ABC's The Whispers has been mesmerizing viewers all summer long. While the first season is almost over now’s as good of a time as any to reflect on the man who made the series possible; Ray Bradbury. Those who haven’t caught up on the series yet but want to, and have a high speed internet connection, can instantly stream all episodes via ABC Go. Obviously if you’re not caught up this article will contain some spoilers.
It’s not commonly known that The Whispers is based on a Bradbury short story called Zero Hour. This only speaks to the timelessness of Bradbury’s work and the themes he examined in it. Of course, Bradbury aficionados know this is far from the first time his work has been adapted by Hollywood, he even worked as a screenwriter for a while, but it does mark one of the most high profile adaptations of his. So, let’s take a look at the series and the work that inspired it.
In 1951, the Red Scare was in full force and Americans were being fed fear propaganda on a regular basis. During this time, Americans became paranoid and suspicious. Rumors spread about the Russians using mind control techniques to turn Americans against their own country. We were a country in fear.
It is this fear the Bradbury tapped into when writing Zero Hour. The story is told from a suburban mother's point of view. Mrs. Morris is a typical 1950s mother and her daughter Mink is a typical child. Her and her friends like to play games and have come up with one called 'Invasion.' The children all play this game with an imaginary friend named Drill. Of course, this is nothing more than child's play, so Mrs. Morris never gives it a second thought. Until the alien invasion actually starts. That is the end of the story. Bradbury never elaborates on the actual invasion. Simply throws it at you and leaves it hanging there.
Told through the guise of a science fiction story, Zero Hour seemed to really be honed into our collective psyche of the time. When your neighbor can be a secret Communist spy being controlled through mind control, it can be easy to get caught up and ignore what is right in front of you.
The Whispers follows the same general premise, but with expanded ideas and themes. Instead of Mrs. Morris, we have an FBI agent and mother who has been tracking this strange trend across the country. The children are still playing 'Invasion' with their friend Drill, but no more is this just a local incident. This adds a sense of urgency that is not present in the source material.
The biggest change may be the alien invasion itself. Where Bradbury ends, The Whispers may continue. It would seem odd to simply stop at the invasion in today's monster driven world, and knowing that Steven Spielberg is involved lends to the theory that the show will continue past the invasion point.
One thing that is kept from the original tale is the collective fear we all feel. Today, our monsters don’t come in the form of foreign armies or mind control techniques. Our collective fear comes from the acts of terrorism and violence taking place all over the world, and as evidenced by recent events, young people may be influenced by them and the dark forces behind them. Producer Zack Estrin wanted to focus on that out of control feeling parents have in regards to their children and the internet, saying he wanted the series to pose the question “What if someone is influencing your child and it’s not you”. Due to the almost rampant shootings and home grown terrorists attacking common civilians around the world, the fact that at any time, a mass killing could happen keeps many people locked in a state of fear similar to the Red Scare. We are still wondering about our neighbor and what he is doing behind closed doors.
Ray Bradbury knew that these kind of actions from other humans was far scarier than any monster he could ever dream up. This is why his science fiction stories often dealt less with science and more with the human psyche. The darkness each man possesses inside him is the scariest thing Bradbury had ever seen, and that is what he wrote about. While not a scene for scene filming of the Ray Bradbury classic, The Whispers is shaping up to be just as suspenseful and relevant as Zero Hour was in 1951.
The Whispers is currently airing on ABC with the first season set to wrap up on August 31. The series stars Lily Rabe, Barry Sloane, and Milo Ventimiglia.
Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment, culture, and lifestyle blogger. He lives and works in Chicago. When not working he can be found camped out in his apartment watching the latest films and newest television shows.