Cartoon Network's latest venture into live-action is its most sophisticated series yet. A mix of teen angst and intricately serialized storytelling, Tower Prep is set at a mysterious, isolated school where kids with special powers are kept against their will — ostensibly to learn how to master their abilities. "This was an idea that always intrigued me ever since I went to boarding school some years back," says series creator Paul Dini, a popular comic-book writer and animation producer (Batman Beyond), who spent a year as a writer on Lost. "I wanted to take what is essentially a very nice experience, but play it up — cartooned it, if you would — to show off all the paranoia and the angst that a kid goes through and put it more in a fantastic world."
The show stars Drew Van Acker as Ian Archer, a defiant teen with "preflex" abilities (he can anticipate and react to any movement in a split second) who suspects there is more to Tower Prep's "Program." Along with three classmates he secretly investigates the institution's history, mission and undetermined location. "The school has a very benevolent purpose," Dini says. "Whether it remains so is one of the ongoing themes of the series. As we go along we get the idea that, for all its mysteries and all its benefits, there may be a shadowy force trying to turn the school toward something evil."
Having worked on another show with strangers trapped in a surreal setting, Dini knows the importance of cultivating mythology — without letting it detract from the narrative. "We never want to give away too much, but at the same time we don't want to do something just for shock's sake," he says. "[Executive producer] Glen Morgan and I decided early on that that we weren't going to throw the audience a bone unless there's some meat on it. So we're not going to stick something in purely for shock value, unless it can be explained. It all connects but we want to play fair."
Tower Prep premieres Tuesday at 8/7c on Cartoon Network.