Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I'm trying to like Defiance

It's not like I need more TV to watch, given that I'm already watching GoT, Mad Men, and Veep and just finished watching the latest seasons of Walking Dead and Archer. As with most forms of entertainment, most TV is crap and I'm not particularly interested in sitting in front of a different screen for hours at a time. But it'd be nice to find a decent SF show out there that didn't make me pine for Firefly and I was kinda hoping that Defiance would be it.

Since AMC began its tear, other cable networks have clearly been trying to step up their respective games with original series that are more "edgy". That's all well and good, as I think that productions like Watchmen (comic, not movie) and Pulp Fiction (movie, not comic) that had transformative effects on their respective industries were good things overall, even if it took a couple years of everyone trying to ape them before their real impact was felt. Game of Thrones has obviously legitimized fantasy in the television arena and it'd be great to see something do the same for science fiction. However, I'm getting the feeling that Defiance will not be that thing.

First off, while a great deal of money has obviously been poured into set design and concept development, not nearly as much has gone into recruiting solid writers. 7 alien races have come to Earth in now-demolished arks that occasionally fragment into the atmosphere? OK. Cool. One of those alien races seems to be a mindless force of destruction with no motivation other than being evil with the tactical acumen of a hamster? Yeah, not OK. Lead actor Grant Bowler seems to have some ethical texture and a history to explain it? Cool. Everyone else is a cipher that speaks in exclamations or exposition? Yeah, not cool. Graham Greene is no superstar, but I've seen the guy do good work when he's given decent material (Dances with Wolves, Thunderheart, Maverick.) What he's given in Defiance makes him look like the most short-sighted man at the LASIK festival.

I watched the pilot and I was ready to be patient. Most SF pilots are an exercise in vomiting info while providing enough laser blasts for the easily amused. But having just watched the second episode, I can feel my patience already wearing thin. We've had 144 minutes of screen time and 1/10 of that has already been taken up by demonstrating to us that the female Castithan (Stahma Tarr, played by Jaime Murray) is clearly the schemer behind her husband's aggression and will doubtlessly be the single most malevolent force with a brain that the rest of the cast encounters. Yes. We get it. We could have had one scene of her machinations, rather than 5. One more and I'll start feeling concussed. Meanwhile, we still know very little about why the Votans (An invading alien race starting with the letter 'V'? Seriously?) even arrived here or what encouraged them to reface the planet once they did. I don't mind being kept in the dark to a certain degree and letting the story build, but give me something more interesting to watch than people plotting about how the story is going to get much more intriguing later in the season.

What fuels some of my concern is the fact that the show is coordinated with a video game and that a good chunk of the development budget obviously went into said game. Consequently, just like the Star Wars prequels which were developed with merchandizing in mind (such as games), Defiance often feels like a video game, i.e. less plot than an Aesop's fable but plenty of linear tasks for the characters (players?) to carry out.

What made Firefly work was a cast of genuine characters with human motivations and real speech patterns. Defiance has about 1 of those people so far and if I can't find another by the end of episode 3, I'm turning it off.

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