Sep 9 2009

"Defying Gravity" is good, but maybe not good enough

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Heather and I watched the seventh episode of Defying Gravity, ABC's sci-fi soap opera last night and I feel like after half of its 13 episode run I can comment on it. This show, which I had never heard of until a friend recommended it to me, is in a "death slot" at 10pm on Sunday Night. This time slot, formerly occupied by the excellent and also forgotten Kings (another ABC orphan) is sort of a Sargasso sea of TV and sadly Gravity isn't dominating it.

It is unfortunate that a show like Defying Gravity isn't better. Don't get me wrong, it is good, solid drama and it is acceptable science fiction. Ultimately, however, it isn't excellent anything. I keep wanting it to be fantastic drama, or incredible science fiction. But the words I keep coming back to are "OK", "Pretty good" and "Nice". These aren't the words used to describe great shows.

In time, I think that Defying Gravity might actually become a great show but it is on borrowed time already. I think that thirteen episodes is all we can reasonably expect to get. The six year mission of the Antares and its crew will almost certainly be aborted after this first year. And that's a shame.

Having pronounced its finish though I'm going to keep watching. I like that it tries to do science well (it doesn't always succeed, and I understand why it ignores some inconvenient scientific truths like time delay). I like that it acknowledges that the world changes and that in 50+ years moral, technical, and religious attitudes are going to evolve but that they won't be unrecognizable. I appreciate that there is a mystery (Damon Lindelof would agree) outside of the drama, but it needs to resolve itself pretty soon or else I'm going to call "tease" and start dismissing it as a needless additional plot device.

I dislike that everybody seems to live in the exact same apartment (although I understand that it keeps costs of sets down). I dislike that every time I try to understand how the limited space of the Antares is arranged it makes less and less sense (again, I understand why, but help me out here). I find the occasional explanations of phlebotinum a little contrived. If you have to use it to explain something that is new to the "viewers at home" then fine. But if these characters already understand it I don't want to hear a lot exposition at the expense of plot.

In short, Defying Gravity has all the elements of what could become a huge successful show for ABC. What it needs is to find its voice and audience. However, since all thirteen episodes have already been filmed it may be too late to polish anything to make it shinier or to jettison anything that is dragging it down into the gravity well.