The Expanse is Syfy’s First Serious Show in Years

the expanse cover

By James Nelson

It’s been six years since Battlestar Galactica went off the air, and since then Syfy has struggled desperately to redefine itself and fine a way, and a series, back into fan’s hearts. They tried, and failed, to win us with the Battlestar/Stargate/Lost hybrid of Stargate Universe, Defiance and Ascension, but none of them seemed to grasp the things that make science fiction TV great … until now. Syfy has released the first episode of The Expanse online, and I can tell you without a doubt, it’s going to be fantastic. Minor spoilers follow.

It’s an original concept

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The first book in the series

So the series is a great concept. It takes place in a universe where humanity has spread out across the solar system, but hasn’t quite been able to crack the idea of interstellar travel, which most sci-fi takes for granted (like say, Star Wars). This leads to a lot of interesting implications, like how do humans develop well when they’ve been born and raised outside of a strong gravity? What are these people’s relationships going to be with Earth, and how is Earth going to look in a society that has been spread out across the system (and in a setting where Earth is no long self-sufficient)? It implies many of these questions (and wastes no time answering), in the first episode. Syfy does have some help with this, as they have with most of the great shows from the network, this one was not original to their network.

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Avasarala, Earther on the left, and a unknown Belter on the right.

It’s an adaptation of a series of books of the same name by Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham writing under the pen name James S.A. Corey. The books are fantastic, and like Game of Thrones, the books lay out a pretty clear picture of where the series is going to go, even if they take a few liberties with the source material. Overall, it’s a pretty faithful adaptation.

The characters are on point, and so is the cast

Thomas Jane as Detective Miller.

I’m not going to lie, as a fan of the series I was very worried about this. Even though the series is heavily plotted, it’s still very character focused, and by the fifth book you have a very good sense of who these people are, their motivations, their secrets, and even their verbal ticks. You know how they sound, what they look like, and what drives them. Each character, even the secondary ones, are fairly unique. When I saw the cast I was immediately cautious. The actors looked nothing like their book counterparts (Amos and Alex aren’t overweight middle-aged men, for instance), but after I heard them speak I began to see the characters; especially Miller and Holden, who get the majority of screen time in the pilot.

Miller and Holden represent the crux of the series, and it’s their relationship that propels much of the moral conflict of the series, and I can see the world-weary bearing in Thomas Jane’s magnificent performance. He is way too handsome to be the broken Miller, but he’ll do just fine (although he wears a fedora and Miller is supposed to wear a porkpie hat like Popeye Doyle from The French Connection, but whatever). However I was most worried about Steven Strait as Jim Holden. I had only seen Strait in Magic City, and though it showed he has some acting chops, the initial trailers for the series used a clip of him speaking in a raspy, gravelly voice saying some very un-Holdenlike things. Holden, at his core, is a optimistic do-gooder who will do the right thing no matter how many people it’s going to get killed. Holden is the guy who wants to be the bad guy, but just can’t. To put this in a nerdy comparison, he wants to be Captain Mal from Firefly, but instead he’s more like Lee Adama from Battlestar.

The effects are magnificent

Julie Mao exploring the Scopuli.

This is where the majority of new Syfy shows lose me. The effects are usually no better then what they were 15-20 years ago. That is not the case here, where they feel much more in line with high budget films. The vessels are well designed, consistent, and you can actually understand the scale of what you’re seeing, especially the Canterbury. I can’t wait to see what the other ships are going to look like.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

  • I know Avasarala’s in the series, but I still don’t know why. She doesn’t appear until book two (probably season 2), so they’ve created a original plot line for her. I can’t wait to see the wrangling she’ll have to do behind the scenes when Holden does what he’s going to do, but her being involved with someone’s torture isn’t consistent with her character. She’s not one to get her hands dirty.
  • The world building in this show is magnificent, and is drawn heavily from the books, but I was bothered by seeing a rat on the Canterbury and birds on Ceres. They wouldn’t have animals on board breathing and eating the precious resources they have. Life is violent and short and pets are a risk.
  • I thought Miller not airlocking the air filter guy was very uncharacteristic. The Miller from the book actually did airlock the guy, and without hesitation.
  • After seeing Jared Harris in the previews I did some digging and found out he’s playing Anderson Dawes. He has a minor part in the first book, but in the last book we found out his real importance, and this is no doubt emphasized by having such a well known actor portraying him.


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