The idea of turning a Warren Ellis title into a TV show was both pure genius and doomed to failure.
His comics are cutting edge, sexy, and intelligent, and he is one of those authors whose work seems to exist, Max Headroom-like, 20 minutes into the future. But the man writes comics for a reason; his mind is tuned to a frequency that is four-color glorious but clinically insane, chemically altered and gleefully anti-social. Transmetropolitan, Nextwave, The Authority… are these really the sort of works that the vast American television audience is clamoring for? More to the point, even if they were, do you think they’d be happy to actually get Spider Jerusalem in their living rooms on a weekly basis?
But Ellis does have range, and although it can be hard to remember sometimes, not every single page of his work is infested with blasphemous anarchy and sexual deviance. From time to time he shows some restraint and settles for frantically paranoid conspiracy cake instead. Global Frequency was one of those comics, and it’s easy to see how it could have been a hit: Sexy paranoia spy thrills dressed up in shiny black leather and tasty electronics. The Matrix, The X-Files, Spooks and Torchwood rolled into one, with the boring bits left out. Except that unlike Captain Jack Harkness and his crew MIBing it’s way clumsily through Wales, the players in Global Frequency are a wikicabal, extending AKICIF/LJ overmind concepts to their ultimate conclusion. Salvation through smart mobs, Anonymous as the ultimate James Bond. Some of the themes have been floating around in books like current Hugo nominee Halting State, Vinge’s Rainbows End and the Bruce Sterling story “Maneki Neko”, and they work wonderfully in the comic.
In 2005 a pilot for the series was made for Warner Brothers, with Michelle Forbes (Admiral Caine on BSG) as Miranda Zero, the head of Global Frequency. The pilot was slick and fun and well put together and it’s hard to see why the network would not have gone for it, apart from maybe the potential expense of a show based around a high-tech international espionage network, and anyway, in retrospect, the network’s merger with UPN was just a year away.
In the pilot our everyman hero, who turns out to be an ex-cop unusually skilled in improvisation, runs across half of a cleanly bisected corpse holding a weird looking cell phone. He picks it up, Global Frequency is on the other end of the line, and with time being of the essence he is recruited and finds himself teamed up with another local specialist on the hunt for an old Soviet black project on the loose in San Francisco. The action is fast-paced and takes us across the city and eventually under it (although naturally it was shot in Vancouver-as-SF, rather than in the actual city).
The concept is such that it could have been huge, high concept and very current. The product placement possibilities alone seem endless. It could have finally been the show to make the Internet exciting after years of shows and movies that failed horribly, all those endless scenes of people typing to suspenseful music and teenagers breaking into mainframe computer by guessing the mind-bogglingly simple password.
Of course, maybe it would have ended up just being Masquerade with laptops.