SDCC: ‘Emergence’ — A Child Is the Key to a Dark Mystery

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Allison Tolman and Alexa Skye Swinton

If the new ABC show Emergence has half the energy of the cast of Emergence in a press room I attended Thursday at Comic-Con in San Diego, it is going to be wonderful to watch.

Emergence, which will premiere September 24th at 10 p.m. on ABC, is about a young girl with strange abilities (Alexa Skye Swinton) who’s found at the scene of a mysterious accident and is taken in by the local police chief (Allison Tolman) in order to protect her.

That act of compassion pulls the entire town into peril as the mystery of the girl unravels. I wanted in on the press room because the show is co-produced by Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, who were the show-runners behind Marvel’s Agent Carter. The fact that the show also has a great female lead in Tolman, who won acclaim for her role in Fargo, helped a great deal.

“We were inspired by the Spielberg movies that focused on the wonder of youth. Even with all the other mysterious elements happening in those movies, they also focused on family. And everyone keeps bothering this family,” Butters and Fazekas said.

“Jo [Tolman’s character] is basically on two tracks. She’s very protective of this girl, but she also knows what’s going on is weird.”

The producers said there’s definitely a theme of found family, especially as Jo and her ex-husband, Alex, played by Donald Faison (Scrubs) are very recently divorced and don’t quite know how to behave as divorced spouses.

Tolman, they said, was their first choice. “We always loved Allison [for the lead]” and, further, they said that they were “lucky to get her.” The kids, too. Swinton and Ashley Aufderheid, who plays Jo’s daughter, Bree, were their first choices and had auditioned the same day.

The producers said for those worried about a mystery rolling out too slowly, that viewers will get answers to many questions right away, rather than being doled out, and that the show would be paced similarly to Agent Carter, which opened up new elements of the central conspiracy each episode. “And each episode will have an ending.”

Tolman said this role of police chief differs from her work in Fargo because “Jo is already good at her job. She knows her town, she’s an authority figure in her town, and I really liked that about her.”

Swinton broke in at that point out, jokingly saying that Tolman also intimidates people on the set, to which Tolman quipped, “I like to strike fear into the people around me.” The two of them clearly have bonded doing the show, with Swinton relaxed and teasing Tolman at the press roundtable. “We talked about shopping malls,” Swinton said, to which Tolman pointed out, “We are in New Jersey.” (The show shoots in Secaucus.)

You can see a tiny bit of their chemistry in the clip below, as they pose for a photo.

“The hardest part for me, I think, is this is the most stuntwork I’ve done,” Tolman said, to which Swinton said, “That’s my favorite part.”

The other cast members include Clancy Brown as Ed, Jo’s father and Bree’s grandfather, Owain Yeoman as Benny, an investigator who works for Reuters, Robert Bailey Jr. as Chris, a young police officer, and Zabryna Guevara as Abby, a pediatrician and Jo’s best friend.

Faison talked about how he pleased he was to do a role that required something different. “I’ve done comedy my whole career and I wanted a drama, something where I could play it real. This is the most serious I’ve ever been as a character, especially in the relationship with his daughter.”

Faison was careful not to give too much away about Emergence’s central mystery but said, “I don’t think the big mystery is what you think it is.” He said that because the show uses practical effects, it was sometimes a little intense for the actors because “you’re never really scared but the practical effects add to the reality.” He pointed to THE BASEMENT SCENE (yes, I picture him saying it in all caps) as an example, so we’ll have to watch and see if that scene is deserving of its all caps.

Bailey said the hardest thing initially about his role as a young cop was “feeling believable. I felt like for a bit that I was dressed in my father’s clothes.” His character, he says, wants to do well and step up to the plate, “but what’s happening is out of anything he ever expected.”

Guevara said the challenge is that her character, and Bailey’s and Yeoman’s, initially exist outside the core “family” unit, so it takes time for them to become part of that.

Yeoman (who, yes, definitely doesn’t use the American accent from The Mentalist in interviews) says he was drawn to the genre mystery thrilled but also to the family element that grounds the show.

The first episode of the show premiered at their Comic-Con panel, and all the cast members said they were pleased with how well that turned out. But if you’re intrigued, as I am, here’s the show’s trailer. We’ll have to wait and see how the show itself.

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