Monday, April 15, 2013

'Defiance' Premiere Review - 1.01 Pilot, Parts 1 & 2

        On the series premiere of Syfy's Defiance, the arrival of the mysterious Nolan and his charge Irisa to the town of Defiance marks a threat to the fragile peace that exists between the residents - 30 years after a war between humans and aliens that left Earth forever changed.

        Science fiction has been a stable of the TV medium for a large portion of its history. And yet, it is also one of the hardest genres to execute well. After pulling out successes like Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ideas in the genre continued to be churned out but none have had the right execution to truly be the next great franchise - i.e. Flash Forward, V, Terra Nova, etc. The thematics and plotting of Defiance is hardly new to the genre but its biggest success is in the world building, a great cast of characters and the execution that exudes wanting to see where everything will go next.
        Defiance actually has a rich connection to pretty much every sci-fi show of the past two decades. It's three main executive producers - Rockne O'Bannon, Michael Taylor and Kevin Murphy - have worked on Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Additionally, on the screen, you have veteran actors of many genre series. Grant Bowler of True Blood and Lost fits very well in the very Han Solo-like leading man role of Joshua Nolan who is reluctant but also the biggest asset the town has in protecting itself from outsiders who don't agree with what they're doing there. Stephanie Leonidas, of Whitechapel, appears as Joshua's adopted alien - here collective called Votan - companion/daughter, Irisa. Julie Benz, of Dexter, Angel and No Ordinary Family, steps into the role of the inexperienced and idealistic town mayor. Her character optimism is a note that she plays well here and her dynamic with Joshua is very intriguing. Tony Curran and Jaime Murray are the series' main and vocal Votan citizens of the town and the closest thing the show has to antagonizing mustache-twirlers. The scenes were they are plotting are perhaps the only time in the two-hour pilot where the show really stops to actually say what it wants to say. That on-the-nose characteristic is the least appealing aspect of the show. But whereas that note does nothing to help the Romeo and Juliet-style relationship between their son and the daughter of their chief rival - wealthy town miner, Rafe McCawley played by Graham Greene. Curran and Murray are still effective elsewhere especially in the scene where she distracts children while he has to deal with some "business." Finally, Mia Kirshner and Fionnula Flanagan round out the cast as Amanda's sister/local bar owner and the former mayor respectively. Those two are do interesting things here as well but seem more likely to break out in future episodes as they get more integrated into the main stories.
        Special effects are also a popular standard in the science fiction genre and the same is very true for this series. And for its part, Defiance does a good job of selling all of these effects as parts of this world. You can tell in various scenes that is a very expensive show for Syfy - but if it pays off in the storytelling and the execution and the excitement and authenticity amongst the fanbase, then it was worth it, right? Sure, there are the occasional missteps - like that rover chase sequence - but for the most part, the special effects add to the show more than they detract.
        I walked into Defiance knowing virtually nothing other than it also had a video game tie-in to the series. And if I understand things correctly, the game and the series are both set in the same world but don't have much crossover - where you don't need to play the game in order to understand the character motivation or some plot point in the series. I have no intentions of playing the video game alongside viewing the series. This is actually a good point to raise because if the television series can't stand on its own merits and plotting than it truly doesn't have a chance of succeeding in this medium and business. However, based on the two hours that I have seen so far, I firmly believe that I am along for the ride for - at least - this first season.

So what did everyone think of the new series? Will you stick with it next week? As a sci-fi fan, are you glad that there is once again a well-executed program in the medium? Will you play the video game as well or just stick to just the series? Share your thoughts in the comments.