TV Review | Defying Gravity 1.1

Warning: mild spoilers.

Defying Gravity (CTV/’A’/ABC, two-hour premiere August 2, 9:00 PM ET/PT; in regular timeslot starting August 9, 10:00 PM ET/PT on CTV/ABC; premieres August 7, 8:00 PM ET on SPACE) is an anomaly in the world of prime-time Canadian content.  The creator of the show, James D. Parriott, has run or co-run shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Sons of Anarchy and Ugly Betty.  He created Misfits of Science, Voyagers! and Forever Knight, so his sci-fi credentials are solid.

Michael Edelstein, meanwhile, was one of the original Desperate Housewives executive producers.  Less excitingly, he executive-produced Hope & Faith and Threat Matrix.

On the Canadian side, Omni Film Productions has produced such shows as The Odyssey, Edgemont, Alice, I Think and Robson Arms.  Defying Gravity is not as Canadian as The Listener, but it’s not quite an American show filmed in Vancouver to save money.  On the sliding scale of CanCon, Defying Gravity floats near the middle.

Defying Gravity has been publicized by Parriott as Grey’s Anatomy in space, which has birthed a million unfunny Grey’s Astronomy jokes.  The show also takes a strip off Virtuality‘s “reality show in space” concept.  It’s an attempt to make science fiction appeal more to women, or at least that’s the excuse offered.

The excuse is insulting.  Defying Gravity tries to balance sci-fi with relationship drama.  Big deal.  Doctor Who, Being Human and Torchwood do it.  Any space opera worth shit is about compelling characters mixed with exciting action.  Sadly, Defying Gravity doesn’t hit the ground running, due to its insanely slow pace and familiar characters.

Maddux Donner (Ron Livingston) narrates the series, he of the “left crewmembers to die and needs to atone” backstory.  Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris) is carrying Donner’s baby – maybe – after a one-night stand, and could be gay.  Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) is married to Eve Weller-Shaw (Karen LeBlanc), yet had a pre-launch affair with Jen Crane (Christina Cox).

Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme) is competing with Zoe for Donner’s affections.  Ajay Sharma (Zahf Paroo) goes batshit insane in the first half of the pilot despite being the most psychologically stable of the Antares crew, and so on, and so forth.

Livingston makes for an entertaining Donner, while Malik Yoba is decent as Shaw.  Dylan Taylor’s character, the geeky porn enthusiast Steve Wassenfelder, could be the dark horse of the ensemble given time.  If nothing else, the main characters are engaging in the way that The Listener‘s Craig Olejnik wasn’t.

The main problem with Defying Gravity‘s pilot is that the science fiction and soap opera elements are not blended in very well.  The crew’s backstories are a little too pat and the show is too earnest to be “sexy.”  Defying Gravity isn’t actively horrible, but it’s obviously picking and mixing genres in an attempt to chart its path.

At the same time, Defying Gravity tries for more dramatic depth than the pilot can handle.  A Ganesa figure, placed on the Antares by Sharma at the end of the pilot’s first half, is obvious symbolism.  Defying Gravity is playing the field, attempting to be plausible sci-fi while dealing in “who fucked whom” tales.

The second half of the pilot is better-handled than the first.  There is some sex, but Defying Gravity keeps the focus on non-sexual relationships between the Antares crew.  That’s what I find interesting about the series.  I don’t care about the libido-killing HALOS suits or the attempts to ape Lost.  Gimmicks like that won’t ensure the show’s success.  Well-written characters will.

As it is, Defying Gravity is ABC’s Greatest Hits in Space.  I actually think ABC is doing the right thing in giving the show an early August timeslot, as the show could blow up right as the fall season hits its stride.  Parriott has his DNA all over ABC, so the network’s going to give him some attention.

If Defying Gravity fails, big deal.  Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy are still going concerns, although Ugly Betty is on life-support at this point.  Canadian television can still pin its Yank-baiting hopes on The Bridge and Copper, since cop procedurals are as numerous as copies of Super Mario Bros. 3.  As for Edelstein…eh, maybe he’ll revive Brandy and Mr. Whiskers as a sex-filled romp.  It couldn’t be worse than Wipeout.

C. Archer
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