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Defying Gravity

6 Ratings: 4.0
A television show

An international crew of eight astronauts -- four men and four women -- sets off on a mysterious, six-year mission covering billions of miles aboard a ship called the Antares. Inspired by the fictional docudrama "Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets," … see full wiki

1 review about Defying Gravity

Defying Classification

  • Apr 26, 2010
  • by

Prime time space science fiction is a very rare occurrence on major network television these days.  Sure we’ve got our "Stargate" shows and the recent "Battlestar Galactica" but keep in mind that these were relegated to the SyFy network, which, in my opinion anyway, should certainly be in the habit of running science fiction shows!

That brings us to “Defying Gravity”, a very unlikely serial to come to ABC in 2009 that told the ambitious futuristic tale (set in the year 2052 with flashbacks to five years earlier) of eight astronauts (four women and four men from five countries on a six-year space mission through the Solar System) where nearly everything they do is monitored via camcorder and broadcast back to Mission Control (and relayed to the public via International television).

To cut to the chase, the show was axed after only 8 episodes aired despite fairly decent ratings.  Fortunately the DVD release spans 4-discs and contains all 14-episodes produced that constituted the entire first (and obviously only) season of the show.

Aside from the 14-epiosdes (13 + the pilot), the set contains a few interesting extra features: Mission Accomplished: A Look at the Defying Gravity legacy, a crop of deleted scenes, a slide show of production stills, a look at the design of the spacecraft, and some 20th Century Fox previews.  Total runtime of the set comes in at 560 minutes.

Now to get the obvious out of the way from the get go, no this isn’t a "Star Trek" or "Farscape" alternative by any means, it is to science fiction what "Grey’s Anatomy" is to medicine or "Desperate Housewives" is to marriage.  This is drama boys and girls, and not only is it drama but it’s made-for-TV serial drama that just so happens to deal with conditions outside of earth’s atmosphere some of the time.  However, don’t mistake this for a complaint, shows like DG work off establishing character-driven crisis, even at the expense of pacing or future story threads.

In keeping that in mind, DG’s greatest strength, it’s human element, just may be it’s biggest weakness as well.  A contradiction, normally, but here the show bounces nearly constantly between the present-plot (the astronauts on their mission) and earlier points in each of their (sometimes combined) lives prior.  Not a crime on it’s own, the trouble is that far too much of these flashbacks center on a small pub with the candidates essentially acting like a bunch of college kids.

The effect of course is to establish back-story without boring the viewer with linear plot progression, a technique done to death on shows like “Lost”.  It works here some of the time; other times it comes off as a bit forced.  While I’m a huge fan of Ron Livingston for his work in films like “Office Space” his casting in the lead role of this series is far from perfect.  In fact his effort in appearing cool and unaffected by stress is certainly overdone in many instances.

The space segments of the program, a major draw for many potential fans, are very well done with the type of realism seen in films like “Sunshine” or “Red Planet”/ “Mission to Mars”; with realistic physics & distances.  Space is a harsh and formidable environment and traversing it, even on a mission only to Venus, is portrayed as painstaking and tedious.

The show isn’t without it’s flaws though either.  The characters are often strangely one-dimensional and type cast: We have the religious one, the slacker, the leader, the skeptic, the playboy and so on.  Worse still is that while each character has an archetype that was clearly intended to provide the source for episode topics, the grand scheme isn’t near as smooth as it ought to be.  There’s never a natural dynamic that forms as they play off one another- in other words it’s often difficult to get lost in the flow of interaction between the cast that is, in my opinion, an essential aspect to true classic visual storytelling.  This is a very common complaint among television drama, but worse still here considering the time and deliberateness clearly spent in trying to build it up with the flashbacks.

There are other strange story threads throughout that do their best to intensify the human element (threads like the contrived religious integration or the reluctant surgeon) that fail in execution as well.  The writing intentions are clear but rather than intensify the character bonds, I felt like many of the show’s little tangents only muddled the grand prose.

Perhaps that, then, is my major complaint in a nutshell: The science, which is quite consistently accurate throughout, is constantly given the backseat to the squabbles and drama of a bunch of immature astronaut trainees.  Many episodes will discount or overlook monuments achievements like planetary orbits or stellar phenomenon in favor of a spat that took place between two of the crewmembers five years earlier. 

The viewer comes away from the whole experience with a feeling that had they met the storyteller sitting around the campfire one evening he might have summarized the whole tale like this: “Let me tell you all about the daily trials and tribulations of eight buddies I once knew.  They drank, they partied, there were many crises and quarrels, a pregnancy scare, some were religious, others not so much.  A few liked each other while some didn’t get along so well.  Oh and I almost forgot, they went to Venus once.  But anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, about those squabbles…”

On the other side of the coin, the production designs are pretty spotless.  The fact that NASA aided in the set design and ship models is apparent constantly.  There’s no discounting the gritty realism presented throughout and without giving away any spoilers, this isn’t simply a fictional documentary piece: Like some of the films mentioned above, there is a supernatural/ extraterrestrial slant to the prose that goes a long way in stringing the viewer along in the early episodes.  However, take heart those individuals afraid that the show’s premature cancellation will leave such threads unanswered, answers in this category are revealed before the set concludes (and in typical double edged sword nature, both satisfy curiosity while simultaneously killing a major reason to tune in).

In all, there is definitely much to enjoy in "Defying Gravity" so long as you approach it as the scientifically slanted equivalent to “Lost” rather than action/ space opera entries like “Battlestar Galactica”.  Indeed, the show’s early termination is a bit surprising considering the success of prime time dramas in recent years, but I suppose there is some consolation in the fact that 20th Century Fox not only bothered to bring the show to DVD but even went as far as to include 5-episodes that never even got the chance to air and put them into a single DVD release.  If, after reading this critique, the program sounds like something you might be interested in, this DVD collection makes for a great investment.

Defying Classification

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April 26, 2010
sounds intriguing (but why haven't I heard about this?) . I am rather interested since NASA had a hand in designing the ships which should be a good thing. Nice work, buddy.
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