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Posts Tagged ‘The Expanse’

Following my list of Space Adventure movies in the century so far, I thought I would take a similar look at TV from the same time period. 

Farscape (1999 – 2003), Where better to start a list of programs from this century, than in the previous one! The Australian-American series ran for four seasons, before being concluded with a three hour mini-series.  The Jim Henson Company, were responsible for both the alien make-up/prosthetics and animatronic puppets. The show had a great cast, the highlight being Claudia Black.  The world-building was excellent, but the standout was the story.  In a time before longform TV as we know it now, most of the episodes were standalone or short narratives over a small number of episodes, however, there is always an overarching story arc.  Farscape

Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000) Produced by the Sci Fi Channel, and regarded by many as the definitive version of Frank Herbert’s novel.  I found it a little tedious, and prefer David Lynch’s 1984 film version.  A second series: Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune (sometimes called Dune Apocalypse) followed in 2003.  Based on the books Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune.  A better series overall, mainly thanks to James McAvoy as Leto II.Frank Herbert's Dune

Andromeda (2000 – 2005) Marketed as Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, it was based on an and unused material by the late Roddenberry.  The show ran for 110 episodes over five seasons.  Set in a future dystopian, post-apocalyptic universe, the premise of the show is fighting against the odds to make things better, a very Roddenberry idea.  I seem to remember the show was no very late at night in the UK, I watched the first episode and then saw odd episodes over the years.  I remember enjoying what I saw, but never enough to seek out a whole series. Andromeda

Cowboy Bebop (2001 -2002) – Japanese animated series made up of 26 episodes and a movie.  Set in a future where Earth almost uninhabitable, and humanity has colonized most of the Solar System.  The story concentrates on a an Inter Solar System Police. Described as a cyberpunk blend of Western and pulp fiction, it meets all the space opera credentials for this list.  An American live action version is reported to be in production for Netflix, although recent reports suggest it will be much delayed due to a knee injury suffered by star John Cho. Cowboy Bebop

Star Trek Enterprise (2001-2005) Running for 98 episodes across four seasons, Enterprise was set around a century before the original series and captain Kirk’s five-year mission telling the early years of Starfleet, and the first starship Enterprise. I lost interest during the first season, but understand it got better. Star Trek Enterprise

Firefly (2002 – 2003) The show that gives this article its title.  Cruelly cancelled mid season, there are only 14 episodes, but they are all fantastic. Although episodic, flashback episodes tell the origins of the characters.  Set on the fringes of civilised society echoing pioneer culture and western movies, key members of the crew fought on the losing side of a civil war.  Handled differently this could have been very problematic.  A combination of fantastic world-building and characters set the short lived show head and shoulders above others, this made it easy for them to transition into Serenity, the movie that finished the story. Firefly

Battlestar Galactica (2004-09) When I was kid in the early 80’s I used to watch the original Battlestar Galactica every Sunday evening for years. Or did I? How the mind plays tricks on us, it only ran for 21 episodes (plus 10 episodes of Galactica 1980, which I didn’t see).  While I loved the show at the time, re-watching it in the 90’s revealed that it wasn’t very good.  However, the re-imagined version is nothing short of a masterpiece.  Retaining the original concept, and technically a sequel to the original show.  The action and drama of the show were enhanced by a smart script with political undertones with contemporary relevance.Battlestar Galactica

Stargate Atlantis (2004 – 2009) Although I watched and enjoyed the original Stardgate movie, I have never seen any of the TV show.  I did however start watching Stargate Atlantis, which I understand to be a continuation of the original show.  A military survival series, set in a new galaxy and unable to contact earth, I enjoyed the first season, them it moved from free to air TV and I haven’t seen any further episodes. Stargate Atlantis - Season 5

Doctor Who (2005 – ) Doctor Who ran for over 700 episodes from 1963 to 1989.  When it returned in 2005, nobody knew what to expect, I don’t think anybody expected it to be so good and to re-cement itself as a British institution.  It has lost its way since the departure of Steven Moffat, but still remains fun and watchable. Doctor Who

Star Wars The Clone Wars (2008 – 2020) The clone wars were mentioned by Princess Leia, and then again by Luke and Ben in Star Wars, without any explanation as to what they were. Following the prequels (clones were introduced in Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)) came The Clone Wars filling in the can between episodes II and III.  I have never seen any of them, but understand they are popular. Star Wars The Clone Wars

Stargate Universe (2009 -2011) An exploration team find themselves onboard an Ancient spaceship several billion light years from our Galaxy. Running for 40 episodes over two seasons, the show was cancelled after the final season was in the can resulting in an ending described as a semi-cliffhanger.  A shame, as I enjoyed the show. Stargate Universe

Caprica (2010) – Set a generation before Battlestar Galactica and telling the story of the creation of Cylon’s and sowing the seeds for the destruction of the twelve colonies.  The show was filled with interesting characters played by some really good actors.  Sadly the story unfolded too slowly and it failed to find an audience and was cancelled before the first season had finished airing.  This is a great shame, the tease real for the unmade second season look really good.Caprica

Agents of SHIELD (2013-2020) The MCU’s longest running TV show is largely earth based, but the whole firth season is set in space, and is pretty good.Agents of SHIELD

Dark Matter (2015) Six people wake up on a deserted spaceship with no memory of who they are or what they’re doing there. Running for three seasons, I am yet to see it. Dark Matter

Killjoys (2015-2019) What started out looking like it was going to be a second-rate Syfy channel space opera gradually became more interesting and compelling.  As well as an overriding story arc, it also included more relevant characters and storylines.  Beyond all this, the real reason for watching is the shows secret weapon, rising star Hannah John-Kamen in the lead role.Killjoys

The Expanse (2015- ) Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  Set in a future with a colonized Solar System, a fragile cold war like peace exists between Earth, Mars and the Belt (an asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter). Essentially a cold war/conspiracy thriller, the brilliance of the show is that as an audience we don’t take sides; all three sides are represented, and there are good and bad on all sides.  This is further complicated as the good characters are flawed, and the bad ones have redeeming features, just like real life!  Simply one of the best shows around at the moment.The Expanse

Lost in Space (2018 – ) When I was kid in the 80’s I loved the re-run of the 1960’s show.  I only watched the first two or three episodes of the new version before loosing interest.  It appears to be popular with a third season being commissioned. Lost in Space

Star Trek Discovery (2018 – ) Moving away from the single episodes of most of the Trek franchise to telling one long form story per season has changed the show dramatically.  Interesting stories and fantastic casting have made it a positive move.  Set before the events of the original show, the writers have done an amazing job of fitting the story into existing narratives. Star Trek Discovery

Altered Carbon (2018 – ) With two seasons aired so far, Altered Carbon has become legendary for its cost of production.  The high budget really shows with the lavish production design.  Based on the 2002 novel of the same title by Richard K. Morgan, a key to the story is how, memories and consciousness can be transferred from one body to another allowing recasting to  become part of the narrative. Altered Carbon

Krypton (2018 – 2019) Set on Superman’s doomed home planet around 200 years before his birth. Running for twenty episodes across two seasons to mixed reviews.  I haven’t seen any so can’t comment further.Krypton - Season 2

Nightflyers (2018) Billed as a psychological thriller (aka a pretentious horror) about a spaceship exploring the universe for alien life.  Based on a novella by George R.R. Martin.  It ran for 10 episodes, I lost interest by the second. Nightflyers - Season 1

Another Life (2019-2020) A crew travel into space to try and unlock the mystery of an alien artifact that may be threatening life on earth.  Combining adventure with mystery thriller the concept of this show looks really good.  Unfortunately It didn’t work for me, I gave up after two episodes. Another Life

The Mandalorian (2019- ) Episode One of Jon Favreau’s Star Wars TV show snuck in before the nations cinemas closed, and screened in UK cinema’s as part of the Disney streaming launch.  All the hype seems to have surrounded the character who has erroneously become known as baby Yoda.  The show, is actually very good! The Mandelorian

Star Trek Picard (2020- ) Patrick Stewart returns to the Star Trek universe as a now retired Jean-Luc Picard.  The story makes reference to the events of Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) and brings back a few characters from the past, and introduces some really good new ones.  On the whole it is excellent, but isn’t as consistently good as the first season of Star Trek Discovery. Star Trek Picard

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Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that in their ongoing effort to take over the world, Disney have announced a series of television programmes in the Star Wars universe. You would be forgiven for thinking by the title this is about those shows, it isn’t!  This is about other Star Wars television programmes, in other words television programmes from the past and currently airing that like Star Wars are set in space and feature some form of conflict.  There are many other shows that fit the criteria, some that I have seen, others that I haven’t, these are my recommendations: 

Blake’s 7 (1978-81) I saw the last ever episode of Blake’s 7 as a kid, I then watched the whole series over thirty years later.  Made by the BBC in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the production design is amazing but the production values are on a par with early Doctor Who.  A group of political dissident’s, rebels and criminals escape the totalitarian federation who rules Earth and its colonised planets. As with many of the best shows on this list the thing that makes it great is a combination of a great cast of characters and timeless political subtext. blakes 7

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999) The most relevant Star Trek show to this list.  A spinoff from The Next Generation, DS9.  Set on a space station rather than a exploring starship,it is a departure from the other shows in the Star Trek Franchise.  There are two distinct story arcs the involving conflict with other races.  Although not as initially popular as The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine holds up better to repeat viewings. Star Trek Deep Space Nine

Babylon 5 (1994–1998) Airing at the same time as DS9 above and sharing some similar ideas.  Set in the 23rd Century on the Earth Alliance space station Babylon 5, located in neutral territory, it becomes the centre of the universe and its best chance at peace, and survival.  Filled with diverse characters and interesting stories with contemporary relevance.  revolutionary  in its day as the creators went into the project with a five season story arc planned out.  It dived opinion in its day, but has been hugely influential since. Babylon 5

Farscape (1999–2003) Similar to Blake’s 7 and Firefly with its mismatched crew of fugitives and the totalitarian regime.  Our way into the show is a modern-day America who arrives via a wormhole.  The notable thing about the show is the Henson Company puppets.  I haven’t actually seen the final season of the show, but like what I have seen enough to include it on this list.  Farscape

Firefly (2002 -03) – Running for just fourteen episodes and often referred to as the most prematurely cancelled shows.  Created by Joss Whedon, it is essentially a space western.  Set in a future where mankind has colonised space.  A mismatched crew are living on the edge of society run by the totalitarian “Alliance”.  Keeping exposition to a minimum, the brilliance of the show is a snappy script, universally relevant stories, and a fantastic cast. firefly

Battlestar Galactica (2004-09) When I was kid in the early 80’s I used to watch the original Battlestar Galactica every Sunday evening for years. Or did I? How the mind plays tricks on us, it only ran for 21 episodes (plus 10 episodes of Galactica 1980, which I didn’t see).  While I loved the show at the time, re-watching it in the 90’s revealed that it wasn’t very good.  However, the re-imagined version is nothing short of a masterpiece.  Retaining the original concept, and technically a sequel to the original show.  The action and drama of the show were enhanced by a smart script with political undertones with contemporary relevance. Battlestar Galactica

Killjoys (2015- ) What started out looking like it was going to be a second-rate Syfy channel space opera gradually became more interesting and compelling.  As well as an overriding story arc, it also included more relevant characters and storylines.  Beyond all this, the real reason for watching is the shows secret weapon, rising star Hannah John-Kamen in the lead role. Killjoys

The Expanse (2015- ) Based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).  Set in a future with a colonized Solar System, a fragile cold war like peace exists between Earth, Mars and the Belt (an asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter). Essentially a cold war/conspiracy thriller, the brilliance of the show is that as an audience we don’t take sides; all three sides are represented, and there are good and bad on all sides.  This is further complicated as the good characters are flawed, and the bad ones have redeeming features, just like real life!  Simply one of the best shows around at the moment.  The Expanse

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I subscribed to Netflix, predominantly for TV, namely the Marvel TV shows.  I have enjoyed them all, Jessica Jones being the best of them.  I have since mainly watched TV show, including: Breaking Bad, The OA, The Expanse , 13 Reasons Why, Hannibal, and Orphan Black (that I had started watching on the BBC).  I have recently also started watching Star Trek Discovery and Mindhunter, both of which are excellent from the couple of episodes I have seen. 

I have also watched several movies, mainly older ones that I have wanted to re-watch.  This is because I see most films that I want to see at the cinema.  Netfix (and Amazon Prime) can be useful for catching up on films that I missed at the cinema, and those that didn’t get a wide enough release to make in to a cinema near me.  And this is the problem.  With Netflix (and Amazon) getting more into the business of making movies are the chances of seeing some films on the big screen diminishing?  Is this a 21st century version of the vertical integration of Hollywood’s studio system? A system ended in 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Paramount decision, aka the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948.  Not exactly but there are similarities.  I hope the industry can find a solution to the issue without the need for legislation, or one of the methods of screening suffering.mcu-netflix

The reason I have come to this conclusion; I have seen two films recently on Netfix that I would have liked to have seen on the big screen.  The first, Gerald’s Game is a Netfix Original, the second The Bad Batch skipped UK cinemas after Netflix acquired SVOD rights.

Gerald’s Game: Based on a Stephen King novel and directed by Mike Flanagan who had previously made the excellent Oculus.  Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood play a married couple who visit an isolated lake house in an attempt to rekindle their relationship.  Gerald (Greenwood) suffers a heart attack leaving Jessie (Gugino) handcuffed to the bed without the hope of rescue.  At times it goes where you expect it to, at others it will surprise you. Geralds Game

The Bad Batch: Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.  A young woman (Suki Waterhouse) dropped inside a vast fenced-in wasteland, declared to be outside of the U.S. and thus, American laws no longer apply.  There she encounters many strange people, most notably a group of cannibals.  The movie drifts along with a strange dreamlike narrative occasionally finding its way back to a plot.  It has been compared to every near future or exploration movie you can think of, none of these are appropriate, although the look and tone sometimes make me think of Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park.the bad batch

I really enjoyed both movies but with one big reservation.  I really wanted to see them on the big screen, but for different reasons.  The Bad Batch is beautifully shot in a vast landscape that needs a big screen.  As a horror/thriller, Gerald’s Game has moments that are best enjoyed with an audience.  But my thoughts go deeper than this;  if Netflix are making movies, or buying distribution rights before they make it to the big screen, this is surely the start of a new era of filmmaking.  A two tier system where cinema can be the only loser, and if cinema is a loser, the ultimate loser is the audience.

It is clear that streaming is the future of the home cinema market.  I don’t have a problem with movies being released on VOD at the same time as at the cinema; letting people watch movies at home legally and cheaply is a good way to cut down on piracy, but not when it’s at the expense of cinema screenings.  Streaming needs to be an addition or alternative to cinema not a replacement. 

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The Expanse

Anyone who read my article a couple of weeks ago will know that I recently signed up with Netflix. I still believe that the cinema is the best place to watch a film, the larger the screen the better.  For this reason I still visit the cinema an average of twice a week.  It will therefore come as no surprise that I watch more TV than movies on Netfix.  I have mainly been catching up on shows that I have been keen to see for some time but not gotten around to, however, I have just watched The Expanse based on the robotic recommendation of Netflix.the-expanse

For those who haven’t heard of it (I hadn’t a week ago), the Expanse is scf-fi crime drama / space opera.  Based on the series of books by James S. A. Corey ( a pen name for collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) set in a future where has spread out and colonized other planets.  The United Nations controls earth, Mars has its own military government.  Both planets depend on the resources of The Belt, the outer planets and asteroids whose inhabitants are treated like second class citizens.  The largest planet is Ceres (a real place, it is a dwarf planet in the orbit of Neptune located in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  It is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture).  In the belt air and water are in short supply and are therefore a precious commodity.  The three factions are on the brink of war.  As a viewer we follow three main characters who stumble across a conspiracy and can’t let go:

Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo): UN Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration who becomes personally involved in events.chrisjen-avasarala-shohreh-aghdashloo

Joe Miller (Thomas Jane): an archetypal heavy drinking police detective on Ceres who is given an assignment that he isn’t supposed to solve.joe-miller-thomas-jane

Jim Holden (Steven Strait): an officer on an ice haulage ship who fall down a rabbit-hole that begins when he answers a distress call.

The opening credits have elements of The Man in the High Castle and Game of Thrones lending an air of familiarity.  The show itself is well constructed with great use of time.  Rather than relying on simple flashbacks within scenes the narrative moves around within its timeline with the same dexterity as it does within its universe.  This is achieved with a mixture of clearly dated and ambiguous variations that work well to keep the drama tense.  The story is similarly well constructed keeping an air of uncertainty and excitement.  Many of them main characters are well rounded and developed with believable histories, they are however, largely clichéd and unoriginal.  The acting is solid and natural without any wooden or over the top performances, however, on the other hand it lacks any of the standout performances that we can expect on modern TV shows.  It clearly doesn’t have the budget of a cinema movie or top TV show but the effects really aren’t bad and largely, it actually looks good.  The costumes are a little hit and miss with the space set elements using an effective mix of military uniforms and industrial overalls.  The planet based characters fall into most of the same clichés of other similar shows.   The biggest visual problem though, is Thomas Jane’s haircut.  Both too flamboyant and high maintenance for the deadbeat character he plays, but more significantly, it looks stupid.  The vehicles and planets have a sense of believably and reality as we have seen in Battlestar Galactica and Firefly.  It also shares a dirty industrial look of these shows.the-expanse-florence-faivre

It isn’t a classic show within the genre that we will be seeing alongside Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones on best of lists, but it does have both a charm and quality making it worth a recommendation.  I am looking forward to season two. 

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