SYFY’s new videogame-crossover extravaganza DEFIANCE premiered on Monday to extremely good ratings for the network, getting 2.7 million total viewers. This makes DEFIANCE the highest-rated SYFY premiere since 2006’s EUREKA.
I was finally able to sit down and watch the two-hour premiere last night in part because my son’s 2nd birthday trumped all other possible Monday night activities as we took him to the standard children’s party destination… Chuck E Cheese. Between being bombarded with A/V overstimulation, terrible pizza and overpriced trinkets, I was nearly brain dead when I got back home. Ironically, that very same feeling (for similar reasons) occurred to me right after watching the series premiere of DEFIANCE.
It would be wrong to say that I hated DEFIANCE, but I would also hesitate to say that I liked it. We have definitely ventured into hardcore science fiction territory that is not very accessible to a wider audience, almost non-accessible to me. I am no stranger to scifi and am quite fond of most ‘hard’ scifi movies such as PROMETHEUS (one of the best movies of last year), CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, MOON, etc but there is a huge difference between building a believable scifi world and the whole “let’s substitute funny words for regular words” scifi.
That partnered with horrendous special effects is what originally made me lay down a personal ground rule to steer clear from SYFY channel programming completely. There are slight improvements with DEFIANCE in some respects, but there needs to be some happy medium between a cinematic-quality explosion and a 3-year old playing with Microsoft Paint-quality explosion. DEFIANCE opted for the latter. I actually laughed out loud when the tower exploded and rained down crappy little CG particles everywhere. It’s obvious that the bulk of the $100mil+ budget went towards the game.
The back story is quite interesting and really should have been developed into a movie trilogy. A bunch of alien races randomly arrive at Earth in giant ‘ark’ vessels after escaping from their dying solar system. On arrival, they are surprised to see that Earth is actually inhabited and begin terraforming it to their specifications while warring with both humans and different factions of the alien races. They end up messing it all up for themselves as their arks begin crashing and everything goes haywire.
The show itself picks up a good while after the aliens screwed up the terraforming where Earth is essentially a wasteland inhabited by bandits and mutant animals. It follows Jeb Nolan and his alien friend Irisa as they try to survive and eventually stumble upon the town of Defiance, formerly known as St Louis. Once there, they get thrust into warring alien factions and feuding families, Jeb eventually picking up the job as Chief Lawkeeper after the existing sheriff is killed.
Jeb is played by GRANT BOWLER who is best known from his stint in the third season of TRUE BLOOD and as “Dick” from the failed LIZ AND DICK Lindsay Lohan pile of garbage. It co-stars STEPHANIE LEONIDAS as Irisa who most recently played Rahab in THE BIBLE miniseries. Together they are pretty good in the acting department if only the script was good enough to let them truly shine. There were moments such as the boxing match that were very good, then other moments that were unbearably bad from a dialogue standpoint. JULIE BENZ and JAMIE MURRAY, both DEXTER alums also star.
Overall the cast is decent, but some of the decisions on the alien races are mindnumbing. The doctor who is meant to provide some JOSS WHEDON-esque deadpan sidekick humor (think Lorne, the out-of-place green demon from ANGEL) is terrible along with her entire ‘race’ of aliens. One of the other races are all albinos. Oh, and there’s a guy with an ape face. And he’s wearing a wife beater and flannel shirt. Could we make any less sense?
From a special-effect point of view, one would imagine that special effects would be the showcase of any science fiction series, especially one like this that demands quality visuals. There were moments where the CG was pretty good, like the mutant crab-spider-bear things in the woods. Some of the ships looked cool. Some of the big battle looked pretty decent. But the rest looked awful much like the aforementioned tower explosion.
Overall, I don’t think that DEFIANCE is a complete loss, but then again it needs to improve considerably. I am willing to give it two more chances to redeem itself before I discard all together. Pilots are usually fairly dense as far as setup, so possibly as the show gets more even-keel it will get better. Possibly.
For those who are interested, DEFIANCE airs on Monday nights on SYFY.