Co-created by writer and producer Bernie Su and author Evan Mandery, Artificial made history by winning Twitch its first Emmy. The first scripted series for the live video streaming platform also earned a Peabody Award. With all of its accolades and two seasons under its belt, a third season was underway for the groundbreaking interactive series where viewers drive the story. That said, Su was more than ready for the new season.
“We were already in discussions about it before the pandemic with Twitch and then the pandemic happened,” Su told Deadline. “Then I was asked the question ‘Can you do this as a remote production?'”
After a beat, he answered his own question: “I, of course, said yes.”
The third season of Artificial will be appropriately titled Remote Intelligence. Produced remotely, the 12 livestreamed two-hour episodes will debut May 21 at 6pm PT/9pm ET on Twitch — and it ups the ante on all fronts. The new season will follow a brand new artificial intelligence being guided by an idealistic young scientist named Elle (Christy St. John) on a live-streamed journey to become human.
Still recovering from the fall of Sophie Version 2 (Tiffany Chu) Sebastian (Stephen Chang) and his organization see an opportunity to relaunch a new Artificial Intelligence being using the technology that Dr. Matt Lin (Tohoru Masamune) first used to bring Sophie to life.
After installing a blank slate consciousness into Sophie’s old shell, “SV3” (Chu, yet again) is activated and — to coincide with the times — is quarantined to a single home. Not wanting to repeat the same mistake of AI homicide that her predecessor Sophie (SV2) made, Sebastian rules that no humans are allowed to physically interact with SV3. All coincides with what all of us are going through. In a way, we’re all SV3.
The third season also features Jennifer Field as Dr. Ruby Thames, Justin Lee as Justin, Devon Werkheiser as Asher and La Trice Harper as Carmen. The season will also include dynamic polling mechanism that shows the audience exactly how much time they have left to make important decisions. Viewers will also be able to control the music of the episode with LifeScore, allowing them to change the mood and intensity of the live music via emotes in chat. On top of that, every 3rd episode will be a Worldbuilding episode, where the creatives behind the show will allow the audience to make major decisions in the course of the story including casting, character creation and set design.
Watch the teaser for the third season below.
Deadline talked to Su about the many challenges — both good and bad — of creating the third season of the livestreamed interactive sci-fi series and how film and TV will shift after the pandemic.
DEADLINE: How did you want to move this franchise forward?
BERNIE SU: Before the pandemic, I was designing a season where we were on a production set. There was more cameras and more movement. It was more dynamic and there was more audience chaos — like instead of the audience deciding something for a character, the audience could play God and put something in the scene. So a hypothetical example is that you and I are characters that don’t like each other. We’re at a dinner table. We’re having a contentious conversation. The audience could say, “There’s now a gun on the table,” and a gun appears on the table and the characters have to react to that moment.
In a simpler sense, it was a larger production. It was going to be more dynamic, more live and have more ways for the audience to interact and affect the show and. We still had the LifeScore technology from the start, so that was going to be in it no matter what. It also meant production-wise, more crew, more cameras, more microphones, et cetera, all that to affect the show.
DEADLINE: How has the remote component made you pivot to other ways of producing the show?
SU: Now that we’re remote, we can’t do any of that obviously. It was going to be harder already, but then when we transitioned into the remote production, we thought: “Okay. If we’re doing remote, we don’t need all this crew, right?” You don’t need three camera operators. You don’t need two sound guys on set — you do not need those things. But because now you have to buy all this equipment to send to all the talent and it balloons the cost of everything. I can’t say which one would have been more or less expensive, but it’s close.
We’re doing what’s the best bang for the buck — we have to make it scrappy. We’re not going to be able to strike a wall or put up posters so we have to work with what we’ve got. It’s just a different set of challenges. I’ll just tell you straight up — it’s both fun and incredibly stressful.
DEADLINE: How do you think these challenges stretch your creative muscles?
SU: As a creator, I love challenges and I love restrictions. That’s something I would tell you before this pandemic. This is the way I work. Give me the challenge and give me the restrictions and let’s rock it. For example, there’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries — we did that with one camera on a tripod.
I’m upset that we are having to go through this as a society but, as a creator, this is one of the great challenges. It’s a great opportunity to try something because this is the canvas. This is the toolset you are given. There is no other option. The restrictions are beautiful and driving the creative. Orson Welles said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations” — or you could say the reverse, the absence of limitations is the enemy of art. You need limits. In my entire career, I’ve given myself extreme limits. In this case, I’m not doing them myself.
DEADLINE: We have seen series like Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live and All Rise do remote episodes. How will Artificial: Remote Intelligence build on what these shows have established when it comes to remote productions. In other words, how will this not be 12 episodes of a Zoom call?
SU: I think the best thing way I can describe it is that it’s going to look like a CNN show with science fiction and interactivity. For example, on CNN, Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta and Anthony Fauci are having a conversation. They are not in the same room but it doesn’t look like they’re on a Zoom call — but they are technically calling in. They are in this very well-produced background of this overlay of CNN branding. They can play and talk about clips, stats and graphs. That’s what it’s going to feel like.
At the beginning of this, my team said: “So you’ll just do it on Zoom.” I said, “No. You can, but that seems really, really boring.” These are one-and-half to two-hour episodes. Having it all on Zoom seems really boring. We had to make this look up to par with anything out there. I always reference these cable news programs as a format for this scripted sci-fi interactive series and to make it feel alive.
DEADLINE: With the pandemic making many creatives pivot in how they produce projects, how do you think these new forms of storytelling will affect the TV and film landscape on the other side of the pandemic?
SU: I think there are two things to that. There’s the production side of things and then there’s the cultural side. On the production side of things, I would say it’s just very tricky to produce things as is, so everything has to adjust. I’ve heard things like a cast crew for a film will quarantine for two weeks before they start shooting and test beforehand. That makes sense, but how do you do that for something like an NCIS — a top show on television that has a new case, crime and victims of the week every week? How the eff are you going to pull that off? Quarantine the entire 24-episode cast? I don’t know. That’s an inherent challenge. I think films will have an easier course. For example, the entire team of Shang-Chi is shooting in Australia. You could just quarantine 300 people theoretically and say, “We’re paying you to quarantine. Stay inside, daily testing and do all that stuff.” That makes sense. But for TV and that fall schedule — how the heck are they going to do that?
On the cultural side of things because — what can we expect for content? When we see something now and there are people kissing, we automatically register in our mind that this is a pre-quarantine content. At what point do we say, “This feels dated”? I’m thinking about the future of filmmaking. Even if you manage to get everybody together and all that, how do you get through that? How do you not break that magic? Where it’s a film, but in real life, you would be sort of distancing. That’s something I’m kind of curious about as we go.