Grant Morrison has been riding out the coronavirus pandemic at a safe distance from Hollywood.
“As a writer, you’re self-isolating your entire life anyway,” Morrison says from his home in his native Scotland. “So it hasn’t been that difficult. We’re in the country, so you barely notice what’s been going down. But we’re looking at the news every day, and it just keeps getting weirder and wilder.”
TV writers are accustomed to working in close quarters. But Morrison spent the bulk of his career in comics, creating hugely popular science fiction-fantasy series such as “The Invisibles,” “Happy!” and “The Filth,” and put his stamp on linchpin DC and Marvel properties such as Batman, Superman and the X-Men. In comics, he has a reputation for blending metaphysics, pop culture, humor and genre tropes. He has carried that formula over to a burgeoning television career — first to a version of “Happy!” that lasted two seasons on Syfy, and now to an ambitious adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” which premieres July 15 as the tentpole original series on Comcast’s new streaming service, Peacock.
“When he goes into a world, he builds it completely from his imagination,” says Universal Content Prods. president Dawn Olmstead. “He goes to dark, dark places of the human psyche, but he knows how to make it redeeming and hopeful.”
Morrison signed an overall deal with UCP in 2018 while working on the second season of “Happy!,” which starred Christopher Meloni as an alcoholic ex-cop and Patton Oswalt as the tiny cartoon unicorn that appears only to him. The show was canceled around the same time that UCP and Amblin Television were trying get “Brave New World” off the ground. An initial treatment hewed closely to the 1932 novel about a future in which a strict global order is propped up by genetic and social engineering, easy access to zero-consequence drugs and sex, and a complex caste system.
But Olmstead felt the story needed a fresher take. With help from Brian Taylor, with whom he worked on “Happy!,” Morrison developed an adaptation that leaned into character and away from the slew of recent science fiction pieces that presented the future as packed with horrors.
“We got the gig based on a pitch that approached it as a utopian fiction rather than a dystopia,” Morrison says. Showrunner and fellow exec producer David Wiener worked with Morrison and Taylor to execute on their core concept. First developed for Syfy, then USA, “Brave New World” became the original-content centerpiece of Comcast’s Peacock once the company shifted its energies to the new streaming service.
Though fundamental elements of the story have been changed, Morrison views the new version as faithful in spirit to Huxley’s book.
“The notion of the individual’s empowerment has been celebrated for hundreds of years — ever since the Enlightenment — in Western culture,” Morrison says. “In actual fact, the notion of the individual has allowed a lot of monstrous characters to take the stage. I think the idea of the collective has actually been an evolutionary jump for society.”
Though Morrison continues to work with comics’ Big Two publishers (he’s currently writing “The Green Lantern” for DC), none of his attempts at big-screen treatments of the corporate-owned characters whose mythologies he built upon has ever taken root. He consulted DC for a while on its plans for its marquee characters, pitching film versions of Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman that were ultimately rejected. HBO Max’s “Doom Patrol” draws heavily from Morrison and artist Richard Case’s run on the comics series of the same name — “It proves that our model was the correct one,” Morrison says, “but I wish they’d put our names in the credits.”
Morrison continues to work on new TV projects, including one based on his fan-adored, creator-owned comics series “The Invisibles,” about a secret group of paranormal fighters. He is helping UCP launch a comics line, UCP Graphic, in coordination with publisher Boom! Studios, and will write a graphic novel for it that’s intended for development into a TV show. And he’s working on a series called “Chronicle” from his spec script about a fictional comic book company.
Though Morrison plans to keep making comics — which he notes provided him a comfortable enough living that he didn’t need to move to television for the money — he seems pleased by his sojourn into TV.
“I was looking for a challenge,” he says. “And writing for television I could escape from the comic book fandom that was kind of controlling my life. I was able to go do something else and work in an environment that was collaborative where I could learn new skills, and learn to write in a different way. For me it’s been invigorating.”