There's a huge crater in the American television landscape where good science-fiction—and I'm talking real science fiction, not dudes in chainmail or pale, emo vampires—used to be. Fringe is retired, Battlestar Galactica is long gone, and Falling Skies' brief moments of greatness are frequently overshadowed by extended bouts of mediocrity. Syfy is looking to fill that void with its ambitious new series Defiance, a "space opera" without all the space that's set on a future version of Earth full of aliens and crumbling familiar landmarks.
But is Defiance the next great science-fiction series in the vein of Battlestar Galactica, is it another in a long line of niche science-fiction projects that won't break the mainstream, or is it just plain garbage? I've seen the pilot episode, so let's sit down, have a chat, and figure out whether it's right for you in another edition of "Hey TV.com, Should I Watch This Brand Spankin' New Show?"
What is this Defiance show?
Defiance is set a few decades in the future after a bunch of aliens—a collective of seven races known as the Votans—try to land on Earth in hopes of living here, unaware that it's already occupied by us humans. Eventually war breaks out, then peace breaks out, and humans and aliens live together on a planet that's been decimated by war. Our hero is Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler, the Dick from Liz & Dick and Lost's Captain Gault), a Han Solo/Malcolm Reynolds type who's got an adopted alien daughter named Irisa (British actress Stephanie Leonidas, in a face full of makeup). They spend their days trying to make a quick buck doing odd jobs, and one day they arrive in the town of Defiance (formerly St. Louis), which has a new mayor (Dexter's Julie Benz) and one big problem headed its way. Expect lots of sci-fi talk, a deep backstory, and plenty of cultural misunderstandings and racially charged dust-ups against a Western-tinged backdrop.
Who's behind the show?
That would be Rockne S. O'Bannon, the creator of sci-fi shows seaQuest DSV, Farscape, and Cult. Kevin Murphy (Caprica) and Michael Taylor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager) are also on board as writer-producers.
When does Defiance land on the televisions of Earth?
Defiance should be taken to your leaders on Monday, April 15 at 9pm. It's a two-hour premiere, so make sure you get plenty of shut-eye to make it all the way through, because 11pm is way past your bedtime but we're letting you stay up for this one.
Who's going to like Defiance?
Well, this one's obvious. The series is targeted at pretty hardcore science-fiction fans who don't mind being dropped into a gigantic universe and soaking up the alien races, slang, and weird-shaped foreheads. Crossover into the mainstream seems like a stretch here, so if you aren't into corny alien names and guns that go "pew pew," you can safely pass on this. The next Battlestar Galactica it is not.
Let's hear some positives about Defiance?
For a pilot with so many characters and so much backstory to cover, Defiance does a good job of establishing its world, but you'll probably need to use Wikipedia or the Defiance website to stay abreast of what's going on and who's who. I don't want to say it's as complex as Game of Thrones, but that thought did cross my mind more than once. Defiance borrows a lot from other properties and many of its storylines are things you've seen before (a war between families gets complicated by their kids falling in love, a new job proves overwhelming for an inexperienced leader, etc.), but the initial simplicity is welcome as the show's world is large and your attention can stay focused on keeping the many races and characters straight. The show also moves at a solid pace, partly because it's a mash-up of all sorts of genres; it covers political thrillers, action movies, soap operas, and even some crime drama without feeling scattered. I definitely wasn't bored! As for the vaunted special effects, sometimes they're impressive, but I'm hesitant to give them a complete review until I see the final version of the pilot in high-definition (the screeners were labeled as "rough cuts" even though they looked pretty final, and DVD-quality video is for cavemen). Plus there's a huge blue "bio man" with giant neck muscles and some mech warfare, so that's cool.
Where does Defiance fall short?
A lot of little things here and there. The dialogue isn't especially crackling and can be plain old stinky, and the world isn't fully realized as far as visuals are concerned—sometimes Defiance looks like some sort of bizarre Renaissance Faire. It's also full of cliches, but it's such a busy show with so much going on that they're not as painful as they could be. And regardless of whether or not I've seen them in HD, I can tell some of the show's effects won't be up to snuff.
Well, should I watch it or not?
I was surprised at how invested I felt by the end of the pilot, and I'm ready to throw in another episode. It may not be the next BSG, but it could easily be on par with any of the Stargates. There aren't many other programs on right now that offer a space-alien fix, and Defiance is definitely cheesy at times, but its ambition overshadows its cliches. Watch it with medium expectations and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Can I see a trailer?
What should I drink during my viewing of Defiance?
Something blue, glowing, and smoking. Maybe blueberry Kool-Aid, vodka, and dry ice? Or Windex with a glow stick and a smoke bomb in it?
Defiance premieres Monday, April 15 at 9pm on Syfy.