TCL's first original movie is an absurd-looking, AI-generated love story

The trailer looks like what might happen if The Hallmark Channel just stopped trying.

TCLtv+ Studios

Many major tech companies, particularly those that operate in the TV hardware business, have dipped their toes into original content. Although it's had its own free, ad-supported TV (FAST) channels for a while, TCL is late to that party. Not for much longer though, as the company is set to release its first special, a short romance movie, on TCLtv+ this summer. There's just one slight hitch: TCL is using generative AI to make original content for its platform, and early signs do not bode well.

The company has released the first trailer for Next Stop Paris, which it's calling "the first AI-powered love story." TCL used human writers, as well as actors for motion capture and voice performances. While it has artists in the US, Canada, UK and Poland working on the project, it relied heavily on generative AI.

“I am excited by this opportunity to differentiate us with original programming. AIGC [artificial intelligence generated content] for us is the beginning," Chris Regina, TCL's chief content officer, told Broadcasting+Cable. "It’s a new approach and it makes sense coming from a tech and hardware company that that’s where we’re going to start.”

The plot of Next Stop Paris, such as it is, sees a young woman going on her honeymoon to Paris alone after her fiancé ran off with someone in their wedding party. She meets a stranger on the train and the pair explore the French capital together.

TCL is hoping that original content can help draw viewers to TCLtv+ and help build a brand identity for the company. While it's not entirely fair to judge a film based on a trailer, the Next Stop Paris clip gives a terrible first impression for both the project and TCLtv+.

The look of the characters changes throughout, from a moderately realistic style to the hyperrealism we often see from the likes of Midjourney, and they project all of the emotion of a pair of dead fish. Lip syncing is almost non-existent and the characters walk in a very unnatural way.

The trailer feels like the worst kind of fever dream. Saying this looks like garbage would be an insult to garbage. If "content is king," as Regina put it, Next Stop Paris looks like a pauper.

The Hallmark Channel gets a lot of flak for its romance movies and romcoms, but at least there's an earnestness and high level of care behind the network's output, which does a lot to fill a gap in the theatrical slate. TCL is trying to muscle into that space too.

"There's an audience there that's watching our service and we see a hole in the marketplace with theatrical rom-coms not as prevalent," Regina said. "They're a guilty pleasure. You get under a blanket and watch in front of your TV set. So that's the driver." On top of that, TCL plans to make its original content shoppable and have AI-generated "characters in our shows that can be brand ambassadors and influencers for advertisers."

Thankfully, TCL isn't only working on AI-generated guff. "We are looking at doing traditional content. So movies, scripted shows, unscripted content, specials," Regina, who wrote Next Stop Paris with TCL chief creative officer Daniel Smith, said. "The next thing we have brewing isn't AI at all." That's good, because whatever's next can't look much worse than Next Stop Paris.