Creating a hit TV show that appeals to family audiences is nigh on impossible in the era of streaming. With so many services and so many ways to watch individually now in play, it almost seems foolish to try and create a series that aims to bring in viewers from across all age groups. But, Netflix is determined to give it a go.
Today (April 1), Netflix (opens in new tab) launches The Last Bus, a peculiar, very British-feeling, science-fiction comedy-drama, which it hopes will hook in as many pre-teens and teenagers as it does adults.
The show begins with a real British institution, that of trooping off for the day on a school trip. In this case, a group of students have been invited to the launch of the ‘genie orbs’, a new class of robot that has been designed to clean up the environment. When the orbs are introduced by eccentric tech billionaire Dalton Monkhouse, they suddenly appear to vaporize everyone in the audience, something that is replicated in thousands of identical events all over the world.
The only survivors? The students, who just about manage to make it back to their rickety, clapped-out school bus and head home in search of answers. Once home, they realise everybody really has gone. Vowing to fight back and find out what happened, the students embark on a road trip to find Dalton Monkhouse and get some answers.
A colorful, warm-hearted adventure (think Doctor Who (opens in new tab)meets Grange Hill (opens in new tab) with a dash of Marvel’s Runaways thrown in), the 10-part adventure is glorious fun.
The vast majority of the cast are teenagers themselves, but one who isn’t is Irish actor Robert Sheehan. Sheehan is best known for his role as Klaus Hargreaves in Netflix’s megahit The Umbrella Academy (opens in new tab) as well as roles in Misfits and Mortal Engines, and plays Monkhouse.
TechRadar spoke to Sheehan about the show and what attracted him to the role. ofa tech billionaire. For him, the name of the character sold it instantly, “The name Dalton Monkhouse, immediately carried loads of suggestions, there is some sort of magic music to it. When you read about a character they can walk quite easily into your head – or not – Dalton came quite peculiarly, quite quickly and that’s always attractive because you have the scent of something early on. I felt I could do something interesting and dare I say unique with this.”
Where did he find the inspiration for the character? Is there a bit of Elon Musk in there? Or Jeff Bezos? Sheehan denies looking at any real-life tech moguls, but said of the character he’s built: “Dalton is someone who suffers from white knight syndrome, that thing which comes as a result of early-onset emotional avoidance, where at some stage in a person’s life they start to believe, unconsciously, that only they can look after themselves. That kind of dis-attachment psychology can morph into making lots and lots and lots and lots of money and casting oneself as the saviour of humanity – Dalton is textbook that. He’s a rarified billionaire who made far too much money far too young and impoverished his own emotional maturation.”
It must have been fun to play a Blofeld- esque villain though? Sheehan agrees, “That’s what’s so charming about the show, that these wonderful children who’ve been through this huge life-threatening odyssey are profoundly more mature than Dalton by the time they reach his super-lair.”
The cast and crew are so young on this show that Sheehan, not exactly a veteran at 34, was one of the oldest people on set. How did he react to that? “It was lovely as we had loads of play and it was my job – or at least one I assigned myself – to get the kids to crack. I kept throwing them off with weird lines. It was a lovely reminder for me because I started off at that age. I did a film when I was 14 with a bunch of other boys of varying ages from pre-adolescence to teenagers and I remember the ferocious familiarity we had. The show created an environment for the kids to become best friends.”
Are there plans for any more if the show can run Netflix’s gauntlet and hook in viewers? Sheehan hopes so, “There are dreams to make more, certainly.”
We couldn’t let Sheehan go without asking him a few questions about the major role in his life, that of Klaus Hargreeves in the Umbrella Academy, which returns for a third season in June. Note that a few spoilers follow, folks, you’ve been warned.
At the end of the show’s second season, Klaus, whose abilities include being able to speak to and channel the dead, was grieving for the loss of his brother Ben. Ben, though he’d died 17 years before the show began, was able to communicate with Klaus, however an epic battle at the second’s season climax saw him permanently depart for the afterlife and leave his brother broken-hearted. On the back of that, showrunner Steve Blackman has promised a “very challenging” new season for Sheehan’s character.
Asked about that, Sheehan wasn’t giving much away, telling TechRadar, “Netflix have a little red light trained between my eyes as I talk, and if I told you what Klaus is up to in season 3 they’re authorised to go ahead and take the shot”, but he did promise that the show’s third run would bring “more Hargreaves’ family dysfunction on an apocalyptic scale.”
Sounds pretty good to us.
The Last Bus is out now on Netflix.