Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pilot Review: Defiance

Defiance (Syfy)
Premiered April 15 at 9pm

An ensemble science fiction series set in a future where alien races inhabit a transformed Earth alongside humans has the potential to be extremely exciting and appealing. After the two-hour premiere of Syfy’s new show, which is connected to a video game being released simultaneously, it’s a complicated task to unpack the show. There are many enticing elements of the show, including a predilection for battle scenes and an inarguably intriguing premise, but the show doesn’t come off seamlessly by any interpretation. The extensive presence of alien races doesn’t always lend much credibility to their characters since their physical appearances aren’t all that compelling, and the casual way in which they speak (like humans) doesn’t allow them to be taken as seriously as perhaps they should be. This two-hour start often feels like a mediocre episode of the original “Star Trek,” with many moments unintentionally funny due to their sheer construction. The two characters who we first meet, Nolan and Irisa, are also problematic since they’re such basically defined personalities too interested in breaking free from the show of which they are now an inextricable part. Grant Bowler, who, like most leads on American cable TV these days, hails from somewhere other than the U.S. and Canada (Australia in this case), has had much better parts in the past, namely on “Ugly Betty” and “Lost.” I am pleased to see two actresses cast perfectly and used to excellent effect: Julie Benz and Mia Kirshner. Benz was irritating on both “Dexter” and “Desperate Housewives” mainly due to the whininess of the characters, but here mayor Amanda is self-assured and one of the show’s most grounded personalities. Kirshner, who was great in the early seasons of “The L Word” before her character fell off the wagon, is a super choice to play Amanda’s sister, madam Kenya, who knows how to flirt but also how to keep her wits about her. It remains to be seen how supporting players like Jaime Murray and Graham Greene will contribute in a lasting way. This show is exactly the kind of series I’m supposed to like, and, while I’m far from hooked, it’s definitely a few steps up from such initially poorly-realized attempts at capturing futuristic greatness like “Revolution.” Let’s see how successive episodes hold up.

How will it work as a series? The arrival of Nolan and Irisa into Defiance, the installation of Amanda as mayor, and the surprise attack on the city were catalytic events that will shape the show going forward. I think that permitting at least Nolan to ease into society with a better attitude should make the show more productive, and I hope that it moves past base characterizations to create a more advanced idea of a future society.
How long will it last? The numbers for the pilot were extremely strong, and, if they continue, this show is sure to be a hit. That said, the show is a massive production, and reviews were mostly negative. Most like networks, however, a quick hit is interpreted to be a lasting hit, and this show is likely to receive an immediate renewal as long as its numbers don’t plummet in week two.

Pilot grade: B-

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