December 14, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Expanse”


THE EXPANSE:  Tuesday 10PM on Syfy – If Nothing Else Is On…

The one thing we can tell conclusively about Syfy’s new series THE EXPANSE from its first hour is that it’s in no hurry.  The hour, which aired as a special preview on Monday night before the series moves to its regular Tuesday timeslot, was almost entirely taken up with world-setting, and its only dramatic event happened at the very end.  It’s a risky strategy to take in a era when TV series are expected to grab viewers by the throats immediately, and only some more time will tell if it will pay off either dramatically or in the ratings.

The Expanse is Syfy’s attempt to take back a piece of its home genre (or at least its dignity) from the many other networks and other platforms who have colonized science-fiction and fantasy while Syfy squandered all the goodwill it earned with Battlestar Galactica, devoting most of its scripted resources to inexpensive foreign acquisitions and co-productions.  There are other pieces to the network’s plan being introduced this week–the miniseries Childhood’s End and an early airing of the pilot for January’s The Magicians–but Expanse is the most important because it’s a continuing series set largely in the traditional sci-fi territory of outer space.

Its time is 200 years in the future, and Expanse, based by series creators Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey, posits a universe where Mars and the solar system’s asteroid belts have been populated, Earth is under the control of the UN, and water (mostly in its frozen form) is one of the most valuable commodities in existence.  War, we’re told, is imminent between the forces of Mars, Earth and the “belters.”

The first hour laid out a pair of central plots.  In the belter settlement of Ceres, police detective Miller (Thomas Jane) was assigned to find a missing girl.  Meanwhile, out in space, ice-freighter First Officer Jim Holden (Steven Strait) led an expedition to respond to a beacon from a seemingly marooned ship.  A few scenes on Earth let us know that the UN, in the person of ruthless grandma Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), was investing an as-yet unexplained conspiracy.

This time, money has clearly been spent by Syfy.  The sets are large in scale, and don’t look as though they’d fall over if an actor leaned on them.  The CG effects are closer to feature-film level.  In addition, some effort has gone into laying out economic and political underpinnings to the future society, unlike other Syfy efforts like Ascension.  In other ways, though, The Expanse already seems depressingly similar to Syfy’s less ambitious productions, notably in the mostly anonymous cast of characters and the rudimentary dialogue.   Even worse, with its stiff plotting, so far Expanse lacks the energy and humor of some of Syfy’s cheapies like Z Nation, Killjoys and Dark Matter.  Director Terry McDonough did a fair job with Fergus and Ostby’s script, even if some of the visuals echoed old faithfuls like Blade Runner and Alien, but the material was sober, and even the blast that concluded the opening hour was more surprising than thrilling.

It may be that The Expanse started slow, and it will become more gripping as it moves along, and that its characters and performances will gain in vividness.  But as Syfy should know all too well by now, there are plenty of other places to find accomplished sci-fi these days, and The Expanse hasn’t yet staked out a territory of its own.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."