Paul Dini gave Dragon*Con fans a first look at his new Cartoon Network series, “Tower Prep,” and it’s a far cry from the wish-fulfillment fare that generally defines live-action shows for kids. When a TV clip is set to a version of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” you know you’re not dealing with “Wizards of Waverly Place.”
Debuting in October, the hour-long “Tower Prep” revolves around a group of special-powered teenagers who attend a mysterious boarding school. The catch? They can’t leave the campus. Some students have no memory of life outside the school, and none of the adults have names. They’re addressed only by their titles, like “headmaster” or “nurse.”
“The headmaster is a very charming mix of a father figure and a used car salesman,” said Dini, who executive-produces and writes the show. “He gives them nothing.”
Older students are trustees who monitor when other kids are using their powers. There’s a forbidden Skull and Bones-like society that becomes infiltrated by sinister forces. And then there’s that weird game called “Buffer.”
Said Dini, “The object is to win by whatever means possible. You’re encouraged to be as brutal as possible.”
Directed by Terry McDonough (“Breaking Bad”), “Tower Prep” definitely skews dark. But Dini said he wanted to give young viewers a dramatic alternative to shows about being rock stars and other fantasy/comedies.
“Where is the ‘Lost in Space’ for this generation? Nobody is doing anything like that,” Dini said. “This (show) is sort of analogous to what kids have to face at some point during their teen years.”
Though the students have gifts, they’re not a super-powered team like the X-Men. Instead, Dini gave them the kind of powers that would come in handy in adolescence. Take Ian Archer, the lead character portrayed by actor/martial artist Drew Van Acker. His “pre-flex” ability allows him to anticipate danger before it appears, but it also makes him exceptional at video games. Gabe Forrest (Ryan Pinkston) has “supersuasion,” the ability to talk his way out of trouble. C.J. (Elise Gatien) can gauge other people’s emotions by reading facial tics, so she can’t be deceived. Suki Sato (Dyana Liu) has the gift of mimicry, which allows her to fit into any clique.
“Some kids are brought in very easily. Some are rebels,” Dini said. “We wanted to keep the audience on their toes. Who’s a bully? Who’s a bad guy? Characters can change, and they can evolve. High school doesn’t have to be static.”
Dini’s own prep school experiences inspired aspects of “Tower Prep” — experiences like “that horrible first day where you’re the new kid.” He tapped into those universal feelings of angst and alienation while conceiving the show.
“The first two years were agony, and I hated every minute of it,” Dini said. “I wrote things down on diaries and legal pads. You write what you know.”
Dini said he’s as surprised as anyone that the network let him run with his vision instead of asking him to tone down “Tower Prep’s” darkness.
“It’s kind of a miracle,” he said. “They let us go with what we wanted to do. There was a scene in the finale that I just knew we weren’t going to get through, but we got it through there. I think when you see the pilot, everybody’s gonna be blown away by it. I hope that it sparks something and that we get a second season.”
Want more info about Tower Prep? Find it at The official site, here