Defying Gravity: New Show on ABC

There's a new show on ABC called Defying Gravity, a Canadian production dubbed Grey's Anatomy in space. Eek. It was also inspired by the fictional BBC docudrama "Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets. To me it looked a lot more like Virtuality which aired a month or so ago on Fox (which was canned before it even got out the gate) and Danny Boyle's Sunshine before that. It looked pretty good from the little bit I saw and I ended up catching up on the first two episodes. It wasn't quite as interesting as I thought it would be although the elements are there. I saw a lot of people from earlier shows I really miss so that was a bit of a bummer also.

As the storyline goes, there's a team of eight astronauts (four men and four women) from five different countries, who set out on a mysterious six-year mission that covers 13 billion kilometers. Their entire journey is monitored, every emotion captured on camera, and they soon realize there may be more to the mission than what they were told.

Every character seems to have a secret. Antares flight engineer Maddux Donner (played by Ron Livingston) had to leave two members of his crew on a previous mission to Mars which still has secrets that only the heads know about. Before the mission, he gets involved with the ship's future geologist Zoe Barnes (played by Laura Harris) who gets pregnant despite him telling her he's had a vasectomy. She then aids in the help of her friend, biologist Jen Crane (Blood Ties' Christina Cox, good to see ya!) who helps her "get rid of the problem" in a procedure that is legal now but illegal in this future (year 2052). Zoe complies as she's just been accepted for the Antares mission and ends up hearing random baby cries throughout the area. Jen is one half of a married couple and was formerly involved in a tryst with Antares future commander Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba, good to see ya too!) who is now married to scientist Eve Shaw who is in on the secret of why the astronauts are really on the mission. Whew. There's more of the crew, of course, but these are the main ones and it's already getting a bit confusing.

There's a delicate mix of drama, romance and sci-fi that I like in my speculative fiction and unfortunately there's a little too much drama in Defying Gravity. Some loose issues include random work scenes revolving around relationship talk and some flashbacks that lead up to where our characters are today. The flashbacks and the long talky scenes get to be a bit too much because it feels like a soap opera in space. There's an ongoing mystery as to "what's in Pod 4" and why the astronauts are really there which can be really interesting. I wish there was more clues and scenes dedicated to giving the viewers an idea about what's behind the curtain.

I think the idea of mixing a romance in could be interesting because I like some romance with my sci-fi. I was rooting for Callie and Travis to get together in Starhunter 2300. I was on the edge of my seat when Deunan and Briareos were reunited in Appleseed. I even swooned when Leia and Han had their banter and finally admitted their love for each other (I have to admit I bought The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton cause I loved the cover and the idea of another guy coming in between their eventual union). The difference between these folks and the folks on Defying Gravity is that we had time to get to know them and to care about them. We weren't just thrown in and shown their problems. Right now it feels like working with people who feel they have a burning desire to share their life story with you out of the blue. Characters have to have a starting point and continue to develop throughout the series but sadly there's no development anywhere here. Just a few flashbacks to reveal a little bit more about the people they were before the mission. The characters just seem to be going through the motions unlike some of my favorite standout shows like NCIS, Firefly, True Blood and Leverage (to name a few), which all have characters each with their own personalities and charm.

Another thing is the mystery which can be potentially interesting. Already we're at the third episode but with no particular idea what's going on behind the scenes with "Beta" the mysterious force that knows all or with what exactly Eve and the head Commander of the mission knows and why they aren't telling. To keep us tuning in, the show has to give clues and tidbits of information that lead us through the season so we can piece it together. Compare this to Showtime's Odyssey 5 and the 4400 which had minor episodic issues to tie into the greater formula driving the main story. Also to have that great "oh that's what happened all those times" moments that'll make us want to rewind and watch from the beginning to see how it all unfolded in the first place. Right now, it doesn't have that. Defying Gravity seems to be in an identity crisis. It doesn't know if it's a relationship drama, a mystery or a space thriller as it's being billed and it's having a hard time trying to balance all at once without being confusing or tedious.

I'll probably continue to watch to see if the mystery will be revealed and to get a small dose of what little new sci-fi is on television today. But as the ratings are pretty much less than lackluster and Wiki only shows a synopsis up until episode 5 (out of the season's 13) I'm not sure it'll be able to hold it's own. Sci-Fi on network TV hasn't done well overall (even the critically good ones with higher ratings) so this particular one may be on the way outs sooner than we think. Hopefully it picks up some speed in the coming episodes.


Heather Massey said...

Great analysis. I agree there needed to be more mystery and more speculative elements. I get the feeling the producers thought if they threw up the sets that'd be enough. Newsflash: it ain't.

Regarding the soap opera aspect, the creators/writers are trying too hard to appeal to women. If we want soap opera, we know where to find it. We're hoping that shows like DG will offer something different, yet with the same focus on character driven stories.

Who knows...maybe Virtuality and DG are practice runs and then a network will finally get the balance right in a future show. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

Rae Lori said...

Too true, Heather. We women like action, suspense and drama as well. I hope you're right that these are practice runs. It'd be great to see more shows like this (and Virtuality, yes) only with longer runs and also pushing the edge in telling well written stories with memorable characters. Here's hoping indeed!