SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details from the Debris Season 1 finale
“Well, if the worst case is to happen, that, they decide that they weren’t going to continue this, I would look for other avenues to continue telling this story, because I think that the story itself is really a story worth writing about, and so much more to tell,” says Debris creator J.H. Wyman of the NBC bubble show that ended its first mind-bending season tonight.
Having not received a renewal yet, the fate of the Riann Steele and Jonathan Tucker-led is still in the fog of the unknown – whether it stays on the Comcast-owned network or finds a possible new home on streaming or cable.
Which is not unlike tonight’s “Celestial Body” finale that saw Steele’s MI6 agent Finola Jones and Tucker’s alien debris infected CIA operative Bryan Beneventi betrayed by those closest to them and nothing being what it seems, in this dimension or any other. As the battle between the Western power’s Orbital organization and the rebel cell Influx over who will control the power that has fallen from the skies escalates, Finola’s dead but now alive scientist father George Jones (Tyrone Benskin) reveals that he has thrown his lot in with the John Noble-led group.
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With all that drama on screen in the 13th episode of Debris and over a season that made the twists and turns of Wyman’s 2008-2013 intricate Fox series Fringe look like mere swivels, the EP and Tucker chatted with me about the show and what could be next. Wyman and the Kingdom alum also laid out the overall plan for Debris and what is was like to make a show in partially locked down Vancouver about a world suddenly turned upside during a global pandemic that turned the real-world upside down
Crumpe: So, what the hell was that ending all about in a cave in Arizona with a white ball of energy and Finola Jones in a state of seemingly suspended animation?
TUCKER: Let me say, before Joel answers that question, because he’s the one most with the real authority in general, As a fan, I don’t know of a moment in any of the scripts I’ve ever read that I enjoyed more than the end of the last episode, where we are there with the Native American in the desert, at the very end of the episode. You’re like, wait, wait a second, what? What is happening right now? It’s this fabulous strange breath of wind in the lungs of somebody who’s been breathing seemingly very different air over the course of, at that point, 12 episodes.
So, the fact that we then collide, slide our way into the moment that you’re referencing at the end of the season is, feels somewhat magical, and totally a reflection of Joel Wyman as a storyteller.
WYMAN: I paid him to say that.
Crumpe: Still, that’s not a bad place to end, but in that, Joel, Debris hasn’t yet been renewed so this could be a series finale …
WYMAN: You know, it’s like, yeah, we always say that, but the first season of a show is always supposed to be an origin story, and that people are supposed to grab the handlebars and say now what the show is, okay, I get it. But then, we’re supposed to recontextualize it as you move forward, and, it’s no mistake that Sebastian Roché’s last line is, plays the character of Brill, is, “Let’s begin,” because it’s supposed to just completely change your expectations, and realize there’s so much more to come.
Crumpe: So, where do you go from that cave and Influx’s big moves if there is more Debris?
WYMAN: Well, I mean, I wouldn’t want to give away where the show’s going, but you know, it is the beginning. Now we understand a lot of things about Bryan. We have a fundamental understanding of who Finola and Bryan are, their value systems, what they know about the debris, what they don’t, that there’s another echelon of understanding that they didn’t even comprehend. George Jones is very, very specifically, says to Finola in the finale, hey, listen, there’s things that you don’t know that you need to know about the debris, that you need to come with me.
That’s a pretty big and bold statement. I can say, definitely going there. We definitely had a lot of episodes with some very mind-bending stuff. We’ve had debris that can open up wormholes in Manhattan. We had debris that can find portals. We’ve had debris that can do pretty much anything, so, or alter realities and show us different realities.
Crumpe: To what end?
WYMAN: I wanted to use those sort of stories to allow people to understand that where we’re going is going to have other levels of that, and that the debris is, there’s actually three factions.
There’s Orbital, and what they want. There’s Influx, and what they want, and then there’s Debris, and they don’t know. They don’t know what that is, and just understanding how Bryan is a center point, that’s no mistake, the idea that we’ve been teasing that he’s been taking these shots, and something happened to him with Garcia and Agent Ming, no mistake. You know, Bryan is a central figure of the story from the standpoint of saying, okay, he’s going to have a lot of answers and a lot of questions, and a lot of heavy journey going forward.
So, what this was designed to do was to sort of say, okay, here we go. Now, you know, now all bets are off. You can really get into the mythology in a way that is sincere and meaningful.
Crumpe: Jonathan, that’s as obvious a segue as anyone’s ever going to give me, so Debris is this seems like a show that could’ve been made 20 years ago, and yet it was made in the world of 2021, a lot of it under COVID, by the way, as we all know. How and where do you think it stands at this finale, which may or may not be a series finale, depending on what the brass decides?
TUCKER: The smartest leaders in business invest in people over ideas, and while Debris is a great idea, it’s run by an even better person. And you know, when you are in, again, probably any business, but I can speak specifically to the creative endeavor of entertainment, you have to take a leap of faith with people, and you take a leap of faith with the machines, with your acting partners, and the crew that comes together.
Crumpe: Picking up on what Joel said about the first season of a show being the origin story, where do you think the audience is with Debris after these first 13-episodes?
TUCKER: If you have committed to watching the series over the course of the season, and there’s been a very die-hard group of people that have, you understand that there’s something grander going on. That’s kind of what Joel does, and what he has been planning to do since the jump. As Joel says, you know, there are no mistakes here. Everything is thought out and planned.
So, it would be a disappointment for me personally if the show wasn’t renewed, because not only did I take a leap here, but more importantly, audiences took a leap. And they have been rewarded over the course of this season, particularly with the last, you know, four or five episodes. So, you know, people are offering their time and their lives, and you want to be able to honor that other side of the agreement. That’s why people have generally peeled off from network television onto streamers, because those streamers have made that commitment.
They haven’t done it, usually, for five seasons. They usually commit to three, so, I guess it’s, you know, it’s a middle ground, but I expect and hope that NBC recognizes what an honor it is to work with Joel, and that we should continue staying in business.
Crumpe: Joel, what do you say to fans of Debris, fans of yours, who have watched the season and are waiting to know what happens next, both literally and figuratively?
WYMAN: Jonathan and I talked about this a lot, it’s like, all we can do is put it all out there, and try and tell the stories that we love, and that we’re passionate about. And I know those fans are literally the best fans in the world. I wouldn’t have had any opportunity in Fringe to continue doing what I’m doing without the fans, and I really, really feel, or believe that they’re out there. They like this type of science fiction. They want to engage in it.
Crumpe: And the business of the small screen?
WYMAN: You know, as far as network television, I mean, people are always saying, hey, like, I wish stuff was a little bit more this or a little bit more that. The idea that this is something that’s an elevated idea that’s on, and hopefully the fans keep showing up, and we do really well in digital, and our numbers are holding.
But you know, we need people to support it, and be vocal about how much they like it, or how much they’re intrigued by it to sort of help us out. That’s just the name of the game. I can tell them that, look, NBC have been incredible partners. Creatively allowing me to do what I do, and to make the show that I wanted to make, and they’re very supportive. I know they really, like, there’s so many there that love the show.
So, I’m hoping for the best, but we don’t know.
Crumpe: Is Debris over if it doesn’t get a second season at NBC?
WYMAN: Well, if the worst case is to happen, that, they decide that they weren’t going to continue this, I would look for other avenues to continue telling this story, because I think that the story itself is really a story worth writing about, and so much more to tell.
Crumpe: Like a streamer?
WYMAN: I would say that, that even if it didn’t work out at NBC, I would try to get it somewhere somehow., I really believe in the show, and I love, love, love my fans. I love the people that believe in this work, and last thing, and I want to give them something that they enjoy.
Crumpe: Let’s flip it, let’s say NBC call you up tomorrow and say, let’s do this – what’s the big plan?
WYMAN: Well, right now, it’s a five-year plan, it’s five seasons.
I think what’s great about, as you know, from Fringe, you discover things along the way, and you’re like, that’s interesting. It’s a little detour that could enhance, and can sometimes hurt you. I see a five-year sort of plan, and I know exactly where it’s going to end.
Crumpe: Could that end change?
WYMAN: Well, perhaps but to me, there’s a clarity of the vision and what it is. it’s interesting, because you’re talking about streamers versus network, and the effort here was, like, okay, well, we’re going to put something and elevate it on network, and try and really sort of tell a story that hopefully people, will capture their imagination, and get them started.
And that’s tough.
I mean, it’s not only our business, it’s every business right now. The music industry, you know, they don’t grow bands anymore. You know, it’s tough. You know, you got to give people time and runway to do it, and I’m just trying to use these 13 episodes to start this story, and that’s, again, that’s why, like, at the end I chose very specifically that the last words are “Okay, let’s begin.”
Crumpe: Jonathan, the relationship that you and Riann have established for the very different Bryan and Finola took time on the screen to find its footing. So, is that relationship between these two characters as we see this season end? Because it looks like whatever reality we think we’re watching, five minutes later, we’re in a new one.
TUCKER: Yeah, that’s absolutely correct, and I mean that as a high compliment to the different ways in which, the different bank shots that the episodes take to get us to this final episode, which, as Joel said, is simply a platform upon which to build the following seasons.
Both of these characters, you know, have tremendous wounds to heal, and metaphorically putting together, helping others as they encounter the debris is, in many ways, helping themselves. And on the larger picture, if they can put together the puzzle of this spaceship and reassemble the wreckage, then they are, you know, one step closer to finding their own feet on the ground again.
It’s a relationship between two different sexes, two different colors, and two different geographic regions, and that they are forced to, not forced, but they are not forced to come together, but they choose to do so step by step over the course of 13 episodes. So, I find that to be a bit of a unique relationship on television, and I also kind of boil it down, for a little laugh from Joel, that the first season is about a woman trying to find her father and a guy saying goodbye to his father. It’s sort of the story of every great epic, you know, tale from the ancient classics to the recent Pixar movies.
Crumpe: To pull back to an even larger POV, there’s a metaphor at play for Western power and capitalism in Debris …
WYMAN: Well, it’s forcing you to examine it, and look at the gray area. Who’s bad? I mean, it’s such an interesting thing, because, you know, and Orbital has their agenda, and their goals, and they’re acting on their own belief that what they’re doing is correct. And then, you have Influx, who’s quite rationally, I mean, in an irrational manner, but rationally thinking, hey, maybe this is going to be weaponized, maybe this is going to be bad, maybe it should be free.
Crumpe: Of Influx, we see the return of Fringe’s John Noble to another show of yours now with his appearance tonight in quite a different role …
WYMAN: First of all, John’s so underrated, to me, as an actor. I think it’s criminal that he was ignored for the work that he did on Fringe.
Here in Debris, our trouble is that I needed to find something that was going to be worthy of him, because he’s got so many layers I had to do the complete opposite of what Walter was on Fringe, and give him something to play that would just make people’s hair stand on end, and allow him to sort of dig deep, deep, deep, deep into his many, many, many abilities. And you know, so, when I conceived Otto and I thought of what he was, I called John and said, hey, so, I’ve got this thing, and this is what I think we should do, and what do you think?
And he said, I love this concept, okay. You know, let’s talk about it, and we sort of went on, and then, the complexities of who that character is, And fortunately, we looked at each other, said, this is it, let’s do this, and this is great.
You know, Otto is a very, very important character to the show. The way that I introduced him, I didn’t want to do fanfare, bells and whistles. I just want him to kind of come out of this door, like he’s in some old, you know, western, where he just walks out of the saloon. You’re like, this guy’s trouble.
Crumpe: Speaking of trouble, you guys were battered around pretty hard by Covid-19 delays, quarantines and more and in many ways, the show is a bit of a pandemic panorama. If for no other reason than that feeling of something not being right in the world is so ingrained in the bones of this series, and that literally was the environment in which you were making this series it seems.
WYMAN: That’s a really interesting question. I mean, that’s a really good observation.
Jonathan will speak to the on-set experience, because I know he has really interesting insights on that. From my perspective, it’s interesting because I’m not there. I’m not able to travel there to Vancouver. I’m watching shots from remote camera feed, doing sound, which is really, really important to me, and the mixes, and the coloring.
It was so different from every aspect, editing, the writers’ room.
I’m such an organic person, you know, meaning, like, I’m not digital. I really like to see people, and talk to people, and relate to people, and you know, it’s really, really tough. You know, but on the other side, we have a responsibility and I want to put people to work. I want people to be able to pay their mortgage. I deeply, deeply care about that, and you know, we had a lot of responsibility.
Our partners at NBC and Legendary did an incredible job on making sure that not only did we hit the heights of protection, and cautions and everything, but exceeded them, and made that possible. Everybody’s attitude on the set was fantastic, because they knew it had to be done. It’s just, that’s the way it is, and I don’t think we could’ve done it unless we had, you know, every single asset firing on all cylinders of the production, and they were. Everybody did their best to make it happen.
TUCKER: I don’t know if I’m going to look back at this series and what I’ll underscore were the complications of dealing with COVID, and I say that as a tribute to the whole team, from the studio, the network, right on down to the sound department wiring us. My only disappointment is I don’t know, after having worked intimately for seven months with 150 first-class Canadian crew members, whether I would recognize them on the street or not, because I don’t know what they look like without a mask.
Crumpe: That’s an out of body experience unto itself …
TUCKER: Yes, but to Joel’s point, it was really important to us to continue to provide a job for people, and to do it safely. Joel and I have a real sort of working-class mentality to our lives and our work. You know, to get the magic, you have to really put in the sweat equity, and I don’t think there was a single day I didn’t show up not overly enthusiastic to be on set, and to be actually employed, and to be working.
Crumpe: Do you see that on the screen when you watch the show?
TUCKER: Yes. I think the show stands on its own, so, there’s no complaints here from, certainly from me or Joel. I can tell you, I don’t think there’s any complaints from our crew. This is an industry that got shut down and battered, and some folks, by the flip of the coin of the gods, got very wealthy in the world because of COVID, and some really equally-talented folks got completely obliterated. So, we were grateful to have the job.
It’s hard to drive by folks on a construction site in the middle of the night, when it’s, like, raining out, and it’s 30 degrees, in the mud, and start saying, the pandemic, you know, COVID protocols are so onerous. It’s like, you know what, man? This is pretty darn good. There are so many alternatives that are so much more challenging. We’re in a really great spot, and I think to the credit of the show, you don’t watch this show and go, well, it did pretty well, considering.