Adaptations of big, complex books tend to start slow — and that’s usually because there’s just so much to explain. It was true of Game of Thrones and The Rings of Power, and it was especially true of Foundation on Apple TV Plus, which took Isaac Asimov’s novels and turned them into prestige television. With unusual concepts like psychohistory (a kind of math that can predict the future) and a genetic dynasty (a never-ending line of clone emperors who rule the galaxy), the first few episodes of season 1 were bogged down by exposition.
According to David S. Goyer, showrunner on Foundation, there really wasn’t a way to avoid that. “I felt like the first three episodes of season 1 were so exposition heavy, but — trust me — we tormented ourselves trying to figure out a way around it,” he explains. “We just decided, screw it, we have to explain this stuff and hope the audience is still around.” He believes that might just be a necessary evil of this kind of adaptation, though. “A lot of the really worthwhile shows that I ended up loving took a while to get going,” Goyer says. “Maybe that’s just what one has to do when you’re doing a big ambitious, novelistic show.”
But with season 2, which premieres on July 14th, Goyer says the team didn’t have that same problem. “I just felt like this massive weight had been lifted from our shoulders. We were unburdened by all of this expositional pipe-laying.”
The goal with this season is to be more approachable. “I was determined to make season 2 more accessible and to hopefully broaden the audience,” Goyer says. That means things like exploring the internal lives of characters like Hari Seldon, having more action (the first episode includes an excellent fight sequence), and even some sex and — gasp — humor. “I wanted to introduce more levity,” Goyer explains. “We had only a few scenes with a little bit of wry humor in season 1, and people were nervous about that. But I felt that was something that even Asimov himself had done in his writing.”
The goal is not to change what Foundation is, he explains, but to present it in a way that makes it easier for new audiences to get into it.
“Humans are messy — so let’s get messy”
“I think there was a perception among some people that Foundation was really beautiful but it was very cerebral,” Goyer explains. “And hopefully it remains cerebral. But I was determined to say, ‘What are the kinds of scenes that people would not expect from Foundation season 1? And do they have a place in this story?’ We didn’t do them just to be gratuitous. But I thought, ‘Why not?’ We’re telling a story about humans and humans are messy — so let’s get messy.’”
It’s still a complicated show, of course, one that spans many years. Season 2 takes place a century after the first — with time jumps, various warring factions, and all of the other complexity inherent in this kind of story. Goyer and his team used various tools to stay on track, ranging from show bibles and flowcharts to copious Post-it notes. But the complexity is exacerbated by the filming process. The episodes aren’t filmed in order, and most of the time, two units are shooting scenes simultaneously. “It is a logistical challenge,” Goyer says.
The trick, he says, is not letting the actors know too much — even if they really want to. “Many of them are frustrated that I won’t tell them where they’re going in future seasons,” Goyer explains. “Sometimes I don’t even tell them where they’re going at the end of the season. Usually, I hold episode 10 back until I absolutely have to, and I’ll redact it. Or if we have to film a scene with one character, I won’t give it to the other actors until I absolutely have to. I don’t like them to play the future — which is ironic given the nature of our show.”
So far, Foundation has only been confirmed for two seasons, but Goyer has much bigger goals — he’s stated before that the outline is for 80 episodes spanning eight seasons in total. It’s an ambitious plan but also one that he says is somewhat malleable. While there are major plot moments that are firmly in place, the way that characters get to those moments can change depending on how things progress during production.
“I’d say we’re about 85 percent adhering to it so far,” he says of the plan versus the reality of the show. “There are definitely things in season 2 that I intended to roll out in season 3, and I just saw an opportunity to move that moment forward. I said, ‘Screw it, let’s go for it.’ That’s something that I learned from working with [Dark Knight director Christopher] Nolan. He used to say that if you’ve got an idea, burn it now — don’t wait for it.”