The small fishing town of Bristol Cove is turned upside down when Ryn (Eline Powell, Game of Thrones), a mysterious woman who seems to have come out of nowhere, arrives. In search of something, she encounters marine biologist Ben (Alex Roe, Forever My Girl) and ultimately reveals that she’s a mermaid and that there are actually many more like her out there. Disney it ain’t, but what it is, is Freeform’s new series Siren.
“I’ve always loved Jaws, and when I wrote this originally as a feature spec script, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides had just come out and sort of gave us a new view of mermaids,” explains series creator Eric Wald. “So I married those ideas, wrote it on spec and pulled out the script for this series. Once they decided to pick it up to pilot, they brought Emily on, because I’m from the feature world and have no idea how to run a show.”
The Emily in question is Emily Whitesell (Life Unexpected, Finding Carter), who explains that once Freeform expressed interest, it was relatively easy taking Wald’s concept and building a world around it. “I had a lot of experience in television,” she says, “so we just started putting the whole thing together in terms of technology and story, and Eric had so many ideas from the beginning. He had done a great deal of the work to help us get there.”
Her biggest challenge was that she hadn’t had much experience with visual effects, and this was a show that would require them to create that world. “Originally, the girls were shot in these prosthetic tails, which didn’t really work,” Whitesell explains. “It really moved into visual effects, doing the whole thing with visual effects when we went to series. So I’ve learned a great deal about that world, which feels like a good skill to have nowadays.”
As to the dramatic thrust of the series, she describes it as “discovery and acceptance, which is kind of the arc of the first season. It explores what these events mean to each of us, and each character obviously has their own journey about what it means to them.”
“It’s a collision of species,” adds Wald. “A border is breached in the pilot, and this strange new creature comes onto land. The big things we’re looking at are xenophobia, fear of the other, what that means, how different people react to it. The environmental theme is a really big one. It’s really the ‘why now?’ of our show. These mermaids have been forced closer to the surface because of environmental change in the ocean, and that’s what causes this initial foray onto land. And then it’s really watching the characters develop and the relationships form from there. We also learn that it’s not just the characters’ backstory that’s explored, but the backstory of this town as well, which had a dark history with the mermaids. Now they kind of put this lighter spin on it with their mermaid festivals, and it’s become a touristy thing, but the roots of those folktales in the town have a much darker past.”
The important thing, Whitesell emphasizes, is that the relative darkness of the series is grounded in some form of reality. “Myths don’t come from nowhere,” she muses. “They’re about something. I always like a grounded world, and those are the kinds of stories I care about. What does it mean to our characters and to the world we live in, and where did it come from? There are themes in this show that we care about and that are going on in society right now. It feels very meaningful to be doing TV about that.”
Wald points to Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, noting that it was a dark story that, over the years, transformed in a lighter, more Disney way. “I do have to say that it’s somewhat dangerous referring to this show as dark. It’s not like we’re doing Breaking Bad; we didn’t want it to be bleak. It’s a show about mermaids; it’s got to be entertaining while being real and grounded at the same time. That’s what makes it feel different from some of the other mermaid takes that have come before.”
Siren airs Thursday nights on Freeform.