SyFy and I have a tumultuous relationship, and the list of things they’ve done to irritate me is long and detailed. Most of it has to do with how they helped to sink the Stargate franchise, but the various shows did get over a decade of airtime… minus a proper ending for Stargate: Universe. However, they’re doing something right and doing it quite well at the moment, and that’s a show people are hailing as the new Battlestar Galactica, called The Expanse:
Our cast of characters exist in a time where humans have colonized Mars, the Asteroid Belt, and some places farther out in the Solar System. Ships have to use negative burn to slow down, and if you want to leave some place in a hurry, you have to strap yourself in. If you want to stay conscious during a really heavy burn, you have to let your crash couch inject you with a cocktail of amphetamines and other chemicals. If you grew up in the Asteroid Belt, you likely can’t survive long on Earth’s surface without being suspended in a tank of water or via some other method, and you’re likely looked down upon as low-g laborers by people from the inner planets. Meanwhile, Earth and Mars aren’t exactly bosom buddies, their respective governments and navies having a rather fractious history.
Amidst all of this is James Holden and his crew: Amos, Naomi, and Alex, and a detective named Miller. Together, they’re going to find themselves in the middle of interplanetary politics, megacorporations, and a conspiracy to unlock a mystery millions of years in the making. They’re doing a really good job with this so far. It’s set in a harder universe than many viewers of genre TV might be used to, especially when it comes to artificial gravity. That is, there isn’t any. This has been really difficult to pull off in movies and TV realistically, as any viewer of the underrated BBC series Star Cops will attest to.
Side note: Yes, Star Cops is a lame name, but the theme was written and performed by the lead singer of the Moody Blues, Justin Hayward, and it was a pretty catchy tune. It was about a law enforcement agency whose job was to police the various nations’ space stations, vessels, and other endeavors taking place away from Earth’s gravity well. It had politics, intrigue, and some prescient concepts. If you’re okay with ye olde blue screene special effects, occasionally visible wires, and plastic models on strings, it’s worth a watch.
This is a show that’s not for the younger set, however. Swearing is just the beginning, as the parts of our star system we see aren’t the prettiest. The diversity of accents alone is amazing, really evoking the class and planetary distinctions between many of the characters, and making the world of The Expanse seem all that more real. The language many Belters speak, a kind of Earth-language fusion called “Belter Creole,” is a sign of how much work has gone into just setting the tone of this show. The effort to make a kind of “20 minutes into the future” look to its future-tech works well, and the characters use it pretty naturally, as if they’d been around it all their lives.
Speaking of technology, forget about seeing lasers and a lot of “pew-pew” energy weapons. It’s all kinetic combat, and it’s really well-done. Maneuvering requires possibly lethal g-forces, and if ships aren’t firing missiles, they’re using slug-throwing rail guns on each other. If anything gets too close, forget having deflector shields and hope that the point-defense cannons can put holes in whatever’s about to make contact with the hull. If you want to stroll around the ship, click your magnetic-soled shoes together and stick yourself to the deck, as “gravity plating” or what have you is still firmly in the realm of science fiction.
If you really want to make sure this story is something you’ll like, you can read the series of books it’s based on by James S.A. Corey. I did so last year, and I found myself thinking that this would be a worthy successor to the void left for an ongoing spacefaring serial drama like BSG and some “gosh, wow, discovery” that’s reminiscent of Star Trek. If they follow the books, without getting into spoilers, we can look forward to political intrigue, action, atrocities, alien artifacts, an ancient “something” that wiped out a galactic civilization, and possibly humanity’s spread to the stars. All of this manages to involve the core cast of characters we’re introduced to without seeming to bend the rules of probability so that everything that happens of any importance always involves our intrepid heroes. You can also get the pleasure of knowing what plot twists are yet to come so you can enjoy the reactions of those who didn’t know [DATA EXPUNGED].
About the only thing they can’t faithfully adapt is one of the more amusing character traits of Chrisjen Avasarala, a (usually) benevolent Machiavellian woman who’s a big power player in the series: She has the most wonderfully witty and foul-mouthed lines I’ve read in recent memory. Unless they recorded some replacement scenes that’ll be available on Netflix or DVD exclusives, expect her to always have toned-down dialog.
Anyway, if you decide to give it a look-see, they’re up to episode 8 now. I think fans of the novels and new viewers alike will be pleased. The production values are high, I like nearly everyone in the cast, and I hope it leads to more long-form science fiction getting adapted to television. Yes, I know that by watching and liking this show before it’s in it’s 2nd or 3rd season, I’ve probably doomed it, but watch it anyway. Maybe you can help stave off the curse.