Sunday, June 12, 2011

Outcasts, the BBC Miniseries

IMDB 6.3
My Rating: 4/10

The adventures of the first human colony on a distant planet as they attempt to rebuild civilization on an alien world amid interpersonal struggles and political infighting.

This is about to start broadcasting on BBC America, so I thought it was worth a short mention for those who might be interested by the premise.  BBC seems to be pushing it a bit as "BSG without the space ships", all the way to the casting of former "Apollo" Jamie Bamber for the opening episode.  Unfortunately, what could and should have been some riveting sci-fi about a subject not tackled in a very long time, becomes yet another dull character drama, at least in my opinion.  I have not yet watched the entire first season - Take that as you will, because it is both a condemnation of myself for writing a review of a show that I haven't fully finished watching yet, and also a rather damning commentary on the show itself, that it just hasn't engaged me enough to keep me hungry for the next episode (I'm right up on Game of Thrones, though!)

I was just reading an interview article about this series in Sci Fi Now magazine, and head writer Ben Richards perfectly summed up the problems of the series when he stated, "I don't come from a sci-fi background, so it was a huge challenge and almost a bit of a surprise to me to realize that I was doing a science fiction project".  Richards ".. never experimented with genre" and goes on to say, "The problem I encountered was writing things that I thought were devastatingly original , and the story editor going, 'Yeah, they kind of did that in Blade Runner'".  While I applaud their editorial decision not to have CGI aliens crawling around everywhere, the unfortunate result of all this apologizing for the "SF" label (The overall impression I got from the production team was that they wanted to make an SF series to be different, yet were almost embarrassed to be doing SF and kept focusing on the character relationships) is that it's a science fiction series that doesn't have any of the appeal of good science fiction.

There are virtually no intriguing "What If?"s. Our group is trying to run a small outpost settlement on an alien world, but no episode I've seen so far even touches on anything genuinely alien.  There's Earth-air, Earth-water, Earth day/night cycles, Earth plant life...  Indeed, the only SF-ish part of the concept is the fact that our group has previously genetically created some artificial humans better adapted to this new world, and then tried to kill them.  The bulk of each episode so far has been focused on inter-character politics - "Will she sleep with that guy?", "Will this guy's faction gain more power?", "Why is this guy so weird?", and so forth.  The original concept was the story of British pioneers in Australia, of all things, and it shows, with the SF aspect being more tacked-on than central, as one would expect it to be in a saga about adapting to an alien world.

I don't know... Perhaps it's me, and I'm in the minority for preferring to see stories about our characters experiencing bouts of madness from a slightly different air composition, or unexpected behavioral problems from an altered day/night cycle, or startling encounters with the fauna of an extra-solar world.  I can say that if you're more into the politics of such things - more interested, say, in whether the ultra religious people will seize power and shape the new society, or whether it will be founded on liberal values (And given that this is BBC, we pretty much know already which side will be the good guys in this little turf war) - then you might enjoy it more than I did.  It is well acted, and Hermione Norris is always fun to behold.  The stories are logical and relatable.  There is nothing bad about it, per se, it's just that I ultimately question the purpose of making this a SF series when so much of the tale is bending itself into contortions trying NOT to be a SF story.  And lastly, it's just dull...  Not one character really stands out so far, there's no one to be sympathetic with, and there's no one in this brave young world whose fate I'm really invested in.  I want a colonization show that I want to follow every week, because I want them to succeed, because successfully transplanting ourselves onto another world would be the most amazing and breathtaking accomplishment the human race could aspire to.  I want something that will wind me up and hold me tightly involved in the sheer grandness of that undertaking, and the terrifying fragility of it and the skin-tingling magnificence of genuinely being the first human colony on another world.

Outcasts needs more jazz.

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