Friday, January 10, 2020

Another Life: The Critics Have It Wrong (Again)

When the critics have a series set in their sites it sure seems the knives come out and they are sharp. An example: Another Life (Netflix) (2019-present). The new series stars beloved female genre actress Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Longmire).

To some degree, if you're like me, her name attached to just about anything catches your attention. It doesn't mean it's good (The Last Sentinel), but you at least want to see for yourself and even be pleasantly surprised (2036 Of Unknown Origin).

The reviews are still coming in and the series is teetering on the cusp of an accumulated overall positive, but there are plenty of critics out there ready to bury the show before it has even had a chance to breathe.

Lost In Space (1918-present), Season Two, also on Netflix, has better reviews and this science fiction fan will never appreciate or understand why. Sure the Lost In Space adventure series has a load of cinematic appeal from gorgeous visual effects to Marvel-style action adventure, but not a whole lot of intelligence despite the story centered on the alien intellect of its Robot. Season Two proved to be more of the same unchallenging drivel as the first and there's always an audience for it. But by and large its an empty-headed adventure to me.

Meanwhile there's Another Life and a recent review had it pegged as one of the 20 worst shows on Netflix. Who writes these things? Where is Lost In Space then?

I've seen all of its first ten episodes in their entirety and, yes, while there are moments of homage to any number of science fiction classics Another Life is still carving its own path and establishing its own identity. It is equal parts suspenseful and interesting while delivering on moments of intense excitement and outer space adventure. But there is a much less family-friendly tone to Another Life. There is indeed a creeping darkness to the journey and its compelling internal mystery surrounding an alien artefact keeps you gripped to the story.

Sackhoff doesn't disappoint, but neither does the extensive supporting cast of fine performances, which can sometimes fail a series.

The story ideas are solid. The writing is good if imperfect, but sometimes very good. Episodes can stand on their own, but work to thread the overarching story together.

Another Life (an admittedly flat title that shares its name with a 1981 soap opera) was renewed for a second season thankfully. Please see it for yourself. Don't believe the naysayers. This is a completely solid genre offering, a science fiction adventure mystery that works and I am fully on board and impressed.

Some of the same critics who have Another Life unfairly knocked down are in full support of the utterly lost, action-packed nonsense of Lost In Space. They couldn't be more wrong.

This writer and fan of thoughtful science fiction is glad he thought for himself on this one. Another Life is another fascinating if unexpected entry in the long history of good science fiction with a more serious tone associated with the likes of Colony (2016-2018), The Expanse (2015-present), Stargate Universe (2009-2011) or a film like Annihilation (2018).

As science fiction fans, let's hope it finds further life support in the years ahead. This life has potential. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Expanse S1 E3: Remember The Cant

"Earth and Mars have been stepping on the necks of the Belters out here for over 100 years and I didn't want to be the boot."
-James Holden-

"You know what I love most about Mars? They still dream. We gave up. They're an entire culture dedicated to a common goal, working together as one to turn a lifeless rock into a garden. We had a garden and we paved it."
-Franklin Degraaf-

The third episode sees the five remaining crew members of the now destroyed Canterbury captured by way of the Shuttle Knight and slowly sucked inside the Martian vessel MCRN Donnager.

The Expanse, Season One, Episode 3, Remember The Cant, is misleading as far as coloring the relationships that would form and be forged into the future for the series. Here, an already tenuous alliance of individuals thrown together are pressured and interrogated and played against one another by the Martians in an entry that works as a gripping interrogation procedural. The Martians, Holden and company and Earth are all attempting to get answers regarding just why exactly the Canterbury was destroyed.

There are so many details and variables in play between this large ensemble cast including Miller's search of Ceres for Julie Mao, whist Star Helix Security comes to blows with the OPA (Outer Planet Alliance) helmed by Anderson Dawes, played by the always exceptional Jared Harris (Chernobyl, The Terror). Despite the many players in the series, character growth and revelations reveal themselves in small moments.

I cannot implore science fiction fans enough to immerse themselves into the massively expansive world of The Expanse. Additionally, it is infinitely re-watchable and so many tiny details are observed with repeat viewings that enhance the story and aid in the experience of immersing the viewer inside the world of James S.A. Corey's The Expanse.

This series is exquisite replete with strong writing, an actual well-penned story, wonderfully complex characters, terrific spaceships and exceptional special effects. Further dubbing the show The Expanse was smart because that title works on a number of levels not least of which is the sheer fact this series is expanding the conventions and expectations we've come to expect with science fiction. Star Trek has conditioned us. The Expanse is broadening those horizons and pushing back the walls of our minds and imaginations.

Writer: Robin Veith. Director: Jeff Woolnough.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Expanse S1 E2: The Big Empty

"Ask me whether or not I should rip your helmet off and kick you off this bucket, and I couldn't give you a reason why I should or shouldn't."

-Amos Burton-

I'm reminded with each new viewing how strong this series is. The sounds, the details, the faithfulness to the books by James S.A. Corey. New pieces, new subtleties in the character beats and world building are revealed to me each time I absorb The Expanse. It's an impressive science fiction. It's arguably my favorite. Wonderful characters, interesting tech and world building, wonderful attention to detail in the ship designs. It's a state-of-the-art enterprise. It is a meticulous production. SyFy gets a lot of knocks and while I was disappointed the network cancelled the series after three seasons (thank you Amazon Prime for saving it), SyFy really allowed Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby and the creative team behind The Expanse to create something deliciously special for science fiction fans. SyFy deserves that appreciation because The Expanse is stellar in every way.

The Expanse, Season One, Episode 2, The Big Empty, covered here extensively, sees the characters reveal bits about themselves as they float through the big empty of space. Following a thrilling and harrowing opening that sees the five survivors (Holden, Naomi, Amos, Alex and Shed) flee the incoming debris of the now destroyed Canterbury in the tiny Shuttle Knight, following events from Dulcinea, the team comes to terms with their situation and competing moves for what comes next sees the group jockey for control of their future. The tension and humor is real between some genuinely believable characters.

Meanwhile, Thomas Jane's Josephus Miller investigates the disappearance of Juliette Mao while based at Ceres Station for Star Helix Security.

The episode ramps up the tension on our five principals in the Shuttle Knight until they are swallowed and taken in by a Martian warship called the MCRN Donnager.

This is indeed science fiction the way it should be as The Expanse continues to follow the beats of the novel and unfold its truly compelling story.

Writer: Mark Fergus/ Hawk Ostby.

Director: Terry McDonough.