EPISODE REVIEW: Outcasts: “Episode One” (Episode 1)

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Tonight we get a new British SF series on BBC America. How was it? Click here and find out.

Ah. You clicked. Good for you! So how was the show? It wasn’t *bad* per se, there’s nothing I could point to and say, “Wow, that sucked.” On paper, if I was reading a pitch for this, I think I’d find it promising. In fact, when I first read about this series last year, I thought it did seem promising. And, yes, there is still some promise in the premise here, but, well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed.

The premise is fairly straight forward: At some point in the future, there’s been a nuclear war on earth that has rendered it unlivable, but not all at once. After the war, an evacuation effort was begun, and the survivors - all of them apparently British, and one token French broad - escaped to the planet “Carpathia,” where they’ve set up a colony for the last remnants of mankind. Eventually this rag tag fugitive fleet - yeah, you see where I’m going with this, right? - kinda’ whittles down to nothing, and they go years with new boatloads of survivors turning up.

Making the Galactica comparisons more apparent, this episode stars Jamie Bamber, who played “Apollo” in the recent reboot of Battlestar. He plays a scout who, in the early days of the colony, found water and food and stuff like that. He’s married, he’s got a kid named Linus, and a wife who’s spying on him. His wife - a cop - has been asked by President Tate, the elected leader of the colony, to do so because her husband is nuts and is planning a coup of sorts. Her husband, Mitchell, finds out about this and bludgeons his wife.

Meanwhile, the first refugee ship in five years appears, but owing to rather stupid plot contrivances to ratchet up tension, there’s a strong chance the ship won’t survive re-entry.

Meanwhile, Fleur - a cute Scottish girl - and Cass are sent out to bring in Mitchell, who’s kidnapped his own son, and is heading for the wilderness. Fleur was Mitchell’s wife’s partner prior to the bludgeoning. This time it’s personal. But as this is the first episode, and we really don’t know any of these characters, the personal nature is lost on us, and, frankly, not terribly convincingly played out. They’re attacked by something in the woods at night, but nothing much comes of it. Meanwhile, Mitchell kills his son.

Fleur and Cass meet up with Mitchell, and after claiming there’s things they don’t know about President Tate, and threatening to kill Cass, Fleur shoots him and he dies. Jamie Bamber, ladies and gentlemen! How about a big hand! Thanks for tuning in, thanks for being a sucker: he’s just a guest star they put in the show hoping you’d be interested enough in the characters to continue on with the series after this. Fleur runs to Mitchell’s tent and finds Linus who - surprise fake out that’s not at all surprising - is not dead after all.

Meanwhile, the ship explodes on re-entry, but a few escape pods get out, one of which is carrying….Jamie Bamber! Yep, that’s right, his fake out death was a fake out. In fact, he’s a malevolent clone, kinda’ like the malevolent clone species in that other TV show he was in…uhm…what was it called again? Man From Atlantis? No, that wasn’t it…It’ll come to me.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right: The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Anyway you slice it, this show feels derivative and overly familiar right out of the starting gate. Let’s see: you’ve got earth destroyed in a nuclear conflict, a’la BSG; you’ve got the evil clones a’la BSG; you’ve got the last remnants of humanity upon whom the future rests, but who don’t seem to be able to focus on that reality and instead just run around being dicks, a’la BSG; you’ve got an SF premise that is largely ignored in favor of “Human Drama,” which, again, mostly consists of people brooding and/or being dicks, a’la BSG; and you’ve got Jamie Bamber a’la Law and Order UK. No, wait…I mean a’la BSG. You’ve got an idyllic, exotic, yet mysterious location, a’la Lost, and you’ve got secrets and lies and wheels within wheels a’la Lost, and you’ve got an entirely earth-like world that we’re told it’s hard work surviving on, despite the fact that it’s entirely like earth, a’la Earth 2, Lost in Space, and any number of other series.

In short: Everything here has been done before, and *most* of it has been done in one particular show. And, in the end, that one particular show wasn’t even very good.

My first impression was “BSG meets Lost,” and that’s just not very interesting, is it? I mean, BSG is the biggest disappointment for the genre in the last twenty years, and Lost is the most successful SF show in the last twenty years. Put those extremes together, and how could you end up with anything but mediocrity?

In looking into the show, I find that the project was greenlit back in 2007 when Galactica was still really popular, and, to be fair, wasn’t really egregiously sucking yet. I also find that the scripts for this series were rewritten dozens of times. It shows. Firstly, if you do thirty re-writes, but still can’t think of a title, that’s not a good sign, is it? And there’s a washed-over quality to this, as though it’s been over thought too many times. It’s passionless. It’s like a term paper you’ve worked too long and too hard on, to the point where you just don’t care anymore, just hand it in and be done with it, pass or fail, just get it over with.

Acting is of the fairly flat affect type popularized on…yeah, you guessed it,…BSG. Cinematography is wobbly cam and natural lighting on more-or-less practical-looking sets. I’ll tell you the truth: this thing is brand new, but it feels like a used car.

The sets aren’t all that interesting, and they’re not terribly expansive. For instance, there’s one curving corridor they walk down at least fifteen times. The one personal residence we see actually looks nicer than my home, so what’s everyone so bleak and unhappy about? They’re alive, they’ve evidently got food and water, they’ve got snazzy homes and a democratic government, what the frack, man?

The planet is named “Carpathia,” which is where Dracula was from. The outdoor scenes were filmed in South Africa so they could get eye-popping and largely unfamiliar scenery. Alas, there’s not nearly enough of this. The rest of the series appears to be filmed in a studio in England.

There’s a black market involving drugs and illegally produced farm animals.

Mitchell’s confederates in the coup turned on him pretty fast. I think we’re to think that they all knew he was crazy, and were more or less humoring him out of fear.

They have a device that can let you see what a person is thinking. Ah, hoary old cliché there, huh?

I noticed that the control center of the city and the glimpses of the control room we see on the space ship are clearly the same set. This made me wonder if the ‘capital building’ is actually a landed spacecraft a’la Niven’s “A Gift From Earth.”

What is it in Cam’s past that Mitchell covered up? (I’m assuming he’s a clone). What is it that Tate is covering up? Well, obviously the execution of some people. But who were they and why did he want them executed? And who attacked Fleur and Cam in the woods?

What the heck is a “Whiteout?” It appeared to be like a sudden intense sandstorm that lasts a moment or three. Tate says this is due to “Our lunar system,” which doesn’t appear to make much sense.

Chicago and Singapore were evidently the first cities nuked. The war took place 15 years ago, it takes five years to get to Carpathia from earth, and the colony was founded ten years back.

You know what bugs me about this whole thing? That the planet is obviously fine and dandy for people, and survival should be as easy as survival on any continent on earth. In order to find drama, then, we have to create fake conflicts like the ones we see here tonight. This is tedious. The show is about the last survivors of earth, so let’s see them surviving! For instance, rather than have it be a hunkie dory planet, why not have it be a lifeless rock, with people living in a dome or something like moonbase alpha, struggling to find resources and find room for the survivors and maybe terraform the planet. Or, if you lack the CGI budget to pull that off, you can still shoot it with all the plants and stuff, just show everyone wearing a breathing mask and say the local atmosphere is toxic to humans. My point here is simply let the alien planet be alien, let’s see people in a hostile environment trying to flourish, and if that leads to a breakdown of polite society, fine, but let’s *SEE* that breakdown happening. Don’t just drop us in yet another dysfunctional misanthropic bunch of cheap corrugated metal sets and tell us it’s science fiction: Let’s actually SEE some science fiction!

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Nominally, yes: There’s a gun control ordinance in the colony, and they make it very clear on two or three points that it just added to the problem, and didn’t prevent anything at all.

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