Based on the DC characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and executive produced by David S. Goyer, the Syfy series Krypton is set two generations before the destruction of Superman’s home planet, when Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), the Man of Steel’s grandfather, is faced with the decision to either save his home planet or let it be destroyed, in order to restore the fate of his future grandson. At a time when the House of El does not hold any respect in Kryptonian society, Seg must find a way to redeem his family’s honor while being challenged by a time traveler from Earth (Shaun Sipos) and protecting his loved ones from Brainiac (Blake Ritson).
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, showrunner Cameron Welsh talked about the sense of responsibility they have with telling this story, exploring Superman’s legacy, the fun in getting to play with the mythology, why you don’t have to have extensive comic book knowledge to enjoy this story, the class system of Krypton, production challenges, populating the series with villains, and how far they’ve thought ahead. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: What made you want to tackle this story, and what made you most nervous about doing that?
CAMERON WELSH: There’s a nervousness around the sense of responsibility that we have. This is such an iconic part of the pop culture fabric, really. The Superman mythology and that symbol, alone, means so much to so many different people. We feel the weight of that responsibility, when we’re working in that space. We pay homage to all of the creators that came before us, and that are continuing to work on it. At the same time, we have to still be true to ourselves and tell stories that we think are important now.
Even though this is a show that’s about a legacy and not so much about Superman, specifically, is it a name that you keep in your head to remember that, or do you try not to think about that, so that you can focus on the story you’re telling?
WELSH: It’s a serialized drama that’s novelistic, in its approach. From that point of view, it really is a character-driven show. Superman’s presence is felt throughout because of what the symbol represents. It’s a look into how that legacy came about, but when we first meet our protagonist Seg-El, Superman’s grandfather, he’s nothing like Superman. He’s drunk in a barroom brawl, which is something you’d never associate with Superman. The House of El symbol has been outlawed, when we start our story. He’s detached from that. The legacy that we’re exploring has no meaning, at this stage. It once did, and then it didn’t, so he has to rediscover it an reignite that flame, if he’s going to be the torch-bearer of that legacy and pass it on. Another part of the show that makes what we’re doing so interesting is that we introduce this time travel element. As much as, on the surface, people can look at this show and go, “Oh, it’s a prequel,” it really defies convention, in that sense. It kind of is, but in the first episode, we have someone travel from present-day Earth, back in time, to go to Krypton and warn Superman’s grandfather that somebody is trying to change history and prevent Superman from being born. Immediately, the timeline that has lead to Superman’s birth has changed. From that point of view, anything can happen, and we see that throughout the course of the season. Events that historically took place don’t necessarily unfold in the same way, and all of that goes to threaten Superman’s existence. We came into this thinking of it is an exploration into the legacy of this important iconic character, but the show evolved in its own way and became not just a look back but a show about the here and now, as well.
Do you get nervous about having a hand in changing little bits of that legacy, or is it just really cool to get to do that?
WELSH: It’s really cool! I’m not nervous because I’m surrounded by the right people. We’re partnered with DC on this, and Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer. These are people that know that world, back to front. It’s always with their blessing. And we’re really respectful of the canon. We’re not really looking to try to upend things, just for the sake of it. I’ve never really been a fan of that, myself, when I’ve seen it in prequels or alternate timelines. It’s more about expanding and deepening the existing mythology, but then subverting expectations, along the way.
What would you say people who don’t know anything about the comics should know about this character, Seg-El, that you’re setting the story around?
WELSH: That’s a good question. You don’t have to be a DC or a comic book or a Superman fan to enjoy this show. Of course, having an extensive comic book knowledge is going to deepen your experience, in some way, but it’s not going to fundamentally change it, as a viewer, so it has a broad appeal, in that sense. Anyone who has even a passing knowledge, you know what Superman stands for. He’s the good guy. He’s the ultimate hero. He’s known for his humanity. When we meet Seg, he’s so far removed from that perfect Boy Scout. People talk about Superman being a Boy Scout because he’s just so good. Seg is not. Seg is a hustler. He lives on the street. He didn’t grow up in Kansas with Ma and Pa Kent. He has a very different upbringing, on the streets. He’s a survivor. He’s had to learn how to survive by using his street smarts, his wits and his fists, at times. That’s not the archetype of Superman.
What does it mean to be someone living on Krypton, in this time period?
WELSH: That’s another good question. Krypton, and Kandor City, where our story takes place, is at a turning point in history. It’s under a very strict theocracy. There’s fundamentalism and there’s a massive class divide. What it would mean to be living there would depend on whether you are a member of one of the guilds who live in the upper echelon of that society, or whether you are rankless, which means you’re without name and you literally live on the basement of the world. The city of Kandor is really densely populated. It’s kind of like Manhattan, with massive towers. There are these canyons, and at the bottom of those canyons, is where the rankless live, at the very lowest level of society. Seg is a member of that class. So, your experience on Krypton, and in Kandor, specifically, would depend on whether you were up there drinking mimosas amongst the guilds, or down in the rankless licking rocks for hydration.
What are the biggest production challenges that you have, with this show?