Opening Credits Sunday: Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy
The History Channel, which stopped being a spot on the dial to mostly air historical series/documentaries years ago, is a cable channel without a strong identity. On the one hand it’s a bit like the Discovery Channel that airs these niche reality series like American Pickers and Pawn Stars. On the other it’s a channel that also airs the scripted series Vikings which feels like a FX show. And because of this The History Channel is this weird amalgam channel that really hasn’t felt like a true destination in, quite frankly, forever. Into this jumbled identity was launched the new dramatic series Six last week, which feels like it would fit on a channel like TNT more than The History Channel. While I don’t think Six hurts the identity of The History Channel, it doesn’t help it either.
In a scene right out of the last act of the film Zero Dark Thirty, Six begins in Afghanistan in 2014 where members of SEAL Team Six are raiding a compound looking for a Taliban leader. When I say “right out of” I mean “right out of,” right down to the way the soldiers stalk through the compound, the intercutting of the grainy night vision footage and even some of the ways the firefights play out. Six does differ in that they don’t catch their man and squad leader Richard ‘RIP’ Taggart (Walton Goggins) executes one of the prisoners who just so happens to be an American collaborator in frustration. Cut to present day. RIP has left the armed forces for a security job in Nigeria and is a wreck of a man. His old squad, now led by Joe ‘Bear’ Graves (Barry Sloane) are having problems of their own with team members wanting to leave for the private sector and more money and animosity over how RIP ended up quitting the service. But when RIP is guarding a visit to a school by a dignitary and is kidnapped along with all the schoolgirls there by terrorists, his SEAL Team Six buddies are all first in the line to go off and rescue him.
Six isn’t a bad show, it’s just so heavy handed that it lacks all subtly. Which isn’t necessarily a negative thing but it makes Six a bit of a slog to watch. In between scenes of the SEAL Team Six members, not so much talking to one and other but grunting and slamming each other into lockers because they’re mad about this or that, there wasn’t a lot of room other than just the guys with muscles and guns part of the story which I can see getting really old really fast.
A series that set the mold Six is following was the CBS series The Unit which ran 2006–2009. I thought that show did a good job of mixing up the story between the adventures the characters in the show went on, here Delta Force Operators, with their home life and even their wives and kids at home. I can see how Six is trying to do this with character’s wives and families playing a part in the show, but most of the secondary characters of Six felt more like TV characters than real people which made me wonder how many more episodes of Six I’d be able to keep up with before bailing to watch something with a little more substance.
The first season of the NBC comedy The Good Place ended last week. This series about a woman named Eleanor (Kristen Bell) who dies and is supposed to go to “the bad place” but accidentally ends up in “the good place” was quite enjoyable. Most of the series dealt with Eleanor trying to become a better person so she could stay in the good place with help from neighbor Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and soul-mate Chidi (William Jackson Harper) with otherworldly good place director Michael (Ted Danson) alternately trying to figure out what’s making the good place that should be perfect out of wack, then trying to figure out what to do with Eleanor after she reveals that she doesn’t belong there.
I liked The Good Place enough but it was one of those series that I could take or leave. I watched it every week, but if it was cancelled and disappeared from NBC’s lineup I wouldn’t have been too upset. That was until I watched the brilliant finale that showed the entire first season of episodes in a new light. The ending was so brilliant/mind-bending/twisting that it makes me want to watch the first season of The Good Place all over again just to see what I had all missed.
“We’ve got ourselves an X-Men fan. Maybe a quarter of it happened, and not like this.”
Most sci-fi things that take place in the future focus on how the future’s going to be different then today. If that future is Star Trek, then it’s this wonderful place where mankind zooms around the cosmos in great ships meeting exciting alien species and having wonderful adventures. If it’s the future of something like Blade Runner, then it’s a dark and dreary place where it always rains, everyone smokes and life is terrible.
Most sci-fi futures are in place to contrast our own. That’s why I think the future depicted in the SyFy series The Expanse is so interesting — unlike the rest of sci-fi the future in that show is much like our present. It’s almost like the message of The Expanse is, “The future will be exactly like the present which means things will still kind’a suck.”
Based on the series of Leviathan Wakes novels by James S. A. Corey, in The Expanse, it’s the near-future where we’ve moved off the Earth and have colonized Mars and most of the near-Earth asteroids. Those who live on Earth have the most power, Mars the second and the asteroids a distant third if any at all. But, without spoiling things, something happens in the depths of space that threatens the future of mankind and it’s up to the “Belters” who live on the asteroids to stop this threat before it gets to the Earth and ends everything. Which, admittedly, sounds like something that’s been done many times before. But I think how it’s done on The Expanse that makes this series so unique.
These three groups are represented by the crew of the ship the Rocinante captained by Jim Holden (Steven Strait) who have proof that something’s going on in the dark depths of the solar system if only anyone would listen. UN Ambassador Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) on Earth who’s trying to avert a war with Mars as ships begin disappearing and each blames the other. Detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) who works on asteroid Eros and is hired to investigate the disappearance of a young woman and finds more than he bargained for. And a space station chief Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) who represents the interests of the Belters even if he’s got a dark secret in his past he’s trying to make amends for.
Except for the Avasarala character, these people aren’t the best and brightest. They’re not the special forces, aren’t Sherlock Holmes and for the most part have low-level jobs without a lot of responsibilities just like most people today. But they’re all thrown into this conflict where regardless of their status, they all have to step up and do their best and stop this greater threat while trying to overcome their limitations.
The interesting thing about all these characters and stories is that while there’s this overarching storyline in The Expanse, for the most part the paths of these characters don’t really cross until the end of the season. It’s almost like each of them all are working at different parts of the plot and really don’t know what any other group is doing and it’s not until the end of the first season when characters stories begin crashing into one and other that they get this fuller picture of what’s been going on the whole season.
The characters of The Expanse don’t live in this wonderland among the stars, they live in a place where what separates them from instant, boiling death is sometimes just a few millimeters of plastic. A place where the air can, and sometimes does, literally run out. And in a place where if something breaks and you don’t have a spare or can’t fix it yourself…well, you get the picture. But what’s so different here is that the characters of The Expanse aren’t frightened of all this. To them, their reality is a horrific banality that comes from living in space.
It’s like someone of today who’s house is next to a busy intersection. They know that at any moment an accident outside might send a truck careening through their home. And they might think about this when they first move in but later on they don’t think about it whatsoever. And the same holds true for the people of The Expanse who just accept that their day to day lives might at any moment be interrupted by something that might end everything.
The second season of The Expanse premiers February 1 on SyFy.