[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
My Canadian TV affection is pretty well-documented, and this morning, Netflix dropped The Order, a fun supernatural-themed series that’s wall-to-wall with some of my favorite #cdntv people and a host of familiar faces.
The ten-episode first season centers around Jack (iZombie‘s Jake Manley), an incoming freshman at the tony Belgrave University. His hell-bent desire to attend has nothing to do with the academics and everything to do with avenging his mother’s death. Whether that’s his laser focus or his grandfather’s is a bit of a toss-up.
The key to that vengeance is a mystical skull-and-crossbones type secret society that nobody will cop to as real, but Jake is sure exists and is determined to pledge. We see separately that it is a real thing and one of its powerful members wants him in, too, but the lengths to which she’ll go to make that happen are a little murky.
Throw in a a meet-cute between Jack and Alyssa (Legends of Tomorrow‘s Sarah Grey), a fellow student who he suspects knows more than she’s telling, a one-percenter segment of the student body that’s already made up its mind about Jack, and a werewolf on a killing spree, and you’ve got a mad scientist’s mix of goings on. The vibe is decidedly wink nod for us—think Fright Night—but Jack is grounded enough in his reality to try to roll with all (and there are A LOT) of the punches. I watched the first three in a row this morning (which y’all know I rarely ever do) and it was a ball.
Manley and Grey are well-matched playing two people with very different agendas who realize they might need to nudge those agendas to accommodate each other. Matt Frewer is Jack’s grandpa, Pops, and he’s terrific here as an embittered, grieving father who is still pretty damn funny and practical, regardless of the fantastic things Jack sees and reports back.
Inside the society, the always-delicious Katharine Isabelle (who has mega werewolf cred from the cult hit Ginger Snaps and is currently on the Canadian series, Little Dog) is the chair of the college and the top of the local food chain in the society. She bristles a bit at the oversight of its national leader, Edward Covington (Max Martini, having WAY too much fun). True Blood‘s Sam Trammell is Jack’s ethics professor, to whom he hilariously posits rather existential, “If…then,” quandaries.
The student body is filled out with familiar faces Adam DiMarco (The Magicians), Devery Jacobs (season 3 of Cardinal and next up in American Gods), Dylan Playfair (Travelers), Aaron Hale (Pure), Louriza Tronco (No One Would Tell), Jedidiah Goodacre (The Originals), and
Thomas Elms (Aurora Teagarden). Also look for Hallmark familiar faces–Hailey Dean Mysteries‘ Emily Holmes and Father Christmas trilogy’s Julia Benson in very funny turns as one of the helicopter parents and Jack’s English prof.
The series was created by Motive‘s Dennis Heaton, who we last saw working on Syfy’s Ghost Wars. Here he’s exec producing with Shelley Eriksen (Private Eyes) and has assembled several of his colleagues from both shows — writer/producers Rachel Langer and Jennica Harper, directors Leslie Hope, Kristin Lehman, David Von Ancken, Rachel Leiterman, and Mathias Herndl and new collaborators in writers Jason Filiatrault and Penny Gummerson.
This morning, I jumped on the phone with Heaton to chat about the show. In this first installment, we talk about where the idea came from, and how he arced out the first season.
Heaton says his childhood movies and a sweet tradition with his dad directly led to his love of horror, and genre in general. “I’ve always loved horror, from the time I was a kid. My dad would come home from the late shift and it’d be midnight and we’d watch Night of the Living Dead or whatever crazy horror movie was on that night,” he recalls.
“And that was one of our early hangout times and that evolved int a lifelong love of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Fido wasn’t just the first horror script I ever wrote, it was the first script I wrote.”
“While I was making Ghost Wars, I’d be talking to the Netflix execs about stuff that they loved and what I loved. One of the execs and I had a conversation about werewolves after Ghost Wars. I had a werewolf pilot script that I sent and they said, ‘Not this one,’ and I said, ‘OK let me come up with something else.’ We both agreed we wanted to try something different with the mythology. One of his things was, ‘If the moonlight is just a reflection of the sun, why don’t werewolves turn into werewolves in the daytime?’”
“And I thought that was a really good point. Let’s come up with another reason why they transform. From there, it spun into all these other things I love about horror, like magic. I have books on secret societies [and magic] all over the house. It evolved into this cauldron of all these different elements that I really dug.”
The series marks the first time Heaton has done a project specifically for streaming, and potentially a binge watch, and it informed how he approached developing the season. “That gave us a lot of latitude to play with the editing. If we tweak something in episode seven, we can go back to [another episode] to add a line so something tracks. That’s just an example, that’s not a clue,” he laughs.
“It was wrapping my head around…trying to cut a ten-hour movie instead of ten episodes of a series. That was probably the biggest paradigm shift. There’s a lot of conversation about serialization when you’re doing something that you know is going to be binged.”
“There were a couple of things I wanted to try out because it was going to appear all at once around the world on Netflix at the same time. I took those ten episodes and deconstructed them down into five movements in Jack’s story. Episodes one and two are movement one, act one, for lack of a better term.”
“And each episode has its own self-contained story so someone can watch it and it cliffhangers into the next one and hopefully they’ll want to keep watching and follow the thread. We can lay some foundation in episode one for something that will happen in episode five and we can play with foreshadowing and aspects like that as well. You have to look at the canvas as a singular ten-hour event but also as these ten parts, and I said, ‘I’m going to do this as five parts.’”
“We block shot and that was part of the reason for shooting them like movies split in half. That allowed me to focus all those assets on a singular story. In your head, you’re only trying to tell one story. When you try to block shoot a mystery, it can be a convoluted process for everyone involved. There were creative and practical reasons why I felt like this would be a good way to go.”
The Order is available everywhere now on Netflix. Here’s a sneak peek. And check back next week for part two of our chat where Heaton talks about assembling his creative team and cast for the first season.
Photos courtesy of Netflix and Dennis Heaton.
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