I stopped taking the SCI-FI Channel seriously when they rebranded it as the Syfy Channel in 2009. The decision was cemented in my mind when they made the movie SHARKNADO and they added wrestling to their programming. All these decisions made me wonder if they were serious about an actual science fiction channel. However, Syfy recently put money up for two programs and that made me sit up and take another look.
The first was Arthur C. Clarke’s CHILDHOOD’S END, which aired in three parts in December 2015. The second was the even better 10-part space drama THE EXPANSE, which began in November 2015 and just ended last week. I was prepared for hamburger but was served up prime rib.
Unlike many of Sysfy’s made-for-TV movies and miniseries, these were high quality, well written and well produced dramas, featuring superb special effects and great acting, with no plot holes bigger than a pin prick. In particular, THE EXPANSE required intricate CGI and set design elements with high caliber space shots and other special effects akin to the quality to you find in high priced movie productions.
THE EXPANSE tells a story hundreds of years into the future when humans have colonized the solar system. They have reached the depths of our system transforming planets and moons, exploiting resources and workers, and bringing with them the stresses of living at the limits. With tensions rising between extensions of civilization, Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt are now on the brink of war. A young woman goes missing, tangling a detective, a politician, and the crew of a disguised spaceship in the greatest conspiracy in human history. This first season ended as the crew of the disguised ship and the detective discovered the missing young woman had been exposed to a “protomolocule” and they barely escaped with their lives. We also learned the protomolocule is part of a larger conspiracy, and controlling it involves the future of humankind in space.
THE EXPANSE has been renewed for a second season, scheduled to begin airing in January 2017 with 13 episodes. To me, that’s a hopeful sign that the network is finally taking science fiction serious again. If we can just get them to stop with the silliness of a SHARKNADO and the insanity of wrestling, it might speak better for the network.
Syfy aired some decent science fiction in its past. The reboot of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, for instance. TAKEN for another. And for those who are into monster fiction and horror movies, they have offered plenty of that. But it’s the reversion to cheap products with poorly plotted scripts and programming that has nothing to do with science fiction in any of its various genres that infuriates me as a science fiction fan. LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT? Really? ECW? WCG ULTIMATE GAMER? Come on! Since when was any of that even remotely connected with science fiction?
It is my hope that with programs like A CHILDHOOD’S END and THE EXPANSE that Syfy will begin taking science fiction to heart – to its heart – again. Even new programs like 12 MONKEYS, DARK MATTER, and THE MAGICIANS give me reason to revisit Syfy’s lineup more often.