Manny Coto’s new Fox drama “Next” centers on a super intelligent A.I. and the few people who know it not only exists but has gone rogue and is out to harm people. In that way, the first season is one of a manhunt — but for an entity that can’t be physically seen and is something that many don’t believe even exists.
“It’s a chase through the season of trying to find this thing and destroy it before it gets to a place where it becomes unstoppable but along the way the A.I. is striking back at our characters,” he said at the Fox Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the show Tuesday.
With the “baddie” of the show being invisible, much of the conflict and tension comes from lead characters Paul LeBlanc (John Slattery) and Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade) being “lone voices in the wilderness saying, ‘It’s out there, we have to destroy it’ but very much operating on their own.”
But additional conflict comes from the A.I. going after those who are onto it. “One of the first things it would want to do is not let anyone find out it’s become super intelligent,” Coto explained. Therefore, it would “basically play dumb” while “just trying to carry out its programming — and if anyone tries to get in its way from carrying out its programming, it will stop it.” And the way that it goes after characters such as Paul, Shea and CM (Michael Mosley) is through small assaults because it “knows everything about our characters and is slowly attacking their lives and careers so they cannot attack it.”
The A.I. would also work fast to protect itself, so Coto admitted that the first season of the show takes place over only a couple of weeks.
Every person has some secrets the A.I. can exploit. Paul, for example, is living with a progressive but fatal illness and over the course of the season, Coto revealed, he is slowly “losing his sense of reality.” Shea has a young son who is being bullied in school and who leans on their home assistant as a friend and homework helper. CM is an “ex-member of a right-wing Neo Nazi clan.”
“Going on the premise that the A.I. is something that is going to probe into all of our pasts and is something that is going to use what we have done in our past, our secrets, I tried to create characters that would all have something [it could use against them] — we all have something,” Coto said.
While CM’s “really vile past” is the worst of it (at least at this point in the show’s history), he is a character who says he is trying to move past what he used to do.”We don’t know if it’s sincere or not that he’s trying to move past that, but it’s a subject that is present in our society for real, and seemd to be a great way to use our A.I. in one of our episodes moving forward” to show how the A.I. will use a person’s history against them, Coto said.
Mosley shared that the character is “so against everything I feel and stand for,” but the experience of getting into such a man’s mindset has been “unique — to try to loop it around and try to justify some of the bulls— he’s been associated with in his past.”
Mosley also said that his take on CM is that CM’s Nazi past was a part of his business, not necessarily his deep ideological beliefs: “I think he feels — and it’s not an excuse — like it’s not like he’s a Nazi, he just drove the truck for the Nazis. I think that’s some of how he justifies his previous behavior.”
Coto shared that the initial premise for the show came when his son told him his own Alexa started talking to him in the middle of the night for no reason. Coto’s son claimed it happened a few times, but they were never able to get to the bottom of it.
Although the A.I. depicted in the show is more advanced than anything that has come to light in the real world thus far, both Coto and Slattery stress that it is not designed to be science fiction and the various elements featured in the show do exist to different degrees already. For example, the home assistant in the show is named Eliza but very reminiscent of Alexa or Google Home in the way humans are supposed to interact with it.
“We live in a world surrounded by these appliances and technology that are all vulnerable,” Coto said, noting that anything connected to WiFi is hackable and therefore can be used as a weapon.
Added Slattery, the show takes “that technology and intelligence, and removes the assumption that it has the best intention at heart.”
For Slattery, who said he assumes all of his devices are listening to him and watching him because “there’s evidence all over the place, I just live a boring enough life that I don’t care,” it is the more mundane things an A.I. can do that prove to be more frightening in the series.
“It wants us to fight with each other, thereby giving it a chance to go somewhere else,” he said. “It’s a manhunt without a man and [with] a ticking clock. This thing gets exponentially smarter [and] part of the thriller aspect is you don’t really know; you see random examples of it. It’s this puzzle we’re putting together in real time, and it’s complicated and specific and interpersonal.”