Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Defying Gravity, Defying Belief

"Ron Livingston...hmmm..." tweeted Area224, and that was enough to peak my interest. I hadn't seen Livingston before and wondered just how bad he was that Dave Van de Walle would question how good Defying Gravity could be with Livingston at the helm. Well...

Defying Gravity is a show with very nice sets, graphics that range from realistic to obviously CGI (was longing for the pre-CGI Star Trek models of the 1980s and 90s), a large cast that one really needs to pay attention to in order to keep em all straight, a love for flashbacks and voiceover, and not much to do with true Sci Fi. It's more like soap opera in space. And Livingston is the cliché-riddled, predictable character that I quickly really, really, REALLY hoped would not end up on the Antares but have a smaller role on Earth. But nope. (Despite what one reviewer says, Livingston ain't even a hunk to occupy the lower brain as the upper one snoozes off in total boredom.)

It's true that all good Sci Fi has at its core relationship stories, whether between people or between humans and inhospitable space or aliens. It's also, for me, about exploration, the exploration of ideas, of the scientific frontier -- stretching our thinking muscles and our imaginations -- as well as what we can be as humans. That's why I'm partial to Star Trek and not so partial to the "dark side" as some Trek producers tried to do with DS9. I think in a world filled with violence and cynicism, with shows focusing on what's realistic, which usually means the worst of human impulses, we need at least a few programs that show us a future that is filled with wondrous technology as well as wondrous ideas of who we can be. It's a great idea to bring back to network Television a North American produced Sci Fi show. Not so hot though when it's more about putting a seductive spacesuit on present-day reality.

Defying Gravity is about eight astronauts -- four women, four men -- taking a round-the-solar-system trek over the next six years, starting with Venus. (How appropo.) But there's a catch. It isn't humans who seem to be directing this voyage, but some mysterious creature, whose actions almost seem God-like, actions that are both inscrutable and force people to think about their past behaviour, decisions, and thoughts. Unfortunately Livingston's character is too much in love with the cliché to give a damn about, oh, um, thinking. I mean, here's a guy who's gone to Mars, who would, one assumes, have a post-graduate degree or two, and his only response to an impossible order is to deck the guy? And of course, we're all supposed to cheer. I rolled my eyes and looked for something more intelligent like the popcorn in my bowl.

At first, I was excited about the selection of astronauts because one of them was Indian. At last, some real diversity, not just standard black-white, which is pretty token anyway. But alas, not to be. Livingston replaces the very interesting and entertaining Indian character. And all the other characters seem to be from the US, although it did say in the promo notes they're from different countries. So all that's left to grab my attention is this mysterious being, a being that only gets hinted at and not shown in the two-hour Pilot episode.

The other issue I had with Defying Gravity is the science. I wasn't really paying attention to it until they started spouting Imperial units. Wait a minute. The year is 2052. Are the producers saying that 43 years down the road, the US (along with Burma and Liberia, those bastions of innovation) will still be wedded to that inexact -- compared to SI -- measurement system and will use that to build a ship to take humans round the solar system? That's a pretty depressing comment on the American public's ability to adapt and its politicians to lead on something so basic. Yet I saw a video recently of the last astronauts on the moon, in which one uses -- gasp -- the metric system to describe the size of something. That was back in 1972. So is their decision on using Imperial realistic?

Watching this show I also wondered: is it really true that NASA uses imperial units? They're building an international space station, with countries who all use SI, to construct delicate instruments and structures that need to be exactly measured, and they rely on a very old system instead? Seems balmy to me. But that's essentially what the show is stating -- because if NASA was using SI, and this Antares program is built on current space programs, then it too would be using SI. Of course, it's also not using international standard time and date format, despite having an international crew, or so they say.

In true soap opera style, it's going to tackle the "big" issues, and the first one up is abortion. Should be fun. But I doubt I'll watch. I like my Sci Fi to be, well, sci not soapy.

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