Defiance: Pilot Review

I actually let out a little cheer when the very first shot of Defiance featured a space ship looming in to view. It’s been a long time since we last saw one of those on television. There are no end of series that could make some sort of claim to being science fiction – zombies, monsters, vampires and the varyingly weird and wacky appearing frequently, but spaceships have been few and far between. Syfy channel has finally however put its money where its ambiguously spelled name is and delivers a spaceship.

That said, the ships don’t stay in space very long and we soon move into an entirely earth bound series, but what Defiance lacks in altitude it certainly make up for in sheer numbers of aliens with 9 races apparently cohabiting a terraformed Earth. (Can you terraform Earth? Isn’t terraforming by definition making things more earth like?) So we find ourselves in the town of Defiance, clinging to existence with nervous relations between races and limited resources, it’s sort of Babylon 5 set in frontier land.

In fact you’ll find yourself saying “that’s sort of…” an awful lot during the pilot. The whole thing is a hodge-podge of science fiction staples all thrown together to make a dusty new whole. Fans of the genre will be able to rattle off the tropes that the series is using to build its characters, concepts and plots, but for the most part the originality of the combinations keeps things from being boring. If you watched Farscape you’ll know exactly the type of chaotic yet coherent world that Rockne S. O’Bannon (also of Alien Nation and Seaquest DSV) is capable of creating, and the incredible amount of fun that world is to visit. His writing experience also shines through in the elegant way the world is explained – there’s a minimum of exposition, yet somehow within minutes you just ‘get’ everything. There is plenty of detail hidden away, but if you don’t want to, or can’t be bothered, to pay attention to it, the meat and potatoes of the plot still makes perfect sense.

The cast is excellent, mostly people that I hadn’t seen before but playing fairly familiar characters, most notably Grant Bowler as the leading man who I’d never seen before but was instantly likeable, falling into the Han Solo, John Crichton, Malcolm Reynolds-esque loveable rogue. Julie Benz is more familiar to genre fans (most notably as Darla from Buffy), competent but lacking confidence in her new position of mayor. The two characters play off each other well, each challenging and irritating the other, but also bringing out each other’s strengths. There are plenty of other good performances and characters underneath varying amounts of latex too, and loads of opportunities for interesting relationships to build up.

The effects are a little ropey in places, but the important stuff is all there. The makeup is a fairly standard mix of bumpy noses, tinted skin and weird wigs, but quickly all blends in leaving you to appreciate the characters beyond the hairstyles. The technology that there is to play with also seems fun, again a familiar mix of weapons, shields and funky computer interfaces, but contrasting nicely with the overall shortage of resources leaving people short of food and paper, but with easy access to energy weapons. It makes for a fun mix of dusty frontier town and shiny toy shop.

I was so wanting to like this show, and I was nervous that it would screw up and doom space ships to the television black list for another 5 years, but they pulled it off. I think science fiction fans will like it, certainly myself and my two even harder to please housemates all loved it, but I think even non-fans will find a lot to like in it if they give it a chance. The only miss-step the pilot made was a little too much reliance on the Romeo and Juliet storyline, but the rest of the references were all lightly enough done that they all combined into a fresh new whole that never lost sight of the most important factor – fun. The large price tag for the series and tie-in MMO game (which I have no intention of going anywhere near) mean that it’s gonna need all the support it can get to live beyond the 13 episode first season. But I think there’s more than enough there to tell some interesting and really entertaining stories.

Defiance is on SyFy channel on Tuesday evenings, repeated frequently through the week.

Other reviews:
TV Fanatic – Overall, I’m very pleased with the pilot; the show has done a good job of telling an engaging story IN the future without it being entirely about the future.

Den of Geek – When compared to the opening episodes of such sci-fi or fantasy shows as Battlestar or Game Of Thrones, Defiance isn’t what you’d call knock-out television. But there’s something about its quirky cast of characters and its sense of fun that is entirely endearing.

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