Despite its crappy made-for-TV movies, endless pro-wrestling and other idiotic programming, I have to admit that I’ve liked a few of the Syfy channel’s original series. ‘Haven’ is pretty fun, and (before it got canceled) ‘Alphas’ was a good show. Of course, the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ reboot aired there too. I’m inclined to give the network some small benefit of the doubt. Last Monday, Syfy premiered perhaps its most ambitious new series yet, the post-apocalyptic alien invasion drama ‘Defiance’, from ‘Farscape’ creator Rockne S. O’Bannon. Because it debuted with a two-hour premiere (who has time for that?), I wasn’t able to catch up with the pilot episode until this weekend. Let’s give it a look now to see if we should bother to record the next new episode tonight.
The big gimmick here is that ‘Defiance’ isn’t just a TV show. An MMO videogame was also released earlier this month that has some direct tie-ins with the events of the series. Viewers are encouraged to both play the game and watch the show to see how they connect. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I’m led to believe that plot-points in the show will have some impact on gameplay, and perhaps vice versa. Personally, I couldn’t give a crap about the game. Fortunately, the series (at least, the ‘Pilot’) can also stand alone on its own.
The series takes place 33 years after the Earth was invaded by a group of several different alien species collectively known as “Votans,” whose own solar system was destroyed and who tried to terraform our planet to become their new home. As a result of war, most of the world is now a wasteland by both human and alien standards. Eventually, an armistice was declared, and multiple species live in a state of strained relations as they try to get along.
Our lead character is Han Solo. No wait, it’s Malcolm Reynolds. Oh, sorry, it’s Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler, who played the junkie werewolf Cooter on ‘True Blood’) , a former soldier and veteran of the Battle of Serenity… No, that’s not right. It’s some other famous battle where his freedom fighters waged a last stand defense against an oppressive empire. Whatever, same difference. Nowadays, he travels the land with his adopted alien daughter Irisa, scavenging valuables from crashed spaceships and dreaming of making their way to the tropical paradise of Antarctica.
After being raided by some Steampunk refugees and almost killed by mutant spider-wolf-bear things, Nolan and Irisa wind up in the Wild West-styled frontier town of Deadwood… Dammit, I mean Defiance (formerly St. Louis), a wretched hive of scum and villainy where many human and non-human races mingle and barter and love and fight and everything else. The new mayor (Julie Benz from ‘Dexter’) struggles to live up to her beloved predecessor, while her sister, the local brothel madam (Mia Kirshner from ‘The L Word’ and ’24’) takes an instant liking to Nolan.
The premiere episode has a variety of characters and sub-plots, the most prominent of which is a feud between two families led by a popular miner (Graham Greene) and the town’s wealthiest citizen. Their kids have a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ secret love affair going on.
When the “Lawkeeper” (you know, sheriff) is killed in a bar fight, Nolan steps in to fill the job and investigate a murder. Just as that happens, a traitor sabotages the town’s force field defenses so that a (very slow-moving) army of ‘Warcraft’ rejects can sack the place. Only Nolan can rally the townspeople to set aside their differences and band together to fight off the threat. It turns out that the traitor is the mayor’s assistant. He was working in cahoots with the former mayor, who, in a completely unsurprising plot twist, is revealed to be evil.
The show is a collection of clichés with barely a single original element or idea in the whole thing. It’s actually comical how blatantly derivative it is of just about every notable sci-fi, fantasy, Western and other genre property you can think of. Look around, and you’ll see little bits of ‘Star Wars’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Firefly’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Mad Max’ and even ‘Twilight’ ferchrissakes. None of them are even slightly disguised, as if the production crew simply raided the studio wardrobe vaults and threw together anything they could find. I swear to god, when Lucius Malfoy walked down the town thoroughfare with his henchman Chewbacca, I was ready to throw something at the screen.
Due to obvious budgetary limitations, most of the aliens are lumpy-forehead humanoids and the visual effects are barely videogame quality. The climax of the episode, in which the golf-ball-faced doctor has to frantically play ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ while our heroic townspeople hold off the advancing army, is especially laughable. All of that might be forgivable if the show was entertaining, or at least more entertaining than cheesy. Sadly, it’s just cheesy and lame. I don’t have any need to watch again.