Sunday, January 3, 2016

Space Opera in 2015 [on tv]

For five years, we haven't had a single space opera on tv. The five years before that, there were only one or two series that were able to brave the executives. But finally, 2015 marked the return of the genre to our living rooms. And when it rains, it pours.

It's clear that the genre was wide open and many people were looking to fill that hole. Last year brought us 4 series: Dark Matter, Killjoys, The Expanse and Other Space. I'll just write about them all in turn.

Other Space

Other Space was the only of the four series that came to our screens in the first quarter of the year. It was released all at once in April on Yahoo Screen, as part of their original content offering. It takes space opera and marries it with comedy. It's more like Hyperdrive than Red Dwarf in the sense that it truly is space opera comedy, not comedy that happens to be set on a spaceship. However, even then it goes a step further than Hyperdrive. Instead of every detail serving comedy, there's a space opera story and space opera comedy, creating a mix that I don't think has ever been done before.

The show was clearly produced on a very low budget, but I'd say that adds to its charm rather than detracting from it. The show also showed that space scenes can look amazing these days, even when the money is limited. It's also eight episodes of half an hour each, making it a rather short watch. And on top of that Yahoo lost too much on their original content to continue with any of it, meaning that the chance of a second season seems rather remote. If you like the genre, I'd definitely recommend watching. Just fit it between the other things your watching.

Dark Matter

In June, the space opera program really started gaining traction. Dark Matter was the first of the non-comedy space operas. It is also the most traditional space opera that aired in 2015. It put a crew in a fancy ship and let them struggle with space travel and all that entails. It added a twist, though: the crew is suffering from group amnesia. Even though they are able to figure out who they are by the end of the first episode, they aren't too willing to truly assume the same identities and that's one of the things that influences almost every story.

Not every angle they took was truly interesting and every once in a while there seemed to be a bit of a plot hole as the writers seemed to forget about things in previous episodes (and thus didn't care to mention why this was approached in a similar way). However, the problems got less as the show settled into a good rhythm and by the end it was pretty good. It still didn't quite hit the sweet spot for me, but I was hungry enough for space opera to not care the least bit.

Dark Matter is due for another thirteen episodes this year, meaning that we'll definitely get to enjoy more space opera. That of course also means that the cliff hanger that ended the first season will not have to go unresolved.


Killjoys. This is the gem of the year, in my books. It premiered less than a week later than Dark Matter, but it takes quite a different approach with a rather small cast. Though it is implied that there's more to known space, the show sticks to a single star system. Like any good Space Western. Because that's what the show is. It may not be as literal in its Western part as the archetypal Firefly, but it but it does forego the exploration of the wide universe for the scavenge for the next paycheck in a smaller, known system. Oh, and much of that system lives on the outskirts of the law, with bounty hunters - or killjoys in local slang - running much of the show.

The show really took me in with these three characters living on one ship and going on the missions while also uncovering things about their own pasts and and going off on personal quests from time to time. This first season got into its groove quickly and really feels like a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Though they did leave more than enough questions open for the future of the series, it did also wrap things up nicely.

Unlike any other space western I know of, Killjoys got its second season greenlit without a hitch. I mean, it has only had ten episodes, so it's not even at the length of Firefly yet, but things are looking well. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of this in 2016.

The Expanse

The year was closed off with the first four episodes of The Expanse. It's a little harder to write about a show that has barely begun, but so far it looks enjoyable if a little convoluted. The hopes for this series were high as it was rumored to be the show to fill the shoes that the reimagined Battlestar Gallactica left. However, I don't think it quite lives up to that standard. We'll just have to see where it goes. Visually, though, this show is just stunning.

The show is set in a relatively close future where humanity is active both on Mars and the meteor belt. The whole system is on edge as hostilities seem to be able to break out at just about any moment and in the mean time air and (more importantly, it would seem) water is a scarce commodity. There seem to be some plot holes in this whole setting in my opinion, but nevertheless this brings us a number of story lines that all have their interesting sides. However, it is still quite hard to pinpoint what it is all about with all these different threads.


A special mention goes out to Ascension. It didn't get beyond a mini-series and in the USA it actually aired December 2014 (in Canada it was early 2015, so it still sort of counts), but it was quite worth the watch. I have no idea where the show would have gone if it had continued, but is a quite clever show and puts a nice twist on the space opera genre.

It revolves around a generation ship sent out into space some fifty years ago, traveling at near-light speeds. Basically, it hasn't encountered anything and it's really just about dealing with some of the problems of space travel, but more even about the challenges of a generation ship. A whole social structure emerged and the internal politics are a joy to watch. And yeah, there's some things I just can't tell because it would spoil part of watching...

The future

With two series being renewed for a second season and a third continuing its first into the new year, it looks unlikely that we'll be starved for space opera again any time soon. But it seems there is even more in the pipelines. Syfy mentioned working on four different space opera pilots nearly three years ago and only one of them has had any known result (Ascension, which was known as Sojourn back then), so I personally still hold some hope that more will be created from that avenue. Three years may be a lot not to hear anything, but for the creation of a tv series, it's really not all that crazy (though my hope may fade if we don't hear something soon now). In the mean time, there's talks of remakes for Blake's 7, Lost in Space and Space: 1999. Additionally, there also seems to be some decent progress on the tv version of Ringworld. And of course, Trek is coming back to the format of tv series in early 2017.