The Expanse: Season 1 (Mini-Review)

A “Spaceship Show” for the Grimdark set

So, The Expanse is a “Syfy” TV show that has been billed as “Game of Thrones in Space” (it isn’t really, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have similarities.  The story is supposed to be a more mature, “realistic” look at Science Fiction.  The show is based on a series novels by James S. A. Corey, which according to a quick check on GoodReads, is up to Book 8 in the “mainline” series, although based on GR, it looks like the author has several “gap” novels that fill in various parts of the story and that exist “between” the time-period of the main story.

I’ve not read the novels, but the show is fairly standard.  It weaves three main stories together: a sci-fi noir detective story about a cop trying to find a missing young woman, a political thriller between a potential war between Earth, Mars and “Belters” (those who live & work in the Asteroid Belt), and a “spaceship show” about the survivors of The Canterbury (aka The Cant) who later become the crew of a new ship: The Rocinante (The Roci).  Each of these tales gets woven with the others, although it doesn’t happen until the later episodes (season 1 is 10 episodes long).

Too Dark, Literally & Figuratively.

Is the show any good.  Not really, not unless you like poorly explained character motivations, trite dialogue that is supposed to be edgy, and character deaths just for the sake of “shock” value (the whole “no one is safe–anyone can die at any time” motif).  The problem is that is a fairly conventional TV show masquerading as edgy.  While a few characters do die, it is nothing like what I’ve heard happens on shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and the few deaths that occur, like most in the genre of “Grimdark,” seem mean-spirited and in poor taste.

Also, in order to go for that grimy, noir vibe, they made the filter really dark.  No, I mean really dark–the color pallet is so desaturated that, after 2-3 episodes, you’ll be reaching for your brightness controls to turn them up just to see the action.  It’s a stylistic choice, sure, but a poor one–they do it to emphasize the deficit that Belters and Mars citizens feel that they have to Earth with its open skies and open water, but it just makes the show seem really bland to me–Bladerunner (the original) did the whole “dystopian” vibe better and with more vibrancy and that was 30-40 years ago.

Oh, and as was suggested by an online review on Amazon Prime where I watched it, be sure to turn on Captions.  Not only is some of the dialogue hard to hear/understand, but the “Belters” speak (sometimes) in their own made-up dialect.  Sometimes this dialect sounds like creole and can be understood and sometimes it is completely alien words that are more like a foreign language.  Good idea in theory, but again, in practice, a poor choice.

Good actors, Poor Story

About the only things that I liked in this first season was the “spaceship scenes” and the female characters.  Anytime anyone was in a spaceship, the show was at least watchable.  Somehow, the producers, directors, and writers seem to “get” the whole spaceship, crew interactions, and space drama of the show (except for the intro “sex” scene not 5 mins into the first episode which turned me off initially–again their attempt to be “edgy,” but it just made it feel sophomoric–especially since this follows the noir section which itself seems like a pastiche of other, better dystopias).  All the other times, the show seems forced, pretentious, and decidedly not fun to watch.

really liked the female characters, however, on the show.  For some reason, these seemed like the only real characters on the show.  All of them, from the political diplomat on Earth, to the “Captain” of The Rocinante, to the “former” girlfriend/lover/partner to the noir detective, even down to the “mother” of one of the main characters (who is only in one episode for a few minutes) feel fully realized where the men seem like caricatures is many instances (for the most part–of course, there are exceptions).

Overall Score: C (73-77)

The only reason I didn’t score it lower was because I really like the female characters in the story and the acting overall by the cast.  Had I been grading just the actual material (writing, dialogue, style, plot, etc.), then it would have earned a D (63-67).

Look, I don’t like “Grimdark.”  So any story that features grimdark elements has an uphill battle for me to enjoy it, no matter its success in the mainstream.  It just isn’t what I like–not to read, not to watch, not to consume in any medium.  Will I watch Season 2 which is available on Prime right now?  Yes, probably.  Will I watch it immediately?  No, I’m good for now.  I might pick it back up later this summer, but I think I’ll move on to another “spaceship show” if I can find one.   Will I read the books?  Most assuredly not.  Like Game of Thrones, this one is for a different audience than me–and that’s okay.

As a writer myself, however, I just wished it worked the other way around.  Fair’s fair, after all.

 

Sidney




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