What gives Aftermath its edge-of-your-seat action, emotional depth, and wide audience appeal is undoubtedly its unique twist on some of the most recognizable science fiction, supernatural, and other television conventions. The show manages to set itself apart with its wholly unique approach to an end of the world scenario while still fondly reminding viewers of some recent and classic television fare.
Aftermath touches on elements of viral outbreaks, creature features, and even disaster stories but what makes the genre crossover work are the cultural roots of the supernatural creatures and the human aspect of those trying to survive the plagues and natural disasters. Plus, of course, it’s all centered around the family dynamics of the Copeland clan headed by Karen (Anne Heche) and Joshua (James Tupper). Here’s a breakdown of how these highlights of the show play out in the minds of its audience, according to showrunners Glenn Davis and William Laurin.
The Family Drama
Why it works: If it weren’t for the meteor strikes and natural disasters, Aftermath could be any primetime drama that centers around a single family. The Copeland family shares a close bond but also beliefs that set them apart. Whether seeking to understand each conflict or simply deal with it head on, the arguments and consequences of each situation feel very familiar and comfortable.
What it reminds us of: With Joshua being a professor of world culturesand Karen being a tough-as-nails fighter pilot, it’s hard not to conjure up Téa Leoni’s Secretary of State and her religion professor husband in Madam Secretary. The main difference in Aftermath is that religion is a source of conflict rather than a background character detail. In fact, the conflict is reminiscent of another skeptic/believer couple: Mulder and Scully of The X-Files.
What showrunner Glenn Davis says: “We’ve all seen apocalyptic fiction where a group of ragtag strangers are forced to work together and overcome their natural rivalries and conflicts to survive, but we are looking through the other end of the telescope — starting with a family. Here is a group who knows each other better than anyone else does, who understand each other and who love each other. It amps up the desperation to survive geometrically.
“That doesn’t mean that they don’t have all the usual family baggage, there’s lots of stuff between them that gets worked out against this huge, end times background. But the bottom line is they love each other, they are a unit, and that increases the stakes at every moment. Plus, very few of us have had to endure massive struggles with a ragtag group of strangers, but we all have a family story. It makes the stories much more relatable, makes the viewer ask, ‘What would I do in this situation?’”
The Myth-Based Supernatural Creatures
Why it works: If it weren’t for the supernatural elements of Aftermath, the show would just be a set of reactions to unexplained natural disasters, perhaps with a climate change agenda — boring! The creatures that emerge provide a historical context both for the dangers the Copelands and others face and for the reasons behind end times, which are an aspect of all major religions and ancient cultures.
What it reminds us of: Certainly, there’s almost an archaeological, Indiana Jones feel to the cultural research characters on the show must perform in order to survive or at least understand what’s happening. There are also shades of Supernatural, of course, but also some of the over-the-top hijinks of The Librarians where myths become reality.
What showrunner Glenn Davis says: “The emergence of the creatures and spirits, from a wide variety of cultures and traditions, adds a real gravity to what could otherwise be seen as a series of random events. Since these creatures and predictions emerge from many cultures and different eras, they tell us that humanity has always had some knowledge, some inkling of the things that are now happening. It says that this all has meaning.
“It’s up to our family, and especially Josh, to try to decode that meaning before it is too late. But as he points out, and the research we did on this show told us this, virtually every culture has an end time story and they are, in important ways, all remarkably similar. So we have a drama where there are terrifying, life-threatening physical threats to be overcome on a daily basis — but those physical realities and deep and significant cosmological meaning, an overarching mystery to decode.”
The Plague Outbreak and Natural Disasters
Why it works: No show currently on the air takes on this many dangers at once, any one of which could wipe out the human race all on its own, never mind the supernatural creatures. Massive hurricanes, tidal waves, and meteor strikes would be enough to deal with, but the insidious, mind-altering plague really takes Aftermath to the next level. Every moment is filled with tension, mistrust, and fear of the unknown.
What it reminds us of: Many shows explore viral outbreaks as an explanation for their supernatural creatures, even though none do it quite the way Aftermath does. The Strain makes vampirism contagious whereas Z Nation turns its zombies into an infectious vector. The Last Ship perhaps comes closest in viewers’ minds, but let’s face it, this show’s virus is a one-of-a-kind mind killer, both emotionally and physically.
What showrunner William Laurin says: “Plague is a key idea of Aftermath‘s apocalypse for a number of reasons. First, it’s a touchstone form of blanket death that appears in most, if not all, of the world’s many apocalypse stories. ‘Pestilence’ is often counted as the first of the Four Horsemen, for instance. The plague also provides us with a terrifying ‘quantum’ variable in the storytelling, a totally unpredictable threat that has no telltale warning signs.
“Finally, and most importantly, the plague gives us the most human vector in our story telling. Volcanoes, meteors and demonic gods are impersonal threats, appearing from nowhere for unfathomable reasons. The plague, on the other hand, produces pity as well as terror, since its victims remain recognizably human even as they try to tear your face off and eat it. In this they are unlike zombies, whose lack of humanity makes them mere targets in a video game.
“The murderous police officers in the pilot, for instance, are still convinced that they are heroes doing their jobs, as they murder their way through the countryside. They even have a vague sense that something is wrong, but they’re helpless to know what it is. The plague reminds us of the humanity of killer as well as victim, and with its frightening statistics — a third of the world already dead, and no cure in sight — it’s a constant reminder that nobody gets out of here alive.”
It’s a cliche to say a show “has something for everyone,” but Aftermathhas found a recipe that works for combining the best ingredients from sci-fi, supernatural, and horror tales into one outrageous stew. Plenty of shows alternate gut-wrenching terror and swashbuckling adventure with tender emotional moments for their characters, but none have matched the comfort of a close knit family unit with the utter insanity of a world suddenly in the midst of being torn apart.
Aftermath doesn’t just have something for everyone; it has everything including the kitchen sink. Although… you might want to check to see if the sink is possessed or inscribed with ancient symbols or something. You just never know with this show.
Aftermath airs on Tuesdays at 10pm ET on Syfy and continues this week with episode 6, “Madame Sosostris.”
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