The Expanse Season 1: The Bold and the Beautiful… and the Boring

Posted: February 17, 2016 by Jaden C. Kilmer in Article
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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“We’ve gone too far,” claims the tagline on the poster for season 1 of SyFy’s new show The Expanse. But a more accurate one may be “We haven’t gone too far enough.” The Expanse is certainly bold, and visually beautiful, but also commits the worst sin of any kind of entertainment: it’s dreadfully boring.

The Bold

When you’re calling yourself “Game of Thrones in space” before the first episode even airs, you’re definitely selling yourself high. And to its credit, SyFy, a channel more known for so-bad-they’re-still-pretty-bad B-movies, went BIG this time around. The Expanse, based off a series of novels, is about a not-too-distant future where humans have colonized Mars and the Asteroid Belt, and the three factions get involved in an interplanetary war. SyFy seems to have given the show a huge budget in an effort to elevate the production above the cheese of Star Trek and Doctor Who (though the latter is no longer the cheesy guilty pleasure it once was) and stake its claim as a deadly serious science fiction drama. The Expanse is a huge gamble. If it pays off, it can become the next Battlestar Galactica. If it fails, it’s the next Terra Nova.

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The Beautiful

The first thing you notice about the beautiful is how gosh darned beautiful it is. A realistic looking space and fantastic sets make you want to step through the TV and spend a day in its world. And its accomplished without getting the JJ. Abrams over saturation and lens-flare look that ends up just looking fake. (Pretty, but fake.)  The show is basically a mashup of cyberpunk settings, noir characters, and high/epic fantasy plot. And on the cyberpunk settings part, it gets an A. I think it may actually work better when watched on mute. Part of that is because of the striking visuals. The other…

The Boring

It’s. So. Boring.

Take episode 7, “Windmills.” The main plot of the episode involves our central crew of characters confronted by a Martian warship, getting threatened with a boarding. Forty five minutes later, they escape after… finding the ship’s manual and radioing a codeword.

This is five, maybe ten minutes tops worth of plot, stretched out to a full episode with some sideplots in other locations interspliced. And it’s not like it’s even a remotely good payoff. You watch the episode, slog through its snail-like pace, patiently waiting for your reward at the end, and it there isn’t one.

Episode 7 is not the only offender, but it’s the clearest example of a dullness that pervades the show. Even in the better episodes, boredom lurks. And there’s multiple reasons why such a pretty looking and ambitious show can be such an effective lullaby:

The main reason is the cast. It’s as if SyFy forgot to include a portion of their budget to pay for good actors (and writers.) Thomas Jane’s character Miller is a brooding, tough as nails guy who speaks in a low growl. Steven Strait’s character Holden is a brooding, tough as nails guy who speaks in a low growl. Wes Chatham’s character Amos is a brooding, tough as nails guy who speaks in a low growl.

In Jane’s defense, it’s a good look on Miller, who purposely echoes noir detectives of the 30’s. Everyone else in the entire show is lifeless. They have two modes: Whispering or randomly yelling their lines. A lot of the show is just conversation, which would be great if anyone other than Thomas Jane sounded like they weren’t doing a dry run of their lines. The show even squanders the talent of Chad Coleman (Tyrese in The Walking Dead) Kevin Hanchard (of Orphan Black) as these two bonafide talented actors both turn in robotic, monotone performances. And I’m going to single out Steven Strait in particular for making Holden one of the least likeable main characters of any show I’ve watched. When he’s not trying way too hard to look/sound cool, he’s trying way too little to express any sort of acting range.

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Demonstrated here: The versatile facial expressions of the cast of The Expanse

Then there’s every single Earth scene. Protip for those of you who plan on watching one day: Fast forward through every scene that takes place on earth. Every one. They feature the boringest of the show’s actors, the sleep-inducingest of the show’s dialogue, and also really don’t seem to be at all important to the plot. You could cut out (or fast forward through) every single Earth scene and the show will still make sense. You know the trade route discussions in Episode I? Yeah, it’s like that.

Wrap Up

There are occasional moments of spectacular, and I’d be remiss not to mention that. Episode 4 and the two part finale showed some great potential for what this show could become. Unfortunately, the cast for the most part is going to let this show reach its potential over their dead bodies. And I mean that literally. If the show killed off most of their characters and replaced them with decent actors, The Expanse will stand a shot at realizing its potential. But for the moment, it languishes in sci-fi mediocrity.

Episode Grades:

  1. Dulcinea: C+
  2. The Big Empty: C
  3. Remember the Cant: B-
  4. CQB: A-
  5. Back to the Butcher: C+
  6. Rock Bottom: D+
  7. Windmills: D-
  8. Salvage: B+
  9. Critical Mass/Leviathan Wakes: A-

Overall Grade: C

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Comments
  1. Well, Jaden, I’m sorry hear it didn’t work for you, but I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to watch it and share your thoughts.

    Best of luck with your own work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jaden C. Kilmer says:

      Thanks! And I do think I’ll stick around for season 2, since I liked the finale. But I’m really hoping it picks up steam and/or downgrades Holden to a supporting character.

      Like

  2. mike says:

    a…fucking…men. theres something about this show that makes me nod off like no other. and i was even excited about it from the reviews id heard. what a let down.

    Liked by 1 person

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