Spoiler Warning: The following article contains full spoilers for Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, streaming now on Netflix.
Scott Pilgrim returns in Netflix’s new animated series, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off…. Well, sort of.
By the end of the first episode, it becomes clear that this adorable TV adaptation isn’t as simple as we thought.
Episode 1, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, feels like a fun, yet fairly ordinary retelling of the story we all know and love. We meet Scott and Sex Bob-Omb, get an introduction to Scott’s life, and see how it gets thrown into disarray when he inevitably meets Ramona Flowers. So far the same.
In fact, the story remains a fairly faithful adaptation up until the iconic fight between Scott and Matthew Patel. If you’ve read the books or seen the movie, you’ll remember the demonic hipster chicks and the quirky backstory. Cue Scott’s first battle with one of Ramona’s evil exes, and it’s all going pretty well… until Scott dies.
Yes, Scott dies.
Just minutes before the end of the episode, creators Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski pull out some fantastic TV bait and switch gears – making us feel nice and comfortable before killing off the main character. And that was always the plan.
“That was the big idea that started the whole thing,” O’Malley told me in an interview for IGN (which you can read more about here and here).
It turns out the idea came from Grabinski, who met O’Malley about the project and immediately started putting forward some pretty wild ideas.
“I just started rambling about the show, and what I would one day do with it, and how I felt creatively stifled by the existence of the books in the movie. And he said, ‘Oh, let’s just do it this way. What if Scott dies at the end and blah, blah, blah, and then they make a movie of his life,” and he just started rambling about these really brilliant left-wing ideas, and that stuff really became the backbone of the show. ”
That’s no exaggeration: after O’Malley and Grabinski pull the rug out from under us, they create a whole new story and take Scott Pilgrim into uncharted territory.
And there’s a good reason for that: to escape the pressure to live by the books.
“That’s part of where the big swing really helps,” O’Malley said. “Because we can tie all these new storylines and character reversals to one big change, and then I can just put the books on the shelf and not worry about it so much because I’m slavish to it. There are scenes here and there that are almost straight from the books where that could be done, where it made sense, but it was just all about finding new avenues and new ways of looking at these characters. And alternative forms of conflict resolution, I think, as opposed to just fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting. There are new alignments and conversations that never happened in the original and things like that.
“I didn’t want to have a story where you ever felt like you could go do laundry while you were watching it,” said co-showrunner BenDavid Grabinski. “Or you can check out and say, ‘I know where we stand.’ He’s about to fight this ex’. I hope it’s completely unpredictable and keeps you from just relaxing that way. I like the watch, but I just felt like I didn’t want anyone to say, “Okay, this is new, but which ex is next?” Okay, that one. How much is left until Gideon? Okay.’ Personally, I felt like this would be the death of the story.
Essentially, episode 2 reads one complete different version of Scott’s story, with the titular hero taking a bit of a backseat.
For some series it’s even a Scott Pilgrim show without Scott Pilgrim…in a way.
“There’s so much Scott in the episode that Scott isn’t in,” Grabinski said. “Every time you see the robot in episodes two through six, it’s Scott. You see Lucas play Scott, you see Gideon become a kind of Scott as an unemployed person. He was a free-riding roommate. You see Todd, who has always been a weird doppelgänger of Scott, playing Scott. There’s so much Scott, even when Scott isn’t there, and then when he comes back, there’s twice as much Scott. So I think if you actually do the math, this show has more Scott than if Scott had left the show, and I stand by that.
It’s actually a completely new way of thinking about Scott’s story, with a deep emphasis on the way our perspective can change over time.
Luckily, it’s also a lot of fun and a new twist that Scott Pilgrim fans will love.
“I kept thinking that anyone can now read a synopsis of Scott Pilgrim on Wikipedia,” O’Malley said, “which obviously wasn’t the case when the books came out. So I wanted to regain the upper hand in surprise.”
“When I first read the books, I never knew where it was going,” Grabinski added, and this is what they wanted to recapture with the new show. “You had a feeling that maybe at some point he would stop dating Ramona… But the hope was always that this would be more emotional than people expected. We didn’t want it to just be a joke, like we were just taking the p**s out of it. What I compared it to is Gremlins 2, one of my favorite movies of all time, but it’s also less emotional than Gremlins in a way because it’s so much more irreverent and works as hard as possible. So if we wanted to push the story and try to make it even more crazy and unpredictable, we also wanted to ground it more at the same time, which is a difficult undertaking, but that was our intention.
“I’m very averse to clichés,” O’Malley added. “I am also very averse to repetition in the macro and in the micro. So yeah, this all worked for me to try new things every time. Once we get to episode two, and we’re at the funeral, and all this crazy stuff happens, it feels like my world, so I really hope the fans will click with that.
As for the name of the show, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off, it’s a clever nod to what happens at the end of episode 1… and it was all O’Malley’s idea.
“It fooled everyone, which shocked them,” he said.
“The second time he texted me I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the title,’” Grabinski added. “And we didn’t even ask permission, we just changed the title page on that and we just let it exist. And to this day, I haven’t seen a single person online guess that it’s a literal title. So fingers crossed that we can keep that up until November.”
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off was released on Netflix on November 17.
Want to read more about Scott Pilgrim Takes Off? Watch the endearingly gripping opening scene and read more from our chat with Bryan Lee O’Malley and BenDavid Grabinski.
Ryan Leston is an entertainment journalist and film critic for IGN. You can follow him Tweet.