It was Doug Brode's last day working on design for props and weapons on JJ Abrams' Star Trek film. And then he got the call: Cinemax had just greenlit his series, Forbidden Science.
The sexy, late-night series is a low budget mashup of Flash Gordon campiness and contemporary posthuman scifi of the sort you might expect from writers like Charles Stross or Cory Doctorow. Julia, the clone of a dead woman, searches for her place in a world where you can inherit somebody's identity and memories, but not their property. A sex droid named Max is abused by his demanding owner. And Bethany, a new hire at mysterious clone and android development company 4Ever Innovations, is more than a little disturbed by some her company's secret projects. Meanwhile, chief geek Penny (every scifi series needs one) keeps trying to invent the ultimate sex robot.
And because the show airs late nights on Cinemax, there is a lot of soft-core sex. Sex with androids, sex with clones, sex with virtual reality helmets, and lots of good, old-fashioned human-on-human action. Here you can see a great moment from an upcoming two-part episode of the series called "Property," where a powerful senator gets a little too demanding with her sex droid Max.
The show just started airing last Friday, and Brode took some time to chat with us yesterday about Forbidden Science.
So how did a concept designer and prop creator make the leap into writing his own show? Brode said:
[Executive Producer] John Quinn had done a show called Sin City Diaries and he was a mentor to me back when I was a PA. Two years ago I wrote the pilot for Forbidden Science, which is 90 percent the same as the one that aired last week. John showed it to HBO [which owns Cinemax], and they liked it but didn't have an opening. So I worked on Iron Man and I was doing Star Trek, and literally my last day at the Paramount lot I got a call from John that they wanted to do another erotic show. I said what about Forbidden Science. We literally made the deal right there.
I wondered whether Brode had always imagined the show would be erotic, or if it had started out as straight scifi. He replied:
It was always supposed to be erotic. We're thinking this show will cross over between scifi fans and late night watchers. We realize some will be turned off by erotic content. But I wrote for the scifi audience. Quinn produced for the late night audience. I saw late night as virgin territory – we are doing something nobody's done before. We have special effects and cinematography. We have cliffhangers and two-parters. Plus, not a single storyline is about sex. People have sex, but that's not what it's about. We have references to Flash Gordon and Star Wars and stuff. This is a show about whether clones have souls and how Christians feel about cloned organs, but it's also spicy and sexy, just like real life where people have sex sometimes.
One of the main characters in Forbidden Science is a clone, and Brode says he deliberately chose to focus on the precarious humanity of clones rather than androids - partly because robots and androids "have already been done before by terrific people." But also because he thinks clones represent a side of science that's more of a "gray line between right and wrong." He said:
I assume in my world that clones are legal, but there are still legal issues around clones and property. They can't inherit the estate or money possessed by the person they're a clone of. There's allso issue of who owns the clone – clones can be property. In an episode later in the season, a man makes a clone but she gets pregnant. He wants her to have an abortion, and there's an issue of whether he can do that because technically she is his property. I wanted to deal with clones because that's where the line is gray between what's good for humanity and what's good for science. Especially once the clones can download the memories of other people. The question of whether a clone with downloaded memories has a soul is really fascinating. It's more interesting than whether a machine has a soul.
Pretty much all the main characters in Forbidden Science are women: our hero Bethany is a budding business exec, the chief geek is a woman, and the inventor of the memory chips that allow clones to download memories is also a woman (she's the person who provided genetic material to create clone Julia). Apparently we owe all this female geek power to Teri Hatcher's Lois in Lois and Clark, which Brode watched growing up.
I modeled my female characters off Hatcher's Lois Lane. When I watched the show growing up, she was a sexy woman who was sophisticated and sharp. I even modeled Bethany's wardrobe and bob haircut on Hatcher's. [Chief geek] Penny is another character I thought about a lot - we really needed to find the right person and Noelle Dubois [as Penny above] is perfect. She's basically a comic character come to life. I based her hair on an anime character. She's got the perfect look and attitude for that character.
Some of the concept designs in the show are quite cool, which isn't surprising given that Brode spent 10 years working as a concept designer for props. In particular, a memory-erasing bug that reaches tentacles into people's mouths looks great - and when jammed into the mouth of a nubile lady, just a little pervy. But when I asked Brode about the sexiness of the bug, he seemed a little surprised. "It wasn't based on a sexual thing," he said. "I got the idea of it from the destroyer droids in Star Wars actually - that's why I made the bugs emerge from a ball. Plus bugs creep me out."
He hinted that the destroyer droid bugs are part of a larger theme in the show, which is quite literally about a form of forbidden science. "There really is an actual forbidden science," he explained excitedly. "That's what the overarching story is about. We find out in the finale, that there's a line you don't cross. There's a place you can go that's too far even for the [somewhat immoral] business competitors."
So what's next? Brody has just completed the first run of 13 episodes for Cinemax, and says he's about to start work on a second season. You'll be able to buy the DVDs and Blu-rays for the first season of Forbidden Science later this year. And Brode is developing another science fiction show, called Homeland, about a pair of cops (one human, one synthetic) who solve crimes committed by synthetics.
I had just one request for Brode. "Can't you make the sex a little more science fictional on the show?" I asked. Brode pondered. "I'll think about it," he said, then laughed. "Maybe R2D2 with a pink dildo or something."