Counterpart is Starz’s latest drama venture, combining qualities of both a pacy spy thriller and a metaphysical science fiction show.
Hailing from screenwriter Justin Marks (The Jungle Book, Rewind) the idea emerged from his keen interest in British spy classics from the likes of Ian Fleming and Graham Greene, and is combined with his desire to create an American/British hybrid series.
“Ultimately the show is kind of like a reconceived Berlin Wall thriller, where the Berlin Wall is made into a metaphysical construct,” he says. “It’s a vision between two identical parallel worlds, filled with parallel identical people whose lives have been very different over the last two decades.”
Starring J.K. Simmons (Spiderman, Whiplash) as Howard Silk, a low-level worker in a major bureaucratic institution, the plot is based around the character’s discovery of a government secret: a parallel dimension. Silk ultimately meets his equivalent in this other world and the drama ensues.
“J.K. has been a great character actor his entire career,” says Marks. “He plays both roles in such a way that even though he is a single man playing two parts, at no point is it a question which one he is playing. He’s so able from the inside out to embody all of the mannerisms of these different personalities.”
Having premiered in the US in December, Marks says the reception has been positive – it currently holds a 100% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it has time to develop – Lionsgate-owned Starz ordered two seasons without having even seen a pilot.
Marks and team are currently in the process of writing the second run.
Further to that, the straight-to-series order meant that Marks and team could take more time and not feel pressured to add “fireworks” where they were unnecessary.
“In American television, if you’ve got all these twists you have to give them up in the first episode because you don’t know how long you’re going to be around,” he says. “In this case we’ve been able to develop mature stories that values the audience’s intelligence and teases them into watching more,” he says.
“We don’t raise a single question that we don’t intend on answering.”
Name of the show: Counterpart
The broadcaster: Starz
The producer: MRC
The distributor: Sony Pictures Television
The concept: Counterpart is an espionage series about a mysterious world hidden beneath the surface of our everyday existence.