Thursday, January 28, 2016

TV Viewing - The Expanse

I don't write a lot about television series here and I'm not sure why. Some of the best storytelling I see each year is produced for the small screen. Often I will try a new television show to see if it has anything to keep my interest and then drop it if it turns out to be dull, dumb or too derivative. This shotgun effect has led me to several very good shows that only seemed mildly interesting but turned out to be excellent. Right now the top of the Unexpectedly Excellent list is the new SyFy (it pains me to type that asinine name) series The Expanse.

I originally tuned in because the preview images looked like the production had spent enough money to make the science fiction world realistic and because I'm a fan of lead actor Thomas Jane. After only two episodes I was shocked by what I was seeing. This was a complex, credible and exciting vision of the future that felt like a lot of thought had been put into every single aspect of every single level. This universe feels lived in and genuine in ways that most science fiction TV series rarely attempt. All of the characters have depth and color with relationships that seem believable and complicated by past break-ups, bad decisions and job conflicts - you know- like real people! This is helped by fine performances from a large and diverse cast. I expect good work from Jane and Jared Harris but the less famous actors are doing great jobs as well. Iranian born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is a revelation as U.N. Deputy Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala who is incredibly adept at politics and subterfuge but still callous enough to use an old friend in high stakes, dangerous intelligence gathering.

The series takes place two hundred years in the future in a fully colonized Solar System. The story revolves around three main plotlines that are interconnected even if they don't seem so from the beginning. Ceres police detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) is given an under the table assignment to find a missing young woman named Julie Mao. Julie is the daughter of a wealthy Earth businessman and she has recently gotten rebellious about the ways Earth controls and suppress the asteroid belt colonies. Meanwhile the acting Executive Officer of the ice freighter Canterbury James Holden (the excellent Steven Strait) tragically involves his ship in an incident that ends with it destroyed by unknown attackers. This attacks threatens to destabilize the fragile political situation between Earth, breakaway colony Mars and the Asteroid Belt. Back on Earth United Nations executive  Chrisjen Avasarala (played by the aforementioned Shohreh Aghdashloo) is working to prevent war between Earth and Mars by any means necessary - and some of those means are pretty distasteful. Slowly these three threads converge as they find links between the missing woman and the ice freighter's destruction that point to a conspiracy that threatens all of humanity.

I've not read the books this series is based upon but I think the writers have to be proud of this show. This is easily one of the best shows on TV right now regardless of genre. Yes, I was drawn to this show for the whizz-bang nature of the effects work but what has me excited is the characters and the story. The plot is part political intrigue, part film noir mystery, part relationship drama, part military action and it's wrapped in a brilliantly realized science fiction world. This is great television and I'm thrilled that there is a second season already in the pipeline.  "Remember the Cant!" 

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