Defiance - Impressive, Deep Sci-Fi Bogged Down By Dull, Shallow Drama - Cru Hunter Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Defiance - Impressive, Deep Sci-Fi Bogged Down By Dull, Shallow Drama

About a year and a half ago, Terra Nova premiered on the Fox channel to great fanfare. The premise involved a mash-up of Stargate with Jurassic Park. The world of 2149 was ravaged by corporate greed and environmental devastation, and instead of trying to fix what's obviously broken, humans naturally spent billions of dollars making a dimension-jumping machine. This tech allowed designated civilians into an alternate world, 85 million years in the past. Here, in Terra Nova (see, it uses the series' title, how cool is that!), these human colonies started over. The show had dinosaurs and tech-babble to appeal to the nerds, shooting stuff and interrogation to appeal to action junkies, and a picture-perfect family to appeal to...whoever liked that stuff.

As I said at the start, the series seemed to have it all. To take a quote from Le Wikipidia:

"Early reviews indicated much promise in the series. In June 2011, Terra Nova was one of eight honorees in the Most Exciting New Series category at the Critic's Choice Television Awards, voted by journalists who had seen the pilots. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette compared it to Outcasts. The Los Angeles Times wrote: "Easily the most exciting show of the fall season, Fox's Terra Nova has such obvious, instant and demographically diverse appeal." The New York Post called it "Good family fun", while USA Today wrote, "What matters are the dinosaurs, who – particularly in the first hour – are as convincing and startling as TV has ever offered, roaming a gorgeous, CGI-enhanced terrain."The Wall Street Journal wrote: "Terra Nova leaves ye olde cheap-set series in the dust with production values that make each episode look cinematic."The Washington Post wrote, "Literally the biggest thing on TV this fall, Terra Nova has it all: time travel, misguided utopianism, "Swiss Family Robinson"-style cohesion and lots of hungry dinosaurs. It's all pretty dazzling."


I myself was pretty excited. The pilot was pretty well-done, honestly. It wasn't no Firefly or Battlestar, but it was solid. The script wasn't too campy, the future of the human race was pretty tensely bleak, and the main hero of the series was kicking plenty of ass. The family-of-people-so-beautiful-they-could-be-models managed to sneak into aforementioned portal device thing, and set themselves up in their new lives with a surprisingly-low amount of scrutiny from anyone else; even when the Shannons were discovered to be fugitives of the law in their dystopian, hell-is-earth dimension. By the pilot's conclusion, the series made good on its promising early reviews.

Episodes in, and it seemed like the show fell apart. The dinosaurs rarely made an appearance, much of the show was devoted to fleshing out the family's relationships with the colony and to each other; all of whom were bland and uninspired. TN painted the teenage boy as a whiny, obnoxious rebel, who wished he could be a bad boy on a motorbike. The main character only lived to shoot stuff and bark orders at people with trope one-liners. The female family members had promise, but even they succumbed to the stereotypical Hollywood characterizations: the teenage daughter was smart, but she needed a handsome boy-guard-hunk (introduced a few episodes later) to take her into his arms so she'd feel nice, strong, and secure; the mother was a nurse with plenty of wit and wherewithall, but all she did was deal with the damage dealt by her husband; and the smallest daughter...well, she was played by a young, 7 year-old actress, so I can't get too mad that her acting wasn't worthy of an Academy Award.

My point: the show had promise, but it was bogged down by the same tired, over-used, Hollywimpy characterization and script that we've seen many times on the big-screen, and in episodes of Grey's Anatomy. Yes, that means I've watched episodes of Grey. Pray you don't have to. Terra Nova promised a four-course meal of dinosaurs, issues of environmental conservation, smart action, and the power of second chances. Instead, we got glop that involved very few dinos, stupid action, and characters as deep as a hair is wide. Naturally, this science-fiction, action show was cancelled after one season.

What did that tirade have to do with Defiance? Because both shows have similar premises, and they seem to be following the same path down Mediocrity Lane.

It's a shame really. I like Defiance's premise, even more than Terra Nova's. In an alternate future, a series of races arrive at Earth, expecting it to be devoid of sentient life, and available for colonization. It's been a long trip from their home solar system, which was decimated by a dying star. As humans are want to do, they provoke a long, bloody war with the alien races, with no side gaining an advantage for long. The war is brought to an abrupt halt when the terraformers the aliens packed to colonize the planet fall to Earth and change everything. What used to be Antarctica has been turned into a tropical paradise, and St. Louis is enveloped by the ground. Animals are mutated, and thrive in the numerous Badlands with feral abandon.

Defiance starts in this world, in the new version of St. Louis. The monument is seen in the background, always a haunting specter of the terraforming events that changed humanity forever. The new St. Louis is called Defiance (see, it uses the series' title, how cool is that! Wait, where did I say that before?), and is a place where humanity coexists with most of the alien races in an effort to start over (gee, that sounds familiar too...).

While the show tries its best not to fall into Hollywimpiness, it often stumbles into those waters. You've got your Romeo and Juliet affair, with an alien teenage boy from Family Romeo. He also happens to be, you can probably guess, a whiny, obnoxious rebel, who wishes he could be a bad boy on a motorbike. The guy looks like a punk rocker who put on too much baby powder, and he even wears a leather biker vest. How authentic. Romeo promises to marry a doe-eyed girl who seems smart, yet needs him to feel secure (Terra Nova all over again...) The show revels in their respective family's rivalry, and it can be hard to watch. Brother Romeo threatens Brother Juliet, who cries to Father Juliet, who threatens to kill Father Romeo, and on and on and on. If I listen closely to that melodrama, I can feel corn husks growing out of my ears.

All the women in the series, except for the Irathient ones, have weird quirks that make no sense. The mayor of the town makes the effort to guide her community with a strong hand, but her words often fall on deaf ears and are, in the end, usually completely ignored by everyone else, and she's become pretty useless. The teenage daughter I mentioned earlier is concerned only with becoming the best housewife she could be. The wife of the town's resident mob boss is a poisonous snake that feeds her dull husband her evil wishes, but her background makes no sense when compared to her character. She's evil for no reason whatsoever; maybe she does it for the lulz. The Irathient girl starts out as a main character, but naturally, since she's strong, bold, and she's acted fairly well, she's pushed to the sidelines as a quiet, moody companion who just throws knives and acts intimidating. There's even a she-alien doctor/scientist (who reminds me a lot of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, oddly enough) with a better kit of acting tools, yet she too rarely gets screen time.

Male characters don't fare much better. The main character's solid, and he's proven time and again that he's a bad-ass, but he has little depth other than the fact that he has some history with the human military prior to the conflict. The mob boss has his moments as well, but most of the time he's a dull-witted pawn for his wife. The strongest male character is arguably the African-American teenager: he has some of the best lines, the actor's really good, and he's actually more emotionally complex than any other character. Like the Irathient girl, however, Defiance is all too happy to put him off to the side in the role of the main character's occasional sidekick.

I don't understand why, but Defiance is going the same route as Terra Nova: all the talented actors are forced to the side in favor of terribly dull forbidden-love affairs and script that rarely impresses, which is spouted by the characters with little personality. What is great, however, is how Defiance has clearly devoted much of its writers towards embellishing the universe. All the aliens have their own complex history, and their own views of each other and humanity. Each race has their own weapons, cultures, and languages (kudos to the actors for learning their lines for each episode). But their interactions with each other rely heavily on established tropes from the American movie industry.

After watching three episodes, I'm afraid for Defiance's future. I'd hate to see so much effort towards fleshing out the science fiction wasted on developing the same tired drama. I think Defiance is trying too hard to be a Swiss Army Knife: appeal to drama enthusiasts, action junkies, and sci-fi nerds. So I say: to hell with the drama, and even the action; Defiance is a science fiction show first, and it should focus on establishing itself as such! Once it does, then the writers are free to include all the lovey-dovey "I want u but they won't let us :'( " and mindless explosions that they want. Don't go full Terra Nova on me again, please. If I wanted soap, I'd buy some Dove.

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