Alert.
Although I didn't tape the interview, Dini said that this series is very dark, and especially in its final episode of the first season, upsetting things will happen. He mentioned the other teen/tween shows built around high schools that Disney and Nickelodeon run. Shows such as That's So Raven, iCarly, Hannah Montana and others, high school is all about supportive teachers, good friends and moral lessons. Tower Prep deals with what Dini called "the dark side...the betrayals, the insecurity, the powerlessness of teenage life."
Just like Harry Potter's school Hogwarts, Tower Prep is a British-style prep school, isolated from parents and the outside world. But it combines the totalitarianism and fear of The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan's paranoid spy fantasy. I have never seen any show intended for a teenage audience involve this material. It's darker than the "Maximum Ride" novels ghostwritten under the James Patterson house name. It doesn't get lost in fantasy, like the Twilight novels or the related teen-vampire young adult novels.
Sadly...I didn't have the trailer Dini brought. Many of the links that Cartoon Network have put up are blind promotion ideas, or "cheery fun adventure" promos that make the show look like every other tween science-fiction adventure. Here is a link to a brief promo from YouTube that givss the feel, if not all the information, about the new show.
In fact, there are two things that were upsetting. This panel was arranged at the last minute; it did not appear in the program, only in the "Daily Dragon" update sheet. And Dini had some PR photos of the cast (which I will upload here later) but no patches, goodies, or much more than a three minute video to show. It's his show, CN is investing a lot of money in it, but they preferred to make a big deal out of it at San Diego Comic-Con instead of in their own back yard in Atlanta. They should support Dini when he promotes projects, especially his own, and they should support the growing animation fandom in Atlanta.