The CW's sci-fi adventure series, Pandora, might've slipped under your radar when its first season premiered in the summer of 2019.
Since then, its high-octane exploits, ambitious story elements, and drop-dead gorgeous cast have attracted an enthusiastic following among viewers looking for entertaining escapism.
With the Season One finale ending with almost as many questions as answers, Season Two, premiering on October 4, promises even more of its trademark complex relationship shenanigans while the team tries to save the universe. No biggie.
Joining Jax, the titular "Pandora", and her established Scooby gang members, Xander and Ralen, are her new roommate Zazie and a surprise (and not exactly welcome) blast from the past, Jett.
Actors Nicole Castillo-Mavromatis and Akshay Kumar spoke with TV Fanatic via Zoom from their on-location shoot in Sofia, Bulgaria and were incredibly open and enthusiastic about their experiences as the newcomers to the cast.
Making a scripted television program during the time of COVID is a wholly new experience for everyone.
Production on Season Two began in Bulgaria on July 24, 2020. Nicole and Akshay flew out from the UK around that date and had to quarantine for four days before being tested and allowed on set.
Throughout the production, everyone who wasn't on camera was masked and anyone new joining them from the UK or US had to quarantine upon arrival. COVID testing was done twice a week.
At the time of our interview, they only had four days of shooting left on the season.
Shooting ten episodes in two months is, in Akshay's words, "MADNESS" and made for a tight-knit core cast and crew who worked extremely hard, grateful for the opportunity to continue to do their jobs.
"Knowing that we're lucky enough to work in a time like this," observed Akshay,"To be able to work abroad and be treated so well and do our jobs in a time when most people we know don't have any work. It really has hyped up the gratitude of working and the joy of working."
As the newest regulars to the show, Nicole and Akshay felt extremely included and appreciated by the cast members returning from Season One.
Asked if Quintana, Dench, or Radcliffe have taken on a leadership role on set, they both felt that all three stars had contributed to the positive morale and energy of the show.
"They've been incredibly welcoming," Akshay asserted,"And not just to us, as series regulars, but to any guest stars we've had for an episode. They've been incredibly welcoming and you just make friends. Every new episode, you make a new friend. Priscilla, Ben, Olly, they're just very much steering that Good Vibes Only sort of feeling."
Nicole agreed. "The Good Vibes Fam. But not only just them. I think everyone from Season One -- Noah (Huntley) and Vikash (Bhai) -- just everyone who came back from Season One has been super welcoming to all of the NOOBS -- me! It feels so much like a family, it's crazy how much I feel we all get along. It's wonderful."
Speaking about their characters, Nicole and Akshay were both excited for audiences to learn about Zazie and Jett who start out the season as a new-ish romantic duo.
In a small-world twist, the actors discovered when they met and started working together in Bulgaria that they actually lived only twenty-five minutes away from each other in East London.
Nicole came into the Pandora-verse initially a total novice. After booking the role for Season 2, she went back an binged the first season for research. As Pandora Season 1 didn't even air in the UK until lockdown began this year, she really hit the ground running.
Zazie, being completely new to the show, is a wild card. She takes the place (literally, since she's Jax's roommate) of Delaney Pilar who decided at the end of Season One to hang out with Atria Nine on Adar rather than return to the Fleet Academy.
Asked how Zazie contrasts with Delaney who came from an extremely privileged background and had been implanted with a huge amount of tech, allowing her brain to access and hack -- and, unfortunately, made her vulnerable to being hacked by -- the datastream, Nicole was affectionate about her character's personality.
"I would say she is just a really bubbly, cool, fun 'chick'! She just wants to be liked. She wants some friends. She is a bit of a bookworm but she's not super smart so she does have to study, I feel, a bit more than everyone else."
But what's her superpower? Nicole was cagily vague about what's in store for Zazie.
"There are some twists and turns in her storyline. There will be some things that you find out. But, all in all, she's very wholesome, I would say."
On the initial similarity between Zazie and last season's character, Atria Nine, in that they both exude an aura of sunshiney optimism, Nicole could see how the characters compare that way but felt that Zazie brings a bit more spunk to the party.
"And there's more spunk to come," Akshay promised. "An abundance of spunk."
While Zazie begins the season based in the Academy, enmeshed in the day-to-day interactions between characters, she does get roped into the space adventures too.
"As the season goes on, she takes a much more active role in that saving the universe plotline."
Akshay, in contrast, had a bit more experience with life at the Earth Command Fleet Academy, having guest starred on an episode in Season 1 before being tapped to return as a series regular this season.
Jett was not one of the good guys when he appeared on Pandora Season 1 Episode 6.
After Delaney's implants were hacked while she slept, resulting in her walking into the packed Academy lounge completely naked, Jett made it his business to post holo-nudes of her all over the datastream as retaliation for a romantic rejection.
As he became a lead suspect in the hacker investigation, it was revealed that his reputation as a tech-head was a sham.
Nov 1, 2019 at 3:40am PDT
When Jett makes his entrance on the Season 2 premiere, he is met with understandable hostility from Jax and Ralen.
Despite his contrite apology and promise to do better, his behaviour throughout the episode doesn't do a whole lot to redeem the character.
(Total disclosure: I might've described the character as a total ass off the top of the interview.)
"He thinks he's doing great," Akshay revealed,"but he's really not. He's just digging his own grave."
While it's clearly going to be a steep uphill climb for the character to prove himself trustworthy, Akshay explained his approach.
"When Mark Altman, our showrunner, wanted me back, I thought that the only way that Jett could come back was on a sort of path to redemption but he couldn't come back as this sort of born-again saint. I thought he would try to redeem himself in the only way he knows how.
"For me, it would be kind of weird if he came back as like a brand-new character with a brand new set of ethics. His foundational personality traits -- his flirtiness, ["cheeky, charming behavior" interjected Nicole] -- which can be read as very douchy, I totally agree."
Akshay paused to think on it for moment and added,"That's probably more me than Jett, to be honest."
"He is still on this path to redemption and he does get better at redeeming himself, I will say that. He doesn't start very well but he's trying.
"You know, in school, when you try so hard to get someone to like you and you end up just shooting yourself in the foot? That's very much Jett for the first few episodes.
"He grows. He becomes a bit more balanced. He doesn't lose his humor or his cheek which is really nice. We just get to know more about him and why he is the way he is.'
Looking at Season 2 as a long arc, Nicole and Akshay see the show finding its footing as more of a cohesive space adventure.
"I think this season leans more into the sci-fi side of it, the adventure, the high stakes, the heavy action," Nicole confirmed, then qualified it a bit. "But, again, there are romantic scenes and romantic storylines but I definitely feel like they've leaned a lot more into the action of it."
"The action and the bigger threat," Akshay added. "The looming threat that we learned about in Season 1. I think that's definitely much more present. That's definitely more at the forefront, especially of Jax and Xander's characters [decisions].
"What's really great is the emphasis on relationships between characters which is a huge plus. The constant evolution between characters such as Ralen and Jett and where that goes, then Xander and Jax, Zazie and Jett, Zazie and Jax.
"There's so many different webs that intertwine so much more, in a much more human fashion. Friendships are made and broken, then new, unlikely friendships are made.
"All the while, they're all working towards [confronting] the big enemy, the looming threat. So I think that's definitely much more grounded."
Nicole comes to acting from an extensive dance background and while we won't get to see Zazie trot out those skills on-screen this season, she dreams of being able to represent both her natural and nurtured background one day.
"I've always wanted to be able to play a role that kind of represents where I come from, my heritage. Maybe a role that is a Latina. That would be amazing. Just because I feel like I've never really cast in that direction.
"So it would be amazing to play someone of my heritage and 'rep' the heritage. Or as a part of a musical. That would be great."
Wrapping the two wishlist items together, I suggested something like In the Heights, which garnered an enthusiastic response as it's one of her favorite shows.
Akshay's professional credits include roles on films like Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi and regular roles on TV series, The Halcyon and Devs. His heart lies with the action-oriented, stunt-heavy roles.
"I love stunt sequences and I wish I had more of that on this show. I get a real kick out of any sort of role that allows me to just feel like a kid again. And for me, the select sequences I have on this show just blow my mind. The amount of fun I have."
Recalling he had recently watched John Wick 3: Parabellum, he expressed his desire to be Keanu Reeves in that role.
"Anything that's teetering on the dangerous and you-may-die sort of edge. I'm a bit Tom Cruise-y like that.... yeah, I could be the British-Indian Tom Cruise. Let's go for that."
For both Nicole and Akshay, the experience of being part of the Pandora family has been nothing short of wonderful.
"It's a dream!" Nicole sang out without hesitation when I asked for their feelings about the show.
"Honestly," Akshay professed,"It's been such a great ride. Everyone here is so lovely, and everyone works so hard."
"It's been such an amazing experience," Nicole added,"I personally feel like I've learned so much being out here and everyone is just beautiful, so lovely, and the crew is wonderful. The cast is really wonderful. All the directors we've worked with. Our D.O.P., Max, and Mark and Steve. Just everyone."
Pandora Season 2 premieres TONIGHT, Sunday, October 4, at 8/7c on The CW.
Be sure to check back with TV Fanatic for reviews after the show each week!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.