Syfy (formerly Sci-Fi Channel) has decided to rededicate itself to science fiction. We can only assume this means less wrestling and more actual, you know, science fiction. If the premiere of “The Expanse” is any indication, they’re heading in the right direction.
“The Expanse” is based on the popular book series by James S.A. Corey (a pen name for New Mexico authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). The series (five novels and counting) has been praised for its hard science approach and its embrace of good, old-fashioned space opera. The story is set a couple hundred years in the future when mankind has colonized the moon, Mars and a good chunk of the asteroid belt. This spread-out future finds humanity on the brink of war, with Mars jockeying for position as the solar system’s new power broker and residents of the asteroid belt so far removed from Earth in time and space they practically consider themselves another species.
The first season of “The Expanse” is based largely on the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes. Although, taking a cue from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” producers have pulled in some storylines from the second novel as well in order to expand the scope. This works fine, pumping up the politically charged content and bringing in a fan-favorite character right out of the gate.
Over the course of the first two TV episodes, we are introduced to a panoply of players. There’s the crew of a deep-space ice hauler roped into a dicey rescue mission by a mysterious distress call. They’re led by idealistic but less-than-confident executive officer Jim Holden (Steven Straight, last seen on “Magic City”). Over on the dwarf planet Ceres, there’s a burned-out police detective named Miller (Thomas Jane from “Hung” looking appropriately bedraggled) stuck hunting a runaway rich girl. Meanwhile back on Earth, we get hard-assed U.N. Deputy Undersecretary Crisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo from “24”) trying to prevent the solar system’s cold war from turning hot. How all these characters and storylines fit together will become evident over the course of the season. Attention and weekly viewing will be required.
Fans of the books will be happy to note the show (written and produced by Hawk Ostby & Mark Fergus of Children of Men and Iron Man) sticks very closely to the written word. A TV series, by its very nature, has to hit different narrative beats than a novel, so well-read viewers shouldn’t be surprised to see the show amp up some of the smaller moments in order to milk some weekly drama. The cast, though younger and prettier than most of the people in the book are probably supposed to be, are all solid.
Ultimately, it’s clear Syfy has dumped a ton of money into this project, imagining it to be their “Game of Thrones.” It’s easily the best-looking science-fiction show ever put on television. The expansive sets and high-tech special effects are beyond impressive. This isn’t (so far anyway) one of those chintzy “short hallways in space” shows that have been the industry standard since the original “Star Trek.” In other words: If you love Syfy for the sci fi, this is the show you’ve been waiting for.