Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Syfy, My Time of Not Taking You Seriously Has Come to a Middle


I call your attention hither! 

We may or may not be a group of diverse individuals who set aside our differences for the common good.

It has finally arrived. The much-hyped, overly advertised, heavily plugged premiere of Defiance! What could be more anticipated, you ask? I have that answer. Joe Rogan is getting paid to do drugs in various countries and Syfy is filming it!! Yes, in addition to randomly throwing every sci-fi genre at nerds in Defiance like some sort of geek Jackson Pollock painting, the network that is also bringing you Deep South Paranormal  (not kidding) is also in direct competition for that coveted What Would Ryan Lochte Do demographic. This is a zenith for television. Nay. A zenith for humanity.

But how HOW can we get Joel McHale to mock MORE clips from our network?

But I digress. Until we can watch Joe Rogan do peyote in Peru (BECAUSE IT'S LEGAL THERE), we will have to content ourselves with the teevee event of April.

Thus it is. Defiance.

We all know this show was hatched in a board room and that's it's been created to sell action figures and video games, so I'm giving it a large amount of leeway. Suffice it to say, Defiance is the bastard child of Firefly, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, with some steam punk thrown in for good measure. Because why the fuck not? 

Anyway, the offspring of this mash-up is living on a film set in Toronto. The production values are high and the look and feel of the show is very cinematic. Syfy is drunkenly throwing money at this production like a sailor at a strip club. As this is the pilot, we need two hours to meet and greet the characters, as well as stick around long enough to follow their exploits in their first adventure.

Our Mal Reynolds character is Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler). We meet him as a boy, as his day at the park with Mum and Da is interrupted by a pesky alien vessel hovering overhead. 

And mom's always complaining about ants.
(Disclaimer: This shot is not in any way a reference to ET.)

These alien folks are known as the Votans and all you really need to know about them is that they suck. They fought humans in this epic war and then they finally called a truce and there was peace and stuff like that there. The Votans are actually a collective (yep) of several races all mashed together, and they live on Earth like some social experiment gone bad.

Thirty-three fun-filled years later, Joshua is attempting to flee to the tropical paradise that is FUCKING ANTARCTICA, apparently after having mistakenly used a married alien female for a penis cozy. Oopsie. There were some wars and stuff, so the planet was such a hot mess afterward that it had to be terraformed. Yes. They terraformed Earth. How. Meta.

Accompanying Mal is his adopted redheaded stepchild alieny teenagerish daughter, Anne of Grumbly Attitude. Actually, her name is Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), and she's narrating the show via her journal. She is our Plucky Young Ingenue. She is Irathient. I'm uncertain what that entails, but she seems rather feral. Also, Josh murdered her parents. BTW.

The planet has gone to SHIT, but there's still Johnny Cash. Thank God Almighty, there is still Johnny Cash. There's also still GPS and satellite radio somehow. Apocalypse FTW. Since there is all sorts of space junk flying around in Earth's orbit, the planet gets jiggy with wrecked spaceships on a frequent basis. This is known as "Arkfall." Ship debris crashes over head, and Josh and Irisa investigate to see if there's anything salvageable. Josh takes out his sonic screwdriver and somehow activates Plot Point 1: the Blue Buckeyball of DOOM. Josh and Irisa take the Blue Buckeyball of DOOM but are interrupted by a steampunkalicious group of thugs, also known as Spirit Riders. 

Yep. I am wearing a top hat and goggles. That is happening.

The Spirit Riders attempt to kidnap Josh and Irisa, although they escape, but not before Irisa gets her bad self shot. They escape into the woods, where Josh has to fight off giant beetle-warthog-rat-spider thing. They are rescued by some nice humans and make their way into what was St. Louis -- Defiance. Earth is a mere shadow of its former self, but the Gateway to the West is still standing. Defiance is a rollicking frontier town, with eight alien races a-feudin'. We meet Lady Mayor Amanda Rosewater (seriously, that is her name), emo Castithan teen Alak and his parents, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, and our friendly local mine owner, Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene).

Millions of light years across the galaxy and still all these pesky poors. 

Lucius doesn't like Rafe and vice versa, but it sucks a bunch because Alak Malfoy is in love with Rafe's Pretty Daughter (j'accord).  Plot Point 2. There are also other Castithans in Defiance. Apparently, there are castes of Dirty Malfoys and Snooty Malfoys. The Dirty Malfoys  (band name? I think yes) approach Lucius and Narcissa and Narcissa is nice to them, and we learn from this exchange that Lucius is not at all shady. Like. Not at all. Josh and Irisa find themselves in the local Redi Care, tended to by a doctor from another alien race, Dr. Ywell. She's of the Indogene, and Indogenes look like Uncle Fester, except their skin turns into Quilted Northern when their emotions are running high.

A lot of this is just unabashedly ripped off from Firefly. They speak mostly English, but their language is peppered with some Chinese-Russian sounding hybrid, and cuss words are spoken in said creole.  Fuck you Thanks, Joss Whedon. Much like Mal, rough-around-the-edges-but-lovable Josh is a veteran of the epic war, and was a member of some elite division of Space Team Six called the Defiant Few. Defiance is a rough frontiery town, the type of which you would see in a predecessor of this genre. I'm sure there's a cantina around here somewhere. There is for sure a whorehouse! There's also a teen club where things get all West Side Story up in there between Alak Malfoy and Luke McCawley. 

What tired Romeo and Juliet storyline? Where?

Mayor Amanda (Julie Benz) is torn. Does she wants Josh or does she want Josh and Irisa to leave town?Or both? Josh is broke and needs to earn money. Since the show is called Defiance and he is in Defiance, it's safe to assume he'll be sticking around. Perhaps the mayor has some holes he can fill?

Audiences, put your hands together to welcome your sexual tension.

Anyhoosle. He meets the whorehouse proprietress, Kenya (Mia Kirshner), who tells him to get into cage fighting to earn some ready cash. Also, for those interested, Kenya's sister is Amanda. Yes, Josh wants to bang sisters. Which one will he choose? The younger, rebellious, free-spirited one, or the practical, hard-working, responsible older one? Oh, cliches. You and your unpredictable twists and turns.

Kenya's hero is Inara, and while she may be "inspired" by the Whedon character (wardrobe and all), in the first half hour or so, she's the most likeable and interesting character we meet. Josh is scrappy, so he fights a big blue muscley guy and predictably knocks him out. Then Josh takes his earnings and has a bunch of sex with Kenya. Because why the fuck not?

Meanwhile at the Ape People Ranch, apeshit gets real and Redneck Ape Guy sees a flash of light and finds Rafe's oldest son, Luke, who has gotten died. This starts folks a-feudin' because Younger Son tells Rafe that Luke was fighting with Alak Malfoy. Things quickly digress into Hatfields and McCoys realness. Josh alibis Alak, Irisa pulls out her shiv, people throw punches, Rafe's Pretty Daughter confesses that Alak was in her pants at the time of said death, and the Lawkeeper ends up also dead. 

Well, shit.

So. That's the set up for Hour Two. After all of this exposition, we get to the meat of the episode.

Josh volunteers to play Dog the Bounty Hunter to find Luke's killer. Josh reveals he's a "tracker" by trade (this means he can do CSI) and they lock up Irisa as collateral. The Malfoys are in some weird bathy sex cult and Lucius wants to kill Rafe's Pretty Daughter. Narcissa wants Kristy (her actual name) to marry Alak so they can get control of the mines. The mines! The mines!  BWAHAHAHAHA!

Sherlock Josh deduces they are looking for an Indogene with a bad leg. We know Amanda has one of those up her sleeve because earlier we saw her assistant, Ben, limping. Plot Point 3. Not only is he a great secretary, but Ben is also a serial killer. They give chase and Rafe shoots Ben and he collapses into an Indogene Heap. He dies a bunch, but not before he can warn of an impending attack. 

There is also an army of Evil Cylon Robot Orcs headed up Defiance way. They are called the Volge and they are attacking for an unspecified reason. Defiance prepares for the Battle of the Volge. Ben, ass that he was, destroyed the stasis net around the city, so they are vulnerable.

Josh plans to leave with the reward money and Irisa, but he decides to return and fight.  Remember the Blue Buckeyball of DOOM? Josh retrieves it from the forest and devises a plan for the Indogenes to use it to rig up a superweapon. The battle is a typical "hold the line" until reinforcements/superweapon/Gandalf the White arrives to save the day narrative. The Spirit Riders steam punk their way into Helm's Deep (avec Irisa) and lend their assistance. This battle is rescued by the Blue Buckeyball of DOOM, which in this case, only spells DOOM for the Volge. It goes off and knocks them all on their asses. Nasty buggers, those Volge. Defiance is saved! Awkward group cheering scene! Josh stays and becomes the new Lawman in these here parts.

In the train-car-turned-diner (see, the post-apocalyptic world still has hipster hang-outs), the former mayor, Evil Judi Dench, and her companion in DOOM, Random Steampunk Man, unmask that it was their pro-DOOM plot to send the Volge into Defiance. For whyses to be revealed in due course. Motivation likely along the lines of chaos, panic, anarchy and DOOM. 

DOOM! Because why the fuck not?

As pilots go, this was more or less average. I wasn't bored to death, but I wasn't blown away or overly engrossed. It's heavily influenced by other media of this genre, so, sad to say, I didn't see anything terribly unique or original. I am a little confused as to whether they are ripping people off or if these are les homages. Clearly, the show owes a huge debt to fallen comrade Firefly and I guess there's a lesson to be learned about where networks' priorities are when they decide to put their money and PR machine behind a show. Much like Earth's gravitational field, Defiance is littered with the corpses of what came before. It has elements taken from Firefly, and maybe it's an unfair comparison, but Defiance isn't as good. I feel it wants to be good, and considering that this is the network that brought us Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, that is a step in the right direction.

That said, the show has kinks to work out, but it has promise. It is more or less entertaining,  but it remains to be seen if it will become the huge, iconic cultural phenom that the rabid execs at Syfy are foaming at the mouth for it to be. It has its production values up to the level of the class of program it wants to compete in, so it very well could become the next Battlestar Galactica, albeit significantly less depressing. I gave the pilot a lot of wiggle room because it is a pilot, but this fledgling series really should only be going upwards, based off what I saw in the series launch. If it headed in the opposite direction, it would be a waste of potential. And money. Lots and lots and lots of money.

Positive points are lack of pretension and, much like its leading man, the show doesn't take itself too seriously. But has Syfy moved on from its days of man-eating shark movies featuring Joey Fatone? Defiance could become one of the few bright spots on a network continuously devolving into Under Fae. If not, there is always Haunted Collector.

P.S. Due to all the nerd titillating, I am really hoping for George Takei to show up at some point.

P.P.S. Oooh, myyy.

Defiance picks up the time slot normally occupied by Being Human (in hiatus until the premiere of Season 4 in 2014). It airs at 9 p.m. on Mondays on Syfy. The pilot is also on the Syfy web site, which was awesome for me because my cable box, much like Indogene Ben, is way dead.

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