Hours after the first season of Riftworld: Chronicles went online earlier this month, thousands of fans all over the globe began clamouring for more.
It’s par for the course these days, now that the web series sphere and juggernauts like Netflix have altered the entertainment playing field beyond recognition.
Appointment television, if not completely dead, is a dinosaur, and the power to decide when and how to experience screen entertainment lies increasingly with the viewer instead of the broadcaster.
Riftworld: Chronicles is especially easy to binge-watch. Each episode of the new CBC Punchline original series clocks in at around six minutes, so a full-season binge-watch can happen in under an hour.
“The number one thing I’m reading on Twitter is, ‘Loved it, it’s great, give me season two now.’ This is the problem,” says Tahmoh Penikett, who co-stars alongside Erin Karpluk (Being Erica) in Riftworld: Chronicles, in a recent phone interview. “They binge-watched it, they loved it, but now it’s done.”
But hopefully not for good; the season ends on a cliffhanger, and Reel People is among the many binge-watchers eager to find out what happens next to Alar of Caer Caladh (Penikett), a wizard who finds himself stranded in Toronto after one of his spells goes awry, and Kim, the struggling journalist (Karpluk) who attempts to help get him back home.
The Vancouver-based Penikett is the very definition of “veteran actor.” His lengthy credit list includes long-running roles on Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, Bomb Girls, Supernatural, Continuum, and Strange Empire.
Riftworld: Chronicles isn’t his first kick at the web series can: Penikett appeared as Stryker in Kevin Tancharoen’s 2011 web series, Mortal Kombat: Legacy.
The Toronto-shot, crowd-funded Riftworld: Chronicles grew out of The Portal, a short film from emerging filmmaker Jonathan Williams (watch the short that started it all right here).
Penikett likely wouldn’t have appeared in The Portal had he not heard that Karpluk, an old friend from his acting school days, was also attached to the project.
“The funny thing is – we keep telling this story, and the producers hate it – but they told Erin the same thing. They gave Erin the impression that they knew me, and that I was attached and she signed on,” laughs Penikett. “A couple of days into shooting [The Portal], she was like, ‘how do you know these guys?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know these guys, you know these guys.’ They duped us.”
But it worked out. Fast-forward to the Riftworld: Chronicles web series, which gave Penikett the opportunity to further explore the web series medium, and benefit from the challenges of working within what he describes as a “conservative budget.”
“With that comes a very improvisational, spontaneous style of acting,” says Penikett. “We’re working a different muscle. We didn’t have all day to shoot scenes. We didn’t shoot them and do as much coverage and as many takes as you would normally with, say, an American television series with a large budget.”
“It makes you trust in your technique and your skills, and you’ve got to go for it,” he adds.
The medium might be newer for Penikett, but the genre – a mash-up of science fiction and fantasy – is hardly new territory for the Yukon-born actor, who portrayed Captain Karl 'Helo' Agathon on Battlestar Galactica.
“We’re one little speck in the universe and there’s so much that we have yet to discover, other life forms and beautiful technologies and even our own human capacity,” says Penikett. “I don’t think we’ve reached anywhere near our true potential, and I think people who watch genre shows, they believe in that magic, they believe in that possibility, and they have that imagination, and that’s why we’re drawn to it.”
Storytelling is in Penikett’s blood. His father (former Yukon premier Tony Penikett) is a playwright. His grandfather was a Shakespearean actor. And – on his First Nations side – his grandmother was a riveting storyteller.
“I’ve always respected an amazing storyteller: someone who can captivate the room and really make people listen,” says Penikett. “It’s an art form that usually takes a lifetime to get really good at, and that’s why elders are often the best storytellers, and that’s why my grandmother, even though she didn’t have the best English, she was a fantastic storyteller. When she spoke, people listened.”
“I’ve tried for years to write, and I don’t know if I’m doing it successfully, but in a perfect world, I will be able to bring one of these projects to life in the near future,” says Penikett.
As for Riftworld: Chronicles, it might be a while before fans find out what happens next for Alar of Caer Caladh and Kim of Toronto.
“The response already has been tremendous. I can’t even keep up on Twitter and social media right now with the response that we’re getting, which is great, but we’re only in the first couple of days here. I want to see where we are in a week, and then we’ll assess it,” says Penikett.
“We really have to assess it. I want to see what the fan response is, and ultimately the networks, and we’ll see what kind of money we get involved, and whether we can all make it happen.”
Watch Riftworld: Chronicles at RiftworldChronicles.com.
MORE FROM TAHMOH PENIKETT
On Battlestar Galactica and the local industry: “I love this city. I think it’s incredible. I used to say ten years ago, when we started Battlestar, you could feel there was a movement, and Battlestar was part of that. Battlestar was one of the first Canadian shows to cast most of the supporting cast with Canadians. There was an idea that maybe Canadians weren’t quite worthy or capable of some of these larger roles, and we broke that mold with that show, and it set a precedent. Two years after the success of our first couple of seasons, everyone in LA, so many of the shows were casting specifically Vancouver actors, Canadian actors. They had no issues with it. They loved them, and rightly so, because there’s a ton of talent here. Back then there was, and there still is now, but even more so. There are so many writers here. Simon Barry [of Continuum] is a perfect example. There’s so much talent in the city, and if I’m excited about anything, it’s about more indigenous projects coming out of here.”
On First Nations rights and his hopes for Canada: “I’m also very passionate about First Nations rights, and the future of this country. There’s a lot to be proud of as Canadians. There’s a certain pride and a very humble nationalism that a lot of Canadians have. Unfortunately, there’s a dark part of our past that everyone needs to know, and it’s happening as of late. That information is coming out, and I think the sooner that non-Indigenous people accept that and get educated about that, the sooner that everyone can move forward: heal, accept it, be educated about it, be proud of the past and be knowledgeable about the shameful part of our past, and it will help everybody heal and move forward. I imagine a future in this country where kids have a semester, an entire term, that is specifically about the First Peoples here, because they need to know about that. When I went to school, it was a goddamn chapter. It’s ridiculous. It’s embarrassing, and it’s disrespectful to the First Peoples and everything they endured in this country. When that’s done, this wonderful nation that we’re always touting is a multicultural place and we accept people of all race, colour, and creed in this country, that’s when we can really move towards that, and truly be the example in the world of what that can be. Until then, we can’t, and there has to be the reconciliation. There has to be some movement forward on that, and people need to get educated.”
On his passion for the environment: “The environment is very important to me. I’m passionate about the environment. I care about it. I feel like the present government that we have, not only federally but in BC in particular, we’re not taking care of it. We’re not ensuring healthy and sustainable practices for our children and the next generation. It’s negligent and it’s wrong. It should be illegal, and I’m very worried about it. We need to change things rapidly, especially in this country. Things are heading in a horrible direction. We’ve got a federal government who, when they got into power, we got 1.2 million bodies of water that were protected in this country. Now, there’s 112. Try and wrap your head around that. If that doesn’t tell you right now what this federal government is about, their agenda, they sold off our rights to our nature, to our water, to our delicate ecosystems and resources, to oil and mining and fracking. It’s going to be hard to come back from that. It should be illegal. It’s wrong. I’m worried. I have a son now, and I’m worried about the future for my son. I want to do everything that I can about that.”