Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review - Defiance

Obliterating Earth and delving into the lives of those who survive and live in it afterwards has always been a popular setting for movies (Waterworld, Independence Day, the upcoming Oblivion and After Earth) and TV shows (Earth 2, Battlestar Galactica), so there's nothing really new covered in this new SyFy series, but that doesn't mean it isn't a likeable enough show.  An interesting environment has been created, there's a clever collection of characters - eight different races, to be exact - and fans of sci-fi shows on the whole will find a lot to connect with in Defiance.

It's the year 2046 on a new Earth with all new rules. Over thirty years after various alien races arrived on Earth, the landscape is completely altered, terraformed nearly beyond recognition. To the town of Defiance, formerly St. Louis, comes the mysterious Nolan (Grant Bowler, True Blood, Ugly Betty) and his charge, an Iranthian war orphan named Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas, The Bible, Night & Day). As they settle into town – overseen by the mayor, Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz, Angel, Dexter) and filled with residents like the powerful Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene, Dances With Wolves, The Twilight Saga), enterprising lounge owner Kenya (Mia Kirshner, The Vampire Diaries, The L Word) and the ambitious, alien Tarrs (Tony Curran, 24, Gemini Division, and Jaime Murray, Warehouse 13, Ringer) - events begin to unfold that threaten the fragile peace this border town has fought for.

What's really new about Defiance is that it is making a multi-platform debut:  while events are unfolding weekly on the series, fans can also see how the residents’ struggles impact the game of Defiance.  In other words, for the first time in history, a TV show and a game will exist concurrently in a shared universe, influencing and impacting the other.  But fortunately, you don't need to experience both to enjoy the series.  I, for example, don't have access to or any interest in the game, but I'm under the impression I won't be missing anything - the game will maintain its own separate story, which takes place in San Francisco, but nothing will happen there that will muddle up or make me miss anything that I'll be watching on the show.

As I said, there is nothing exceptionally new here.  In fact, I can name quite a few things just from the pilot that immediately made me think of facets from other shows:

Battlestar Galactica - When BSG finally brought its human refugees to Earth and got them settled, it looked very much like the town of Defiance.   And remember Frak?  This popular made-up word was the equivalent of two of English's most popular cusses ("Who the frak are you?"  "Oh frak!").  Defiance, which features many different languages (thanks for that, BTW ... Star Trek always amazed me that every species they encountered spoke English) has its own word that, if the show gains a following, should adorn t-shirts in no time: I'm not sure how it's spelled, but it sounds like "schtocko."  The brilliant Firefly also had its own special cuss words ("gorramit" "what a piece of gosef"), so there's that similarity here as well.

Speaking of Firefly - Defiance is a lot like Joss Whedon's gem - the town looks like many of the worlds the crew of Serenity frequented in structure - broken-down shantys, people lingering in the streets, eclectic marketplaces, etc.   Also, just as Malcolm Reynolds named his ship Serenity after the famous battle he took part in, so it is here - the town is named after the great Defiance battle in the war that had taken place decades before.  Firefly had the Browncoats, Defiance has the Yellow Jackets.  Firefly had Unification Day, Defiance has Armistice Day.  Clearly the creators of this new show were fans ...

Alien Nation -Humans and aliens living together, check.  Alien Nation only had one race, Defiance has eight, but both shows have characters that do NOT like coexisting, and you can see that Defiance is going to play up that dissension as the series goes on.

Terra Nova - This short lived but well-done FOX show had a strong male lead who was thrust into a leadership position of authority, and Defiance has its own with the Nolan character.

I do like how the realm of Defiance is not dependent on technology.  There are old-fashioned cameras, cars and motorcycles, medical equipment similar to what we have. I can buy into it that this is a world not too far in the future, and while they have advanced communication devices and weapons, they're not so advanced that you couldn't see us getting there in a few decades.  And the problems of today - racism, thievery, rebellion - are realistically portrayed  in this post-alien-apocalyptic world.

Am I instantly hooked on Defiance?  No.  While I deem it to be a well-made show with a great group of characters - the doctor, played by Trenna Keating (Combat Hospital) is a stand-out and a hoot - and tried-and-true themes that I have enjoyed in other shows, I'm sitting here watching the 2-hour pilot not fully engaged and not immediately connecting with any of the players, which is always a key to my viewing loyalty.  But that's not to say I don't recommend it.  The have set up a lot to come, including a new war against a dangerous, violent enemy that is sure to yield exciting battle scenes, shifting alliances, friendships, heroics and plenty of drama, so there's certainly potential.  But I would direct viewers to other shows I previously mentioned - Firefly and Battlestar Galactica in particular - before strongly toting this.

Bottom Line:  I defy you to give Defiance a fair chance and judge for yourself if it's for you.

Defiance airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on SyFy (and repeats MANY times in between).

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