Press Tour: BBC America’s ‘Intruders’ offers confusion, promises answers

There's no point in lying: The pilot for BBC America's “Intruders” makes almost no sense to me. 

It's 45 minutes of enticing teasing, jumping around from location to location as characters we've barely met commit suicide or flee from other characters we've never met, some holding cards embossed with the number “9.” There are enigmatic declarations about characters not being who they appear to be or not being who once they were. There's a preternaturally wise — and therefore terrifying — child (Millie Brown's Madison). There's an Oscar winning actress (Mira Sorvino), who you assume was lured by character details beyond the pilot. There are multiple familiar and well-regarded British actors (James Frain and John Simm) possibly playing American and therefore seeming suspicious.

If you enjoy the teasing, you'll be champing at the bit waiting for a second episode to maybe or maybe not get to the business of explaining things. If you demand immediate answers, you may be annoyed, but perhaps the lack of a former “Lost” showrunner on the production team will encourage folks to chill.

Based on the book by Michael Marshall Smith, “Intruders” was adapted by “X Files” veteran Glen Morgan, who knows a few things about trying to tailor projects with challenging concepts for network television. 

Morgan and the “Intruders” cast dropped by the Television Critics Association press tour on Wednesday (July 9) afternoon and rather than just leading off the panel by asking, “Huh?” I accentuated the positive. “Intruders” isn't pandering to anybody. It isn't giving anything away in its first episode. How intentional was that and could a pilot like this ever have existed on a broadcast network?

“I think it”s kind of a testament to BBC and Glen”s writing that we kind of got away with that,” answer “Blair Witch Project” helmer Eduardo Sanchez, who compared the lack of answers in the “Intruders” pilot to the end of his sleeper horror smash. “But I love it. I just love the idea of having to come back for more answers to the questions.”

Morgan continued, “The answer to the end of that first: No. Every network experience I”ve had, you know… You pitch something, and they go and then when you get to shoot it or you”re on the brink or you”ve shot it and you cut it in, they go, 'Do we really have to do that? I liked it when you pitched it.' And then they keep pulling back. And Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner is back there and Perry and everybody at BBC America kept going, 'Go further. Let”s explore this more.' And that was very new to me. And I”ve been on cable where they shut you down as well.”

What would a network executive had told Morgan and company to do in the last 10 minutes of the pilot in order to make things accessible?

“Oh, well, we would have had to explain that Madison has… some guy… another spirit inside of her and, you know… there”s…” Morgan struggled to even explain how pandering would have been possible. “I”m not going to say that we didn”t all have that 'Should we answer this? Should we answer that?' But, you know, it”s based on a novel by Michael Marshall Smith, and that”s very much how the novel reads. You go through three quarters of it not kind of knowing, kind of having a sense of what might happen. And we follow that very closely. The last four episodes veer a little bit, but that was something that everybody and all throughout, even when we were filming the last episode, we were like, “Let”s remember the book and what Michael had done to keep that mystery.”

He continued, “Now, sorry, but that being said, because we had that book, we always knew we could answer the questions that we brought up. So it wasn”t going to be like, 'Oh, this would be a neat act out. This would be a neat ending. And then next week what?' we have those answers, and I feel confident that we”ve answered them throughout the eight episodes.”

So that's reassuring, right? It's something to hold onto when you watch the pilot and you get to the end and you're incapable of telling anybody what you just wanted?

“It”s actually it is the very novelistic way of telling a story is perhaps quite a European way of storytelling, which I think that cable television over here is increasingly beginning to do, where if you think about reading a novel, where you get to at the end of the first chapter is making you ask questions that will take you through the remaining chapters, as opposed to guessing the end of the first chapter and, in microcosm, having a sort of mini version of what the whole novel has to offer,” said EP Jane Tranter. 

“And it was interesting. John Simm and I worked together on 'State of Play,' and we were talking quite a lot about that during the making of “Intruders,” that thing in 'State of Play' that we had where Paul Abbott always said, 'Every scene has to ask a question. The audience has to have a lot of questions in their mind in order to propel them from the next to next, next scene, next episode.' And that”s really what we found Glen the way that Glen was working, is that everything it”s a question. And eventually there are answers, but the answers aren”t given immediately the question is asked. You have to be intrigued and wait.”

One person who didn't have to wait was Sorvino, because based on the pilot all I can tell you is that she plays Amy, the wife of Simm's character and then she acts weird and isn't around anymore. You tend not to be able to get an actress of Sorvino's stature based on so little.

“When Glen and I and Julie Gardner first met and discussed the possibility of me getting involved with it, they had already sent me material not only from the first episode, but from the first four, where there were some very meaty scenes that were going on with Amy that basically come to fruition more in episodes 3 and 4,” Sorvino explained. “So I knew what was going to happen with her in the first block, the first half. And then I read the novel, and I saw where the big shape was. But the brilliant thing about this is that, although Glen will be very humble and say that we followed the novel, Glen also used the novel as a springboard, a jumping off place to take these characters to new heights and depths. So all kinds of amazing things happen for me as an actor in the second block. They”re things that I can”t tell you because they”re total spoilers for the show, but suffice it to say that I had some of the toughest acting challenges of my working life in this show and some of the most rewarding days, if tough, on the set.”

“Intruders” premieres on Saturday, August 23 on BBC America. Hopefully if I'm gonna really review it, I'll get to see at least another episode or two.