Today, genre fans have an abundance of dark, intelligent television at their fingertips. Series like Black Mirror, Stranger Things and Lovecraft Country that would once have been labeled niche or cult have found huge audiences—but that wasn’t always the case.
In the pre-streaming era highly regarded shows like Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner (1967) or Joss Whedon’s Firefly (2002) couldn’t gain enough mainstream support to warrant a second season. Ironically, those series were created by recognized talents, so for new creative voices getting a show on television was an Everest-level climb.
That’s what makes 2009’s Cinemax series Forbidden Science such a noteworthy oddity. Forbidden Science is thinking people’s science fiction, addressing the moral implications of cloning and mind control, filtered through Cinemax’s (now defunct) “After Dark” erotic formula. Like many experimental shows it only lasted one season, but, fortunately, this unique series is getting a second life on Amazon Prime.
The concept: In the extremely near future 4Ever Innovations has become a pioneer in cloning and robotics. Whether you want to recreate a deceased loved one or buy yourself a robotic bedmate, 4Ever can make it happen. But, like most science fiction mega-corporations, 4Ever harbors dark secrets. Their nefarious global plans are revealed through the eyes of new employee Bethany Montrose (Joanne Alderson) and cloned scientist Julia White (Vanessa Broze).
The episodes addressed heavy questions such as “Do clones have souls?” while showing that they definitely had libidos—usually three times per episode! It’s definitely not a show for kids.
To find out more about this unique animal I interviewed Forbidden Science’s creator, Doug Brode, whose other accomplishments include being a concept artist for science fiction luminaries like JJ Abrams.
What was the genesis behind Forbidden Science and how did it get from an initial idea to broadcast?
I saw a news story about cloning around the holidays in 2007 and wrote up the pilot script that same weekend. I was friends with executive producer John Quinn and submitted it to him in January. Months went by; then, one day, he called and said HBO/Cinemax wanted to make it. I was so excited! I remember standing on the Paramount lot when I got the call. It was my last week doing concept art for JJ Abrams on Star Trek, so I just jumped right from designing stuff for Star Trek to then writing up my very own series. It was a big moment in my life.
Can you give us an idea about your influences, both for this show and for writing in general?
X-Files. X-Files. X-Files. Without it, neither Forbidden Science nor my upcoming novel, The Ship, would exist.
Forbidden Science had a continuous storyline across the episodes during the period before VOD was common. Did this limit the show’s ability to find viewers?
Well, I wrote the first episode, then ep.6–7, and then 12–13, first. Those were the main mythology episodes. The others were then created to just tell fun stories but also connect to the bigger arc. It may not have worked as well back in 2009 as today. Thank G-d for Prime streaming! Now you can watch them all in a row.
The cast were all relative newcomers. How did the final cast synch up with what you envisioned while writing?
John Quinn handled most of the casting. The only two I specifically had a voice about were Levi Freeman, who played the villain, and I had a strong vote with Penny. I cast Levi in LA and sent a tape to John up in Canada. And of course, my favourite character, Penny, was dead-on perfect.
Forbidden Science is definitely not a kids’ show. How did you balance the erotica with the science fiction and was that a challenge?
I wrote the stories I wanted to tell and simply treated sex scenes like commercial breaks. When you have commercials, you need to build up to the break; it was the same with the love scenes really, only these breaks helped character development. Or, at least, that’s what I told myself.
You’ve been a production artist on many fan-favorite productions. Can you give a sense of that work and some of your proudest accomplishments?
I’ve done storyboards and concept artwork for JJ’s Star Trek, Iron Man, Thor, MIB: International, Looper, Pet Sematary, etc. My favorite projects were probably Star Trek and Iron Man as they both exceeded my expectations upon release.
Did you create designs and concept sketches for Forbidden Science?
I drew up sketches for Penny, her pink hair with pig tails, T-shirt, and lab coat, etc., designed the memory bug in episode 4, drew up sketches for the finale’s last shot, and, finally, designed the headsets people wore in VR.
What’s on the horizon for you?
I just finished my first novel, The Ship, which is a sci-fi horror book along the lines of John Carpenter’s The Thing and X-Files. I just put the finishing touches on my final edit yesterday, and it’s going out to literary agents in February. My hope is that it will be published in time for holiday season. Once I find a publisher, I’ll be sure to let you guys know when it’s coming out!
To wrap things upm can you list your top five science fiction watches (movie or TV) and top five science fiction reads?
- Star Wars
- John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian
- Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan
- Anything with Peter Cushing!
3) Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs
4) Conan stories by Robert E Howard
5) Dark Rendezvous: a Yoda novel …Yes, I’m serious
Huge thanks to Doug for taking the time to answer my questions. Forbidden Science can be seen uncut and in its proper order on Amazon Prime. It’s well worth a watch … if you’re an adult.