Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ABC Developing Detective Show featuring Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn

Another entry to the "can't make this shit up category", ABC is developing Finn & Sawyer, a contemporary take on Mark Twain's classic characters.

Created by Jason Richman and David Zabel, the show is described as an adventure-themed reinvention that revolves around the two characters who re-meet as young men in their 20s and form an investigative firm in a bustling and steampunk New Orleans, because what else could two young 19th century men do in New Orleans?

Now when I hear "steampunk" and "Tom Sawyer", I think of the film version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen where Sawyer is shoehorned into the plot because of the mistaken belief that Americans cannot relate to non-American characters (if that is true Hollywood, how has Dr. Who, Downton Abbey and Sherlock become popular with American audiences?).

Nevertheless, it looks like ABC is going for an original fictional mash-up universe likely set sometime in the 1850s, since Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was set sometime between 1835 and 1845, with Tom and Huck being around 13 to 14 years old. So two big questions need to be asked. First, which fictional characters from the 1850s will make an appearance? Are pompous British spies, trips to the moon and difference engines in the cards? Also I believe there are certain cultists who enjoy performing dark rites in the bayous of Louisiana. Would it be too much to ask for a cameo by everyone's favorite dark, squid-headed god? If we can go paranormal, why not some original voodoo zombies?

Now the important question: how will ABC present slavery and the lead-up to the Civil War? Will it be a historically accurate depiction of the pre-war decade or will it be rife with misconceptions? Even with the steampunk label, viewers hoping for some historical accuracy will likely be disappointed. In all likelihood producers will be blinded by the need to reach out to an audience who did not pay attention when they took history in high school.

So what have some of the early reactions been to ABC announcement? Hannah Shaw-Williams at Bleeding Cool was less than enthusiastic, describing the creation of the show as being as follows: "throw a bunch of random ideas into a tombola, draw out a handful and put them in the order that makes the most sense." Emily Temple at Flavorwire was a little more optimistic and described the show as being part of a trend of updating old classics, like Once Upon a Time or Elementary. Lauren Davis at io9 also thought the show could be a satire, just as Twain used his characters in Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective.

A tongue-in-cheek comedy that manages to find the perfect balance of serious/satire with a steampunk setting, including cameo appearances by fictional characters and historical VIPs might actually make a good show. Maybe Mark Twain will show up for an episode, he would be in his 20s during the time period as well and could have been inspired by hanging out with the "real" Huck and Tom to create their fictional counterparts decades later.

Still I am not optimistic, but time will tell if this pilot builds up enough steam to get moving.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a volunteer editor for Alt Hist and a contributor to Just Below the Law. His fiction can be found at Echelon PressJake's Monthly and his own writing blog. When not writing he works as an attorney and enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana.


  1. I'm also not overly optimistic. Since it's playing in the "real" world as a steampunk series it needs to do some worldbuilding that's in equal parts serious and subtle. Otherwise it'll just be a show with action scenes with steampunky gimmicks. Generally I don't trust TV producers with such fine details.

    1. It will be interesting to see if they actually manage to fit in some real alternate history.

    2. True, and as you said in your post, it'll be interesting to see how they deal with slavery and all the other issues of that day and age.

    3. If it was HBO, I'd probably be less worried. Let's cross our fingers and hope it's not a bust.

    4. Ugh, perhaps not. I love Game of Thrones but the last thing I need is to have my childhood ruined by watching famous fictional characters have sex. Then the show becomes one big slash fiction show.