ABC’s ‘Emergence’ Is a Family-Friendly Sci-Fi Thriller That Channels Steven Spielberg

ABC’s new show Emergence is a sci-fi thriller the whole family can enjoy, cast member Zabryna Guevara told the audience during a panel at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday, July 18. 

“I have a 10-year-old and a five-year-old,” the actress, who plays a character named Abby. “They were fine,” when watching the occasionally scary supernatural mystery, Guevera revealed, which focuses on a small-town police chief named Jo (Allison Tolman) who takes in a little girl (Alexa Swinton) with no memory after she’s found at the site of a mysterious plane crash. Soon, Jo and her family are dodging a shadowy organization that is also trying to hunt down the little girl, who may have supernatural powers.  

“I think if your kids stay up late Tuesday nights, 10 o’clock, it’s fine for them to watch,” joked her fellow cast member Donald Faison. 

Influenced by Spielberg 

There are definitely some tense moments in the series premiere, which screened at Comic-Con, including an edge-of-your-seat car chase and a scene when one character cuts a tracking device from their neck. But this is a show that focuses on family as much as it does on thrills or scares. In addition to the little girl — dubbed Piper by Jo — and her surrogate mother figure, there’s Jo’s daughter Bree (Ashley Aufderheide), her ex-husband Alex (Faison) and her dad Ed (Clancy Brown). The vibe is very Spielbergian, that’s intentional, according to Michele Fazekas, who co-created the show with Tara Butters. 

“Tara and I always like doing shows where it’s real world except there’s one weird thing,” she said. “Growing up it was watching Spielberg movies and Close Encounters and E.T.”

“We wanted it to be something we could share with our family,” Butters added, explaining they wanted to create a show that was scary and had suspense but also had a family at its heart. 

Moments of humor 

Allison Tolman and Alexa Swinton
Allison Tolman and Alexa Swinton in Emergence | ABC/Virginia Sherwood

While Emergence is hardly a comedy, there are humorous moments. “Even though the show isn’t necessarily a funny show, the people on the show have a sense of humor,” Butters explained. “They naturally have a sense of humor, even in stressful situations.” 

“When you’re in the trenches, when you’re in the thick of it, you need that lightheartedness … and then you go right back into the drama and the thrill,” Faison added. 

The Scrubs vet, who describes himself as a “huge sci-fi” fan, says he’s looking forward to embracing a more dramatic role. “I really wanted to do something different,” Faison explained. Still, he came prepared to be funny, just in case humor was called for. 

“I had some jokes for the pilot and they were like ‘No, it’s not that kind of show,’” he said. 

Tolman, who previously played a police chief on FX’s Fargo, said Emergence was exactly the kind of project she wanted. 

“I did not think I was going to end up in a network drama, [but] I read the script and it’s exactly the kind of show I like to watch. I like to watch a little bit of intrigue, I like some spookiness, I like a little sci-fi, I like a little thriller,” she explained. “I sat down to read it and I was like, ‘Man, this is really good. Now I have to pursue it.’”  

Emergence premieres Tuesday, September 24 at 10/9c on ABC.