Thursday, 9 July 2020

TV review: The Expanse, season 1, Syfy (2015)

I watched almost seven episodes of this science fiction drama before giving up. I really tried to like it, and terminally failed during what was meant to be a sensual clinch involving two actors, a man and a woman.

The hardboiled noirish production values this movie exploits in order to keep the viewer engaged leads to wooden dialogue and mundane plotting. Stephen Strait as freighter crewmember Jim Holden and Thomas Jane as policeman Joe Miller are not good enough though Dominique Tipper as ship’s engineer Naomi Nagata and especially Jared Harris as asteroid belt independence fighter Anderson Dawes (he works for the Outer Planets Alliance, an informal body representing the people of the asteroid belt and the moons of some of the planets in the solar system) do good work. Harris acted in season 1 of ‘The Crown’, which I also watched. The biopic for Elizabeth II, where Harris played her father, George VI, rocks big time compared to this disappointing show, which I saw on Amazon Prime.

As usual with science fiction shows its reliance on technobabble to fill in the gaps between tonic events is irritating. A bit of esoteric geek-speak can work but too much and I switch off. In any case, at root this series is a police procedural with solar system geopolitics thrown in for colour.

The story hinges on longstanding friction between Earth and Mars, with the OPA caught in the middle. Some representatives of the major powers consider the OPA to be a terrorist organisation but many people who live in that liminal position in the solar system crave the right to self-determination, and the struggle for agency is a reliable story element in contemporary fiction in all formats, including TV.

You can see how this sort of thing could work but unfortunately, as with a good deal of science fiction, the writers thought that noir is, by definition, cool. William Gibson’s novel ‘Neuromancer’ (which I reviewed in 2018) suffers from the same malaise. So in ‘The Expanse’ you get some terrible characterisation as well as unnecessary violence masquerading as dramatic high points.

The first three seasons were made by a company called Syfy, which is owned by NBC and which operates a cable TV channel. A fourth season was commissioned by Amazon Prime (which is where I saw season 1) and a fifth season is planned. I don’t plan to watch any more of this show than I already have done.

No comments: