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Alien Species? How About Seven of Them? Defiance

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | TV Reviews | April 25, 2013 | Comments ()


defiance_p1.jpg

When Avengers came out, one the best descriptions of it that I recall was that it brought super hero movies back from the darkness that Christopher Nolan had made work to such effect in his Batman films. What Whedon managed to do was tweak the balance of dark and light, humor and somberness such that the film was a perfect combination of serious yet entertaining. "Defiance" reminds me of Avengers in that sense, at least in the pilot.

Oh don't quote me saying that it's as good as Avengers, especially if it pulls a "Terra Nova" and implodes over the next two months, but standing alone the pilot aspires to the Whedon trademark of drama that can't help being both compelling and fun. It's too soon to make comparisons to something like "Firefly," but the basic feeling of the show is that of a hybrid of that and Rockne S. O'Bannon's previous series of note, the fantastic "Farscape."

The show is premised on what amounts to a failed alien invasion. A half dozen species, all refugees from the same star that died, arrive at Earth a couple of decades before the series begins. A disaster of some sort happens and their fleet is wrecked, raining down debris now and then to be fought over. Earth is ravaged in wars, terraforming machines remake the surface of the planet. And humanity is left a refugee remnant like all the newcomers. It's post-apocalyptic and draws on every western trope in the book, visually channeling a sort of retro-futuristic wasteland reminiscent of the Fallout series of video games.

The world presented is extraordinarily complex, with both moral nuance and a wealth of hinted at detail that makes you want to explore the world, to let the series take its time and walk you through more of this world and its creatures. That's the good side, the side that I hope will take precedence, as it did with "Farscape."

It is not without its share of flaws of course, or perhaps to be more fair, without its share of warning signs. The plot to the pilot is every Western you've ever seen, and it particularly draws from space Westerns. The protagonist, played by Grant Bowler, is basically Han Solo. And I don't mean just channeling him the way that Nathan Fillion did to great effect in "Firefly", I mean that he has the same plot points and character arc as Han in the original Star Wars, lifting lines here and there to make it even more blatant. Seriously, he uses a snarky "sweetheart" line a couple of times, that I'm pretty sure is word for word what Han used to use to set Leia off.

There's the cheesy arc of becoming the sheriff and being the good guy with rough edges who can solve every problem because he's just that cool. Then there's the Romeo and Juliet cut n' paste job. Turn that dial up too much and the cheese drowns out the fun. But at the same time, O'Bannon has had a knack in the past for leaving the cheese on just enough in order to allow a show to be fun, but not insufferable.

And as Avengers brought home to us, sometimes it's okay that we see the plot points coming and know what the characters are going to do in advance. Sometimes it's just damn fun to root for the good guys to win, knowing full well that they're going to. And O'Bannon, like Whedon, has demonstrated the ability to make that work right up to the point where he punches you in the gut with abject tragedy.

That's the sort of show I'm hoping for. The fun, funny, visually gorgeous show with a deep world to explore, that can bring the tears when they're needed. The potential is there in the pilot, and I'm hoping it lives up to it.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • John G.

    Isn't this show based on a video game?

    And what's wrong with dark superheroes? I'll take grit and substance over smiley happy spandex any day.

  • Amy B

    It is such a one-dimensional show, I can't believe we saw the same thing. Bear McCreary's theme music with a smidge of dub is the only good thing about it. Is anybody even playing the video game attached to this?

    I am shocked that O'Bannon and the Battlestar Nankin are attached to it and in a big way. If you told me I would not believe you after seeing the two episodes I've seen. Would not believe it at all. Just not at all. At all.

  • Just watched the pilot last night and really enjoyed it, though it could have benefited from being a little shorter (something the rest of the series will necessarily benefit from).
    The Han Solo storyline (we're just going to take our reward money and go. Well, I guess I can help out in your big battle before I leave town) was ctrl-v'ed on a little too blatantly, but I can forgive pilots for clunky set ups as long as what they're setting up turns out okay.
    This is promising so far.

  • John W

    It seems better than Continuum, which I tried to like but just couldn't.

  • Pajiba_Pragmatist

    I loved Farscape, but it does seem like the girl is pretty much a direct lift from Chiana in farscape - changed the makeup and put the whiteface elsewhere, but the spiky hair, the twitchy moves, the knives, trust issues, etc.

    http://spoilertv.co.uk/images/...

  • sean

    THe other redheaded aliens look far more like Jool. Or Sikozu. This one's character is more like Chianna. But darker.
    Goddamn, I miss Farscape. It's been 10 years, and nothing has filled that spot for me.

    The whole Defiance show is underwhelming. A lot of actors that I have enjoyed in many other, better shows, come together to bore me. Maybe it will get better, but I doubt it.

  • Slim

    "And O’Bannon, like Whedon, has demonstrated the ability to make that
    work right up to the point where he punches you in the gut with abject
    tragedy."

    This is what I said to the husband the other day - yes, the big vat o' cheese is there but I'm still heartbroken by bits of Farscape... a show with puppets. So I remain optimistic, until the writing fails too often.

  • sean

    Not just puppets. The best Muppets EVER. Can you think of more expressive puppets than Pilot and Rygel?

  • logan

    Meh. It's no Babylon 5.

  • Tinkerville

    Eh, sorry, I just couldn't stay with it. I'll give it some time and maybe come back to it if they get their bearings, but right now it's not shaping up to be something worth watching. The plot setups were way too over the top and unoriginal, and the characters were too eye-roll worthy to make up for it.

  • alannaofdoom

    What I want to know is: why would you cast a lovely ginger like Tony
    Curran and then drown him in white greasepaint and a white wig? Make
    better use of your resources, Defiance!

  • sean

    Well, putting the lovely Stephanie Leonidas in that makeup makes me feel the same way.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Sorry I have to tell you, but that's not a wig.

  • alannaofdoom

    Stop destroying my illusions! [sulk]

  • I'm cautiously optimistic. It looks fun, and I don't mind throwing out a lot of tropes as shorthand in a pilot. I think there's room for a lot of good things and more good than bad were hinted at in the second episode.

  • trixiestreats

    You're throwing in an awful lot of Joss Whedon in this review, but Defiance just feels like a new, different chapter of Farscape to me (sure a chapter that shares the western element with Firefly, but still...). Jeb Nolan reminded me first of John Crichton before other Han Solo offshoots, but maybe that's just because I am a Farscape fan and not so much a Firefly fan.

    I actually really liked the pilot, but I was less into the second episode. If subsequent episodes can capture and maintain the tone of the first five minutes of the pilot, I would be a fan for life.

  • Miss Kate

    The hubby and I watched the pilot. In the end, neither of us was sure as to whether we liked it or not. I guess we'll give it another go, and we'll see...

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Well, the 2nd episode was a bit better than the pilot (which was dreck, if you're honest).

    I can't stand Jamie Murray in her role (and I usually adore her), Julie Benz is atrocious as always, and Graham Greene has nothing to do. OTOH, Tony Curran chews the scenery adequately, the doctor (Trenna Keating - had to look her up) is delightful, and Mia Kirshner was good in her small role, but only appeared in the pilot so far. The rest of the characters are cardboard cutouts.

    EDIT: I totally forgot to mention Fionnula Flannagan. She's terrific, of course.

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    I think Jaime should just focus on being a regular on Warehouse 13. Her character in this is just creepy and useless. Not that I don't appreciate the gratuitous nudity.

  • sean

    But the white painted nudity is the problem. At least we will always have her naked on Spartacus and Dexter...

  • Wednesday

    I watched about half the premiere last weekend. I didn't care for it. They threw in too many half-assed plot setups too fast. The Romeo-and-Juliet subplot. The megalomaniac politician subplot. I like things a little more subtle than that. I'll even forgive the plasticky-looking costumes if a story will give me credit for brains.

  • Three_nineteen

    The Romeo and Juliet plot goes away in the second episode, the megalomaniac politician looks like it's here to stay, although if it's what I think you mean it's more of a megalomaniac Mob boss plot.

  • idiosynchronic

    Yeah, but St. Louis? St. Louis?? We'll find that the salvation of neoEarth is an unholy tincture of Ted Drewe's and Busch beer.

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    I've been watching, cautiously optimistic. I couldn't help but notice the similarities with Eureka as well "wise-cracking guy moves to a weird isolated town full of crazies with his rebellious daughter...and becomes Sheriff". Oh dear. I'm just hoping it remains watchable, I don't think it's going to be another Firefly or Farscape, but it can be a Eureka and I can live with that.

  • Feralhousecat

    I have not seen the show. Do they explain why all of the aliens look like humans?

  • Because CGI is expensive and aliens that look like people are more relatable than swirly lights or gelatinous blobs. Also, don't be that guy.

  • Feralhousecat

    Wasn't trying to be "that guy". I was actually thinking more of diverging evolutionary paths. The makeup effects look well enough done that I wondered if it was on purpose. That's what happens when you drink whiskey and watch Faceoff.

  • Jakesalterego

    I agree. I know everyone wants to go Firefly with their comparisons, but I'm super-hopeful it becomes a cheerier Deadwood. I really, really want this to be a cheerier Deadwood.

  • Man of Stool

    Yeah, then again: Show sucked.

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